Prophets without Vision: Subjectivity and the Sacred in Contemporary American Writing

Prophets without Vision: Subjectivity and the Sacred in Contemporary American Writing

Prophets without Vision: Subjectivity and the Sacred in Contemporary American Writing

Prophets without Vision: Subjectivity and the Sacred in Contemporary American Writing

Synopsis

"Prophets Without Vision seeks the cultural (literary, philosophical, religious) traditions whose traces produce discursive similarities among otherwise differing twentieth-century American writings. The book studies a representative group of contemporary writers, differing in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and religious denomination, yet sharing in an ideological and rhetorical approach to American subject construction." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Personal Identity is not what matters

—Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons

Why should personal identity matter?

—W. B. Michaels, Our America

I am not what I am

—Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans

Who is it that I ain’t?

—William Faulkner, Light in August

My book is about crises of ideology and identity in the fiction of five contemporary American writers—John Updike, Flannery O’Connor, Grace Paley, James Baldwin, and Alice Walker. These writers construct fictional characters modeled on competing voices in the multicultural American scene. At the same time, the hybrid or hyphenated historical identities they construct (and, by the same token, deconstruct) break down in scenes of self-questioning and judgment. The effect of self-questioning is not to entrench African Americans, gender-specific Americans, or religious-specific Americans in their respective group identities. Nor, on the other hand, does the fading of group identity reduce these fictional characters to nonidentity, signifying the “death of the subject.” In the fiction of Updike, O’Connor, Paley, Baldwin, and Walker, scenes of identity breakdown do not reduce the subject to nothing, but rather render him or her politically invisible, that is, unreadable by reference ex-

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