Academic journal article African American Review

Clarence Major's 'All-Night Visitors': Calabanic Discourse and Black Male Expression

Academic journal article African American Review

Clarence Major's 'All-Night Visitors': Calabanic Discourse and Black Male Expression

Article excerpt

Readers who have followed Clarence Major's career and know his work RUM that as his career has developed his work has become more experimental and increasingly foregrounds the great limitations of fictive portrayal and expression which are the concerns of such white radical metafictional writers of the Fiction Collective as Ronald Sukenick, Raymond Federman, and Harold Jaffe. Major also experiments in his first novel, All-Night Visitors (1968), but the experimentation presents itself in the form of a pursuit of the potentialities of black male expression. Postmodern, metafictional, and poststructuralist interpretive strategies are relevant for an analysis of All-Night Visitors, but what I want to do in this essay is to utilize various critical paradigms, especially Anglo-American anthropological and African-American poststructural constructs that highlight Major's experimental project in terms of black male writing. My purpose is to show that All-Night Visitors is a black male text that reflects the problems of black male freedom, empowerment, and voice in ways that are characteristic of other contemporary black male texts.

Black poststructuralists like Karla F. C. Holloway develop their theoretical paradigms through a method of "shift":

Shift happens when the textual language "bends" in an acknowledgment of [black] "experience and value" that are not Western A critical language that does not acknowledge the bend or is itself inflexible and monolithic artificially submerges [the significance of this black "experience value"]. In consequence, critical strategies that address the issue within these texts must be mediative strategies between the traditional [white] ideologies of the theoretical discourse and the [black] ancestry of the text itself. Such mediation demands a shift in the scope if not the tone) of critical terminology - a redirection that calls attention to different (and often contradictory) [black] ideologies [and paradigms]. (62)

So shift means taking critical paradigms developed by white theorists for non-African-American cultures and "bending" them so that they become relevant for the reading of African-American texts. Because Holloway is talking specifically about the texts of contemporary African and African-American women writers, I "bend" the quotation to make it more generally black. I adapt her concept of shift to explain the kind of critical paradigms that are relevant to Major's experiment with creating a humanistic black male text. For example, I utilize the paradigm of the black phallic trickster, which black vernacular and poststructuralist theorist Houston A. Baker develops by giving an African-American male "shift" to the paradigms of white anthropologists Victor Turner and Clifford Geertz (Baker 180-85). And I later "shift" the paradigm of the black phallic trickster further, to make it the variant paradigm of black phallic duplicity, a construct especially relevant to black men and black male texts because of their particular locus in the nexus of Western culture, politics, ideology, and racism. I also "shift" Turner's concept of liminality for my analysis of African-American texts.

All-Night Visitors is basically a discursive experiment with a deeply traditional Western grounding. The central discourse focuses on erotic encounters between the black main character, Eli Bolton, and several different women. On the surface, the discourse amalgamates a central vulgar, pornographic description and theme, the stereotyping of the black male as sexual beast, and the sexist objectification of women through the first-person point of view that privileges the sexual feeling and gratification of Eli. Eli's primary mode of expression is through crude, vulgar language and sex, and he constantly shows his insatiability.

What I have just described shows the text's deep traditional Western grounding in the pervasive cultural and literary discourse of Caliban and Calibanic phallicism. …

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