Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0226769790
ISBN-10: 0226769798
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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

Black, White, and in Color offers a long-awaited collection of major essays by Hortense Spillers, one of the most influential and inspiring black critics of the past twenty years. Spanning her work from the early 1980s, in which she pioneered a broadly poststructuralist approach to African American literature, and extending through her turn to cultural studies in the 1990s, these essays display her passionate commitment to reading as a fundamentally political act-one pivotal to rewriting the humanist project.

Spillers is best known for her race-centered revision of psychoanalytic theory and for her subtle account of the relationships between race and gender. She has also given literary criticism some of its most powerful readings of individual authors, represented here in seminal essays on Ralph Ellison, Gwendolyn Brooks, and William Faulkner. Ultimately, the essays collected in Black, White, and in Color all share Spillers's signature style: heady, eclectic, and astonishingly productive of new ideas. Anyone interested in African American culture and literature will want to read them.

About the Author

Hortense J. Spillers is the Frederick J. Whiton Professor of English at Cornell University. She is the editor of Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text and coeditor of Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 584 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226769798
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226769790
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,931,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By K. N. VINE VOICE on January 8, 2007
Format: Paperback
At close to 600pp., this book is a magisterial collection of several of the most important essays in literary and cultural criticism to appear in recent years. And not "only" literary and cultural criticism but various domains of interdisciplinary thinking harbored therein: black feminism, Southern studies, auto-ethnographic critique, and social theory, among others.

Spillers's inventive analytical insight has been justly celebrated over the years. This book at once pays tribute to that legacy of critical acumen and *expands* on it by virtue of a long introductory essay (titled "Peter's Pans"), which announces Spillers's turn toward postcolonial and diasporic materiality, as well as an organizing frame that highlights the interrelationships among the essays. It is truly a wonder to behold a seemingly "familiar" essay like "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe," originally published in 1987, in light of her more recent "All the Things You Could Be by Now If Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother." Somehow reading the two closely together generates resonances that lend further critical force to Spillers's thoughts on race, gender, psychoanalysis, embodiment, and what it means to be "in the flesh." In other words, this book offers a "layering" of thought which does justice to the abiding themes and concerns of Spillers's criticism.

It's worth pointing out that this book contains significant revisions to several essays, which further underscores the fact that simply reading them in their originally published forums doesn't quite arrive at the critical effect I describe above. The collection is already a standard reference point for scholars in many fields of humanistic inquiry; I cannot recommend it highly enough to interested, and vested, readers.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By on April 13, 2004
Format: Paperback
The publication of Prof. Spillers' book hopefully signals a more widespread dissemination of her extraordinary intellectual and imaginative work. Bringing together some very familiar (and endlessly cited) essays, such as "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe...", as well as essays from more obscure locations, and unpublished work, 'Black, White, and in Color...' illuminates Prof. Spillers' resolutely unorthodox and powerful thinking around the racialization and gendering of the brutal history of the United States, from the genocide of American Indians to the enslavement of Africans in the "New World". She brings a vast historical knowledge to bear on her brilliantly idiosyncratic literary critical enterprise. The ways in which she intertwines feminisms, psychoanalysis, and literature, and then proceeds to re-weave them, stuns. Edmund Burke is an influence, and she turns the latter, canonical critic's ideas upside down such that Burke and William Faulkner can never be seen the same way again. Though finding occasional recourse to post-structuralism, Spillers is, in no way, an acolyte of Derrida and his followers. This is an indispensable book which, had it not appeared, would have to be written. It follows Marx's injunction to carry out "a ruthless critique of all that exists".
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
DR. SPILLERS, formerly at Haverford, (English Dept Head) and Cornell, (chaired), now at Vanderbilt, (chaired) is one of the top literary critics to approach American and WORLD
literature from an African-American perspective, as this school of criticism evolved in the last half of the century, with the civil rights movement. This book is a compilation of
her work over the last 30 years plus, with a foundational essay on the black SERMON, as the key of African American literary and self-creating devices, as would be expected from
someone who was spurred by the King movement, as was the world. She certainly does not limit herself to African-American subjects, as her work on Faulkner also is highly regarded,
including frequent presentations at the annual Faulkner conference in Oxford, Mississippi. Nor does she limit herself by literary genre - her pieces on the poet, Gwyndolyn Brooks,
are also mesmerizing. However, unless one has some familiarity with continental literary and philosophical work over the last years, don't look at this book as an easy way to approach
innovative and challenging literary texts. Some have the density of post de Beauvoire, Sartre, Heidegger, and their successors literary criticism. However, the single essay on the black
church and its relationship to the black sermon, is worth the price of the book, and a good starting point for serious or even casual students of the enormous and too ignored literary
production of America's most creative 'minority' - in the world, and of its perspective - the 'majority.' Thus, worth reading for all, majority, minority, and miscegenated...!!!
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Format: Paperback
At a seminar at Vanderbilt the other day, (actually an art opening of prisoner art) a young woman graduaten
student in philosophy, from Toronto, asked if the Hortense I was speaking to on the phone was the author of Momma's Baby, Pappa's Maybe, and I said 'yes.' Exactly the nature of the graduate philosophy seminar Dr. Spillers addressed was not clarified before our convesation broke off, but clearly philosophical inquiry into what old Marxists called "the woman question," is big, current, and the pathbreaking work by Dr.Spillers in this very diverse collection of essays, from the Black Sermon, to Faulkner, to Freud, to the poet Gwyndolyn Brooks, (the only author to get three essays) reflects the varied inspirations of Spillers diverse education; a graduate of Memphis State, a Ph. from Brandeis, to teaching at Vassar, (her denial of tenure is described vividly in the introduction), to Haverford, Emory, and Cornell, all reflect in some ways what her colleague from Nashville,Thadious Davis,and U. Pennsylvania, describes as the connection between place and the crux of creativity.

My favorite essay among them, on the Black Sermon, suggests that the sermon, more than any other artistic or literary form, (in a contrast with an Italian cathedral) shows the unique character of the evoluton of black religious culture, and, indeed, black linguistic culture itself, in the U.S.,
and discusses and describes many of the canonical sermonic works which evolved, relatively 'invisible' to 'white eyes' except perhaps those few faculty at Historically Black colleges and Universities, prior to the rise of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Obama.
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