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on June 27, 2012
An unquestionably serious study of an undeniably significant manifestation of race in the 18th century, with ramifications a century later, but a very dense and overly academic text makes this tough going. Somehere in here is an argument that minstrelsy was far from the purely racist phenomenon that many would take it to be then and now, but it often seems as if Lott makes the case for its ambiguity by citing such abundant and seemingly contradictory documentation and opinion--- everything from Walt Whitman to the Frankfurt school, and with (as some readers point out) a great deal of Freudian babble--- that one might conclude that a minstrel show, after all an unsophisticated form of mass entertainment6--- might be about just about anything. And, though I have read a good deal on related subjects and on the period, I was lost in Lott's case for the interconnectness of minstrelsy with working-class politics before the Civil War. Sean Wilentz's book on the subject was complex enough without blackface, racial, or sexual ambiguity thrown into the mix. A too ambitious effort, I think.
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on January 16, 2012
The subject of the book is fascinating, and the author is clearly very knowledgeable. My one complaint is that the writing style is at times impenetrable, seemingly on purpose, as if the author is hinting at things he does not want to say in plain English. But the book is well worth the effort.
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on December 10, 1998
Eric Lott provide us with an incisive analysis of a long ignored and conflicted history of the American Minstrel Traditon. Readers will be impressed with Lott's deft handling of history and critical theory, crafting persuasive and cogent arguments that reveal the ambivalence of a tradition that cloaked racial antagonisms and sexual insecurities. Lott, an English professor at the University of Virginia, did his graduate work at Columbia University and this book is an extension of his dissertation. Non-academics may find Lott's prose somewhat dense but this should not hamper anyone from gleaning Lott's clear message: the American Minstrel Tradition represented a contradictory and problematic art form that granted Whites a forum through which to articulate their "admiration" of Blackness while appropriating it for political ends. A must read!!!!! A major contribution to critical race studies scholarship. 5 stars!!!!
Matthew Abraham (Dept. of English-- Purdue University)
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on December 6, 2004
I chose to use this book in a paper that I wrote for my Race and Realism class. I was not able to grasp everything that the author had to say about blackface minstrelsy but what I did find was an interesting perspective. I don't necessarily agree with the whole phallic aspect and the need to "size up" to the African-American race, but I do want to agree with the fact that there was a fascination in the race and I think that is what Lott is trying to get across to the readers. There were many angles that could be taken with this book and it was incredibly useful to my paper. I enjoyed it and it was easy to apply to many of the novels written by Twain, Harper, Crane and Chesnutt.
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on August 4, 1999
This book is well worth the 55 bucks I paid for it. If you're interested in American culture and especially the racial issues which are still at the heart of the our national struggle, you too will be happy to pay a mere 55 bucks for a book lays the whole thing out and lets us know where we've been and where we're going.
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on November 14, 2002
I had to read part of this book for a graduate-level American Studies course, and if it hadn't been a required text, you couldn't have PAID me to read it. There are some very interesting things to say about blackface minstrelsy, but if Lott says them, they are lost to me in between the countless references to sex. Everything, in Eric Lott's analysis, is phalic and/or homoerotic. A tamborine is an anus. A nose is a penis. A throat is "vaginal." And a common theme in the book? White men envy the black man's penis. PUH-LEEZE. So when grown men can't say "wee-wee" and snicker in the fourth-grade bathroom any longer do they just write a book about it and call it academia? His obsession with sexual themes was offensive and downright silly. When I picked up the book, I was hoping to learn something useful about race or class or culture, but instead, Lott had me scrutinizing 19th century minstrelsy posters for anything that might remotely resemble a sexual organ. With so many wonderful books in the world to read, I don't know why anyone would voluntarily waste their time on this one.
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on November 4, 1998
I can think of no better way to convey the tone and style of"Love & Theft" than by providing a couple of excerpts from the book.
"In the pages that follow I return the minstrel show to a northeastern political context that was extremely volatile, one whose range can be seen in the antinomy of responses I have identified, themselves anticipatory of twentieth-century debates about the nature of the `popular' ".(page 17)
"Althusserian social theorists have suggested that every social formation resides not in a single mode of economic production but in a complex overlay of several modes at once, with residual modes now subordinated to the dominant one and emergent modes potentially disruptive of it".(page 220)
In the acknowledgements, author Eric Lott notes that the book grew out of a dissertation. A reader better be prepared for a document that didn't grow far enough from a mind-numbing, academic treatment of a topic that deserves a little lighter handling. Social politics aside, minstrelry was popular entertainment. Love & Theft is not.
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