Critical Memory: Public Spheres, African American Writing, and Black Fathers and Sons in America

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Overview


From the lone outcry of Richard Wright's Black Boy to the chorusing voices of Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March, Critical Memory looks across the past half century to assess the current challenges to African American cultural and intellectual life. As Houston A. Baker recalls his own youth in Louisville, Kentucky, and Washington, D.C., he situates such figures as Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Shelby Steele, O. J. Simpson, Chris Rock, and Jesse Jackson within such issues as the embattled state of African American manhood and the "financing and promotion of black intellectuals."

The "memory" of the book's title is doubly "critical." It is imperative, Baker says, that we keep alive the "embarrassing, macabre, and always bizarre" memory of race in America. In another respect, the remembering must be pointed and keen enough to discern truth from its often highly politicized, commercialized trappings. Throughout the book, Baker returns again and again to the triad of race, "likability" (the compromises by which one gains credibility in white America), and "clearance" (the separation of blacks from the "rights, spaces, and privileges of American citizenship"). These concepts, Baker argues, gird the meritocracy, still in force, that claimed progress in granting black men like his father the freedom to work themselves to death behind a desk instead of a mule.

In Critical Memory reason and cool rage converge to expose the draining tasks of reconciling white America's perception of its righteousness with its lack of relish for the truth it claims to welcome from black intellectuals and artists.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In these pages can be found, at least to this psychoanalytical eye, traces of the war within texts of Houston A. Baker Jr., a war that is waged in these and other volumes between differing African American male writers, between past and present, blackness and likability, black men and, silently, black women. When the shooting stops, it seems clear that Baker has set his course quite differently. Ellison and Washington have lost to Wright and King, as the more effective southern spokesmen to and for the black majority's move toward modernity."--Anne Goodwyn Jones, Southern Literary Journal
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Product Details

Meet the Author


Houston A. Baker Jr. is a professor of English at Duke University. Among his honors and achievements in American letters, Baker is a past president of the Modern Language Association. His books include Workings of the Spirit: The Poetics of Afro-American Women's Writing and Black Studies, Rap, and the Academy.
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Table of Contents

Foreword
Preface
Acknowledgments
Black Modernity: Kitchen Memories, Likable Black Boys, and the American South 1
Failed Memory: Black Majority Modernism and Mr. Ellison's Invisible Man 21
Words for Black Fathers and Sons in America: Symbolic Politics and a Million Man March 41
End Thought: "Think of the Days of the Past, Learn from the Past" 65
Notes 75
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