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The Diasporan Self

Unbreaking the Circle in Western Black Novels
J. Lee Greene

BUY Cloth · 264 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813927398 · $59.50 · Sep 2008
BUY Paper · 264 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813927404 · $21.50 · Sep 2008

Through its critical examination of novels by Toni Morrison, Charles Johnson, Sherley Anne Williams, Octavia Butler, John Edgar Wideman, Phyllis Perry, Ishmael Reed, Caryl Phillips, and others, The Diasporan Self presents a fresh and insightful approach to canonical and noncanonical contemporary fictional slave narratives. Through his careful study of the discourse of this subgenre, J. Lee Greene formulates a significant new approach to the interpretation of contemporary African American literature.

Drawing directly from the authors' novels, essays, and interviews, Greene extracts, synthesizes, and narrativizes a foundational myth that the novelists collectively generate. This diasporan myth and its accompanying theory of Western black Being are grounded in the historical black African diaspora. Together they seek to explain the history and nature of Western blacks, and thus give rise to key aspects of form and meaning in the texts Greene discusses. The Diasporan Self convincingly establishes the self-theorizing nature of these postmodern novels, constructing from them a critical vocabulary germane to their production and interpretation.

Greene explores the strong influence of Jean Toomer's fictional and philosophical writings on these contemporary authors as well as the authors' incorporation of religious philosophy and cultural anthropology from several Western and non-Western cultures. The critical paradigm Greene formulates is applicable not only to contemporary fictional slave narratives and other diasporan novels but also to other Western black art forms.


"The Diasporan Self offers a robust, accessible theory of contemporary African American literature that scholars and students alike will find essential both in complementary critical studies and in the classroom. In fact, Greene may very well have written the definitive analyses of the novels he studies, presenting a long-overdue synthesis of a quarter century of scholarship in African American literary studies. Readers who desire entrée into the more challenging works of these African American writers will obtain it here and emerge excited by new interpretive possibilities.

Darryl Dickson-CarrSouthern Methodist University, author of The Columbia Guide to Contemporary African American Fiction

"Contemporary Black Novels and the African Diaspora is a worthy successor to the author's landmark previous volume, Blacks in Eden. It clearly will be required reading for anybody with either an academic or even just a reading interest in contemporary African American letters, American Literature, cultural studies and literary theory. Greene enters a discussion in progress and shifts its direction significantly. What he teases out in his astute readings is a foundational myth that carries within it 'a theory of western black Being,' and that is what he pursues through the many texts he analyses. In the process of his explications, Greene defines and explores modes of 'literary diaspority' that have seldom been so ably anatomized..

Aldon NielsenKelly Professor of American LiteraturePenn State University, author of Integral Music: Languages of African American Innovation

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