‘ The Race for Theory’ , Barbara Christian
Many Western philosophers have played an important role in setting up the Literary Theory., who throughout history have been in the top of the literary hierarchy. They have considered the distinctions between written literatures and then they came up with the redefinition of literature, which lead them to the changes in literary critical language such as to ‘ re-invent the meaning of theory’ (Christian, 225).
First of all, Barbara states that the first step we should take is to ignore the literary theory, which according to her it has been invented to work for these Western philosophers. The replacement of this theory has left unexposed the black literature, and its only ‘advantage’ is its determination on being promoted in academic institutions.
Secondly, this theory is not stable. As many critics are not concerned with literature but more with other critics’ texts, and in nowadays as the professionals are developed, they are increasingly academics, so there is a replacement of ideas which is a competition theory as the ‘ race accelerates’ (Christian, 226).
Thirdly, Barbara is underlines that Black folk has always been a race of theory. Her concern with the race for theory is related to the academic hegemony and its inaptness to the emerging literatures today. This race for theory, refuses to mention contemporary creative writers and its generalization on culture, becomes an obstacle in discussing many of black literature.
... from that of Omi and Winant’s essentialist theory that race is socially constructed theory. Nagel would argue that individuals and ethnic ... religion. Thus, culture is more concrete than ethnicity and race, which were created through historical appropriation. Nagel introduces this ... process and especially my acceptance into a university. Unlike race and ethnicity, culture is said to unite groups of ...
Fourthly, a central point that Barbara is opposing is the hierarchy of literature, which is the outcome of literature, depended in politics. By objecting the race for theory she still does not agree with ‘ the neutral humanists who see literature as pure expression’ (Christian 228) and she does not admit to the control of its production, value, and distribution by those who have power. The Afro-American writers have protested the literary hierarchy of dominance, which declares when literature is literature, when it is great, etc., and it was The Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s which uttered those issues.
According to Barbara, some people do not see black critical writers as persuasive enough. As Barbara says, there are two reasons for this :
First, in the U.S. the black works are discredited as humans too. And since the dominant critics and being also creative writers from the Western world had access to the institutions of education, the black writers have been excluded. And the answer to ‘ why’ should see, literature as political.
Inevitably a hierarchy has been developed between what is theoretical criticism and practical criticism. She shows antipathy towards the fact that this particular orientation is so privileged that has unfocused many of us from reading today’s literature as well as past works about which nothing has been written. Barbara claims and believes that with the continuous changes on theoretical criticism, the critics in the future will have to reclaim the writers we are in nowadays ignoring.
Fifthly, there is a danger of not placing the theory in practice and the pronouncement of the canon, which leads to monolithism.
Black Arts Movement in 60’s tried to create Black Literary Theory and she explains that when the theory is not rooted in practice it becomes prescriptive, exclusive, elitist. An example is the approach of this movement toward language, the use of black talk, which was defined as hip urban language. This emphasizes on one way to be black resulted in works being seen as non-black since the black talk of one city did not sound like the black talk of another city, and were condemned as not being black enough.
... certain language could be dangerous, even fatal’(2). Black English is a means of literary liberation from literary colonization. Black English ... or “proper” Western language signifies access to white ... cleanliness”. Thus, Baldwin argues that language implements a system of race within speech and literature, in which “white” English ...
Whole areas of the canon were assessed according to the dictum of the Black Arts Nationalist point of view, while other works were ignored because they did not fit ‘ the scheme of cultural nationalism’ (Christian, 232).
And this movement trying to take power became much like its opponent, monolithic and downright repressive, where monolithism becomes a metasystem where there is a controlling ideal, especially in relation to pleasure. So language as a form of pleasure becomes restricted, heavy and abstract.
Furthermore, the Black Arts Movement had a monolithic approach because it had a desire to destroy the power, which controlled black people, so the approach that they desired, became like that which it wished to destroy. And as she states, ‘many of us rather then wanting to change the model they want to be at the center’ (Christian, 234).
Finally, her major objection to the race for theory brings out the question: For whom are we doing what are we doing when we do literary criticism?’ (Christian, 235).
According to her, the answer to this question would orientate our work, the language we use, the purposes for which it is intended.
For her, literary criticism is promotion as well as understanding, to folk who need the writing as much as they need anything. And from literary history, the writing disappears if there is no response to it and the tradition of many countries and races (especially the tradition of Black people) has to continue and survive.
So her ‘ method’ to use a new ‘ literary criticism’ word, is not fixed but relates to the learning from the language of creative writers, so that we might discover what language we might use.
Therefore Barbara Christian has not set any method, since she indicates that every work suggests a new approach.
Barbara Christian has been requested to produce a black feminist literary theory but according to her we need not to make any distinction between language, class, race and gender in literature (Christian, 227).
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