Africa, ideology, and subjectivity: Call and response in the Harlem Renaissance

Patrick S Bernard, Purdue University


Africa is one of the central literary concepts in Harlem aesthetics. The analyses of the concept, when not outright dismissive, have been mostly simplistic. This dissertation is a sustained study of the concept of Africa in the works of Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, Carl Van Vechten, and Alain Locke. These writers positioned Africa as symbolic and cultural capital for narrating the story, psychological and social, of the New Negro subject and community. I contend that the idea of Africa was not merely an afterthought of simplistic romanticism or “primitivism” in Harlem discourse. As a site for representation and signification, Africa provided an unreliable and uncertain matrix for investigating the cultural and psychological anxieties of the New Negro. I trace the significance of Africa, manifested as a “Voice” or “Song” that invited the play of voices, through the communicative structures of call and response. As a theoretical framework, call and response enables me to inquire into cultural and philosophical discourses of community and identity and their transformations into ideological projects in Harlem discourse. First, I examine interpellation as call and response that offers critical and skeptical possibilities by which subjects generally, and the New Negro subject in particular, are constructed and constituted in lived relations. Second, I explore antiphony as call and response that provides rhetorical strategies, which the writers utilized to construct discourses of identity and community around the idea of Africa. I organize this dissertation using the structural properties of antiphony: the call, the response, storytelling, and the chorus, which afford positions for intervention and interrogation in the contest over Africa as a problematic in the struggle for self-definition in Harlem aesthetics. ^




Major Professor: Aparajita Sagar, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Literature, Comparative|Literature, Modern|Black Studies|Literature, American

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