Re-Forming the Past: History, The Fantastic, And the Postmodern Slave Narrative (Book Review) By Extrapolation

Re-Forming the Past: History, The Fantastic, And the Postmodern Slave Narrative (Book Review)

By Extrapolation

  • Release Date: 2006-06-22
  • Genre: Language Arts & Disciplines

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Description

A. Timothy Spaulding. Re-forming the Past: History, the Fantastic, and the Postmodern Slave Narrative. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2005, 148 pp., $39.95 cloth. Reforming the Past, by A. Timothy Spaulding, is a slim volume (137 pages of texts with notes) which examines a range of 20th century rewritings of the slave narrative. Spaulding's examples range from the canonical Beloved (Morrison, 1987), through the critically-acclaimed Flight to Canada (Reed, 1976), and to more genre-identified works such as Stars in my Pockets Like Grains of Sand (Delany, 1990). Other texts discussed are Octavia Butler's Kindred (1976), Charles Johnson's Oxherding Tale (1982) and Middle Passage (1990), and Jewelle Gomez's The Gilda Stories (1991). As this list of texts demonstrates, one of the strengths of Spaulding's approach is that it brings into productive conjunction texts normally considered critically under a variety of rubrics: African American canonical literature, postmodern literature, science fiction, fantasy, the historical novel. By emphasising the common element that these works share--their relationship to the 19th century slave narrative as model and source--Spaulding is able to expand our understanding of both the African American literary canon (which often excludes genre writers such as Butler and Delany) and the literatures of the fantastic (which typically are not thought to include such 'high brow' writers as Morrison and Reed). By considering these works as a common body of literature responding to the experience of slavery, Spaulding is able to suggest distinctive things about these texts as part of an African American tradition that transcends their specific location as genre-specific texts. He argues that they are part of a rejection of narrative realism as a mode for representing African American history and that they form "an African American postmodern approach to the slave narrative" (3).