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By Phillip Brian Harper

In a big reassessment of African American tradition, Phillip Brian Harper intervenes within the ongoing debate concerning the “proper” depiction of black humans. He advocates for African American aesthetic abstractionism—a representational mode wherein an art, instead of striving for realist verisimilitude, vigorously asserts its primarily synthetic personality. preserving that realist illustration reaffirms the very social evidence that it can were understood to problem, Harper contends that abstractionism indicates up the particular constructedness of these evidence, thereby subjecting them to serious scrutiny and making them amenable to transformation.

Arguing opposed to the necessity for “positive” representations, Abstractionist Aesthetics displaces realism because the fundamental mode of African American representational aesthetics, re-centers literature as a relevant web site of African American cultural politics, and elevates experimental prose in the area of African American literature. Drawing on examples throughout various creative creation, together with the visible paintings of Fred Wilson and Kara Walker, the tune of Billie vacation and Cecil Taylor, and the prose and verse writings of Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker, and John Keene, this e-book poses pressing questions on how racial blackness is made to imagine convinced social meanings. within the strategy, African American aesthetics are upended, rendering abstractionism because the strongest modality for Black illustration.

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Extra resources for Abstractionist Aesthetics: Artistic Form and Social Critique in African American Culture

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Subsequently returning to the “harmony” that should characterize “the symmetrical relations of the different parts [of a temple] to the general magnitude of the whole,” Vitruvius continues his analogy by stating that, just so, 36 ||| Black Personhood in the Maw of Abstraction in the human body the central point is naturally the navel. For if a man be placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centred at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom.

8 For its part, the Walker piece under consideration here does not even attempt such maneuvers, forgoing any effort to convey either the factors in or the implications of the activities it depicts. It thereby acquiesces both to the standard limits on pictorial representation noted earlier and to its own status as precisely an instance of such representation, as distinct from the lived reality within which such phenomena as “sexual abuse” actually occur. Of course, Walker’s tableau most certainly bears a relation to that lived reality, telegraphing such real-­world matters as racial and gender identity through the naturalistic precision of its graphic outline.

28 Thus reduced to a lowest-­level commonality in which their very humanity was annulled, black people assumed a condition of abstraction whose import was wholly negative. Just like the property relation, however—­which can now be adopted and mobilized by African Americans themselves—­abstraction is neither good nor bad per se, its value instead depending on the functions it is made to serve and the perspective from which it is assessed. 31 Such conformity implicates a disavowal of individual interest whose import is as much intellectual as moral, as it bespeaks not only a selfless preferment of the common good but also the valuation of general principles over concrete particulars—­a mode of abstract reckoning that is understood as the very epitome of rational thought.

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