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Abstractionist AestheticsArtistic Form and Social Critique in African American Culture$
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Phillip Brian Harper

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781479865437

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479865437.001.0001

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Telling It Slant

Telling It Slant

(p.117) 3 Telling It Slant
Abstractionist Aesthetics

Phillip Brian Harper

NYU Press

Positing that narrative coherence is the sine qua non of a literary realism that is epitomized specifically in prose, this chapter argues that it is therefore in nonrealist, experimental prose that abstractionism can register its greatest impact. It begins by demonstrating how the resolute realism of writings by Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker, and Gloria Naylor opened them to charges of negative black portrayal throughout the 1980s. It then closely reviews John Keene’s 1995 experimental prose piece Annotations, in order to demonstrate how that work manages to present an African Americanist critique of twentieth-century U.S. racial politics even as it refrains from delineating identifiable characters or elaborating a recognizable story. The chapter thus finally offers up Annotations as a model of abstractionist African American literary practice, and suggests that such work should be understood as definitive of African American literature per se.

Keywords:   abstractionism, Alice Walker, experimental prose, Gloria Naylor, John Keene, narrative, negative black portrayal, Ntozake Shange, realism

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