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Indiana State University

Review: [untitled]
Author(s): Farah Jasmine Griffin
Reviewed work(s):
History Memory in African-American Culture. by Geneviève Fabre ; Robert O'Meally
Source: African American Review, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Autumn, 1996), pp. 461-462
Published by: Indiana State University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3042537 .
Accessed: 02/02/2011 14:20

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Reviews

fHfistory & Memoryin African-American Culture


presents seventeen prominent scholars who Genevieve Fabreand RobertO'Meally,
explore various aspects of African American life in eds. History & Memory in African-American
relation to French historian Pierre Nora's concept of Culture.New York:OxfordUP, 1994. 336 pp.
$18.95
lieux de me'moireor "site of memory." The volume rep-
resents three important developments in African Reviewedby
American Studies: the internationalization of the dis-
cipline, the truly interdisciplinary nature of the enter- FarahJasmine Griffin
University of Pennsylvania
prise, and the contest, debate, and dialogue within
the field. AfricanAmerican Review, Volume 30, Number3
Edited by a renowned French scholar, Genevieve C 1996 FarahJasmine Griffin
Fabre, and a respected African American critic,
Robert O'Meally, and dedicated to Nathan Huggins
and Melvin Dixon, two scholars whose careers exem-
plified a commitment to forging intellectual links
between Europe and the United States, the volume presents an apparently interna-
tional roster of scholars dedicated to the study of African American life and culture.
Also, because the volume began as a series of faculty seminars at Harvard
University's W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African American Research-an institution
long devoted to collaborative work with European scholars-it is not surprising that
a large number of the contributors hail from major European universities as diverse
as Universite du Maine (LeMans, France),University of Rome, and Universite de la
Sorbonne Nouvelle. Consequently, we are given insight into the way African
American Studies is taught outside of the United States. Because of the possibilities
for an international African American Studies suggested by this volume, one longs
for a similar volume that might include scholars from Latin America, Asia, Africa,
and, most importantly, the Caribbean.
If the international roster of scholars contributes to its geographical breadth, the
interdisciplinary nature of the volume contributes to the intellectual breadth of
African American Studies. Among the most interesting essays in the collection are
those that introduce new and important subject matter into the province of African
American Studies. Angelika Krueger-Kahloula'sessay on racial segregation in
American cemeteries contributes an analysis of African American life from the field
of geography. VeVe Clark's exploration of performance and memory in Katherine
Dunham's choreography reveals an important political dimension to Dunham's
work. Richard Powell's essay on a Blues Aesthetic in African American visual arts
encourages us to explore connections among African American literature, music, and
art.
The final development in African American Studies represented by this volume
is the ongoing conflict, debate, and dialogue necessary for the growth of any field
and most evident in the essays of two of the volume's best known contributors, for-
mer Wesleyan colleagues Hazel Carby and Robert O'Meally. Carby's essay "The
Politics of Fiction, Anthropology, and the Folk: Zora Neale Hurston" picks up where
the conclusion of her book ReconstructingWomanhood: TheEmergenceof the
Afro-AmericanWomanNovelist stops. In the essay, Carby explores in greater depth
her contention that Hurston and contemporary African Americanists and feminists
who have resurrected her opt for a romantic valorization of a vernacular folk culture.

REVIEWS 461
Carby encourages cultural critics to "begin to acknowledge the complexity of [their]
discursive displacement of contemporary conflict and cultural transformation in the
search for black cultural authenticity." For Carby, such a focus on the vernacular as
an expression of "black cultural authenticity" is particularly problematic during a
time when we ought to be concerned with the contradictions, antagonisms, and rich
complexity of African American life.
In contrast, the eloquent "On Burke and the Vernacular:Ralph Ellison's
Boomerang of History" by Robert O'Meally offers an alternative perspective. Tracing
Kenneth Burke's influence on Ralph Ellison, O'Meally argues that "Ellison's critique
is not only of a vulgarly Marxian concept of history.. . but of any deterministic or
easy schematic tracing of history." In what appears to be a direct engagement of
Carby, O'Meally argues that the vernacular is not
a romanticizedor ideological construct.Rather,it is the inversive and inventive edge of
African-Americanculture, constantlyin search of newly turned forms.... In this sense,
U.S. black vernacularforms, as conservativeas they can be, also are fueled by an aggres-
sive impulse to change, not only "to make it new" but to make what they do uncopyably
different.
This new, changing dynamic of African American culture and of the scholarship
that makes this culture the focus of its investigation is certainly evident in this
important contribution to African American Studies.

rofessorDolanHubbardhas writtena sophisticat-


DolanHubbard.The Sermonand the ed study of the sermon and its numerous appropri-
AfricanAmericanLiteraryImagination. ations in black American literature. Exploring the rela-
Columbia:U of MissouriP, 1994. 192 pp. tionships between the black preaching tradition and the
$29.95. themes, styles, and structures of the sermon as they
Reviewedby appear in African American writing from the nineteenth
century to the present, Hubbard elucidates the promi-
YvonneChireau nent cultural and aesthetic values reflected in black reli-
SwarthmoreCollege
gion and spirituality. As a historian, I found his analysis
AfricanAmerican Review, Volume 30, Number3 illuminating, brimming with promise for those of us who
C 1996 Yvonne Chireau have given attention to the resources provided in African
American sacred traditions through interdisciplinary
analysis of religious language, symbolism, ritual, and
myth. In the black experience in the United States the
sermon has historically stood at the center of the Christian apprehension of a sacred
self, both as text and as worldview. The sermon functions as a source of meaning for
members of the community of faith and for those outside of the fellowship of believ-
ers, for its power reaches beyond the church. As a unique product of African
American culture, the sermon is the locus for the articulation of an authentic black
voice, an expressive and creative medium that conveys the substance of black exis-
tentiality. Within literature, finds Hubbard, the sermon has also provided a touch-
stone by which writers have deeply probed the heart and soul of an African
American ethos.
The sermon is the "heroic voice" of the African American artist, and Hubbard
explores the numerous modalities of this voice as it is evoked in the black sacred tra-
dition and employed through powerful oral and aural modes of expression that are
utilized by the preacher. These aspects of ritual expression are transformed and artic-
ulated within the African American scribal tradition by writers, who place the ser-
mon, in all of its profound resonances, at the center of their narrative structure.
Hubbard notes that, as an artistic and inspirational form, the sermon is a "unifying

462 REVIEW
AFRICANAMERICAN