EN 8563:

Paul Laurence Dunbar and the Dialectics of Racial Representation.

Summer Session I - M-F 10:00-11:50

Donald M. Shaffer

In his poem "Sympathy," Paul Laurence Dunbar evokes the symbolism of a caged song bird incessantly beating its wings against the "cruel bars." A self-reflexive symbol of Dunbar's proscribed subaltern expression, the poem's central image signifies the epistemological dilemma inherent in African American literary production. As a poet forced to write in dialect verse despite his desire to establish himself as a poet of standard English verse, Dunbar's career reveals both the accomplishments and the concessions of a nineteenth century black poet/novelist attempting to gain a hearing from a predominantly white audience. In this seminar, we will consider Dunbar's poetry and prose by placing particular emphasis on the problem of racial representation in his writing. Specifically, we will examine Dunbar's writing as both a function of and as responsive to "hegemonic whiteness." In other words, Dunbar's writing necessarily grappled with prevailing racial stereotypes that delimited both the content and structure of his artistic expression. Marshaling theories of the self, including but not limited to Lacanian psychoanalysis, we will then examine how Dunbar's work attempts to reconstruct the multiple and often fragmented images of blackness produced within American culture.

The requirements for the course will include three short QHQ (Question-Hypothesis­Question) presentations, a preliminary critical response paper (3-4 pages), and a seminar paper (15 pages).

Required Texts