This essay examines the shifting forms of racial representation evident in American fiction since the 1970s, with the waning influence of earlier models of depth reading, demystification, and corrective mimesis. In characterizing this shift, Dubey takes her cue from the term racecraft, coined by Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields to capture the epistemic and political confusion surrounding the category of race in the post–civil rights decades. In an era in which the distinction between the truths and lies of the race concept no longer carries much rhetorical force, American novelists approach the category of race as a fiction rather than a lie, focusing on its distinctive conditions of credibility rather than its adequacy to reality. Purposefully conflating literal and figurative, material and metaphorical registers of racial reference, American fiction since the 1970s exemplifies an aesthetic—distinct not only from older models of corrective mimesis but also from the widely heralded post-postmodern realisms of the present—that is uniquely calibrated to the ruses of American racecraft in the post–civil rights decades.
Racecraft in American Fiction
madhu dubey is professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago. She is the author of two books, Black Women Novelists and the Nationalist Aesthetic (1994) and Signs and Cities: Black Literary Postmodernism (2003), and has published essays on African American literary and cultural studies, postmodernism, and race and speculative fiction in journals such as African American Review, American Literary History, American Literature, Black Scholar, differences, Signs, and Social Text. She is currently working on a study examining the shifts in American literary racecraft since the 1970s.
Madhu Dubey; Racecraft in American Fiction. Novel 1 November 2017; 50 (3): 365–374. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-4194968
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