In this essay I offer a temporal-philosophical and literary-political reading of Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins detective novel series. African American literature has conventionally been understood as following its own timeline; however, ascribing a distinct temporality to black people has been far more controversial, and rightly so. Because to the degree that they have been perceived to be in or of another time, black people have also been excluded from dominant constructions of Western modernity, such as those of Hegel and Jefferson. Yet the idea that African Americans inhabit a distinct temporality, albeit an imposed one, has also been advanced by black intellectuals, at least since Frederick Douglass's 1845 declaration that slaves “seldom come nearer” their birthdays than “planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time.” To adapt Heidegger in this context, dasein (being there) does not describe slave subjectivity as much as would a term such as arbeitsein (being in work). But contemporary scholars have raised concerns about positing black alterity. Madhu Dubey, for one, cautions against situating African American cultural production in “residual zones” outside the socioeconomic or temporal structures of postmodernism. But the Easy Rawlins novels reinforce Douglass's notion that African American people occupy an alternate temporality; at the same time, it is precisely through their distinctive temporalities at levels of form and content that the novels achieve much of their political force. Via a hard-boiled form born of 1930s cynicism, Mosley's Easy Rawlins novels insist on the still-lived experience of “being black there.”
Research Article| November 01 2009
Being Black There: Racial Subjectivity and Temporality in Walter Mosley's Detective Novels
Novel (2009) 42 (3): 361–365.
Daylanne K. English; Being Black There: Racial Subjectivity and Temporality in Walter Mosley's Detective Novels. Novel 1 November 2009; 42 (3): 361–365. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2009-028
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