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Signs and CitiesBlack Literary Postmodernism$
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Madhu Dubey

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780226167268

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226167282.001.0001

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Books of Life: Postmodern Uses of Print Literacy

Books of Life: Postmodern Uses of Print Literacy

(p.55) 2. Books of Life: Postmodern Uses of Print Literacy
Signs and Cities

Madhu Dubey

University of Chicago Press

The modern legacy of print literacy has come under fire in the postmodern era because of its presumed irrelevance to new social conditions and constituencies. The more powerful sway of electronic technologies has sparked a crisis for writers of print literature, which seems at best to occupy a residual space within the postmodern cultural domain. The postmodern attack on print culture is symptomatic of a wider disenchantment with the career of modern humanism, in which print literacy has been thoroughly implicated. Nowhere has the humanist legacy been interrogated as sharply or deeply as in African–American literature, which has long been demonstrating that the dehumanization of African–Americans was essential to the definition of universal humanity in print modernism. Yet the archive of African–American literature is never consulted in postmodern debates on modern humanism and print culture. This chapter focuses on literary texts—Philadelphia Fire (1985) by John Edgar Wideman and Parable of the Sower (1993) by Octavia Butler, along with Sapphire's PUSH—that continue to be profoundly invested in the modern idea of print literacy as a vehicle of social critique and advancement.

Keywords:   African–American literature, print culture, postmodernism, modern humanism, John Edgar Wideman, Octavia Butler, Sapphire

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