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ParaliteraryThe Making of Bad Readers in Postwar America$
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Merve Emre

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226473833

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226474021.001.0001

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Reading like a Revolutionary

Reading like a Revolutionary

Chapter:
(p.208) Chapter Six Reading like a Revolutionary
Source:
Paraliterary
Author(s):

Merve Emre

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226474021.003.0007

In the second of two chapters exploring institutional failure and bureaucratic reading, Chapter Six turns to the administrative and literary work of writers who sought to protest their exclusion from governmental initiatives like PTPI: Afro-modernists like Richard Wright, James Baldwin, John A. Williams, and Gordon Parks, who established institutions like the Franco-American Fellowship (FAF) to promote a specifically black internationalism. This chapter shows that imagining the relationship between radical black politics and bureaucratic institutions led authors to reconfigure the relationship between two dominant genres of postwar fiction: social realism and paranoid postmodernism. In the prevailing critical account, social realism mobilizes action, while paranoia—and particularly, paranoid reading—paralyzes it. However, some Afro-modernists saw how paranoia could be formalized to motivate political activity. My readings range from Wright’s unpublished FAF documents to Williams’s best seller The Man Who Cried I Am, in which a fictive institutional archive—populated by memos, maps, and actions lists documenting a conspiracy to exterminate African-Americans—was read by thousands of people as real, and energized a transatlantic public sphere in protest against structural racism.

Keywords:   Richard Wright, James Baldwin, John A. Williams, The Man Who Cried I Am, Franco-American Fellowship, paranoid reading

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