Black culture and appropriation in the American novel from 1960 to the present day
This thesis examines how the work of six American novelists engages with some of the key questions and arguments associated with contemporary debates and controversies surrounding the subject of appropriation in the context of African American culture. A legacy of postcolonial theory has been a heightened awareness of the pitfalls entailed in representing “the other”. This has contributed to a tendency among many contemporary scholars to view “cultural appropriation” as a necessarily pejorative term. Rejecting this narrow understanding of the term, I accept the important distinction that the philosopher James O. Young makes between different types of cultural appropriation, and I argue that novels by William Styron, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, Philip Roth, and Percival Everett offer a more sophisticated exploration of the ethics of cultural appropriation than much contemporary discourse. As well as building upon Young’s valuable 2008 work, Cultural Appropriation and the Arts, this study makes original connections between the American novel and the work of a number of theorists in the area of black identity and its role in intellectual and political life. Key figures in this field of enquiry are Paul Gilroy, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Adolph Reed Jr., Stephen Best, Frank Wilderson, and Calvin Warren. Through the clarification and interrogation of certain persistent assumptions about black culture and identity, this study makes available a new understanding of both the work of major American novelists and the term “cultural appropriation”.