Hooks, Bell

Assigned: hooks, bell. “Postmodern Blackness” from Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (2318-25). Also read the editors’ introduction (2316-18).

“Postmodern Blackness” from Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (1990)

1. On 2318-19 (“Postmodernist discourses are often exclusionary…”), how does bell hooks say she responded when a black person completely dismissed postmodernism at a dinner party? All the same, why was she somewhat tepid or hesitant in her response? How does she position herself with regard to the discourse of postmodernism, and why so?

2. On 2319-20 (“Critical of most writing on postmodernism…”), what defect or lack does hooks identify in much of the postmodernist writing she has examined? What seems to be the problem with the formulation of “Otherness and difference” (2319) so often emphasized in postmodernist theory? Moreover, how does many black people’s “resistance” (2320) to engaging with a discourse that seems to ignore them complicate matters?

3. On 2320-21 (“During the sixties, the black power movement…”), how does hooks assess the “black power” movement that flourished during the 1960s? In what sense was it allied with modernism rather than postmodernism? Did it handle the problem of “patriarchy” well? What happened to the message and pursuit of black liberation after the black power movement was largely suppressed by state action? How, according to hooks, does postmodernist discourse up through the 1980s apparently fail to address the needs of the present?

4. On 2321-22 (“The postmodern critique of ‘identity,’…”), how does hooks address the difficult issue of “identity politics”(2321)? Why is it inadvisable simply to dismiss this issue, even though it generates so much controversy among theorists and the public? What does hooks say about the concept of “essentialism” (2321) and about the need to avoid separating what she calls the “politics of difference” from the “politics of racism”?

5. On 2322 (“Yearning is the word that best describes…”), how does hooks sum up the “yearning” that she believes drives the hopes of many people of color and others who have been marginalized? To what extent, in her view, does rap music provide a variety of the “critical voice” she says is needed? Three decades after the publication of “Postmodern Blackness,” what is your own view of the status of rap in contemporary black culture and culture more generally in the United States?

6. On 2322-23 (“Criticisms of directions in postmodern…”), what utility does hooks see in a continuing “critique of essentialism” (2323) for the pursuit of black liberation? How might such a critique pose “a serious challenge to racism” (2323)? In hooks’ view, how can black people affirm “the authority of experience” (2323) that allows them to speak truth to power and yet reject essentialist projections (constructed by themselves or others) about who they are?

7. On 2323-25 (“Music is the cultural product…”), hooks testifies to the way nearly any intellectual production by black people except music is subject to considerable censorship and a lack of people willing to engage with it. What does she suggest about how “black intellectuals” (2324) can best serve black communities beyond academia while yet embracing the best thinking associated with postmodern critical discourse? On the whole, does hooks, in her concluding remarks or “peroration,” seem optimistic about what engagement with postmodernism can achieve? Explain.

8. General question: Barack Obama’s two terms as the United States’ first African-American president (2009-17) were an important event in the history of the country and in its racial history as well. Obama was followed in office, however, by a white man who began his political career by denying the validity of his rival’s American citizenship. How do you assess the significance of the Obama presidency as a marker of progress in American race relations? How would you describe those relations at present? Explain. To what extent can such questions be discussed in connection with bell hooks’ exploration of the value and relevance of postmodern discourse in “Postmodern Blackness” from Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics?

9. General question: The “Black Lives Matter” movement began in 2013 after the killing in Sanford, Florida of a young African-American man, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Based on what you know or can find out about this relatively new movement, what have been its fortunes as it has tried to intervene meaningfully in American race relations and in politics more generally? In what sense—and to what effect—does “Black Lives Matter” participate in America’s racial and political discourse in ways that involve postmodern-tending debates centering on critical race theory, black identity, identity politics, etc.? In your response, refer to bell hooks’ call for a critique of essentialism in “Postmodern Blackness” from Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. Moreover, if you are familiar with Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s notion of “organic intellectuals” (see Gramsci’s “The Formation of the Intellectuals,” Leitch 927-35), to what extent do some of the people involved in “Black Lives Matter” fit into or relate to that category?

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

Copyright © 2021 Alfred J. Drake