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Reading Percival Everett

 | 
Claude Julien
, 
Anne-Laure Tissut

III. To Live ... to Die, and to Keep Laughing

Manifest Deathtiny: Percival Everett’s American Desert of the Real

Michel Feith

Résumé

A quasi-surrealistic novel about a man who died and came back to life, American Desert is also a scathing parody of American myths and the contemporary media. The desert of the title is first of all a place, reminiscent of the Manifest Destiny. That this space is peopled by religious nuts and military fools cannot be a coincidence. Then, the important role given the media, especially television, alludes to an emptiness and superficiality in everyday American life, a life and a Dream which the protagonist had repeatedly failed to fully make his own. These are the paths that our study will attempt to follow. A reflection on the tall-tale/tell-tale nature of Theodore Street’s strange state of un-deadness will lead us to a discussion of American society as a parodic media desert. In such a context, the defamiliarizing tactics of humor can become both a debunking of empty images and narratives, and a sort of initiation beyond these disquieting mirrors and doubles, into a more human awareness. We will also be led to wonder if the surrealist reference is not more than a superficial comment on the strangeness of the plot, but also a possible Ariadne’s thread in the labyrinthine web of the text.

Texte intégral

  • 1 All page references to American Desert given between brackets are to the 2004 Hyperion edition.

1Percival Everett is a master humorist and parodist. A quick glance at a few of his works will reveal a wide range of figures of fun, from pastiches and travesties of classical myth (For Her Dark Skin; Frenzy), scathing satires of neo-minstrel black protest novels (Erasure) and the post-structuralist vulgate (Glyph), to quasi-surrealist absurdist fables (Grand Canyon, Inc). Even more “straightforward” novels like Watershed abound in puns, jokes, ludicrous episodes and tongue-in-cheek narration. A summary outline of American Desert1 will instantly qualify the latter for inclusion in Everett’s crazy canon.

2The protagonist, Theodore Street, a failure of a university teacher, dies in a car accident on his way to committing suicide. His head is severed, yet he is born again on the third day, during his funeral, which provokes two fatal heart attacks (his department head and the dean) and a riot. After going back home with his shocked family, Ted is besieged by the media. Trying to run away from them in a supermarket, he is abducted by religious fanatics who believe he is the devil incarnate and want to kill him in a more definitive way. In their hideout in the California desert, these disciples of “Big Daddy” keep an arsenal of old weapons, and “milk carton” children as hostages. Taking to his heels again and learning that he is invulnerable, Ted is kidnapped again, by the U.S. army this time, and taken to Area 51, a subterranean base where secret experiments are conducted. He is dissected by a mad scientist who wants to know the secret of his resurrection in order to create immortal soldiers —the ultimate weapon. Fleeing once again, he meets twenty-seven deformed clones of Jesus, bred there for the same purpose. He escapes to a new religious cult that takes him for an angel, and finally stops running to go and save the children hostages at Big Daddy’s compound. His mission accomplished, and his wife having found a new boyfriend, he seems to be able to finally leave this earth, removes his head himself and dies for good.

3The surrealistic absurdity of this plot, straight out of News of the World —indeed, some witnesses claim to have sighted Elvis at the base in Area 51 (236)— reveals its playful, parodic dimension, further compounded by the various meanings of the title. The American desert is first of all a geographical location, one whose symbolic connotation is precisely that of a redemptive mission, the “errand into the Wilderness”, or Manifest Destiny. That this space is peopled by religious and military fools cannot be a coincidence. Then, the important role given the media, especially television, alludes to an emptiness and superficiality in everyday American life that may remind one of Jean Baudrillard’s “desert of the real” (Baudrillard 169). Finally, the main character’s pre-mortem pattern of failure to fit into the American Dream (professional failure as an academic, moral failure as a husband and father, existential failure as a suicide, etc.) seems to indict a highly competitive, individualistic, selfish society, by comparing it to a form of death-in-life condemning the subject to Sartrian “inauthenticity”.

4A reflection on the tall-tale/tell-tale nature of Theodore Street’s strange state of un-deadness will lead us to a discussion of American society as a parodic media desert. In such a context, the tactics of humor, together with inroads into the supernatural, seem to lead to a critical “defamiliarization of the real”. The debunking of empty images and narratives becomes a sort of initiation into a more human, pluralistic awareness. Parody, surrealism and the fantastic represent a form of double sight which can derail single-track mindframes, and open up greener vistas in the desert.

5The whole paradox of the novel is clearly stated from the opening lines: the character’s death is manifest, since his head was severed from his body (4), yet his “resurrection” on the third day confers him a problematic status. Is he a ghost, a demon, an angel, all or none of the above? In parallel fashion, the status of the body of the text is dubious, not only because Ted becomes a character only after his death, which is not uncommon in fiction, but mainly because he becomes a narrator post-mortem.

That Theodore Street was dead was not a matter open to debate The irony of his accidental death went unobserved as no one knew that Theodore was on his way to commit suicide when he was, shall we say, interrupted. Now the irony is lost amid the confusion created by Ted’s death, departure, demise, dissolution and further by the fact that Ted chooses to relate his own story in third person, an unusual (the occasional politician and athlete aside), but acceptable device, given that, in a most profound way, he stood —or stands even— outside himself, not so much on the parapet of consciousness but of life itself, it being perhaps the case that neither entails, necessarily, the other (3).

6The humor of this incipit is moreover due to a shift in emphasis: the surprising fact is supposed to be the third-person autobiography rather than the literal “death of the author” figured here. The fortuitous replacement of suicide by a car accident introduces a causal ambiguity that blurs the categories of language and reality. Ted’s street overruled death becomes a riddle canceling the either/or logic of the “dead or alive” kind, in favor of the more conjunctive “dead and yet alive”, or even of the suspensive “dead and/or alive”. Does it mean that American Desert belongs to the fantastic genre in which the dead walk the earth in various guises? If we consider Tzvetan Todorov’s definition of the fantastic as marked by the hesitation, on the part of the reader and often on that of the protagonist, between a natural and a supernatural explanation to the mysterious events confronting him/her, the novel does not belong to this genre (See Todorov 29). Even though Ted remains doubtful as to exactly what he is almost until the end, when he pronounces himself dead and stays so (290-291), the first sentence is supposed to short-circuit all ambiguity and steep us straight into the supernatural. It is the comparative status of this supernatural and “reality”, or literary realism, that remains problematic. An extension of the limits of the genre to “any conscious departure from consensus reality” (Napier 29) would allow us, if not to conclude just now, at least to continue probing the relation of Everett’s novel with the fantastic. All the more so if we endow the latter with the subversive potential of defamiliarizing the “real” (Napier 5).

7What could be more consensual, more constitutive of what we call “reality”, at least in Western society, than the impossibility of dead and living people to interact on the same plane of being? What could be more unfamiliar and subversive than the irruption into “normal” suburban life of a literally “born-again” miscreant?

In a world still combating the heresies of Voltaire, Darwin and even Robert Ingersoll, a man returning from the dead was hard to take. In most cultures this would have been the case, Ted admitted, but his own, with its appeal to so-called reason and scientific method, promised to behave as badly as his imagination could allow (56-57).

8In a way, Ted’s (re)animated body, bearing as stigmata the stitches of a head reassembled with blue fishing line by a careless mortician (6), takes on the dimension of a surrealistic challenge to both reason and religion, two systems of thought based on the clear distinction between structural opposites like life and death. He represents a glitch in the system, whose apparition provokes an avalanche of comically absurd consequences. No wonder there is a riot near the church of his resurrection: nothing but chaos can result from the transgression of such a cornerstone of the Western mind. What the undead Ted proves is that no one knows what death really is, and therefore that no one knows the meaning of life. Neither the uproarious crowd nor the élites remain unscathed by the impact of the event. An “expert” on TV stresses the gradual quality of death:

For the medical profession, death is not a precise moment or instant, but a continuous process. A heart might stop, but cells and tissue might continue showing signs of life for days. As the cells and other parts are deprived of oxygen and nutrients, they die as well (57).

9This Dr. Dume —an onomastic cross between “doom” and the empiricist philosopher David Hume (1711-1776)— can concede that there is a intermediate continuum between life and death, but is unable to face an all-out attack on these categories, and ends up in a panic, calling the whole business a “hoax” (58) —which it is, of course, being a work of fiction; and yet, within the virtual world of the story, the reader is supposed to believe in the truth of the matter. A scientist who examines Ted shows fear at his state, or at her own ignorance (65); so do the pathologists who conduct a “mortem” dissection under a Dr. Lyons at the army base: “The vibrations of the room were being sucked into Lyons and her staff, unable to exhale, incapable of even looking at each other for affirmation, confirmation, or shared horror, fear or confusion” (183).

10Religion seems at first to fare better than science: after all, the resurrection of the dead is one of the tenets of Christianity, with Jesus providing the key precedent. Ted can more readily fit in the mindframe of the two religious groups he meets, yet the positions he occupies in their metaphysical systems are diametrically opposed. Big Daddy’s “sponges” kidnap him in order to kill him, as a demon, or even the Antichrist himself —which awakens Big Daddy’s sadistic desires “to lacerate a reaching limb of the devil himself.” (133). Actually, even Ted’s knowledge of the Bible, presumably a consequence of his teaching Old English, becomes an indictment “because only a devil could know the Bible so well” (122). This apocalyptic cult, preparing for the final war against Evil and the government, and waiting for spaceships to take them to the Holy City (127), stages an execution ritual reminiscent of a witch-hunt: Ted is tied to a stake and shot at with a misfiring Civil War cannon (144-146). Later on, after Ted has escaped from Area 51 to the UFO watchers’ encampment, he is sheltered by Negatia Frashkart’s group, the Heavenly Order of Pyromantic Worship of the Ruach Elohim, who take him for the Savior. The irony of his being “elevated from devil to Messiah” is compounded by the fact that he is attended by another escapee from the secret Army base, Jesus clone 19 (231). The latter, the only intelligent-looking duplicate, was unfortunately born without a mouth, which makes him paradoxically unable to claim his identity as the Word made flesh.

  • 2 “Theodore Street” is an actual street name. Percival Everett was driving by the sign one day, and t (...)
  • 3 In the double acceptation of this term defined by Joseph Campbell: on the one hand, a desire to ass (...)

11All in all, even if religion is better armed than science to recognize the supernatural or miraculous, the incoherence and singular lack of perceptiveness the holy leaders are afflicted with amounts to a debunking of Christianity and, more specifically, of millenarianism, an extension of belief quite common in the American literal and figurative “desert”. The (re)naming of Nineteen as Harold, from the Lord’s Prayer “Our Father who art in heaven, Harold be thy name” (231), is a pointed example of humorous deconstruction. So is the rather pedestrian downgrading of “God’s gift” —the Greek meaning of Theodore— to Street level: from the heavens to the gutter of the commonplace2. More seriously, Big Daddy’s and Negatia Frashkart’s groups are mirror, or negative, images of each other. Their opposite attitudes towards Ted’s super-nature, and the fact that they are guided respectively by a man and a woman, under the sign of fear and hatred on the one hand, love on the other, give them a form of Yin-Yang complementarity. They also share the same anthem, the spiritual Michael Row the Boat Ashore, which ends up getting on Theodore’s nerves. Another common point is the personality of the leaders: both Big Daddy and Negatia are overweight and ugly, and both were abused by their fathers, as revealed in the kind of divinatory flashbacks that Ted has been capable of conjuring since his “revival”. Obviously their extreme religiosity stems from a desire to compensate for the traumas (violence and sexual abuse, respectively) of their childhood, and to reconcile themselves with the image of the Father. Their belief is therefore pathetic, and tinged with perversion. Their need for atonement with the Father3 makes them insensitive to the more pragmatic and communicative dimension of life: Ted is unable to convince Big Daddy that he is not a demon, just as his request of a phone to call his family is unheard at a Heavenly Order ritual (240). The latter conflation of the high and low registers may not be only a debunking of the metaphysical expectations of the faithful: a form of ironic pathos oozes from this unheeded call for a means of communication. All the more so if we accept the etymology of the word “religion” to originate in religere, “to connect”. The unwilling Messiah finds himself in the same situation as the mute Christ clone, a living, allegorical proof of the failure of religion to meet its own criteria of humanity and spirituality.

  • 4 Should we go as far as saying that the choice, as twin targets of satire, of millenarian religion a (...)

12Theodore Street’s return to life, being at the same time a narrative “fact” and a factual impossibility, endows the novel with the subversive potentialities of fantastic fiction, and undermines the cognitive consensus underlying the construction of “reality” in contemporary America. In this often comic process of reductio ad absurdum, both scientific rationality and Christian-derived religion, the two major discursive modes that claim to give sometimes complementary, sometimes conflictual accounts of the workings of the universe, are found wanting.4 After all, a corpse represents the utmost contradiction and ambiguity, which is closely connected in the Bible with impurity:

But in the biblical text it is the cadaver —like, in a more abstract way, money or the golden calf— which concentrates the abjection of refuse. A rotting, lifeless body, an excrement all over, a dubious element between the animate and the inorganic, a transitional swarm, a doubling inseparable from a human condition whose life is pervaded with the symbolic: the corpse is the original pollution. Body without a soul, nobody, dubious matter, it must be excluded from the territory as from the word of God.... In other words, while it is rubbish, transitional matter, mixture, the cadaver is most of all the obverse side of spirituality, of the symbolic, of the divine law (Kristeva 127-128. My translation).

  • 5 An oversexed, gluttonous figure found in most of the traditional cultures of the world, the trickst (...)

13Ted is the litmus test of the unknown and irreductible which foils pretenses to total knowledge. His liminal, extra categorical, comical nature gives him some of the attributes of the trickster: an enmity for boundaries, a taste for language play, the subversion of certainties and order.5 Is not the trickster of the Hopi Indians called Skeleton Man, a ruler of the underworld and fertility god who can show himself both as a figure of bones and as a handsome young man, sharing with Ted the ability to move in and out of the realm of the dead (see Erdoes and Ortiz, xviii)? A living (?) question mark, trickster Ted’s function may well be to sensitize us to the vital necessity of fiction and imagination as antidotes to dogma.

14At this juncture, it may not be useless to connect the superficially “surrealistic” form of the novel with the deeper implications of the surrealist project, which André Breton once defined as an “insurrection against logic” (Breton 77). It was at the same time an insurrection against all forms of established religion. The rationale for the most visible aspects of this artistic practice, like collage and automatic writing, stem from a desire to transcend binary oppositions and incorporate the disruptive logic of dreams and the unconscious into the field of creation and perception.

There is ample reason to believe that there exists a certain point in the mind from which life and death, up and down, the real and the imaginary, the past and the future, the communicable and the incommunicable, stop being perceived contradictorily. One would vainly look for another motive to surrealist activity than the hope of determining this point (Breton 72-73, my translation).

15One could easily say that American Desert, with its unrealistic plot, fulfils the surrealist dictate of bridging the most antinomic realities in an almost dream-like or nightmare-like atmosphere. Its loosely-connected chain of implausible and impossible events answers Breton’s advice to novelists: “In the literary field, only the marvelous is able to impregnate works belonging to an inferior genre like the novel, and in a more general fashion, all that is of an anecdotal nature” (Breton 25, my translation). Though the examples are taken from Gothic and fantastic novels, like Lewis’s The Monk (1795), the well-known progeny of this emphasis is the tradition of “marvelous” and “magical realism”, in which paranormal occurrences are treated in the same manner as natural ones. In a sense, American Desert, with its fantastic and parodic treatment of the supernatural, seems to go back to surrealistic basics.

16Ted’s unexplainably continued existence holds for others the place of the uncanny —both irreductibly alien (dead) and strangely similar (seemingly alive)— and faces them with a projective mirror image of their fears and aspirations (devil, Messiah, or unknowable quantity): their reactions can therefore only be of limited use for an understanding of his nature. If we want to reach beyond the simple, almost pathological fascination that is both registered and created by the media people who follow the protagonist and his family everywhere and besiege their house, we will have to grope our way in the twilight zone of the text, between ready-made opinions and total ignorance. A closer analysis of the characterization of the new Theodore may help us discern his role and function in the narrative.

17The perceptions of the changed protagonist by his family shape the reader’s response to him to a greater extent than the more external reactions of bigots and scientists. These perceptions vary widely, and leave open a whole range of perspectives for us to adopt separately or in combination. His daughter Emily is “embarrassed” and “scared” by the Frankenstein-like stranger who might well be a ghost. She shrinks from his presence, and an attempt at touching her sends her running out of the house (70-71). Captured by the TV people and entrusted to Child Protective Services, she becomes on screen “a poor abused child, rescued from her living-dead father” (75), and the stake of a barter: the child against an exclusive interview with Barbie Becker, from Channel Five (76). As for Perry, the seven-year-old son who had found it hard to integrate his father’s death, he sticks to him and seems to enjoy the return of a much more present parent. Ted’s wife Gloria accepts the situation with equanimity: “she seemed more disposed now than ever to have and show confidence in her husband, and expressed trust in his judgement” (69). She remains faithful to him, yet ends up falling in love with another man after Ted has been missing for a while.

18But Ted’s short brush with death has not left him unscathed, and his reactions to his environment are now characterized by a mixture: of distance and increased awareness, on both the physical and mental-emotional levels. As if the suppression of vital signs entailed a modification of consciousness.

He felt oddly alive, though he couldn’t feel his heart thumping in his chest as he had at other times in the past when he thought he was feeling acutely alive, like the time he had been chased by a bear when camping in the Sierra [...] He felt strangely that without the sound of his heart, his ears were even mo. -e open to the sounds around him [...] His ability to locate the sources of sound seemed enhanced. And it was not only his hearing that was whetted, but all of his senses. The distraction of his heart’s noise removed, he was a live wire of sensation [...] As all of his senses were so acutely awake to the world, the absence of any stimuli emanating from himself became notable (22-23).

19The main symptoms of his new state are the absence of heartbeat, of the need for breathing except in the process of speaking, and the acquisition of what we may call “superpowers”, the first of which are sharpened sensory perceptions, unattended by the feeling of pain. This is what allows Ted to withstand fasting and torture at the hands of Big Daddy’s “sponges”: “So, Ted sat there and fried, to no painful end, to no injurious result, but he fried nonetheless” (134). A positive consequence of being already dead is invulnerability. As already stated, the fanatics’ cannonball falls to the ground after touching him (145); but the weapon might have misfired because of its canonic age. Bullets cannot pierce his flesh, as he discovers while fleeing the compound (147), or do so without causing harm (191). More “miraculous” still, the autopsy performed by Dr. Lyons, together with the removal and weighing of his organs, does not affect his appearance of life:

But if there was a god, it was allowing this now and, though Ted was experiencing no physical pain, the sight, sound and contemplation of what was happening killed him over and over [...] Organs became piled high on the table, but the face on the table showed open eyes and unchanging expression (182).

  • 6 “Let us point, as a symptom no less worthy of notice, to the insensitivity that ordinarily attends (...)

20Whereas this passage reminds us of such staple fare of Gothic and fantastic literature as animated manikins or cadavers, the end of the sequence squarely falls into black humor: the doctor puts the organs back into Ted’s body in a rather jumbled manner, with the casual apology, “As I’m a pathologist, I’m not used to sewing up my patients [...] I don’t know how you will heal. There might be significant scarring” (183). Since obviously Ted’s survival does not depend on the interplay or presence of his inner parts, there is a kind of comic pleasure to be derived from this grotesque dislocation of the human frame, yet the contrast between bodily immunity and emotional “death” and suffering creates a pathetic effect that runs counter to the emotional distance and anesthesia constitutive of humor.6 In a way, the mixture of estrangement and lucidity that characterizes Ted’s new mode of perception mirrors and influences the reader’s reception.

21The significance of Ted’s new apprehension of life is perhaps at its clearest in the lovemaking scene between himself and his wife.

Never did a kiss feel so much like a first kiss [...] Gloria’s lips felt electric, fat, full and moist and her tongue barely touched his own, sending a wave through and over him. He loved her at that moment because he had always loved her, but he especially loved her because she was not running away from him. He felt like a monster, a reanimated ghoul, but Gloria was kissing him, kissing him in spite of her fear and uncertainty, in spite of the hideous and ghastly reality of his presence. She touched his hair and moved her hand down over his ear until she was tracing the sutures on his neck. Her nails suggested a tugging at his stitches and Gloria moaned [...] Finally her fingers stayed there on the line which held him together and she moaned and moaned and bucked and bucked and had what must have been a dozen orgasms. She lay spent. Ted came with her during her last climax, happy that she was so obviously satisfied, but feeling strangely jealous that so much of her attention had been directed to his deformity (48-49).

  • 7 In the novel Glyph, a parodic charge against poststructuralism’s jargonitis and metaphysics of abse (...)

22The ambiguous nature of this passage stems partly from the classical complementarity of Eros and Thanatos, found here in the almost Gothic description of an incubus mating with a mortal —down-toned by the character’s ignorance of Ted’s real nature. The latter’s newly-acquired sensual acuteness gives the text most of its erotic dimension, while the “Beauty and the beast” cliché provides a precious sentimental element. But Gloria’s attraction to, and arousal by, the mark of death on her husband’s neck adds a disturbingly perverse, if not necrophiliac, touch. It then becomes easy to cross into the dim territory of the Unconscious, in which the neck might represent the phallus, the fishing line baiting the castration complex, and the stitches the sutured, split self of Lacanian theory. No wonder the lovers lose their heads over this mighty resurrection. But, given Everett’s professed distrust of Lacan, these references might better be read on the parodic mode.7 A more congenial, yet not contradictory, interpretation would detect in a modified perception of the self the key to most of Ted’s newly acquired “powers”, as confirmed by the continuation of the preceding passage.

Ted studied her face and decided he liked the feeling of having pleased her so, decided it didn’t matter what about him excited her. Then, he felt genuinely good about himself, realizing that the old Ted could not have been so selfless, that the old Ted would have worried about his manhood and passive-aggressively taken his feeling of inadequacy out on her (49).

23The new state of affairs sets in relief the fact that in life, the background noise of our vital signs, a constant reminder of our selfhood, defining and limiting us via the perspective of our finitude, restricts us to a contact with the world and others mediated by a preoccupation with our problematic individuality. The strictures of bodily existence may well be the infrastructure for emotional selfishness, a foregrounding of our needs and desires against those of others. As a matter of fact, Ted’s interrupted suicide was provoked by his dissatisfaction with himself: the pressures and failures to secure academic tenure, his numerous adulterous affairs, all boiled down to “his old selfish, indulgent self [:] it sickened him, but at last he could spot it” (93). The sea-change that death brought about is actually a state of selflessness, both in the physiological and moral sense. The silencing of heartbeat and other internal noises that define the body allows the extension of the sensory range to unheard-of limits, presumably liberating its potentialities. Similarly, the emotional and mental distanciation between the old self and the new ushers in the type of lucidity that makes possible disinterested actions, like the rescue of the children hostages from Big Daddy’s compound.

24Another of Ted’s “superpowers” is the ability to experience telepathic flashbacks into other people’s lives, or an extra-lucid perception of their present states of mind, in consequence of a touch or mere spatial closeness. This is how he can catch glimpses of Big Daddy’s and Negatia’s traumatic childhood memories, and this is what allows him to blackmail Barbie Becker, from Channel 5, into getting his daughter back, and to expose some of the reporter’s fears and lies on TV (85-87). The kind of philosophical allegory we detected earlier is not to be ruled out. Is it really impossible, in the hypothetical situation of the novel, to believe that a state of hyperbolic selflessness would entail not only enhanced acuity of the senses, but also a subtle feeling for other people’s moods and the remote causes of their behavior, a similar but more instinctive form of deduction than the tricks used by fortune tellers all around the world? The absence of prophetic vision could also be explained this way, the future being more difficult to fathom by purely natural means than the past or the present.

25Yet, this form of omniscience often attributed to ghosts may rather tip the scale in favor of a supernatural reading of the text. Ted’s conscience in one of his flashes seems to confirm this:

But Ted felt less interested in the scene itself than with where he was spatially in relation to it. He was not inside Barbie Becker’s head, he was not the dashboard of the automobile, he was not the air around her, but he was there. He was there in much the same way he’d often felt he was throughout his life—unweighted, uncentered—but at least in this scene from this sad woman’s life he understood what was going on. And as he came back to the voices and cameras aimed at him, he was all too aware of what was going on (84).

26Such floating, decentered consciousness might correspond to descriptions of out-of-body experiences, or to the way literature has codified flashes of spiritual awareness, and may therefore confirm the presence of ESP, or ghost knowledge. But this impression of a disembodied presence of the observer, wavering between different identifications and accompanied by a sense of lucidity and purpose is also reminiscent of another form of being-in-the-world: it may be construed as an “allegory of reading”, down to the interplay between imagination and “reality” and the feeling of going back to the “real world” with a transformed perception of things. This mise en abyme entices us to follow an intertextual thread, in order to analyze not only the way Ted’s depiction after his accident echoes Gothic and fantastic literature, but also to discuss the significance of these self-reflexive allusions. After all, Ted’s life in death is set against a background of what might be called the American Way of death in life.

27The description of the protagonist’s life in death is encrypted with a mixture of Frankenstein’s monstrous creature, of vampires, and of the ghosts of popular literature past. Ted’s most obvious physical characteristic, an integral part of the description his wife gives the police and the private detective she has hired after his kidnapping, is the full circle of 360 stitches around his neck. Together with the scars of his autopsy, which only make the parallel more obvious, this necklace identifies him with Dr. Frankenstein’s creature. The reference is explicitly given by the Jesus cloner, Oswald Avery.

The Frankenstein comment hit Ted like a brick. He realized he was in fact a monster, engendering fear in everyone who crossed his path—his daughter, the zealots, Dr. Lyons, the guards, everyone except the man whom he was in the process of mating at chess. The only person who showed no fear of him was a man who made monsters himself, who had taken the savior of so many in the world and carved him into discarded flesh and wasted tissue (204).

28Like Ted, Frankenstein’s monster is a “reanimated ghoul” (48), a human patchwork brought back to life by a perverted form of science. A freak of this nature, bridging life and death and ugly to behold, short-circuits the categories and systems of language, as seen above, but the significance of the parallelism extends further. In Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel, the monster is innocent and well-meaning, and becomes a fiend only after being rejected by his creator and society. The film versions complicate the pattern by having Igor, Frankenstein’s aide, endow the creature with a criminal’s brain Ted’s fate duplicates the original, in the sense that his monster status is also determined by the gaze of others, as his kidnapping by the “sponges” indicates. This episode might be an echo of the creature’s persecution by the angry villagers in the Frankenstein movies, in which, contrary to the novel, it dies in the end. A superimposition of the two plots also reveals a common preoccupation with matters of guilt and innocence: just as the criminal’s brain adds to the pathos of the creature’s innocence and desire for love, in American Desert the new Ted deeply regrets his past selfishness and adulterous affairs, and tries to find a form of redemption. More to the point still, both narratives imply a critique of mankind and society. The creature is but a mirror image of Victor Frankenstein: its monstrosity is its maker’s, just as its violence echoes social intolerance. In Everett’s book, Ted may look like a freak, but he is just the first of a whole series of grotesques, both mental and physical, like Big Daddy, Negatia Frashkart, the Jesus clones, etc. The latter, conceived in Area 5.1, constitute a capstone since it is the military and government who monstrously create monsters, thereby revealing their true nature. Even news reporter Barbie Becker’s hysterical preoccupation with her appearance and her career, her lies and pathetic superficiality, can be seen as a monstrous product of media culture, as her doll’s first name indicates.

29Ted shares his heightened sensory perception, together with his quasi-telepathic powers, with another canonic Undead, Count Dracula himself who also resists killing, except in a ritual way that involves silver bullets, a stake driven through the heart, and decapitation. After his failed execution such as ordained by Big Daddy, Ted’s second and final death, an unstitching of his neck and self-beheading (291) may refer to this counter-vampiric recipe, whose elements are disseminated throughout the text. The sexual act between Ted and his wife may also be reminiscent of Mina Harker’s “seduction” by the Count, which also hints at the woman’s death wish. Finally, Ted also shares some of the characteristics of ghosts. Even though he remains present in the flesh throughout the narrative —at least as much a his nature as a paper being allows him to, fictional characters being just that, ghostly— his fits of knowledge beyond human ken can give spectral evidence of his spiritual nature. Most of all, his destiny, which sets the plot in motion, corresponds to that of many ghosts in folklore, literature and film. His first attempts consist in trying to atone for his past transgressions and selfishness. After his kidnapping, he is more like a lost soul, wandering rootlessly in the desert. He finally finds his redemptive mission in the rescue of the children; then, feeling weaker and weaker, he is finally able to free his wife from his presence and let her proceed with her own life after delivering his last message on television. The main thread in the plot therefore seems to correspond to the archetypal ghost story, in which the dead roam the earth until their unfinished business is taken care of, and they can let go of their life and loved ones —in a sort of mirror image of the mourning process the living have to undergo.

30The resonance of this overlapping of fantastic living-dead figures in Ted’s characterization exceeds mere intertextual references: it is tied with a meditation on death-in-life in contemporary American society. One of Ted’s regrets is his relative indifference and impotence in the face of his father’s Alzheimer’s disease and his mother’s suicide, which resulted from it (60-62). In a way, Alzheimer’s patients who have lost their memories and wander through life in a disconnected, sometimes seemingly delirious way, resemble ghosts, lost souls. The integrity and coherence of the individual is eclipsed during these episodes, which gives a foretaste of death, comparable to Ted’s feeling of estrangement from his own pre-mortem life —“unweighted, uncentered” (84). Oswald Avery’s confession before he helps him escape from Area 51 rings a bell in Ted’s conscience: “I used to be a pathetic man. Not because I was obsessed with work, but because I was afraid, afraid to live, afraid of confrontation, afraid of everything. I’ve never lived, have never known how to live. How could I have taught living to my children if I didn’t know how to do it?” (205-206). Ted’s pattern of failure and evasion seems to correspond to the same fear of life, the same lack of purpose. We have already detected a similar inauthenticity in the character of Barbie Becker, the main representative of the media in the text. When Ted confronts her with her propensity to lie, “Barbie Becker’s face lost all color and whatever vacuum that was sucking in her pigment also pulled in her makeup and so she was left looking like a ghost, her mouthparts working to no discernible effect” (85). Barbie’s face looks spectral, as though seen on an ill-tuned monitor, as if the religion of the image that is characteristic of contemporary American mass culture emptied life of its substance while simulating it. In a digital twist on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Oval Portrait”, the image robs life of its life, the fantastic tale of living death becoming a satire of an American dream pervaded by zombification and desertification.

31The reference to Poe may actually lead us closer to the core of Everett’s inspiration in American Desert. The intricate twining of the Gothic and fantastic with the absurd and parody is a hallmark of this pioneer of American letters. Actually some of the “grotesque” tales strikingly prefigure Ted Street’s (mis)adventures. “Loss of Breath” relates the story of a Mr. Lackobreath who loses his pulmonary ability and part of his voice, and who, after discovering his wife’s faithlessness, decides to leave home, only to be declared dead by a doctor, dissected by an apothecary, and hanged as an escaped criminal. It is only in the morgue that he is able to catch his breath back — from Mr. Windenough, his wife’s lover, who had got a second wind when our hero had lost his (Poe 31-41). The lewd evocation in this sharing of a woman and a puff between two men is echoed in “A Predicament”, as Miss Psyche Zenobia loses her “maiden head” to the “scythe of time”, impersonated by the big hand of a clock on an Edinburgh tower (Poe 71-80). The relation between these pieces and the more “serious” of Poe’s Gothic and fantastic tales, illustrated by the correspondence between “A Predicament” and “The Pit and the Pendulum”, has to do with the rhetoric of appropriation and the self-reflexive creation of an American literature, and could offer a glimpse into Everett’s “philosophy of composition”. According to David Galloway, this is

Poe’s method: starting with a pre-existent pattern borrowed from a contemporary periodical, he first makes it his own through the inversions of comedy, calculatedly exaggerating the superficial elements of narrative; later, when his own mastery of the pattern is established, the transformation is achieved by concentrating on the interior, psychological implications of plot (“Introduction”, in Poe 11-12).

32Like Everett, Poe satirizes the popular media of his times, his main target being Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and its sensationalist, voyeuristic tales of premature burials or capital punishment, couched in pretentious style. The criticism was two-fold, since the indictment of literary ridicule doubled with a jab at the imposition of foreign standards on American letters. But the parody could also be directed at U. S. society, a world of sham and simulacra which could only produce a literature of bricolage, in the image of “The Man that was Used Up” (Poe 90-99), a dashing hero of the Indian wars who turns out to be a miracle of haberdashery and prosthetic devices. This comic charge against the American “desert of the real” predates postmodern criticisms of the audio-visual mass media by a good century. It could also be a likely “usable past” for Everett’s debunking strategies and textual explorations, all the more so as Poe’s practice has been compared to that of the confidence man, a figure which is closely connected with that of the trickster. Like Poe, Everett dissects bodies and sensations, tests credibility to and beyond breaking point, and creates mirrored, reflexive worlds that also reflect a questioning of the powers of literature. This cast of mind “is peculiarly adapted to the New World, not as primitive frontier, but as the Old World dismembered, a new country in which inherited habits come apart, in which virtually nothing is taken for granted” (Lindberg 65). Of course, in American Desert, Everett does not primarily anatomize European literature, but present-day American culture; yet the contemporary New World is subject to the same breaches of trust in the ultimate nature of reality and society. Revisiting both the myths of the frontier and the early Gothic and fantastic literature of the country, the novel breaks down, like Poe himself, the distinction between tales of the grotesque and arabesque and tales of mystery and imagination, between parodic and “serious” literary impulses.

  • 8 See Stephen D. Arata, “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization”, Gl (...)

33Beside the questioning of reality inherent in the mixture of the fantastic and intertextual parody, racial allegory is another of the possible connotations of the living dead connection. Hostile reactions to monsters, like Frankenstein’s creature or Count Dracula, are responses to difference, and many critics have pointed out the underlying current of social ostracism against women or minorities in several horror classics. Dracula, for instance, was set in the context of the decline of the British Empire and some of the repulsive qualities of the absolute Other that was the vampire were associated with prejudices against racial Others, Jews and so-called “orientals”8. As an African-American writer, Percival Everett’s attitude to racial categorizations in literature is two-pronged: on the one hand, he has written several novels dealing with issues of ethnicity and blackness (Watershed, For Her dark Skin, A History of the African-American People...); on the other hand, he does not want to be limited to these themes and deeply resents attempts to classify such books as Frenzy, for example, under the black heading. The scathing debunking of the craze for ghetto literature in Erasure would be enough to reaffirm Everett’s independence from P. C. labeling. Which does not mean that all possibilities of a “black” reading of his non-black texts are precluded. For example, in Glyph, which satirizes such a “colorless” subject as postmodern theory, we find a reminder that reading need not necessarily be color-blind. Baby genius Ralph is actually black:

Have you to this point assumed that I am white? I discovered that if a character was black, then he at some point was required to comb his Afro hairdo, speak on the street using an obvious, ethnically identifiable idiom, live in a certain part of town, or be called a nigger by someone [...] But you, dear reader, no doubt, whether you share my pigmentation or cultural origins, probably assumed that I was white. It is not important unless you want it to be and I will say no more aboutit... (Everett, 1999, 54).

  • 9 “Spook” is a slang word formerly used about blacks. The coinage of this derogatory term seems to im (...)

34While pointing out our prejudices as readers, Everett (or Ralph) does not set much store by them in this context, preferring subtle deconstruction to the clichés of protest literature. Yet, in a footnote to this passage, Ralph adds: “I was truly without a country and in that way I understand the literature of the people with whom I shared like coloration” (Ibid 54). So the human, existential dimension of black literature finds an echo in Everett’s novels, even when it does not occupy the foreground. Glyph’s Ralph and American Desert’s Theodore Street share the same position as freaks and objects of horror, because of their exceptional nature: the silent baby who writes about Lacan and Heidegger and the living-dead man are exiles in this world, and as such they may refer to the black literary tradition, in a Signifyin(g) way. That Ted is black is not directly stated, but his funeral service takes place in the “Sacred Blood First Church of the Everlasting Spirit” in Long Beach (7), whose preacher, one Larville Staige “[fans] himself using a fan bearing the image of Martin Luther King, Jr., on the one side and advertising a funeral home on the other” (8). While the robed choir and the call-and-response form of the sermon confirm Ted’s color, the double-sided fan becomes an ironical symptom of the collusion between spiritual and monetary values. Even in the black church, money is a mighty mainstreaming tool. This little tell-tale detail, featured in the beginning of the novel, almost subliminally conditions our reading and responses to the protagonist, proposing, not imposing, a supplementary dimension to the story, an optional decoding key fully accessible only to the attentive reader. This encrypting of race between the lines seems to imply that the cross-cultural dimension of the narrative is privileged over racial preoccupations. Yet one might argue that the full impact of the story is revealed only when this “ethnic” layer is taken into account. Ted’s “spooky” nature may then be seen as an avatar of African-American “invisibility” as classically presented by Ralph Ellison9. Reminiscences of Ralph Ellison abound in Everett’s works: we will only recall that the writer-protagonist of Erasure is called Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, and that the gifted child in Glyph is called Ralph: these names are as complementary as the titles of the two novels that bring up writing. Most striking of all, the first paragraph of Invisible Man reads like a blueprint for Desert writing, an intertextual matrix from which some of the main problematics of our novel derive:

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fibre and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus side-shows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination — indeed, everything and anything except me (Ellison 7).

35The connections between race, fantastic literature and the media are there. Furthermore, Ted’s amphibious living-dead state, associated with a dissociation of sensibility, becomes quite close to W.E.B. Du Bois’s celebrated “double consciousness”:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,— an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder (Du Bois 5).

36This passage seems to give an emotional description of Ted’s interaction with the outside world, at least if we replace the contempt and pity by fear. Even before his resurrection, the reluctant academic was considered a failure, and submitted to external pressure to conform. When born again, he is the living embodiment of the famous no-win question: “what does it feel like to be a problem?” Probed by medical and military scientists as Blacks are by social scientists to see what is “wrong” and “different” with them, Ted is an identity problem made flesh. His body is torn apart between life and death, it is even subjected to literal dismemberment. The duality is materialized once again by the stitches, whose “dogged strength” Ted finally “tears asunder”. Pending further discussion of this topic, we can provisionally state that Everett, in spite of manifest indifference, signifies on a black literary tradition, in the sense of repetition and revision that Henry Louis Gates, Jr. gives to the term. “Black writers read and critique the texts of other black writers as an act of self-definition” (Gates 122). In articulating such a refusal to be reduced to, yet awareness of, the African-American tradition, Everett has at least one famous “ancestor”: Ralph Ellison himself. Even though the textual definition of American Desert is only secondarily connected to this tradition, a black thread runs through the novel, in a kind of shadow presence, or ghost writing. Form and content are definitely —and deftly— stitched together.

37American Desert’s extensive parody of literary and cultural discourses, together with the political implications of this textual critique, and the questioning of reality stemming from the recourse to the fantastic, are aligned with the postmodern orthodoxy that Everett otherwise consistently debunks and criticizes. This question of Everett’s relation to “PoMo” culture mirrors another difficulty, that of assigning him a definite position along the “racial” spectrum. On the definitional margins of both African American literature and contemporary postmodernism, Percival Everett once more wears the trickster’s motley cap, and walks the line of liminality. Yet, most black proponents of trickster theory follow Gates’s lead in associating the latter with postmodernism and its refusal of essentialism and fixed identities. But Gates uses the trickster figure and the rhetoric of Signifyin(g) as tests of an “authentic” black difference and criteria that define an African-American literary tradition and canon (Gates xii; 121-124). If there is a contradiction in using the trickster, and postmodernism for that matter, for the purposes of identity definition, Everett’s refusal to be categorized takes on added meaning. Faithfulness to the figure of the trickster as trope of creative, critical parody may demand such refusal, as well as the mobilization of Signifyin(g) strategies against any constituted philosophy, including postmodern theories and identity politics.

38Nevertheless, Everett’s uses of “PoMo” thought and writing techniques, even to parody them, make him fall back — albeit reluctantly —under their spheres of attraction, precluding any real escape from the “postmodern condition” of the early 21st century on the part of a writer who is involved in current social and intellectual debates. In the course of this study, we have met at least two possible influences, or congenial forms of thought, that would allow us to sidestep the postmodern question and articulate it in a different way. Surrealism, an avant-garde movement of the modernist era, prefigured several of the formalizations of post-structuralism and postmodernism, as suggested by its influence on Lacan, among others. Yet, its specific mix of subversion of all established orders and confidence in linguistic and intellectual spontaneity — exemplified by the fascination for automatism; its combination of absurdism and preoccupation with meaning and the renewal of meaning — may make it a fitter frame for an analysis of American Desert than postmodernism. And our brush with Edgar Allan Poe, whom the surrealists admired, has shown us that many of the writing stategies that we often identify as postmodern may be connected to the specificities and difficulties of articulating an American identity and culture.

“Originality” and “invention” come to mean, not a pristine relationship to raw experience, but a new attitude toward traditional forms, especially aesthetic ones. Instead of mastering and adapting the conventions of his medium, the artist disassembles them, scrutinizes their workings, and rigs a new contrivance from the fragments [...] In analyzing and reinventing his trade, he is also trying to reestablish on explicit grounds the credentials of art in America and of his own role as an artist (Lindberg 66-67).

39These words about Poe also apply to American Desert, a novel about anatomy and (re)composition, in which “figures of speech materialize and games turn serious” (Lindberg 66), and confidence games are played on the complicitous reader by a trickster narrator. The final twist in the tale could lie in this intersection between the literatures of the confidence man and the ethnic trickster. The possibility of cross-fertilizations in both directions since the 19th century would nuance claims to “racially” specific strategies of creative parody, but would also put Signifyin(g) and intertextual revision at the center of literary definitions of America. The place might be a desert, but it is filled with heterodox laughter.

Bibliographie

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. 2001. Selected Writings. Mark Poster, ed. Stanford: Stanford University Press, (from Simulacra and Simulation, 1981).

Bergson, Henri. 1924. Le Rire. Essai sur la signification du comique. Paris: Alcan. Online edition, http://www.uqac.uquebec.ca/zone30/Classiques_des_sciences_sociales/index.html.

Breton, André. 1985. “Second Manifeste du surréalisme” in Manifestes du surréalisme. Paris: Gallimard.

Campbell, Joseph. 1968. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Du Bois, W.E.B. 1989. The Souls of Black Folk, [1903] New York, Penguin.

Ellison, Ralph. 1965. Invisible Man [1952], Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Erdoes, Richard and Alfonso Ortiz, eds. 1998. American Indian Trickster Tales. New York: Penguin.

Everett, Percival. 1999. Glyph. Saint Paul, Min.: Graywolf Press.

—. 2004. American Desert. New York: Hyperion.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. 1988. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African American Literary Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kristeva, Julia. 1980. Pouvoirs de l’horreur, Essai sur l’abjection. Paris: Seuil. (Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, my translation).

Lindberg, Gary, 1982. The Confidence Man in American Literature. New York: Oxford University Press.

Napier, Susan J. 1996. The Fantastic in Modern Japanese Literature. London: Routledge.

Poe, Edgar Allan, 1987. Comedies and Satires. David Galloway, ed. Harmondworth: Penguin Classics.

Radin, Paul, ed. 1956. The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology. New York: Bell.

Roth, Philip. 2001. The Human Stain. New York: Vintage.

Todorov, Tzvetan. 1970. Introduction à la littérature fantastique. Paris: Seuil.

Notes

1 All page references to American Desert given between brackets are to the 2004 Hyperion edition.

2 “Theodore Street” is an actual street name. Percival Everett was driving by the sign one day, and thought it would be a great name for a character. He had such a splitting headache at the time, that he could have envisaged having his head cut off. From this coincidence stems the origin of the novel. The surrealists would not have scorned such a felicitous example of “hasard objectif” (from a private communication by Pr. Claude Julien).

3 In the double acceptation of this term defined by Joseph Campbell: on the one hand, a desire to assuage feelings of guilt for transgressions, on the other an urge for unity with the divinity, or at-one-ment. (See Campbell, 131.)

4 Should we go as far as saying that the choice, as twin targets of satire, of millenarian religion and science is a topical criticism of George W. Bush’s America, a country in which a strong alliance between Christian fundamentalism and the “military-industrial complex” has brought about, with the complicity of the media, a conservative atmosphere inimical to critical thought. In a somewhat contrived way, let us be reminded that in Australia, the “bush” represents the wilderness, also a form of desert.

5 An oversexed, gluttonous figure found in most of the traditional cultures of the world, the trickster represents desire and the element of subversion in it. A master of metamorphosis, he can take animal shapes, or change gender, or cross the boundary between life and death. He constantly tricks others, often in extremely funny ways, to satisfy his insatiable appetites. Sometimes, the mere pleasure of the joke, or the manipulation of language, is his main motivation. An embodiment of carnivalesque laughter, of a world turned upside-down, his function, as a “spirit of disorder”, is to “add disorder to order so as to constitute a totality, to make possible, within the boundaries of what is allowed, the experience of what is not allowed” (Karl Kerényi, “The Trickster in Relation to Greek Mythology”, in Radin, 156.)

6 “Let us point, as a symptom no less worthy of notice, to the insensitivity that ordinarily attends laughter. It seems as though the comic can produce its rattling effect only on condition of happening on a quiet, smooth enough surface of the soul. Indifference is its natural environment. Laughter has no greater enemy than emotion. I do not mean that we cannot laugh at a person we may, for example, feel pity or affection for: but in this case, for a few moments, we will have to forget this affection, to silence this pity [...] If now you take your distances, and look on life as an indifferent spectator: many dramatic events will turn into comedies [...] All in all, the comic demands, to produce its full effect, something akin to a momentary anesthesia of the heart. It addresses itself to pure intelligence” (Bergson 10, my translation).

7 In the novel Glyph, a parodic charge against poststructuralism’s jargonitis and metaphysics of absence leads to a reductio ad absurdum of Lacanian theory, “fecalized” on the carnivalesque insertion of a lower-body, digestive metaphor: “The Other to which we return for our identity is constipated. For Lacan, this Other is not being, but the place of speech where the assembly of the system of signifiers rests, i.e., language. Therefore the constipation of the Other is necessarily symbolic and resides in the fact that a particular signifier is in need of the Other. The missing or obscured signifier is the feces and the fact that it is missing from the Other means we cannot locate it in ourselves by appeal to the other. Finally, the Other cannot constitute identity for us. Stated another way, ‘in the signifier there is nothing that guarantees the dimension of truth founded by the signifier,’ and, as articulating beings, our constipation lies precisely in the deficiency of a secured truth or meaning. Truth is without hope, a ‘truth without truth,’ and the Other’s constipation unveils the truth that constipation is the irresistible and inevitable state of the human condition” (Everett, 1999, 97). It seems that in this rephrasing of the Lacanian definition of the subject, the word “feces” and “constipation” replace “phallus” and “castration” respectively. The transposition may be justified by homophony, by a common thematic of cut-off processes, or simply by the fact that the narrator, baby genius Ralph, has not yet outgrown the anal stage into the genital. But the downright meaning of the passage may well be that the whole theory is just “full of shit”, another definition of constipation.

8 See Stephen D. Arata, “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization”, Glennis Byron, ed, Dracula, New York, St Martin’s Press, “New Casebooks”, 1999, pp. 119-144; Judith Halberstam, “Technologies of Monstrosity: Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, Glennis Byron, ed. op. cit., pp. 173-196.

9 “Spook” is a slang word formerly used about blacks. The coinage of this derogatory term seems to imply an equation of the racial Other with the fearful Other Side, as in the myth of Dracula. It has found new currency recently, in Philip Roth’s novel The Human Stain, in which a white-passing mulatto college professor faces discrimination charges for calling two absent students this way (Roth 6-7).

Auteur

Associate Professor in American Literature at the University of Nantes, France. He has spent several years abroad; his experience of living in Australia, Japan, and the United States has sensitized him to issues of multiculturalism. His doctorial thesis was entitled “Myth and History in Chinese American and Chicano Literature” (1995), and his publications include articles on Maxine Hong Kingston, John Edgar Wideman and the Harlem Renaissance. On the latter subject he edited, with Professor Geneviève Fabre, Jean Toomer and the Harlem Renaissance (Rutgers University Press, 2001) and “Temples for Tomorrow”: Looking Back at the Harlem Renaissance (Indiana University Press, 2001).

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2007

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