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May 18, 2012
9781421405414
9781421405193
English
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$53.00 USD, £39.00 GBP
v2.1 Reference

Psychology Comes to Harlem

Rethinking the Race Question in Twentieth-Century America

The writers I concentrate upon in this study maintained that emotional and behavioral patterns helped sustain racial ideologies and, concomitantly, that racial ideologies were national and cultural problems requiring individual and collective investigation. In much the same manner as their counterparts in social psychology, they chose to explore a range of phenomena—the inferiority complexes of racial minorities, the neuroses that nurtured racist behavior, and, not least, the psychological harms and scars that characterized the workings of segregated social conditions generally—through writing that challenged available forms of public deliberation. Beginning in the early 1940s, African American writers and white allies accelerated efforts to find a searching and accessible idiom with which to analyze the hazards of race hierarchy and expand avenues for antiracism. Major changes in the character of psychological research, especially the demise of scientific racism, along with the antifascism of the 1930s and 1940s, enabled these efforts and led to a period when modern psychological thought reorganized the vocabulary and scope of antiracist cultural criticism.

—from the Introduction

In the years preceding the modern civil rights era, cultural critics profoundly affected American letters through psychologically informed explorations of racial ideology and segregationist practice. Jay Garcia's probing look at how and why these critiques arose and the changes they wrought demonstrates the central role Richard Wright and his contemporaries played in devising modern antiracist cultural analysis.

Departing from the largely accepted existence of a "Negro Problem," Wright and such literary luminaries as Ralph Ellison, Lillian Smith, and James Baldwin described and challenged a racist social order whose psychological undercurrents implicated all Americans and had yet to be adequately studied. Motivated by the elastic possibilities of clinical and academic inquiry, writers and critics undertook a rethinking of "race" and assessed the value of psychotherapy and psychological theory as antiracist strategies. Garcia examines how this new criticism brought together black and white writers and became a common idiom through fiction and nonfiction that attracted wide readerships.

An illuminating picture of mid-twentieth-century American literary culture and learned life, Psychology Comes to Harlem reveals the critical and intellectual innovation of literary artists who bridged psychology and antiracism to challenge segregation.

About the Author

Jay Garcia is an associate professor of comparative literature at New York University.

Reviews

"Garcia does an amazing job of condensing a topic and clearly sparking the dialectic for continued expansive discourse. This volume fills a void in exposing the psychologically informed critical vision vis-à-vis literary artists in the mid-20th century."—Choice

"Psychology Comes to Harlem stages an acute and potentially highly productive intervention in scholarship on the history of representations of African Americans."—Daniel Matlin, Journal of American Studies

"Garcia provides a compelling narrative of the changing uses of psychological discourses in literary and critical social analyses from the 1940s to the 1960s. A strength of the book is the deftness with which Garcia moves across genres. . . The research for this monograph is clearly rigorous and thorough and Garcia handles a large body of secondary sources skillfully. . . Psychology Comes to Harlem is a worthy addition to the bookshelf of any student or scholar interested in the intellectual context of mid-20th-century antiracist novelists and social commentators."—Gavan Lennon, Journal of African American History

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