John Edgar Wideman Investigates Louis Till's Execution in ..

Philadelphia Fire and The Fire Next Time: Wideman Responds to Baldwin.” Critical Essays on John Edgar Wideman. Keith Byerman and Bonnie TuSmith, eds. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006. 145-159.

actors will bring to life the short stories of John Edgar Wideman, ..

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John Edgar Widemans Our Time is an essay about how John and his ..

Likethose earlier novels, Philadelphia Fire refuses to see the existentialpossibilities of African Americans simply in reductive racial terms. Cudjoe andWideman, de facto co-protagonists in this metafiction, are not simple blackmen, however much a racist culture may strive to reduce them to malevolentracial caricature. Rather, in the language of Chantal Mouffe, they exist as"decentred, detotalized" agents occupying a "multiplicity ofsubject positions" (12). Far from being "just" AfricanAmericans, they are also men and writers and fathers and spouses and citydwellers and have other attributes. Gender, class, and generational anddemographic identities are also predicates of "Cudjoe" and "JohnWideman." In a 1992 interview with Lewis Lapham on Bookmark, Widemanasserted that continually to use terms like "white" and"black" reinforces established racist myths. As he suggests, a"jaded" language becomes a "loaded" language. Or, to adapta claim advanced by the Russian formalists, repetition of lexical codes andstructural conventions effectively automatizes them, placing them beyondcritical scrutiny.

John Edgar Widemans Our Time and Edward ..

JohnWideman stands within a tradition of writers who have sought to capture thecomplicated identity of African Americans. A number of earlier African Americancanonical works examine the identity issue; but, unlike Wideman's, they see theissue mostly in binary terms. Both James Weldon Johnson in The Autobiography ofan Ex-Colored Man (1912) and Richard Wright in Native Son (1940) examined thedual and conflicting claims of class and racial identity; Zora Neale Hurston inTheir Eyes Were Watching God (1937) and Toni Morrison, in The Bluest Eye (1970)play gender and racial ties off against one another. Ralph Ellison's masterlyInvisible Man (1953), with its expansive and subtle examination of AfricanAmerican subjectivity and narrative virtuosity, is the strongest precursor toPhiladelphia Fire.

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More Fiction & Literature > MORE BY JOHN EDGAR WIDEMAN

OnMay 13, 1985, after numerous unsuccessful attempts to expel members of MOVE, asmall African American nativist cult, from , Mayor Goode authorizedthe use of what he would later call an "entry device," and what wasin fact a fire bomb. The antagonism between MOVE and city authorities hadoriginated many years before the tragic events in West Philadelphia.(5) MOVEwas founded in the early '70s by two young Philadelphians and was seeminglyjust one more Age-of-Aquarius cult. All members took the surname"Africa." Committed to a back-to-nature philosophy and openlycontemptuous of all government, they pursued a lifestyle in their communalhomes that was extremely offensive to their neighbors. MOVE stockpiledautomatic weapons. Its members used bullhorns and loudspeakers to harass andthreaten nearby residents and passers-by; they dumped their garbage in theiryard, creating stench and a breeding ground for rats. They exercised poorpersonal hygiene and kept their children out of school. In the late '70s, atthe behest of outraged neighbors, city authorities acted against MOVE. After asiege of many weeks, an agreement was reached in May 1978 whereby MOVE membersagreed to leave their residence within ninety days. When MOVE failed to honorthat commitment, a violent confrontation ensued in which a policeman was killedand several people--police officers, firefighters, MOVE members, andbystanders--were wounded. A letter (from a MOVE member to Wideman) that appearsin a metafictional interlude in part two of Philadelphia Fire states that tenpeople were subsequently convicted of killing the police officer (124-25).

John Edgar Widemans Our Time and Edward Saids …

Many of John Edgar Wideman's rich fictions scout the borderlands of AfricanAmerican collective identity, those places where blacks question and confutethe hateful stereotypes that hegemonic white culture has written for them. Atthe same time, Wideman's residence for all of his adult life in the interracialmiddle-ground--the "goddamned middle" as it is called in PhiladelphiaFire--has obviously made him sensitive to many issues that go beyond race, evenif questions of race first triggered his awareness (71).(1) In this essay, Iexamine how, in Philadelphia Fire, Wideman places African American subjectivityin the context of a broad field of social relations that are determined quiteas often by gender, class, or intergenerational or professional interests andantagonisms as by race. In admitting that African Americans are implicated inthe dissolution of civic order in contemporary urban American society, Widemancourageously engages the issue of personal accountability. Further, likepolitical theorists Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, whose views I address inthe concluding section, Wideman's analysis of multiple subjectivity encouragesall people to see their own identity, and hence their social agency, in a newand more complex way. As with the writer-protagonist of Philadelphia Fire,Wideman "must always write about many places at once" (23).

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Consistentwith the analysis of Laclau and Mouffe, Philadelphia Fire demonstrates that thesubordination of African Americans in the novel has no single cause. In thefirst instance, not all African Americans in the novel are subordinate. NeitherCudjoe nor "John Edgar Wideman" nor Mayor Goode nor Timbo is clearlya subaltern. Each exercises some measure of hegemony, whether familial,professional, or political. To the extent that their race does not make themsubordinate, they are not "African Americans" in the racistconstruction of the term. If their racial identity has not held them back,perhaps their gender and class identities have allowed them, at least in part,to become hegemonic (in the limited sense of being able to exercise influence).