"W. E. B. Du Bois and the Fluid Subject: Dark Princess and the Splendid Transnational in the Harlem Renaissance," in Farebrother and Thaggert (eds.) Expecting More: African American Literature in Transition, 1920-30 (Cambridge University Press) (go to accepted manuscript)
In this paper I argue that W. E. B. Du Bois’s conception of the black subject undergoes a radical transformation during the 1920s. During this decade Du Bois no longer attempts the impossible task of being “A Negro and an American” but instead crafts a transnational subject position from which to face racial injustice. We see the evolution of this critique throughout the decade of the 1920s, and the particular material differentiation in Du Bois’s writings during this period: Darkwater (1920), “The Negro Mind Reaches Out” (1925), and Dark Princess (1928). Dark Princess, in particular, elicits a splendid vision of transnationalism, that—at a time of nativism in the United States—joins African Americans’ fates to African and Asian struggles in a way that frees them from the increasingly constricted U.S. polity. Informed by Du Bois’s aesthetic writings and John Bryant’s concept of the fluid text I examine the fluidity of the black subject that Du Bois theorizes during this decade and consider both the contrasts between these texts and the actual textual material as textuality to be interpreted.