Prof. Jerry Ward–Lectures in China

[By Jerry Ward]
To address the growing interest in African American
literature and culture at HuaZhong Normal University (Wuhan) and other
institutions in China, I have given lectures there since 2009.   Chinese auditors, however astute and savvy
they are, may be easily confused by the literary critical games played in the
West.  Often they do not understand the
cultural dynamics of academic trends. 
Why do Western critics so dread the
absolute, the essential, and the certain

The reasons, of course, are at once philosophical, racial, and
political.  One must exercise care in
explaining that the universal is not
universal but merely a smokescreen for intellectual hegemony, that deconstruction can too often be a
weapon of massive destruction. 


During May and June 2012, I presented nine lectures designed
to plant seeds for critical growth.  The
listing includes a post-delivery comment for each of them.

1) The Poetry of Natasha
—Trethewey’s strategies for recovering history in Domestic Work, Bellocq’s Ophelia, and Native Guard are aesthetic warnings
against post-racial delusions. To put Trethewey’s being named Poet Laureate of
the United States in proper perspective, one must read Honorée Fanonne
Jeffers’s brilliant essay “The Subjective Briar Patch: Contemporary American
Poetry.” Virginia Quarterly Review
(Spring 2012): 97-106.
2) The Cambridge History of African American Literature and the Limits
of Literary History
– This commentary seeks to explain the inevitable
absence in literary historical narratives of writers who are of equal merit with
and sometimes of greater importance than those who are discussed.
3) On Reginald Martin’s
Idea of Transcultural Theory
–This discussion of Martin’s appropriation of
transcultural theory as a method of reading texts foregrounds the need to make
clear distinctions among theory, methodology, and method.
4) The Tonal Drawings of
Asili Ya Nadhiri: Temporality and Musicality
– Given the absence of
critical attention  to how Nadhiri  uses oral/aural memory , grammatical
innovations regarding tense, ideas about music and art, and some problems of
time and being dealt with in theoretical physics  in a conceptual poetic genre, this lecture
acknowledges his unique contribution to African American poetry.
5) Ishmael Reed and
–A  discussion of
Reed’s sustained efforts since the late 1960s to promote real rather than
lip-service multiculturalism in the literature of the United States, this
lecture suggests that Reed has provided a rich matrix for the delayed
conversation on what it means to be an American.
6) Acknowledgement: The
Contact/Combat Zone
—A meditation on the function of the literary critic
in the 21st century, this lecture argues that warfare is the
dominant but rarely acknowledged trope in discussions of the literature of the
United States.
7) Richard Wright and
Twenty-first Century Questions
—The purpose of this lecture is to argue
that significant research questions and making of transcendent connections
(imaginative reflection) can be derived from close reading of Richard Wright’s
“Blueprint for Negro Writing” and his novella The Man Who Lived Underground.
8) American Literature
and Digital Humanities
—This lecture involves a series of speculations on
how new technologies may change the study and teaching of literature,
especially of African American literature.
I have little interest in fashionable academic games,
efforts to avoid telling a truth about the essential complexity of African
American literature and its continuing evolution, or rhetorical lies about the
existence of shared values among diverse citizens of the United States or
Europe.  To promote honest exchanges
among Chinese and American intellectual communities, I embrace an unfashionable
humanism that minimizes post-human dominance. I want my Chinese colleagues to
have more options for making conclusions about truth.

One thought on “Prof. Jerry Ward–Lectures in China

  1. These lectures seemed designed to encourage Chinese students to think critically about Black American literature and related subjects. What an experience this must have been for Jerry and his students. I surely wish I could have attended his lectures.

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