Theorizing the post-soul aesthetic: an introduction

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Author: Bertram D. Ashe
Date: Winter 2007
From: African American Review(Vol. 41, Issue 4)
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Document Type: Essay
Length: 8,451 words

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one. The End of the Beginning of the Post-Soul Aesthetic

It's time. Clearly, it's time. As I begin this introduction, in the spring of 2006, landmark anniversaries press in on me from every side: 20 years ago, Greg Tate wrote "Cult-Nats Meet Freaky-Deke: the Return of the Black Aesthetic" for the Village Voice in the fall of 1986. And Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It--that totemic post-soul anthem--was released in the summer of 1986, as well. More personally, I first taught Trey Ellis's essay "The New Black Aesthetic" in 1991, 15 years ago, and I inaugurated my post-soul aesthetic course in the Spring semester of 1996--exactly 10 years ago. Over the course of those 20 years, I have obsessively observed this peculiar, post-Civil Rights movement aesthetic: inhaled and analyzed its various manifestos as they appeared in the early years, watched it on screens in darkened movie theaters, listened to it pounding out of my speakers, attended and sponsored its various readings, concerts, lectures, and symposia, gazed on it in galleries and museums and turned its pages from books--all the while debating its very existence with friends, students, and colleagues. Twenty years. And now it's time for African Americanists to weigh in, en masse.

Twenty years, it seems to me, is the proper scholarly distance from which scholars can and should begin in earnest to critique, explore, and seek to understand this aesthetic. It's time for African Americanists to construct--or, at least, begin the process of constructing--a more or less coherent critical conversation about the art of this "post" era. Editing this special issue is the latest in a series of steps I have taken toward attempting to establish a critical framework for the study of post-Civil Rights movement art in general and the post-soul aesthetic in particular. (1) After all, at this point, there is little consensus on anything regarding the fledgling scholarship on the era: names, for instance, range from "The New Black Aesthetic" to "postliberated" to "post-soul" to "post-black" to "NewBlack"--and beyond. (2) There is disagreement over whether the era should be restricted, as I believe it should be, to artists and writers who were born or came of age after the Civil Rights movement, and there is disagreement on when the era begins and whether or not it has ended (regrettably, some scholars already see sub-generational breaks such as the post-post-soul, for instance). (3) The primary reason I sought to participate in this special issue on the post-soul aesthetic (which is, obviously, my own preferred term) was in the hope that some of these issues might begin to be addressed, implicitly if not explicitly. If this special number issue moves us closer to critical understanding, if it clears some critical space within which we can argue about the post-soul aesthetic (PSA) in ways that are more clearly defined than they have been up to now, I will consider the effort a success.

Obviously, though, with all this scholarly disagreement, when I say "It's time," it is not...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A188739134