Outside Literary Studies: Black Criticism and the University
A timely reconsideration of the history of the profession, Outside Literary Studies investigates how midcentury Black writers built a critical practice tuned to the struggle against racism and colonialism.
This striking contribution to Black literary studies examines the practices of Black writers in the mid-twentieth century to revise our understanding of the institutionalization of literary studies in America. Andy Hines uncovers a vibrant history of interpretive resistance to university-based New Criticism by Black writers of the American left. These include well-known figures such as Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry as well as still underappreciated writers like Melvin B. Tolson and Doxey Wilkerson. In their critical practice, these and other Black writers levied their critique from “outside” venues: behind the closed doors of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, in the classroom at a communist labor school under FBI surveillance, and in a host of journals. From these vantages, Black writers not only called out the racist assumptions of the New Criticism, but also defined Black literary and interpretive practices to support communist and other radical world-making efforts in the mid-twentieth century. Hines’s book thus offers a number of urgent contributions to literary studies: it spotlights a canon of Black literary texts that belong to an important era of anti-racist struggle, and it fills in the pre-history of the rise of Black studies and of ongoing Black dissent against the neoliberal university.
“Outside Literary Studies deftly weaves literary, cultural, and political history together in a refreshing and provocative reinterpretation of postwar literary criticism. Hines carefully reconstructs the arguments that Black critics, poets, and writers advanced in order to challenge the dominant hold of New Criticism, and he shows how the legacy of those arguments led to the development of alternative pedagogical models for the modern university. The result is a book that is timely, deeply engaged, and illuminating.” – JESSE MCCARTHY, Harvard University
“This indispensable book beautifully shows that Black left writers developed a critique of the state and of the ruling literary conventions within the academy for how they abetted anti-Black violence. In doing so, Hines demonstrates that the history of the Black literary left must be understood as a critique of disciplinarity rather than a complement to it.” – RODERICK FERGUSON, Yale University
“Outside Literary Studies offers inside knowledge of two warring twentieth-century institutions: the political economy of the New Criticism and the educational agencies of Black radical writing. With blunt, concrete detail, Hines demonstrates how the odd couple of Southern Agrarianism and US federal surveillance showered practical criticism on the likes of Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, and Melvin Tolson—and how such figures pioneered a newer left criticism, both racial and formal, in response.” – WILLIAM J. MAXWELL, Washington University in St. Louis
A part of this project on Melvin B. Tolson and Allen Tate appears as an article in Criticism. Also I have explored my interests in extant forms of disciplinary history in two essays for Public Books, one of which was translated into Italian.
I am developing several projects that further my interest in Black studies, abolitionist university studies, and an attention to alternative institutional formations in critiquing and shaping the political economy of higher education in the United States. An article with these concerns–“The University Fix and John Edgar Wideman’s Philadelphia Fire”–has been published in American Quarterly.
I am editing a volume titled University Keywords that gathers gathers, contextualizes, and develops original understandings of 27terms that define the study and operation of the American university today. The book situates what previously appeared to be auxiliary aspects of colleges and universities as directly impacting and at times seemingly displacing the central academic mission of postsecondary institutions. Indeed, what had been auxiliary has become central as the cancellation of student debt, wages for student athletes, and free public education tied to requirements about the structure of academic labor have become increasingly central to discussions of higher education. This book attributes this shift to dialectical developments in higher education that stem from the contradictions of administrative fiat and federal policy, as well as the insurgent material and imaginative force of student movements, faculty organizing, and other political activities that extend beyond the perceived bounds of academe. In attending to these developments, the entries reach what tend to be disparate audiences in higher education scholarship at once: faculty, staff, administrators, students, organizers, activists, and those living near colleges and universities.
I am also writing a book on the history of socialist and Communist adult education during the first half of the twentieth century. Beyond unearthing a largely ignored set of institutional, pedagogical, and intellectual developments, the book positions these institutions as animating an educational insurgency to which state-supported universities react against.
I have previously written on the entanglement of the production and orientation of space, the violence of enclosure, and narrative form in an article for English Language Notes.