Africana Literature as Social Science: Applying the Demographic Literary Standard (DLS) to the Works of August Wilson and Suzan-Lori Parks
Literary study engaged within the discipline of Africana Studies embraces the objective of demonstrating literature’s value and function as a tool of liberation. The discipline aims to create and to foster the engagement of knowledge that transforms consciousness and inspires a shift toward positive attitudes, behaviors, and activism on behalf of the people of African descent. Yet, many of the practices of literary criticism used to decipher and illuminate the meaning of the world’s literatures rely on frameworks and theories that deny, minimize, or ignore the practical DSSOLFDWLRQVRIWKHDUWIRUP(YHQLQSURJUHVVLYHDSSURDFKHVWRWH[WXDO analysis, most frequently used in postcolonial, postmodern, comparative literature, cultural, and anthropological studies, literary analysis rarely intersects with social science research in direct and functional ways. MauODQD.DUHQJDREVHUYHVWKHSUREOHPRIWKH³SULYLOHJLQJRIOLWHUDWXUHRYHU VRFLDOVFLHQFHGDWD´DQGQRWHV³OLWHUDWXUHHYHQDV¿FWLRQDQGSHUVRQDO imagination, is used as an alternative to a social science understanding of Black life rather than as a contribution to a holistic understanding of it. In other words, personal subjectivity is privileged over social science study
and a novel or short story becomes the most important and at times only ZD\RQHXQGHUVWDQGV%ODFNOLIH´1 The analytical processes in academic work related to people of African descent require a balance, and James Stewart, transversely, warns against failing to balance social science work with measures to clarify the interpretive narratives of Black life.2 +HUHFRPPHQGVWKDW³DNQRZOHGJHJHQHUDWLRQVWUDWHJ\IRFXVHGDURXQG increasing cross-dialogue between artistic/humanistic and social science modes of investigation would seem to be preferable to a unidimensional HPSKDVLVRQHQKDQFLQJSHUFHSWLRQVRIVFLHQWL¿FULJRU´3 Defending his VXJJHVWLRQ IURP³FRQYHQWLRQDOZLVGRP WKDW VFLHQWL¿F UHVHDUFKVKRXOG be uncontaminated by political considerations and that theoretical work is superior to applied research because it requires more intellectual acuPHQ´6WHZDUWHPSKDVL]HVWKDW³WKHSRWHQWLDOEHQH¿WVIURPH[SHULPHQWDWLRQZLWKDOWHUQDWLYHDSSURDFKHVWRNQRZOHGJHJHQHUDWLRQWKDWUHÀHFWV WKH ¿HOG¶VPXOWLSOHPLVVLRQV KDYH QRW EHHQ H[SORUHG DJJUHVVLYHO\´4 Guided, then, by Karenga’s and Stewart’s suggestions and responding to the challenges of new Black literary formats and Black liberation needs, I offer suggestions for social science follow-through in Black literary study based on an approach I describe as the demographic literary standard (DLS). 7KH'/6PRGHOUDGLFDOO\DPHQGVWKHHQJDJHPHQWRIWKH³VRFLRORJ\
RIOLWHUDWXUH´ZKHUHLQOLWHUDWXUHLQFUHDVHV³VRFLDODZDUHQHVVDQGVRFLDO UHVSRQVLYHQHVV´5 from its late-nineteenth-century exploratory period and its 1990s rearticulation as cultural studies, both waves that were and are philosophically concerned with relationships between literature and KLVWRU\DVZHOODVFRQFHUQVRYHU WRZKDWH[WHQWVRFLHW\ LQÀXHQFHV WKH artist and vice versa.6 The DLS is also a point of information for literary SXULVWVZKRVXJJHVWWKDWFXOWXUH³FDQQRORQJHUWDNHOLWHUDU\VWXGLHVZKHUH LW QHHGV WRJR´7 Their arguments completely overlook Black cultural and Afrocentric criteria of literature, much of which is taught directly through or as cross-listings of literature disciplines.8 Instead, the DLS is an Afrocentric tool that emphasizes the function of enhancing literary analysis with quantitative and qualitative explorations of a text’s collective elements and meaning. The DLS model encourages the following procedural treatment of literature.