“Lucidly written and well researched . . . adds much to our understanding of W. E. B. Du Bois as an African American educator, social scientist, political activist, and eminent scholar.”
Following his initial discussion of Du Bois's earliest writing, Keith E. Byerman posits The Souls of Black Folk (1903) as a master text that established the tropes of double-consciousness and the veil for which Du Bois is known, and incorporated the various genres through which he voiced his understanding of the world. The remainder of the study discusses Du Bois's works as elaborations of the master text within and against the contemporary discourses on history, art, and self.
Throughout Byerman examines the connections between the personal and intellectual aspects of Du Bois's life to reveal the intense engagement with moral and ideological issues found even in texts that Du Bois represented as "objective." At the same time, in order to present some of the complexity and conflict that runs through Du Bois's work, Byerman identifies the tensions and patterns in Du Bois's writing that cross disciplines or genres. Instead of focusing on one aspect of Du Bois's career, Seizing the Word attempts a more synthetic approach, primarily by examining Du Bois in terms of contemporary literary and cultural theory, most notably Lacan's Law of the Father and Erikson's work on identity. The analysis is thus informed by notions of language as power, discourse as site of conflict, and self and race as cultural constructs rather than unitary essences.
In addition Byerman draws on much recent work in minority discourse, feminist theory, and studies in autobiography. According to Byerman, the guiding notion is that Du Bois's writing is always engaged in a confrontation with an existing discourse that Du Bois challenges through charges of arbitrariness and corruption, deconstructs, and then rebuilds in his own terms. Moreover, Byerman argues that Du Bois's career exhibits a clear pattern of the interaction of the personal, the intellectual, and the political. He repeatedly projects himself or those analogous to himself as heroic figures in battle for truth and justice against professional, personal, or ideological antagonists. All his major work, regardless of discipline or genre, offers a vision of this struggle.
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