‘Total Life is What We Want’

The Progressive Stages of the Black Aesthetic in Literature
  • Reginald Martin


Ishmael Reed arises as a central figure in the new black aesthetic movement because of an unlikely coming together of opposed philosophical and artistic personalities; white critics, black critics, and black author converge on the same artistic/philosophical/ideological issues, but bring with them entirely different notions of the ways in which these issues should be handled. The term black aesthetic is one which needs a new and detailed definition to delineate its stages, shapers, adherents, and adversaries, and to show Reed’s place within and external to its boundaries. He receives negative criticism from both predominantly white academia and the vanguard of the new black aesthetic critics; his works are not great sellers, yet he is quoted and pointed to as an example of excellent, inventive writing by white academics, black academics, and students and writers of contemporary interests. Thomas Pynchon and Tom Robbins especially cite Reed as an exemplary writer. And at the centre of this mass of conflicting data, one finds Reed, perfectly content to make the small amount of money he makes as a literary artist each year, and perfectly content to upset the status quo with words which lacerate. But, surprisingly, Reed will be the first to argue adamantly that he writes in ‘a true Afro-American tradition, a true Afro-American aesthetic’ (Martin 180).


Black People Social Equality Total Life Black Panther Party Black Humour 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    An excellent reference for a more full discussion of other personalities in the new black aesthetic is Propaganda and Aesthetics: The Literary Politics of Afro-American Magazines in the Twentieth Century, by Abby A. Johnson and Ronald Mayberry Johnson (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1979).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Reginald Martin 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Reginald Martin
    • 1
  1. 1.Memphis State UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations