The Well-Tempered Anachronism, Or The C(o)urse of Empire in Percival Everett’s For Her Dark SkinAuteur : Michel FEITH
An irreverent revisiting of the myths of Medea and the Argonauts, For Her Dark Skin (1990) is Percival Everett’s first Signifyin(g) on classical myth, characterized by a playful recourse to anachronism. On the lighter side, the transposition of epic and tragedy into a mundane world reminiscent of small-town, or suburban, American amounts to a mildly self-reflexive breaking of the frame, debunking the prestige of the Classics and reminding us of the fact that all readings of the past are anchored in the present. Yet, the title warns us that anachronism cannot be limited to this light-tempered humor: the fact of racializing the myth’s confrontation between Greece and its barbarian Other, forges a parallel between the course of Empire in ancient myth and the history of imperialism in America. A backward gaze at a much-idealized Greece, the forebear of Western philosophy and democracy, may lead us to reconsider the status of one (or two) system(s) that indulged in expansionism and slavery. “Race” is a myth, just as the story of Jason and Medea is. Their nature is different, one being a social fiction, and the other a literary one; yet both toy with the line separating civilization from barbarism. The symbolic power of a canonic work can perpetuate ideologies in a covert fashion, just as the power of ideologies can warp our reading of canonic works. Critical Signifyin(g) on the Classics may therefore be equivalent to a mental deprogramming cure, a sort of “verbal rehab,” so to speak.
Michel Feith is Associate Professor in American Literature at the University of Nantes, France, and a member of Center for Research on National Identities and Intercultural Studies (CRINI). After a doctoral thesis entitled “Myth and History in Chinese American and Chicano Literature” (1995), his publications include articles on Maxine Hong Kingston, Gerald Vizenor, John Edgar Wideman, Percival Everett and the Harlem Renaissance. On the latter subject he edited, with Pr. Geneviève Fabre, Jean Toomer and the Harlem Renaissance (Rutgers University Press, 2001) and “Temples for Tomorrow”: Looking Back at the Harlem Renaissance (Indiana University Press, 2001). He has also edited three collections on nationalism and regionalism at the University of Nantes, the latest one being Nationalismes et régionalismes: Amériques, Modes d’emploi, Nantes, CRINI Editions, 2008. A volume of conference proceedings entitled Paroles de vainqueurs, paroles de vaincus: réécritures et revisions was released in 2012, also at the CRINI.
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Michel FEITH « The Well-Tempered Anachronism, Or The C(o)urse of Empire in Percival Everett’s For Her Dark Skin »,
Lectures du Monde Anglophone / LMA, 1, 2015,
© Publications Electroniques de l’ERIAC, 2015.