Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (Race and American Culture)

Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (Race and American Culture)

Eric Lott

Language: English

Pages: 352

ISBN: 0195320557

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


For over two centuries, America has celebrated the same African-American culture it attempts to control and repress, and nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than in the strange practice of blackface performance. Born of extreme racial and class conflicts, the blackface minstrel show appropriated black dialect, music, and dance; at once applauded and lampooned black culture; and, ironically, contributed to a "blackening of America."

Drawing on recent research in cultural studies and social history, Eric Lott examines the role of the blackface minstrel show in the political struggles of the years leading up to the Civil War. Reading minstrel music, lyrics, jokes, burlesque skits, and illustrations in tandem with working-class racial ideologies and the sex/gender system, Love and Theft argues that blackface minstrelsy both embodied and disrupted the racial tendencies of its largely white, male, working-class audiences. Underwritten by envy as well as repulsion, sympathetic identification as well as fear--a dialectic of "love and theft"--the minstrel show continually transgressed the color line even as it enabled the formation of a self-consciously white working class. Lott exposes minstrelsy as a signifier for multiple breaches: the rift between high and low cultures, the commodification of the dispossessed by the empowered, the attraction mixed with guilt of whites caught in the act of cultural thievery.

This new edition celebrates the twentieth anniversary of this landmark volume. It features a new foreword by renowned critic Greil Marcus that discusses the book's influence on American cultural studies as well as its relationship to Bob Dylan's 2001 album of the same name, "Love & Theft." In addition, Lott has written a new afterword that extends the study's range to the twenty-first century.

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because the larger framework of Love and Theft is often overlooked. The book is embedded rather strenuously in a Marxist architecture. It is not simply the irony of American history I am after, although there is that, with the blackface mask of political containment backing its partisans into unbidden subversions at a particular historical juncture. More than this, the blackface mask is understood here, I think for the first time, not as a dead sign of social stasis transparent to nostalgic

Frederick. Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History. New York: Random House, 1963. Metz, Christian. The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema [1977]. Trans. Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster, and Alfred Guzzetti. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1982. Michaels, Walter Benn. The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism: American Literature at the Turn of the Century. Berkeley: U of California P, 1987. Middleton, Richard. “Articulating Musical Meaning/Re-Constructing

the dandy indeed occupies the structural position given to the Tappans in many minstrel songs; “amalgamationist” threat, he interposes himself between Rose and the rightful suitor, Cuff. And the association in the rioting of abolitionism with black dandies, not to mention amalgamation, was so strong as to mark a confusion of one hated object with another. For weeks preceding the New York riots there circulated rumors of two basic kinds: one that charged abolitionists with promoting amalgamation,

contrary, the threat itself could sometimes escape complete neutralization. Blackface representations were something like compromise formations of white self-policing, opening the color line to effacement in the very moment of its construction. Three further examples, two based on songbook images and one on the dynamics of theater spectatorship, will make my meaning plain. The real urgency of white self-policing is evident in the outright aggression of many blackface jokes. Even the ugly vein of

clearly the desire it seeks to mask. Furthermore, behind the display of black men for white male consumption, a joking relation in which looking and exposure stand in for desire, one begins to make out the presence of a different speculative (though historically specific) transaction. The joking triangle, in which white men share a dominative relationship to a black man which is based above all on looking, seems to me the northern analogue of black men on the auction block. Melville had something

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