Habitations of the Veil

Metaphor and the Poetics of Black Being in African American Literature

By Rebecka Rutledge Fisher

Subjects: Philosophy Of Literature, African American Studies, Philosophy, Post Structuralism, Literature
Series: SUNY series, Philosophy and Race
Paperback : 9781438449326, 442 pages, January 2015
Hardcover : 9781438449319, 442 pages, July 2014

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Table of contents

Introduction: The Poetics of Being Black
I. Inhabiting the Veil: On Black Being
1. Being and Metaphor
A Philosophy of Ordinary Black Being: Hurston’s “Characteristics of Negro Expression”
2. African American Philosophy and the Poetics of Black Being
Crafting a Poetics of Black Being: Du Bois’s Philosophical Example
Whither Blackness? Du Bois, Black Culture, and the Contemporaneity of Black Being
II. The Poetics of Black Being Before and After Du Bois
3. Being and Becoming: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African
The Rhetoric of the Image: Being and Becoming in Equiano’s Use of Portraiture
Hope in Narrative: Equiano’s Biblical Turn
An Actuated Being
4. Remnants of Memory: Metaphor and Being in Frances E.W. Harper’s Sketches of Southern Life
The Evolution of Harper’s Vernacular Poetry
Between Metaphor and Black Being: Aunt Chloe’s Structure of Poetic Memory
5. A Technology of Modern Black Being: “The Conservation of Races” as a Critical Ontology of Race
Being in the Occasion of Discourse: “Conservation,” Metaphor, and the Historical Narrative of Race
A Technology of Black Being: “The Conservation of Races” as the Contested “Mediation by which We Understand Ourselves”
The Interpretation of Black Historicity: Reading “Conservation” in Context
“Conservation” and the Hermeneutics of Race
6. Habitations of the Veil: Souls, Figure, Form
Incipit and Excipit
Poem and Paratext: The African American Spiritual and the Strivings of Black Being
Inspiriting Time: The Spiritual and the Ontology of the Slave
Metaphors of Perceiving, Knowing, and Mourning
Metaphors of Journeying and Insight
Metaphors of the Temporal and the Atemporal
The Fundamental Mythopoetics of Metaphor in African American Religion
The Soul’s Biography: Metaphors of Transition and Transcendence
Navigating the Undulating Waters of Being: The Spirituals and the Possibilities of Metaphor
7. Symbolic Wrights: The Poetics of Being Underground
Mapping Black Ontology and Black Freedom
“Blueprint for Negro Writing” in Context
Being Underground
8. A Love Called Democracy: Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
By Way of Conclusion
Speaking for the Beloved
Love’s Habitation: Blackness, the Uncanny Maternal, and American Democracy
The Repression of the Black Maternal
The Irrepressible Dreamer: Reveries of Sexual Love
Sacrificing Sexual Desire
Black Being’s Moral of Love

A hermeneutical study of metaphor in African American literature.


In Habitations of the Veil, Rebecka Rutledge Fisher uses theory implicit in W. E. B. Du Bois's use of metaphor to draw out and analyze what she sees as a long tradition of philosophical metaphor in African American literature. She demonstrates how Olaudah Equiano, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison each use metaphors to develop a critical discourse capable of overcoming the limits of narrative language to convey their lived experiences. Fisher's philosophical investigations open these texts to consideration on ontological and epistemological levels, in addition to those concerned with literary craft and the politics of black identity.

Rebecka Rutledge Fisher is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


"This is a book that is not for the faint of heart: it is a thinking book … A worthy addition to the growing literary criticism of African American literature." — San Francisco Book Review