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Embodying and Transgressing Race in the Novels of John Gregory Brown

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 November 2006

University of Athens (School of Philosophy, Faculty of English Studies, Zographou 157 84), Greece.


This essay will discuss corporeal and racial representation in the work of John Gregory Brown, a little-known, yet immensely rewarding, New Orleans novelist. Placing the discussion within the rich literary tradition of the American South, I will focus on the male protagonists of his first two novels – Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery (1994) and The Wrecked, Blessed Body of Shelton Lafleur (1996) – and examine why Brown's characters constantly shift between different racial positions, and how notions such as racial purity or fixed subjectivity are exposed and interrogated. My analysis will also address physical defect, and explore how Brown destabilizes the ideal of the body as a privileged locus of authoritative wholeness. I will be arguing that, as a cultural and racial signifier, the body in Brown's work is linked with fluidity and fragmentation, and that the boundaries between whiteness and blackness are continuously reshaped by the characters' ambiguous perceptions of themselves as subversive, multi-racial subjects. The conclusion will maintain that both novels offer new insights into the interaction between corporeal representation and racial identity, which make an important contribution to the tradition of American and, particularly, southern literature.

Research Article
2006 Cambridge University Press

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