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The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism [Paperback]

Henry Louis Gates
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 1 1993
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s original, groundbreaking study explores the relationship between the African and African-American vernacular traditions and black literature, elaborating a new critical approach located within this tradition that allows the black voice to speak for itself. Examining the ancient poetry and myths found in African, Latin American, and Caribbean culture, and particularly the Yoruba trickster figure of Esu-Elegbara and the Signifying Monkey whose myths helparticulate the black tradition's theory of its literature, Gates uncovers a unique system for interpretation and a powerful vernacular tradition that black slaves brought with them to the New World. His critical approach relies heavily on the Signifying Monkey - perhaps the most popular figure in African-American folklore - and signification and Signifyin(g). Exploring signification in black American life and literature by analyzing the transmission and revision of various signifying figures, Gates provides an extended analysis of what he calls the "Talking Book," a central trope in early slave narratives that virtually defines the tradition of black American letters. Gates uses this critical framework to examine several major works of African-American literature - including Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, and Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo - revealing how these works signify on the black tradition and on each other. The secondvolume in an enterprising trilogy on African-American literature, The Signifying Monkey - which expands the arguments of Figures in Black - makes an important contribution to literary theory, African-American literature, folklore, and literary history.

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Review

"Apart from suggesting new ways of looking at black literature, this original work is a singular contribution to linguistics, anthropology and rhetoric. Notwithstanding the considerable resources upon which he bases his case, Gates works with a lightness of touch and a style of reasoning that makes the exercise of following the construction of his argument most exciting and provocative."--The Tribune

"Copiously researched, re-orients our understanding of American culture and letters."--Uzoma Esonwanne, University of Michigan

"Perhaps the most important critical statement regarding the rhetorical underpinnings of a black narrative discourse. For a general graduate course on cultural theory, I have found no better introduction text on the topic."--David William Foster, rizona State University

"An important book....The Signifying Monkey displays an impressive array of scholarship coupled with a wide-ranging knowledge of diverse materials and a visible creative energy which synthesises these into a coherent and convincing thesis....an immensely stimulating work which deserves a wide readership."--Sandra Harris, Reviews in American Studies

"Eclectic, exciting, convincing, provocative, challenging....Gates gives black literature room to breathe, invents interpretive frameworks that enable us to experience black writing rather than label it in terms of theme or ideology. From this perspective his book is a generous, long-awaited gift....Like great novels that force us to view the world differently, Mr. Gates' compelling study suggests new ways of seeing."--John Wideman, The New York Times Book Review

"Like the African-American trickster figure who circumscribes the shifting center of this most impressive work, Henry Louis Gates resists simplification.... Gates has provided the foundation of a potentially accessible, politically useful, and academically sophisticated discipline of "comparative black literature." He will clearly play an important role in determining whether that discipline realizes its potential." Journal of English and Germanic Philology

"Brilliantly original. Besides the work of Houston Baker, I cannot think of a more exciting reassessment of black literature that has been published in many years. The Signifying Monkey has the feel of a seminal work, likely to reshape the course of black American literary criticism for years."--The Washington Post Book World

"The appearance of The Signifying Monkey [is] one of the most significant events in the development of [African-American] studies in the next decade. Bold, ambitious, original....Brilliant...[it] deserves to be read widely."--W.J.T. Mitchell, Editor, Critical Inquiry

"The Rosetta Stone of the American multi-cultural renaissance."--Ishmael Reed

"Breath-taking in the scope of its argument and in the energy and insight that it brings to reading individual texts, the matrix of the [African-American] tradition, and the Signifyin(g) practice that binds the 'Afro' to the 'American' in [African-American] writing and speaking."--James Olney, Louisiana State University

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First Sentence
The black Africans who survived the dreaded "Middle Passage" from the west coast of Africa to the New World did not sail alone. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback
Professor Gates' tome on the Signifying Monkey is a thoughtful and fascinating exposition on some of the West African sources of American folklore that are seldom appreciated as a result of the forced expatriations involved in the slave trade. Unfortunately, the book is just slightly dry unless accompanied by a first rate recitation of the Signifying Monkey legend as it is retold in the milieu of the Twentieth Century African American "Toast." I am delighted to report that this can now be experienced by newcomers through the wonderful performance of Rudy Ray Moore, which is available on the CD Greatest Hits. When Dr. Gates' reader is able to reread his Signifying Monkey in light of Mr. Ray Moore's, a whole new world of perception and enjoyment will follow. The synergy of these two works is splendid and neither one is quite so valuable without the other.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Rocks! March 19 1999
Format:Paperback
Gates is a clear thinker and a subtle stylist in the great tradition of other New Yorker writers like EB White and John McPhee. For a book of Lit crit, this has some neat tricks up its sleeve.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Groundbreaking Oct. 2 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I purchased Gates' "Signifying Monkey" and found myself nodding at almost every paragraph. I was nodding in appreciation of the clarity, nodding in recognition of meaning that I had lost that freshman year but eventually found upon reading "The Signifying Monkey", and nodding because literary theory was being applied to African-American literature. Mimesis and Gates finally came together. The chapter on the trope of the "talking book" is my favorite. Bakhtin (did I spell that correctly?) himself a literary theorist became even more palatable as a result of my reading this text. I'm glad that I own this book. I'm constantly referring to it. It's turned into a "pleasure-reading" book for me. It can for you as well. Thanks Professor Gates
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Groundbreaking Oct. 2 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I purchased Gates' "Signifying Monkey" and found myself nodding at almost every paragraph. I was nodding in appreciation of the clarity, nodding in recognition of meaning that I had lost that freshman year but eventually found upon reading "The Signifying Monkey", and nodding because literary theory was being applied to African-American literature. Mimesis and Gates finally came together. The chapter on the trope of the "talking book" is my favorite. Bakhtin (did I spell that correctly?) himself a literary theorist became even more palatable as a result of my reading this text. I'm glad that I own this book. I'm constantly referring to it. It's turned into a "pleasure-reading" book for me. It can for you as well. Thanks Professor Gates
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine book. Dec 5 2012
By Stephen Miller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a fine piece of literary scholarship. It really created a whole way of looking at texts. I use it every year in my Postcolonial Studies class. More examples from popular culture could help.
6 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Important Work on the African Roots of American Folklore May 24 2002
By Stephen M. Kerwick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Professor Gates' tome on the Signifying Monkey is a thoughtful and fascinating exposition on some of the West African sources of American folklore that are seldom appreciated as a result of the forced expatriations involved in the slave trade. Unfortunately, the book is just slightly dry unless accompanied by a first rate recitation of the Signifying Monkey legend as it is retold in the milieu of the Twentieth Century African American "Toast." I am delighted to report that this can now be experienced by newcomers through the wonderful performance of Rudy Ray Moore, which is available on the CD Greatest Hits. When Dr. Gates' reader is able to reread his Signifying Monkey in light of Mr. Ray Moore's, a whole new world of perception and enjoyment will follow. The synergy of these two works is splendid and neither one is quite so valuable without the other.
2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars scholarly April 22 2009
By RKonklinjr - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Gates provides patented scholarship to "ethnic" writing that is all too often dismissed as somehow less studied than mainstream literature.
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars cheap Jan. 2 2013
By giordano angela - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Well-kept book, like new! I've searched this book for months in the libraries and online but this was the lowest price I've ever found!
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