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Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class

Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class

Paperback Race and American Culture

By (author) Eric Lott

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  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
  • Format: Paperback | 352 pages
  • Dimensions: 155mm x 231mm x 20mm | 318g
  • Publication date: 12 September 2013
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0195320557
  • ISBN 13: 9780195320558
  • Edition: 20
  • Edition statement: 20th Anniversary ed.
  • Sales rank: 532,239

Product description

For over two centuries, America has celebrated the very black 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 sometimes usefully intensified them. Based on the appropriation of black dialect, music, and dance, minstrelsy at once applauded and lampooned black culture, ironically contributing 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.

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Author information

Eric Lott is Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

Review quote

Reviews of the previous edition "Terrifically smart and unexpectedly timely."--New York Times"One of the most stimulating and nuanced accounts of 19th-century blackface minstrelsy."--Boston Phoenix"Original and erudite....A clever, disciplined, and resourceful reading of the commonplace: a pioneering study."--Kirkus Reviews"Love and Theft is an original and absolutely brilliant contribution to understanding the politics of cultural production. Lott makes an incisive, provocative, and stunning analysis of the complex and contradictory ways in which minstrelsy embodied and acted out the class, racial, and sexual politics of its historical moment. As readers we come to understand for the first time how blackface performance imagined and addressed a national community and we realize the extent to which we still live with this legacy. An enthralling and important book."--Hazel Carby, Yale University"The author adroitly leads us through minstrelsy's maze of complex relationships....Ground-breaking work."--Theatre Survey"This spectacular book, a history of blackface from the bottom up, offers a gripping, original interpretation of the first and most popular form of nineteenth-century entertainment. Placing minstrelsy at the center of class, race, and political relations, and seeing blackface as a contaminated form of interracial desire, Love and Theft will stimulate vigorous debate. To dissent from portions of the argument in no way diminishes the subtlety and importance of Eric Lott's achievement."--Michael Rogin, University of California, Berkeley"[Lott] offers a stunning, provocative interpretation of the minstrel tradition....I found his insights into white male desire to appropriate or step into black bodies utterly fascinating and pretty funny."--Robin D.G. Kelly, The Nation"Lott's commitment to connecting the cultural to the political, and to exploring rather than castigating the structure of feeling behind

Table of contents

Preface to the 20th-Anniversary Edition by Greil Marcus ; Introduction ; Part I ; 1. Blackface and Blackness: The Minstrel Show in American Culture ; 2. Love and Theft: "Racial" Production and the Social Unconscious of Blackface ; 3. White Kids and No Kids At All: Working Class Culture and Languages of Race ; 4. The Blackening of America: Popular Culture and National Cultures ; Part II ; 5. "The Seeming Counterfeit": Early Blackface Acts, the Body, and Social Contradiction ; 6. "Genuine Negro Fun": Racial Pleasure and Class Formation in the 1840's ; 7. California Gold and European Revolution: Stephen Foster and the American 1848 ; 8. Uncle Tomitudes: Racial Melodrama and Modes of Production ; Afterword to the 20th-Anniversary Edition by the Author ; Notes ; Bibliography ; Index