"I am demanding a divorce between the black cultural movement and black political militancy," Charles T. Davis, professor of American Literature at Penn State, said Tuesday night in a lecture in Emerson Hall.
Davis called the union of the black arts and black power an "unholy alliance" and said that the black writers' emphasis on black power was undermining their ability as artists.
Using the work of Leroi Jones for illustration, Davis said, "His plays have become rhetoric. Jones has changed his vocation." Speaking of Dutchman, he said, "Nothing [Jones] has done since then comes close to that explosive work."
"Negro literature was generally ignored until it became black literature," Davis said, explaining the rise of the black arts movement. Black artists now command an audience because "we evaluate literature in terms of power."
Davis read selections of poetry from Black Fire, an anthology of black literature published in 1968. Jones' "We are unfair" illustrates the anthology's anti-white establishment theme:
The fair are
fair, and death
The day will not save them
and we own
Although black artists disdain any ties to previous American literature "the black arts are a thoroughly American phenomenon," Davis said. "The belief that art can remake America is part of the Romantic disposition which characterizes this country," he added.
"The achievement of the black arts movement is in its emotional power and the genuine response it elicits from young blacks," Davis said. "Its strength comes from the desperate need [of young people] to find mottoes with which to identify," he added.
Davis' field is 19th and early 20th Century American literature, but he has devoted much of his time recently to black literature. He graduated from Dartmouth and has taught American literature at NYU and Princeton.