(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

My Amputations is a postmodernist experimental novel that combines picaresque and bildungsroman techniques in a story about Mason Ellis and his search for an African American identity. Written in short episodes, the novel narrates the escapades of Mason from child to Air Force serviceman to hoodlum and bank robber and then to lecturer. His ultimate con is to receive $50,000 a year from the Magnan-Rockford Foundation. The novel is a complex blend of Mason’s past with his dreams and hallucinations. Fragments of his own novel are interjected into a narrative unreliably presented by a nameless narrator. Mason’s mental state suggests paranoid schizophrenia, as he constantly fears an unnamed conspiracy organized by the System.

Mason is the son of Melba, a light-skinned black woman, and Chiro, a hard-living black man. Mason’s youth in Chicago is troubled, and he has a fantasy existence with his muse, Celt CuRoi, perhaps a derivation of his mother’s partial Irish ancestry. Mason suffers episodes of racial bigotry in the service. His apprenticeship as a writer starts conventionally, as he imitates white writers such as Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, and Ernest Hemingway and black writers such as Richard Wright, Chester Himes, and James Baldwin. After the service, Mason moves back to Chicago’s South Side, marries, has six children, and separates from his wife. Mason and a woman named Painted Turtle move to New York City and turn to a life of crime.

Mason claims that another man, possibly the Author, stole his manuscript. This same man...

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(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Bell, Bernard W. “Modernism and Postmodernism.” In The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1987. Places Major in the African American postmodern tradition of experimenting with language and form. Sees Major as parodying and extending genre forms while searching for new ways to express African American identity.

Black American Literary Forum 13, no. 2 (1979). This issue is devoted to Major and contains a number of interesting articles. Among these are “Towards a Primary Bibliography of Clarence Major,” by Joe Weixlmann and Clarence Major, and “Major’s Reflex and Bone Structure and the Anti-Detective Tradition,” by Larry McCaffrey and Linda Gregory.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. “Chapter Eight: Clarence Major.” In The Life of Fiction. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977. Discusses the disruptive qualities of Major’s work in relation to the postmodernist text. Sees Major as an instrumental African American writer who blends social and racial critique into experimental texts.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. The Self-Apparent Word: Fiction as Language/Language as Fiction. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984. Places Major in a postmodern tradition of writers including William S. Burroughs and John Barth. Considers Major an extremely clever writer confronting accepted narrative conventions.

Major, Clarence. The Dark and Feeling: Black American Writers and Their Work. New York: Third Press, 1974. A collection of varied essays, including Major’s seminal essay on the black aesthetic titled “Black Criteria.” Also includes a number of interviews, one of them a self-interview.