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The iconography of Malcolm X: text and image

Abernethy, G.B.; (2011) The iconography of Malcolm X: text and image. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

Malcolm X’s life, like his death in 1965, was much documented and observed. Having left an abundance of photographic and filmic images, the material that would become the posthumous The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), and a number of interviews and recorded speeches, Malcolm X ensured his own cultural afterlife. He also inadvertently guaranteed that ‘we will never have access to an unmediated Malcolm.’ John Edgar Wideman has described the subsequent contestation of his meaning and legacy as ‘the bickering over the corpse of a dead man – who gets the head, the heart, the eyes, the penis, the gold teeth’. Other critics have lamented the cost in historical accuracy of the objectification of Malcolm X, invoking ‘the Malcolm that has often been lost in hero worship’ and the images of Malcolm X ‘all smoothed flat and stylized, like the holy men burning coolly in a Byzantine icon’. This thesis proposes to be the first systematic examination of the iconography of Malcolm X and its attendant narratives. Visual artists have explored Malcolm’s significations within folk and popular contexts. In journalism, critical studies, biographies, plays, screenplays, novels, memoirs, poems, and songs, Malcolm’s interpreters have demonstrated his perpetual incompleteness. This thesis considers the proliferation of images and narratives that constitute the many different Malcolms available for consumption. It is not only African American culture in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries that has been refracted through Malcolm X. His representation also speaks to the evolving relationship of written to visual culture since the mid-twentieth century and, indeed, of the interactions of religious, radical, and literary discourses with popular culture. As such, a consideration of the shifting iconography of Malcolm X opens a door on to many of the most contested issues of our times.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:The iconography of Malcolm X: text and image
Language:English
Additional information:Permission for digitisation not received
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Language and Literature

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