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Difficult Diasporas

Difficult Diasporas: The Transnational Feminist Aesthetic of the Black Atlantic

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Difficult Diasporas
    Book Description:

    In this comparative study of contemporary Black Atlantic women writers, Samantha Pinto demonstrates the crucial role of aesthetics in defining the relationship between race, gender, and location. Thinking beyond national identity to include African, African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Black British literature,Difficult Diasporasbrings together an innovative archive of twentieth-century texts marked by their break with conventional literary structures. These understudied resources mix genres, as in the memoir/ethnography/travel narrativeTell My Horseby Zora Neale Hurston, and eschew linear narratives, as illustrated in the book-length, non-narrative poem by M. Nourbese Philip,She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks. Such an aesthetics, which protests against stable categories and fixed divisions, both reveals and obscures that which it seeks to represent: the experiences of Black women writers in the African Diaspora.Drawing on postcolonial and feminist scholarship in her study of authors such as Jackie Kay, Elizabeth Alexander, Erna Brodber, Ama Ata Aidoo, among others, Pinto argues for the critical importance of cultural form and demands that we resist the impulse to prioritize traditional notions of geographic boundaries. Locating correspondences between seemingly disparate times and places, and across genres, Pinto fully engages the unique possibilities of literature and culture to redefine race and gender studies.Samantha Pintois Assistant Professor of Feminist Literary and Cultural Studies in the English Department at Georgetown University.In theAmerican Literatures Initiative

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8936-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. VII-X)
  4. Introduction: The Feminist Disorder of Diaspora
    (pp. 1-17)

    In the 1924 hit “Freight Train Blues,” Trixie Smith outlines an early feminist critique of diaspora, singing, “When a woman gets the blues, she goes to her room and hides / When a woman gets the blues, she goes to her room and hides / But when a man gets the blues, he catch a freight train and rides.” Smith’s standard blues lyric inhabits what has become the black genre par excellence for the twentieth century, the blues. The paradigm of racial aesthetics, the blues represent African American suffering and histories of both physically forced and economically coerced transience, as...

  5. 1 The World and the “Jar”: Jackie Kay and the Feminist Locations of the African Diaspora
    (pp. 18-43)

    Bessie Smith’s first hit, 1923’s “Downhearted Blues,” tells a familiar blues story of love and loss using the strange and fantastic metaphor of “the world,” “a jug,” and “the stopper”: “Got the world in a jug, the stopper’s in my hand / Got the world in a jug, the stopper’s in my hand / Going to hold it, baby, till you come under my command.” These objects form a complex relationship to one another: on the surface, the lyrics are another performance of a popular heterosexual romance imperative; of course, as has been well documented, blues songs’ engagement with “love”...

  6. 2 It’s Lonely at the Bottom: Elizabeth Alexander, Deborah Richards, and the Cosmopolitan Poetics of the Black Body
    (pp. 44-76)

    Jamaica’s mythic folkhero Nanny of the Maroons—famed for a story of catching colonial bullets in her bottom and, as described in the first epigraph, returning that fire—stands as a contemporary postcolonial and national hero through this fabulist, if indecent, narrative. The fantastic nature of her story lies in the apparent ridiculousness of its site, its centering on the magical bottom of Nanny. Nanny’s “notorious” bottom produces her as a public and political icon, allowing her to enter into the discourse of local, official, and transnational histories.¹ This chapter argues that this material and narrative bottom has come to...

  7. 3 The Drama of Dislocation: Staging Diaspora History in the Work of Adrienne Kennedy and Ama Ata Aidoo
    (pp. 77-105)

    In 2007, Ama Ata Aidoo’s playThe Dilemma of a Ghostwas staged in London’s Africa Centre, in association with the National Theatre Company of Ghana, as a commemoration of the fiftieth year since Ghana’s independence, and the two hundredth anniversary of Britain’s abolition of the slave trade.¹ The drama seems an unlikely choice for inclusion in a national memorial that typically stages historical and political scenes in their most obvious sense; the most direct reference to the slave trade in the play is limited to a few offhand comments about the central African American character’s ancestry and a recurrent...

  8. 4 Asymmetrical Possessions: Zora Neale Hurston, Erna Brodber, and the Gendered Fictions of Black Modernity
    (pp. 106-141)

    Zora Neale Hurston begins her 1934 essay “Characteristics of Negro Expression” with an invocation of “drama”—not her own theater pieces or thoseDifficult Diasporasstudied in the previous chapter, but instead the “drama” of black linguistic practice: “Every phase of Negro life is highly dramatized. No matter how joyful or how sad the case there is sufficient poise for drama. Everything is acted out. Unconsciously for the most part of course. There is an impromptu ceremony always ready for every hour of life. No little moment passes unadorned” (32). This incredibly brief and wholly unframed introduction to the drama...

  9. 5 Intimate Migrations: Narrating “Third World Women” in the Short Fiction of Bessie Head, Zoë Wicomb, and Pauline Melville
    (pp. 142-174)

    Erna Brodber, in an essay ruminating on the stakes of realism in literature and beyond in the Caribbean, tells a brief anecdote of Alexander Bedward, a Jamaican man in the early twentieth century who purportedly tried to fly in emulation of biblical narratives of ascension. Her punchline (of the essay and the anecdote) echoes her genre-bending novelLouisiana’s insistence on the untranslatable, commidifiable nature of knowledge production and bleeds through to this chapter on postcolonial short fiction and the impossible task of representing “Third World Women” in the diaspora: “Magical realism gone too real, if this story is true” (2002,...

  10. 6 Impossible Objects: M. NourbeSe Philip, Harryette Mullen, and the Diaspora Feminist Aesthetics of Accumulation
    (pp. 175-200)

    “No language is neutral,” Canadian diaspora poet Dionne Brand flatly states in her 1990 poem and eponymous collection; the innovative realisms of the previous chapter, as well as the various mixed-genre techniques of all of the texts studied in this book, take pains to explicate what, on its surface, seems a basic claim. Literary representation, as an act of language, is fraught with the historical and systemic violence that brought it into formation and into use. In the texts studied acrossDifficult Diasporas, the presence of this loaded language itself is always in tension with the imaginative locations it promises...

  11. Coda: The Risks of Reading
    (pp. 201-208)

    Sylvia Wynter labels academics the “grammarians of our present epistemolocial order” (D. Scott 2000, 160), an ambivalent position at best that sees critical work as parsing out the rules of knowledge production around race, gender, and location. Ama Ata Aidoo articulates in the first epigraph a similarly unsettling aesthetic role for diaspora women’s writing and its complicated relationship to language, material production, and representation. She, too, hints at the difficulty, and the significance, ofreadingblack women’s writing that has been the center ofDifficult Diasporas’s inquiry. As a conclusion to the deep consideration of our critical reading practices around...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 209-232)
  13. References
    (pp. 233-264)
  14. Index
    (pp. 265-271)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 272-272)