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Sounding the Break

Sounding the Break: African American and Caribbean Routes of World Literature

Jason Frydman
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 192
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    Sounding the Break
    Book Description:

    The idea of "world literature" has served as a crucial though underappreciated interlocutor for African diasporic writers, informing their involvement in processes of circulation, translation, and revision that have been identified as the hallmarks of the contemporary era of world literature. Yet in spite of their participation in world systems before and after European hegemony, Africa and the African diaspora have been excluded from the networks and archives of world literature. InSounding the Break,Jason Frydman attempts to redress this exclusion by drawing on historiography, ethnography, and archival sources to show how writers such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, Alejo Carpentier, Derek Walcott, Maryse Condé, and Toni Morrison have complicated both Eurocentric and Afrocentric categories of literary and cultural production. Through their engagement with and revision of the European world literature discourse, he contends, these writers conjure a deep history of "literary traffic" whose expressions are always already cosmopolitan, embedded in the long histories of cultural and economic exchange between Africa, Asia, and Europe. It is precisely the New World American location of these writers, Frydman concludes, that makes possible this revisionary perspective on the idea of (Old) World literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3574-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Edward Wilmot Blyden, born to free Igbo parents in St. Thomas, Danish West Indies, crossed the Atlantic to Liberia in 1851 to complete the education denied to him in the United States. Ordained in 1858, he soon became Fulton Professor of Greek and Latin at Liberia College. Prolific, widely traveled, educated in not only Christian theology and the classics but Arabic traditions as well, Blyden’s historical vision of Africa inspired its diaspora. “You who do not know anything of your ancestry,” Marcus Garvey advised in a Jamaican pamphlet of 1914, “will do well to read Blyden, one of our historians...

  5. 1 World Literature and Antiquity: Classical Surrogates in W. E. B. Du Bois’s Black Belt
    (pp. 19-40)

    Like Edward Wilmot Blyden at Liberia College, W. E. B. Du Bois briefly held a professorship of Greek and Latin at Wilberforce University. Alongside their humanist enthusiasm for Greco-Roman culture, both men inherited and promoted a counter-discourse of antiquity increasingly marginalized over the course of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, an intellectual shift whose story Martin Bernal has popularly documented in hisBlack Athenavolumes. This counter-discourse emphasized the variously shaded African roots of classical antiquity, reminding an amnesiac Europe of Greece and Rome’s debts to Egypt and Ethiopia, as recorded by ancient and modern sources alike....

  6. 2 World Literature in Hiding: Zora Neale Hurston, Biographical Criticism, and African Diasporic Vernacular Culture
    (pp. 41-60)

    Zora Neale Hurston has emerged as a figure of world literature strongly associated with her accessible mappings of African diasporic vernacular culture. Tracking the transnational continuities of black social practices and performances, her literary-anthropological cosmopolitanism has prompted Françoise Lionnet to compare her to the Egyptian goddess Isis, “the wanderer who conducts her research, establishes spatio-temporal connections among the children of the diaspora, and re-members the scattered body of folk material so that siblings can again ‘touch each other.’”¹ With her reliance on family metaphors, Lionnet suggests that Hurston’s writings keep it all in the family, so to speak, an authentic...

  7. 3 Whiteness and World Literature: Alejo Carpentier, Racial Difference, and Narrative Creolization
    (pp. 61-81)

    The complex intersection of early twentieth-century avant-garde literature with ethnography and racial “science,” exoticism and primitivism, negrophilia and indigenism, represents a well-documented aspect of global modernism. The Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier joined many white intellectuals in perceiving racial difference as an opportunity for artistic innovation: Luis Palés Matos of Puerto Rico, Miguel Ángel Asturias of Guatemala, Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechten of the United States, Federico García Lorca of Spain, and André Breton and Michel Leiris of France. Carpentier’s artistic investment in racial difference overlaps signficantly with these writers, many of whom he crossed paths with in Paris and...

  8. 4 Dialectics of World Literature: Derek Walcott between Intimacy and Iconicity
    (pp. 82-98)

    Readers frequently betray exhaustion with the critical debates that frame the work of Derek Walcott. Venerable Walcott critic Edward Baugh, recently reviewing four book-length author studies by four other venerable Walcott critics, writes: “None of the studies under review is unreasonable or startling, and, as the general rule, arguments are based on sound, indeed impeccable scholarship. Each has [its] distinctiveness in terms of changes rung on inevitable topics for Walcott criticism.”¹ Despite the “sound, indeed impeccable scholarship” of the works under consideration, Baugh shows a bit of fatigue with the “inevitable topics for Walcott criticism,” a series of critical oppositions...

  9. 5 Material Histories of World Literature: Intertextuality and Maryse Condé’s Historical Novels
    (pp. 99-118)

    Veronica Mercier, the Guadeloupean protagonist of Maryse Condé’s first novel,Hérémakhonon(1972), announces at the end of her sojourn in an unnamed West African country: “Je me suis trompée . . . d’aïeux [I got my ancestors wrong].”¹ From the very beginning, Condé’s literary career foregrounds the vexations of genealogy. Throughout her work, characters track down lost relatives, seek dubious ancestral homelands, and compose uncertain family histories. Meanwhile, her writing discloses multiple sources: autobiography,faits divers, historical records, oral and literary traditions. Genealogy thus serves as a preoccupation of the characters and a formal concern of the novels. The genealogical...

  10. 6 “Healing” World Literature: Toni Morrison’s Conflicts of Interest
    (pp. 119-140)

    InLa migration des coeurs, therécitsof fishermen and nannies provide a popular commentary on the novel’s melodrama while connecting up formally withWuthering Heights, prominently marked by Nelly Dean’s Yorkshire vernacular. Yet as the Caribbean vernacular reveals itself to be caught up in the world-literary formation of the gothic by inflecting a transatlantic discursive contest over racial taxonomy, the novel points to ways the vernacular exceeds its role as a mark of the local. Its imbrication in global generic and racial formations recall the ways Du Bois and Hurston, Carpentier and Walcott, constitute the vernacular as a site...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 141-146)

    InParadise, the citizens of Ruby prefer not to recognize “the fecund, anarchic but vibrant inclusiveness of the ‘raceless’ Convent.”¹ The town rejuvenates itself, in fact, through its violent rejection of “the positive model of New World creolization” offered by Consolata’s Afro-BrazilianCandombléSong of Solomon, furthermore, never explicitly divulges the scene of institutional Islamic writing palimpsestically embedded within Milkman’s vernacular treasure, his descent from one of the legendary flying Africans of Black Atlantic lore. Morrison’s novels reiterate a hesitation to embrace the worldly filiations and affiliations that irrupt within the frame of what Dubey discusses as ostensibly “organic communities”...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 147-160)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 161-175)
  14. Index
    (pp. 176-184)