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Prophetic Remembrance

Prophetic Remembrance: Black Subjectivity in African American and South African Trauma Narratives

Erica Still
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Prophetic Remembrance
    Book Description:

    Using the term "prophetic remembrance" to articulate the expression of a constituent faith in the performative capacity of language, Erica Still shows how black subjectivity is born of and interprets cultural trauma. She brings together African American neo-slave narratives and Black South African postapartheid narratives to reveal the processes by which black subjectivity accounts for its traumatic origins, names the therapeutic work of the present, and inscribes the possibility of the future.

    The author draws on trauma studies, black theology, and literary criticism as she considers how writers such as Toni Morrison, Charles Johnson, John Edgar Wideman, David Bradley, Sindiwe Magona, K. Sello Duiker, and Zakes Mda explore the possibilities for rehearsing a traumatic past without being overcome by it. Although both African American and South African literary studies have addressed questions of memory, narrative, and trauma, little comparative work has been done.Prophetic Remembranceoffers this comparative focus in reading these literatures together to address the question of what it means to remember and to recover from racial oppression.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3657-4
    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-x)
  4. Introduction: Toward a Theory of Prophetic Remembrance
    (pp. 1-44)

    “African-American Settlers Flock to South Africa”—thus proclaimed an article in the July 1994 issue ofCrisismagazine, which went on to report the growing trend of immigration from the United States to the newly democratized South Africa. Still a relatively small group, these African American immigrants imagined themselves experiencing “a chance to participate in South Africa’s renewal—a chance predicated on giving … and receiving” (Crisis18). After decades of anti-apartheid protest, African American interest in South Africa manifested itself in the journey “home,” as some called it (Crisis47). Further evidence of this diasporic connection arrived in August...

  5. chapter one Ruptured Wounds: The Body of Prophetic Remembrance
    (pp. 45-80)

    In Toni Morrison’sBeloved, Baby Suggs preaches the value of black flesh: “‘Here,’ she said, ‘in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. …Yougot to love it,you!” (89, original emphasis). Her admonition calls attention to the dilemma slavery posed to the black body, for in the realm of slavery the very flesh that Baby Suggs wants to love can be used against itself. In light of slavery’s pervasive claims, her reclamation of...

  6. chapter two Fugitive Homes: The Space of Prophetic Remembrance
    (pp. 81-124)

    In Charles Johnson’sMiddle Passage(1990), the protagonist’s father escapes from a slave plantation in Illinois, leaving his family behind. He is keenly aware of slavery’s capacity to take “so much of [his] dignity he couldn’t look his wife Ruby in the face when they made love without seeing how much she hated him for being powerless” (Middle169). The insult is heightened because he knows that as long as he is enslaved he will never represent authority “even with [his] own children, who had no respect for a man they had seen whipped more than once by an overseer...

  7. chapter three Artful Mourning: The Language of Prophetic Remembrance
    (pp. 125-153)

    “For [death] is what the Slave Trade was all about. Not death from poxes and musketry and whippings and malnutrition and melancholy and suicide; death itself. For before the white men came to Guinea to strip-mine field hands for the greater glory of God, King, and the Royal Africa Company, black people did not die” (208). So writes John, the protagonist of David Bradley’sThe Chaneysville Incident(1981), a history professor seeking to untangle the mystery of his father’s legacy. John continues, “There was, of course, dying in Africa. … But the decedent did not die—he simply took up...

  8. chapter four Resurrection Scars: The Time of Prophetic Remembrance
    (pp. 154-186)

    In 1856, in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, a young woman named Nongqawuse delivered a message from the ancestors: if the amaXhosa would kill their cattle and cease cultivating their crops, at an appointed time the ancestors would be resurrected, bringing with them new cattle and fresh stores of grain; most important, they would “drive the white people into the sea.” Primarily through the efforts of her uncle Mhlakaza, himself a religious figure, the prophecy was spread throughout the Xhosa nation under the rule of King Sarhili. Though not everyone believed the prophecy, many members of the nation...

  9. Conclusion: Prophetic Remembrance—Race, Religion, and the Literary
    (pp. 187-208)

    Prophetic remembrance is the name I give to the impulse (and responsibility) to preserve awareness of historical trauma in such a way as to foreground the yet-to-be-determined nature of the future. That is to say, prophetic remembrance recalls and represents acts and scenes of cultural trauma without assuming that such acts (and their effects) are forever in the past, never to be repeated in a necessarily better time to come. It is retrospective in its attention to the conditions of cultural trauma that determine contemporary racialized subjectivities, and yet it is simultaneously prospective in its commitment to the necessity of...

  10. notes
    (pp. 209-216)
  11. bibliography
    (pp. 217-228)
  12. Index
    (pp. 229-242)