Between the Lines: Literary Transnationalism and African American Poetics

By Monique-Adelle Callahan | Go to book overview

Conclusion
Where Do We Go from Here? The
Implications of Textual Migrations

The slave population, it could be and was assumed, offered
itself up as surrogate selves for meditation on problems of
human freedom, its lure and its elusiveness … this slave
population was understood to have offered itself up for
reflections on human freedom in terms other than the
abstractions of human potential and the rights of man
.

—Toni Morrison (1993, 37–38)

As a literature of the Americas, nineteenth-century afrodescendente poetry has evolved in the shadow of New World slavery. During “the nadir” in particular, African descendants in Brazil, Cuba, and the United States faced the challenge of defining freedom for themselves. The process of defining freedom was not just political; it was also literary. It called for a culling of metaphors, symbols, and tropes to create the stories afrodescendentes would tell about their individual and collective lives. In its various forms and modalities, nineteenth-century afrodescendente literature problematized freedom and examined the relationship between freedom and slavery. It recognized the literary aspect of history and identity and the ways in which language could be used as a tool to construct it. As a literary space, language was a “loophole of retreat” (Hartman 1997, 9)—a contested space where freedom and slavery coexist and where new histories and identities are generated.

The transnationalism of afrodescendente poetics demonstrates this fact. Certainly, not all afrodescendente literature is explicitly transnational; nor do all afrodescendente writers engage liberationist themes. Transnationalism remains, however, the basic condition out of which afrodescentente literature has evolved. Transhemispheric study of afrodescendente poetics challenges us to engage in a certain kind of reading. It demands a reading reflective of the movement of ideas and tropes across hemispheres. The transatlantic and transhemispheric movement of Africans and their descendants models not only a kind of reading but also a kind of textuality. The text

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