Regions of Identity: The Construction of America in Women's Fiction, 1885-1914

By Kate McCullough | Go to book overview

3 Slavery, Sexuality, and Genre

PAULINE E. HOPKINS'S NEGOTIATIONS OF (AFRICAN) AMERICAN WOMANHOOD

. . . the names by which I am called in the public place render an example of signifying property plus. In order for me to speak a truer word concerning myself, I must strip down through layers of attenuated meanings, made an excess in time, over time, assigned by a particular historical order, and there await whatever marvels of my own inventiveness. The personal pronouns are offered in the service of a collective function.

-- Hortense J. Spillers


Slavery, Sexuality, and Representation

Hortense Spillers's words, taken from her "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book," point to the importance of self- representation for contemporary African-American women writers, and to the urgency of the need to articulate identity through a discourse which, if not one's own, might be temporarily appropriated as such. Implicated in this process, her statement suggests, is a confrontation with the "attenuated meanings" assigned to African-American female identity by the American "historical order." Spillers's formulation and the important article from which it is taken chart a relationship between African-American female identity and history, putting into relief the historical impact of slavery on the formation of African-American identity and linking the individual subject formation of the African-American woman to the (re)formation of a national identity. Placing Spillers's argument itself into a historical context, we can use her formulation to help us understand both post-Reconstruction African-American female writers' efforts toward self-representation and, at the same time, the literary history that has read (or misread) these writers. Moreover, Spillers's work can also help us understand how such self-representation alters the landscape not only of these writers' historical order but also of their imagined collective future

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