Reinvention and Globalization in Hughes's Stories

By Miller, R. Baxter | MELUS, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview
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Reinvention and Globalization in Hughes's Stories

Miller, R. Baxter, MELUS

In short, there seems to be a powerful disjuncture between the global narratives and images that attract postcolonial critics and another set of narratives and images which do not exactly fit into a theoretical apparatus that seems bent on difference and hybridity. Postcolonial literature is not, of course, deaf to the disjuncture between its performance of a global culture and the persistence of this other, darker, older narrative of poverty, of failed nationalism, of death, that will simply not go away. Postcolonial theorists may have sought to forget the nation in order to become global, but the nation has not forgotten them.

--Simon Gikandi

By reconsidering the narrative posture of Langston Hughes, transnational readers may well perceive a negotiated balance through which his narrators provide the world a way out of global paradox. Reinvention of the communal perception is necessary because the dislocation of an African American on the Atlantic Ocean or in Havana requires adaptation of the explorer's internalized nation. Finally, the wanderer's homeland needs to readapt to the reinvention of what American really means. I propose that the emerging greatness of Langston Hughes was and remains the structuring of synchronic history and diachronic time within the immediate space of a narrative event.

Langston Hughes reinvents an African American imagination at port in Senegal ("The Little Virgin" 1927) and re-adapts the international perspective to the reassessment of Civil Rights in Hopkinsville, Missouri ("Home" 1934). Given Hughes's well-known travel to France during 1922-23, it is not surprising that he was prepared to explore the historical locale of Cuba in 1934. (1) Often his forte was representing the vision of a Diaspora in French and Spanish as well as German. He represented African American voice to Africa and Europe, and then translated the transnationalized voice back to the Americas.

Juxtaposing an early modern poet with a post-modern theory produces a kind of historical incongruity. James Langston Hughes emerged as a lively storyteller during the 1920s and 1930s, but the subsequent term of globalization has developed only since the 1970s. Often globalization involves an international traveler's willingness to adapt the cultured values and texts of one's native land to new ones. While such a process takes place within national discourses, its real mission is to dissolve them. Perhaps one could reassess the importance of stories by Langston Hughes by testing the assumptions of globalization in light of his implied concept of an internalized nation, while working one's way backwards through the global framework to a few lively moments in the texts. Langston Hughes emerges as an African American standard by which global theory should be reassessed.

Globalization entails an international flow of capital along with a worldwide development in the new communications such as the telephone, fax, email, and internet. Leading the vanguard are such international corporations as Microsoft, Gateway, and McDonald's. According to Jackie Smith and Hank Johnson in Globalization and Resistance (2002), at least six compulsions to globalize emerge. First, a global era demands world responses because political policies have effects beyond nation states. Second, the expansion of new technologies such as satellite transmissions and internet shrink the distance between nations, collapsing them into a shared cyberspace. Third, the radically increasing power of transnational corporations (and I would add activist governments), that enables them to control the flow of raw materials (and fission materials for weapons and wealth) has outpaced the effectiveness of local and national movements to contain them. Fourth, today the environmental movement has become worldwide as was the peace movement in earlier decades. Fifth, the human rights movement, one so informed by racial and female liberation, assumes a global logic.

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