Difficult Diasporas: The Transnational Feminist Aesthetic of the Black Atlantic

Difficult Diasporas: The Transnational Feminist Aesthetic of the Black Atlantic

Difficult Diasporas: The Transnational Feminist Aesthetic of the Black Atlantic

Difficult Diasporas: The Transnational Feminist Aesthetic of the Black Atlantic

Synopsis

In this comparative study of contemporary Black Atlantic women writers, Samantha Pinto demonstrates the crucial role of aesthetics in defining the relationship between race, gender, and location. Thinking beyond national identity to include African, African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Black British literature, Difficult Diasporas brings together an innovative archive of twentieth-century texts marked by their break with conventional literary structures. These understudied resources mix genres, as in the memoir/ethnography/travel narrative Tell My Horse by Zora Neale Hurston, and eschew linear narratives, as illustrated in the book-length, non-narrative poem by M. Nourbese Philip, She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks. Such an aesthetics, which protests against stable categories and fixed divisions, both reveals and obscures that which it seeks to represent: the experiences of Black women writers in the African Diaspora.

Drawing on postcolonial and feminist scholarship in her study of authors such as Jackie Kay, Elizabeth Alexander, Erna Brodber, Ama Ata Aidoo, among others, Pinto argues for the critical importance of cultural form and demands that we resist the impulse to prioritize traditional notions of geographic boundaries. Locating correspondences between seemingly disparate times and places, and across genres, Pinto fully engages the unique possibilities of literature and culture to redefine race and gender studies.

Excerpt

There is nothing more tentative, nothing more empirical (superficially, at
least) than the process of establishing an order among things; nothing that
demands a sharper eye or a surer, better-articulated language; nothing
that more insistently requires that one allow oneself to be carried along by
the proliferation of qualities and forms
.

—MICHEL FOUCAULT, The Order of Things

The new order didn’t affect only poetry. It also affected history, sociology,
and philosophy. West Indian society was not studied per se, as an autono
mous object.… West Indian society came to be considered as a Paradise
perverted by Europe. Everything prior to colonization was idealized.
Consequently, from the image of Africa, the motherland, were carefully
eradicated any blemishes such as domestic slavery, or tribal warfare, and
the subjugation of women
.

—MARYSE CONDÉ, “Order, Disorder, Freedom,
and the West Indian Writer”

In the 1924 hit “Freight Train Blues,” Trixie Smith outlines an early feminist critique of diaspora, singing, “When a woman gets the blues, she goes to her room and hides/When a woman gets the blues, she goes to her room and hides/But when a man gets the blues, he catch a freight train and rides.” Smith’s standard blues lyric inhabits what has become the black genre par excellence for the twentieth century, the blues. The paradigm of racial aesthetics, the blues represent African American suffering and histories of both physically forced and economically coerced transience, as well as the forceful originality of these historic standpoints in expressive culture. As such, the blues as a form often signify racial authenticity. Ironically, the blues are also the benchmark of black commodification and appropriation by white America and beyond in critical discussions of distribution, marketing, and circulation. Thus, the blues themselves are a complicated Foucauldian order of things—a quality and form that challenges some . . .

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