Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Dancing the "Clearing" in Academia

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Dancing the "Clearing" in Academia

Article excerpt

To search for the good and make it matter: this is the real challenge/or the artist (substitute scholar/teacher). Not simply to transform ideas or revelations into matter, but to make those revelations actually matter.

Estella Conwill Majozo (1995)

Since its publication, Toni Morrison's seminal novel Beloved has become a mainstay of twentieth century American literary cannon. Written as a monument to the sixty million and more Africans who were involved in the European/American slave trade, Beloved offers not only an inspiring and healing representation of African American life, it also offers theoretical frameworks that can be used and applied in varied settings within academia. This is not unusual, especially in light of literary critic Barbara Christian's assertion that Black women writers like Morrison and others theorize in their fictional works (Smith 2000, 12). One of such theoretical frameworks is Morrison's representation of the "clearing" through which she reconfigures the kinship structure of African American cultural life. It is the combination of the West African derived ritual, the Ringshout and this concept of the "clearing" that 1 use here to devise what I call the "aesthetic quality" of my intellectual life.

Essentially, as in the "clearing," where the ancestor, Baby Suggs, holy (Morrison 1987, 87) called the community to re-member themselves and improvise the varying polyrhythmic expressions of their b/Body, (where b indicates the individual body and B the collective body) even so in the West African derived cultural ritual, the Ringshout, the individual "shouts" with herself even as she "'shouts" communally with the b/ Body. The outcome in either case is a cathartic release where psychic balance and reciprocity with/in the b/ Body is achieved, h] this transcendence, the members of the b/Body enter the realm where receiving, recreating and or re-articulating the word(s) of empowerment and envisioning limitless possibilities exists, in this way, the "clearing" is that sinmltaneously geographic, spiritual and politically empowering space where the b/Body "see[s] self clearly in relationship to self and self clearly in relationship to other selves in the universe" (Ngugi 1987, 88). This space allows for transcendence of the disabling effects of cultural and political domination on the psyche of African people in the Diaspora resulting from enslavement, colon-ization, neo-colonization, imperialism and their attenuating fixtures of capitalism, materialism and consumerism.

It is this same "clearing" that we must transfer, create and maintain in academia (Morrison, 1987). For what is encoded and made visible in the 'clearing' is an ontological model for cross-gendered, cross-cultural and intergenerational relationships and cultural identity for African American people in the New World. I take this "clearing" then, in a multiple sense, as an actual physical and simultaneous psychic space that we must create and maintain for ourselves as the liberating spaces of our intellectual life with/in academia. For a "clearing" enables us to recognize, critique and re-construct the rituals of socio-political and cultural engagement with/ in intellectual life as well as how we are engaging other selves: colleagues, students, staff, administrators, our partners, friends, enemies, parents and children.

Implicit in perceiving our intellectual life as a "clearing" is the idea of "spirituality." I use "spirituality" in a dual sense. First, I use it in the sense of Jane Thompkins' call for the role of academe in the development of an education that educates 'the whole human being--mind, body and spirit.' It is in this sense of the need for a "spiritual spin on pedagogy" that I am making connections between intellectual life and spirituality, both for the "education" of the student as well as that of the teacher/scholar (Schneider 1998). Second, I use "spirituality" here in the sense of responding to a calling. …

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