Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Postcolonial Romance, Ghostly Love Stories, and the Heart Does Not Bend

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Postcolonial Romance, Ghostly Love Stories, and the Heart Does Not Bend

Article excerpt

Through a discussion of Makeda Silvera's The Heart Does Not Bend and theories of mourning and melancholia, this essay opens up pressing questions about black subjectivity, the politics of diasporic, gendered, and sexual identities, and the social economies within which they circulate.

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Makeda Silvera's The Heart Does Not Bend is at once a ghost story, a romance novel, and a socio-historical analysis. By focusing primarily on a Caribbean-Canadian woman haunted by the recent death of her grandmother, the novel offers a careful consideration of the challenges that confront generations of black women and the often difficult relations that bind them together. Silvera's text belongs to a larger body of Canadian works that speak to diasporic identities and their ongoing negotiations of the politics of memory, mourning, melancholia, and inheritance. The Heart Does Not Bend is a textual site haunted by the various forms of violence, symbolic and material, that have been inflicted against individuals and families whose inclusion in the nation-state has happened at the cost of a deliberate forgetting. By mourning her grandmother and critically examining the legacy she left behind, this granddaughter effectively opens up pressing questions about black subjectivity, the politics of diasporic, gendered, and sexual identities, and the social economies within which they circulate.

The novel opens with the surviving members of the Galloway family anxiously awaiting the reading of a will belonging to Maria Galloway, sister, cousin, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother to those present in the room. Their collective mourning is punctured by shock, anger, and dismay once it is announced that Maria has bequeathed almost all of her belongings to her great-grandson, Vittorio. The general sentiment of the Galloways is that Maria's will is unjust, for it rewards Vittorio for a history of irresponsibility, while failing to recognize the devotion of those who cared for Maria during various stages of her life. In the narrative that follows the execution of the will, Molly Galloway, Maria's granddaughter, mourns the loss of her grandmother, an act of both sadness and anger. Molly believes that she has been left out of the will because Maria disapproves of her queer sexuality. After her grandmother discovers that Molly is involved in a relationship with Rose, her first female lover, a rift develops between grandmother and granddaughter. Molly describes the shift within their relationship by stating simply, "things were never the same again between Mama and me" (Silvera 195). Coming to terms, then, with the loss of her grandmother also involves understanding the nature of their attachment in broader terms, a connection that can be framed as melancholic.

Here, it is necessary to invoke Freud's distinction between the terms mourning and melancholia, the former referring to a finite expression of grief and the latter to an interminable and pathological one. Moreover, Freud suggests, "melancholia is in some way related to an unconscious loss of a love-object, in contradistinction to mourning, in which there is nothing unconscious about the loss" (155). While Molly is, in the most immediate and obvious sense, the mourner as she laments the death of her grandmother, her grieving compels her to recognize other forms of loss at work in her relationship with her grandmother. More precisely, Molly has occupied the space of melancholic object--one that "has not perhaps actually died, but has become lost as an object of love"--for Maria for an extended period of time (Freud 155). The doubled forms of loss in Molly and Maria's relationship gesture toward the ways in which gendered, sexualized, and racialized relations are produced through social narratives of loss and haunting. That Molly falls out of favour with Maria, in part, at least, because of her sexual identity, supports and extends claims made by Anne Anlin Cheng about the construction of marginalized social identities in America. …

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