Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Transculturation and Narration in the Black Diaspora of the Americas

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Transculturation and Narration in the Black Diaspora of the Americas

Article excerpt

According t? Paul GiLROY, the black Atlantic is a "transcultural, international formation" characterized by a "rhizomorphic, fractal structure." He furthermore states that critics "specify" the fractally shaped cultural forms through "manifestly inadequate theoretical terms like creolization and syncretism."1 Taking these statements as a point of departure, this essay examines the term 'New World African diaspora' as an intercultural space of both cultural fusion and cultural fissure characterized by an interstitial belonging, cutting across diverse ethnoracial, gendered, and geographical border(land)s. Constituted by a variety of shifting places, this diasporic space is home to a transcultural consciousness in process that mediates between diverse cultural elements while creating new ones. In the process of examining this consciousness in select works by contemporary Afro-Canadian, Afro-American, Afro-Caribbean, and Afro-Brazilian writers, it addresses the following questions: How is identity constituted, produced, and enacted in a transcultural contact zone nourished by the contradictory complementarities of displacement and relocation, broken origins, and deferred homecomings? Given the heritage of imploded world-views, how do pan- American black writers use memory and imagination to develop conceptions of wholeness and cohesion out of the fragments of cultural and identitarian diasporization? And finally, how do they engage with the inside consciousness of cultural expression in this mnemonic process? Let me begin by juxtaposing the statements of three pan- American black writers.

For Edouard Glissant, two major characteristics of pan- American literature are "a tortured sense of time" and a "violent [. . . ] sense of [. . . ] space."2 In short, both time and space are suffused with the violence of the past that continues to cast a shadow on the present.

In "América Negra," the Afro-Brazilian poet Èlio Ferreira states that in the "Americas / what happened did not pass," but accumulates in social violence, misery, and identity-crisis. Exiled in his country like "a stranger in enemy territory," the poetic voice accuses Brazil of wearing a "white mask" and asks: "when are you paying me your debts?"3

Canada, according to the cultural critic Rinaldo Walcott, is home to

at least three different black configurations [...]: a long black presence dating back to the founding of the colony including slavery and escapes from slavery; a discontinuous and continuous Caribbean presence since the early i8oos; and recent continental African migrations.

One of Walcott' s basic arguments is that what links these configurations is a national /cultural un-belonging as "not-quite-citizens": "we are an absented presence always under erasure."4

Thus, the brutalization of black people in the Americas is linked to the brutalization of space, and both are rooted in the past: the slave trade, the plantation system, post-slavery racism, and sexism, and their haunting images: "We live in the Diaspora, in the sea in between," writes the Caribbean-Canadian author Dionne Brand. In her critical essays and creative writing, Brand probes this in-betweenness as a consciousness that is haunted by "the spectre of captivity."5 Whether adrift on a boat, like Adrian, standing in a window in Amsterdam, like Maya, or cracking up in the streets of Toronto, like Verlia, Brand's characters are on schizo-walks through the African diaspora space, one of the postcolonial contact zones par excellence. For Brand and her characters, this transcultural contact zone is a space of ambiguity and incoherence: a heterotopic space of confusion where freedom of choice is forever deferred and in the making. Eula's description of her Dasein as a "whole broken-up tragedy, standing in the middle of the world cracking"6 attests to the fact that what transculturation organizes in this contact zone is cultural fissure, spiralling from one circle of rupture to the next. …

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