Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

6 the Rational-Speculative View: Supernatural Beings and the Middle Passage in Nalo Hopkinson's the New Moon's Arms

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

6 the Rational-Speculative View: Supernatural Beings and the Middle Passage in Nalo Hopkinson's the New Moon's Arms

Article excerpt

As Linda Hutcheon and Mario J. Valdés astutely note, "rethinking is not only thinking again; it is thinking anew."1 In relation to the aforementioned collapse of historiographic discourse, some scholars have applied the term 'posthistory' to a new conception of history.2 Here, historical space must be seen as encompassing both official and nonofficial records to promote critical analysis of "the scope of historical writing itself [which] is enlarged and enriched; and at the same time its social message changes. History becomes, to put it simply, more democratic."3 The overcoming of traditional historiography as a unique mode of gaining access to the 'true facts' implies that "the 'truth' does not and cannot exist. Truth is ultimately a simulation";4 that is why the overcoming of historicism leads us to "the belief that the universal legacy is accessible for 'dialogue' outside time between the leading minds or 'spirits'."5 The idea of 'dialogue' here draws attention once again both to Foucault's postulates and to Bakhtin's concept of 'heteroglossia' with their highlighting of the importance of different points of view in polyphonic transcendence. In this connection, Linda Hutcheon considers that contemporary literature is making it possible to construct a dialogue "between and among literatures and histories that configure Postmodernism,"6 primarily thanks to Kristeva's works on Bakhtinian notions. Accordingly, concepts such as 'dialogism' and 'heteroglossia' should also be taken into account when reading historical silences, both official and non-official, since the past must be reinterpreted in the present and is thus two-sided. These points of view are clearly one of the most interesting characteristics of marvellous realism with its juxtaposition of different modes of understanding.

The Middle Passage was not considered from a humane point of view by Europeans until the end of the Age of Enlightenment. Before that, Africans were not even regarded as being human; thus, any mistreatment of them was justified. The abuses of the slave trade were not passed over in silence - there are documents that bear witness to its existence and organization. One of the most powerful images to be found in archives is that of the tight-packing of slaves on the transatlantic crossings, an image infamously linked to the Brookes ship. In this logistical plan, which aimed at exploiting the Slave Trade Act of 1788 in order to benefit maximally from the shipping of slaves; Africans are portrayed as cargo, hence not deserving of any kind of humane treatment and considered, rather, as objects to be stowed below decks. The actual fact of transportation and slavery is indeed present in the historical record, but the stories of those who suffered the horrible conditions before, during, and after the Middle Passage were in most cases disregarded.

It is not surprising that postcolonial writers have turned their attention to the way in which these brutalities have affected collective memory. The Middle Passage stands in literature for the slave trade generally, and the Atlantic Ocean has become a convenient locus where time and space vanish to favour the reconstruction of a particular traumatic episode in history. It becomes, using Bhabha's terminology, a 'space in-between'; accordingly, contemporary authors have voiced a kind of liminal, Middle Passage sensibility through the intermingling of certain historical episodes within their literary creation.

There seems to be an evolution in the subject-matter as well as in the approach of Caribbean literature to the history of slavery. Before the 1990s, a fair amount of Caribbean writing was concerned with issues of imperialism and its social consequences. Subsequently, a new generation of authors became interested in slave narratives, with slavery being revisited globally, starting in such countries as Canada, the USA and the UK. The themes and motifs present in previous Caribbean fiction on slavery were still present, but the new approach is marked more clearly by transterritorialization and an urge to revisit the past with fresh eyes. …

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