Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

One: Bastardly Duppies & Dastardly Dykes: Queer Sexuality and the Supernatural in Michelle Cliff's Abeng and Shani Mootoo's Cereus Blooms at Night

Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

One: Bastardly Duppies & Dastardly Dykes: Queer Sexuality and the Supernatural in Michelle Cliff's Abeng and Shani Mootoo's Cereus Blooms at Night

Article excerpt

Introduction: The Black Magic of Blackness

Black diasporic literature of the Caribbean has, for many decades, grappled with the catastrophic effects wrought by the middle passage on peoples of West and Southern African descent who settled there and throughout the Americas. Myriad studies have been generated by C.L.R. James's The Black Jacobins (1962), including Orlando Patterson's Slavery and Social Death (1982), Paul Gilroy's notion of a Black Atlantic (1993), including the work of Alasdair Pettinger (1998), Carole Boyce Davies (2002), Alan Rice (2003), Kezia Page (2010), and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (2010), among many others. These studies engage important projects that track migratory subjectivities of the African diaspora into and throughout the Americas, or the so-called "New World." These and many other critiques offer timely genealogies of a newly postmillennial neoliberalism in which xenophobic sexism and racism have been further normalized and encoded under the jingoistic banners of "Brexit" and "Trumpism." These two socio-political ideologies are currently re-shaping the transatlantic, "special relationship"1 between the UK and US. Despite the genocide and death that indentureship, slavery, colonialism, eugenics, apartheid, etc. violently imposed on these "abject subjects," scholars have paid relatively less attention to the migratory flows between this mortal coil and the afterworld, or the relationships between worlds rather than simply within the material world that we often take for granted as the sole reality.

The movements of haunting figures and the spaces they inhabit appear, that is, to be marginalized in the corpus of scholarship that documents black migratory experiences in the Caribbean. Indeed, as Raphael Dalleo aptly argues in American Imperialism's Undead, academic discourse on the U.S. occupation of Haiti, and the grisly bloodshed that attended it, has greatly been ignored (p. 12). Such intellectual elisions reify the very material(ist First) world that subjugates oppressed, black and brown peoples and their descendants. Indeed, even when the otherworldly is depicted in popular culture, it has, particularly in the last two decades, disproportionately focused on the figure of the zonbi.2 This zonbi figure, which Western popular culture has aggressively assimilated as "zombie" and appropriated as white, has arguably become a staple of popular, hipster narratives of horror (Hedengren, 2014). Its ubiquitous appearances throughout bourgeois, Western culture range from "zombie" t-shirts and tarot cards for purchase at Urban Outfitters3 to starring roles in the music video of "Everybody Talks" by U.S. indie rock band Neon Trees.4 As such, the zombie appears as a privileged figure in both Caribbean and popular American cultural discourse which is widely depicted in many literary and filmic artifacts as a figment of the indigenous colony that has been appropriated by the West.

In contrast to the manufactured, hipster-chic "zombie," Kaiama L. Glover observes that the "zombie" in Haitian literature embodies "inherent ambivalence" but "usefulness" (Glover 2005, p. 106). The figure's utility is precisely inherently ambivalent because of the transformations it has undergone in its ideological migrations from East to West, and South to North. Glover goes on to clarify that:

the Haitian zombie is not at all the crazed, bloodthirsty monster raised from the grave by some compulsion to hunt down humans and feast on their brains. Such a conception of the zombie- drooling, stiff-legged, arms outstretched- is strictly a Hollywood invention... Unlike the zombie presented in all of these B movies and straight-to-video productions, the zombie in Haiti is a victim, and not a predator; deserving of pity more than fear. Figure of exploitation par excellence and staple of the Vodou universe, the Haitian zombie is a being without essence -lobotomized, depersonalized, and reduced through malevolent magic to a state of impotence. …

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