Ghosts in contemporary African diasporic literature : re-visioning history, memory and identity


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PhD thesis: a PhD thesis.
Ghosts in contemporary African diasporic literature : re-visioning history, memory and identity
Chassot J.
Soltysik Monnet A.
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Université de Lausanne, Faculté des lettres
Faculté des lettresUniversité de LausanneUNIL - DorignyAnthropole - bureau 2049CH-1015 LausanneAnthropole - bureau 2049
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Starting from the observation that ghosts are strikingly recurrent and prominent figures in late-twentieth African diasporic literature, this dissertation proposes to account for this presence by exploring its various functions. It argues that, beyond the poetic function the ghost performs as metaphor, it also does cultural, theoretical and political work that is significant to the African diaspora in its dealings with issues of history, memory and identity.
Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987) serves as a guide for introducing the many forms, qualities and significations of the ghost, which are then explored and analyzed in four chapters that look at Fred D'Aguiar's Feeding the Ghosts (1998), Gloria Naylor's Mama Day (1988), Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow (1983) and a selection of novels, short stories and poetry by Michelle Cliff. Moving thematically through these texts, the discussion shifts from history through memory to identity as it examines how the ghost trope allows the writers to revisit sites of trauma; revise historical narratives that are constituted and perpetuated by exclusions and invisibilities; creatively and critically repossess a past marked by violence, dislocation and alienation and reclaim the diasporic culture it contributed to shaping; destabilize and deconstruct the hegemonic, normative categories and boundaries that delimit race or sexuality and envision other, less limited and limiting definitions of identity. These diverse and interrelated concerns are identified and theorized as participating in a project of "re-vision," a critical project that constitutes an epistemological as much as a political gesture.
The author-based structure allows for a detailed analysis of the texts and highlights the distinctive shapes the ghost takes and the particular concerns it serves to address in each writer's literary and political project. However, using the ghost as a guide into these texts, taken collectively, also throws into relief new connections between them and sheds light on the complex ways in which the interplay of history, memory and identity positions them as products of and contributions to an African diasporic (literary) culture. If it insists on the cultural specificity of African diasporic ghosts, tracing its origins to African cultures and spiritualities, the argument also follows gothic studies' common view that ghosts in literary and cultural productions-like other related figures of the living dead-respond to particular conditions and anxieties. Considering the historical and political context in which the texts under study were produced, the dissertation makes connections between the ghosts in them and African diasporic people's disillusionment with the broken promises of the civil rights movement in the United States and of postcolonial independence in the Caribbean. It reads the texts' theoretical concerns and narrative qualities alongside the contestation of traditional historiography by black and postcolonial studies as well as the broader challenge to conventional notions such as truth, reality, meaning, power or identity by poststructuralism, postcolonialism or queer theory. Drawing on these various theoretical approaches and critical tools to elucidate the ghost's deconstructive power for African diasporic writers' concerns, this work ultimately offers a contribution to "speciality studies," which is currently emerging as a new field of scholarship in cultural theory.
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18/03/2014 10:03
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20/08/2019 13:32
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