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"Voyage through death/to life upon these shores": the living dead of the Middle Passage
Atlantic Studies. Literary, Cultural and Historical Perspectives
While historical studies of the Atlantic slave trade have amply demonstrated the magnitude of slave mortality during the Middle Passage, only recently have they started to examine how the captives might have endured and coped with this traumatic experience. Although it constitutes a major topos in African diasporic culture, the Middle Passage has only occasionally been represented directly and in details in novels and in films. This article examines three recent narratives of the Middle Passage, Fred D'Aguiar's novel Feeding the Ghosts (1998), Guy Deslauriers's film Passage du milieu (2000), and Stephanie Smallwood's historical study Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora (2007). Beyond their individual poetic, aesthetic, and scholarly qualities, what is most striking about these three texts is that they all use the figure of the living dead in order to explore the captives' experience of the transatlantic journey. If the ghastly quality of the living dead powerfully captures the life-threatening material and physical conditions the captives endured on the voyage, its dual, liminal character also allows D'Aguiar, Deslauriers, and Smallwood to represent the metaphysical, psychological, social, and cultural journey they were forced to undertake. Through their use of the trope of the living dead, these three texts show that if death is indeed a central aspect of the experience of the Middle Passage, it impacts the captives in ways that go well beyond the issue of mortality.
Middle Passage, living dead, social death, zombi, Fred D'Aguiar, Guy Deslauriers, Stephanie Smallwood
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