After finishing Ray Bradbury in early January (which was an interesting disconnect between the world of the book and the world outside) I accidently created a course syllabus for myself on race, nation and the contemporary impact of what Paul Gilroy calls the Black Atlantic. I basically found myself in a 2021 continuation of a seminar I took about 12 years ago in Freiburg. I already wrote about Claudia Rankine’s Just Us here.
The Fateful Triangle is based on three Harvard lectures Stuart Hall gave in 1994 but which were only published posthumously. Unfortunately. These lectures are concise examples of Hall’s work as a cultural think and include thoughts on race and ethnicity as “sliding signifiers”, their impact on the construction of nations and the (African) diaspora. The lectures, almost 30 years old, at times read so contemporary that they could be mistaken for reactions to the 2010s. Oh, how I wish Hall was still around to bring his discursive analysis to the problems of 2021. The Trumpist problems aren’t new, it’s just the veneer that has covered white supremacy has been chipped away. This passage, for instance, made me think of the “America is better than this” rhetoric after the storm on the capitol or the “battle for the soul of the nation” in 2020:
“But, in fact, nations do not just emerge; they are formed. And national identites, more over, are not attributes we are born with, but are formed and transformed within discourses and other systems of representations. (…) Such discursive operations in the making of national cultural identities are always, of course, closely articulated to power and to the way power functions in society. We should think of the nation not only as a political entity but also as something that produces meaning and constructs identification.”
I’m about four years too late to the party: Wow, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is a stunning book.It’s the most compact historical novel I’ve read. Every chapter is a different character, a different generation alternating between two family lines that diverged when on half-sister was captured and sold into slavery in America, and the other half-sister, in a way captured by lineage and power, is married to a white British slave trader, remaining on the ‘Gold Coast’ of modern-day Ghana.
It is also a compelling fictional expression of all the intracticies of the Black Atlantic: The intergenerational trauma caused by slavery, the slave trade, colonialism; racism in the US and what Rankine (and Homi Bhabha) call the trauma of the present. But not just trauma, but Black life in all its complexities. I read a few reviews who also called the book “healing”, which I didn’t quite get- but that might be because I’m a white European male. (In which case: Good.) The novel is an ambitious, ultimately successful, project as Marcus, the final character of the book, says:
“It was one thing to research something, another thing entirely to have lived it. To have felt it. How could he explain to Marjorie that what he wanted to capture with his project was the feeling of time, of having been a part of something that stretched so far back, was so impossibly large, that it was easy to forget that she, and he, and everyone else, existed in it not apart from it, but inside of it.”
Three tremendous books!
I’m planning to expand my homemade course with the books I’m planning to read in February (not entirely accidental as it’s Black History Month):
Farbe bekennen. Afro-deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte, edited by Katharina Oguntoye, May Ayim, Dagmar Schultz
1919: Poems by Eve Ewing
and a February release that I’m really looking forward to: Adas Raum by Sharon Dodua Otoos