By Samantha Pinto
Winner of the 2013 sleek Language Association's William Sanders Scarborough Prize for striking Scholarly research of Black American Literature
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Extra info for Difficult Diasporas: The Transnational Feminist Aesthetic of the Black Atlantic
What was it like? A flat stone for skitting. An old rock. Long long grass. Asphalt. Wind. Hail. Cotton. Linen. Salt. Treacle. I think it was a peach. I heard it down to the ribbed stone. (1997, 7) Is this the voice of the blues? we are forced to ask. The description introduces a recognition of radical difference contained within familiar structure. The sharp, consonant texture of each distinct word for the mother’s voice pushes against the lolling resonance of the speaker’s own action in engaging in Bessie Smith’s black image: “I pick up the record cover.
12 Kay’s claiming of Smith as icon, hero, and signifier crosses desire with location, blackness with sexual subjectivity, national belonging with transhistorical imaginative traveling. In other words, Kay instead constructs an imaginative exchange sought out precisely because of the challenges of physical space. 13 That complex subject formation is sometimes lost in the reinstituted split of the “day” and “night” work of intellectual practice and aesthetic culture. Kay reimagines Smith and other cultural performers into the same space as political leaders, public figures unquestionably linked to the politics of blackness, and vice versa; she posits public politics as aesthetic culture by including political figures in the company of artistic icons: I force myself to imagine her real death.
But Ellison is also concerned with how the black imaginary contained inside of this jug is similarly shaped by the devaluing of a variety of black aesthetic practices and influences by “sociology-oriented critics” (108). Ellison’s use of the popular lyric as the metaphor he borrows for his title connects the articulation of romantic desire in a classic blueswoman’s song to the stifling insistence on social realism as the model for reading black expression and discourse. In this chapter, I take Ellison’s titular gesture seriously in order to ask what the metaphorical work of gender, desire, and cultural form might have to offer in reframing the location of Black Atlantic discourse through the reordered spaces and temporalities of Jackie Kay’s work on Bessie Smith.
Difficult Diasporas: The Transnational Feminist Aesthetic of the Black Atlantic by Samantha Pinto