Navigating terragraphica : an exploration of the locations of identity construction in the transatlantic fiction of Ama Ata Aidoo, Paule Marshall and Caryl Phillips

Tait, Michelle Louise (2012-12)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2012.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Seeking to navigate and explore diasporic identity, as reflected in and by transatlantic narrative spaces, this thesis looks to three very different novels birthed out of the Atlantic context (at different points of the Atlantic triangle and at different moments in history): Our Sister Killjoy or Reflections from a Black-eyed Squint (1977) by Ama Ata Aidoo, The Chosen Place, The Timeless People (1969) by Paule Marshall and Crossing the River (1993) by Caryl Phillips. Recognising the weight of location – cultural, geographic, temporal – on the literary construction of transatlantic identity, this thesis traces the way in which Aidoo, Marshall and Phillips use fictional texts as tools for grappling with ideas of home and belonging in a world of displacement, fracture and (ex)change. Uncovering the impact of roots, as well as routes (rupta via) on the realisation of identity for the diasporic subject, this study reveals and wrestles with various narrative portrayals of the diasporic condition (a profoundly human condition). Our Sister Killjoy presents identity as inherently imbricated with nationalism and pan-Africanism, whereas The Chosen Place presents identity as tidalectic, caught in the interstices between western and African subjectivities. In Crossing the River on the other hand, diasporic identification is constructed as transnational, fractal and perpetually in-process. This study argues that in the absence of an established sense of terra firma the respective authors actively construct home through narrative, resulting in what Erica L. Johnson has described as terragraphica. In this way, each novel is perceived and explored as a particular terragraphica as well as a fictional lieux de mémoire (to borrow Pierre Nora’s conception of “sites of memory”). Using the memories of transatlantic characters as (broken) windows through which to view history, as well as filters through which the present can be understood (or refracted), are techniques that Aidoo, Marshall and Phillips employ (although, Aidoo’s use of memory is less obvious). Tapping into various sites of memory in the lives of the fictional characters, the novels themselves become mediums of remembering, not as a means of storing facts about the past, but for the ambivalent purpose of understanding the impact of the past on the present.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In ’n poging om diasporiese identiteit te karteer en te ondersoek, betrek hierdie verhandeling drie uiteenlopende romans wat in die Atlantiese konteks, naamlik vanuit die verskillende hoeke van die Atlantiese driehoek en verskillende geskiedkundige Atlantiese momente, ontstaan het. Die drie romans sluit in: Our Sister Killjoy or Reflections from a Black-eyed Squint (1977) deur Ama Ata Aidoo, The Chosen Place, The Timeless People (1969) deur Paule Marshall en Crossing the River (1993) deur Caryl Phillips. Deur die belangrikheid van plek – kultureel, geografies en temporeel – in die literêre konstruksie van transatlantiese identiteit, te beklemtoon, spoor hierdie verhandeling die manier waarop Aidoo, Marshall en Phillips fiktiewe tekste aanwend na om sin te maak van idees oor tuiste en geborgenheid in ’n wêreld van verdringing, skeuring en (ver)wisseling. Deur die impak van die oorsprong op, asook die weg (rupta via) na, die verwesenliking van identiteit vir die diasporiese subjek te toon, onthul en worstel hierdie tesis met verskeie narratiewe uitbeeldings van die diasporiese toestand (’n toestand eie aan die mens). Our Sister Killjoy stel identiteit as inherent vermeng met nasionalisme en pan-Afrikanisme voor, terwyl The Chosen Place identiteit as tidalekties uitbeeld – vasgevang tussen westerse en Afrika-subjektiwiteite. In Crossing the River word diasporiese identifisering egter gekonstrueer as transnasionaal, fraktaal en ewigdurend in ’n proses van ontwikkeling. Hierdie studie voer verder aan dat die onderskeie skrywers tuiste aktief deur narratief konstrueer in die afwesigheid van ’n gevestigde bewustheid van terra firma, of onbekende land of plek. Die gevolg is ’n voortvloeiing van wat deur Erica L. Johnson beskryf word as terragraphica. Vervolgens word elk van die romans gesien en verken as ’n spesifieke terragraphica asook ’n fiktiewe lieux de mémoire, gegrond in Pierre Nora se konsep “sites of memory”. Die benutting van transatlantiese karakters se herhinneringe as (gebreekte) vensters waardeur die geskiedenis bespeur kan word en filters waardeur die hede verstaan (of gerefrakteer) kan word, is die tegnieke wat Aidoo, Marshall en Phillips aanwend – alhoewel Aidoo se gebruik van geheue minder ooglopend is. Deur verskeie terreine van geheue in die lewens van die fiktiewe karakters te betrek, ontwikkel die romans tot mediums van onthou, nie in die sin van feite van die verlede wat gestoor word nie, maar met die dubbelsinnige doel om die impak van die verlede op die hede te verstaan.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/71769
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