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Argonauts of the black Atlantic : representing slavery, modernity, and the colonising moment Osinubi, Taiwo Adetunji


This dissertation is a comparative analysis of the uses of tropes of marginality in American, Caribbean, British, and African fiction that engages with the aftermaths of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery. This study begins by exploring the utility of the frame of Paul Gilroy's concept of the "black Atlantic" as a heuristic model for understanding encounters with slavery and the slave trade as phases of an emerging capitalist modernity. I suggest that, within this heuristic framework, marginality is always variable, contingent and changing. Several positions of marginality might even emerge in conflict with each other, since the ideological deployments of slavery in the U.S., the Caribbean, and in African countries are not always in concert. In fact, it is through the study of conflicts and tensions between such seemingly unified marginalities that their differences become discernible. As a result, the common theme in the texts I examine is the need to create communities of listeners who can discern the transformations of the colonising moment in the disparate sites of the diaspora. The practice of listening is a step in apprehending the forms of marginalisation and occlusions of the violence of colonisation that continue at different sites. In the five chapters of this dissertation, I read stories by Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville, and novels by Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Caryl Phillips, Maryse Conde, Joseph Conrad, Ayi Kwei Armah, Amos Tutuola, Yaw Boateng, and Syl Cheney- Coker. I focus, particularly, on the use of animals, spatial boundaries, literacy, orality, and tropes of listening in the selected texts. I show that these authors use the opposition of visual and aural metaphors to draw attention to the limits of their characters' knowledge in order to highlight the situatedness of each character in processes of marginalisation that continue to unfold. Further, as much as these narratives excavate the afterlives of slavery, they are also engaged in the task of differentiating them in order to identify the necessary site-specific tasks of reparation or repair.

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