F20 Black Atlantic: Resources, Pedagogy, and Scholarship on the 18th Century Black Atlantic

[Week 3] The Black Atlantic as Diasporic Nexus and Meta-Archive

In his seminal 1993 text The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, Paul Gilroy reconceptualizes and counteracts the history of modernity through a lens that interpellates the African diaspora into the larger dynamics of modernization so as to highlight that foundational place of the diasporic subject into the establishment of the modern era.  For Gilroy, the Black Atlantic constitutes the nexus of “intercultural and transnational formation” that supersedes discourses and paradigms of nationalism (ix) into a diasporic conceptualization that frames “the relationship between ethnic sameness and differentiation” through a transversal “changing same,” resonant with but more fluid than pan-Africanist worldviews (xi, emphasis original).  With the Atlantic as not only a geographical plane but also an oceanic symbol, “[t]he history of the black Atlantic yields a course of lessons as to the instability and mutability of identities which are always unfinished, always being remade” (Gilroy xi).  Set against nationalist discourses, the Black Atlantic functions as a coalition-based “rhizomorphic, fractal structure of the transcultural, international” circulation of cultural discourses and products (Gilroy 4).  While Gilroy acknowledges “fissures and fault lines in the topography of affiliation here” – to a degree that troubles the once dominant pan-Africanist ideology – he sees the variability and multivalence of his Black Atlantic paradigm as compensatory (24).

The Black Atlantic as a paradigm illustrates the transnational interplay between resonant cultural practices and tropes in its formulation as a “changing same”:  the jazz aesthetic of African-Americans and the reggae poetics of Jamaica or the calypso stylization of Trinidad, for example.  Gilroy frames such overlaps and resonances as “encapsulat[ing] the playful diasporic intimacy that has been a marked feature of transnational black Atlantic creativity” (16).

Yet Gilroy’s construction of the Black Atlantic, so concerned with such overlaps and also with active intra-diasporic interactions (such as in his reference to the transnational development of the Black Britain song “Keep on Moving,” which “was notable for having ben produced in England by the children of Caribbean settlers and then re-mixed in a (Jamaican) dub format in the United States by Teddy Riley, an African-American”) does seem to ignore the remaining significance of the local, if not the national (16).  Cultural output by subjects of African descent vary wildly across Latin America and the Caribbean, across regions of the United States, and across sub-Saharan Africa itself.  They even have their own complex diasporas – Trinidadians in Canada, Jamaicans in New York and Florida, each again in London – that relate back to a national or regional identity.  The Black Atlantic becomes a nexus of diasporas in a proliferation of Venn diagrams that concentric circles that Gilroy perhaps does not fully acknowledge.

That said, perhaps an archival project that draws on literature or music the geographically maps those Venn diagrams and concentric circles would find the points of contact that reveal the meta-diasporic dynamics of the Black Atlantic paradigm.

Work Cited

Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Verso, 1993

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