To employ the term diaspora in black cultural studies now is equal parts imperative and elusive. In the wake of recent forceful critiques of nationalism, the diaspora has increasingly come to be understood as a concept—indeed, almost a discourse formation unto itself—that allows for, if not mandates, modes of analysis that are comparative, transnational, global in their perspective. And Callaloo, as a journal of African Diaspora arts and letters, might justly be understood to have a particular relationship to this mandate. For this special issue, we have tried to assemble pieces where the phrase diaspora can find little refuge as a self-reflexive term—a maneuver that seeks to destabilize the facile prefigurations of the word in our current critical vocabulary, where its invocation has too often become idiomatic. More critically, we selected essays that collectively examine the meanings of the Black Diaspora as forms of experiential subjectivity when they intersect with the registers of everyday life through their quotidian engagements with, for example, dance and music, sex and sexuality, and nostalgia and melancholia. With essays on Patricia Powell and Dionne Brand and poetry by Ronald Augusto and Edimilson de Almeida Pereira, this issue underscores the wide canvas of the Americas as a site of the Black Diaspora, taking us through the geographies of this panorama including Brazil, Cuba, Jamaica, and the Sea Islands off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. Taken as a whole, these pieces approach the phrase diaspora self-consciously, as a concept that insists on interrogating blackness as an intricate confluence of multiple histories and cultures.
Given the many typologies of diaspora—including the religious, labor, imperial, and mercantile, among others—it becomes urgent to ask what is historically specific or even ontological about the Black Diaspora. The two epiphenomena most responsible for engendering the modern Black Diaspora—the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism—produced a polymath of circuits of contiguous political association, uneven modes of sociality, and new forms of cultural expression. In his editorial note for the twenty-fifth-anniversary issue of Callaloo, Charles Rowell documents the broadening scope of the journal from its initial focus on black literature of the U.S. South to its more panoramic expansion, by 1980, into a critical forum for the Black Diaspora. This internationalization, writes Rowell, raised some theoretical considerations: "That there is much diversity among African Diaspora writers is not a subject that this issue of Callaloo debates, and yet it does raise a question whose answer we once thought was obvious: beyond a history beginning in African slave trade, what do these writers share? What, other than the impulse to create, binds them together?" (ix–x). These legitimate yet unanswered questions notwithstanding, [End Page 415] Rowell pursues that Callaloo, in its present diasporic orientation, is a "journal of necessity" because it provides a "continuing site from which writers of African descent may hold conversations among themselves" (x).
The insistence on the "necessity" of a diasporic forum foregrounds the current centrality, perhaps even indispensability, of the concept of diaspora in discussions of cultural productions by people of African descent. The concept has indeed gained critical canonicity as the foremost theoretical handle for reading the experiences of black transnational communities as well as the discursive attempts to mediate their encounters, exchanges, and conversations. Yet the "necessity" of mapping such discursive spaces in Callaloo, among other Black Diaspora-oriented venues, suggests an anxiety about the ontological viability of the Black Diaspora in the face of competing (non-racial) solidarities and spaces/forums of identity. Why do we need to hang on to diaspora? Is diaspora an affective, intellectual, and/or ideological imperative borne out of the materialities of certain past historical conditions, or can it be thought of as a kind of proleptic cultural, if not political, articulation of a future spatiality?
Nearly all articulations of diasporas share a set of common identifications, including dispersal from a homeland and marginalization in a host location as well as memorialization of and a desire to return to that homeland. The diaspora, then, is as much a material condition or discernible system as it is a process of sociality...