- Romance, Diaspora, and Black Atlantic Literature
Among the foundational assumptions of the diverse field of black cultural studies is the idea that "Africa," since Middle Passage, has operated as an ambivalent and overburdened sign within the cultural lexicons of the African Diaspora. Variously imagined as a utopian land of origins, the site of a barbaric prehistory, the promise of redemptive cultural reclamation, and the foreclosure of that very promise, the idea of "Africa" has, for centuries, been called on to articulate the collective, post-traumatic fantasies of forcibly dispersed populations. As such, representations of Africa in black diasporic writing have occupied a curious relationship to the category of transnational discourse. On one hand, diasporic writers have enduringly gestured toward a desire for cultural continuity that transcends national borders. Yet on the other hand, representations of such desire typically foreground the loss, dislocation, and fantasy of origins characteristic of New World experience, while neglecting the experiences, values, and perspectives of continental Africans. In Romance, Diaspora, and Black Atlantic Literature, Yogita Goyal articulates and explores the contexts and terms of this paradox, providing a refreshing and timely consideration of nation and diaspora in global black literatures and cultures.
Speaking from within the discursive field of contemporary black Atlantic studies, Goyal argues compellingly for the decentering of Western frames of consciousness. Recent works within the field, she laments, have left "little room for Africa, allocating it a marginal role in the construction of vibrant transnational cultural transformations" (225). In her monograph, Goyal argues the desired moral and epistemological shifts are achieved through the articulation and prioritization of three essential yet heretofore under-theorized categories of analysis: romance, as a literary and political modality (7); Africa, as a contemporary, geopolitical locale, as well as a "phantasmatic" projection from the West (8); and the dynamic relationship between nation and diaspora, between "national and transnational concerns" (7). [End Page 789]
Goyal's thematic focus on romance allows her to filter wide-ranging cultural and political analyses through critical apparatuses anchored in literary studies, most notably genre study, textual analysis, and biography. Reading as a literary critic and arguing for the articulation of a "black Atlantic canon" that consists primarily of novels (8), Goyal makes an insistent case for the priority of literary texts and methods within the disciplinarily diverse field of African diasporic studies. Literary scholars will be pleased with her consistently lucid and insightful close readings, and with her persuasive substantiation of the fundamental disciplinary claim that "form makes certain statements possible, and others impossible" (107). Nevertheless, Goyal is at her strongest when she bridges the literary and the extra-literary, the textual and the political, to produce an expansive yet nuanced, richly historicized vision of black Atlantic discourse. For example, in chapter 1 (the monograph's strongest chapter), Goyal's exploration of romance as a literary form in Pauline Hopkins's Of One Blood leads seamlessly into her interrogation of romance as a modality for complex, and at times subconscious or self-contradictory, political desire. In a sensitive and well-contextualized reading of the text, Goyal deftly demonstrates the capacity of romance as genre to "dissolve" the "contradictions" of turn-of-the-century African American political desire, preserving the complexities of ideology and identification within a unified narrative (32).
Extending the arguments made in chapter 1, the first half of the book takes shape as an epistemology of romance in African diasporic literature, threaded through examinations of Hopkins's novel, W. E. B. Du Bois's Dark Princess, and "the first major African work of Ethiopianism" (109), Joseph Casely Hayford's Ethiopia Unbound. Much like Hopkins, Goyal argues, Du Bois in Dark Princess turns to the "salvational logic" of romance (94) to assuage his disappointments with domestic racial politics, even as the price of this transnational fantasy becomes the usurpation of "African agency" (100). By contrast, Hayford, the focal figure of chapter 3, exposes and critiques the Western biases of Du Bois's paradigms; yet he, too, ultimately arrives at a romantic, anticolonial vision of Africa as the "mystical" (114) and "eternal" (116) "spiritual conservatory...