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Legba's Crossing

Narratology in the African Atlantic

Heather Russell

Publication Year: 2009

In Haiti, Papa Legba is the spirit whose permission must be sought to communicate with the spirit world. He stands at and for the crossroads of language, interpretation, and form and is considered to be like the voice of a god. In Legba's Crossing, Heather Russell examines how writers from the United States and the anglophone Caribbean challenge conventional Western narratives through innovative use, disruption, and reconfiguration of form.

Russell's in-depth analysis of the work of James Weldon Johnson, Audre Lorde, Michelle Cliff, Earl Lovelace, and John Edgar Wideman is framed in light of the West African aesthetic principle of àshe, a quality ascribed to art that transcends the prescribed boundaries of form. Àshe is linked to the characteristics of improvisation and flexibility that are central to jazz and other art forms. Russell argues that African Atlantic writers self-consciously and self-reflexively manipulate dominant forms that prescribe a certain trajectory of, for example, enlightenment, civilization, or progress. She connects this seemingly postmodern meta-analysis to much older West African philosophy and its African Atlantic iterations, which she calls “the Legba Principle.”

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

A first book is kind of like a first anything . . . You offer it nervously, truly, and with anticipation, all the while knowing full well that the reality will probably fall short of the fantasy . . . holding tight to the belief, however, that with subsequent attempts . . . it can only get better! ...

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Introduction: Critical Paradigms in Race, Nation, and Narratology

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pp. 1-25

The noted literary scholar Fredric Jameson has argued that "the production of aesthetic or narrative form is to be seen as an ideological act in its own right" (79).1 Literary analysts, Jameson notwithstanding, often regard stylistic or formal elements as mere functional extensions of an aesthetic or narrative text's thematic concerns. ...

Part One. Interruptions

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1. Race, Citizenship, and Form: James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

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pp. 29-58

James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) is a tricky African Atlantic text. Literary scholars have frequently queried The Autobiography's historiography, didactic style, external literary influences, use of irony, and particularly Johnson's representation of his first-person narrator. ...

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2. The Poetics of Biomythography: The Work of Audre Lorde

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pp. 59-78

In Zami, A New Spelling of My Name (1982), Audre Lorde's self-authorizing acts purposely and self-consciously signify on Western paradigms governing autobiographical production and the process of narrating self-individuation. On first encounter, Zami seems to be Lorde's autobiography: it appears to be a conventional story of the author's life. ...

Part Two. Disruptions

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3. Race, Nation, and the Imagination: Michelle Cliff's No Telephone to Heaven

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pp. 81-107

Best noted for her powerfully evocative prose-poetic form that captures in stark, visceral terms the socioeconomic, political, historical, and cultural challenges that frame contemporary Jamaica, Michelle Cliff's work, like Johnson's and Lorde's, wrestles with the limitations and the possibilities of narrative form, historiography, African Atlantic subjectivity, and the creative imagination. ...

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4. Jazz Imaginings of the Nation-State: Earl Lovelace's Salt

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pp. 108-138

Populations living within real borders and boundaries of their respective nation-states constitute a body politic who must daily deal with politico-economic challenges of development and the realities of unemployment, underemployment, poverty, and violence, as well as the creation of jobs, fair and accessible housing, healthcare, political strategy, economic growth, and aesthetic and cultural development. ...

Part Three. Eruptions

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5. Dis-ease, De-formity, and Diaspora: John Edgar Wideman's The Cattle Killing

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pp. 141-164

In his introduction to The Best American Short Stories 1996, noted African American author John Edgar Wideman identifies the "special subversive, radically democratic role" that fiction can play not only in terms of transforming readers' ways of seeing the world, but, even more powerfully, in tangibly altering readers' ways of being in the world. ...

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Conclusion: Dialectics of Globalization, Development, and Discourse

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pp. 165-171

In the previous five chapters, I have examined structures of narration informed by African diasporic hermeneutics. These interpretive modes provide models that imagine and work through the dialectics of race, nation, and/or national belonging and textual representation. ...


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pp. 173-183

Works Cited

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pp. 185-190


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pp. 191-202

E-ISBN-13: 9780820336107
E-ISBN-10: 0820336106
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820328676
Print-ISBN-10: 0820328677

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 593302984
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Legba's Crossing

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Discourse analysis, Narrative.
  • Narration (Rhetoric).
  • African diaspora in literature.
  • Caribbean literature (English) -- Black authors -- History and criticism.
  • Race in literature -- Congresses.
  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
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