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Eroticism, Spirituality, and Resistance in Black Women's Writings

Donna Aza Weir-Soley

Publication Year: 2009

Western European mythology and history tend to view spirituality and sexuality as opposite extremes. But sex can be more than a function of the body and religion more than a function of the mind, as exemplified in the works and characters of such writers as Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Opal Palmer Adisa, and Edwidge Danticat.

Donna Weir-Soley builds on the work of previous scholars who have identified the ways that black women's narratives often contain a form of spirituality rooted in African cosmology, which consistently grounds their characters' self-empowerment and quest for autonomy. What she adds to the discussion is an emphasis on the importance of sexuality in the development of black female subjectivity, beginning with Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and continuing into contemporary black women's writings.

Writing in a clear, lucid, and straightforward style, Weir-Soley supports her thesis with close readings of various texts, including Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and Morrison's Beloved. She reveals how these writers highlight the interplay between the spiritual and the sexual through religious symbols found in Voudoun, Santeria, Condomble, Kumina, and Hoodoo. Her arguments are particularly persuasive in proposing an alternative model for black female subjectivity.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

Many people and institutions contributed to the development of this book. My gratitude first goes to the readers who critiqued the chapters of this project: Opal Palmer Adisa, Susan Schweik, David Lloyd, Margaret Wilkerson, and especially the late Barbara Christian—to whom this book is dedicated. A Career Enhancement Fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson National ...

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Preface

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pp. xiii-xiv

In “The Height of Disrespect,” Thulani Davis emphasizes the objectification of young black women in hip-hop lyrics and videos and chronicles the relationship between the way these women are portrayed and what Davis views as the lack of self-respect exhibited by many of these performers. Davis’s concerns are shared by many cultural critics who believe that hip-hop culture disproportionately ...

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Introduction: Spirit and Flesh: Black Female Aesthetics

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pp. 1-11

Since their emergence on the literary stage, New World black writers have faced the challenge of representing a worldview that is inherently syncretic while using a literary model that privileges Western theoretical and epistemological precepts. In Black Subjects, Arlene Keizer argues that during slavery black identities were invented out of the conflict between two competing ...

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1 The Cult of Nineteenth-Century Black Womanhood

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pp. 12-38

From the time of the black woman’s first appearance on the New World stage, her moral character was beleaguered by vituperative stereotypes steeped in pseudoscientific myth, virulent rumor, and salacious fallacy. As a consequence, black women were conflicted regarding the issue of sexuality. How could they not be? Most sought refuge in silence and repression. ...

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2 Literary Interventions in Their Eyes Were Watching God

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pp. 39-78

Their Eyes Were Watching God revolutionized the depiction of black female sexuality in African-American literature. Critics of Hurston’s work generally agree that in 1937, when she wrote her second novel, the damaging effects of nineteenth-century sexual ideology on black women’s subjectivities and writings were fully entrenched. The black press cautioned writers to keep ...

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3 Contradictory Directives and the Erotics of Re-membering: New World Spiritual Practices and Black Female Subjectivity in Beloved

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pp. 79-140

In “Rootedness: The Ancestor as Spiritual Foundation,” Toni Morrison suggests that what we call a “black aesthetic” is largely informed by an African-centered epistemology. The black writer is invested with an authoritative control that derives from the worldview of her real-world community and is recoded into the mimetic—but imaginary—community in the text. ...

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4 The Erotics of Change: Female Sexuality, Afro-Caribbean Spirituality, and a “Postmodern” Caribbean Identity in It Begins with Tears

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pp. 141-183

As someone who was born and raised in Jamaica but spent most of her adult life in the United States, Opal Palmer Adisa writes with a full recognition of the interrelatedness of African diasporic cultures and the foundational aspect of West African cosmology for the worldview of these cultures. Inherent in her oeuvre is the seamless interweaving of philosophical, religious, mythical, cultural, and psychological ...

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5 Power, Eros, and Genocide: Capitalism and Black Female Subjectivity in The Farming of Bones

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pp. 184-222

Like the three preceding chapters, this final one examines the healing potential of the erotic. Danticat’s Farming of Bones provides a useful framework from which to examine the recuperation of black female subjectivity after a historical trauma that took place in 1937, the same year Hurston published Their Eyes Were Watching God. In Farming of Bones, the female protagonist is a Haitian immigrant ...

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Epilogue

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pp. 223-226

It is up to us as black women to take our historically beleagured bodies and images back from the clutches of capitalistic and patriarchal hegemonies. Diana Ferrus, who is of Khoisan descent like Sara Baartman, wrote the above poem while studying in Utrecht, Holland, in 1998. Many believe that it was this poem that catalyzed Nelson Mandela into action to reclaim the remains of his countrywoman from France in 2002. One hundred and ...

Notes

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pp. 227-248

Works Cited

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pp. 249-259

Index

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pp. 261-274


E-ISBN-13: 9780813045504
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813033778
Print-ISBN-10: 0813033772

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2009

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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • African American women authors -- Intellectual life.
  • Eroticism in literature.
  • Sex in literature.
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