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20 1 Captive Flesh No More Saartjie Baartman, Quintessential Migratory Subject South African Saartjie Baartman has been the focus of much scholarly publication and ongoing academic debate over the past few years.1 Specifically , her migratory journey from Africa to Europe and then her posthumous return to Africa have garnered much attention, gracing the pages of academic books and discourses at conferences and symposia. Whereas Baartman’s initial journeys from South Africa to London and Paris were accomplished through coercion and deception, her journey home was a national homecoming. Hence her travels are manifested both in (symbolic ) voluntary and forced migration. This renewed focus that reconstructs her narrative as one of recovery and recuperation fittingly heralds her survival and eventual attainment of citizenship. Suffice it to say this undivided attention accorded Baartman is long overdue. Addressing race and erasure, Hortense Spillers examines the visibility/ invisibility dichotomy within which the black woman/body is ensnared. To echo Spillers, Baartman is a “marked woman, but not everybody knows [her] name.” Yet her “country needs [her], and if [she] were not here, [she] would have to be invented” (Mama’s Baby 65). Consequently, Baartman is invented within white racist ideology as primitive, as exotic—dubious characteristics that justify her denial of citizenship and freedom. George Yancy succinctly frames this white invention as expressed within the white imaginary: The history of the Black body . . . is fundamentally linked to the history of whiteness, primarily as whiteness is expressed in the form of fear, sadism, Captive Flesh No More: Saartjie Baartman, Quintessential Migratory Subject · 21 hatred, brutality, terror, avoidance, desire, denial, solipsism, madness, policing, politics, and the production and projection of white fantasies. From the perspective of whiteness, the Black body is criminality itself. It is the monstrous; it is that which is to be feared and yet desired, sought out in forbidden white sexual adventures and fantasies; it is constructed as a source of white despair and anguish, an anomaly of nature, the essence of vulgarity and immorality. (xvi)2 Even Baartman’s performance was appropriated to appeal to the white imagination: “Sara Baartman had to learn to act the part of the Hottentot Venus. On stage, Baartman had to erase aspects of her personal history, experience, and identity in order to make her performance of the Venus credible to the audience that was staring at her” (Scully and Crais 304). Expanding the discourse of the white imagination, Toni Morrison reminds us that the United States’ culture along with the cultures of “South America, England, France, Germany, Spain . . . have participated in and contributed to some aspect of an ‘invented Africa’” (Playing 7). Articulating “the continuing significance of race,” Yancy underscores that the “black body has endured a history of more than symbolic white violence” (xvi). Addressing the pervasive historical silencing of black bodies, Morrison remarks that “in matters of race, silence and evasion have historically ruled literary discourse. Evasion has fostered another, substitute language in which the issues are encoded, foreclosing open debate.” She adds: “Silence became an unbearable violence” (Playing 9, 23). The silencing of Baartman and fellow South Africans through the denial of citizenship is not a new phenomenon for those who reside in Continental Africa.3 Human rights activist Bronwen Manby substantiates this line of reasoning. Assessing the poignant articulation of a fighter for the rebel “new forces” in Côte d’Ivoire: “We needed a war because we needed our identity cards. Without an identity card you are nothing in this country.” Manby ascertains “that the denial of a right to citizenship has been at the heart of many of the conflicts of post-colonial Africa, and that it is time to change the rules” (1). Historicizing the selective denial of citizenship to black people, Saidiya Hartman articulates: “The selective recognition of humanity that undergirded the relations of chattel slavery had not considered them . . . deserving of rights or freedom” (Scenes 5). Baartman is at the center of this conflict of denial of citizenship wherein not only is her civic right violated, but she is also deemed an outcast, a 22 · African Diasporic Women’s Narratives deviant. Besides, she suffers from bodily violation through “theft,” an act that engenders her physical and psychological abuse.4 Thus the attainment of citizenship for women takes on an added challenge as women are habitually erased from the national discourse. A victim of this new world order, Baartman’s “New-World, diasporic plight marked a theft of the body” (Spillers, Mama’s Baby 67). Envisioned as...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813048871
Related ISBN
9780813049823
MARC Record
OCLC
879948953
Pages
248
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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