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8 The Scream of Sycorax Spirit of Exchange and the Cannibalistic State As the cultural work of Black British women demonstrates, women are everywhere present but relegated to the background in nationalist and postcolonial struggles for citizenship. The official record of modern state formation is virtually wiped clean of women as active political participants . Moreover, until recently the surreptitious ideologies of nation building uncovered by revisionist historians rarely included gender as a constitutive category. Sycorax, an often neglected figure in Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest, offers a provocative critique of the erasure of women as political participants in the modern state. Sycorax draws our attention to the history of colonial conquest and national liberation that has consigned women to the shadows of modern state formation. Recent feminist reflections on Sycorax are responses to earlier colonial and postcolonial adaptations of The Tempest, which reiterate her paradigmatic omission as a transnational condition, focusing as they do solely on Ariel, Caliban, and Prospero. As Roberto Fernández Retamar points out in his essay “Caliban” (1971), the metaphorical power of Caliban/Cannibal—evidenced by Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), Montaigne’s On Cannibals (1580), and Shakespeare’s rendering —has generated an elaborate reworking of North-South readings of the 5 127 5 emerging state in relation to raced and classed colonial and postindependence narratives of state power.1 In the twentieth century, Uruguayan writer José Enrique Rodo’s Ariel (1900), French Jean Guehenno’s Caliban Speaks (1926), O. Mannoni’s Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization (1950), Martiniquan Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks (1952), Barbadian George Lamming’s The Pleasures of Exile (1960), Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s “Africa and Cultural Decolonization ” (1971), John Pepper Clark’s The Example of Shakespeare (1970), David Wallace’s Do You Love Me Master? (1977), and Martiniquan Aimé Césaire’s A Tempest (1965) are some of the more notable discussions on the theme of Caliban. The systematic omission of Sycorax in these texts opens a series of meditations on the gendered nature of the struggle for postcolonial statehood across national contexts. As the unspoken source of Caliban’s servitude, Sycorax is read through the condition of Prospero’s own history of possessing and being possessed. She is the first term of the appropriation of property, the last term of the alchemy of desire. Sycorax impinges on the terrain of largely male protagonists of nationstate formation as a disruptive presence, more heard than seen. Unlike Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, whom Coco Fusco reminds us is the other significant female character in The Tempest, Sycorax embodies gendered indigenousness .2 She is invoked as the primordial occupant of Argier, the precolonial pristine territory outside Europe’s cartographic imagination. In its evocative historic import, her emergence as aural Black subjectivity outside Europe’s ocularity is already posed as an interlocking system of signs: she is heard, not seen, therefore outside the visuality of Europe’s language of logocentric reason. Yet it is the coerced visual silence of her incarcerated “irrational” body on which Prospero’s own tenuous reason hinges. Her cacophonous barbarism provides the foil to Prospero’s wordy civility. Her sonic silence is deafening, as her threatening “bestiality,” ability to reproduce, magical powers, and rights to the land by virtue of her originary nativeness all mark the limits of European as well as male anxiety and must therefore be hidden from history permanently. But, as Sycorax suggests, you can incarcerate the body of the historically disempowered subject, but its aurality cannot be erased. As a citizen of the emerging New World modernity, Sycorax, the raced, colonized, gendered subject, returns to the scene of her repression. This time her tale is reversed, as she travels to the former Empire-turned-IslandNation , Britain—and by extension, the West—and interrupts notions of universalist humanism by staging her own modern sorcery: the claim to democratic citizenship. The scream of Sycorax exposes the ideological S c r e a m o f S y c o r a x 5 128 5 ambivalence embedded in the democratizing discourses of the West and challenges the limits of Prospero’s science of privileged white citizenship in Britain. The aurality of Sycorax is a powerful diasporic link between African, European, Caribbean, and New World subject formations. Her voice evokes the obscured historic terrains through which subaltern struggles must materialize. She is the resounding force behind the nascent state as she elaborates the selective narration of possessor and possessed, cannibal...


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