- Preface: Diasporas of the Imagination
This issue of Small Axe distributes its preoccupations across three topical sections, each with its own semiotic coherence but meeting and crossing the others at an intersection that one might well call “diasporas of the imagination.”
The first section, guest-edited by Glyne Griffith, consists of essays presented at the conference “Blackness Unbound,” which Griffith organized for the Small Axe Collective at the University at Albany, State University of New York, 28–29 September 2007. This was, in fact, the third—and last—in a series of intellectual occasions (made possible through the generosity of the Ford Foundation) in which the Small Axe Collective was concerned to stimulate a conversation about the conditions of production of Caribbean knowledges (including knowledges of and about the Caribbean), and the various—and variously—global worlds in which what constitutes the Caribbean is constructed and negotiated, and resisted and transformed. Each of these occasions was, needless to say, exploratory and open-ended. And deliberately so. They were tentative conversations . . . provisional . . . searching . . . interventions that looked to challenge what we thought we already knew about ourselves and others.
The first of these events, a self-consciously thinking-out-loud occasion we called “Diasporic Knowledges: Caribbean Inflections and African American Conversations,” was held 7–9 April 2005 at Brown University, where we were hosted by Anthony Bogues and the Department of Africana Studies. In this seminar we sought to focus our attention on the contexts of Caribbean intellectual presence in the US academy. While the late 1960s and early 1970s were by no means the only or even the earliest such context of Caribbean/African American crossing, we were particularly interested in the moment when the emergence of black studies [End Page vii] on US campuses provided an institutional setting in which scholars from the Caribbean found an intellectual home in the United States. And one very fertile point of such crossing, one that we hope to see systematic work on in the near future, was that of the Institute of the Black World in Atlanta, through which many Caribbean intellectuals passed and spoke and exchanged ideas on their formations and their projects. Memorably, C. L. R. James’s lectures on The Black Jacobins were delivered there in the summer of 1971.1 It seems to me that this is just one of the as yet insufficiently examined connections between black and communist radicalisms on US campuses in the late 1960s and early 1970s and the development and character of Black Power and Marxism in the Caribbean.
The second occasion, “Archaeologies of Black Memory,” a seminar and workshop, was held 21–29 June 2007 in conjunction with Caribbean Literary Studies at the University of Miami and was meant to provide a platform on which to interrogate an ensemble of themes and concerns connecting the criticism of the African Americas in two of its postemancipation formations: the regional Caribbean and the mainland United States. Our aim was to foreground the crucial register of memory and the memory-practices by means of which the past is remembered, documented, circulated, and made available for the labor of intellectual and artistic work in the present. At the heart of such practices, we thought, must be the assembly of the very sources and bases—an archive—without which no memory-work whatsoever can take place. Our suspicion was that given our particular histories of black disenfranchisement, what those sources are and what analytics and poetics are required to make them visible is not self-evident, and therefore stands in need of explicit, critical exploration. Two distinguished Caribbean scholars, Gordon Rohlehr and Robert Hill, each with a different but equally profound connection to a specific archive of memory, anchored our discussions.2
The symposium “Blackness Unbound” sought to extend and deepen these critical conversations about diaspora by adding new voices from various New World elsewheres, new conundrums of racial subjectification and racial identity and agency, and new perspectives from which to think comparatively about the spatiality and temporality of New World black experience. The obvious implication is that there is no single way of being black. But this is not to say that “blackness” is merely...