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  • To Be Continued: Double Identity, Multiplicity and Antigenealogy as Narrative Strategies in Pauline Hopkins’ Magazine Fiction
  • Augusta Rohrbach* (bio)

Pauline Hopkins published three serialized novels in Colored American Magazine in as many years. 1 During this period, and even before, she was at work on a developing theory of racial inheritance and its effect on identity. The switch from the sentimental novelistic format of her earlier Contending Forces to serial fiction suited the aims of her theory of identity. 2 In fact, Hopkins’ use of the serial format creates opposition to white notions of racial supremacy embedded in the novel form. In a radical way, Hopkins’ use of genre rebukes conventional notions of racial inheritance and identity by turning the argument away from monolithic (and hegemonic) conceptions of race promoted by generic conventions of the novel. 3 The detailed nature of her plots demands that the historical events that Hopkins limns be read closely: their complexity mirrors the nature of the story this writer wants to tell about American identity.

Hopkins’ move to serialized fiction evidences her belief in the manifold of nature, experience, and culture. Her complicated plots—plots sometimes too elaborate to be considered anything other than a series of episodes—duplicate the complexities of identity and experience for Hopkins. Far from being the failure that Hazel Carby and other critics have seen Hopkins’ serialized fiction to be, these works can be considered a culmination of her career as a thinker and a writer. In these works, Hopkins tried to resolve a form/content tension between her philosophy of experience and aesthetic theory; her use of serial fiction, with its emphasis on the episodic and yet continuous unfolding of plot, duplicates her developing sense of history.

Hopkins’ magazine fiction posits her construction of identity, race and culture based on a theory of multiplicity and what the philosopher Gilles Deleuze and pyschoanalyst Felix Guattari have called an “antigenealogy” (10–11, 21). As the term itself suggests, an antigenealogy is not simply an inversion of existing hierarchies. Rather an antigenealogy resists the organizing principles that shape the stable paradigms ordering human culture. Through the principle of the antigenealogy, Deleuze and Guattari are able to envision a model of human experience that remains dynamic, chaotic and multiple. The term will be useful for understanding the ways in which Hopkins’ serial fiction works against stable concepts of history, self and race, and why the serial format functioned as a literary vehicle that supports her philosophical theory of identity expression. While critics cannot agree as to the success of Hopkins’ project—especially in terms of the value of her racial theories—my aim here [End Page 483] is to understand the ways in which this novelist used genre to further her racial theories. 4 From plot structure to narrative style and character development, Hopkins’ serial fiction compels readers to account for details. Readers must read closely or be lost hopelessly in plot; thus the incidental and the episodic become an epistemology. 5 Ultimately, Hopkins will turn to a kind of literary “sampling,” as the contemporary rap artist has, in order to enact these strategies of representation.

Consistent with her larger project, which included debunking distinctions between the races entirely and thereby introducing a new theory of the subject, Hopkins’ serialized novels demystify the taboo of miscegenation through an exploration of the prohibition against incest. The novels make use of the Oedipal riddle of identity—incest—to interrogate it as a familial and cultural paradigm of experience. Incest is the direct opposite of inter-racial sexual relations; the novels use incest as a narrative mechanism that sets up a comparison between the most extreme case of endogamy and the exogamic practice of race mixing. Through this analogy of oppositions, which together comprise “the two most powerful inducements to horror and collective vengeance” (Levi-Strauss 10), the novels unseat traditional interpretations of inherited traits figured by the ancestral past and racial identity.

Taken together, Hopkins’ three serialized novels formulate three conceptual stages that accomplish this task incrementally; each novel comes closer to articulating a radicalizing theory of racial identity. Hagar’s Daughter begins this process by positing a theory of identity that relies on an...

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pp. 483-498
Launched on MUSE
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