“Custodians of History”: (Re)Construction of Black Women as Historical and Literary Subjects in Afro-American and Afro-Cuban Women’s Writing

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2012-05-09 01:48Z by Steven

“Custodians of History”: (Re)Construction of Black Women as Historical and Literary Subjects in Afro-American and Afro-Cuban Women’s Writing

University of Texas, Austin
August 2005
500 pages

Paula Sanmartín, Assistant Professor of (Afro) Caribbean and (Afro) Spanish American Literature
California State University, Fresno

Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor in Philosophy

Set within a feminist and revisionist context, my dissertation examines literary representations of the historic roots of black women’s resistance in Cuba and the United States, by studying texts by both Afro-American and Afro-Cuban women from four different literary genres: Harriet Jacobs’s autobiographical slave narrative, a neo-slave narrative by Sherley Ann Williams, the testimonio of María de los Reyes Castillo (“Reyita”), and the poetry of Nancy Morejón and Georgina Herrera. Conscious of the differences between the texts, I nevertheless demonstrate how the writers participate in black women’s self-inscription in the historical process by positioning themselves as subjects of their history and seizing discursive control of their (hi)stories.

Although the texts form part of separate discourses, I explore the commonalities of the rhetorical devices and narrative strategies employed by the authors as they disassemble racist and sexist stereotypes, (re)constructing black female subjectivity through an image of active resistance against oppression, one that authorizes unconventional definitions of womanhood and motherhood. My project argues that in their revisions of national history, these writings also demonstrate the pervasive role of racial and gender categories in the creation of a discourse of national identity, while promoting a historiography constructed within flexible borders that need to be constantly negotiated.

Putting these texts in dialogue with one another both within and across geopolitical boundaries, my project is characterized by a tension between positions, from close textual readings to historical commentaries, as I develop multilayered readings drawing on sources that range from cultural history and genre studies to psychoanalytical theory and black feminist criticism. The authors’ literary representations of their culture of resistance constitute an essential contribution to literary and historical studies, suggesting a dialectic model for “reading dialogically” such concepts as “subjectivity,” “discourse,” “tradition,” and “history,” by simultaneously exploring multiple, contradictory, or complementary discursive spaces. This dialectic of identification and difference, continuity and change, serves to describe the intertextual relationships within Afro-American and Afro-Cuban literary traditions. Simultaneously, drawing on dialogic relationships can open up new lines of enquiry and redress the historical imbalance of Western historiography by presenting black women’s history and subjectivity as multiple and discontinuous.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction. “Custodians of History”: (Re)Construction of Black Women as Historical and Literary Subjects in Afro-American and Afro-Cuban Women’s Writing
    1. Gender and Genre
    2. Authorship and Authority
    3. Rebellious (M)Others
    4. National Identification
    5. Revising (Hi)stories
  • Chapter 1. “We Could Have Told Them a Different Story”: Harriet Jacobs’s Alternative Narrative and the Revision of the White Transcript
    1. Hybrid Genres: Assimilation and Subversion in Autobiographical Slave Narratives
    2. The Female Slave Author and the Dialogic of Discourses in Incidents
    3. “The War of Her life”: Harriet Jacobs’s Rebellious Motherhood
    4. Split Subject/Split Nation: Abolitionism, Miscegenation and Black Women as National Subjects
    5. Rewriting the Slave Woman’s “Histories.”
  • Chapter 2. “They Mistook Me for Another Dessa”: Correcting the (Mis)Reading Techniques of the Master(’s) Narrative
    1. Neo-Slave Narratives and the Revision of the Slaves’ Texts.
    2. “Twice-Told Tales”: Real and Fictive Authorships in a Black Women’s Double-Voiced Text
    3. Devil Woman or Debil Woman?: Asserting Rebelliousness Through an Interracial Sisterhood
    4. One Single Nation?: Interrelation of Communities in Dessa Rose
    5. Revising the Fictions of History
  • Chapter 3. “In My Own Voice, In My Own Place”: The Continuous Revision of History in a Black Cuban Woman’s Testimonial Narrative
    1. The Dialectics of Testimonio: Past, Present and Future?
    2. A Family Feud? “Authority-in-Process” in the Production of Reyita, sencillamente: testimonio de una negra cubana nonagenaria
    3. Like Mother, Like Daughter: The Rebel/Revolutionary (M)Other
    4. Black and/or Cuban: The Black Female (M)Other of the Cuban Nation
  • Chapter 4. Revolution in Poetic Language: (Re)Writing Black Women’s History in Black Cuban Women’s Poetry
    1. Neo-Negrista Poetry? : Searching for the “Authentic” Black Female Subject
    2. Authorship and (State’s) Authority in Black Cuban Women’s Poetry
    3. Black Cuban Women Poets and the Revolutionary Black (M)Other
    4. “National” Poetry? Diaspora and/or Transculturation in the Representation of Cuban National Identity
    5. (Re)construction of (Revolutionary) History
  • Bibliography
  • Vita

Read the entire dissertation here.

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