Mapping Black Atlantic Romantic Imag-I-Nation(s) Syllabus
This course examines imaginative representations of the self in the poems, novels, autobiographies, essays, and sermons of the earliest African American writers, including the works of Phillis Wheatley, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass and draws connections with contemporary writers and musicians. “Imag-I-Nations” is a term that denotes the ways writers represent themselves and construct identity along (trans)national lines as well as the way the imagination embroiders the representation of self through metaphors that cut across nations, realms, and borders (both physical and imagined). “Imag-I-Nations” is a nod towards Homi K. Bhabha’s “DissemiNation” and its acknowledgement of Derrida’s book of the same title (sans capital “N”). Paul Gilroy’s notion of an “Ethiopianist Imaginary” is an important way of understanding how black Atlantic writers recreate a home that reifies the black identity that the white supremacist power structures attempt to destroy or define and confine (9). Ultimately, Wheatley maps a heavenly home—a room in the “bright abode / Th’Empyreal palace of the thund’ring God” (On Imagination, lines 3–4),—that exists in her lines of poetry, not wholly unlike Whitman’s casting himself as a house unto himself “a cosmos” or Wordsworth “whose dwelling is in the light of setting suns,” or Dickinson’s dwelling “in possibility— / A fairer house than prose—>” (Poem 466, 1–2). Ultimately, the transnational Imag-I-Nation creates a place that can’t be mapped or owned, an imaginary place.
Gilroy’s Black Atlantic makes an irrefutable case for the centrality of music to understanding the interplay among Atlantic cultures. He demonstrates that African American liberation theology that dates from the time of slavery is a central theme in music of the “black Atlantic.” In the tradition of Wheatley, many black Atlantic artists have created spiritual utopias with words to express their hopes, but these artists have also used syncopated poetry in the form of hip hop lyrics to create dystopias that give vent to the persistence of racism in the wake of colonialism and slavery. Reggae, dancehall, and hip hop artists in the late 20th to early 21st century create an urban identity through the interplay between the representation of self and city. In the lyrics of many artists, ghettos are cast in biblical terms as utopias or dystopias, and the rapper or singer as the old testament prophet warning of the fall of Babylon and/or the voice prophesying Zion/New Jerusalem: as is exemplified by the difference between the dystopic America of Childish Gambino, the New York City of Grandmaster Flash’s "Message" and Nas’s "N.Y. State of Mind" compared with beatific Big Apple of Jay Z and Alicia Keys’s "Empire State of Mind"; Kendrick Lamar’s Compton; Lauryn Hill’s "New Jersey" as Zion; and, to cross the Atlantic, Apache Indian’s union of self, Birmingham (UK) and his ancestral home in India in terms of a blessed combination of the four elements as well as Rastafarian and Hindu religions in “Om Numah Shivaya.” One of the many links among these writers is the message that, in the words of Salman Rushdie, “we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost; that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities of villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands” (10). According to Credo’s Mind Maps, even these imaginary homelands are segregated by library classification systems of call numbers, and shelf marks as well academic curricula that house these fictional homes in separate dwelling spaces. What are the connections between these forms of separation in the way knowledges and cities are constructed?
Gilroy, Paul. Race and Racism in “The Age of Obama”: The Tenth Annual Eccles Centre for American Studies Plenary Lecture given at The British Association for American Studies Annual Conference, 2013. The British Library, 2014.
Rushdie, Salman. "Imaginary Homelands." Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981–1991. Granta, 1991, pp. 9–21.
Allison, Robert J., ed. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Written by Himself, 3rd ed. (Boston: Bedford,  2016). Hereafter referred to as Equiano.
Gates, Jr., Henry Louis and Nellie Y. McKay, et al., eds., The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, 2nd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997/2004). Hereafter referred to as Norton.
Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1993/2000). Hereafter referred to as Gilroy.
Northrup, David. Crosscurrents in the Black Atlantic, 1770–1965: A Brief History with Documents (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007).
Potkay, Adam, and Sandra Burr, eds. Black Atlantic Writers of the 18th Century (St. Martin’s, 1995). Hereafter referred to as Potkay.
Week One: Amistad
Listen to Bob Marley’s Redemption Song and analyze the lyrics. Read the selections, specified below, from Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic and relate his discussion of “ships” to "Redemption Song," Amistad, and the historical event (on which the film is based), specifically through a response to these three questions: What do ships signify/symbolize in the film Amistad and Redemption Song? How does Gilroy’s writing about “ships” help us understand the song, the film, and historical event? How do Marley’s and Spielberg’s portrayal of ships as well as the event on which the film is based help us understand Gilroy?
Please read the following passages in Gilroy about “ships”:
Second paragraph indentation on page 4—read complete paragraph
Last paragraph on page 12 to the last paragraph on 14,
Last paragraph on 16 to the end of that same paragraph on 17.
Norton Anthology: 213–20, and Crosscurrents in the Black Atlantic: 1770–1965: 1–27. Phillis Wheatley. Write a paragraph-long interpretation of "On Being Brought from Africa to America" and answer this question: What is Wheatley’s version of theology and how does it contain dissent against slavery’s Christian proponents?
Norton: 220–26. Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: ix–19. Read "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Write a paragraph on the poem "On Imagination," one on the Gilroy reading, and two comparing Wheatley’s "On Being Brought from Africa to America" to Coleridge’s Rime.
Wheatley’s "On Imagination." To what extent does Phillis Wheatley’s writing embody the double-consciousness discussed by Gilroy?
Read Norton: 8–27; Crosscurrents in the Black Atlantic: 36–38; Potkay and Burr, 1–105.
Read Potkay and Burr: 106–56; Norton: 8–19. Write two paragraphs connecting Marrant’s sermon or Cugoano’s Thoughts and Sentiments to one of the spirituals.
Read Allison, ed., The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, 1–98 222–31. Choose four images and write a paragraph on each, interpreting each image and relating it to Amistad OR type brief answers to the following questions: Examine the portrayal of African people. What do these portrayals have in common? How are they different? What message are the frontispiece and title-page meant to convey to readers? Is the message contradicted or reinforced by Equiano’s dedication?
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, 99–222; Crosscurrents in the Black Atlantic: 32–36, 39–43.
How is the ship a different place for slaves than land? Are the distribution and accessibility of space conducive to hierarchy? For a slave, how is a port or a hull a different space than a capital city or a deck? How does the shipboard notion of hierarchy and accessibility of space change during an emergency? How is London different from the Americas, Africa, and the West Indies? Do any laws apply on the waterways? How can Equiano’s writing be related to Peter’s and/or Gardner’s?
Norton: 385–452. Write a paragraph-long interpretation of a scene in Douglass’s autobiography (include page-number citation).
Norton: 453–83; Gilroy: 41–71; Crosscurrents: 43–48. Write a paragraph response to Gilroy’s reading of Douglass and write another paragraph comparing Douglass to one of the other texts we’ve discussed this semester with regards to the concept of “Imag-I-Nation(s)”; see beginning of syllabus for more detail.
Harriet Jacobs and Byron: Norton: 279–315; Crosscurrents: 79–85; Gilroy: 111–45; and Byron’s poem "Darkness." Write a paragraph relating the Gilroy reading to Jacobs, another one relating the Byron reading to Jacobs, and a third relating Du Bois to Jacobs.
Lucy Terry, Sojourner Truth, Maria W. Stewart in Norton: 186–87, 245–55; Gilroy: 187–223.
Gilroy 72–110; Norton: 48–94; Crosscurrents: 115–21. Write a paragraph on each of the readings.
Please read Crosscurrents in the Black Atlantic: 1770–1965, pages 104–10.
Please make a list of bullet points relating Selassie I’s speech to Bob Marley’s musical setting of another one of his speeches in "War."
In-class listening to Bob Marley. Analysis of lyrics.
Please watch the videos for and write a paragraph interpretation (of lyrics and videos) for each of the following songs:
- Lauryn Hill: "Everything is Everything"
- Damian Marley, featuring Nas: "Road to Zion"
- Childish Gambino, "This Is America."
Also, make a bullet-pointed list in response to one of the options in the question that follows: How is Lauryn Hill, Robert Nesta or Damian Marley and Nas, Amistad, and/or Gilroy’s writing on “ships” similar to and different from Wheatley’s "On Being Brought from Africa to America"?