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Contemporary Writing and the Politics of Space

Borders, Networks, Escape Lines


Edited By David Walton and Juan Antonio Suárez

This collective volume explores questions of space in contemporary literary texts from a range of theoretical perspectives. In addition to mapping the «spatial turn» in literary and cultural studies, this volume also brings together studies that apply spatial theory to the analysis of literary texts. Contributors tackle a broad range of themes, including how prose fiction addresses spaces of intimacy, abjection, espionage, discipline, madness, post-human identities, post-communist cities, the architecture of dystopia, and coercive medical practices. In turn, these themes open up analysis to key areas within contemporary literary and cultural criticism, including the study of sexuality, politics, power, and identity; the configuration of urban, regional, and national spaces and borders; and the delineation of private and public domains. The contributors reflect on diverse authors from English-speaking cultures and focus on a variety of genres and periods while acknowledging recent research in space studies and offering original contributions to what has now become a thriving field.

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10 Bound and Unbound: Figurations of Time-Space in African American Authorship (A. Robert Lee)


← 224 | 225 →


10  Bound and Unbound: Figurations of Time-Space in African American Authorship


This chapter explores the distinctive imagining of time and space in a continuum of African American authorship. Taking its coordinates from Robert Hayden’s benchmark poem ‘Middle Passage’, it spans both a selective gallery of key literary writings and cognate arts from jazz to film and photography. The point of departure is slave-narrative with its witness to the denial of rights of time and mobility, especially as encountered in a text like Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861). This focus is then widened to embrace the ways Afro-America and the writings in its name has fashioned its own sense of time and space, whether against a background of slave-shadowed Dixie or the cellular northern city, historic black war-zone or fantastical alternate-reality. The writers invoked include Zora Neale Hurston, Ernest Gaines, Claude McKay, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, James Weldon Johnson, John A. Williams and Ishmael Reed.

Middle passage:

voyage through death to life upon these shores.

—Robert Hayden, ‘Middle Passage’ (1962)1 ← 225 | 226 →

These lines, several times repeated in one of the most powerful memorial poems of Atlantic slavery, supply points of departure, a contour. Hayden’s ‘Middle Passage’ summons black bodies rendered fetid in the slave ship’s hold (‘charnel stench, effluvium of living death’ (1504)) even as captain and crew...

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