Enlightenment culture, Anglophone identity, and mobility in Black Atlantic literature
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The Anglophone writers of Black Atlantic bring to the fore liminal spaces that people of African descent inhabit in their encounters with the Western world and their critical engagement in Enlightenment culture. The thesis will take a close look at three narratives by Transatlantic Black writers--William Wells Brown's Three Years in Europe: Or, Places I Have Seen and People I Have Met, David Dorr's A Colored Man Round the World, and Olaudah Equiano's The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. I argue that these writers articulate their tenacious efforts to receive acknowledgement of their English literacy and cultural sensibility, and thus of their legitimate membership in the Western society but such claims are inextricably linked to their grappling with the experience of forced exile and its centrality to the experiences of people of the African diaspora. Belonging to the genre of travelogue, these writings are transforming the ambiguity of their experiences into a generative force by redefining the significance of the kind of mobility generally associated with the white leisured class in order to formulate a critical perspective on Enlightenment culture, American middle-class identity, and the idea of the British gentleman. The writing practices of the Black Atlantic authors articulate a dialectics that is created by the tension between their attempt to assimilate Anglophone subjectivity and the fundamentally racist social constellation that constantly thwarts their aspirations. Such a dynamic of exclusion and inclusion generates critical readings of the Western Enlightenment. The criticality of their writings resides in applying the principles of Enlightenment culture in a radical manner to the understanding of the possibilities and limitations of the Anglophone world. In doing so, they disclose slavery and racism as a significant discontinuity in the Enlightenment theories of the modern world that are predicated on the linear development and progress of world history. Keywords. Black Atlantic Literature, Eurocentric Identity, Enlightenment culture, Literacy, Diaspora, Mobility, Slavery, Racism, Forces Exile.