Atlantic reverberations: The sonic performances of Black diasporic poetries
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This project locates a gap in two sets of binaries that continue to shape accounts of black diasporic cultural production: orality-literacy and roots-routes. In an effort to establish alternative literary canons, many African American and postcolonial theorists have argued for the "oral roots" of subaltern literatures. These arguments for orality often assume diasporic formations as either dispersions from a nation ("roots") or as outernationale phenomena ("routes"). I challenge these binaries by using the term sonic performance to show how a range of African American, Anglophone Caribbean, and Black British poets draw on a repertoire that includes embodied cultural memory, mass media, aesthetic traditions, and sound reproduction technologies. Arguments for oral literary traditions often elide the ways that they are constructed and mediated by the technologies of literacy. I contest this elision by showing how black diasporic poets consistently engage with poetic traditions and sonic technologies in order to fashion a distinct poetic practice that is widely popular and formally inventive. The idea of "orality" is also often taken as evidence of ancient "African" cultural practices that have survived and been scattered throughout the Americas. This project departs from this model by defining diaspora not in contradistinction to the nation but rather as inseparable from its coercive structures that were formed during Atlantic slavery. Covering periods from the end of formal slavery to the rise of empire to decolonization, Atlantic Reverberations shows how the sonic performances of black diasporic poetries are embedded in Atlantic patterns of uneven encounter that engendered cultural dynamics of exploitation and subjugation that are inescapably racialized. What I call Atlantic violence describes these dynamics that were initiated by New World slavery and that still persist in our current global moment. Ultimately, I argue that the sonic performances of black diasporic poetries reckon with the strictures of Atlantic violence, wedging open a space of creativity and defiance in the dominant cultures of modernity that suggests other possible futures.