Mothers and monsters : Black female subjectivity in Black speculative fiction

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2015-05

Authors

O'Neill, Caitlin Maureen

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Abstract

For if, as literary theorist Barbara Christian argues "people of color have always theorized--but in forms quite different from the Western form of abstract logic" and "often in narrative forms," then it only makes sense that we should turn to Black speculative fiction, a genre that has always been just as rooted in diasporic pasts as it has been invested in creating diasporic future(s) as a new avenue for exploring the trope of (mother)loss in diaspora. I first argue that Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is a black speculative proto-text from which we can begin to consider the usefulness and necessity of the imagination in radical formation of black female subjectivity. I then engage black science fiction writer Nalo Hopkinson’s 2013 novel, Sister Mine, which addresses intersections of race gender and sexuality in in exciting ways. The ways that Jacobs and Hopkinson intentionally delve into mystery and imagination signify a unique opportunity for Black female writers to theorize themselves, to name themselves, and most importantly to claim what Hortense Spillers calls "the monstrosity (of a female with the potential to 'name')" and the potential to name herself. I choose to bring particular attention to the Black speculative literature of Nalo Hopkinson not solely because she theorizes black female subjectivity but because of the ways that Hopkinson literally embraces the "monstrosity" of Black female subjectivity by writing black women as mermaids, goddesses, monsters into her work, echoes of which are also seen in Jacobs' work. The literal mermaids and monsters found in Hopkinson's 21st century (re)imagining of Toronto and Lake Ontario or Jacobs' loophole of retreat provide new ways of understanding what it means to be diasporic Black/woman/mother/child in both the midst and aftermath of transatlantic slavery, striking a necessary balance between acknowledging contemporary and historical struggles of black people across the world, and drawing on the power of the imaginative to look towards the future.

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