Specters of Bondage: Freedom, Desire, and Historical Memory in Post-Liberation Era African American Literature Open Access

Hussen, Aida (2009)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/g445cd36m?locale=en


Specters of Bondage:
Freedom, Desire, and Historical Memory in Post-Liberation Era
African American Literature
By Aida Ahmed Hussen
Specters of Bondage: Freedom, Desire, and Historical Memory in Post-
Liberation Era African American Literature is an interdisciplinary exploration of the
figure of the freedom quest as it informs formulations of African American identity and
collective memory in four novels written during the late 1970s and early 1980s. As
Manning Marable has observed, narratives of the ascent from bondage to freedom have
traditionally comprised an identity-cohering and spiritually sustaining premise for
African American collective consciousness. Persistent and often violent aggression
against black liberation movements throughout the 1950s, sixties and seventies, however,
produced a crisis of faith in the foundational myth of teleological black freedom ( Beyond
19). Specters of Bondage argues that this crisis constituted a collective cultural trauma,
and that African American literary production in the wake of the liberation era
accordingly reveals symptoms of post-traumatic consciousness: for example, temporal
and identitarian disorientation, and the psychic resuscitation, in varied forms, of the prior
and contiguous traumas of slavery. Reading Andrea Lee's Sarah Phillips (1984), David
Bradley's The Chaneysville Incident (1981), Octavia Butler's Kindred (1979), and
Charles Johnson's Oxherding Tale (1982) as posttraumatic testimony to both
contemporary and historical crises in black identity and representation, Specters of
shows how these texts begin the work of engendering new identitarian
frameworks that would accommodate a continuing desire for African American freedom
while also acknowledging a profound shift in the possible terms of collective
Rather than romanticizing a mythic past of un-fractured black solidarity, Specters
of Bondage views both past and present formulations of African American freedom and
identity as valid objects of critique. A basic assumption of this dissertation is that
homogenizing representations of African American identity and political desire have too
often marginalized or obfuscated the voices of "internal minorities." Feminist analysis
comprises an essential component of this dissertation's argument, insofar as it facilitates
both historical and contemporary re-conceptualizations of race and identity in more
comprehensive intersectional terms.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Specters of Bondage: Freedom, Desire, and Historical Memory in
Post-Liberation Era African American Literature 1

Chapter One
"Mysterious Stores of Anger and Grief": History, Repression, and
Ambivalent Desire in Andrea Lee's Sarah Phillips 26

Chapter Two
Speaking of the Past: Traumatic Testimony and Discursive Healing
in David Bradley's The Chaneysville Incident 73

Chapter Three
Subjects of History: Domination and the Desire for Recognition in
Octavia Butler's Kindred 116

Chapter Four
"Manumission and Marriage?" Freedom, Family, and Identity in
Charles Johnson's Oxherding Tale 157

Notes 187

Works Cited 200

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