Re-present-ing the past: identity, re-memory and historical resonance in the works of contemporary African-American women writers

Joseph Lilore


This paper examines the representations of psychic phenomena existing in the works and discourse of a number of contemporary African-American women writers -Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall, and Gloria Naylor -in order to develop the implications of the presence of these phenomena. It is demonstrated that for all these writers, people, events and emotions from the past remain present and accessible over time, as they resonate through the individuals and places of today. The paper then compares the discourse of these women on "historic resonance" with the theories of physicist Rupert Sheldrake, who presents a similar model, wherein people inherit a collective memory through the functionings of memory, which is able to tune in to the accumulated resonance of history. Another comparison is then made between the nature of the individual subject as these women depict it, and the way it is represented in postmodern criticism. A tension is revealed, for these women are led to affirm a basis for identity and knowledge, ontology and epistemology, that does not accord with postmodernist assumptions. In the end, it is concluded that a new theory of the subject may be necessary, one that is informed both by postmodemist understandings and by the theories set forth by Sheldrake and by Morrison, Walker, et. a1.