Signifying Subliminal Spirituality: Caryl Phillips's Divine, Diasporal Black Heroine
In "West", a composite story in the longer novel "Crossing the River" (1993), Caryl Phillips, an Afro-British writer, renders the tale of a formerly enslaved African-American woman (Martha) whose rejection of reality causes her to inhabit and to find respite in the "spiritually sublime". Through Martha's story, Phillips intends to uncover how individuals obtain redemption when divine favor, or agape love (as it is termed in western theology), is not immediately available or accessible. Creating a heroine who endures extreme hardship and constant separation from loved ones, the author renders a woman whose severed earthly relationships parallel her tenuous relationship with the divine. Phillips leaves Martha with little recourse except to actuate her own redemption. But he does so in a way that reveals the extent of her earthly suffering: Martha does not find restoration in the reality of her daily existence because it is too rending; she fosters such through linguistic significations and various subliminal dream-states. In these instances, Phillips operates from a Freudian position in which desire is realized through the unconscious, particularly through language and dreams. By the end of her story, the author insists on the viability of Martha's spirit: he uses her suffering to demonstrate her resilience. Phillips is thus convincing in his claim that Martha's dreams function as her reality and they provide for her a liberating discourse and consciousness and an acquisition of divinity.
Keywords: African-American literature, African-American women's literature, Spirituality and Religion, Globalization, Black Diaspora
Dr. Tomeiko Ashford
Assistant Professor of English, English Department, Florida State University