Signifying Subliminal Spirituality: Caryl Phillips's Divine, Diasporal Black Heroine

By:
Dr. Tomeiko Ashford
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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
Stream: Religion, Spirituality
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr. Tomeiko Ashford

Assistant Professor of English, English Department, Florida State University
USA

Tomeiko Ashford is an Assistant Professor of English at Florida State University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2000. Dr Ashford specializes in spiritual narratives, African-American women's literature, and African-American culture. She has held fellowships at the University of North Carolina in conjunction with the Institute of Black Culture and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Studies; the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University; and the University Center for International Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently working on book project that examines 19th, 20th, and 21st century spiritual narratives.

Ref: H05P0625