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African/Diaspora: Erna Brodber's "Louisiana"

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Ashley Stagner

on 7 December 2010

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Transcript of African/Diaspora: Erna Brodber's "Louisiana"

"Louisiana" Erna Brodber Biography:
Born April 20, 1940 in Woodside, St. Mary, Jamaica.
1980-1984: University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. Received Ph.D. History (1985)
1973: Visiting Scholar, Summer School of Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A.
1964-1967: University of the West Indies (UWI) and Partial student McGill University, Canada. Received MSc Sociology (UWI) (1968)
1960-1963: University College of the West Indies (London) Received B.A. (Hons) History (Upper Second UCWI/Lond) Literary Awards:
1999: Musgrave (Gold) Medal for Literature and Orature.
1989: Caribbean and Canadian Regional Winner in Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.
1975: Bronze medal and Certificate for poetry and for short story Writing in the Jamaica Festival of Arts. Literary Works:

"Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home" New Beacon Books, 1980.
"Myal," New Beacon Books, 1988.
“One Bubby Susan” in Jamaica Journal, Vol. 22, No. 4, (1989 - 1990).
“Sleeping’s Beauty and the Prince Charming” in Kunapipi Vol,XI, No. 3, 1989 pp. 1 - 4.
“The Spirit Thief” in Faber Book of Contemporary Caribbean Short Stories (ed) Mervyn Morris, Faber
and Faber, 1990, pp. 15 - 24. 6.
“Louisiana”, Callaloo, Vol. 14, No. 1 pp. 1 - 3.
“Louisiana," New Beacon Books 1994, also University Press of Mississippi 1997.
“Mother at Thy Feet is Kneeling” in Poui, pp. 52-54 & Dept. of Language Linguistics & Literature, UWI, Cave Hill. “Erna Brodber is a sociologist, historian, novelist and community activist who focuses on recovering the past and better understanding the present conditions of Diasporic Africans, especially in the Caribbean and the United States, in order to strengthen black initiatives toward social change by builing bridges between individual groups and between scholars and local communities.” When? "Louisiana":
“Published” in 1978
Set in the late 1930’s- 1940’s
Roosevelt’s New Deal projects, including the WPA’s Federal Writer’s Project
“sought to develop a more comprehensive autobiographical portrait of ex-slaves” (Ruef and Fletcher, 2003). St. Mary, Louisiana USA:Sue Ann Grant (Mammy King)“The Great Depression of the 1930s brought about a further decline in living standards for many southern blacks in the United States. While the average yearly household income in the United States was $1,500 at that time, a study of sharecroppers in four Southern states found their average income to be $294 annually” (Hamilton, 2006).
South still very divided “Coming into the village on my first day and in my coming and going to and from Franklin … I had seen stores, their ambiance quite different from the little rural Harlem in which I lived. This was the white part of the area” (Brodber, 48)Other Reuben Kohl Louisiana, St. Mary, Jamaica
Louise Grant
“Louisiana is the convergence of two names Louise and Sue Ann or Suzie-Anna as she is called. It is also the combination of two places Louisiana in Jamaica and the U.S.A., "two places can make children! Two women sire another?" (17). Louisiana is offspring not only of these two women, but of the U.S.A. and Jamaica; hence her service belongs to two communities. Her hyphenated subjectivity allows a cultural border crossing not possible in the same way for Mammy, Louise or Madam Marie” (Page, 2005).
“The novel tirelessly highlights and establishes the links of its characters to Africa, the Caribbean, America and even Europe. In fact, the title of the work refers not only to the American state, Louisiana, but also to the name of a parish in Jamaica” (Khokher, 2004). Themes Psychic experiences
Boundaries, Borders, and Migration
Links across Diasporic Experiences
History and Memory
Naming of Places and People
Traditional Music and Jazz
Role of Religion and Church
Rebellion and Punishment
Gendered Identity
Time/ Eternity
Oral Tradition
Forgiveness; Sinner/Redeemer Rebellion and Punishment
“This is the family culture in which Mammy grew -- punished resistance” (Brodber, 151).
Grandpappy Moses story
Teche Strike
“The focus of action and Mrs Grant and her co-conspirators was better pay and the modification of a system of remuneration in which workers were forced to spend their wages in the company stores owned by the same plantation owners and from which debts were deducted before the pay reached the hand of the worker” (Brodber, 151).

Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA)
Champion of the back-to-Africa movement Traditional Music and Jazz
“Madam and them continue to fight. They stole it she says” (Brodber, 123).
“Do they know they are making jazz” (Brodber, 123).
“After the initial shock from either side that they know the same songs, always there is an animated dispute about who owns them, who first created them” (Pollard, 187).
Importance of other oral traditions Psychic versus Scientific
“I was being taken on a journey into knowing and was resisting as first timers sometimes do. They hoped my travel was fruitful. I was totally embrarssed. And here was Reuben willing to consider this explanation of the strange behaviours which he described to me as being mine” (Brodber, 38). Importance of Recording Machine Anancy story and meaning behind “ah who sey Sammy dead” Historical Work:
- As a researcher at the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) in Jamaica between 1975 and 1983, Brodber worked to collect the oral histories of elders in rural Jamaica.

- Interest of oral sources evident in her historical work

- Interviews of 90 People born on the cusp of the 20th century

- This project would later inspire her novel "Louisiana" Blackspace

- Erna Brodber is building the Centre for the Study of Africa and the Diaspora in her backyard.

- Known as “Blackspace”: "A discrete cultural and spiritual environment in which the fullness of African life in the West can first be acknowledged and then shared and exchanged.”

- Through Blackspace, Brodber lives out and passes on the spirit of emancipation.

- "I would like to see young people from all over the black world coming to the center, and learning about their past and present, learning the art, learning about the writers, learning about the artists, learning about the musicians, learning about the languages we have made…I’d like them to understand about the body, to prize their cheekbones, to learn that there is a black aesthetic- biggish bottom and so on. That kind of thing. This is what I wanted Blackspace to be” –Erna Brodber Woodside Initiatives

- Erna Brodber is a key figure in making Emancipation Day a regular celebration in Woodside

o Reenactments: people speak about emancipation in various traditional voices

o Future goal: involve African Americans in the Woodside emancipation

- Emancipation school

o Teaching songs that were sung during emancipation

o Discussing history of black people and of Jamaica

- Developing Tourism in Woodside to educate citizens about other cultures

- Using “Blackspace” to support Woodside’s educational projects Religion

- Affiliated with the Rastafarian religious group

o Official affiliation is a sub-category called The Twelve Tribes

- The most liberal of Rastafarian religious groups

- Emphasizing Black-conciousness

o However, believes not only in the salvation of blacks, but of all other races and cultures as well

- This chosen religion relates greatly to Brodber’s overall philosophy:

o Emphasizing unity, not only of the Diaspora, but of other cultures as well

o Educates Jamaican citizens about White as well as Black groups. Form and Structure “To be addressed as a writer, as an artist, still seems strange to me because despite 'Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home' and 'Myal' I still think of myself as a sociologist and my fiction writing as a part of my sociological method” (Brodber, 164) "We have not spent time verifying the existence of all the parties mentioned in this manuscript. We stopped at Ella Townsend. She did exist" ("Louisiana," 4). "...the syntax betrays the editor’s reliance on linearity, a grammar of tenses rather than aspect, for she emphasizes that who Ella Townsend was at the beginning and how her project began are what is most important. The narrative body Ella produces defies such ordering and instead accentuates aspects of being, becoming a performative space where the interactions between the living and the dead, aspects of existence, collaborative in crafting individual and cultural stories” (Gourdine, 143). “Her narrative style, with its dissolution of even boundaries, its crossings to and fro between mental and geographical spaces, its refiguration of the journey as a spiritual rather than primarily cultural odyssey, its employment of multiple voice-narrators, and its removal of attributive hooks so that conversation floats in the air and floats into consciousness, is part and parcel of the spiritualist refiguring, mirroring the permeability of our world time and consciousnesses by their ‘other world’ counterparts” (Forbes, 14) Criticism "Carnival-Conjure, 'Louisiana,' History and the Power of Women's Ethnographic Narrative" by Angeletta Gourdine

-“The world-view of 'Louisiana' is shaped by what I call Carnival-Conjure, a fusion of fiction, science, anthropology and religion…Generally, conjure refers to a body’s spiritual beliefs and the activities consummate with those beliefs (conversation and contact with ancestral spirits). Carnival, its sister practice, refers to both a celebratory performance (Mardi Gras) and also the immaterial force that guides the physical body’s participation in the practice (desire for escape or for invisibility).” (139)

-"While Ella initially sees conjure as a practice, she learns that conjure, like carnival, is part of a discoursive system which makes Mammy's, Louise's, and Ella's own histories intelligible" (143).

-"Through Carnival-Conjure's fluidity of language and being, Ella heals the rift between body and spirit that her discipline as an anthropologist affected" (144) "Redeeming the Word: Religious Experience as Liberation in Erna Brodber's Fiction" by Curdella Forbes

-"I argue that 'Louisiana,' in particular, can be read as a two-fold shift in the traditional approach to religious experience as the organizing dynamic of liberation. First, it recreates religious experience as the organizing dynamic of liberation, in the processes making this experience the heart of the epistemology; and second, it recasts religious experience within a language and etymology radically removed from those which characterize the rhetoric of nationalist liberation" (2).

-"Two important effects of Louisiana's religio-spiritual experience are worth noting: first, the movement from data gathering and analysis to ministry is essentially a transformation of the anthropologist's role as mere observer, no matter by how participatory a method; second, through the surrender to her rewritten role, the eponymous heroine discovers her cultural, geographical and biological connections with ancestors and living persons from Africa, Europe, America and the Caribbean" (8). --> A globalized rather than national community. -"Indeed, the Biblical ethos links Louisiana with Christ, since she undergoes a waiting period very similar to Christ's forty-day sojourn in the wilderness" (10)

-"Brodber inserts an alternative vocabulary, rooted in Caribbean religious tradition, into Caribbean literary discourse...to suggest the universal without reinventing it in the image of any one culture; to centralize community without fixing it to geography or the hegemony of nationalist discourse" (17). African-Caribbean Writing DIASPORA IN LOUISIANA

- ““Brodber’s concept of Diaspora moves away from the exclusions of nation and culture and seeks instead an all inclusive option for the empowerment of blacks around the world”- (Page 2)

- Louisiana is a radical novel, because it de-emphasizes categories and instead, highlights one unified, collective identity for all Black individuals

- “Louisiana was part of my larger interest in Africa and Diaspora, and the need for blacks of the diaspora, and to a certain extent of Africa, to know each other and to understand that you have to get through it together”- Erna Brodber Transmigration, Migration, and Borders

- Three themes in the novel that greatly emphasize Erna Brodber’s opinion on the need for a collective identity/consciousness for all black individuals

- Brodber’s vision involves “cultural continuities across the Diaspora” (Page)

- Migration and transmigration used to “repair the fissures which exist between African Caribbean and African American people” (Page 2)

- Through Brodber’s concept of Diaspora, borders are de-emphasizes

o Fluid borders, no distinct markers between cultures

- Transmigration or psychic migration: The link that connects seemingly unrelated character to each other, and unifies them.

o The venerable sisters

- Blurring of cultural boundaries

o “Ah who sey Sammy dead”

- Discussion Question: Does Louisiana imply Borderlessness or Nationlessess (Page 8)? References to Diaspora as a whole

- “Though Ella does not physically cross any borders, she does traverse several metaphorical traditions of diasporic tradition, culture and consciousness” (Khokher 2)

- The novel frequently highlights the ties of the characters to Africa, The Caribbean, America and Europe

- “It is my hope that this novel will be a tool with which the blacks and particularly those of the diapora will forge a closer unity and, thus fused, be able to face the rest of the world more confidentely”- Erna Brodber References to the African continent:

o “Reuben says I look like Nefertiti and I like that” (Brodber 98-99)

o Text states that Reuben is originally from the Congo

o Reuben’s desire to experience being African, dressing as a in African gard for Mardi Gras

o Ella’s gradual, physical metamorphosis: new clothing choices sound traditionally African References to Europe:

o Reuben raised in Europe as a child, “Only he in that European community perceived the true scope of his difference from them” (Brodber 52)

o Reference to European literary works, “The house was as quiet as Juliet’s tomb” (Brodber 35)

o West Indian sailors visiting Madame Marie’s singing songs “Folksongs they called it. Sometimes it was Irish, English, Scottish melodies” (Brodber 84). In Louisiana The African Diaspora stretches to Africa, The Caribbean, America, and even to imperialist Europe.

o All inter-related

o Including Europe pushes the boundaries even further of what exactly constitutes Diaspora.
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