Constructing selfhood through re-voicing the classical past: Bernardine evaristo, Marlene nourbese Philip, and Robin Coste Lewis

Angelaki 22 (1):137-152 (2017)
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Abstract

This essay examines three works by three women writers whose strategies for rewriting the past include a revisionary engagement with the cultural legacies of Ancient Greece and Rome: The Emperor’s Babe: A Novel, Looking for Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence, and Voyage of the Sable Venus. It argues that each embodies a mode of resistance that both protests the historic oppression of women of colour and asserts a black female agency, insisting on an empowered present and future. In achieving this, all three transgress or subvert conventional generic distinctions between verse and prose, and, in Lewis’s case, between the cultural forms and academic disciplines of art, art history and literature. Each work insists on a transnational conception of black identity, implicitly tracing black diasporic experience through Africa, Europe and the Americas, and asserting the continued interconnections between these three. And, in their confrontations with the histories of colonialism, empire and slavery, each invokes not just the history of the seventeenth to twenty-first centuries ce but also the cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome, the legacies of which underpinned these modern European processes of domination. Of the three works discussed here, those by Evaristo and Lewis ultimately constitute works of greater subversive power than does that of Philip.

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