Date of Award

2022

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Comparative Literature and Literary Theory

First Advisor

David Kazanjian

Abstract

Through a comparative study of literary figurations and institutional records of slavery, Writing Atlantic–African Slavery: The Middle Passage in Continental Terms demonstrates how Africa was not only a site of the extraction of racial capital but also of its accumulation. Put differently, I do not reduce Atlantic slavery to the transatlantic slave trade, the export slave industry, on the continent. I foreground what I term “Atlantic–African slavery,” or the myriad ways captives were rendered as fungible and racialized commodities in Africa as well. I locate its institutional instantiation within nineteenth-century imperial records of French colonial Senegal. I examine the records produced during the years leading to and immediately following the abolition of chattel slavery in 1848, including census reports, metropolitan newspapers, and the indemnity claims of Senegalese slaveowners. I identify twentieth-century francophone writers, specifically Yambo Ouologuem (1968) and Maryse Condé (1984), as purveyors of an African continental perspective on Atlantic slavery through a distinctive literary mode that I call the “ante-return,” which narrates a return to an anterior past, prior to extensive European colonization of the late nineteenth century. Ante-return fiction depicts Atlantic–African slavery in novelistic real-time and maintains a perspective from within Africa throughout the span of the novel. I then demonstrate the continued relevance of this idiom by charting how the ante-return novel reemerges in both English and French during the twenty-first century. In light of recent transcontinental emigration from Africa, I suggest that the revival of the ante-return novel by Léonora Miano (2013) and Yaa Gyasi (2016) underscores not a new, but a renewed practice of diaspora. As contemporary fiction, these works rearticulate diasporic connection through difference that harkens back, under altered conditions, to the intellectual commitments of early twentieth-century Black France. Writing Atlantic–African Slavery ends with a coda where I assemble passages from the works studied in this dissertation that illustrate the arrival and departure of slave ships from the African littoral. Through this constellation, I pose questions to incite further inquiry into the world left behind with the wake of slave ships.

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Available to all on Saturday, July 05, 2025

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