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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 April 2009


When a group comprised primarily of African-derived “people”—yes, the scare quotes matter—gather at the intersection of performance and subjectivity, the result is often not a renewed commitment to practice or an explicit ensemble of questions, but rather a palpable structure of feeling, a shared sense that violence and captivity are the grammar and ghosts of our every gesture. This structure of feeling is palpable even in the place-names “Africa” and “the Caribbean,” names whose articulation (grammar) and memory (ghosts) would not be names at all were it not for the trade in human cargo. The promise of sense and meaning, when these place-names are spoken, is imbricated in the syntax and morphology of structural violence. Isolation of its performative and episodic instances (the violent event) often robs us of our ability to see it as a grammar of emergence and being: the Maafa, or African Holocaust, as the condition for the emergence of African being, just as grammar conditions the emergence of speech. We know the apparitions: ghosts of lost ancestors whom Ghanaians mourn each year at the sea when they mark the Maafa on their side of the Atlantic; the strange surnames on this side, haunted by the memory of names unknown; that empty space between children and their grandparents where the scourge of AIDS walks in silence; civil wars and famines induced by “natural” disasters like World Bank policies and U.S. intervention—one need not name each and every ghost to remind oneself of their omnipresence.

Critical Stages: Edited by Mike Sell
Copyright © American Society for Theatre Research 2009

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1. A six-string harp, from the Wassoulou region of southern Mali.

2. Leo Cabranes-Grant, Lynette Hunter, Peter Lichtenfels, Patrick Anderson, Susan Foster, Sue-Ellen Case, Daphne Lei, Shannon Steen, Simon Williams, and myself. Mike Sell, the editor of this column, was on hand as a facilitator, guide, and participant.

3. Mbembe, Achille, On the Postcolony (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 183, 176Google Scholar.

4. Ibid., 173.

5. Hartman, Saidiya V., Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 25Google Scholar.

6. Special thanks to Professor Jared Sexton and the late Professor Lindon Barrett of UC Irvine for their insights regarding conceptual problems inherent in the term “African diaspora.”

7. Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed. (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004), 397.