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Chapter 6 - The Story that Cannot Be Told

M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!, from Form to Performance

from Part II - The Songs of Slavery

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 October 2021

Andrea Brady
Affiliation:
Queen Mary University of London
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Summary

Dickinson’s inability to tell the story of slavery is contrasted with M. NourbeSe Philip’s lifework Zong!, a book that attempts to listen to the missing, those who have been obliterated from the judicial archive or murdered in the Black Atlantic. Zong! is derived from a set of procedural constraints, using a legal summary of the Gregson vs. Gilbert decision – a case that determined whether slaves thrown overboard could be claimed as insured goods – to produce sequences of dispersed poems, associated texts and performances. Philip compares these procedural constraints to entering the hold, and her acts of linguistic selection and discarding to those of the slave masters. This radical attempt to restage the violences of history and recover the lost are complicated by her contention that the lyric poet must act as a bridge between the individual and the group. This chapter consider how Philip’s practice moves from page-based experiments with formal constraints, through an antagonistic relationship to the colonial lyric, into collective performance. It considers the significance of re-enactment and ritual in Philip’s work to channel the voices of the ancestors and disrupt the silences of the archive.

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Chapter
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Poetry and Bondage
A History and Theory of Lyric Constraint
, pp. 180 - 208
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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