Collusions of Fact and Fiction
Collusions of Fact and Fiction
1 Devonshire Place, Room 208N, Munk School of Global Affairs
Time: Oct 14th, 2:00 pm End: Oct 14th, 4:00 pm
Interest Categories: United States Studies, English and Drama (UTM), English (UTSC), English (FAS), Comparative Literature (FAS), African, 2000-
Talk by Ilka Saal
Centre for the Study of the United States and the Department of English present
Collusions of Fact and Fiction: A Historiopoetic Approach to Slavery in the Works of Suzan-Lori Parks and Kara Walker
Taking its cue from novelist Fred D'Aguiar's assertion that each generation of African Americans "need their own version of the past, to see the past in their own images, words. To have slavery nuanced their way," this talk aims to examine some of the ways in which one particular generation of African American artists, those born in the post-Civil Rights era and emerging on the artistic scene in the 1990s, has attempted "to nuance" the enduring legacy of New World slavery in word, performance, and image according to their own needs. Concretely, it focuses on the works of playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and visual artist Kara Walker for case studies. The talk is based on a larger book project on recent engagements with slavery in African American culture and seeks to sketch out the book's overall conceptual frame and theoretical premises. It attempts to identify a poetic paradigm shift in the engagement with slavery from the neo-slave narratives of the 1970s and 80s to the postmodern works of the 1990s and 2000s. In comparison with their predecessors, the younger artists' works evince a heightened imaginative investment in the past, marked by liberal collusion of fact and fiction, a high degree of ludic (and frequently iconoclastic) signifying on established tropes, iconographies, and narrative structures of black memory culture and a prevalent and pointed (at times, irritating) sense of humor. To stress the radically performative dimension of their approach to slavery and to distinguish it from more conventionally mimetic historiographic praxis, I introduce the concept of historiopoiesis - the making of history in literature through poetic means. The difference in poetic approach also bespeaks a different attitude toward the past. Unlike the authors of neo-slave narratives, Parks and Walker deploy their imagination not in order to reconstruct or recuperate the experience of African Americans under slavery but to lay bare the discursive dimension of slavery, to address the fraught history and legacy of its various verbal and visual signs, and, in this manner, to clear a discursive space for fresh approaches to thinking about the past and its meanings for contemporary black identities.
Ilka Saal is a Feodor Lynen Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the University of Toronto and a Professor of American Literature at the University of Erfurt, Germany. She holds a Ph.D. from Duke University. She has written on the literature of September 11 as well as on 20th century and contemporary American drama and theatre, including the award-winning book New Deal Theater: The Vernacular Tradition in American Political Theater. Her current research focuses on recent engagements with New World slavery in African American literature, theatre, and visual culture.