Passages from the middle: coloniality and postcoloniality in Charles Johnson's 'Middle Passage.'
The book is filled all but a finger's breadth. I shall lock it, wrap it and sew it unhandily in sailcloth and thrust it away in the locked drawer. With lack of sleep and too much understanding I grow a little crazy, I think, like all men at sea who live too close to each other and too close thereby to all that is monstrous under the sun and moon. (Golding 278)
Middle Passage - the very words conjure up violent images of movement, the wrenching of Africans from their homes, their families, and their freedom, and the ill-fated voyage to hostile territory. Middle Passage describes not only the aqueous route of the slavers, but also the notions of origin and destination embedded in the phrase. For the Middle Passage's "passage," its conveyance of human African cargo across space and time to America, the "New World," is what makes the Middle Passage "the defining moment of the African-American experience" (Pedersen 225). Charles Johnson's novel Middle Passage, by its title and narrative space, necessarily suggests similar conceptions of colonial movement, of traversing the globe from America to Africa and back. But Johnson's novel is less about movement and "passages" than about "middle-ness." Middle Passage's narrator and central figure, Rutherford Calhoun, is confined, spatially and temporally, to a space "in-between" - in-between the ship's crew and the Allmuseri, in-between factions of the ship's crew, and in-between generations of African Americans. How Calhoun negotiates between the borders(1) provides Johnson's metaphor of a middle passage: Johnson, through Calhoun's experiences, envisions a particular colonial moment that is not about passages, but about mediation. At the level of narrative, Calhoun personifies the "middle" of the Middle Passage. But Johnson's novel works on another level, the level of discourse: The fact that Calhoun, the African-American subject, speaks from the space of the middle creates a moment of postcoloniality. And thus two effects are at work here: the confinement to middle-ness of Calhoun's colonial moment, and the transcendence of coloniality via enunciation from the point of confinement.
The first of these effects, the colonial moment - Calhoun's spatial and temporal location in the middle - surfaces from a reading of Middle Passage's narrative. Calhoun exists in "colonial space . . . the terra incognita or the terra nulla, the empty or wasted land whose history has to be begun, whose archives must be filled out, whose future progress must be secured . . ." (Bhabha 246). Calhoun cannot identify with the borders, where culture exists, because he is excluded from every community; he only mediates, mapping out the constricted space in-between. One site of Calhoun's middle-ness is between the Republic's crew and the Allmuseri: This is the uncharted space between America and Africa, white and black. As with every instance of Calhoun's middle-ness, his confinement is a combination of externally imposed exclusion and internally realized difference. This mode of subject construction - or, in this case, subject placement - is not unfamiliar, as it opposes any totalizing version of the self: Calhoun's subjectivity is neither entirely self-constructed nor entirely socially constructed. He is the product of many forces.(2)
Calhoun's first experience of interposition between the crew and the Allmuseri illustrates his multiply generated subject construction well. During Calhoun's first evening in Bangalang, Squibb warns Calhoun that he might be mistakenly captured and sold like the Allmuseri: "'Better yuh keep your noodle down, Illinois. . . . Or yuh'll be sold too. . . . These blokes don't know you're a sailor. And they don't care'"(60). Calhoun's exclusion from the rest of the crew suddenly becomes apparent (not that it was unnoticed before); Calhoun is excepted from the society of the crew because the slave dealers just don't care that he is also a sailor. His difference, signaled only by the color of his skin, is all that matters. But at the same time, Calhoun must isolate himself from the Allmuseri - a self-imposed, but necessary, exile. He is neither here nor there. He retreats into the shadows, treading the space between sailor and future slave.
A similar moment occurs when Calhoun, angry at the memory of his brother, offhandedly remarks that his brother could be Allmuseri: "'Hell, Squibb, he could be from their tribe, for all I know.'" Of course, this necessarily implies that Calhoun himself is also an Allmuseri, a fact that Calhoun, at the time he makes the statement, does not realize. When Squibb suggests this possibility - "'That'd make you one of 'em too, wouldn't it?'" - Calhoun outright denies it. He writes, "This I doubted" (109). The fact that Squibb, a member of the white crew, considers it possible that Calhoun could be Allmuseri (thus drawing attention to Calhoun's blackness) - and Calhoun's immediate dismissal of any affinity with the Allmuseri - helps construct the in-between nature of Calhoun's existence. He is externally excluded from the crew, and internally excludes himself from the Allmuseri.
The Allmuseri, by recognizing Calhoun's difference from the rest of the Republic's crew, also position him in the middle space between sailor and Allmuseri, America and Africa. Ngonyama, whom Falcon selects as an overseer, is the first of the Allmuseri to make this recognition. As Calhoun writes of Ngonyama,
At first he could not distinguish any of the white crew individually, and asked me, "How do their families tell them apart?" I suppose he selected me because I was the only Negro on board, though the distance between his people and black America was vast - his people saw whites as Raw Barbarians and me (being a colored mate) as a Cooked one. (75)
This reading of Ngonyama's construction of Calhoun's identity is complex; Calhoun feels the weight of a doubly inscribing look. On the one hand, Calhoun knows that he has been singled out because, unlike the rest of the crew, he is black. But on the other hand, at least in Calhoun's mind, Ngonyama maintains significant cultural separation from Calhoun - Calhoun may be a lesser barbarian than the whites, but he is a barbarian nonetheless. Thus, at the moment of recognition, a moment which determines Calhoun's eventual survival amongst the Allmuseri "mutineers," Calhoun suddenly becomes part of a nether space, neither Allmuseri nor white American.
Eight-year-old Baleka and her mother also contribute to Calhoun's exclusion from the social space of both crew and Allmuseri. When the mother's imposition of guilt forces Calhoun. into sharing his meals with Baleka, Calhoun again notices his relegation to the middle at the point of recognition. Calhoun is different from the whites, and therefore must act as liaison: "By and by, we were inseparable. This was how Mama wanted it, having decided her child's survival might depend on staying close to the one crew member who looked most African, asking me to decipher the strange behavior of the whites and intercede on their behalf" (79). Calhoun only "looks" most African - significantly, the Allmuseri never, for a moment, actually think he is. As one reviewer writes, "Even when an eight-year-old Allmuseri girl, Baleka, adopts him as her father, he has no trusted place with the Africans" (Wills 3). By recognizing Calhoun as distinct from the rest of the crew, Baleka's mother also, in effect, excludes him from whiteness. This imposed separation from both sides of the historical colonial equation (American and African), and the resultant carving out of an intermediate space, stem from a tenuous solidarity: The Allmuseri distinguish Calhoun from the other crew members, yet they will never invite him into their legions.
In his own mind, too, Calhoun is incapable of experiencing togetherness with the Allmuseri. Even though Calhoun's ancestors were also brought from Africa to America, Calhoun finds himself too far removed from any sense of African roots. Of the Allmuseri, he says cryptically: "Truth to tell, they were not even 'Negroes.' They were Allmuseri" (76).(3) Calhoun sees the corruption that America has inscribed upon him, and the impossibility of identifying with the Allmuseri: "As I live, they so shamed me I wanted their ageless culture to be my own, if in fact Ngonyama spoke truly. But who was I fooling?" (78). Thus Calhoun, by constantly reminding himself of his difference from the Allmuseri, never allows himself to get too close to their culture. He keeps his distance.
Once the Allmuseri revolt and take control of the Republic, Calhoun's position in-between the crew and the Africans is cemented. Ngonyama makes an effort to draw Calhoun into the social space of the tribe, but he resists.(4) When Ngonyama says, one will hurt you here, Rutherford. These men are your brothers,'" Calhoun's thoughts reveal his refusal to make allegiances: "How I wished I could believe him!" (131-32). Calhoun, comparing himself to the Allmuseri, can only see difference. In his words, "Yes, I was black, as they were, but they had a common bond I could but marvel at" (132).(5) Calhoun takes a non-essentializing view of race: Just because he shares skin color with the Allmuseri, he is not automatically joined with their culture. In other words, Calhoun wishes to deconstruct the simple bond of color, to speak, instead, "of civilizations where we now speak of races" (W. E. B. Du Bois, qtd. in Appiah 38). To this end, Calhoun attempts to mesh with the white crew,(6) to blend in with the civilization of white America.
But the Allmuseri do not share Calhoun's vision of race, and they impose their mild version of essentialism on him: They insinuate a necessary separation between Calhoun and the white crew.(7) As Ngonyama's initial recognition of Calhoun reveals, the Allmuseri consider Calhoun, because he is black, to be different from the crew. In spite of Calhoun's belief that he belongs to the society of the crew, the Allmuseri, by recognizing difference, remove him from this affinity. Even Diamelo, who does not trust Calhoun, recognizes him as distinct from the remainder of the crew; he offers Calhoun the chance to prove his loyalty to the Allmuseri, an offer no white crew member would be given. As Diamelo says, "'On whose side is he? I wouldn't trust this one. . . . Not until he has broken away from them'" (135). And even though Calhoun fails to execute Cringle, the Allmuseri still accept him as their intermediary (but not, again, as one of them). Although scared, Calhoun continues to negotiate for the life of Captain Falcon; he offers them a tantalizing suggestion: "'I ask you to make him your slave'" (136). Here, not entirely at the level of consciousness, Calhoun acknowledges the vast space between him and Falcon, the space of difference. The proposed enslavement of the captain and the categorical reversal it implies demonstrate Calhoun's subconscious realization that his bond with the crew was illusory. Contrary to Calhoun's wishes, race, via the external agency of the Allmuseri, plays a crucial role in setting him apart from the crew - while, at the same time, he consciously maintains distance from the Allmuseri.
Calhoun becomes painfully aware of his middle-ness (and the remarkable attendant feelings of isolation) moments later, when Cringle marvels at Calhoun's willingness to side with the Allmuseri. Calhoun responds,
"I'm not on anybody's side! I'm just trying to keep us alive! I don't know who's right or wrong on this ship anymore, and I don't much care! All I want is to go home!" (137).
These expressions of rage not only reveal the frustration inherent in being unable to identify fully and comfortably with the borders, but also highlight another problem in Calhoun's colonial existence - the problem of "home." For in considering "home" to be the location of salvation, Calhoun accentuates the impossibility of such a place. Calhoun's dilemma lies in his automatic invocation of home as a better place, a place of fixed borders as opposed to middles.(8) At the level of Calhoun's consciousness (that is, the level of narrative), "home" serves only as a signifier of non-middle-ness - home is where allegiances are sound, where Calhoun believes he is capable of knowing where he stands. What Calhoun fails to realize is that, once aboard the Republic, he no longer has a place he can rightly call home. The slave ship, in its relegation of Calhoun to the middle space, not only posits him in opposition to a domestic space, but also eradicates the possibility of a return to home. Hortense Spillers' thoughts on the Middle Passage, although written in reference to the African slaves themselves, further this point: "The human cargo of a slave vessel - in the fundamental effacement and remission of African family and proper names - offers a counter-narrative to notions of the domestic" (72). Calhoun, albeit not the "cargo" of the Republic, dwells in a similar counter-domestic space - a nether space from which there is no return. Home is an empty signifier, the only signifier Calhoun thinks (or knows) to turn to when he lies dying: "There, as I lay weakened from bleeding, was where I wanted to be" (179). But he must forever remain in-between.
When the voyage ends, Calhoun is still at sea, bound to Isadora but unable to consummate the union. The Middle Passage has left an indelible imprint on Calhoun's psyche, a haunting reminder that home and roots no longer have meaning. Any sense of domesticity rests snugly in the future; home has lost its previous nostalgic feel. As Calhoun notes, while trying to ignite his old passion for Isadora:
. . . my memories of the Middle Passage kept coming back, reducing the velocity of my desire, its violence, and in place of my longing for feverish love-making left only a vast stillness that felt remarkably full, a feeling that, just now, I wanted our futures blended, not our limbs, our histories perfectly twined for all time, not our flesh. (208)
Calhoun's sexual longing for Isadora, like his previous longing for home, has been consumed by the violence of his confinement to the middle.
Calhoun's spatial location between the crew and the Allmuseri does not fully account for his colonial moment of middle-ness on board the Republic. Calhoun is also spatially situated between factions of the crew - on one side, Captain Falcon and his loyalists and, on the other side, First Mate Cringle and the mutineers. Calhoun first becomes aware of division on the ship when Falcon asks him to be his spy; at that moment, Falcon apprises Calhoun of the secrets each crew member keeps hidden. Calhoun is confused:
Why was he saying these things? I could only speculate that something was seriously wrong with the ship - he never specified what - and his solution was the oldest and simplest in the world. Divide and conquer. Poison each man's perception of the other. By making me hear of each man's faults (I had no choice) he subtly compromised me, made me something of a betrayer too. . . . (58)
Even if Calhoun wishes to remain loyal to the crew, just another sailor, he cannot; he has implicitly agreed to be loyal to Falcon. The disclosure of the secrets initiates Calhoun's placement between Falcon and the mutineers.
When the mutineers draw Calhoun into their planning, he is amply poised to make a decision. And it seems he does, that he will remain loyal to the crew and help them with the mutiny. When Cringle claims that "'Rutherford is on our side,'" Calhoun replies, "'Yes . . . How can I help?'" (87). But the mutineers' plan insures that, even if Calhoun is supposedly on their "side," he is not fully embraced: The plan requires Calhoun's difference, in this case his status as a stowaway, to serve as an excuse for the mutiny. As McGaffin explains,
"But suppose he done it? Suppose we tel 'em a stowaway done in the skipper? Well, what abaht that? Huh? Once we reach New Orleans the rest of us kin sign on to other ships, and Calhoun'll go his own way, like he's always done, believin' in nothin', belongin' to nobody, driftin' here and there and dyin', probably, in a ditch without so much as leavin' a mark on the world. . . . "(88)
The final plan, while allowing for Falcon's survival, still requires Calhoun to act as the middle-man and, in that regard, as the fall guy. Calhoun must sneak into Falcon's cabin and defuse all his weapons and security devices. If caught, "'Nobody'll think nothin'. . . . It's his nature to be in places he ain't supposed to be. Worst come to worst, he'll get a few stripes, that's all'" (91). Calhoun's difference plays an integral role in the mutineers' decision to use him in their plan. And thus, instead of accepting him outright as a fellow conspirator, the mutineers keep Calhoun at arm's length. Calhoun has no choice but to agree to their plan - but his assent is tentative, at best: ". . . encircled by conspirators such as these with the nerve tips of my index finger throbbing where I'd nervously torn off a nail, I could only do as they wished and say,' 'Tis done'" (92). At this point, Calhoun has, in some sense, sworn loyalty to both sides - loyalty to act against the other side. Regardless of whom he decides to trust, Calhoun is a betrayer.
Here lies the moment of indecision, where Calhoun realizes the difficulty of his position. Middle-ness is painful and confusing:
But here, let it be said, that in waters strange as these, where any allegiance looked misplaced, I could no longer find my loyalties. All bonds . . . were a lie forged briefly in the name of convenience and just as quickly broken when they no longer served one's interests. But what were my interests? (92; emphasis added)
Calhoun wants someone to blame, but from this place in the center he can find no easy target. His confusion leads him to confess the conspirators' plan to Captain Falcon. Yet the decision to side with Falcon (for the moment) is not a reasoned one, but rather just another sign of Calhoun's passivity. His willingness to be easily swayed illustrates the impossibility of real faithfulness from the position of the in-between. As the intermediary, he can know no constancy.
At this point, Falcon believes he has an ally. But Falcon is misled by the constraints of his own philosophy. Falcon speaks of binaries, claiming that consciousness depends on opposition:
"Conflict . . . is what it means to be conscious. Dualism is a bloody structure of the mind. Subject and object, perceiver and perceived, self and other - these ancient twins are built into mind like the stem-piece of a merchantman. . . . They are signs of a transcendental Fault, a deep crack in consciousness itself." (98)
What Falcon fails to realize is that Calhoun dwells at the crack, constantly negotiating between the borders.(9) When Falcon manages to get Calhoun to admit that he "submits," Calhoun's "'I guess so'" is a false victory (98). Calhoun is no more sure of allegiance with Falcon than he was sure of allegiance with the mutineers. The middle space is "confinement" because it holds no easy answers, only incessant contingencies.
Once Calhoun's loyalty (to either Falcon or the mutineers) is put to the test, middle-ness shows its damning power. It unleashes a moment of paralysis, of rocks and hard places. In Falcon's cabin, capable of enacting either plan, Calhoun freezes:
And then suddenly I could not breathe. I felt caged. Wrong if I did as the first mate asked. Wrong if I sided with Falcon. I began hiccuping uncontrollably . . . a palpable feeling of dread. . . . With so many men at odds, each willing something so different from the others . . . and some not even fully aware of their will, the result could only be something unforeseen that no one willed or wanted. . . . "God," I asked, "is this some kind of test?" My worldly wits were gone . . . . (125-26)
This is worse than indifference - a choice must be made. The impossibility of making a choice turns Calhoun to thoughts of his own demise, anything better than decision: "My face was swollen and, searching myself, I discovered I no longer cared if I lived or died. The passion for life in me, that flame, was dead" (127). Oddly enough, Calhoun's panicked premonition comes true; something unforeseen occurs. As if Calhoun's internal dread were socially projected, the Republic . erupts into a wholly different civil war than Calhoun imagined. But the impact of Calhoun's in-between-ness remains. His spatial position between Falcon and the mutineers is never resolved, and the difficulty of this space continues even after the Allmuseri assume control of the ship.
Calhoun exists in a spatial in-between: in-between the crew and the Allmuseri, and in-between factions of the crew. But Calhoun's confinement is temporal as well as spatial. He inhabits an intermediate time between generations of African Americans - between his father Riley and his brother Jackson, each of whom represents a different mode of living. Riley is pure possibility, whereas Jackson is wasted opportunity. Calhoun negotiates between these versions of dealing with the external world, striving to be like his father and unlike his brother. The middle-ness comes as a result of Calhoun's over-idealized, unattainable image of his father. Calhoun can never attain the greatness he attributes to his father, and so he ends up confined temporally, between the "all-potential" runaway of the slave era and the post-slavery subservient "proper Negro" (114).
When Calhoun was three, his father ran away. Calhoun's feelings toward him are mixed: He despises his father for' abandoning him and Jackson, but also yearns for his father's notion of seized freedom. Calhoun considers his father "the possible-me that lived my life's alternate options, the me I fled. Me. Yet not me. Me if I let go. Me if I gave in" (112). These cryptic remarks symbolize the complexity of Calhoun's feelings. He longs for his father's ability to fight, to snatch some little victory from the hopeless despair of slave life. Face-to-face with the Allmuseri deity, Calhoun sees the moment of his father's death. Then, aware suddenly of the bravery of his father's vision, Calhoun clearly acknowledges his father's position on the spectrum of possibility: ". . . even in death he seemed to be doing something, or perhaps should I say he squeezed out one final cry wherethrough I heard a cross wind of sounds just below his breathing" (17071). Calhoun's father exists as unrealized potential, and Calhoun wishes to identify with this aspect of his ancestry and inheritance. But the Allmuseri deity has further over-idealized Riley, sustaining the impossibility of Calhoun's ever attaining this supposed all-powerfulness. Thus Riley Calhoun, as he exists in Rutherford's mind, is the unattainable goal; so long as Rutherford tries to fill his shoes, he will keep falling short - remaining in the mid-time of partially fulfilled potential.
On the other side of the scale of possibility is Jackson. That Rutherford despises him is clear. Rutherford cannot stand Jackson's unswerving egalitarianism: "'He treated everyone the same, and that was the trouble. Kin meant nothing to him'" (108). Jackson, in Rutherford's eyes, is "a proper Negro" (114), subservient to the whites, always making Rutherford look bad in comparison. When Jackson forfeits the inheritance of the Chandler estate, claiming that "the property and profits of this farm should be divided equally among all . . . servants and hired hands, presently and formerly employed" (117), Rutherford erupts in rage. Any chance of Jackson's serving as a role model for Rutherford, once he matures, is lost. Rutherford is stunned into silence and quiet rage:
I could have strangled them both. I felt like smashing things. Instead, I shrank from the room, feeling sacked and empty, wondering if I would ever get on in this world. It took me five days to stop shaking. For the rest of my short stay on Chandler's farm before I struck south for New Orleans, I felt angry at anything that moved. (118)
Jackson serves as the counter-example for Rutherford, a symbol of wasted hope. But Jackson also symbolizes a necessity in the 1830 life of a former slave: subservience. As much as Calhoun would like to deny it, social realities of the time created the need for Jackson-like behavior. On board the Republic, Calhoun's spatial middle-ness is a sign of his unfortunate partial submission to Jackson's mode of behavior: He is often merely the tool of others. The final result of Calhoun's joint "inheritance" - a life of possibility from Riley, and a life of acceptance from Jackson - is that he must straddle the options. He dwells in the temporal middle space, part-father, part-Jackson, but all anger and frustration.
To know where you were going, you had to know where you'd come from. . . . (Pinckney 5)
To merely exist at the middle space is to be colonized. Rutherford Calhoun's particular colonial moment consists of a spatial and temporal confinement in an area in-between. But concluding the analysis with a simple acceptance of such coloniality would be fatalistic: It would imply no possibility of transcendence. And this is where postcoloniality enters, post- signifying not a periodizing relation to coloniality, but rather a "beyond" that is "neither a new horizon, nor a leaving behind of the past" (Bhabha 1). In the midst of the colonial moment of Middle Passage (a dual colonial moment: Calhoun's middle-ness and the Allmuseri's passage) lies the opportunity for transformation and power. Calhoun seizes this opportunity. In Middle Passage, the very pages before us evidence the moment: By taking up the pen and writing the Republic's log, by enunciating from a site of colonial confinement, Rutherford Calhoun enacts postcoloniality. He speaks from the point of what Homi Bhabha calls the "time-lag" (250), the empty time in the past of colonized peoples. African-American history contains an immeasurable amount of such unrecorded moments, and Calhoun's role is to verbalize from one of these gaps.
As soon as Falcon gives Calhoun the responsibility of writing the log, a new historical script arises. Falcon simply wants the story of the Republic told from all sides: "'Not just Mr. Cringle's side . . ., or the story the mutineers will spin, but things I told you when we met alone in secret'" (146). But Calhoun sees the opportunity to discover his voice, and a new history is born. From the point of confinement, agency surfaces. As Calhoun responds,
To this I reluctantly agreed. I took his logbook from the ruins. But I promised myself that even though I'd tell the story (I knew he wanted to be remembered), it would be, first and foremost, as I saw it since my escape from New Orleans. (146)
Now, in Middle Passage, Calhoun, from the middle, speaks.
It is impossible to ignore, however, the artificiality of this postcolonial moment. Precisely because it occurs within the confines of a contemporary American novel, Calhoun's achievement remains the achievement of a fictional character. Has any historical gap really been filled in?
The answer is a definitive yes. Calhoun's individual accomplishment of representing a previously unrepresented viewpoint is merely an archetype of Charles Johnson's accomplishment in Middle Passage. Johnson, through the artifice of Rutherford Calhoun's adventures aboard the Republic, imagines, for the first time, an interrupted space in African-American history.(10) Artifice, in the sense that fiction is a crucial means of conveying history from the time-lag, is inevitable in the 1990s moment of post-coloniality. In this era, our era, the real work to be done consists of filling in historical gaps with countless variations of the narrative of the subaltern.(11) Johnson's postcolonial enactment arises out of our present modernity, interrupting time and space to speak in an overdetermined, multi-vocal manner:
The power of the postcolonial translation of modernity rests in its performative, deformative structure that does not simply revalue the contents of a cultural tradition, or transpose values "cross-culturally." The cultural inheritance of slavery or colonialism is brought before modernity not to resolve its historic differences into a new totality, nor to forego its traditions. It is to introduce another locus of inscription and intervention, another hybrid, "inappropriate" enunciative site, through that temporal split - or time-lag - that I have opened up for the signification of postcolonial agency. (Bhabha 242)
Middle Passage is the voice coming from this locus, an enunciation through the time-lag and into modernity. Johnson's feat, in part, consists of the fictional activation of collective cultural memory; but, mainly, it is a new imagining of what occurred in the gaps of a hegemonic historiography. Rutherford Calhoun experiences a particular coloniality and postcoloniality - and, by imagining this moment in time, by "damming the stream of real life . . . [and] bringing the flow to a standstill in a reflux of astonishment" (Bhabha 253), Charles Johnson creates the post-colonial Middle Passage.
1. Negotiating "between the borders" echoes in meaning: Calhoun acts as the intermediary of Notes opposing factions (for example, the mutinous crew and Captain Falcon), and Calhoun is passively positioned in the middle (existing between the borders).
2. Bhabha uses the image of the Middle Passage as an example of the multiple construction of subjects: "The 'middle passage' of contemporary culture, as with slavery itself, is a process of displacement and disjunction that does not totalize experience" (5).
3. For a later instance of Calhoun's self-imposed separation from the Allmuseri, see page 109 (quoted above).
4. Significantly, neither Ngonyama, nor any other of the Allmuseri, ever goes so far as to accept Calhoun as one of them.
5. At an earlier point in the novel, Calhoun has a similar thought: "The more I thought on it, the Allmuseri seemed less a biological tribe than a clan held together by values. A certain vision" (109).
6. Calhoun first acknowledges his fondness for seamen when he stumbles into a pub full of them: "The place was packed with seamen. All armed to the eyeballs with pistols and cutlasses, scowling and jabbering like pirates, squirting jets of brown tobacco juice everywhere except in the spittoons - a den of Chinese assassins, scowling Moors, English scoundrels, Yankee adventurers, and evil-looking Arabs. Naturally, I felt pretty much right at home" (18).
7. The essentialism of the Allmuseri only reaches a certain point; it necessitates Calhoun's isolation from the crew, but it never merges Calhoun's race with the Allmuseri's. This not-quite togetherness, combined with Calhoun's own rejection of unity with the Allmuseri, creates his social middleness.
8. How Calhoun actually achieves enunciation from the point of coloniality - in other words, the postcolonial moment - will be considered below. For now, the discussion concerns Calhoun's strange invocation of "home" as a psychic means of escaping middle-ness.
9. Paul Gilroy argues that "Middle Passage seeks to wrench [Falcon's theory of dualism] apart. First, by showing it to be 'adrift from the laws and logic of the heart' and second, by demonstrating the power of process, movement, and cultural 'creolisation'"(36). Calhoun's confusion of allegiances can be seen as a form of this creolisation. He consists of mere parts of each segment of society.
10. Note that the particularity of Johnson's imagined history creates unique moments of coloniality and postcoloniality. The fact that the novel avoids generalizations about the Middle Passage by being about a particular freed slave in a particular situation makes it just the sort of non-universally representative (in the sense that critics often peg African-American writers as always necessarily representative) work of which Johnson often speaks. In numerous interviews about winning the National Book Award, Johnson reiterates his refusal to be a spokesperson for African Americans. In his words, "If you promote a book as being representative of young black males today, or of the black situation . . . you've already packaged it in such a way as to say, 'This is capturing the experience of millions of people.' I think that's an insult, really, to black people - to assume that one book can do that" (qtd. in Monaghan A3). See also Wadler and Pierce 73.
11. For a description of the gap-filling work of the subaltern scholar, see the introduction to Vol. 1 of Ranajit Guha, ed., Subaltern Studies: Writings on South Asian History & Society (New York: Oxford UP, 1982).
Appiah, Kwame Anthony. "The Conservation of 'Race.'" Black American Literature Forum 23 (1989): 37-59.
Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove, 1967.
Gilroy, Paul. "Bloody Structures." Rev. of Middle Passage, by Charles Johnson. New Statesman & Society 14 Jun. 1991: 35-36.
Golding, William. Rites of Passage. London: Faber, 1980.
Johnson, Charles. Middle Passage. New York: Atheneum, 1990.
Monaghan, Peter. "Winner of National Book Award Won't Be a 'Voice of Black America.'" Chronicle of Higher Education 16 Jan. 1991: A3.
Pedersen, Carl. "Middle Passages: Representation of the Slave Trade in Caribbean and African-American Literature." Massachusetts Review 34.2 (1993): 225-39.
Pinckney, Darryl. High Cotton. New York: Farrar, 1992.
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Brian Fagel is a doctoral student in English at the University of Chicago. He holds a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School.
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|Publication:||African American Review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1996|
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