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Syndetic redemption: above-underground emergence in David Bradley's 'The Chaneysville Incident.'

I've got to hide, he told himself. His chest heaved as he waited, crouching in a dark corner of the vestibule. He was tired of running and dodging. Either he had to find a place to hide, or he had to surrender. (Richard Wright)

I was in the car a second and in high just too quick. Jim and Slim helped me throw my bags into the car and I saw the sun rising as I approached the Crescent City. (Zora Neale Hurston)

Bondin' and mendin', attachin' and blendin', so many solos there is no endin'. (Rakim [E. Griffin])

... one of the bounties of Black culture is our ability to hear / if we were to throw this away in search of less (just language) we wd be damning ourselves. (ntozake shange)

A Path: Hibernation to Emergence

Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man begins and ends with the narrator positioned in "black" underground space which can be seen as an expression of "white" modernist understandings of cultural process as a solitary and stationary exercise of mind. The narrator of Ellison's text, like his ancestor Fred Daniels in Richard Wright's "The Man Who Lived Underground," finds himself alienated from an aboveground reality which reacts to his black body by negating his mind, denying his voice, and limiting his physical movement. Both figures retreat into womb-like, solitary, underground space where their minds swirl, attempting to resist the assumptions of the white supremist, aboveground world.(1) Ellison's Invisible Man charts the territory, but his narrator's theorizing does not allow him to emerge from the hole and forge a viable connection between underground process and aboveground existence, black mind and black body.

In this essay I will explore how David Bradley's The Chaneysville Incident responds to these problems by creating a narrative structure which I will call the emergence narrative that redefines the patterns of hibernation and excavation described by Robert Stepto and Craig Werner. Demonstrating how the excavation of history can subvert inhibiting philosophical assumptions, Bradley's written text reveals how an oral, communal process can constitute an above-underground mode in which descendants and ancestors achieve living reciprocal relationships.

Robert B. Stepto's From Behind the Veil: A Study of Afro-American Narrative posits a kinetic theory of Afro-American narrative which culminates with Ellison's Invisible Man engaged in what Stepto calls a hibernation narrative. The Invisible Man's static and secluded position in hibernation reflects the profound difficulties experienced by black intellectuals as they attempt to use their "white" literacy and black communal or "tribal literacy" (Stepto 167) in the aboveground world. In Playing the Changes: From Afro-Modernism to the Jazz Impulse, Craig Werner refines Stepto's narrative of hibernation by contrasting the Afro-American narrative of excavation (James Baldwin, David Bradley, Gayl Jones, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison) with the Faulknerian narrative of repudiation. For Werner, excavation narratives attempt to redeem the complexity of formerly unknown or unacknowledged pasts. The failure to acknowledge the complexity of historical experience in Faulkner's narratives of repudiation points to the central importance of the process delineated in Baldwin's Just Above My Head:

To be forced to excavate a history is also to repudiate the concept of history, and the vocabulary in which history is written; for the written history is, and must be, merely the vocabulary of power.... Power clears the passage, swiftly: but the paradox, here, is that power, rooted in history, is also the mockery and the repudiation of history. (418)

In The Chaneysville Incident Bradley draws on West African epistemologies to respond to the problems of power, history, and passage. John Washington struggles to enact ontological and epistemological shifts which enable him to use the ancestors' call in connection with his own present-day process in telling and knowing the familial tale. In terms of African-American literary ancestry, the emergence of John Washington's process can be read as a liberating extension of Ralph Ellison's narrator's underground process in Invisible Man.

A historian at a major American university, John Washington has "made it," and Bradley sets Washington on a quest to know whence he came. Through this process, he must get beyond blackness as an aboveground marker and struggle to create nuanced epistemological processes and ontological qualities requisite to knowing himself in connection with all of his ancestors. As the shifts leading from underground space to above-underground mode occur, several key questions facing African-derived creativity come to the fore. Can black-underground process be accomplished in stationary solitude? What effect do modern European epistemological assumptions have on the pursuit of African-American ancestry?

As Bradley's underground narrative emerges in above-underground mode, oral, mobile, and communal epistemic routes emerge from the print. This meta-narrative convergence pushes readers into confrontation with their own assumptions about their role in the above-underground narrative mode. The passage from Ellison's underground place to Bradley's above-underground mode requires three key shifts in the African-American response to "white" theoretical assumptions. These shifts attempt to identify and remedy conflicts between African-American cultural processes and theoretical assumptions based in stationary thought; linear, dialectical processes of cultural change; and solipsistic assumptions of dialogic communication.


In his 1990 essay "It's a Family Affair," Paul Gilroy adapts Manuel Castels's critique of understandings of identity stemming from static, origin-based myths of cultural life which become viable or "defensible" as a result of being "enclosed."(2) Gilroy suggests that "one thing we might do is take a cue from Manual Castels, who describes the shift from an understanding of space based on notions of place and fixity to an understanding of space based on flows" ("It's" 303). Gilroy's 1993 work The Black Atlantic explicitly posits mobility - more specifically trans-national movement of "ships in motion across spaces between Europe, America, Africa, and the Caribbean" (4) - as central to the creation of black Atlantic cultures. Gilroy's proposed shift calls for critics to recognize the centrality of mobile place, mode, in African-American aesthetics. This mobility of body and mind is essential to the emergence of Bradley's above-underground narrative, which engages the complex black/white experience of "double-consciousness."

In these mobile terms, Du Bois's appropriation of the Hegelian dialectic model can be construed as a mapping of flows which constitute African-American identity. Breaking from the premise of unilateral cultural influence as progress, Du Bois's Hegelian model of double-consciousness mapped African-American identity in terms of conflicting flows, similar to the cross-currents in Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow which challenge Avey Johnson's passage in her "recuperative"(3) journey home. While breaking the unilateral "one-way traffic" model (Gilroy 121), Du Bois's thinking articulated a multifaceted challenge to which we are heirs. Sandra Adell's Double Consciousness/Double Bind: Theoretical Issues in Twentieth Century Black Literature, David Levering Lewis's biography of Du Bois, and Anthony Appiah's In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture focus on various issues centered in the entanglement of Du Bois's thought with nineteenth-century German idealist philosophy. Gerald Early's edited collection Lure and Loathing: Essays on Race, Identity and the Ambivalence of Assimilation contains essays on the problematic nature of the Du Boisian convergence in contemporary African-American intellectual life. The dialectical underpinnings of double-consciousness call for assimilation or resolution of the conflicting flows of African-American identity and culture into a unified "true self-consciousness" (Du Bois 42).(4) In these terms, the Du Boisian model of African-American identity is synthetic, whereas Bradley's above-underground mode points toward what scholars working with Yoruba traditions have called a syndetic process.

Robert Plant Armstrong's work The Powers of Presence: Consciousness, Myth, and Affecting Presence in Yoruba Traditional Culture situates Yoruba creativity in an aesthetics of invocation in which modernist European conceptions of artifact, artist, and audience are redefined as parts of a fluid system based on reciprocity. In Armstrong's phrasing of the Yoruba creative process, essences are not represented in artifacts which are valued for the fineness of their form.(5) Rather, energies are invoked by artists and audiences who may use artifacts to facilitate connection with, or transfer of, deified energy between and among members of the earth-bound community. Egungun masks are artifacts of invocation through which ancestors assert their subjective presence in improvised connection with descendants (John Pemberton, in Drewal et al. 175). Anyone who has seen a movie in an all-black cinema has witnessed the communally improvised, fluid repudiation of the hierarchical division between artist, artifact, and audience. African-American audiences do not watch films; they invoke them in defiance of the out of place, formalist, "please observe silence" signal from the projectionist. This improvised, communal performance of film occurs to the dismay of any "white" audience members who may have mistaken the screen as the "enclosed and defensible space" in which movies are performed in cultures of invocation.

The inter-subjective and improvisational epistemics which underlie aesthetics of invocation depend on principles of cultural connection and combination which include but are not limited to linear, progressive, dialectical models. Armstrong's notion of a syndetic model of accretion describes how the cultural motion of Yoruba aesthetics can not be limited to linear dialectics:

Together with synthesis, syndesis constitutes the totality of those modes in which the human consciousness apprehends and enacts the world and the self - through a process of opposition and eventuation (synthesis) on the one hand, and through a process of accretion (syndesis) on the other.... The synthetic work owns inherent principles of development. It proceeds through the execution and resolution of opposites.... insofar as successive phases grow out of prior ones, the synthetic work is linear.... The syndetic ... growth is through repetition of the same inventory of similar units. It does not develop.... (13)

By "it does not develop," Armstrong does not mean to suggest that Yoruba cultural process is static. In these syndetic rituals, "past" moments are not objectified for synthesis with the next, by definition, oppositional, dialectical stage; the rituals' complexity "accretes." Present moments add to the past-presence(6) of previous cycles without replacing them. The result is a process of cultural combination which does not require systematic resolution of "contradiction," since past moments (re)assert variable, at times problematic, meanings in an expanded "now." Phrasing double-conscious cultural process as syndetic empowers the African-derived aspects of consciousness, liberating them from "inevitable developmental synthesis" defined by a European, rational thesis, and encourages dynamic - not objectified - relationships with ancestors. A brief examination of the syndetic above-underground mode in contemporary black music makes it clear how, through respectful extension, ancestors are invoked in reciprocal, subjective relationship to descendants. Descendants learn from ancestors, and, in syndetic ritual, ancestors' complexity continues to accrete through the expanding consciousness of all performers.

Eric B. & Rakim's 1990 song "In the Ghetto" enacts the key philosophical shifts of a syndetic above-underground mode. (Re)casting their creative identifies in improvised relationship to Inherited rhythmic and tonal patterns, Eric B. & Rakim initiate a sophisticated innovation in Hip-Hop epistemics which helps illuminate The Chaneysville Incident. Eric B.'s sonic (re)vision of classic 1970s montages by Donny Hathaway (in "The Ghetto," from Donny Hathaway Live) and The 24 Carat Black (in the title cut from The Ghetto: Misfortune's Wealth) weaves a tonal, rhythmic fabric in the midst of which Rakim's lyrics meet his forbearers and negotiates their terrain, adding the descendants' moves to the historical/ancestral mix.

Midway through the first stanza of "In the Ghetto," Rakim positions himself "at the edge" with Hathaway(7): "When it seems like I'm locked in Hell / looking over the edge but the R never fell / or tripped or slipped 'cause my Nikes got grip / I stand on my own two feet and come equipped." As Rakim improvises within and expands the dimensions and depths of The 24 Carat Black's and Hathaway's visions, his syndetic invocation of the ancestors' presence in his own process depends on Eric B.'s inter-generational rhythmic montage. Manipulating levels of antiphonal exchange, this creates a liminal above-underground mode of emergence in which artists invoke the presence of ancestors in improvised, reciprocal convergence. While The Chaneysville Incident narrates the process through which an emergence mode is derived, Eric B. & Rakim perform the results and recast individualist conceptions of African-American creative identity in complex and potentially powerful terms.

Rakim adapts these shifts with such fluid grace that many listeners fail to hear (see "epigraph #4" to shange's Three Pieces) the complexity of the work taking place. Paralleling Bradley's novel, Rakim's invocation of Hathaway's suicidal demise fingers the grain of the metaphysical tension between suicide and liberation.(8) Having acknowledged the complexity of the experience from which his work emanates, he moves on to expand the ancestors' repertoire, adding new phrasings and expanded vision.(9)

An awareness of how West African syndetic processes are present in contemporary African-American culture allows us to comprehend more fully the three epistemological shifts enacted in The Chaneysville Incident. The first shift involves questioning the relationship between the modernist stasis of Ellison's narrator and syndetic epistemology. What happens to African-American aesthetics when positioned in solitary performance spaces in which movement tends toward exercises of mind instead, or in spite, of body? To adopt Paul Gilroy's phrasing, does it entail the stationary meditation over cultural "roots," or the mobile, communal pursuit and, if necessary, "creation' of cultural "routes"?(10) Concern with roots frequently leads to meditation on pre-dispersion African origins which often mirror Herderian conceptions of original cultural purity. Attention to routes of culture encourages analysis of mobile cultural change and hybridity as African cultures (re)form identities and traditions in response to diaspora conditions.

The second shift queries the connection between Du Bois's idea of double-consciousness and dialectical assumptions which drive progressive, generational historical models. Reliance on these dialectical models contributes to the static, objectified existence of ancestry in the modern world. Ancestors and past cultural moments become dead in these dialectical, historical models as new generations convert their living histories into "the inert totality of worked matter" (Sartre 122). Armstrong's description of syndetic aesthetics explains how prior generations are not left behind or "killed" by the dialectics of historical memory. As Bradley's adaption of syndetic systems suggests, past ideas are not replaced by new ones, and the apparent contradictions need not be resolved in synthesis. Inter-generational and contemporaneous relationships do not always interact toward consensus unities, but exist in relation to each other, producing a complex mix of past and present, past-presence. These are the cultural processes which enabled the late Malcolm Shabazz, Toni Morrison, and Audre Lorde to envision communities of pluralist unities, including contemporaneous and inter-generational relationships; Morrison names this syndetic tension "a conflict, not a problem."(11) Through syndetic processes, like that of Eric B. & Rakim, past generations live to (re)assert their influence through the consciousness of descendants in communal rituals involving drumming, dance, and oral narrative (see Barber).

The third shift investigates the applicability of Bakhtin's ideas of dialogic variability in written language to oral, tonal African-American cultural processes. By this theoretical adaptation the potentially subversive power of Bakhtin's thought supports analysis of African-American cultural moments in which artist and audience cooperate toward "communal dialogics." "Communal dialogics" highlight the importance of an emergent African-American aesthetic mode in which tone links variable, improvised interpretations of language. Through antiphonal exchange which generates the terms of shared experience, black people such as John Washington and his ancestors - and, at least potentially, certain white people as well - hear each other through the cultural noise of Bakhtin's dialogic heteroglossia.

The final shift is particularly crucial to understanding the importance of Bradley's contribution to the rerouting of the diasporic quest. In Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, Volosinov/Bakhtin alludes to the danger of the process of reification and appropriation of subversive utterances which "inevitably [lose] force, denigrating into allegory and becoming the object not of live social intelligibility but of philological comprehension" (Volosinov 22). Black underground cultural products, at least momentarily, will become commodities of mainstream culture. Given the modern communal dimensions of black life, this must play an integral role in the existence, or not, of above-underground modes. This process of rampant commodification and reproduction of the "signs of language," to Volosinov/Bakhtin, inevitably negates the improvised flexibility, the "multiaccentuality" of language into "uniaccentual" products at the service of dominant ideology.

Paradoxically neglecting the possibility of underground meaning which his dialogic theory of language illuminates, Bakhtin seemingly limits the applicability of his theory to African-American experience. Here Bakhtin presupposes that the consumers of mass-produced communication, the "overseers" of dominant ideology, and the community of active audience/respondents all listen for the same reasons, from the same places and, consequently, hear the same product. But the concept of dialogic communication itself, with its complex interplay of context-influenced chronotopes and heteroglossia (Bakhtin, Dialogic 426), depends on the conservation of this important heterogeneity. To identify, as Bradley attempts to do, the crucial convergence of epistemological modes in the above-underground requires nuanced, principled differentiation between consumers and listeners. In other words, artists construct underground meanings for (re)collection through audiences as above-underground responses. Understanding the micro-linguistic processes upon which Bakhtin's The Dialogic Imagination is based must precede its application.

Volosinov/Bakhtin's Marxism and the Philosophy of Language develops sophisticated ideas about the existence of language, its meaning, and the function of meaning in ordering - indeed, creating - experience. Like the Yoruba aesthetics of invocation, the Marxist underpinnings of Volosinov/Bakhtin's theory of language resist the notion of individual ownership of linguistic meaning. In his terms the utterer is not sovereign over meaning and listener. Meaning is achieved in a liminal space, traversed by various modes of communication through which the consciousness of utterer and listener must connect. This connection can be referred to as hearing, as in "I heard that!" Attesting to the possibility which lies in African-American culture's profound respect for, and nuanced cultivation of, tone, ntozake shange warns: "one of the bounties of Black culture is our ability to hear / if we were to throw this away in search of less (just language) we wd be damning ourselves" (shange x).

"Our ability to hear" in the above-underground mode requires the creative and vital role of audience in the generation of cultural meaning. Zora Neale Hurston intones this dynamic in Mules and Men: "Mouths don't empty themselves until the ears are sympathetic and knowing" (195). As Bakhtin writes:

In point of fact, word is a two-sided act. It is precisely the product of the reciprocal relationship between speaker and listener, addresser and addressee. Each and every word expresses the "one" in relation to the "other." I give myself verbal shape from another's point of view, ultimately, from the point of view of the community to which I belong. A word is a bridge thrown between myself and another. If one end of the bridge depends on me, then the other depends on my addressee. A word is territory shaped by both addresser and addressee.... (Volosinov 86)

Drawing on the theoretical work of Volosinov/Bakhtin in her work with Yoruba oriki poetry, Karin Barber posits a version of this dialogic process, quoting Yoruba scholar/performer S. A. Babalola: "These oriki ... are full of 'halfwords'; words that you say to a sensible or knowledgeable person, and when they get inside him or her, they become whole" (19). The dialogic nature of communication exists along a continuum of assumptions. Bakhtin's position that aboveground cultural assertions will inevitably be appropriated to support the interest of the dominant class conflicts with his notion of dialogic interpretation itself. Furthermore, his idea of heteroglossia, which rests on this dialogic theory, goes further to assert that each communicative event between two persons is, at bottom, a heteroglot one. Both of Bakhtin's conflicting conclusions seem to belie the existence of the type of communal, dialogic above-underground mode which I seek to describe.

Through the syndetic Yoruba continuum, not constrained by Western dialectical reason or linear assumptions and not in pursuit of sequential, progressive resolutions, the continuous plurality of positions or identities along the continuum connecting Bakhtin's limits of class hegemony and individual solipsism can be maintained and explored. In part because Yoruba aesthetics are, from their inception, diasporic, ideas of diverse unities and co-dependent, apparently conflicting truths are admissible. With respect to these processes, the notion of "conflict" itself takes on alternate meanings. So, based on this syndetic sensibility, the fact of simultaneous communal dialogic interpretation involving "personal" interpretative and critical efforts to create viable communal above-underground modes causes no distress: "You and your thing, me and my thing, we all got a thing and it's a very good thing" (Funkadelic, "You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks," from Maggot Brain). Which is not simply to say, "To each his own!"

With alienated space set in juxtaposition to the mobile, expressive potential of syndetic double-consciousness, and with the performative and interpretive mechanisms for above-underground "double talk" established, we can now trace the route toward black above-underground subjectivity which emanates from Ellison's Invisible Man and flows into Bradley's The Chaneysville Incident.


Ellison's narrator in Invisible Man progresses through the negative dialectics of the novel (see Byerman 5), systematically refusing to acknowledge the necessities for above-underground, communal subversion of historical order. Bledsoe, Brockway, Brother Jack, Tod Clifton, and others present the narrator with various versions of the lesson that above- and underground lives are separate and incompatible. The narrator's presence connects these realms, producing the sequence of explosions. Ellisoh's above-underground pedagogues - primarily Grandfather, Mary Rambo, Peter Wheatstraw, Rinehart, and Dupree - offer the narrator invaluable advice "routed" in his ancestry and present path. Rambo's blues, Wheatstraw's jazz vision of communal renewal through improvisations based on his collection of blue(s)prints, Rinehart's hyper-fluidity, and Grandfather's subjective past-presence all offer alternatives to the strictly underground seclusion in which the alienated narrator opens and closes the novel.

In The Chaneysville Incident, John Washington slowly works through his reliance on ritual grounds located within enclosed, controllable, and solitary spaces. John's accreting consciousness incorporates mobile, communal, and oral/syndetic processes of invocation as he searches for connections to, and through, his ancestors. As John's syndetic sensibility accretes, he attains his ability to (re)voice the story of the ancestors. The underground process of Ellisoh's hibernating narrator emerges as the oral/syndetic process of John's ancestral invocation emerges in print. Through this re-construction, the supra-rational possibilities embodied in Peter Wheatstraw, Rinehart, Rambo, Dupree, and other Invisible above-underground pedagogues emerge in the aboveground presence of the body/community, while underground processes of the mind begin to combine in syndetic, improvised interrelation.

Syndetic Descent

I've certainly engaged fully with a number of religious traditions, but in all of them one holds up the notion that when you are truly able to be alone in that sense of Christ going to the Garden of Gethsemane or going into the desert, or Buddha sitting under the Boti tree, it actually enables you to re-enter community more fully.... The great gift of enlightenment for whomever it comes to is the sense that only after we are able to experience ourselves within a context of autonomy, aloneness, independence are we able to come into community with knowledge of our place, and feeling that what we have to give is for the good of the whole. (bell hooks, in hooks and West 82)

Throughout Shadow and Act, Ellison argues the idea that African-American artists can and should choose their intellectual ancestry based on individual need, free from consideration of historical period, ideological predilection, or allegiance to essentialist racial identity. But without communal grounding, his narrator (who should not be confused with his creator) wanders through the modern landscape endangering himself and others, causing explosion after explosion. The haunting question at the heart of the ascent narrative(12) Ellison's narrator pursues, which leads to limiting hibernation, raises crucial issues with hooks's understanding of isolation as a preparatory "context of autonomy." To what extent can personal growth occurring through isolated process be used "in public," toward communal goals? True, the personal self comprises part of the healthy communal whole, but the process of (re)establishing continuity between self and others becomes increasingly difficult as the period of seclusion lingers.(13) Can significant steps toward what Judylyn Ryan calls the recuperation of double-consciousness, toward personal and communal "wholeness," take place in isolation? Through individual narrative quests, two of the most common and potentially debilitating modem, European cultural impositions are accented: first, the belief in the epistemological superiority of underground solitude; second, the flawed assumption that reflective subjectivity entails an immobile state of introspective concentration.

For African-Americans, these personal recuperative states often engage with "afrocentric" notions of a spiritual return to Africa. This accents the tension between hooks's faith in healing aloneness and attempts to recuperate a grounding with West African cultural identities founded on orally inflected, communal ways of being. The question, then, to hooks becomes: What do we mean by alone? Is it freedom from burdens of communal responsibility which draws Ellisoh's narrator? Or is it a place for communion with ancestors and meditation on the present - and past-presence of - connections? In the case of the latter, "alone" does not seem an adequate phrasing.(14)

While cautionary in framing his characters' ancestral and communal choices, David Bradley creates a character who starts in a state of deep alienation, reminiscent of Ellison's narrator, and, in part through denial of epistemological assumptions rooted in white modernist conceptions of solitude, grows toward meaningful contact with his ancestors. His process moves from solitary "underground" excavation based in historical methodology into a syndetic process in which his rationalist, historical process interacts - is not replaced - with oral/communal methods in the emergence mode.(15) Enabled by the "accretion" of his own syndetic sensibility, which allows "previous" cultural cycles to interact with "current" cycles, John Washington leads his ancestors and himself toward more meaningful understandings of the continuities between and within spirit-world and earth-bound communities. Importantly, Bradley gives detailed accounts of the micro-processes through which the connections are made.

By the end of the book,(16) an undeniable process of growth is established but the text comes to no climactic resolutions. As in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, in which full identification with Malcolm through all of his phases and growth is impossible, Bradley forces the reader to acknowledge and accept, not resolve, the contradictions in the book in order to effect entry into the above-underground mode. The "resolution" of the emergence narrative need not find John Washington putting his newly constructed method and excavation to use in the above-underground. While it would add a dimension to the narrative, the absence of a fully realized image of social/political engagement simply calls for another syndetic cycle. As it is, Bradley's above-underground achievement establishes a detailed account of the generation of a syndetic process of oral, communal historical recovery embedded in print for readers to invoke. To those uneasy with the hanging potential of the novel's end, Jamaican dub poet Mutabaruka recalls the aesthetics of invocation. To reroute the words of Mutabaruka's "Dis Poem" (from The Mystery Unfolds), Bradley's novel will disappoint "because dis poem is to be continued in your mind."

Thus, having tried to give pattern to the chaos which lives within the pattern of your certainties, I must come out, I must emerge. (Ellison, Invisible Man 581)

In The Chaneysville Incident, John Washington has dedicated his historical/professional life to studying the most condemnable aspects of American history. Old Judge Scott asks John how he handles frustration when "'searching for truth,' "and John indicates that, rather than seeking truth, he's" 'trying to find out where the lies are.... I specialize in the study of atrocities' "(186). John's professional life, packed full of "atrocious" American history, and personal life - in the "filtered," not "distilled" company of Judith - protects him from the idea that his personal elders (Jack and his mother) and ancestors (especially, but not exclusively, Moses Washington) require from him more than historical method and appropriate scorn.

While in Invisible Man, the narrator's naivete leads him toward uncritical adoption of aboveground positions in the city, leading to revelatory explosions which push him underground, John Washington has managed to freeze one of Ellison's dialectical explosions and carve within it a professional place for himself as an invisible historian in the American academy. Far from the self-revelatory but risky pursuit of familial ancestry which he abandoned before entering college, John has secluded himself in Stepto's "symbolic north" with a living and, he assumes, breathing symbol of the enemy ancestors. John rebukes Judith's early challenges to his protected professionalism:

"Is that what being a historian means - hating for things that don't mean anything anymore?"

"No," I said, "No, it means hating for things that still mean something. And trying to understand what it is they mean, so you can hate the right things for the right reasons." (274)

As John's last remaining Black male elder, Jack, calls him to the healing vulnerability of contact with his ancestors, Bradley asserts the ambivalence of African-American ancestry, understood in expansive terms. While bringing the resulting paradox to consciousness, John faces a point of no return; with the scars at the surface, the need for recuperation becomes immediate; seclusion and denial are no longer alternatives. This realization alone illuminates no viable direction:

... those of us who count black people among our ancestors (they are never all our ancestors) must live together with both.... It is not that we must choose between traditions.... It is not even that we are caught between some dialectical battle between African thesis and European antithesis.... No, the quandary is that there is no comfort for us either way. For if European knowledge is true, then death is cold and final, and one set of our ancestors had their very existence whipped and chained and raped and starved away, while the other set - a larger proportion than any of us would like to admit - forever burns in Hell for having done it to them. And if the African belief is true, then somewhere here with us ... all of it ... is still going on. (213)

Here John faces the seemingly unresolvable frustration which African-American, double-conscious identity contains. Any move toward a resolution of the dissonant, convergent flows of African-American ancestry results in a reduction of the complexity from which African-American experience emanates. Any synthetic system seeking resolution toward unitary, centered consciousness must here chose its amputations(17) and accept only fragmented access to the ancestors' legacy. Through the syndetic, non-resolved model, however, the contradictions remain, moving in and out of conflict with each other as the descendant maintains contact with all dimensions of the story.

Even as Jack (re)opens in John the space for the discovery of his familial ancestry, he, knowingly or not, sets John up. Having applied Moses's intellectual gifts in creating this sophisticated model of ancestry while still trapped in the racial and gender essentialisms which allowed Jack to survive - Jack manipulates but does not master his surroundings - John faces this seemingly inescapable ancestral paradox.(18) The assimilation of the paradox into the syndetic process - the how of the healing puzzle requires the dismantling of the binary structure which holds intellect and intuition; historical order and folk/mythic chaos; and, in the end, sell ancestors, and community, separate and mutually unknown. These theoretical separations hold the key to John's existential separations from his familial ancestors, including his father, and his earthbound community, including Judith.

Before Judith's arrival in the underground, John's hunting trip signals the beginnings of the process in which the distinctions of Jack's world give way to the fluid syndetic sensibilities of Moses's plura-dimensional psyche. John's narration of the hunt expresses his understanding that, while intuiting - tracking or trailing(19) - a deer, a man does not become an animal, but combines human intellect with animal intuition, since humans are, after all, simultaneously both. "I made my move without thinking.... I was working on a new question now, trying to sense how high up to go.... [U]sing a little logic too now ... I found the right spot" (248). But his syndesis of intellect and the natural world, inevitably partial, leads him to settle into a place where he "wait[s] for [the deer] to come within [his] range" while believing that his wait is "not a question of time. There was no time" (248). John fails to recognize that in the absence of linear time, a watch and/or a deadline, "time" exists. More fluid, given to qualitative periods when "time flies" - or, in his case, "crawls" - this non-linear time compounds John's cold and static state to the point where it endangers the hunt by blurring the distinction between hunter and hunted:

I waited. Awareness became discomfort. I waited. Discomfort turned to pain. I waited. The pain became boredom. Then it was dangerous. (249)

As the hunt moves to culmination, John gives in to the ambiguity of solitude and cannot make the shot: "You might believe you're alone, but the truth is, you don't know" (249). Faced with Judith's presence and the difficulty of putting progress made in solitude into communal practice, the rational, Western aspects of John's individual process (re)assert themselves upon his return to his/Jack's cabin.

Losing track of the subtle, fragile, work done "alone" in the woods, John confronts Judith's defensive prying by asserting his commitment to the fundamental separation between his underground process and his aboveground life, symbolized by his relationship with her. By concluding, "'What I'm doing here isn't because I hate you or because I love you. It has nothing to do with you at all'" (258), John gives Judith's defensive but justifiable indignation an opening where her point can register, or at least find useful voice. Behind her articulation of an undeniably basic level of connection, Judith invades John's intensely individual process where, from the inside, she continues to prod while his resistance grows feeble. In one of the last breaths of a failing solipsism, John shows his uncertainty: "'Struggling ... is like defecation. It's natural and necessary, but it's vulgar, and ought to be done in private'" (266).

"Burdened" by having to explain to Judith, John begins first to recognize, then to overcome the limiting schisms in Jack's "natural" world, thereby freeing the syndetic, intuitive intellect of Moses in himself. An early stage of this process surfaces in John's interrogation of the authority of science, math and physics, over letters and history, proclaiming that "... Newton himself ... in his later years, referred to mathematics and physics as 'recreations' and turned his mature attention to questions of history; in particular, to the fundamental problem of chronology" (263). John deconstructs the hierarchy but leaves the structure in place. By the end of his interactive process, John knows that history is itself profoundly recreative. By finding that the lives of the ancestors mirror, parallel, and depend upon the lives of descendants and vice-versa, John's process shows how, as the recreations swirl, the ordering in syndetic processes of accretion becomes ambiguous. Because Bradley depicts underground process rather than translating to the aboveground audience via an omnipotent narrator, "trailing" John's incremental flow toward his ancestors becomes necessary.

Continuing to challenge barriers with the "help" of Judith's unnerving and, at times, downright annoying prodding, John takes another step toward facing his (re)creative historical task: "'Part of it is just deduction.... But there's more to it than reasoning....'" "'Imagination?'" Judith responds. "'No,'" John answers, "'There's no imagination in it. You can't create facts. But you can discover the connections'" (268). John's most entrenched resistance concerns his conception of the sequential - essentially linear, chronological - process through which "connections" are made. John's notion that discovery and connection constitute discrete acts mirrors Locke's idea of experience as the product of distinct, ordered acts of perception and reflection.(20) John's commitment to this logocentric, one-two methodological combination inhibits his revelatory performance. While rightly accusing Judith of wanting him to subvert, or invert, this system, John resists the necessary, creative oral moment as well as the risky, uncontrollable level of honesty - "distilled," not "filtered" - produced via this inversion of rational process:" '... you want me to tell you things before I understand them'" (276). Twenty pages later, the struggle continues, but not in private: "'There's nothing to tell you,'" responds John. "'That's the problem, I've got lots of facts and none of them connect. '" When Judith replies," 'And of course, you won't tell me until you know all the answers,' "John objects," 'Look ... that's the way I am'" (293). The demise of John's logocentrism works out through spatial relocation of the increasingly less individual discovery process to the field. The implicit questioning of the epistemological viability of stationary solitude signals a change from conceptions of the underground as a fixed and defensible place of seclusion to the mobile and communal above-underground mode.

The initial word of the chapter "197903120400 (Monday)" reveals John's movement through the first syndetic cycle which will eventually lead to the redemption of his connection to his ancestry - the telling of "their" story. "We came slamming down off the Hill ..." (310; emphasis added) signals that John has given in to the seemingly unpopular idea that pursuit of rites of passage do not have to be, in fact sometimes cannot be, performed in stationary solitude. When the method of recovery is oral, an audience, and an interactive one at that, constitutes an essential piece of the questing mission. Judith's specialized medical knowledge of the spread of epidemics allows her to contribute to the telling of John's story early in the process of collaboration (271). The accretion of the process, keyed by an important moment to follow, allows Judith to assume her role as an audience/community member and contribute in different, more effective ways to John's search for connections and words. In this epistemological process the story literally does not exist before it is told. The process of telling and the information told are mutually dependent.

To the listeners, to those that have an ear for this ... (Eric B. & Rakim, "To the Listeners," from Follow the Leader)

The margins of the audience, the community, those who are able to hear stories of dispersions and "track" their own - connected, not solitary - routes through communal histories are fluid, especially in undergrounds of "less" mediated communication, co-presence. Rituals which establish confidence and reciprocal responsibility between listeners and performers are enigmatic when they take place in the underground, and more so when mediated by aboveground market maximization. In mass-distribution market society, finding the listeners/readers who will respect the dialogic responsibility and invest in meaning, any meaning, becomes a task something akin to separating oxygen molecules from water in George Clinton's "Aqua Boogie," which invokes the possibility of "danc[ing] underwater without getting wet." The above-underground storyteller/writer must weave a context through which the story becomes audible to the listeners while simultaneously filtering the deafening incoherence of responses emanating from supra-communal consumers. In short, artists involved in this process need an audience, a critical Amen Comer which grounds the syndetic process in a democratic exchange between the impulse of the artist and the needs of the community.

Bound by audience to the dialogic epistemological and performance ritual, John must receive Judith into his community before he can free himself, his ancestors, and what he still conceives of as "his" story. John's telling the story to Judith should not be understood as a veiled message of inter-racial harmony on a macro-level; Bradley certainly acknowledges racial animosity. Judging by John's comments and Judith's reactions, the relationship probably developed out of John's need to abuse "a daughter of the confederacy" and flourished by his catering to Judith's sub-conscious need to repent for "her" ancestors' oppression of "John's." John's ability to "receive" Judith into his community/audience has ambiguous implications for their relationship to each other - it may signal the beginning or the end - but it surely has profound implications for John's relationship to himself and his ancestors. Whether their story is told through Jack's rooted, or Moses's routed, world view holds profound consequences for John's ability to tell and (re)tell the story based upon syndetic process. James Baldwin attested to the reciprocal prison which rigid (racial, gender, and otherwise) classification becomes, especially when employed on intimate, personal levels:

There is a great instructive irony in this. That the image one is compelled to hold of another person - in order, as I have said, to retain one's image of oneself - may become that person's trial, his cross, his death. It may or may not become his prison: but it inevitably becomes one's own.... it is simply not possible for one person to define another. Those who try soon find themselves trapped in their own definitions. ("On Catfish Row," in Price 181)

Not at all in the abstract, John must "release" Judith in order to conceive of himself in a way which will enable him to subvert Jack's limited legacy and free Moses and the other above-underground ancestors from "death," indeed suicide,(21) in the white world's historical narrative.

Frustrated with the search in the snow for the lost grave of his grandfather, C. K. Washington, John comes to the crucial decision about the dimensions of the fluid margins of community, and his story-process nearly succumbs to Jack's essentialist conceptions. For an instant, John wants to create the certainty, enact the repudiation, and corroborate the suspicions about Judith's ancestors' role in the slave trade. Then, he wants to tell her that she is, indeed, a contemptible descendant of slavers who has no business with him on this search. He pauses, and decides to go on. As he watches Judith's flailing attempts to aid in his search, he thinks:

... just for a minute I wanted to tell her, tell her all about how Richard Iiames had come with Joseph Powell, grandson of Thomas, brother of John, captain of the Seafoam; for a minute I wanted to watch her face when I told her that.... She just went kicking across the slope, her feet throwing up frenzied clouds of snow. I didn't say anything, feeling the anger going out of me as she kicked, knowing what she was feeling, what it was like to go that way, searching, not knowing how, or for what. And I knew what it would be like for her when she failed to find anything at all.

But she didn't. She didn't fail. (380)

Seeing his desperate, blind search mirrored in Judith's actions, John bridges Jack's essentialist - " 'It's a Black, Man's thing, you wouldn't understand'" divisions and allows Judith into his community, thus binding himself to the liberating responsibility of an audience. The effects of this bridged understanding are mutual, but not symmetrical, presence as an audience/community member allows Judith to trust John in ways before impossible. In Hurston's terms (195), if Judith's ears are still unknowing, at least they are "sympathetic." Judith puts herself in fairly rare white company; she knows that she doesn't know and she's still there. After preparing him for their journey by mixing John a toddy, an act, in Jack's mind, which would surely have poisoned the "drink," Judith voices her new-found trust as" 'faith.... I know.... You don't think I understand. You're right; I don't understand. But I believe in you' "(390). After he accepts his responsibility as a griot, but before he tells the story, John attempts to get Judith to hear the ancestors' song in the wind. Judith responds:" 'I can't.... I don't know how to listen that way....I know they're there.... I can't hear them. But I know you can'" (394).(22) Responding to the audience/community's acceptance, John Washington, griot, readies himself to track the ancestors. As a symbol of the ancestors' creative, syndetic freedom, as opposed to their Sartrian synthetic objectification - their death - Jack's precise words (77-78) emanate from John as he begins his improvised telling:" 'So you want a story, do you? ... Fetch the candle'" (393). Prepared to do the work in the "candle light" of history (204), John begins: "'Yes,' I said, 'I can. I can hear them as they pass. I can't see them - it's misty. But I can hear them'" (394).

John's submission to the liberating convergence of his identity and process with those of his ancestors allows the underground to emerge through his narrative, creating the above-underground mode. In a subtle, and tremendously important, convergence, John's narrative forges a syndetic connection between C. K. Washington's intuitive sense and his own. As the syndetic process of identity exploration and creation subverts the linear historical model and synthetic evolutionary process, John runs out of facts and C. K. Washington leads John's creative telling of C. K.'s story. The ancestors' story takes shape as the descendant learns from the ancestor, animated through the descendant's voice. C. K. helps John overcome his logocentric methodological hang-up, allowing him to take his process past the point at which it was initiated, alone in his father's study and seemingly alone on the hunt. John runs out of facts in the telling just as C. K. runs out of obvious alternatives in his flight from the slave catchers in the story; the method of telling and the story being told merge into a syndetic, meta-narrative: Which is which and who is whom?

"Then C. K. [or John?] stopped wondering and worrying and started doing what he should have been doing all along: thinking. Really thinking. Not just gathering facts and ordering them; not just trying to follow them along; really thinking, looking at the overall pattern of things and figuring out what the facts had to be." (396)

After John and the ancestors achieve the methodological requisites, the two freely mix together. John's Grandmother Harriet's pose behind C. K. with "her hands cupped at the base of his belly" (413) recalls Judith's posture with John at the beginning of the text: Her hand "found the place at the base of my belly" (5). Harriet's story of struggle for control of her body in the face of a white man's sexual advances merges with the story of Mara, the daughter of the Madame who slept with John to avoid prostitution to white men:

"She [Harriet] had been taken ... to Alexandria ... where she was purchased, at a premium because of her light skin, by a young blade ... who wanted her for a concubine. But she escaped that fate by ... telling the young man [that she was pregnant with a baby whose father was] as black as the ace of spades." (420)

By this narrative technique, John completes the epistemological transition. He moves from an alienated consciousness rooted in rational processes to the interactive, fluid narration and invocation of communal/familial presence. Here, John takes steps toward de- or un-centered conceptions of personal, supra-individual identity not rooted in "empirically personal experience" but routed through the diverse energies of invoked syndetic familial narrative. By bridging the rational matrices of the literate, historical process, John's identity and the oral presence of his ancestors emerge from the underground of his alienated consciousness into print. The embedding of mobile oral processes in print establishes an important above-underground literary moment.

Some say it's jus' a part of it, we've got to fulfill the book. (Bob Marley, "Redemption Song," from Songs of Freedom)

But who came with him? That Bradley has created an empowering novel is without doubt. The costs, however, of the encoded complexity and the misogynist package are high. While the success resounds, Fredric Jameson's cautionary note rearticulates the need for ritualized pursuit of the goals which Bradley's novel offers to the scant few "individuals" with time, luxury, and inclination to excavate and enjoy it. Jameson's polemic challenges us to weigh theoretical complexity and dialogic coding in print against the restricted audience for these media, strangely revoicing the conclusion of Ellison's narrator - the "winner takes nothing." Jameson writes:

And it is certain that there is a strange quasi-Sartrian - a "winner loses" - logic which tends to surround any effort to describe a "system," a totalizing dynamic.... What happens is that the more powerful the vision of some increasingly total system or logic ... the more powerless the reader comes to feel.... Insofar as the theorist wins, therefore, by constructing an increasingly dosed and terrifying machine, to that very degree he loses.... (54)

In the dialogic aesthetics of syndetic invocation, the roles of theorist, critic, audience, and artist take on forms which Jameson's "totalizing paradox" does not neatly cover. Where Jameson portrays himself as forging new paths through the wilderness which readers attempt to follow, the present study engages another effort: to highlight and demystify the subtle epistemological and ontological shifts necessary to respond to the full complexity of African-American aesthetic systems. These systems often emerge in performance realms in which continuities under the rational matrices of the modern-race, class, genre, gender, dialectical generation - produce the intertextual, philosophical complexity of African-American aesthetics. These subtle shifts constitute a major source of the "dissonance" between the theoretical needs of African-derived and European aesthetics. Hopefully, the work above can aid in establishing productive continuities between theory and critique which make more room for renewed and enhanced engagement between artists and audiences. While Jameson meditates upon the potential alienation of the underground theorist, I hear the communal shifts of the emergence mode on the radio. At least in Chicago.(23)

And Return

This merging of John, C. K., Judith, Harriet, and Mara across racial, spatial, and generational divides recalls exactly the syndetic ancestral presence offered by the Yoruba systems of ancestor invocation. It is also what crowds of "sympathetic and knowing ears" hear in the "third moment"(24) of Hip-Hop epistemics set in motion by Eric B. & Rakim in 1990. Mary J. Blige offers her respectful, syndetic (re)vision of Roy Ayers's 1976 "Everybody Loves the Sunshine." Casting the tones of the title track of her 1994 album My Life through the (re)emergence of Ayers's composition, she performs her "Life" in the syndetic, inter-generational terms of her identity as an African-American artist. Digable Planets perform in the same above-underground mode when they invoke Harry Whitaker's 1972 "We Live in Brooklyn Baby," also performed by Ayers, through their 1994 "Borough Check." Digable Planets, with guest Guru, honor the ancestors' presence while improvising, a la Ellison's Peter Wheatstraw, the necessary changes in negotiating a contemporary 1995 Brooklyn terrain mired in post-industrial American realities. The liminal, improvised mode exists in undefinable, unsalable, space between samples which become, at least textually, "inert objects" of prior generations looped in the present, and remakes in which present artists go back to the exact tones of the past. Syndetic (re)visions exist along a continuum of negotiation and in-the-moment improvisation, tracking the footpaths of the ancestors, aware of the crossroads at every step. Rakim set it in motion in his undervalued excavation and invocation of Hathaway's inimitable and troubling ancestral legacy. In 1990, Rakim steers Hathaway off the window sill of the Essex House in 1979 and (re)asserts his - Rakim's or Hathaway's? - commitment to "home" (having never left) with respect, lyrical complexity, renewed grace, and confidence. The descendant acknowledges the complexity of the ancestor's path, honoring the positions in the suicide/liberation continuum.

By means of this process, Ellison's efforts emerge as they are deepened and extended by the next generation of writers. His "victory" has to do with the responses to his process, perceived through this system of aesthetics as an essential aspect of the process itself. Bradley's emergence narrative is not resolved; we all await the next syndetic, not dialectic, cycle of responses in print, film, and sound of which this essay intends to be a small part.

Codification, objectification, categorization are what they are. In aesthetics of invocation, grounded, subjective improvisations in syndetic respect of the ancestors create a critical discourse that, in the image of the Yoruba orisa of aesthetic continuity, Ela and/or Orunmila, consumes itself in its own regeneration. The creative antiphonal exchange requires continuities between media through which the fluidity and integrity of Black expression thrives. By understanding these modes in terms of communal dialogic, above-undergrounds of exchange, we can discover and create continuities enhancing the living process itself.

Do what I do when I do what I do when I'm doin', in the sunshine. (Roy Ayers, "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," from Ubiquity)183


1. Plum in Toni Monison's Sula can be read as an extension of this movement, a descendant of Fred Daniels. Refusing to allow the retreat and invoking the tension between death and liberation, Eva bums Plum in his sleep. Like Morrison in Song of Solomon, in The Chaneysville Incident Bradley struggles for a different level of redemption.

2. In his work The Informational City, CasteIs reorients the understanding of space and place initiated by Yi-Fu Tuan's work Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, where Tuan posits the following definitions: "To be open and free is to be exposed and vulnerable. Open space has no trodden paths or signposts. It has no fixed patterns of established human meaning; it is a blank sheet on which meaning may be imposed.... In open space, one can become intensely aware of place; and in the solitude of a sheltered place the vastness of space beyond acquires a haunting presence.... enclosed and humanized space is place. Compared to space, place is a calm center of established values" (54). Casteis sets place in motion, arguing that, to understand the way "human values" constitute space in the modern urban world, "calm centers" must be transformed into fluid and mobile lines of connection.

3. In her 1990 University of Wisconsin dissertation, Judylyn Ryan expands Stepto's paradigm to include "pre-dispersion" consciousness, which does not presuppose African cultural genesis in the "symbolic south," and "recuperation" narratives in which the end-in-aim is not the synthesis of double-consciousness through immersion, but recuperation of the aspects of the "pre-dispersion" state. The above-underground emergence mode can be understood as one method of recuperation in African-American culture.

4. In Double Consciousness/Double Bind, Adell deepens the dilemma, explaining how the relationship of Hegelian ideas of "true self-consciousness" must, in order to know themselves, contain their "subordinate other" and Du Bois's vision of African-American consciousness. By offering communal, syndetic processes, this essay attempts, in part, to problematize the subordinate position of "African" in the African-American dual model of consciousness.

5. Armstrong labels this tradition an aesthetics of virtuosity in which the artifact contains its own fineness and beauty. He then describes the Yoruba aesthetics of invocation as a tradition in which artifacts take on meaning and beauty through invocation in ritual. The "work of art" in an aesthetics of invocation, therefore, contains artist, artifact, and audience response or participation in the ritual invocation of the piece. Literally, then, in Yoruba aesthetics, the categories of audience, artist, and artifact are linked in a way that blurs the distinctiveness of their labels in English.

6. Homi Bhabha alludes to a similar aesthetic possibility in The Location of Culture. Bhabha writes: "The borderline work of culture demands an encounter with 'newness' that is not part of the continuum of past and present. It creates a sense of the new as an insurgent act of cultural translation. Such art does not merely recall the past as social cause or aesthetic precedent; it renews the past, refiguring it as contingent 'in-between' space that innovates and interrupts the performance of the present. The 'past-present' becomes part of the necessity, not the nostalgia of living" (7). Bhabha's conception of "cutting-edge" aesthetic space exists "in the 'beyond' "from which the present is "past." Inhabiting this space, for Bhabha, is "to touch the future on its hither side." The above-underground mode can be understood as a type of "borderline," a mode of fluid, living transfer from past to present and back, past-presence, through which the "cutting-edge" space becomes an "inter-generational new," an "expanded now." Syndetic processes allow complex (re)combinations in the present which infuse "nows" with past-presence, creating a liminality in which subversive cultural (re)visions take place.

7. On Saturday, January 13, 1979, Donny Hathaway fell to his death from the 15th-floor window of his room at New York's Essex House Hotel. The press which covered Hathaway's death was completely unable to address the implications of his apparent "suicide." Ebony pushed an accidental theory of Hathaway's death to absurd lengths in their story "The Mysterious Death of Donny Hathaway." Enacting their own disrespectful repudiation of the complexity of Hathaway's journey, Ebony's caption underneath Hathaway's body lying in state read: "Before his death in New York City (a medical examiner ruled the death a suicide) Hathaway was an obviously happy entertainer enjoying his popularity" (61). Listen to Hathaway's "Giving Up" and see if you hear an "obviously happy entertainer." In the face of repudiations like this, Eric B & Rakim excavate and invoke Hathaway's ancestral legacy.

8. This tension is born of African-American resistance to the fragmentary forces of modem, white-supremist contexts in which death, liberation from the conditions imposed on the black body, was necessary to reclaim the dignity of the soul and mind. Toni Morrison's Beloved, J. California Cooper's Family, George Jackson's New Jack City, as well as invocations of the tale of Igbo Landing in Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust, and Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow all straddle the crossroads between suicide, murder, and liberation which these "deaths" invoke.

9. In his work Playing the Changes: Afro-Modernism to the Jazz Impulse, Craig Werner describes the connection between the blues and jazz impulses in terms of this process of excavation and acknowledgment of the past followed by improvisation and exploration of new phrasings to address changing circumstances.

10. The "root/route" terminology is borrowed from Paul Gilroy's discussion of the nature of Black culture's existence in the history of the modern, and present post-modern, "overdeveloped" West in his book The Black Atlantic.

11. See Morrison, "Ancestor" 339. Similar visions of diversified communal life can be found in Audre Lorde's "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House" in Sister Outsider (110-13.).

12. Robert Stepto defines an ascent narrative as one which "launches an 'enslaved' and semi-literate figure on a ritualized journey to a symbolic North; that journey is charted through spatial expressions of social structure, invariably systems of signs that the questing figure must read in order to be both increasingly literate and increasingly free." As Stepto explains, frequently the cost of this individual freedom is alienation from Black cultural modes in the new context. This alienation often leads to an "immersion narrative ... in which the protagonist seeks those aspects of tribal literacy that ameliorate, if not obliterate, the conditions imposed by solitude." Immersion returns the figure to the community in the "symbolic South" (167).

13. Jerry Gafio Watts analyzes the difficulty of emergence in Ellison's career as a novelist and intellectual in Heroism and the Black intellectual.

14. In Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow, Avey Johnson is placed in exactly this type of "solitude" on her recuperative journey. Only through this state of solitude, into which she is coaxed by Joseph, can she contemplate the "presence" of the ancestors whose journey she repudiated for years.

15. Here the syndetic understanding is key. In the final chapter of his work The Black Atlantic entitled" 'A story not to pass on': Living Memory and the Slave Sublime," Paul Gilroy misses the dependence of John's recuperation on syndetic processes, offering instead an, at best, generational, dialectical reading of John's process. Gilroy concludes that John "has first to master, then set aside his formal training in the discipline so that he can comprehend the significance of the slaves' preference for death rather than continued bondage" (222).

16. Which does not necessarily coincide with the end of the process (see Yai).

17. In "Notes of a Native Son," James Baldwin meditates on the tension of multi-generational, multi-racial African-American ancestry and contemporary existence. Baldwin assesses the costs, arguing that, in order for one to perform repudiations, "one has to blot so much out of the mind - and the heart - that this hatred itself becomes an exhausting and self-destructive pose .... One is absolutely forced to make perpetual qualifications and one's own reactions are always cancelling each other out. It is this, really, which has driven so many people mad, both white and black. One is always in the position of having to decide between amputation and gangrene.... And the trouble, finally, is that the risks are real even if the choices do not exist" (144). The syndetic above-underground mode creates a place for choices, but the danger, the "deep water" of experience, remains.

18. Jack's world reflects Bradley's vision of the strengths and limits of a "defensible Black place, roots" inside the racial and gendered essentialist matrices of modern America. Moses's world view reflects Bradley's vision of the strengths and limitations of an organic, Black fluid syndetic sensibility which, through his sense of "routes," acquires the capability to subvert and control the world limited within the matrices of the modern American structure of Jack's narrow vision.

19. Bradley uses the tracking/trailing distinction to illustrate the difference between merely following "the tracks" of the object of the hunt, usually a deer, and the more sophisticated syndetic process of trailing. While tracking a deer, a hunter's intellect and intuition meld with the presence of the deer and the surroundings, allowing the hunter to know the deer's movements and to stop following and begin to find. The process mirrors the way in which John, the historian, will have to allow his sensibilities to grasp beyond the limitations, without repudiating the strengths, of his historical methodology, which has objectified and codified - killed or at least accepted the death of - the ancestors.

20. Bamard (33) juxtaposes the Lockean notion with that of Herder, who conceived of experience as a creative process whereby reflection creates a context into which experience fits: "We do not merely see but create our images."

21. A similar syndetic "non-resolution" is necessary in order for Eli in Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust and Avey in Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow to come to terms with the story of Igbo Landing and the metaphysical tension between liberation and suicide. Bradley's narrative, however, shows the process which allows his audience to make the journey as well.

22. Here Judith reveals her limitations as an audience member. While her presence allows John to tell the story, freeing the ancestors to "break the surface" of the historical narrative, whether or not Judith can "listen that way" is in the end, as we say, on her. This (dis)ability in Judith relates to her "white" identity as something other, maybe deeper, than an exterior marker, indicating that she undoubtedly has a "story to tell," maybe to John. In any case, a seeming limitation in John's "choice" of community/audience frees John's process from Sartre's problematic and famous assertion made in concluding his essay "Orphee Noir" that the ultimate truth of Black quests for subjectivity is found in the power they wield in saving the world - read white folks - from white supremist cultural "space."

23. The mixes of one Chicago club DJ in particular exist explicitly in the liminal above-underground mode. Whether in his weekly sets at Red Dog, or in guest spots around the city, Chicago's G-MOST moves back and forth between contemporary Hip-Hop and Acid Jazz and their sampled and invoked antecedents. In a February 12, 1995, interview G-MOST explained his methods, "I'm just trying to get 'em to hear all the shit that's there, man, you know?"

24. My "third-moment" terminology relies on my understanding of Hip-Hop history. For me, the first moment of Hip-Hop epistemics had M.C.s rhyming over break beats mixed live by D.J.s. The second moment would involve the addition of studio production and, most powerfully, digital samplers, which allowed artists to "extract" prior moments and loop - arrange in repetitious cycles - them into contemporary rythmic terrains. The "third moment," then, appears as Hip-Hop artists begin to produce stylized, or signified, (re)visions of songs like those mentioned in the present study. This third moment "invokes" syndetic process by existing between sampled "reifications of prior generations" and note-by-note "remakes" in which artists go back to perform "accurate" renditions of prior moments, matching note for note in their own form of respect. The difference is clear. Listen to Mary J. Blige's "My Life" and Roy Ayers's "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," followed by Blige's "remake" of Rose Royce's "I'm Going Down," followed by the original.

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Edward Pavlic is a doctoral student in the Folklore Institute at Indiana University. His interest lies in cross-genre analysis and theory supporting further inquiry into the heterogeneity and hybridity of African-American expressive culture. Mr. Pavlic would like to thank Professor Carolyn Mitchell for allowing these ideas to emerge by "expanding" the classroom process. He would also like to thank Professor Craig Werner for years of inimitable intellectual accompaniment and guidance.
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Author:Pavlic, Edward
Publication:African American Review
Date:Jun 22, 1996
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