Aphasia, Reassembly and Resemblance in the Black British poetry of the 21st Century
Royal Holloway, University of London
Year of enrolment: 2019
The purpose of this research is to establish how contemporary Black British poets utilise a poetics of 'aphasia'. Medically understood as the ‘acquired loss of language due to cerebral damage’ (Benson and Ardila 1996, 6), aphasia has also been used metaphorically as a lens for the decline of indigenous languages worldwide (Devy 2016, 1), and the reading of decolonial poetic techniques (Guttman 1996, 57). Through these metaphorical usages, I will develop the concept of aphasia as a lens through which the poetics of Black British poets can be read.
The concept of aphasia lends itself organically to critical discussions of race, empire, diaspora, translation and literature wherein experiences of language loss, wordlessness and erasure are seen as reverberations of historic colonial trauma. In addition to functioning as a metaphor, it is also visible as a poetic device employed by poets who intend for their work to address such legacies.
A focus upon 'reassembly' approaches a critical observation of what reparative acts Black British poets make to reclaim subjectivity of voice. Whereas a discourse of aphasia signifies communicative loss – and how such loss is rendered in praxis – this research also seeks to outline what the praxis of rebuilding looks like in the wake of aphasia.
Lastly, to contribute to understandings of a still-forming Black British canon post-1948, I offer the term 'resemblance' as a model for critique that is not predicated upon ‘poetic sameness’ (Parmar 2015). The Black British community comprises African and Caribbean peoples with histories that sometimes converge and elsewhere do not. In this light, I want to map the intersections at which we ‘know ourselves as part and as crowd’ (Glissant 1994, 9). In seeking resemblances, I intend to define in what ways we are, as Claudia Rankine writes, ‘travelling as family’ (Rankine 2014).