By Russ Dembin, Aileen Ford and Emily Aguilar Thomas
The blues underlies the novel, not only through the protagonist’s vocation, but also through the book’s form itself, which, as literature scholar Donia Elizabeth Allen observes, mirrors that of a blues song. Allen points out how Corregidora incorporates such blues conventions as “repetition, call and response, and the blues break [, which] reveal crucial aspects of her character’s [sic] lives and struggles” (257). Black studies scholar Madhu Dubey notes in Black Women Novelists and the Nationalist Aesthetic that “Corregidora draws on a feminine tradition of the blues established by such singers as Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday, and Ma Rainey, who, as Michele Russell and Hazel Carby have argued, enabled black women to speak of themselves as sexual objects” (81).
[Bessie Smith, “St. Louis Blues”]
[Ma Rainey, “Booze and Blues.”]
[Billie Holiday, “All of Me” (more jazz than blues, but still illustrates an important concept)]
The connections between Gayl Jones Corregidora and Toni Morrison’s Beloved are rich for consideration. The poetic use of language, at once both gentle and violent, invites us to think not only about what is written, but how each author has written it. In an attempt to illustrate the relationship between the two texts, we came upon an article by Abdennebi Ben Beya, The Question of Reading Traumatic Testimony: Jones's Corregidora and Morrison's Beloved. Throughout the article, Beya draws connections between relationships in each text, particularly the mother/daughter relationships, and trauma/memory as it is situated within that dynamic.
Like Jones's Corregidora, Morrison's Beloved invites us to hear the buried voice of inexpression. Dedicated to the unarchived "sixty million and more" who made "the voyage through death," it seeks to call us to join and reach out to the "veil behind the veil" (274), to the layer superimposed on the layer, which in turn masks a myriad of other layers. Repressed without, Beloved, the victim, is nevertheless housed within. She dwells in the unfathomable corners of her mother's psyche. Her intimate presence constitutes the 'heimat' (home) of the weighty silence of the survivor's old-worn memories. Her past, because unnarrated, has thus not taken place. The lack of its realization, the impossibility of its eventfulness, is contained within the folds of the unwritten book of liquidation. Her death, which resides in her mother with its unnameable authority, is the reminder of such repression. (Beya)
These connections circle back to our conversation from last week, as we see “hysterical” language such as “folds,” “home,” “layers,” “psyche” within Beya’s writing about both Corregidora and Beloved, as we see in both texts.
Freedom and beauty in relation to the black female body:
A look at this week’s texts in conversation with the documentary, Dark Girls (2011)
This week’s texts help to unsettle several artificial divisions between freedom and slavery, agency and subjection, the past and present, and blackness and whiteness, among others. Through lyrical narrative, the story of Ursa Corregidora and her family reveals how the construction of freedom and subjectivity as an approximation to whiteness, in both physical and symbolic terms, glosses over violent histories of forced intimacy and sexual abuse inscribed in particularly brutal ways on the bodies of black women during slavery and emancipation. Despite the popular perception that female slaves who worked in the plantation homes of their masters “benefited” from their physical proximity to the white household and its source of power, the stories of Aunt H/Esther’s beating as recounted by Frederick Douglass (Sharpe 2010, 6-9) and Cat Lawson’s assault in the kitchen of her employer in Corregidora (Jones 1975, 65) demonstrate that black women have paid a tremendous physical, sexual, and psychological price as a result of their role within the white home and family. The privileging of whiteness as a signifier of a “positive” inheritance, of access and social capital, therefore, smooths over this heavy history of particularly gendered violence and long-lasting harm. Author Christina Sharpe (2010) sees a similarly problematic articulation of race and freedom in the memoir of Essie Mae Washington-Williams, the biracial daughter of former U.S. senator Strom Thurmond, as she describes freedom as “her intention to be fully American--that is, as being recognized as not fully black--and ‘to drink the nectar of both goblets’ (Washington-Williams and Stadiem 2005, 223)” (22).
Dark Girls (D. Channsin Berry and Bill Duke, 2011)
For an interesting dive into the context, inspiration, themes, and symbolism of Isaac Julien’s 1993 short film, The Attendant, see the following article in his own words:
Julien, Isaac. “Confessions of a snow queen: notes on the making of The Attendant”. Critical Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 1. pp. 120-127.
For an engraved rendition of the Francois August Biard painting, Scene on the Coast of Africa, that inspired Julien’s film, see:
Jesse Jackson, to CNN in 2005: “We have an amazing tolerance for black pain.”