Slavocracy's collective Atlantic: Utopian and dystopian discourse in contemporary narratives of slavery

Jalaine Nicole Weller, University of Texas at El Paso


A number of contemporary narratives of slavery speak to a collective experience of the transatlantic slave trade and engage that space as a narrative contact zone of heterogeneous interpretations of slavery. These interpretations emphasize the multiplicity of black and white subjectivity and the personal struggle to self-create utopian relational experience within and without the dystopian reality of enslavement. Overall, it is the Atlantic—as a physical space, temporal triangle, and personal experience--that facilitates this collective experience. Subsequently, this project intends to explore what I am calling the "Collective Atlantic," which is a concept that applies to the following contemporary narratives of slavery: Fred D'Aguiar's "Feeding the Ghosts," Charles Johnson's "Middle Passage," Caryl Phillips's "Crossing the River," and Toni Morrison's "A Mercy." In this thesis I seek to expand Paul Gilroy's "Black Atlantic" via a discussion of the Atlantic as a space that embodies utopian and dystopian experiences and as a medium through which those diverse and lasting experiences can be explored. Furthermore, channeling Charles Johnson's concept of the "Lifeworld," the Collective Atlantic views the Atlantic as a space connecting an intersubjective global and local world and facilitating the exploration of kaleidoscopic interpretations of historical slavocracy. In light of the transcultural experience of the triangular slave trade, the ultimate goal of the Collective Atlantic is that it would serve as a present lens mediating between the past and future, so that present readers may collectively remember a past despotic dystopia in order to envision a more utopian future of communal remembrance, as "Feeding the Ghosts" would have it, intersubjective existence, as "Middle Passage" would have it, integration and choral uplift, as "Crossing the River" would have it, and ruth or compassion, as "A Mercy" would have it. In a contemporary society that is otherwise so often rooted in constructs of individuality, such as personal subjectivity and self-agency, it is important to pause, reflect, and recognize that life is, has been, and will continue to be an intersubjective experience, even if many societies have departed from the more communal kinship structures, such as that of "Middle Passage's" Allmuseri. Nevertheless, if we are ever truly to face historical slavocracy and envision a more socially integrative society, we must, as these contemporary narratives of slavery and the Collective Atlantic illustrate, do so in greater solidarity.

Subject Area

African Studies|African literature

Recommended Citation

Weller, Jalaine Nicole, "Slavocracy's collective Atlantic: Utopian and dystopian discourse in contemporary narratives of slavery" (2014). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1583961.