The idea of "world literature" has served as a crucial though underappreciated interlocutor for African diasporic writers, informing their involvement in processes of circulation, translation, and revision that have been identified as the hallmarks of the contemporary era of world literature. Yet in spite of their participation in world systems before and after European hegemony, Africa and the African diaspora have been excluded from the networks and archives of world literature. In Sounding the Break, Jason Frydman attempts to redress this exclusion by drawing on historiography, ethnography, and archival sources to show how writers such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, Alejo Carpentier, Derek Walcott, Maryse Condé, and Toni Morrison have complicated both Eurocentric and Afrocentric categories of literary and cultural production. Through their engagement with and revision of the European world literature discourse, he contends, these writers conjure a deep history of "literary traffic" whose expressions are always already cosmopolitan, embedded in the long histories of cultural and economic exchange between Africa, Asia, and Europe. It is precisely the New World American location of these writers, Frydman concludes, that makes possible this revisionary perspective on the idea of (Old) World literature.
Sounding the Break deftly situates the literatures of the African diaspora not just within world literature but as the latter’s shaping poetics. Turning to canonical writers of the black modernist and postmodernist traditions, Frydman elegantly reveals an ‘archive of palimpsests’ marked by shuttling relays between texts, persistent imbrications of local and global identifications, hybrid intersections between vernacular orality and cosmopolitan intertextuality, and the constant ghosting of the present by the past. Taking up Melvin Dixon’s musing on ‘a world black literature,’ Frydman gives us an archive, a history, and a method that realizes the category.
Jason Frydman is Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Caribbean Studies Program at Brooklyn College, CUNY.