Marisa Parham


Haunting and Displacement in African-American Literature and Culture

— Marisa Parham

What might it mean to “remember” something that is not of one’s own direct experience? To remember someone else’s memories?

Looking at texts including Jean Toomer’s Cane, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, James Baldwin’s Another Country, and Bob Kaufman’s poetry, Haunting and Displacement describes phenomena of haunting, displacement, and ghostliness as central to modern African American literature and culture.

Haunting and Displacement began as a meditation on the overwhelming presence of elegiac objects in modern African American literature and culture. Its argument began with the notion that memory- conscious and unconscious, individual and collective- drives African American cultural production in significant ways. In the course of my research I began to notice something else, that the kinds of memories I had become most interested in were not always proper to the person who remembered them. In such cases there might be no recognizable origin for the memory, no moment when a story was heard or a newspaper read. Indeed, such memories might themselves be no more than feelings, feelings elicited by other things and forgotten as having come from other places, yet nonetheless interpreted in the moment of remembrance as truthful and meaningful to personal experience.

In literary and cinematic texts, haunting often appears in moments of allegory, doubling, and irony. Haunting and Displacement examines how African American authors have used such strategies to represent phenomena of distancing and repetition, thus opening spaces wherein it is made possible for one to testify to the effects of unwitnessed events or to understand oneself as subject to social and historical forces otherwise unnamed in a larger scene.