Afrocentrism. Eurocentrism. Caribbean Studies. British Studies. To the forces of cultural nationalism hunkered down in their camps, this bold hook sounds a liberating call. There is, Paul Gilroy tells us, a culture that is not specifically African, American, Caribbean, or British, but all of these at once, a black Atlantic culture whose themes and techniques transcend ethnicity and nationality to produce something new and, until now, unremarked. Challenging the practices and assumptions of cultural studies, The Black Atlantic also complicates and enriches our understanding of modernism.
Debates about postmodernism have cast an unfashionable pall over questions of historical periodization. Gilroy bucks this trend by arguing that the development of black culture in the Americas arid Europe is a historical experience which can be called modern for a number of clear and specific reasons. For Hegel, the dialectic of master and slave was integral to modernity, and Gilroy considers the implications of this idea for a transatlantic culture. In search of a poetics reflecting the politics and history of this culture, he takes us on a transatlantic tour of the music that, for centuries, has transmitted racial messages and feeling around the world, from the Jubilee Singers in the nineteenth century to Jimi Hendrix to rap. He also explores this internationalism as it is manifested in black writing from the “double consciousness” of W.E.B. Du Bois to the “double vision” of Richard Wright to the compelling voice of Toni Morrison.
In a final tour de force, Gilroy exposes the shared contours of black and Jewish concepts of diaspora in order both to establish a theoretical basis for healing rifts between blacks and Jews in contemporary culture and to further define the central theme of his book: that blacks have shaped a nationalism, if not a nation, within the shared culture of the black Atlantic.
Praises for The Black Atlantic – Modernity and Double Consciousness
“Whilst others scarcely put a toe in the water, in The Black Atlantic, Gilroy goes in deep and returns with riches.” –Guardian
“The Black Atlantic uses the transnational concept of the diaspora to explore the migrations, discontinuities, fractal patterns of exchange and hybrid glory that join the black cultures of America, Britain, and the Caribbean to one another and to Africa. Gilroy isn’t the first to chart The Black Atlantic, but he is the first to situate it… It is a bold and brilliant rethinking of the political geography of race.”—Eric Lott, The Nation
“Building on W.E.B. Du Bois’s early 20th-century theories of race and double-consciousness and taking Du Bois’s own transatlantic career as a paradigmatic instance of the modernism of black experiences of diaspora, Gilroy accomplishes an exciting recharting of the complexities of black thought in the West… [The] book has the additional merit of providing remarkable rereadings of Du Bois, Richard Wright, Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass and others.”—Aldon L. Nielsen, The Washington Post Book World
“Spike Lee and Jazzie B., Walter Benjamin and the Jubilee Singers, Sonia Boyce and Keith Piper, Richard Wright, Theodor Adorno, J.M.W. Turner and W.E.B. Du Bois, Hegel, Hendrix, and 2 Live Crew: Very few writers could find things to say about every character on so dazzlingly eclectic a cast-list. Perhaps only Paul Gilroy could offer not merely striking insights about all of them, but present a compelling case for their belonging in the same narrative… Gilroy’s lucidity is exemplary.”—Stephen Howe, New Statesman & Society
“Against the grain of much contemporary thought that embraces ethnocentrism, Paul Gilroy has issued a stirring challenge to recognize the modern world as a cultural hybrid. The Black Atlantic is a wonderful chapter in the global intellectual history of the next century… Drawing on work in many disciplines, Gilroy provides a vivid alternative to competing positions in the current culture wars. He briefly outlines an intellectual rapprochement between Zionism and black nationalism, for example, and some of his most polemical remarks are reserved for those Afrocentrists who proclaim a linear inheritance from Africa but wish to ignore the intervening cultural hybridization produced by slavery… Present anxiety about the supposed disuniting and fraying of America’s national culture, or about its forced concentration into an assimilating mold, might be significantly allayed if readers would pay serious attention to the invigorating claims of The Black Atlantic.”—Eric J. Sundquist, Newsday
“A thoughtful evaluation of Western black identity, and a scathing critique of the nationalist, ‘ethical absolutist’ position that posits that such identities are mutually exclusive… There is much to recommend about [it]: many thought-provoking questions and compelling arguments.”—Carrie B. Robinson, The Quarterly Black Review of Books