The affective turn and sacred femininity in african american women's literature

  1. Cucarella Ramon, Vicent
unter der Leitung von:
  1. Carme Manuel Doktorvater/Doktormutter
  2. María José Coperías Aguilar Co-Doktorvater/Doktormutter

Universität der Verteidigung: Universitat de València

Fecha de defensa: 10 von März von 2017

  1. Constante González Groba Präsident
  2. Elena Ortells Monton Sekretär/in
  3. Elena Lamberti Vocal

Art: Dissertation

Teseo: 461333 DIALNET lock_openTESEO editor


In this PhD thesis I study the way in which Hannah Crafts’s The Bondwoman’s Narrative (1857), Zora Neale Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939) and Toni Morrison’s A Mercy (2008) follow the spiritual endeavor of black Christianity that the sacred autobiographies published at the beginning of the 19th century created to construct a sacred reading of the black female self that aims to uphold a new version of womanhood. The three novels reshape the Christian message as it is propounded in the Bible to elevate their own conception of the spiritual message to the national arena. My main contention is that the sacred femininity that puts the ethics and aesthetics of African American women at the center of a certain mode of (African) Americanness relies to a large extent in a personal view of spirituality that links women ontologically. Each novel, I propose, represents its own century by showing the way in which the modulation of spirituality, mainly through the use of the American jeremiad that holds forth in each of them along three centuries, follows a (black) cultural pattern and a legacy of a specific aesthetics. Yet, and although the American jeremiad envisions three steps to acquire an epistemological value in United States, the third novel I offer for analysis breaks away from this train of thought and therefore reveals the pitfalls of the jeremiad rhetoric tradition and, ultimately, interrogates the legitimacy of spirituality as a means of empowering. If spirituality links The Bondwoman’s Narrative, Moses, Man of the Mountain and A Mercy following the cultural path that the American jeremiad traced, in this dissertation I also argue that this spirituality that Crafts, Hurston and Morrison uphold in their narratives is unrelentingly bent on affect and inclusion. Indeed, and stemming from the affect theory that Silvan Tomkins first introduced in his seminal book Affect Imagery Consciousness (1962), I consider that a feminine spirituality and a feminine vision of affect as proposed by Barbara Tomlinson, go hand in hand in the novels I analyze. These politics of affect have gained momentum lately due to a new and feminist reading that thinkers like Tomlinson, Sarah Ahmed, Melissa Gregg or Megan Watkins have impinged on it. Although I draw broadly on affect theory, Tomlinson’s book Feminism and Affect at the Scene of Argument has proven highly illuminating in my attempt to grasp the novels’ affective traces since they succeed in linking black women’s subjectivity by modeling “the matter and matters of affect into an ethical, aesthetic and political task all at once” (Gregg and Gregory 3). The investment in affect reveals central to the definition of a communal spirituality that marks the self-representation of black women in The Bondwoman’s Narrative, Moses, Man of the Mountain and A Mercy. In other words, noting how the affect that African American women have nurtured from slavery time onwards and which has been of dire importance to their quests and accomplishments had been overlooked in their appraisal of the spirituality,I deem spirituality and affect as binary couplets in the three analyzed novels for, as I have outlined, the preeminence of the former throws into relief many aspects of the latter. In contrast to many previous scholarly works that have highlighted the importance of religion as a sociopolitical tool in the hands of black women to carve out a new understanding of their subjectivity, in this dissertation I focus on the aesthetic quality of Christian religion to see how Crafts, Hurston and Morrison modeled their message and doctrine according to their time and causes. The outcome displays a sacred Christian discourse that is utilized by black women surrounded by affective bonds in order to recompose and heal the black female self. Yet, as the time goes by, reality imposes itself to blatantly portray how African American women are still citizens with little consideration in their own country. Hence, as the jeremiadic evolution traced in The Bondwoman’s Narrative, Moses, Man of the Mountain and A Mercy shows, I conclude by exposing how the involution of spirituality and the refusal of affect - as the developmental trace of my analysis manifests- open the path to reconsider, rethink and reinterpret the possibilities that African American culture offers to understand, represent and acknowledge the manifold contributions of black women in the United States.