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The Black Atlantic: Exploring Gilroy's legacy

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Abstract:

This essay reviews published responses to Paul Gilroy's The Black Atlantic (1993). The essay begins by summarizing Gilroy's main arguments and considering the significance of his term “double consciousness,” both as a theme and as a theoretical approach. It goes on to examine reviews, articles, books and journal special issues, spanning from 1994 to 2008, which either engage directly with Gilroy's text or make use of his term “black Atlantic” as a basis for further research. Early reviews of The Black Atlantic balance its shortcomings against its groundbreaking potential, envisaging that the book will generate discussions for years to come across a range of disciplines. Analysis of more recent literary criticism and cultural theory which draws on Gilroy's ideas, taking them in a variety of often conflicting directions, demonstrates the accuracy of this prediction. The essay looks first at critics' commentaries on the scope of Gilroy's project, whether they aim to extend it so that it encompasses a broader range of social and cultural contexts, or to narrow its focus in a way which illuminates its relevance for a particular country or region. Readings of The Black Atlantic asserting the need to incorporate the Pacific and the Indian diaspora into Gilroy's black Atlantic vision, or to transform his “counterculture of modernity” into a more general notion of anti-colonial resistance, are compared to readings which seek to ground Gilroy's theoretical framework within the social realities of Africa, the Caribbean, or Canada. The essay then explores the work of critics and theorists who have identified problems with Gilroy's style, viewing his black Atlantic model as dangerously abstracted from the material world, and discussing the limitations of his postnational stance. I argue that the apparent inconsistencies within Gilroy's theoretical framework have led to productive debates and significant shifts in methodology within literary and cultural studies.

Keywords: Paul Gilroy; black Atlantic; modernity; nationalism; slavery; transnationalism

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14788810902981308

Publication date: August 1, 2009

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