This article focuses on the representation of history in African American author John A. Williams’s 1999 novel, Clifford’s Blues, a fictional account of a Black, queer American expatriate’s internment and enslavement in a Nazi concentration camp. Through a critical perspective that incorporates the imaginative recovery of (often silenced) history that Toni Morrison (1987) called “rememory,” along with what Holocaust scholar Michael Rothberg (2009) calls “multidirectional memory,” this article details Williams’s daring exploration of spaces of overlap between the histories of American slavery, Jim Crow, and the Nazi Holocaust. The article demonstrates how the novel’s unconventional and controversial emplotment allows Williams to create a distinctive historical critique not only of slavery and the Holocaust but, more broadly, of otherization, racialized violence, and modernity itself, while making a number of historiographic interventions. These include inscribing a largely absent history of the experience of Black people affected by the Holocaust and the mapping of theretofore underacknowledged resonances between American and German ideologies and practices. Through its transnational, transcultural “multidirectionality,” the novel opens up a broad, structural critique of apartheid everywhere; however, this article also argues that the novel also offers models for liberatory communities of resistance. The article demonstrates how Williams accomplishes this through his novel’s allegorical and literal use of the blues.
Research Article| September 01 2019
Multidirectional Rememory: Slavery and the Holocaust in John A. Williams’s Clifford’s Blues
Twentieth-Century Literature (2019) 65 (3): 191–216.
Mark A. Tabone; Multidirectional Rememory: Slavery and the Holocaust in John A. Williams’s Clifford’s Blues. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 September 2019; 65 (3): 191–216. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-7852053
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