1. 2.Men of the Middle Passage and Middle Passage Men:Transatlantic Slave Trade and Poetic Imagination

2.Men of the Middle Passage and Middle Passage Men:Transatlantic Slave Trade and Poetic Imagination

Raphaël Lambert  筑波大学


Both Robert Hayden and James A. Emanuel are among the very few African American artists to have depicted the harrowing voyage endured by African captives across the Atlantic and toward the new world. Through Hayden’s seminal 1945 “Middle Passage” and Emanuel’s 1999 “The Middle Passage Blues,” this reflection endeavors to explore two very divergent and yet complementary views of the same event. Altogether traumatic and ineffable, the Middle Passage is also the founding component of the African American experience. While Hayden describes it as a “voyage through death/to life upon these shores”―ascribing to it the function of a matrix, Emanuel sees it as a psychological wound initially passed down from one generation to the next and finally transcended and constitutive of an identity both individual and communal.

The study of both works will lead this reflection toward a comparison of history and memory. Hayden’s poem is firmly anchored in history as it openly relies on the legal testimonies, press coverage, and personal accounts surrounding the 1839 slave uprising aboard the slave ship Amistad. Hayden, however, avoids the trap of the one-sided, monotonous historical narrative and offers what scholar Jim Murphy calls “a multi-vocal assemblage of perspectives” (109), mixing both real and imagined voices, first and third-person narrators, black and white viewpoints, involved parties and mere witnesses. It becomes clear, as Hayden’s postmodern epic unfolds, that the trial Hayden is interested in is not the trial of the African Cinque and his fellow mutineers, but that of the slave trade itself as every aspect and participant in the infamous traffic―from the raids of African villages by African dealers, to the European-run coastal factories, to the hold, the interminable crossing, and the barracoons of the new world―are accounted for in a seemingly fragmented but meticulous and exhaustive narrative.