Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Rhonda D. Frederick's "Evidence of Things Not Seen"

Rhonda D. Frederick is an associate professor of African and African diaspora studies and English at Boston College in Massachusetts. She is the author of "Colón Man a Come": Mythographies of Panama Canal Migration.

Frederick applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Evidence of Things Not Seen: Fantastical Blackness in Genre Fictions, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Garcea uses the word “postulation”—defined as a proposition “that [is] not proved or demonstrated but [one that is] considered to be self-evident”—to describe a selection of four decades of academic research on Canadian multiculturalism, a choice that highlights a lack of quantifiable support for the policy’s so-called fragmentary effects (Joseph Garcea 157n3). As postulations, perspectives on the act’s fragmentary effects are based on what postulators “believe, rather than on the basis of facts produced by any systematic research and analysis” (Garcea 153). The role of belief in research by “social scientists and a few other prominent authors and analysts,” not to mention in opinions expressed by contributors to Canadian newspapers, is significant: postulators believe, proceed as if their belief-based conclusions are self-evident, and often maintain their beliefs in the face of evidence to the contrary (Karim H. Karim).

It is in this space of belief (the believable) that I turn to literary fantasy and science fiction, and inject critical analysis of the form and content of Brown Girl in the Ring. Since belief and affective truths play significant roles in political discourse, literature and literary analyses can shape ideas that influence policy. Creative imaginings, formalist maneuvers, and specified languages, particularly those constellated in fantasy and science fiction, offer imaginable insights into extant realities. When fantastical blackness critically intervenes, it brings its prodigious possibilities to bear on what it means to be part of a nation. With Garcea’s emphasis on postulations that influence public perceptions as well as scholarly evaluations of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, and Barrett’s attention to narratives of Canadianness that occupy the national imaginary, literary critical methodologies—close reading, genre and formalist critique, literature in social and historical contexts—reveal interpretations unique to this discipline and important to this extra-literary context. Even Karim H. Karim’s attention to views of multiculturalism that appear in op-ed pieces in Canadian newspapers is nicely unpacked using literature’s analytical tools: the op-ed, as Karim’s form, is the means through which postulations that influence his interpretations find voice. And it is from the perspective of literary studies that I approach the language of the Multiculturalism Act itself, to consider how its wording and emphases might influence its reception.
Page 99 is the end of “Canadian Blackness,” a part of chapter 3 that frames my fantastical imagining of national belonging in Nalo Hopkinson’s scifi/fantasy novel, Brown Girl in the Ring. This one page nicely represents an idea that motivates my book: that blackness, fantastically imagined in popular fictions, persuasively models how readers can re/imagine blackness in worlds outside of fiction. Each chapter of Evidence of Things Not Seen looks at a different genre and a differently imagined blackness, always with an eye on how imagining blackness in complicated ways changes how we live black in worlds that only sees black people negatively. This multi-genre, trans-disciplinary project—drawing from analyses of race in literature, history, sociology, and popular culture—considers what truths haunt, what myths fortify, and what kinds of imaginings enliven black being in Canada, the US, and the Caribbean. Chapter 3 reads Brown Girl through the lens of fantastical blackness, revealing a re/thinking of national belonging and Canadian multiculturalism. What, for example, are the critical implications for Canadian identity when the Canada-born child of Trinidadian and Jamaican immigrants uses Canada’s National (“CN”) Tower to channel Yoruba-derived gods? How can Canadianness be re/conceptualized when a Trinidadian woman’s heart, transplanted into the body of an incumbent Ontario politician, makes the public servant into a new woman who reassesses her conservative political platform? When considering the so-called divisive features of Canadian multiculturalism, particularly those driven by belief and postulation, attention to Brown Girl’s form and themes theorizes these questions’ imaginable possibilities. Experiencing characters who live inclusive and—at the same time—racially, spiritually, and culturally complex lives trigger re/considerations of the Multiculturalism Act’s allegedly segregationist impulses. Brown Girl’s fantastically different Canadianness realizes truths that challenge postulations about multiculturalism’s fragmentary effects and, armed with imaginable possibilities for complex subjectivities, readers might act according to these novel perspectives and positively impact how Canadian multiculturalism circulates in the public imaginary.
Learn more about Evidence of Things Not Seen at the Rutgers University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue