Clashing landscapes in Charles Chesnutt’s conjure tales AND Reading metamodern hope : Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and intertextuality after postmodernism

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Rene Marzuk (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Christian Moraru

Abstract: Landscapes are never really just there. As cultural representations spread throughout a wide range of practices, they constitute repositories of knowledge and ideologies. African American fiction writer Charles W. Chesnutt’s conjure tales, published between 1887 and 1924, offer an opportunity for the close reading of clashing articulations of landscape that may illuminate how literary landscapes operate more widely. Chesnutt’s conjure stories focus on the interactions between a couple of white northerners, John and Annie, who buy a dilapidated plantation in North Carolina after the Civil War with the intention of turning it into a profitable enterprise, and a former enslaved man, Julius, who has lived his whole life on the selfsame plantation. In the conjure tales, as I will argue, John and Julius create different Southern landscapes onto which they project the unspoken elements of their personal coordinates that can only be teased out through close reading, contextual analysis, and interpretation. The distinct Southern landscapes that John and Julius produce as first-person narrators through description, signposting, and, in Julius’s case, a poetics facilitated by the conceit of conjure, reveal their ideological positions more effectively than any self-declarative statement. AND Mohsin Hamid’s New York Times best seller Exit West is only partially the story of how Nadia and Saeed, the main characters, fall in and out of love against a background of migration. The 2017 novel is more of a state-of-the-world narrative that foregrounds migration from the global south to the global north as a central feature of contemporaneity, while also exploring the aftermaths of displacement. Hamid does away with the particularities of transnational movement by using the conceit of magical doors that appear spontaneously all over the world and allow passage between the most unlikely places. These doors invariably open to dark, impenetrable spaces described in one instance as “darker than night, a rectangle of complete darkness—the heart of darkness.” The novel’s references to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness are consistent enough to encourage an oscillatory interpretive movement between works, which is to say that Heart of Darkness becomes as much of a context for Exit West as Exit West becomes a context for Heart of Darkness. Rather than dismantling Conrad’s modernist narrative, Hamid revisits its signifiers and reconstitutes them under a different organizing principle. Within the context of metamodernism, Hamid’s rewriting of Conrad’s novella points toward meanings uncontained in either text, but only available in transit, as readers move back and forth between them.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2023
American South, Ecocriticism, Intertextuality, Landscapes, Metamodernism, Modernism
Chesnutt, Charles W. $q (Charles Waddell), $d 1858-1932. $t Conjure woman
Southern States $x In literature
Landscapes in literature
Hamid, Mohsin, $d 1971- $t Exit west
Conrad, Joseph, $d 1857-1924. $t Heart of darkness

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