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“Legend Still Holds Secret the Key:” Animism and Dialogic Witnessing in Véronique Tadjo’s Queen Pokou and Toni Morrison’s Beloved

Year: 2023

Presenter Name: Holden d'Evegnee

Many critics have observed how African novels use elements such as mythology, rhetorical questions, dialects, etc. in their texts to recreate elements from oral legends, but this neglects to take into account how animist literature changes a reader's engagement with a text. Animist literature invites readers to renegotiate the meaning of old stories by becoming a story's custodian-guarding it for a future performance. In this paper, I argue that the novels Queen Pokou: A Concerto for a Sacrifice by Veronique Tadjo and Beloved by Toni Morrison use animism as a literary paradigm to recreate the experience of participating in oral literature. Tadjo's and Morrison's novels restructure founding stories from their communities' pasts to create fluid texts that resist overly historical interpretation. Animism is what gives African oral literature a unique ability to fluctuate and modify itself according to each generation. This fluidity preserves the continuity of a community's identity. In this way, both works of the authors deconstruct history and writing to provide an African form of interrogating the past and shaping the present. This form of interrogation is what I call dialogic witnessing: the act of participating in the past as a witness and the responsibility to become a storyteller for the future. As examples of Animist written literature, Queen Pokou and Beloved bridge the gap between the Western novel and African oral traditions by restructuring the audience's engagement with texts and the past. They use animism to recreate the performative, communal nature of oral traditions in a written medium.
University / Institution: Brigham Young University
Type: Oral
Format: In Person
SESSION B (10:45AM-12:15PM)
Area of Research: Humanities
Faculty Mentor: Aaron Eastley
Location: Sill Center Conference Room (11:25am)