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Following Eshu-Eleggua's codes: A comparative approach to the literatures of the African diaspora

Jacob A Dyer-Spiegel, University of Massachusetts Amherst


My project explores the impact of the great Orishas (Yoruba: "deities") of the crossroads, Eshu-Elegguá, on the thriving literary and visual arts of the African diaspora. Eshu-Elegguá are multiple figures who work between physical and spiritual realms, open possibilities, and embody unpredictability and chance. In chapter one I explore the codes, spaces, and functions of these translating, intermediary deities through cultural anthropology, religious studies, and art history. Chapter two explores patterns in the artistic employment of Eshu-Elegguá by analyzing these figures' appearance in visual arts and then in four texts: Mumbo Jumbo (Ismael Reed, 1972), Sortilégio: Mistério Negro (Abdias do Nasicmento, 1951), Chago de Guisa (Gerardo Fulleda León, 1988), and Brown Girl in the Ring (Nalo Hopkinson, 1998). Chapter three explores how those patterns converge in Midnight Robber (Nalo Hopkinson, 2000) by looking closely at the novel's narrators and translators, Eshu and Elegguá. I argue that Midnight Robber, when read through the literary theories and poetry of Kamau Brathwaite, is a novel "possessed" by the Orishas and that they take on authorial roles. Chapter four analyzes the translation of Midnight Robber into Spanish ( Ladrona de medianoche, Isabel Merino Bode, 2002); presents a way of translating the novel's multiple languages; and puts contemporary translation theories in dialogue with Eshu-Elegguá's translative and interpretive functions. Chapter five argues for a way of reading Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys, 1966) through the figures of Eshu-Elegguá. ^ The objective is to explore the aesthetic codes and philosophies that the figures of Eshu-Elegguá carry into the texts; trace their voices across multiple forms of cultural expression; and navigate the dialogues that these intermediary figures open between a group of literary texts that have not yet been studied together. The dissertation extends the critical work on the selected literary texts; uses the arts to further understand the nature of these deities of communicability; and analyzes Afro-Atlantic texts through figures and interpretive systems from within the tradition. By surveying contemporary translation theories and based on my close reading of the translating capacities and metaphors that Eshu-Elegguá embody, I offer a new model for translation.^

Subject Area

Comparative literature|African American studies|Black studies|Caribbean literature

Recommended Citation

Dyer-Spiegel, Jacob A, "Following Eshu-Eleggua's codes: A comparative approach to the literatures of the African diaspora" (2011). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3465199.