T. Kirk – Hopkinson Summary
Break/Beat! One- Drop
In my summary I want to pull into focus the creative ruptures that Nalo Hopkinson uses in Salt Roads, unconventional rhetorical moves that are a bit perplexing, much more so than her more conventional shifts in point of view. Alongside of the two narratives and the development of the “zami” relationships between Mer/Tipingee and Lisette/Jeanne, Hopkinson introduces a third cord as she weaves her tall tale. The first rupture occurs on page 39 with a section titled, “BREAK/.” A break, indeed. The next several pages are a series of ruptures in the text with individual titles: “BREAK/; BEAT!; “ONE-“; “DROP” (pp. 39-46). I didn’t know quite what to make of these intrusions until I reached the section titled “SISTER” on page 55. Here I received some clarity as to the effect, if not the purpose, of this queer layer of the text. Bear with me as I attempt to make connections as a means of summarizing a portion of the novel for today’s class.
The first few lines on page 56 transport the reader back to the first rupture in the two streams of narrative development: “Bind, linear, I quiet inside the ginger-coloured woman’s body. Words are new to me. They come to me as barrages of sensation that were her own, and are now mine.” Being that the form of the text is more like poetry than prose, the reader is forced to explicate the text in terms of its unidentified speaker. On the first page of text (40), the reader is able to ascertain a birth of sorts and a becoming, but beyond that initial impression, the meaning of the text is deliberately deferred and revealed in concert with the two “zami” narratives as they progress together—simultaneously.
On the next page of text (42), the reader is confronted with the concept of the temporality of the speaker’s place/space locus. The reader is taken back to a specific, temporal juncture with Mer’s singularity, situated at the moment when Mer’s thigh is branded (referred to only in passing on page 4) and then to the slave ship, to water, and to sky—freedom in flight. The concept of nonlinear time is introduced in the middle of the page: “Time does not flow for me. Not for me the progression in a straight line from earliest to latest. Time eddies. I am now then, now there, sometimes simultaneously.” As free-floating and random as the text at first appears, Hopkinson tethers it directly to the Mer/Tipingee narrative that precedes it on page 37, where Tipingee’s sorrow song ends and Mer’s temporal center eludes her—momentarily. She leaves her body, her “soul case”; she is taken and then returned.
In the “ONE-” section on page 44, it is apparent that the speaker, whom we may call Mer, is now looking out through Jeanne’s eyes and experiencing a crossing over: “How do I know anything? How is it that my arms stretched out in front of me are so pale? How do I even know they should be brown like the rich, riverbank mud . . .?” Here the single/doubled speaker grows exponentially to become ALL, which becomes one, “all squeezed together, many necks in one coffle.”
And finally, in the “DROP” section, the speaker identifies both the absence of time (the nonlinear quality of her existence) and the presence of time existing simultaneously. The speaker is caught in “someone’s soul case.”
Each of the four prior ruptures build on each other and prefigures the longer and more detailed development of “Mer” existing inside of “Jeanne’s” “soul case” on page 56.
1) How does Hopkinson’s fictional landscape intersect with Lorde’s conception of “zami” and “the erotic as power”?
2) How might the following quote from Eve Sedgwick’s Queer and Now relate to Hopkinson’s “queer” novel?: “We needed for there to be sites where the meanings didn’t line up tidily with each other, and we learned to invest those sites with fascination and love. This can’t help coloring the adult relation to cultural texts and objects; in fact, it’s almost hard for me to imagine another way of coming to care enough about literature to give a lifetime to it.” (3)
3) For the uninitiated, it might be tempting to think of Hopkinson’s novel as “queer” simply because of the exotic “zami” relationships, but it is not so. And if not, what indeed is “queer” about the novel?
4) What are the “salt roads”?
5) How might Mer function in a capacity that is representative of M. Jacqui Alexander’s idea that “all spaces carry the potential for corruptibility” and her summons to build “oppositional practices within and across multiple simultaneous sites?” Likewise, how might Makandal represent the danger of being “continually, one-sidedly oppositional?” (6).
I love what you say about the queerness of the text, and your questions will be great places to focus for discussion in class.
There’s an identity given to the mysterious speaker who flows across time and through the consciousness of Jeanne and the others, though: on page 119 she is identified as Ezili, a spirit in Vodoun, and that name comes back around repeatedly in the text. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erzulie