Jenny Sharpe

Jenny Sharpe


Professor of English, Comparative Literature and Gender Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles
Immaterial Archives: Lost Pasts, Salvaged Futures
Stuart Hall Fellow
Academic Year 2017-18


Jenny Sharpe is Professor of English, Comparative Literature and Gender Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles. Her areas of research and teaching are Caribbean literature, postcolonial studies, gender studies, narrative theory, and the black Atlantic.

Professor Sharpe is author of Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text, which provides historically-grounded readings of Anglo-Indian fiction for how representations of interracial rape helped manage a crisis in British colonial authority. Her book has been widely reviewed and is considered a classic in postcolonial studies. Ghosts of Slavery: A Literary Archeology of Black Women’s Lives derives from Caribbean literature new ways for reading resistance and women’s negotiations for power within the constraints of slavery. Her essays have appeared in boundary 2, Modern Fiction Studies, differences, Signs, PMLA, Small Axe, and Interventions, among other journals, while her research has been supported with fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the University of California President’s Office, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Pembroke Center at Brown University.

Project Description

Immaterial Archives: Lost Pasts, Salvaged Futures

The Guyanese author, Wilson Harris, famously declared that a “philosophy of history may well lie buried in the arts of the imagination.” My project derives from Caribbean arts of the imagination a philosophy of history that addresses the problem of archival loss. The works of the visual artists Frantz Zéphirin and Édouard Duval-Carrié, poets M. NourbeSe Philip and Kamau Brathwaite, and novelist Erna Brodber bring into representation intangible and invisible phenomena—emotions, sensations, spirits, and dreams—that reveal the limitations of official archives on slavery and post-slavery. They also introduce a Caribbean perspective into the metropolitan centers of Western modernity. My study is organized around four categories—Silence, The Invisible, Word Holes, and Dream Stories—that are derived from the literature and art. These categories, which are grounded in black vernacular culture, transform our understanding of material archives—whether they are written records, etchings and paintings, voice recordings, or even computer files—to include what I am calling immaterial evidence. The sounds, sentiments, and visions emerging from fragment and loss represent less a desire to return to the wholeness of a reconstructed past than a movement toward a transformative future.

Academic Year 2017-18: Stuart Hall Fellow



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