Autobiography of the Other: David Dabydeen and the Imagination of Slavery

Asako Nakai


Autobiography is an important undercurrent of postcolonial literature, which offers a new tradition that deviates from the orthodoxy of "western" autobiography. David Dabydeen (1955- ), the Guyanese-British poet, novelist, and scholar of literature and art, has also been working on this new stream of autobiography. This paper focuses on Dabydeen's Hogarth's Blacks (1985) and A Harlot's Progress (1999). The former is a critical work in which Dabydeen celebrates Hogarth by asserting that Hogarth successfully represented the class solidarity between black slaves and underclass whites. And yet, the novel A Harlot's Progress, based on Hogarth's serial of prints of the same title, illustrates how solidarity among the oppressed – for example, that between the white prostitute (Moll) and the black servant in the second plate of Hogarth's serial – turns out to be impossible. A Harlot's Progress is a fictional slave narrative which offers a new model for postcolonial autobiography, which this paper proposes to term the "autobiography of the other." It means to write an "I" narrative that is not my own – an impossible project as logically no one can author an autobiography of someone else. It is a project divided between the demand for the utopian self liberated from any social binding, and the latent and persistent desire for the community where the self should return and belong. In this light, the project does not only analyze slavery of the past, but it gives a most serious critique of the atomization of contemporary British society.


postcolonial; autobiography; slavery

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