Immaterial Archives

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ISBN 978-0-8101-4159-9

Cloth Text – $99.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-4158-2

Paper Text – $34.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-4157-5
Publication Date
March 2020
Page Count
216 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

Immaterial Archives

An African Diaspora Poetics of Loss
Jenny Sharpe

In this innovative study, Jenny Sharpe moves beyond the idea of art and literature as an alternative archive to the historical records of slavery and its aftermath. Immaterial Archives explores instead the intangible phenomena of affects, spirits, and dreams that Caribbean artists and writers introduce into existing archives. Through an attention to the transformative powers of African diaspora cultures, Sharpe examines how the visual art of Frantz Zéphirin and Edouard Duval-Carrié, and literary writings of M. NourbeSe Philip, Erna Brodber, and Kamau Brathwaite rework the conventions of archival knowledge. Through these works, Immaterial Archives explores silence as a black female space, Afro-Creole sacred worlds as diasporic cartographies, and the imaginative conjoining of spirits with industrial technologies as disruptions of enlightened modernity. Organized around the categories of “Silence,” “The Invisible,” “Word Holes,” and “DreamStories,” which are derived from the creative works themselves, Immaterial Archives contends with our understanding of the archive as written record, visual image, sound recording, and digitized copy. This book is essential reading for scholars and students in black cultural studies, Caribbean studies, feminist studies, and postcolonial studies.

About the Author

JENNY SHARPE is a professor of English, comparative literature, and gender studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the author of Ghosts of Slavery: A Literary Archeology of Black Women’s Lives and Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text.


“Jenny Sharpe’s Immaterial Archives pushes us to resist the archival impulse to connect fragments and close silences. Instead, she counsels us to follow the lead of the Caribbean literary and visual artists she reads. Through literature and art, we discover new ways of engaging with our collective pasts—and to appreciate the aesthetic imagination of enslaved human beings who invented their own futures beyond the epistemological frame of their European oppressors. As relevant for reading the social past as for producing the social and political today.” —Angela Y. Davis, author of Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement


Immaterial Archives offers a brilliantly informed examination of how a number of Afro-Caribbean writers and visual artists 'disrupt, bend, and break categories of archival knowledge.' Sharpe astutely explores these works to celebrate their creative use of dreams, spirits, visions, silences, and music to form 'a disquieting re-creation of immaterial Caribbean archives.' This volume is a fascinating and important addition to the critical literature.” —Henry Louis Gates, Jr., author of And Still I Rise: Black America Since MLK

“The question underlying Immaterial Archives is: how do Caribbean writers and artists attempt to give shape and form to immateriality, to what appears to be missing from the physical archives? The book’s implicit thesis is that their attempts to do so have provided some of the most compelling contributions to Caribbean literature and art over the last quarter century or so, a thesis Jenny Sharpe goes on to prove through a series of meticulous readings, often stunning in their originality.” —Peter Hulme, author of The Dinner at Gonfarone's: Salomón de la Selva and His Pan-American Project in Nueva York, 19151919