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Sacraments of MemoryCatholicism and Slavery in Contemporary African American Literature$
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Erin Michael Salius

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780813056890

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813056890.001.0001

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A Sacred Communion

A Sacred Communion

The Catholic Side of Possession in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and Two Wings to Veil My Face

Chapter:
(p.67) 2 A Sacred Communion
Source:
Sacraments of Memory
Author(s):

Erin Michael Salius

Publisher:
University Press of Florida
DOI:10.5744/florida/9780813056890.003.0003

Chapter 2 focuses on another trope that upsets the realist and rationalist discourse of slavery: spirit possession. Whereas existing scholarship stresses the postmodernist resonances of this trope, the chapter argues that Catholicism serves to frame—and even to facilitate—the antirealist effect that spirit possession has on two contemporary narratives of slavery. First is Ernest Gaines’s The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, which is one of the earliest examples of the genre and a novel rarely associated with either spirit possession or Catholicism. By highlighting where Jane’s narrative voice is possessed by other speakers, this chapter documents how the Catholic characters in the novel enable it to engage radically antirealist views about history without ultimately endorsing them. The second part of the chapter focuses on Leon Forrest’s critically acclaimed but insufficiently studied novel Two Wings to Veil My Face, which also figures storytelling as a kind of spirit possession. Despite its obvious skepticism towards organized religion, the novel depicts these spiritual intercessions as Catholic sacraments: rituals of eating and drinking that recall the Eucharist. Thus, Catholicism is implicated in the way the narrator remembers slavery and in the parts of his history that are “beyond understanding.”

Keywords:   Spirit possession, Postmodernist, Ernest Gaines, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Leon Forrest, Two Wings to Veil My Face, Eucharist, Antirealist, Sacraments

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