Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Comparative Literature (Interdepartmental Program)

Document Type



My dissertation, under the direction of Dr Pius Ngandu Nkashama explores the spread of African rhetorical tropes in the Atlantic world. Building on Henry Louis Gates theory of Signifying, I use the West African God of fate Èsù and the West African cultural figure of the griot as cultural referents for the persistence of African tropes in the New World and their subsequent dissemination throughout the Atlantic world. Analyzing those two West African referents and their connections to New World cultures such as Afro-Brazilian capoeira angola, hip hop and African-American poetry, I attempt to demonstrate the centrality of the trope of Signifying in the Black Atlantic world through the analysis of related concepts and through close textual analysis. Strategic dissimulation, deception and double-entendre appear as fundamental strategic rhetorical tricks that are shared both by African and Afro-Diasporic populations. I present those rhetorical tricks as both part of an African cultural continuum and an incorporation and response to oppression and exploitation of African people worldwide. In the diverse forms I analyze, I am more specifically interested in the contact between orality and the culture of writing, in black intertextuality, in the circulation of Signifying in the Atlantic world, as well as the historical dimension of this trope in particular as it relates to myth formation. The introduction to this work explores the imperialist framework which has determined relations between Western nations and Africa for at least four hundred years, up until the present period. The in depth analysis of the mechanisms of imperialism and colonialism in the work of authors such as Edward Said, Albert Memmi and Frantz Fanon constitutes the back bone of this introduction. The first chapter focuses on the West African figures of Èsù and the griot as cultural referents for the New World. I describe the place these figures occupy in their respective societies and isolate common features such as mediation, ambiguity, liminality as basis for the rest of my analysis. The second chapter is focused on the New World human manifestations of the West African principles described in chapter one. I describe first the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira angola, then focus on the African American verse tradition and finally describe hip hop culture, and rap in particular. The capoeirista, the African American poet and the rapper all appear as New World embodiment of the West African griot. The third and final chapter is dedicated to the analysis of poems and songs from our New World cultural forms. I focus more specifically on Henry Louis Gates’ concept of Signifying, in particular in the tension between orality and the culture of writing present within this trope. I also look at black intertextuality through Signifying revisions. Finally, I focus my analysis on myth formation in those different forms.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Ngandu, Pius