The National Art of Signifyin(G):

Nicolás Guillén and Lydia Cabrera

in Racial Experiments in Cuban Literature and Ethnography

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780813037479
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780813042329 | DOI:
The National Art of Signifyin(G):

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This chapter examines how race is explored rhetorically and structurally in the short stories of Lydia Cabrera and the Afro-Antillean poems of Nicolás Guillén. Building on Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s concept of Signifyin(g), it shows how Cabrera and Guillén improvise on Afro-Cuban culture at a structural level, playing with genres such as the son and the folktale, to make Signifyin(g) function as both a racial and a national strategy. Guillén's Motivos de son, Sóngoro cosongo, and West Indies, Ltd., and Cabrera's Cuentos negros de Cuba combine high-culture literary style with popular linguistic styles to augment elements of word-play, improvisation, and humor already available in language production in the Caribbean. While Guillén's poetry uses Signifyin(g) to critique racist stereotypes and postcolonial structures of domination, Cabrera's stories contest and play with contemporary assumptions of literary and cultural authority.

Keywords: Nicolás Guillén; Lydia Cabrera; Signifyin(g); word-play; improvisation; humor; blackness; folktale; Motivos de son; Cuentos negros

Chapter.  15291 words. 

Subjects: Society and Culture

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