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The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,093 ratings  ·  43 reviews
Afrocentrism. Eurocentrism. Caribbean Studies. British Studies. To the forces of cultural nationalism hunkered down in their camps, this bold hook sounds a liberating call. There is, Paul Gilroy tells us, a culture that is not specifically African, American, Caribbean, or British, but all of these at once, a black Atlantic culture whose themes and techniques transcend ethn ...more
Paperback, 280 pages
Published 1995 by Harvard University Press (first published June 1993)
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 ·  1,093 ratings  ·  43 reviews

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Jan 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2010
This is one of those books you wish you could have read when it first came out. I know Gilroy's been done to death, and the term "black Atlantic" doesn't have quite as much academic suction as it used to, but the transnationalism espoused by this book is a must read for anyone involved in the study of humanities (not to mention its retheorizing). What I most enjoyed were Gilroy's reclamation of forgotten corners of scholarship. His views on Richard Wright's European labors were especially refres ...more
Sep 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018, research
I actually think I'd expected it it be better, or more mind-blowing, but some parts are truly brilliant, and it makes me really curious for an analysis applying Gilroy's thought to texts like Dirty Computer or The Unkindness of Ghosts.
This is an important and nuanced book. Unfortunately, I also found it entirely unreadable -- and I have read a lot of theory. It's definitely on the opaque end of the spectrum, to the point where I could barely follow the author's argument. I wish it was written with more clarity and less jargon.
Ryan Murtha
Oct 02, 2018 rated it liked it
This may have been groundbreaking stuff in 1993 but now any class on race will cover his argument on the first week of class. He's not a great writer, so it's a lot of work just to access what is maybe not the most profound thesis. You can probably find more recent authors who have made the same argument much more clearly.
Mar 03, 2018 added it
Shelves: read-in-2018
This is one of those *ambitious* books.

I am particularly taken by the early (and emblematic) reading of that Turner painting -- you know, that Turner painting. I've looked at it in the MFA about a dozen times. I knew it was a slave ship, and that it was an abolitionist painting, in addition to being a masterpiece of English (visual) Romanticism, all fire and water and turbulence. I didn't know it was in Ruskin's collection, and that he refused to interpret it as anything more than an aesthetic
Oct 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
While the overall concept of "the black Atlantic" was quite innovative and helpful to approaching issues of transnational culture, this book was difficult to get through due to dense language and its rich diversity of cultural resources: popular music, black intellectuals' biographies, literature, etc. The basic concept takes issue with racial constructions of culture defined by national boundaries. As the 17th and 18th centuries' slave trade broke down national borders for Africans who were tra ...more
Nov 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: school
Employing literary techniques to critique the nationalist and ethnic focus of cultural studies, Gilroy analyzes a range of texts, authors, and artists as seemingly discordant as W.E.B. Du Bois, Jimi Hendrix, Richard Wright, and 2 Live Crew. In doing so, he reveals how black intellectual history and the role of black slavery and oppression both fueled modernity, despite being largely absent from the academic record. He also addresses the inescapable hybridity, instability, and continual change of ...more
Andee Nero
Jul 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is a great book with an important message concerning the writing of cultural history, but I gave it 4 stars because I have a problem with books that advocate large-scale change but are unnecessarily written in a way that makes it inaccessible to a large audience. The concepts Gilroy discusses, such as the double-identity of black Europeans, slavery as a reminder that history does not equal progress and the modern black identity that arose in the Atlantic outside of national/ethnic bounds, d ...more
Justin Evans
Surely the worst book ever written about a great idea. The chapter on Wright was pretty good, the chapter on Dubois and 'Hegel' possibly the worst I've ever read, mainly because Gilroy seems to have followed the Althusser approach to analysis of philosophical argument, that is, not reading the book (Hegel's Phenomenology) he's talking about. Vastly influential, unreadable and unconvincing- but that central idea was a great one.
Aug 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Read this for my undergraduate History thesis. His discussion of authenticity as measured as the distance from codes of minstrrelsy was particularly salient to my discussion of Paul Robeson as a performer.
Dec 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Right now no book is influencing my thinking and scholarship as much as this one.

A must-read for people interested in African-American Studies, Caribbean Studies, studies of popular music, Transnational Americas, the African Diaspora, post-colonial studies or anything like that.
Sep 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: academic
canonical. meandering. frustrating.

i know i'll revisit this later.
Jan 24, 2009 is currently reading it
This is a difficult read.
Grace Heneks
Oct 23, 2015 rated it liked it
Nope. Not at this point in the semester.
Mar 05, 2017 rated it liked it
This is about as an enlightening book as it is confusing. This is a paradigm shifting book in the field of Af-Am studies, and is very Foucaultian in its free-form incorporation of philosophy, history, and popular culture. A way to think about the Black Atlantic without using nationality or race. It complicates Dubois' double consciousness. Idea of the nation within the nation is not tenable. Gilroy doesn't want to get rid of "blackness" entirely however, as he locates the unifying factor of the ...more
Sep 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
This work is a true shift in thinking, placing the Middle Passage and its ongoing forms of slavery as the pivotal framework of modernity. There is so much here about movements across, about nation-building and cultural texts, about sound and the body, about forms of kinship and togetherness.
Mike Mena
Oct 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Theoretically challenging, and most definitely for advanced reader. I will be returning to this book for many years.
Sep 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Seminal work from the 1980s exploring the post enlightenment critique of leading black thinkers. The book led to a new field of research.
Doris Raines
Dec 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An essential work, but one that I (once again) found a bit of a chore to read because of Gilroy's elaborate digressions that make it hard to follow his overall argument at times.
Mar 08, 2017 added it
This was an incredible book. Always a fan of literature like this.
Mar 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
Gilroy is seen by some as the guy who reminded Cultural Studies that race is essential to consider when analyzing culture. His argument is that Black culture is an inherently diasporic beast, and his book underlines the ways in which seemingly nationalistic developments were always already influenced by transatlantic cultural flows. He emphasizes how Black culture also borrows from but never entirely adopts Western culture, making it a kind of countercultural movement, and works to demonstrate h ...more
Cara Byrne
Sep 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"How do black expressive cultures practice remembrance? How is their remembering socially organised? How is this active remembrance associated with a distinctive and disjunctive temporality of the subordinated? How are this temporality and historicity constructed and marked out publicly?" (212). These are just a sampling of the incredibly insightful questions Gilroy raises in his dense, thoughtful, and critical work. As this work has shaped the last 20 years of critical race theory, it's an impo ...more
Irene Wang
Dec 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Afrocentrism. Eurocentrism. Caribbean Studies. British Studies. To the forces of cultural nationalism hunkered down in their camps, this bold hook sounds a liberating call. There is, Paul Gilroy tells us, a culture that is not specifically African, American, Caribbean, or British, but all of these at once, a black Atlantic culture whose themes and techniques transcend ethnicity and nationality to produce something new and, until now, unremarked. Challenging the practices and assumptions of cultu ...more
Jan 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
good book, whose central thesis needs to be expanded to truly be a great book. Gilroy said it was heuristic in nature and a setting of the stage for future theoretical developments. These will have to include a holistic approach of the black atlanic that does not just talk about the USA, and the anglophone caribbean but includes the black histories and narrartives of the hispanophone carribbean, brazil, and the rest of south america.
(Gilroy is illuminary in his treatment of black music)
Jan 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
brilliant. this book changed the way i understand racism, modernity, hybridity and diaspora. a great reworking of the heavies: w.e.b. dubois and richard wright. gilroy makes connections and opens avenues of inquiry that are exhilirating.
Sep 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
Fantastic analytical work on the African diaspora by an English scholar, Paul Gilroy. Highly intense, requiring a bit more than a basic understanding of the African slave trade. Not a book for the casual reader, but for those looking at understanding modern racial relations need search no longer.
Dec 30, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: theory, race
The relation of intersecting global African Diaspora communities to 'double consciousness' seemed to get lost in his discourse of Black cultures. I've decided, however to read all of Richard Wright.
May 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Talk about diaspora...!
Patrick Chappell
Sep 11, 2008 rated it liked it
A cool look at circum-Atlantic culture, though Gilroy's writing style is meandering and ambiguous too often. Brilliant content, frustrating style.
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Paul Gilroy is the Anthony Giddens Professor of Social Theory at the London School of Economics.

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