From the European South

a transdisciplinary journal of postcolonial humanities

Phantom limbs beating time: Black temporality in Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred



As a neo-slave narrative that revolves around a traumatic experience of time travel, Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred (1979) not only revises the historiography of slavery, but challenges traditional assumptions regarding Blackness. While intersecting different timelines to address power dynamics within race relations in the U.S. through Dana’s dysfunctional relationship with Rufus, the novel also interpellates its protagonist “as the point at which many collective identities intersect” (Wright 2015, 30). Dana’s severed arm thus is not solely the tangible evidence of the hard reality of her time travels – and, metaphorically, of the legacy of slavery – but the ghostly embodiment of a peculiar relationship with temporality, which takes its toll on Black subjects and yet is re-defined by their “un/imaginable lives” (Sharpe 2016, 18). The missing limb stands precisely for what cannot be explained using white Western notions of time and causality, a trauma which, however, would not exist without white oppression.


Octavia Butler, Kindred, Black Studies, trauma, phantom limb, temporality, neo-slave narratives



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