“Art-iculating” Affective Citizenship: Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For

  • Lydya Efthymia Roupakia International Hellenic University


Most critical readings of What We All Long For argue that belonging in this text is overtly anti-national and that identity is restructured around notions of urban or transcultural affiliation. This paper offers a close reading of the central role art plays in the novel in order to disclose Brand’s nascent interest in the affective dimensions of socio-cultural entanglements and their implication for re-conceiving community and citizenship. Stuart Hall’s concept of “vernacular cosmopolitanism” (2002) is read as an attempt to articulate the political significance of conflicting emotions and loyalties in arguments about cosmopolitan belonging. Hall’s observation calls for the recognition of an affective citizenship that is attentive to embodied political subjects who are capable of challenging dominant identity politics on a terrain defined by the emotional registers of the political. Drawing on Sarah Ahmed’s The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004) and on Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s notion of “critical intimacy” (1999), this essay argues that Brand’s novel draws attention to the role of uncomfortable emotions in redirecting reason, as well as to the role of art in mobilizing affective civic reconnection. Art in Brand’s What We All Long For is claimed as a space where affective citizenship can be articulated and practiced. Keywords: affect; citizenship; cosmopolitanism; belonging; multiculturalism; family