My Beloved is a Bass Line: Musical, "De-colonial" Interventions in Song Criticism and Sacred Erotic Discourse

Heidi Epstein


What meanings might be composed from the Song of Song’s amatory and horticultural language if it is read with a sense of love as irreducibly “de-colonial”?  For Chela Sandoval, (2000) ‘true love’ resides in the “double consciousness”, interstitial agency and “tactical sign-reading” with which colonised subjects deconstruct “Euro-American artifacts” like 'love,' 'soul,' 'knowledge' to then redefine them in de-colonial terms.  I construct a womanist intertextual matrix for the Song to illustrate how productive this hermeneutic shift might be.  In Alice Walker’s search for her foremothers’ gardens (1983), gardens and songs compose an ambivalent metonymic economy. Songs as gardens and gardens as songs trigger haunted longing; they are goads for remembrance, rebellion and public grieving. Toni Morrison’s ‘commentary’ on the Song (Beloved) circulates similar de-colonial energies.

Such intertexts chasten the whiteness not only of earlier resistant readings that mobilised the Song to contest the heteronormative politics of love as a cultural practice, but also 1) Boer’s utopian reading of the Song’s agricultural economy as self-generating plenitude (2007); 2) Black’s construal of the Shulammite’s blackness as a non-racialised opacity that affords romantic agency (2006).  De-colonial intertexts beg re-signification of the Song’s musicality, its garden imagery, its female protagonist’s blackness and vineyard migrations in terms that critically intervene in the racial and economic politics of love as a cultural practice. 

Additionally, given that music figures centrally in Walker’s, Morrisons’s and Sandoval’s genealogies of love, a de-colonial reading of the Song mandates construction of a subaltern musical archive within the Eurocentric discourse of sacred eroticism which the Song subtends as an ur-text: if the Shulammite’s erotic longing and seeking are re-read as de-colonial and “trickster”-esque, she begets a subaltern musical family tree—audible today,  I shall argue, in the ‘shulammitc’ bass-playing and protest-singing of Meshell Ndegéocello,.



Meshell Ndegéocello; Toni Morrison; Chela Sandoval; Song of Songs; Womanist Prose; Beloved (Morrison); Alice Walker; Song of Solomon;Music

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Bible and Critical Theory: ISSN 1832-3391