The Signification of the Door of No Return (MLA, 2005)


Modern Language Association, Washington D.C. – 2005

Dionne Brand titled her 2001 autobiographical work A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging. By calling her book “a map” she foregrounds the importance of the process of mapping, and the importance of the artifact of the map, yet the figure she invokes most consistently is not the map itself but the destination: The Door of No Return. Of course, the book itself is a physical apparatus in which Brand’s narrative voice both examines and exemplifies the mind of a subject who seeks access to the Door of No Return. Though labeled an autobiography, this book also functions as a critical analysis of subject development within the Diaspora. Within this analysis, the Door’s functions multiply. First, the Door is a historical fiction—a recreation of a place from the past which gives it a living presence to readers. Second, the Door functions as an experience from the author’s life as she narrates her own relationship to it. Third, the Door operates as a conceptual model, or what Brand calls a “cognitive schema” used to describe a psychological phenomenon. In all three cases, this work, creative, autobiographical and theoretical centers around the textual representation of the Door. This paper focuses on the Door’s third function—that of a cognitive schema for African Diasporic subject development. Brand argues that, for Diasporic subjects, the door is the beginning of everything: identity, identification, and even existence itself. She writes, “In some desolate sense [the door] was the creation place of Blacks in the New World” (Brand 5). Map to the Door articulates a subject position both formed and informed by the forced rupture between subjects and their origins, a rupture which generates a particular process of identification, and the Door of No Return serves as a signifying tool for subjects within the Diaspora.