Joe Pemberton

forever and ever amen

Themes and Concepts

Migration and imagined space in Joe Pemberton’s Forever and Ever Amen. Robert Crawshaw and Corinne Fowler Lancaster University, Moving Manchester Project   ABSTRACT   Literature has long been seen by historians, sociologists and geographers as determining collective perceptions of place. It is only relatively recently, however, as the blurred boundaries between documentary and ‘re-imaginings’ have become more intensively theorised, that creative writing has been accepted as an important resource for Social Science research. Following Gopindath (2007), this essay argues that certain types of ‘poetic’ text (cf Jakobson 1960) extend the traditional limits of ethnography to a point where creative output becomes a data source in its own right, offering new understandings of the overlapping layers of experience which characterise life in culturally mixed environments and bringing together the ‘global’ and ‘the local’ within a single ‘imagined space’. Forever and Ever Amen demonstrates the potential of narratives informed by the experience of migration to present what anthropologist Roger Rouse terms ‘alternative cartographies of social space’ (Rouse 1991).   Joe Pemberton’s autobiographical novel Forever and Ever Amen (2000) depicts the childhood experiences of the nine-year-old son of Caribbean couple and explores migration and ‘post-memory’ (Hirsch, 1997) through the fictional representation of two distinctive locations: Moss Side in Manchester and the West Indian island of St Kitts. In the terminology of Lefebvre (1974), Pemberton’s novel succeeds in fusing diverse ‘produced’ (i.e. economically and discursively generated), ‘social’ and ‘mental’ spaces within a unified, imaginary vision. The book refers explicitly to the economic conditions leading to the family’s migration from St Kitts in the 1950s and describes the experiential dimensions of Moss Side’s partial destruction during the ‘slum clearances’ ordered by Manchester City Council ten years later. Yet through processes of ‘metaphorical transfer’ and ‘space-time compression’, the nine-year-old protagonist interweaves the remembered ‘real’ with dream-like reconstructions derived from the stories of others. The ‘imagined space’ of the novel allows characters from different places and generations to mingle on equal terms and thereby redefines the social relationships within and between families, classes, and cultures over a period of more than 50 years. As such, the novel challenges popular stereotypes of Moss Side, to the extent that it has been adopted by Manchester municipal education authority as offering a more realistic appraisal of multicultural life in Northern Britain. Click here for the full article:

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