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Avey has consumed her own illness. Her illness is excess. She is sick because she eats too much. Obesity is its visible manifestation. Fat encases the heart, clogs coronary arteries, and causes myocardial infarction. Fat is associated with some forms of malignancy. 15 “Indigestion” was only one indication that Avey’s self- control had broken down. Stylishly dressed and age appropriate, the woman who stared at her from the huge gilt-framed mirror aboard the cruise ship, Art and the Ancestor Narrative 45 department store windows, even her bathroom mirror would never be confused with one of those uncouth, socially unacceptable Negroes.

The Ancestor Narrative is both old and new. In its old, Black Nationalist/Afrocentric version, black people owe a debt to the ancestors that must be paid. This debt is paid through reverence and remembrance, through religio as traditio. When accurate, this form of religio is a slavish form of mimesis—of relegere that retraces the ways of the ancestors without question. When inaccurate, which is often the case, this form of reverence and remembrance is sheer fantasy, made in America. As should be evident, the proponents of this older Afrocentric version of Black Religion as Ancestor Piety are indebted to the essentialism of the Soul Narrative and the nostalgia of the Church Narrative.

The spontaneity and sensuality that long characterized his life with Avey disappear. They no longer dance in gay abandon across the living-room floor. Traditional sources of spiritual renewal die from disuse: sacrificed to money-making, to controlling the ghetto chaos, a frightening glimpse of which Jay had caught on a winter evening in 1947. Jay’s relentless pursuit of wealth, driven by his obsessive desire for “success,” leads to spiritual impoverishment, communal alienation, and a kind of social death.

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