Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Mary Lou Emery
"Paradoxes of Particularity: Caribbean Literary Imaginaries," explores Caribbean literary responses to nationalism by focusing on Anglophone and Francophone post-war Caribbean novels as well as a selection of short fiction published in the 1930s and `40s. Because many Caribbean nations gained their independence relatively recently (Jamaica and Trinidad in the 1960s, the Bahamas, Grenada, Dominica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent in the `70s, Antigua and St. Kitts in the `80s) and because some remain colonial possessions (Aruba, Martinique, Guadeloupe, etc.), nationalism and its alternatives are of major literary concern to Caribbean authors. This project considers how and to what extent the writings of such authors as Edouard Glissant, Maryse Condé, and Robert Antoni counter nationalist tendencies with Pan-Caribbean alternatives, arguing that the Caribbean texts under examination propose that we view the Caribbean as a unified region despite substantial differences (racial, linguistic, colonial, etc.) that otherwise tend to encourage separate, nationalist sentiments. Moreover, these Caribbean texts paradoxically emphasize discrete identities based on racial pasts and language communities, even as they forward a Pan-Caribbean ideology: uniqueness is, for many Caribbean writers, the fundamental basis for a unified sense of "Caribbeanness." This project dubs the phenomenon the "paradox of particularity," and identifies it as a postcolonial rhetorical strategy in twentieth-century Caribbean fiction.
After an historical introduction, Chapter One examines the increasingly Pan-Caribbean content of Barbadian literary journal Bim, Martinican ex-patriate journal La Revue du Monde Noir, and BBC radio program Caribbean Voices. Each of these media sources encouraged contributors to focus on topics that were of central and unique concern to his/her island community. However, these concerns often overlapped: authors from multiple islands submitted fiction and essays touching on labor struggles, the plight of the poor, wartime anxieties, and racial inequalities. Thus, in printing that which was nominally unique and particular to individual islands, these widely digested media sources in fact highlighted similarities throughout the archipelago, setting the stage for bolder expressions of a particularity-based regionalism.
Chapter Two focuses on the Pan-Caribbean antillanité of Edouard Glissant. In Glissant's fiction, the only character capable of both recovering this past and of uniting the Caribbean is the defiantly isolated maroon (and, occasionally, his male descendants). Set against the backdrop of Martinique's fight to become a semi-autonomous département of France and the emergence of Jamaica and Trinidad as independent national entities, Glissant's novel La Lézarde (1958) at once celebrates postcolonial zeal for independence, and emphasizes that national autonomy is the first step in a process of regional unification.
Chapter Three looks at gendered and cultural counterpoints to Glissant's notion of "marooning," through novels that reimagine the history of New World slavery and the Caribbean Black Power Movement. The chapter focuses on Simone Schwarz-Bart's Pluie et Vent Sur Telumée Miracle (1972), in which an ostracized sorceress attempts to unite her fragmented community, Maryse Condé's Moi, Tituba, Sorcèriere Noire de Salem (1988), which imagines a Glissantian link between Barbados, other Caribbean islands, and North America through the benevolent workings of a black female maroon, André and Schwarz-Bart's La Mulâtresse Solitude (1972), which both recuperates an historical maroon figure (as, indeed does Condé) and imaginatively reconstructs the African past which informs her New World rebellion, and Michelle Cliff's Abeng (1984), which features a psychologically marooned heroine who imagines not only a unified Caribbean, but also a Caribbean that serves as the racially inclusive bridge between diasporic communities in North and South America. Ultimately, in identifying female maroons as the unifying agents of cultural transmission, Schwarz-Bart, Condé, and Cliff's experimental fiction not only proposes a feminist, regional alternative to patriarchal nationalism, but imaginatively links colonized Caribbean citizens to broader, nation-less communities of suffering.
Chapter Four focuses even more explicitly on formal and linguistic experimentation by examining Trinidadian Robert Antoni's Divina Trace (1991), and Martinican Patrick Chamoiseau's Texaco (1992) in relation to literary postmodernism. Rather than casting a wise maroon as the oracular voice of wisdom, both novels deluge us with a heteroglossic babble of voices, paradoxically suggesting that the potential for Caribbean interconnectedness lies in the collision of multiple, idiosyncratic uses of language. Moreover, by testing the boundaries of the novel form, these texts gesture toward the possibility of formally innovative alternatives to the nation-state.
Thus, this project both identifies the "paradox of particularity" (in which difference is the defining component of group identity) as a postcolonial tactic in twentieth-century Caribbean fiction and demonstrates the intense political engagement of experimental modernist and postmodern Caribbean fiction. By strategically keeping individuality and collectivity in tension with one another, these writers offer a model for postcolonial independence that both preserves autonomy and avoids mimicking the colonial Western nation-state.
Copyright 2010 Heidi Lee LaVine
LaVine, Heidi Lee. "Paradoxes of particularity: Caribbean literary imaginaries." dissertation, University of Iowa, 2010.