THE ARTS JOURNAL
Vol. 2 Number 1
Introduction: Victor J. Ramraj, Guest Editor
Like the early West Indian diaspora writer, our contemporary group takes various approaches to their relationship to their and their parents’ original and adopted homelands, depicting protagonists some responding to their in-betweeness as expatriates and exiles uncomfortable with their present lives and yearning for their homeland, some as immigrants and descendants of immigrants participating actively in the reconceptualisation of the nationhood of their current homes, and some as diaspora individuals per se linked by a common history of uprooting and dispersal, a common cultural heritage, and a common homeland that over the years becomes more an imagined community to which they may or may not actually want to return. Whatever their particular case may be, for those of the diaspora, the homeland consciously or subconsciously touches them (Ramraj 278-279). As Harald Leusman says in his review of Fred D’Aguiar’s novel Bethany Bettany, “Guyana is certainly on Fred D’Aguiar’s mind.”
Monica Bungaro: (In)Appropriate Others: Black Youth Female Identities in Andrea Levy’s Novels.
Taken together, Levy’s novels confront readers with the complexity of cultural identities that are not attached to rigid, socially-constructed definitions of gender, race, class; rather, they form at the crossroads of these categories and fluidly move through and between them to ensure survival in the borderlands. In this way, it remains impossible to stereotype what and who represents “British Blackness,” and there fore what represents “home.” Taken as a whole the novels show heterogeneity and performativity of Caribbean/British identity. Caribbean-British women’s diverse and contradictory definitions of “home” in Andrea Levy’s texts make clear that “home” is not a rooted, stable place that is discoverable; rather it is a social, emotional, geographical and political space that each character actively creates in her life.
Nancy Ellen Batty: From “Miss Lou” to [Star Trek’s] Zulu: The Multiple Communities of Nalo Hopkinson.
I want to raise this possibility, however, particularly the suggestion that Hopkinson’s work is less serious, less politically engaged, and therefore of less interest to those scholars who call themselves postcolonialists, only in order to demonstrate its opposite. What makes Nalo Hopkinson an important writer for both communities of readers, and not just those who enjoy science-fiction, is her ability to imagine and depict a future, for once, that entertains the idea of true diversity. Why should the future resemble the world of Star Trek or Star Wars, for that matter, in which the heroes are, predominantly, white and male? By projecting onto distant planets a thriving Caribbean culture and dialect, and by depicting a protagonist like Tan-Tan, whose heroism arises from vulnerability and necessity, not vainglory, Hopkinson provides a refreshing alternative to the “notoriously sexist and imperialist tendencies” (Markley and Batty, 7) of the hard science fiction that has dominated British and American models of science fiction. At the same time, she reminds postcolonial scholars that it is as important for us to imagine otherworldly and future possibilities as it is to dwell on the injustices of the present world.
Corey Coates: “Nothing Everywhere”: Naming Self and Society in the Poetry of Lorna Goodison and Derek Walcott.
Walcott has stated in an interview that the “English language is nobody’s special property. It is a property of the imagination: it is a property of the language itself” (Hamner 73). Walcott’s poetry prepares and prompts Goodison’s, and in their consideration of like subjects, they enter into dialogue. Sometimes, when they arrive at the same imaginative destinations, their voices merge into a Caribbean historical-political monologue. An insight observed is how definition of names, if not names themselves, can be altered and rewritten. Names tell us who we were, who we are, and who we will be, but clearly not always at the same time. Especially in Goodison’s writing, a name is a prismatic object, streaming connotations from and through the minds of readers and poet alike. By studying the naming poetry of Derek Walcott and Lorna Goodison, we grasp how names are shaped by gender, race, and other broadly historical and political concerns. As these two and other poets remind us, what’s in a name is nothing and everything; a name is an empty awaiting meaning – awaiting, verily, its (successive) christenings.
Camille Isaacs: History Turned “Upside Dung”: The English as Underdog in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.
To return to the teeth metaphor, the concept of nation, the constructed entity (the dentures) no longer fit the physical space, the actual nation (the mouth). Most of the characters in White Teeth feel this displacement between the imagined community or nation and their place in it. Irie feels she is a “stranger in a stranger land” (206). Samad has lost his “bearings” (188). Clara describes her situation as one where “something is gained but something is lost” (45). This alienation does not mean that if one reconceptualises the nation, one can then definitely refigure one’s place in that nation. The current condition seems to be one of constant reconceptualisation and refiguring. As Anderson writes, “the nation presents itself as simultaneously open and closed” (146). The community member is thus forced to constantly renegotiate his or her place in a nation that is itself constantly undergoing transformation. This constant reconceptualisation might explain why dentists insist on refitting dentures every few years. The shape of the mouth changes. Eating habits are altered. It also explains the postmodern inability to concretely pin history down. One interpretation cannot accurately be said to be “truth” when everything is in flux. What Smith appears to be advocating is not the complete replacing of the old teeth with new, but a mixture of the two, some crowned, some filled, some rooted, others shaky. The book’s hope is that the variety of teeth functions well, while at the same time creating a completely different bite.
Andrea Medovarski: Tessa McWatt’s Out of My Skin: “Belonging Is What You Give Yourself”.
For Daphne, born and raised in Canada by Anglo-White parents, there are no simple correlations between identity and place as there are for Sheila. Not finding herself anywhere in her migrant narratives, Daphne realizes that she must construct herself according to different paradigms. Just as she articulates kinship as a process extending beyond the boundaries of biological families, so too must her conceptualization of ethnicity encompass, other, fluid possibilities.
Pamela McCallum and Chris Olbey: “Standing in the Middle of the World Cracking”: Class, Cultural Memory, and Collectivity in Dionne Brand’s At the Full and Change of the Moon.
Brand uses the presence of the ancestor and the tradition of slave song to underscore the crucial connections between the formations of collectivity and developments of Black resistance to domination. Indeed the forms of collectivity and communal commitment that swirl around the figure of Marie Ursule in the novel’s opening pages function as a counterpoint to her generations most of whom will pursue forms of freedom limited by much more individualistic goals and desires. When she presents the ancestral Marie Ursule to contemporary readers, Brand’s narrative performs a function similar to the traditional role of syncretistic religions produced by African-descended peoples in the New World: “Obeah (like the Haitian Voodoo, or the Jamaican variant, Myalism, or Trinidadian Shango)sought ritualistic links with the spirit world beyond the shadows and the sacred trees providing a mystical sense of continuity between the living, the dead, and those yet to be born”.
Melanie Otto: The Shallow Grave of the Text: African Narratives in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and Pauline Melville’s Erzulie.
…much of Rhys criticism is directed at her use of black models of resistance in portraying white creole women. However, as a white creole in Europe, Antoinette’s status is that of a colonial other, and her identification with African-Caribbean culture serves to express that sense of otherness. As intuitive dimensions of her character, Freda and Danto anchor Antoinette’s identity firmly within the complex cultural paradigm of the Caribbean. At the same time, the desire encoded in the Freda-Danto paradigm is inverted: Antoinette’s desire is not for Freda’s privilege, but for Danto’s blackness. Ultimately, Freda and Danto offer Antoinette an alternative psychobiography – one that brings together the fragments of her divided self.
Jordan Stouck: “A Garden of Her Own”: Caribbean-Canadian Spaces and Identities in Shani Mootoo’s Fiction.
The dynamic reconceptualisation of spaces and identities proposed by cosmopolitan, diasporic and, in Canadian and Caribbean contexts, multicultural and creole theoretical models is an attractive alternative to traditional identity politics; yet, in practice, in fiction such as Mootoo’s, it is problematised by the continual desire for spatial belonging or rootedness and by the losses that can also accompany transnational movements. Rather than uncomplicatedly embracing a diasporic vision, Mootoo deploys horticultural as a figure for rooted or spatially oriented identity within the practice of migration. … Her work questions how we think of identity in relation to space and how we seek to construct a revised sense of space without, to paraphrase Derek Walcott, “naively forgetting” the definitively located discourses that existed within the colonial nation.
Clem Seecharan, Sweetening Bitter Sugar. Reviewed by David Granger.
Whether by design or not, the book sets the stage for a duel in which Sir Jock Campbell andDr Cheddi Jagan – fondly referred to as “Jock” and “Cheddi,” respectively – are the protagonists; the sugar industry is the arena; Indian sugar workers are mere stage-hands or spectators; trade union and political party leaders are the supporting cast; and the UK and US governments are partisan umpires.
David Dabydeen, Our Lady of Demerara. Reviewed by Mark Troy.
The most wickedly dexterous tricks are perhaps Dabydeen’s mischievous appropriationo f names, especially in the metaphysical clashes of the two priests, Father Wilson and Father Harris – including Fr Harris’s excruciatingly Joycean linking of entomology and etymology. (I am sure that V.S. NAipaul is lurking there between them, but that is another story).
Fred D’Aguiar, Bethany Bettany. Reviewed by Harald Leusmann.
Guyana is certainly on Fred D’Aguiar’s mind – “And to Guyana: you keep me dreaming,” he acknowledges at the end of Bethany Bettany. This, D’Aguiar’s latest, is a declaration of painful, heart-felt, and unconditional love of a writer of the Guyanese diaspora for the country in which he spent ten formative years. Guyana itself can be regarded as a character in this novel, which deals with topics like exile and return, family and community, solitude and redemption. Like D’Aguiar, its protagonist Bethany Bettany, who does not to be called “the girl with the same two first names..[t]wo names, yes, the same, no,” returns from London to Guyana t a very young age to be raised by her dead father’s family in the village of Boundary.
Ramabai Espinet, The Swinging Bridge. Reviewed by Frank Birbalsingh.
But if the Swinging Bridge achieves success through its innovative structure, and searing indictment of sexism, these factors also contribute to the novel’s greatest triumph: its unflinching, and educated meditation on the fate of Indo-Caribbean culture in the postcolonial Caribbean. Since the novel’s Indo-Trinidadian protagonists emigrate from Trinidad to escape discrimination, only to find same thing in Canada, they may be said to run from pillar to post.
Cyril Dabydeen, Imaginary Origins: Selected Poems 1970-2002. Reviewed by Miriam Pirbhai.
…the poet plunges the reader into the quotidian pulse of the tropics with a visceral energy that is lyrically filtered through such turns of phrases as “green is green/in a forest/nondescript /as coconuts,” or again in “whacking at the seasons/my sucrose memory/reeks through molasses time.” In these reminiscences, we are also thrust into the “historic mind” of a diasporic subject who is enmeshed within a cross-referential interplay between his Canadian present, Indo-Guyanese origins, and South-Asian ancestry. This heterogeneous network of imagery makes a fertile creative ground, one in which sacred cows and rivers jostle for centre stage over “dismembered horns in tropical South America,” on the one hand, and the “Parliamentary breed’ of the Great White North.” on the other.
Mark McWatt, Suspended Sentences. Reviewed by Jan Lowe Shinebourne.
We are used to Derek Walcott, V.S. Naipaul and Kamau Brathwaite, island writers if you like, theorizing about the nature of Caribbean literary creativity and their literary influences and heritage. Here, we have a Guyanese writer, not theorizing, but pointing to the nature of Guyanese literary influences and creativity in a Guyanese way, mysteriously, paradoxically, metaphorically, boldly revealing the Guyanese writer as sorcerer and magician, harnessing the power of nature to literary vision.