Caribbean-English Passages: Intertexuality in a Postcolonial Tradition

Caribbean-English Passages: Intertexuality in a Postcolonial Tradition

Caribbean-English Passages: Intertexuality in a Postcolonial Tradition

Caribbean-English Passages: Intertexuality in a Postcolonial Tradition


Tobias Douml;ring uses Postcolonialism as a backdrop to examine and question the traditional genres of travel writing, nature poetry, adventure tales, autobiography and the epic, assessing their relevance to, and modification by, the Caribbean experience. Caribbean-English Passages opens an innovative and cross-cultural perspective, in which familiar oppositions of colonial/white versus postcolonial/black writing are deconstructed. English identity is thereby questioned by this colonial contact, and Caribbean-English writing radically redraws the map of world literature. This book is essential reading for students of Postcolonial Literature at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.


In his Nobel Lecture delivered in December 1992, Derek Walcott spoke about his visit to a Trinidad village named Felicity. Situated on the edge of the sugar-growing Caroni plain and inhabited by descendants of indentured labourers from India, Felicity is a small rural place off the routes of Caribbean travellers and tourists. It is, however, worth a visit as it is the scene of a great cultural pageant: a dramatization of the Hindu epic Ramayana is annually performed there in the fields. Walcott describes the festive atmosphere of the occasion, with colourful flags and costumed actors all around, with drums and music in the air. He then notes a special sight:

Under an open shed on the edge of the field, there were two huge armatures of bamboo that looked like immense cages. They were parts of the body of a god, his calves or thighs, which, fitted and reared, would make a gigantic effigy. This effigy would be burnt as a conclusion to the epic. The cane structures flashed a predictable parallel: Shelley's sonnet on the fallen statue of Ozymandias and his empire, that 'collosal wreck' in its empty desert.

(Walcott 1993:4)

Walcott's observations here raise some crucial questions. Why should a bamboo effigy prepared for a religious spectacle in the West Indies provide a 'parallel' to Ozymandias? How does Shelley's figure of ruin and imperial transience relate to this Hindu god, how is his Romantic English sonnet linked to the Indian epic? Why do the sugar fields of Trinidad recall the 'empty desert'? And what is 'predictable' about this 'parallel', and for whom?

These questions, to begin with, point towards ways of self-positioning. The similarities perceived here lie in the beholder's eyes. The poetic precedent by which Walcott narrates the local Trinidadian sight indicates that he assumes a role not unlike Shelley's 'traveller from an antique land' who tells us of strange monuments, exotic and sublime. With his further comments Walcott indeed stresses the sense of strangeness that, to him,

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