The Imaginary Caribbean and Caribbean Imaginary

The Imaginary Caribbean and Caribbean Imaginary

The Imaginary Caribbean and Caribbean Imaginary

The Imaginary Caribbean and Caribbean Imaginary


The Imaginary is everywhere in representations of the Caribbean Islands and their people and has been ever since their “discoverers” dreamt themselves arriving, triumphant, in the Indies. This book poses a provocative question: When the Imaginary occupies the place of the Real, as in Caribbean culture and European projections of that culture, how does the Real position itself? Michèle Praeger seeks an answer by bringing the Caribbean discourses of French traditional criticism and American social sciences, particularly history and psychoanalysis, into conversation with the imaginings of the Caribbean—in the form of fiction by Édouard Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau, Raphaël Confiant, Maryse Condé, Michèle Lacrosil, and Suzanne Césaire.

Through careful analysis of historical and psychoanalytic work on the Caribbean, Praeger reveals both the biases of these disciplines, and the possibilities they hold when brought into dialogue with one another and with literature. She shows how Caribbean writers respond to these discourses in their re-creation of the daily experience, history or non-history, and gender differences of their culture. She highlights in particular the aesthetics and ethics of these Caribbean writers.

Like the fluid structures of Caribbean fiction, this work weaves back and forth between metropolitan France and the French Caribbean, between Caribbean men and women, between history and fiction, self and community, and between conflicting ideologies and aesthetic and ethic practices to form a web of complexities that begins to fathom the creativity specific to the Caribbean.

Michèle Praeger is an associate professor of French at the University of California, Davis.


It is thus at the border between what’s real and what’s fictive, between what it seems possible to say, to write, but which often proves to be, at the moment of writing, unthinkable, and that which seems obvious but appears, at the last second, inexpressible, that this elusive derived writing, writing adrift, begins to make its mark. – Nicole Brossard, The Aerial Letter

Caribbean and imaginary both have a multiplicity of signifieds. Caribbean refers to the first inhabitants of the archipelago, who have been wiped out but still provide the source for myths lurking within the Western Imaginary. It also refers to the islands themselves, which are, in all their physicality and fragility, also sources of myth. Caribbean further denotes a strange mix of people allegedly searching for their identity: not only Caribbean persons of African descent, whites, Asians, mulâtres, Creoles, and Antillais, but also chabins, chabins-kalazaza, chabines, capres, Neg’ Congo, nègres-marron, nègres mondongues, nègres-maquereaux, nègres anglais, and nègres-sans-manmans, not to mention mâles-bougres, femmes gagées, coulis malpropres, échappés coulis, békés, békés-goyave, Grands Blancs, Blancs-France, zoreilles, anges dépeignés, blancs créoles, and Syriens.

If you look up the term imaginary in a thesaurus, you might find any of the following synonyms: conjectural, dreamlike, ethereal, fabled, fabulous, fanciful, fantastic, fictional, hypothetical, illusory, immaterial, incorporeal, insubstantial, invented, make-believe, metaphysical, mythical, nonexistent, romantic, speculative, supposed, theoretical, and unreal. Two main currents seem to emerge: immateriality and fiction. the Imaginary, whether Lacanian or not, belongs to the domain of the unreal and is explicitly opposed to the “Real” (or the “Symbolic” within the Lacanian hypothesis), which refers to the field of which history is supposedly composed. But the Caribbean Imaginary, whether collective or individual, is inextricably tied up with the inhabitants’ past and also with a forewarning of their future. the inhabitants of the . . .

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