Academic journal article British and American Studies

Retracing Liminal Epistemology in Jamaica Kincaid's Bildungsroman

Academic journal article British and American Studies

Retracing Liminal Epistemology in Jamaica Kincaid's Bildungsroman

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Due to the perplexity of the archipelagic reality that produces the protagonists of Caribbean novels of transformation, interpreting Jamaica Kincaid's semi-autobiographical narratives calls for a device similar to Gloria Anzaldúa's New Mestiza (1987). Taken from the context of materialised and policing borders in continental Americas and transferred to the imaginary frontiers of the Caribbean, the now archipelagic borderwomen zealously carve out liminal spaces in the example of their Chicana sisters. In their journey to adulthood, Kincaid's heroines in Annie John (1985) and Lucy (1990) have to negotiate myriad influences that the winds have carried to their home islands across what Paul Gilroy (1993) has named the Black Atlantic. Through encompassing the many multidirectional currents witnessed in time, from the abominable uprooting of peoples, the inward and outward migration, trade, and neo-colonalism, this marine realm persistently moulds its inhabitants' archipelagic identity. Hence, as Daniel Maximin (2006: 89, trans. Odile Ferly) explains, Caribbean consciousness is that of "open insularity", comprising multiracial, multicultural, multireligious and multilinguistic routes.

The fictional reality in Annie John and Lucy illuminates the synthesis of oppressions that has been meticulously mapped in social sciences by Kimberlé Crenshaw as the theory of intersectionality, which in practice also reflects the creative energy of hybridity. It is without a doubt a framework that provides valuable insight into kaleidoscopic influences that inform the experience of a young Caribbean woman during the middle part of the 20th century in Kincaid's imagination. Such limitless métissage governs the nomadic protagonist's lived experience and makes her a subject to currents of knowledge that move indefinitely in a cyclic manner, disrupting linearity and creating a tidalectical continuum, to rely on Kamau Brathwaite's notion of Caribbean tidalectics elaborated in the poet's interview with Nathaniel Mackey (1991). Its rhythmic movement connects the islands and the sea, which paradoxically disperses and separates them, via organic links to the creole protagonist, whose fluid and oceanic view of the world is free from binary thinking.

Ultimately, Kincaid's Annie John and Lucy negotiate the dichotomies of colonialism, its vestiges, and neo-colonialism and syncretise the topical concepts of travel, diaspora, exile (ex-isle), and home. In doing so, her texts strive to dismantle rigid, essentialist, and regulatory concepts of division and distinction that are favoured and disseminated in European grand narratives. In "pivoting the centre", to use Bettina Aptheker's (1989: 28) concept, the marginal moves from the periphery to the centre and subjugated knowledge surfaces. More precisely, Édouard Glissant's Le Vécu, the live dexperience at once affirmed and questioned, is the foundation of Caribbean epistemology that comprises knowledge situated in the tradition of womanism and African derived matrifocality and is translated and creolised through the dual mother tongue during the exposure to the global reach of imperial education and Western feminist ideas. Therefore, Annie John, that is set on the isle and concludes with the now early teen protagonist's departure to pursue her studies in the United Kingdom, and Lucy, that gives an account of the life of a young woman working as a live-in babysitter in the United States carve out new literary territories for polyphonic, yet unisonant dialogue on the positionality of the Caribbean protagonist.

2. Forging harmony between discourses

Creole language, that has been given credit as "a uniquely female creation", is the epitome for the matrifocal experience that is central to Jamaica Kincaid's narratives (Ippolito 2000: 25). The concept of "mother mystery" that J. Brooks Bouson (2005: 2)has attributed to Kincaid's writing encompasses the multifaceted dimensions of motherhood in the Caribbean novels of transformation. …

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