Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Introduction

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Introduction

Article excerpt

TODAY, AFRO-CARIBBEAN FICTION is redefining its cultural position within the matrix of nervous and often contradictory developments that change our understanding of cultural belonging. Critical approaches to postcolonial literature ascribe a distinct political significance to the literary discourse. This study analyses artistic self-representation in the writings of Fred D'Aguiar, John Hearne, and Caryl Phillips. In very different ways, all three writers contribute to the project of a national literature. At the same time, all three demonstrate the ruptures and complexities of such an endeavour.

John Hearne's novel The Sure Salvation' deserves special recognition, since in many ways it was way ahead of its time. Born in 1926, the white Jamaican novelist spent much of the 1950 s in Europe. After returning to Jamaica, he taught at the University of the West Indies. Up to his death in 1991 he also worked as one of the most prominent journalists in his homeland. The Sure Salvation is a landmark of Caribbean literature. The relentless depiction of a slave ship during the Middle Passage is arguably an important predecessor to the narratives that have followed from the 1990 s onwards which have been placed in a common theoretical framework by using the notion of the neoslave narrative.2 Hearne's novel faces head-on the traumatic foundational myth of the Afro-Caribbean. The fact that the novel was written by a white Caribbean author may, for some, compromise its status as an identificatory contribution for a community positioning itself as a nation in a globalizing environment. It is nevertheless an important source for the Afro-Caribbean community, for several reasons: First, The Sure Salvation is an intriguing instance of the ways in which the official doctrine of absolute racial difference was already eroded aboard the slave ships. The charismatic black protagonist finds ways to subvert the hierarchical power-structures and in the end turns out to be more than a match for the captain. The white characters, by contrast, enter a state of paralysis. In spite of their officially declared superiority to the black slave, they are haunted by crippling existential doubt.

The second author, Fred D'Aguiar, was born in London in i960 to Guyanese parents. After gaining a literary reputation with several poetry collections published in the second half of the 1980 s, he published his first novel, The Longest Memory, in 1994. Over the last two decades he has spent most of his time as a US-based academic. The Longest Memory and Feeding the Ghosts3both focus on the psychological dimension of slavery in the New World. The Longest Memory introduces the complex fabric of personal relations on a plantation - interestingly, in a US-American setting. One of the most striking aspects of the The Longest Memory is its polyphonic narration. The ambivalence of everyday life in a slave society is mediated by varying narrators. Feeding the Ghosts is a further instance of a narrative representation of the Middle Passage. It captures the spatial dislocation of the protagonist, her traumatic situation, and her unbroken will to survive. She discovers writing as powerful medium to commemorate her past and the traumatic experience of her community. Artistic self-articulation helps her to live in dignity in spite of her hostile and violent environment.

The third author, Caryl Phillips, has contributed a comprehensive and highly influential body of literature that centres on the traumatic legacy of the Afr°Caribbean community. He was born in St. Kitts and grew up and studied in England. He lives in permanent migration, mainly between the USA, the Caribbean, and the UK. Phillips's novels are of central importance for the purposes of the present study. His entire literary production serves an explicitly formulated agenda for the recovery of silenced voices from the past. His oeuvre is a multi-faceted depiction of the history of the African diaspora that places the experience of nations founded on trauma in a global and transhistorical perspective of common suffering. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.