Writing in Limbo: Modernism and Caribbean Literature

By Simon Gikandi | Go to book overview

1 Caribbean Modernist Discourse: Writing, Exile, and Tradition

But if true exile is a condition of terminal loss, why has it been transformed so easily into a potent, even enriching, motif of modern culture?

-- Edward Said, "Reflections on Exile"

Wat a joyful news, Miss Mattie I feel like me heart gwine burs Jamaica people colonizing Englan in reverse

-- Louise Bennett, "Colonization in Reverse"

The most important literary and cultural documents in the Caribbean tradition-- Aimé Césaire Cahier, Frantz Fanon Black Skin, White Masks, C. L. R. James The Black Jacobins, V. S. Naipaul A House for Mr. Biswas, and George Lamming In the Castle of My Skin--were produced in exile. Because of this simple fact, any attempt to map the directions in which contemporary Caribbean writing has developed, or to account for the emergence of a distinctly Caribbean literary tradition, must investigate the phenomenon of exile as a historical and existential condition. In other words, exile and the displacement it engenders constitute the ground zero of West Indian literature, its radical point of departure; exile generates nationalism and with it the desire for decolonized Caribbean spaces. It is not insignificant, Edouard Glissant wrote in 1981, that "the first cry of Caribbean Negritude was for Return." As he says, "The truth is that exile is within us from the outset, and is even more corrosive because we have not

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