Writing in Limbo: Modernism and Caribbean Literature

By Simon Gikandi | Go to book overview

5 Modernism and the Masks of History: The Novels of Paule Marshall

History can be apprehended only through its effects, and never directly as some reified force. This is indeed the ultimate sense in which History as ground and as transcendable horizon needs no particular theoretical justification: we may be sure that its alienating necessities will not forget us, however much we might prefer to ignore them.

-- Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious

After struggling for some time, I was finally able . . . to bring together what I consider to be the two themes most central to my work: the importance of truly confronting the past, both in personal and historical terms, and the necessity of reversing the present order.

-- Paule Marshall, "Shaping the World of My Art"

Against the grain of colonial modernism, which has sought to impose a single notion of history (one subordinated to European power) on the colonized space, Caribbean writers have often reverted to the culture of the subaltern to institute an alternative narrative of history, even an ideal history of the West Indian landscape. The result has been not only the kind of redefinition of history which I have discussed in previous chapters, but an attempt to establish--through the dynamics of deformation apparent in popular culture, minor characters, and black slaves--a distinctly Afro-Caribbean notion of modernism. Here, the act of narration acquires a political resonance akin to what Hous

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