Routes and Roots: Routes and Roots: Navigating Caribbean and Pacific Island Literatures

By Allen, Chadwick | Journal of New Zealand Literature, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Routes and Roots: Routes and Roots: Navigating Caribbean and Pacific Island Literatures


Allen, Chadwick, Journal of New Zealand Literature


Routes and Roots Chadwick Allen Review of Routes and Roots: Navigating Caribbean and Padfic Island Literatures by Elizabetii M. DeLoughrey (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007).

Despite the popularity of postcolonial tiieories and repeated calls for 'transnational' approaches to various national literatures, book-length comparative projects in global Anglophone (post) colonial literary studies remain few and far between. To some degree, this is understandable. Comparative interpretive projects are inherently difficult. There is the obvious challenge of die scholar acquiring adequate knowledge of two or more histories, cultures, bodies of literature, and bodies of criticism. Moreover, there is the challenge of producing work that will be of equal interest to each of the fields brought together for comparison and, potentially, to the larger conglomerate of '(post)coloniaT studies as well. To meet these latter challenges, the scholar must locate one or more definable - and persuasive - points of cleavage: facts, coincidences, concepts, forms, figures, themes, or methodologies around which the various objects of study can be seen both to converge and to distinguish themselves. This is no easy task. What might bring disparate literatures and their relevant contexts together in meaningful conversation? And what might we learn by listening in?

Elizabeth DeLoughrey, an associate professor of English at Cornell University, has produced a comparative study of Caribbean and Pacific Island literatures that is original, impeccably researched, and often compelling. To bring her disparate objects of study into meaningful relation, she focuses our attention primarily on critical and imaginative theories of (trans)oceanic belonging and on their literary representations in the genre of the post-1960s novel. She also offers two overarching principles to organize her analysis. First, she argues for the distinctiveness of literary production that emanates from a particular type of geography, in this case, from islands and the waters that surround them. Second, she argues for the ongoing significance of histories of transoceanic displacement and movement, whether in the form of forced and lamented diaspora (as in the case of Africans brought to the Caribbean through the Adantic slave trade) or in the form of voluntary and celebrated migration (as in the case of indigenous Pacific voyaging traditions). The yoked homonyms of her tide, 'Routes and Roots', are meant to signify these principles and to invoke the provocative question posed in 2001 by the US anthropologist James Clifford: 'How is "indigeneity" both rooted in and routed through particular places?' (p. 163). DeLoughrey attempts to answer Clifford's question for the Caribbean and the Pacific, two island environments with quite different relationships to the controversial and often contested concept of indigeneity, by juxtaposing their colonial and (post) colonial histories, present circumstances, and possible futures as these have been represented in a wide range of discourses.

The breadth of DeLoughrey's research is impressive. She carefully situates Caribbean and Pacific Island works within complex matrices of colonial, neocolonial, and indigenous discourses as well as within the unresolvable tensions among competing theories of history and divergent practices of historiography. Her work is further distinguished by a consistent attention to issues of gender and an analysis of the gendered nature of key metaphors, in both Caribbean and Pacific contexts, for ocean and island, migration and settlement. In the Pacific Island chapters, especially, DeLoughrey also draws attention to lesser-known works of fiction and demonstrates their significance to both local and global criticism.

So-called 'identity politics' continue both to check and to vex the practices of (post) colonial and area studies, perhaps especially the practice of scholarship that engages the selfrepresentation of colonized, formerly colonized, and/or indigenous peoples. …

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