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8 - Postcolonialism and Caribbean literature

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 January 2012

Ato Quayson
University of Toronto
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To be welcomed into the comity of nations a new nation must bring something new. Otherwise it is a mere administrative convenience or necessity. The West Indians have brought something new.

C. L. R. James, Black Jacobins

C. L. R. James was fully aware that ‘the something new’ was on a far larger scale than the small size of the Caribbean region suggests possible. Caribbean people have made major interventions in economics, history, political science, medicine, law, cultural studies, sports and many fields of the arts. Caribbean literature, still under-appreciated on a global level, has been enormously innovatory, despite its relatively small size, enriching not only the region and its several diasporas but the entire literary world.

Defining Caribbean

We begin from diverse representations of Caribbean culture by a few highly influential postcolonial writers. For Cuban Antonio Benítez-Rojo, the Caribbean is a ‘repeating island’, postmodern, modern, dissolving and redetermining itself by turns, inevitably and deeply linked to both the plantation and to the sea. The region is ‘the natural and indispensable realm of marine currents, of waves, of folds and double-folds, of fluidity and sinuosity’. For St Lucian Derek Walcott, it is a vase once broken and made whole by patient love which glues the fragments together (by which he means elements of ancestral culture brought to the region by its diverse people). This process he describes as ‘the care and pain’ of the Antilles. But by contrast, Trinidadian V. S. Naipaul left the region rejecting his country and its then colonial culture, and writing from Britain, said Trinidad ‘was a place where things had happened and nothing showed’ and where the slave ‘has no story’.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2012

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