Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 January 2021
“I had no nation now but the imagination.”Derek Walcott, “The Schooner Flight,” The Star-Apple Kingdom, 1979, 8
The question of belonging has long preoccupied Caribbean authors and continues to haunt the region's globally acclaimed literary works. This concern with accommodation and place-making is not surprising given that Caribbean history has been characterized by displacements and diasporas. Cultural encounter and exchange has shaped the geopolitics of belonging to the Caribbean throughout its history: from the unfree migrations of Africans and then Indians whose forced labour sustained the plantation colonies, through the competing colonial regimes of rival European powers and economically motivated mass migrations to Panama and later to the global north, to the growing economic reliance on tourism into the region. Indeed the intensity of global compression experienced by the Caribbean region means that it is now often regarded as paradigmatic in terms of contemporary modes of belonging that more frequently display multinational sites of attachment in terms of familial, ethnic, and commodity cultures.
Given the commonplace patterns of transatlantic as well as intra-regional migration and diaspora that have shaped the majority of literary careers, the Caribbean region provides a highly productive location through which to examine how far the locations of literary archives map onto those of their associated writerly lives and careers, as well as what the various connections and disconnections between these two might suggest. This essay tells two interconnected stories about Caribbean literary archives. The first is about the multi-locational form of cultural archives from this region where migration has been an intrinsic pattern of human life throughout the twentieth century and since. This is a story about the politics of location as it is experienced by authors writing against colonialism, and the impact “place” has on the historical meaning and value that their archives accrue. It addresses the intricacies of identity, history, and place that influence the shaping and recording of literary authorship and the challenge this presents to a nationalist logic and its conceptions of belonging. This first story offers an example of how the Caribbean experience may enrich archival thinking in terms of the politics of belonging.
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