[Caribbean Literature]

The Double and the Center: V.S. Naipaul and Caryl Phillips' Use of Doubling to Eradicate Traditional Notions of Center and Periphery

Part One: Introduction

David P. Lichtenstein '99, Brown University, Contributing Editor, Caribbean Web

Caribbean authors take on a variety of techniques to explore their own former (some would argue present) status as colony, as margin to the center of the dominant imperial powers of North America and Europe. Often they seek to express how the political and cultural hegemony of Europe has affected their own psychology. But these writers are not content to merely gripe about the legacy of the past. Rather, they commonly seek empowerment and newfound agency by setting up binarisms such as the center/margin pair and then using their works as vehicles to deconstruct such damaging assumptions.

Both V.S. Naipaul and Caryl Phillips use doubling--the process of setting up a pair of ostensible opposites--to explore the process of cultural mixture and to toy with traditional notions of the center. Naipaul, in The Enigma of Arrival, and Phillips, in Cambridge, detail how certain characteristics, which should be limited to one of a pair, actually spill over the dividing line of a given category and become a shared similarity. That is, the lines which divide two polar opposites become crooked or even invisible. But whereas Phillips looks outward and employs this technique to eliminate entirely a fixed notion of the center , Naipaul instead turns inward and attempts to place himself in this honored position.

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