What does the Caribbean bring to the table of Post-Colonial Literature? There exists, to my knowledge, no such thing as an explicitly stated and agreed upon West Indian Literary Theory; and there is no impulse to create one, as far as I am aware. The history of the region is too complex, the society too intricately heterogeneous, the psyche too fragmented and individualistic, the countries too scattered, shattered like a broken backbone, a discontinuous archipelago. There is no single tradition to hold things together, no all-consuming pattern of identity, no imprisoning or exclusionary cultural imperative; rather, the societies of the Caribbean are held together, paradoxically, by many traditions, each fractured and evolved into an entity quite unlike parent traditions, each informed and transformed by the other, each half-born, half-aborted; half-buried, half-excavated. It is upon the demanding economy of paradox that the conscience of West Indian society, psyche and art subsists.
Caribbean Literature is rooted inextricably and invariably in the history of the region. And that history has been so brutal that it corroded the human image of all groups and individuals that were there on the threshold of the sixteenth century, that were brought or that came in subsequent centuries--Arawakan and Cariban peoples, the Spanish, English, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Africans, East Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Jews, etc.- who lived or were made to live in antagonism with each other. The conquistador, slaver and master corroded his own humanity with each act of cruelty; and slaves and indentured servants suffered from an unspeakable erasure of their human image from having suffered the tyranny with which they were confronted. Each dawn broke like the crack of a whip; each night fell like a pall. The pathology of colonialism in the West Indies, which meant the assumption by the slave or servant of the mantle of the master, implied the wearing of a skin that did not quite fit, and that was not quite human. It is this erasure that provides the greatest necessity or challenge to the West Indian artist: the recreation of self and society from the ashes of history. The self-created in society as in art is hybrid, and the beating heart of that hybridity is paradox.
The raw material of the West Indian artist consists fundamentally of these elements: a landscape barren of Old World architecture, but which architecture constituted part of the landscape of the imagination through education; a primary landscape that resisted to considerable degree the attempts to subjugate and irrigate so that European tea-cups might be sweetened by sugar. The raw material consists, also, of natural and manmade catastrophes, of past and contemporaneous political disenfranchisement and a struggle for voice; of a society created by man and broken upon the rack of history; of fragmented psyches, a sense of homelessness and void of self.
Yet, against all reason, not only has this region survived in terms of actual living substance, but also in terms of having produced some of the most influential music and language in the world, some of the finest athletes and scholars, and in terms of an astonishing quality and quantity of literary production. The Caribbean offers not so much a litany of horrors as it does a narrative of survival wrung from the hybrid psyche of its people. In examining the works of a series of Caribbean writers, I hope to show what the region offers to the Post-Colonial world.
Last modified: 7 May 2001