Publisher: Ian Randle
Types: Part of book or chapter of book
This paper offers a comparative reading of Sam Selvon’s A Brighter Sun, Shani Mootoo's He Drown She in the Sea and Earl Lovelace's Is Just a Movie, focusing on the very different ways each text engages with creolization in Trinidad. Published in 1952, 2005 and 2011 respectively, these three texts offer a useful way of mapping the cultural tensions, problems and possibilities generated by Trinidad's particular 'ethnic mix' – in both thematic and aesthetic terms. Selvon’s early novel presents the possibilities for creolization in a deliberated, if not staged way as the novel tracks Tiger’s (the main protagonist) cautious immersion in creole life in the village not far from Port-of-Spain that he moves to. The novel self-consciously displays and debates racial stereotypes as it gauges the extent to which experiences of “living good together” might ‘add up’ to a more inclusively creolized culture. In Selvon’s mapping of the creolization process, the paradigmatic creole subject is African-Trinidadian, like Joe, so Tiger’s challenge involves recognizing what he must relinquish in order to participate fully in the creole culture of Barataria. Creolization is presented in the novel as an inevitable fact of day-to-day life in Trinidad, whatever the attitude of those living this ‘fact’. But it is also presented as a politically and culturally charged reaction to a colonial racial hierarchy in which racial difference is subsumed in the universally denigrated, ‘not-white’, “As long as yuh ain’t wite, dey does call yuh black, wedder-yuh coolie or nigger or chinee.” (95) Mootoo’s novel offers a more tentative and oblique engagement with creolization: Harry, one of the text’s main protagonists, is of Indian parentage but his father was partly raised by an African-Trinidadian couple whose help in Harry and Rose’s elopement is pivotal to the novel’s denouement. Like Selvon, Mootoo is attentive to the way class intersects with other vectors of creolization. She is also attentive to the leverage diasporic experiences bring to ‘the mix’ in her construction of Harry as a man who frees himself from inherited prejudices and anxieties (of gender, class, sexuality and race) to function by the end of the text as a figure perhaps best described as a ‘queerly heterosexual’. If Mootoo’s novel implies a certain cosmopolitan inflection to creolization, Lovelace’s returns us to the local particularities of the Black Power movement of the 1970s as it was experienced in Trinidad and as it shaped the style in which a resistant cultural nationalism came to be defined. Lovelace’s novel allows both a celebration and critique of the nascent possibilities for creolization articulated in Selvon’s text, usefully unravelling some of the more rigid identity categories that had circulated in it. While the discussion of the three novels follows the chronology of their dates of publication, the paper argues that such comparative readings might provide a prompt for a reconsideration and recalibration of how creolization models might be thought. The conclusion suggests a creolizing reading practice that might allow for the recognition of more promiscuous creolization possibilities than Selvon’s text overtly constructs. This might, in turn, allow the creolization paradigm to elude what I call ‘the politics of adding on and adding up’ – a process dictated by a history of ‘arrival’ that is perhaps a little too mathematical and materialist to resonate conceptually. If three into one can’t go, then perhaps a creolizing hermeneutics might allow us to do a different kind of maths?
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