- Clear Word and Third Sight: Folk Groundings and Diasporic Consciousness in African Caribbean Writing
The long-awaited re-examination of some of the writings that collectively fall under the heading of negritude has brought us this study. It is well worth the wait. Of course, the author is not arguing that Merle Hodge, Audre Lord, or Paule Marshall are negritude writers in the strictest sense of the term. But she does argue, quite convincingly, that their works share a diasporic consciousness—the "third sight" of the title—and a concomitant worldview grounded deep in the legacy of their African roots.
But wait. Let's back up a half century or so. Wasn't this precisely what Léopold Senghor and his Carribean colleagues Aimé Césaire and Léon Damas were saying throughout all their writing and lecturing on Negritude? Wasn't this precisely what earned them and others of their ilk the sound condemnation of the "new" thinkers who felt they were kowtowing to the French as model colonized intellectuals? So half a century later we have come full circle. All that African diaspora talk turns out to be based on provable evidence. We Caribbean people don't just do things out of the blue; those of us of African descent have, embedded deep in our subconscious, not only all the elements of our Africanness, but also all the elements of our own distinctive and redemptive philosophy of life.
Catherine John builds her case methodically, starting with an examination of negritude and cultural discourse, then proceeding to offer refreshing readings of largely female writers of the anglophone and francophone Caribbean, though she does offer balance in discussing male counterparts like Earl Lovelace, Léon Damas, and Edouard Glissant. The undertaking, if done justice, could be overwhelming—pulling together Merle Hodge, Jamaica Kincaid, Paule Marshall, Simone Schwarz-Bart in one diasporic voice. But the author stays the course, and reaches into the rich folk groundings underpinning all the works to show to what extent "all o' we is one," as we like to say throughout the Caribbean islands.
Readers new to the field will find much to chew on in this study. More seasoned Negritude sympathizers will no doubt feel a sense of déjà vu. This is not to discredit the author, who has done an excellent job of pulling disparate pieces together, only to point out that the colonial legacy can be quite complicated. We must be careful not to concentrate so heavily on the African diasporic content that we miss the contribution of others in the Caribbean. Why did the hispanophone territories not follow the same path? Or did they? The author does not deal with that. Nor does she examine the [End Page 159] fact that by writing in English or French all these writers are already making a huge concession. But here comes déjà vu again. Suffice it to say that this study is thorough and informative. It is also provocative, and that's to its credit.