The critical response to the writings of Antiguan-born author Jamaica Kincaid constitutes a very interesting phenomenon and a potentially great topic for literary study itself. For example, there is the largely negative, more or less anti-colonial/anti-imperial reading of her work in the Caribbean and among Caribbean scholars in various African Diasporic locales—even if this voice does not always find itself in print. There are the generally more invested, yet complex readings of Black and Caribbean women critics invested in past, present, and future Black and Caribbean women’s writing, across colonial national boundaries. Then, there is also the reading of Kincaid as a kind of lone cult hero for universal feminism—offered by mostly white or Western feminist critics in North America (and, less often, Europe) who pay little or no attention to more anti-colonial/anti-imperial readings of her in the context of neo-colonial/imperial worlds, literary and otherwise. Linda Lang-Peralta’s new collection of critical essays belongs to this latter category and might be interestingly engaged in this light toward a new set of readings of Kincaid’s icon-status and corpus.
This is a compact compilation of conference papers (eight in all) presented at the American Comparative Literature Association Conference held in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2002. The context is significant. For the Kincaid of “American” or “American Comparative Literature” is scarcely the Kincaid of other, less doting scholars or schools of thought, for whom Kincaid is neither exotic nor simply and strictly heroic. Yet Lang-Peralta makes larger claims for this compilation that are problematic: “relatively little has been published on her exciting work since the 1990s, work that includes rich analysis of issues central to literary criticism in recent years . . . . In this groundbreaking collection of essays, scholars have given Kincaid’s ‘new developments’ the serious critical attention it deserves” (“Introduction” 13).
The collection is not so groundbreaking, in truth. Most (if not all) of the contributors approach Kincaid’s older and newer works as if they had never been approached before beyond their more canonical positionings—as if a range of Black and Caribbean scholarship in and outside of the Caribbean did not exist, and as if Callaloo: A Journal of African Diasporic Arts and Letters did not devote an entire issue to Kincaid in 2002 (although this special issue was ironically quite Eurocentric and open to many criticisms itself). Is this not the colonial tradition claiming ground (“new” to it) continued or the consequences of an US Americanism amplified in Kincaid herself?
Further, the first three of these eight essays still focus on Kincaid’s Lucy from 1990. The next three focus more on her The Autobiography of My Mother from 1996. The remaining three essays close [End Page 919] things out with a focus on My Brother from 1997, My Garden (Book) from 1999, and then Mr. Potter from 2002, respectively. There is a detailed and useful bibliography of Kincaid texts, interviews, and secondary sources supplied at the end of this collection, although some of the items in the bibliography contradict a number of Lang- Peralta’s editorial claims. Later works are not really emphasized or adequately explored, and their relationship to earlier works that remain misunderstood is not clarified as a result. Such an examination of Kincaid’s later works in relation earlier ones is a worthy project that might be attempted with these essays in mind.
One of the consequences of this hegemonic “Americanist” interpretation of Kincaid is that it systematically interprets Kincaid in romantic isolation, separate from any other literature that is not British or “Anglo-American” — “Anglo-American” meaning US settler-colonial “American,” then and now.This mode of interpretation is what Jamaica Kincaid and Caribbean Double Crossings has to offer.
How heroic or rebellious could Kincaid come off in this criticism if it could juxtapose her, her characters, her books, her interviews— all one great big, seamless (and unquestionable) text for so many consumers of her literature—with the far more oppositional Caribbean fiction of Erna Brodber...