restricted access Caribbean Genesis: Jamaica Kincaid and the Writing of New Worlds (review)
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Reviewed by
Jana Evans Braziel. Caribbean Genesis: Jamaica Kincaid and the Writing of New Worlds. New York: State U of New York P, 2009. viii + 196 pp.

In Caribbean Genesis Jana Evans Braziel examines the ways in which Jamaica Kincaid's fiction disrupts and reconfigures the categories of genres, genealogies, and genesis. Kincaid's literary oeuvre, Braziel suggests, reveals the co-constituting nature of these categories and imbricates itself within the fissures of these three categories in order to tug at their seams so that new words and worlds can emerge. Braziel's chapters engage Kincaid's more well-known texts, including At the Bottom the River, Annie John, Lucy, The Autobiography of My Mother, My Brother, and Mr. Potter. Further, the text's philosophical and analytical frame draws on interviews with Kincaid, her essays, and a stunning array of philosophical contributions from the likes of Immanuel Kant, Frantz Fanon, Emmanuel Levinas, Luce Irigaray, Edouard Glissant, Judith Butler, Gilles Deleuze, and Derek Walcott, among others.

In title and organizational structure, Braziel's Caribbean Genesis mirrors the very disruptive turns that she analyzes in Kincaid's work. The declarative simplicity of her title, Caribbean Genesis, foreshadows the many dual inflections that are investigated within the text. The title serves to critique the ways in which coloniality has infused narratives of the Caribbean's genesis while simultaneously pointing to the ways in which "genesis" modified by "Caribbean" opens room to tell another story about the region's coming of age. Organizationally, the most comprehensive engagement with the ideas embedded in the text's title appears in its concluding chapter, not in its introduction or early chapters. In this final chapter Braziel fully engages narratives of beginning and becoming through her analysis of Kincaid's Mr. Potter. With this reordering, Braziel's organizational structure seems to mirror her argument about the capacity of Kincaid's work to disform and reposition our expectations regarding narratives of beginning. The text closes with Jamaica Kincaid's daunting rejoinder that Mr. Potter [End Page 173] was a man of no consequence, a mere speck, no different from the many others who inhabit the world as a "second (does) in a minute" (196). Braziel, however, does not comment on Kincaid's words and so the text ends abruptly. Braziel's refusal of a concluding paragraph disforms the traditional practice of closure and points us to an end that is both unfinished and signals a new beginning.

In this concluding-beginning chapter, Braziel argues that we find in Kincaid's character Mr. Potter a "Caribbean everyman" whose subjectivity embodies a series of sociohistorical ruptures. Mr. Potter becomes a proxy for the region's violent and cataclysmic 1492 birthing into modernity and, as Braziel notes, also allows Kincaid to explore the contradictions and silences of her own personal genesis/genealogy by exploring a life that is "intimately connected to her father's even if she did not know him well during his lifetime" (195). Pushing against these creationist impulses, Braziel teases out the ways that Kincaid's work engages Glissant's quarrel with history where History and Literature, as genres, function as canonical mediums through which mythologies of genesis and genealogy travel.

This contestation of and engagement with genealogy, genesis, and authorial self-exploration brings us to one of the most innovative contributions of Braziel's text: her use of the term "alterbiography." Braziel argues that Kincaid's frequent return to modes of biographical writing bleeds beyond and transmutes what is presently conveyed by the term autobiography. Braziel posits that autobiography "almost always exceeds the individual who writes it, exceeds the life and the subjective experiences of the writing subject; autobiography will also be about the others who surround the writing subject and whose experiences are enmeshed with those of the writer" (3). Alterbiography, then, captures the entanglements and co-constituting moments that reside within the autobiographical narrative. Feminists and queer theorists have long critiqued the effacing impulses of Enlightenment desire to posit an individuated and unified self. Therefore, in addition to the co-constituted nature of the biographical narrative, Braziel draws on alterbiography to question the ways that hegemonic genealogical narratives produce positions of alterity. Alterbiography conceptually...