In a work of marked multidisciplinary scope, Donette Francis has changed the stakes of contemporary debates in postcolonial studies, feminist literary theory, and Caribbean studies. Her normative framework centers on sexual citizenship, whose terms she advances to encompass gendered, raced, and postcolonial bodies. The failure of Caribbean states to confer safety on women within the intimate sphere leads Francis to understand sexual citizenship as the term that designates the aporia in anticolonial and nationalist teleologies. But she adduces two academic failures that compound the damaging occlusions of the state by naturalizing its structures of disavowal. Theories that celebrate diaspora as a reprieve from postcolonial violence must confront the empirical and theoretical realities of pervasive sexual violence in a world beholden to the homogeneity of nation formation. Moreover, pessimistic treatments, which presume that an egalitarian politics can only take shape through an adequate accounting of the colonial and anticolonial past, tend to obscure present emergences that lack salient dialectical linkages to past political [End Page 363] struggles. Instead, Francis’s method is to juxtapose social, political, and academic claims that rationalize or repress the question of sexual abuse against those of a new literary movement that renders violence manifest. In so doing her work presents much that does not register in predominant accounts of contemporary Caribbean existence.
Symptomatic of the failed promises of Caribbean anticolonial nationalism are the archives that discern neither sexual violations against women nor amorous experiences that contravene the new nations’ intraracial, heterosexual, and masculinist imperatives. The multiform violations of women confound the juridical norms of national citizenship that are predicated on an understanding of the anticolonial struggle as the horizon of all social wrongs. The archive remains silent on women’s liminal position because the imperial and national frames for thinking injustice have rendered women’s demands “unnarratable” (10). Against these closures Francis posits the transgressive capacity of literature to facilitate consideration of “intimate historical imaginings” (11). Literature atones for the structural deficit in national historiography by offering access to the extra-juridical dimension of lived experience, as it is imprinted on bodies and within “interior lives” (139).
In all five of the novels that she discusses—Patricia Powell’s The Pagoda, Nelly Rosario’s Song of the Water Saints, Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory, Elizabeth Nunez’s Bruised Hibiscus, and Angie Cruz’s Soledad—Francis adduces critical events that she calls “sites of subjection and subjectivation” wherein socially nonrecognizable scenes of violence serve simultaneously to qualify and produce agency (12). Francis traces the ramifying effects of these otherwise hidden instances of sexual violation in the refiguration of women’s lives. Reading Danticat, for example, she refracts the chain of events linking the American military occupation, the repression of the women’s movement, the “long and continuous social history of rape in twentieth century Haiti” and the military state’s neutralization of abused women’s claims through the relations between the mother and daughter, the story’s protagonists (82). She both highlights the cycle of violence that informs the eventuation of sexual abuse—the mother’s rape by tonton macoutes (the police force of dictator Francois Duvalier), the tests she administers to ensure her daughter’s virginity, the daughter’s self-mutilation, the mother’s suicide—and suggests the paradoxical subjectivation that these incidents entail for the women who undergo them. Although the protagonists’ sexual and psychic lives are devastated, they also become skeptical of the social order founded on the dissemblance of violence.
Francis understands these works as attesting to the emergence of a new “Caribbean feminist poetics” uniquely capable of demystifying [End Page 364] sexual assaults (3). She designates this genre the “antiromance” (4). This term takes the burden of three polemics, each of which targets a different discursive valence of the romance narratives that formed the horizon of prior Caribbean writing.
The first antagonist is the mythology of the happy ending—supposed in previous generations’ depictions of heterosexual marital consummation as the telos of all intimate experience. In foregrounding the transgressions against females that these unions do not...