1 Rehearsing with Ghosts
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1 Rehearsing with Ghosts Soon all those bodies melt down to bones, then the sea begins to treat the bones like rock, there to be shaped over time or ground to dust. Sea does not stop at death. Salt wants to consume every morsel of those bodies until the sea becomes them, becomes their memory. So it is from the sea that all 131 souls are plucked. From a sea oblivious to time . . . those bodies have their lives written on salt water. —Fred D’Aguiar, Feeding the Ghosts Fred D’Aguiar’s 1997 novel Feeding the Ghosts captures the horror of enslaved bodies becoming bones. The novel, a poetically written history, chronicles the 1781 Zong Massacre in which medical -doctor-cum-ship-captain Luke Collingwood threw 132 captured Africans overboard near the Jamaican coast. Collingwood’s desire to profit from insurance claims rather than risk docking with sick, dying slaves—who would be valueless and unmarketable—spurred his conspiracy.1 In a miraculous twist, one man survived and returned to the Zong.2 In D’Aguiar’s novel, the survivor is imagined as a woman named Mintah who forges a relationship with Simon, a white working -class cook who sustains her until she foments a short-lived insurrection on the ship. D’Aguiar presents the idea of rehearsal through the sea, whose geography erases and whose tides silence its archive of bones: “Accustomed to rehearsal, to repeats and returns, [the sea] did not care about the abomination happening in its name.”3 Mintah declares that life on water is an “in-between life”4 and the monotony of the sea “repeats and returns” and obscures the lives lost, the histories and stories of those bodies in and on the sea. These lives are made invisible because of the “constantly shifting geography” of the sea;5 the sea’s history is not visible given its tidal functions. In this book, feminist rehearsal of artistic Caribbean representations not only enables the understanding of Caribbean notions of time and space beyond the monotonous drone of the sea but also helps to analyze aesthetic and sociopolitical moments in order to achieve reconciliatory readings of traumatized pasts. Like D’Aguiar’s novel, Marie-Hélène Cauvin’s 2002 painting Vers un destin insolite sur les flots bleus de la Mer des Antilles (Bound by a 24  Rehearsing with Ghosts Horrific Destiny to the Blue Waters of the Caribbean) commemorates the Middle Passage and links the rehearsal of memory, gender, and the imagination to notions of Caribbean belonging. It does this by replaying at least four moments critical in historical and contemporary understandings of Caribbean belonging: the Middle Passage as described in the novel Feeding the Ghosts, the expansion of cruise ship tourism, the movement of Caribbean “boat” people, and the aquatic park at Moliniere Bay in Grenada , West Indies. Taking her title as a point of departure, I use Cauvin’s painting as a structuring device to suggest that violence, memory, geography , and the irresistible urge toward the (im)possible bind events in the Caribbean. Juxtaposing historical events not only reveals the structures of colonialism and neocolonialism that continue to affect the region but also exemplifies the interconnected nature of gender and memory. Using feminist rehearsal, this chapter unpacks gender as a means of reclaiming the material body and challenging repeatedly reproduced master narratives. Figure 1. Vers un destin insolite sur les flots bleus de la Mer des Antilles (Bound by a Horrific Destiny to the Blue Waters of the Caribbean), Marie-Hélène Cauvin, 2002. Oil on board, 40 x 48 in. (Courtesy of the artist) 25  Rehearsing with Ghosts In the remainder of the chapter, I examine the Middle Passage and some rehearsals of it as examples of the formation of Caribbean identities , particularly how these identities belong through tidal engagements to the region. Here, I refer to Edward Kamau Brathwaite’s idea that Caribbean unity is submarine. Therefore, the subaquatic location of Caribbean linkages means that the “tides” are a significant carrier of Caribbean connection.6 In completing this exercise, one must consider those rehearsals that are emptied of the historical weight of the Middle Passage, that is, those moments that rehearse it without the visible body component or hearse (interestingly, the etymology of the word “rehearsal” substantiates the connotation of hearse as a rake or harrow or temporary vehicle for carrying a dead body). Ultimately, imagining a feminist rehearsal allows me to consider the essential significance of gender to...


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Subject Headings

  • Caribbean literature -- History and criticism.
  • Feminist literature -- Caribbean area.
  • National characteristics, Caribbean, in literature.
  • Feminism in literature.
  • Gender identity in literature.
  • Caribbean Area -- In literature.
  • Caribbean Area -- In art.
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