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Small Axe 10.1 (2006) 206-217
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Shalini Puri's The Caribbean Postcolonial
Shalini Puri's The Caribbean Postcolonial: Social Equality, Post-Nationalism, and Cultural Hybridity analyzes "the hybrid," which is understood here as a critical discourse and as an abstract figure created by that critical discourse. Puri problematizes both; for her, what we have come to call the hybrid is a misleadingly unitary heading, given to a multitude of contingent political possibilities elaborated in differing local contexts. She brings to our attention other concerns (such as gender and class) that are displaced by the fascination with the hybrid, and constantly compels us to return to the specificities of the local. Through its very own methodology, moreover, this book also works within a hybrid space of inquiry. It seeks to show how cultural acts partake of both aesthetics and politics, both artistic expression and political action. In the process Puri shows artistic, political, and theoretical texts to work in a complex zone between opposition to social inequality and maintenance of the status quo. While Puri delves into the culture and politics of several individual nations in the Caribbean, the scale of her analyses is always national, allowing her to center her critique on specific state policies and cultural communities. At the same time, the variety of national scales she studies gives her work a regional or transnational scope.
Puri explicitly states in the introduction that she makes these contributions in the interest of Caribbean Studies. Placing her work in this frame is significant for at least two reasons. First, the book provides much-awaited answers to the open question of the practicability of postcolonial theory for Caribbean Studies. Can postcolonial theory, with its foundational links to Indian critiques of British colonialism, provide useful models for the Caribbean, where the legacies of European colonization have had such different effects on culture and nation building? As Puri says, "The Caribbean (particularly the [End Page 206] non-Anglophone Caribbean) [has] been marginalized from the canon of Postcolonial Studies still dominated by the English Crown and still often conceived in terms of East/West binaries. The Caribbean . . . can deepen our understanding of hybridity conceived neither in exclusively East/West, nor even North/South terms" (7). Second, Puri's situation of her work in Caribbean Studies is significant in that it implies that the Caribbean is a transnational unit of analysis. I will address first the issue of the uses of hybridity in different disciplines, then elaborate a reading of Puri's main arguments, and finally comment on the status of the "transnational" in her book.
Latin Americanist readers of Cultural Studies may be well prepared to accept Puri's readings of the social inequality uncontested by nationalist hybridity discourses. For many in Latin American Studies, hybridity has already been historicized as the most recent in a series of similar cultural discourses. Alberto Moreiras's 1999 subalternist critique of hybridity, for example, summarizes the links between various successive discourses of culture (mestizaje, transculturation, heterogeneity, hybridity) and evolving Latin American state formations. The last of these cultural discourses, Néstor García Canclini's version of hybridity, is linked to the neoliberal state. Beyond the historical role of these hybridity discourses in state formation, Moreiras criticizes the general critical tendency of "arguing for hybridity against a reification of cultural identities as some kind of recipe for perpetual flexibility."1 The claim is being made that although some theorists may argue for hybridity as a panacea to exclusionary discourses of cultural purity, hybridity itself, when understood historically, may be just another method of justifying disenfranchisement, "a sort of ideological cover for capitalist reterritorialization—and even a key conceptual instrument for the very process of naturalization of subaltern exclusion."2 Moreiras seems to be speaking of two distinct levels at which we need to question the claims of hybridity, which I understand as follows. Politically, hybridity becomes a limitation on political action when it discounts those who are "less hybrid" than the national model or those who are hybrid in unrecognized ways (such...