Small Axe 10.1 (2006) 189-197
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Transnationalism, Diaspora, Politics, and The Caribbean Postcolonial
Shalini Puri's The Caribbean Postcolonial: Social Equality, Post-Nationalism, and Cultural Hybridity represents a salutary critical intervention in several important respects. To begin with, Puri's focus on Caribbean hybridities counters the metropolitan-centered orientation of much of the work produced within the field of Postcolonial Studies. Puri states that hybridity constitutes the "episteme regnant of Postcolonial Studies" (xi). Nevertheless, she argues that the Caribbean has been "marginalized from the canon of . . . Postcolonial Studies" despite the fact that the region is perhaps the site par excellence for the investigation of processes and discourses of hybridity (2). Furthermore, Puri asserts that when the Caribbean enters postcolonial discussions of hybridity, "it has often been in the form of proof of metropolitan claims for cultural hybridity, or a figure for them" (2).
The Caribbean Postcolonial undertakes another important critical intervention in terms of identifying and redressing (in the alternative critical practice the book argues for) a dominant tendency within Postcolonial Studies to "abstract hybridity into an epistemological principle" (20). Puri contends that the use of hybridity as a "structure of undecidability" (for example, in Homi Bhabha) or a "principle of difference" that interrupts universalizing knowledges and the homogenizing claims of the nation serves to displace "any exploration of the continuing effects of power and inequality as well as any work to construct an opposition to that inequality" (21–22). Puri's critique of this tendency within Postcolonial Studies to celebrate an abstract principle of cultural hybridity at the expense of historical specificity and analyses of existing relations of power aligns The [End Page 189] Caribbean Postcolonial with the work of critics like Anne McClintock and Ella Shohat, who caution against similar "pitfalls" of postcolonial criticism.1
Puri's assessment of Postcolonial Studies is aimed at reforming current critical practice rather than challenging the fundamental aims and intentions of postcolonial criticism as Arif Dirlik and Aijaz Ahmad have done.2 Puri states that her study treats the Caribbean "as both an instance and an interrogation of postcoloniality" (1). In its call for a more substantive engagement with questions of politics—Puri insists that "we need to connect a poetics of hybridity to a politics of equality"—The Caribbean Postcolonial appears to be in basic alignment with the argument David Scott advances in his 1999 study, Refashioning Futures: Criticism after Postcoloniality, which makes the case for a "political postcolonial criticism."3 I certainly see this intervention as a salutary one, although I would like to take up the question, a little later in this essay, of how politics is conceptualized or what counts or does not count as politics in Puri's study.
In terms of critical practice, The Caribbean Postcolonial also insists on the need to historicize forms of hybridity. This call for historicization is integrally related to both the attempt to decenter Postcolonial Studies' de facto metropolitanism and the call for increased attention to questions of politics. In contrast to postcolonial critics who construct hybridity as a theoretical principle of difference—in addition to Bhabha, Puri cites Gloria Anzaldúa, Jean Bernabe, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphael Confiant as other examples—Puri's analyses of "Caribbean elaborations of hybridity" are intended to demonstrate the wide range of actual hybridities that can and do exist and the different ways in which they are implicated in both progressive and conservative social agendas. For example, Puri's analyses of certain Caribbean hybridity discourses exemplify not only how hybridity and the nation-state are not always opposed to each other (as Bhabha et al., would have us believe), but also how discourses of hybridity have been crucial to the construction of nationalism.
Puri's injunction (following Marx, via Jameson) to "always historicize" is thus motivated by the recognition that all hybridities are not equal and their actual effects are likewise not uniform. Puri's insistence on the need...