- The “Contemporaneous Local” in Time:Problems of History in Shalini Puri's The Caribbean Postcolonial
Theories of hybridity aim to undermine the privileging of cultural origins and notions of cultural authenticity. These theories, however, have a vexed relationship to history: either hybridity uncovers multiple sources for allegedly homogeneous cultural entities and thus sets in motion alternative historiographies, or hybridization as history-in-the-making orchestrates its own process of forgetfulness, recasting a multiplicity of practices into a new context. In Shalini Puri's book, this division roughly corresponds to metropolitan (European) models of nationalism and the alternative nationalisms of the Caribbean. Puri begins her book by demonstrating how the major theorists of hybridity have elaborated a concept of hybridity as "evidence of the undermining or transcendence of the nation state" (19). As Puri shows in her detailed analysis, hybridity has been used by Homi Bhabha, Paul Gilroy, and Gloria Anzaldúa as a way of opposing the homogenizing tendency of orthodox nationalisms as well as of undercutting the inclination of postcolonial resistance theory towards reductive binarisms (38). More significantly, however, Puri goes a step further by mounting a critique of Bhabha, Gilroy, and Anzaldúa. She argues that their metropolitan perspectives, which locate hybridity as a challenge from the outside, end up privileging the very centers that the theorists claim hybridity dismantles by failing to render the priority of the hybrid as its own sphere. Through highly focused, close readings of key texts by these thinkers, Puri demonstrates that they share "the theoretical construction of hybridity as a principle of difference abstracted from historical specificities" (25). She sees a dangerous reductionism emerging in an abstracted hybridity that [End Page 198] undermines the very purpose of the concept, which was to safeguard against homogenization. Playing with Fredric Jameson's term "political unconscious," Puri asserts that Bhabha, Gilroy, and Anzaldúa reveal a "national unconscious" in their thought that in the end places their theories of hybridity within and not outside or across the nationalism of metropolitan centers.
The heart of Puri's argument lies not in this critique, which serves merely as a frame, but in a quite different direction. Her contention is that, for the Caribbean, hybridization has been an instrument of nation making. Indeed, embraced by nation-states as official ideology and deliberately suppressed by colonial powers as a nationalist threat to their authority, the movements towards the hybridization of Caribbean societies have been a powerful force of emerging nationalisms. There have also been some important limitations. Whereas culture has lent itself to a productive hybridization, in politics hybridization has been stymied, hence blocking the progress towards greater social equality. Puri argues that hybridization fundamentally outlines a vision that aspires towards social equality. Culture is a powerful venue to articulate this vision (63–64). Puri, furthermore, distinguishes among a variety of different discourses of hybridity that operate in this way in the Caribbean: creolization, mestizaje, douglarization, and jibarismo. Keeping the specific context of each of these processes at play, she is able to show how they interact, as for example in the competitive relation between creolization and douglarization in Trinidad (182–3). Furthermore, as a Marxist, Puri brings us back repeatedly to the contesting impulse of economic relations that drives cultural expressions.
The achievement of The Caribbean Postcolonial is its synthetic and comparative reach, hence the singular in the title which seems unrepresentative of the multiple perspectives on the postcolonial condition elaborated in the book. Puri successfully brings the French, English, and Spanish literature to bear on each other, no small feat as so much of the field of Caribbean studies is represented by at best fragmentary comparisons: French to English or English to Spanish, for instance. Puri also reads across genres, with chapters on a play, a novel, poetry, and music. But one is left yearning for a more comprehensive statement on the Caribbean novel and Caribbean poetry beyond the focus on manifestos and their claims for the literature. In an attempt to highlight some of the continuous threads of the book and to break down the possible misreading of it as theory in Part 1 and close readings in Part 2, I will trace...