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BOOK NOTES CHRIS BONGIE. Islands andExiles: The CreoleIdentities ofPost/Colonial Literature. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1998. vi + 543 pp. Although it may seem late even by the standards ofacademic journals to review in 2001 a book published in 1998, Chris Bongie's Islands andExiles reshapes the field of Caribbean literary and cultural studies so forcefully that it deserves prolonged and persistent attention. Like Michael Dash's remarkable TAe Other America: Caribbean Literature in a New World Context (Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1998), this book does not view the Caribbean and its cultural production through the lens of a national language literary field (e.g., Francophone Caribbean literature ). Rather, it comes at its object ofstudy from a regional and multilingual perspective (even if, in the case ofboth works, a preponderance ofthe texts under consideration were written in French). Even to place Bongie's book in the category of "regional" literary and cultural studies does not capture the essence ofthe project. For one thing, it obscures the fact that the central chapters ofIslands and Exiles are bracketed by chapters on the novels ofthe South African J.M. Coetzee (Foe) and the New Zealander Keri Hulme (/Ae bonepeople). Second, Bongie is not principally concerned with the cultural connections between the islands of the Caribbean. Rather, he is interested in the questions about identity that the figure ofthe island has historically forced us to ask, and continues to do so to this day. In this way, the title of Bongie's book is potentially misleading. Islands and Exiles has much less to do with exiles—people displaced from their "home"—than with islands and their symbolic separation, their exile, from continents and the discourses ofglobal modernity with hegemonic aspirations that the latterproduce. But Bongie does not view the distance between "islands" and "continents" (both terms functioning more or less metaphorically in Bongie's text) as a function ofinsular resistance to continental discourses. Rather, he reads the island as a figure that can and must be read in more than one way: on the one hand, as the absolutely particular, a space complete unto itselfand thus an ideal metaphor foratraditionally conceived, unified and unitary, identity; onthe other, as a fragment, a part of some greater whole from which it is in exile and to which it mustbe related—in an act of(never completed) completion that is always also, as it were, an ex-isle, a loss ofthe particular. The island is thus the site of a double identity—closed and open—and this doubleness perfectly conveys the ambivalences ofcreole identity [. . .] (18) This insight regarding the tension at the core of insular identity is then artfully applied to a number ofspaces and moments ofcultural production. In addition to the non-Caribbean sites mentioned above, Bongie turns his rich critical imagination on representations ofthe Haitian revolution in William Faulkner's Absalom! Absalom ! and Victor Hugo's Bug-Jargal, the nascent hybridity of Bernardin de SaintPierre 's Paul et Virginie, and the volcanic contemporary narratives ofDaniel Maximin . In one ofthe most compelling chapters, Bongie makes a convincing analogy between, on the one hand, the struggle over Caribbean identity in the mid-nineteenth century that pitted the Martinican Creole Cyrille-Charles-Auguste Bissette against the white abolitionist Victor Schcelcher and, on the other, the recent cat fight between Annie Le Brun and the Martinican writers Raphaël Confiant and Patrick Chamoiseau over the legacy ofAimé Césaire. In both cases, at stake is the relative importance ofthe islander and the colonizer or former colonizer in the formation of insular identity. Here and elsewhere, the solution to these intractable identity Vol. 25 (2001): 186 ??? COHPAnATIST disputes lies for Bongie in the in-between: "[I]t is perhaps time to claim the interregnum as our home rather than (only) as a place ofexile and to begin to learn how to live with a condition that we cannot cure [. . .]" (347). If Bongie's masterful text has a blind spot, it comes in the otherwise brilliant chapter on Edouard Glissant. Focusing on Glissant's most recent works—the novel Tout-monde (1993) and its theoretical correlatives Traité du tout-monde (1997) and Poétique de la relation (1994)—Bongie identifies Glissant as one...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 186-187
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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