- Disturbers of the Peace: Representations of Madness in Anglophone Caribbean Literature by Kelly Baker Josephs
Exploring various representations of madness in Anglophone Caribbean literature, Disturbers of the Peace: Representations of Madness in Anglophone Caribbean Literature argues that madness is an overlooked theme that should be treated as “a significant part of the West Indian literary aesthetic” (2). While Kelly Baker Josephs acknowledges that the theme of madness was prevalent in Anglophone, Francophone, and Hispanophone Caribbean literature in the first half of the twentieth century, she notes that there was an increased interest in the theme in Anglo-phone Caribbean literature in the latter half of the twentieth century. She argues that this heightened awareness was occasioned by the “concurrent shift from colonial to postcolonial status” (2), the quest for independence from British (colonial) rule.
The first full-length study on madness in Caribbean literature, Disturbers of the Peace is a valuable contribution to the study of postcolonial literature. Josephs’s many disclaimers—namely, “I have generally avoided autobiography.... I have also used less formal literary theory than perhaps expected” (12)—bear the imprint of an apology and diminish her contribution. Nonetheless, Josephs’s sustained study of the theme of madness in the work of male and female Caribbean writers is effective and novel, as is her grouping of the selected authors. Divided into five chapters and an epilogue, Disturbers of the Peace exhaustively analyzes representations of madness in the work of V. S. Naipaul, Sylvia Wynter, Jean Rhys, Derek Walcott, Erna Brodber, Zadie Smith, Maria-Elena John, and David Chariandy. Whereas Chapters One through Five examine the trope of madness in selected works published from 1959 to 1980, the epilogue focuses on representations of madness in twenty-first-century fictions. Detailing the failure of the West Indies Federation (1958–62), the importance of nationalism and [End Page 202] nation-building, and the triumph of nationalism over regionalism, the first five chapters analyze the trope of madness within the framework of de/colonization. In the epilogue, Josephs maps the continuing significance of madness in the Caribbean diaspora.
In Chapter One, Josephs explores the theme of madness in the wake of colonialism in Naipaul’s Miguel Street (1959), arguing that the text has “received little attention, and less respect, from literary critics.... [T]hose critical texts that mention it briefly often do so disparagingly.” Whereas Josephs notes that the features of Naipaul’s text that prompt those disparaging remarks, such as the lack of a developing narrative and the creation of eccentric characters, make the text “ripe for exploration” (28), she overlooks one of the quarrels critics have with Naipaul, which is the noticeable racialization of his characters. Josephs herself illuminates some of these instances, although she does not examine them through the lens of racialization. For example, the black mother character, Laura, who suffers from sex addiction (arguably a form of madness), is expected to live up to an ideal governed by European principles: “Within her own neighborhood, Laura has an example of how she should be treating her children and living her life.” This ideal is Mary, “the Chinese,” who is further legitimized by “[her] husband,” whose formidable presence contrasts with the man that Laura “begins living with” (29). Drawing on Édouard Glissant’s theorization of madness, Josephs identifies “repetition and routinism [as forms of] resistance” (32). We witness repetition in the naming of characters such as Man-man. Furthermore, repetition is evident in the routinized call-and-response format that Hat and Bogart enact every morning.
Examining the trope of madness within the framework of gender in Chapter Two, Josephs relies on Wynter’s theorization of gender and feminism to challenge the perception of those theorists who claim that The Hills of Hebron (1962) is not concerned with women. Josephs asserts that the Caribbean feminist community overlooks Wynter because she does not write consistently from a feminist perspective. Arguing instead that Wynter’s work resists easy categorization, Josephs remarks that in...