Market Aesthetics: The Purchase of the Past in Caribbean Diasporic Fiction by Elena Machado Sáez (review)
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Reviewed by
Elena Machado Sáez. 2015. Market Aesthetics: The Purchase of the Past in Caribbean Diasporic Fiction. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. 244 pp. ISBN: 9780813937045.

Elena Machado Sáez’s Market Aesthetics is a carefully crafted study that examines the ethics and intimacies in Caribbean diasporic historical fiction as it represents diasporas to the United States, Canada, and Britain. The study focuses on how these fictions engage a structure of contradiction that struggles to balance an impulse to educate readers and a desire to produce a market intimacy with a reader who comes with assumptions and expectations about Caribbean diaspora. To theorize this, Machado Sáez constructs what she calls a “market aesthetic,” which describes and emblematizes this conflict between ethics and marketability, arguing that we can see how the market shapes Caribbean diasporic production and how this historical fiction responds [End Page 236] to market contexts, both inside and outside the narratives, primarily through sexuality and gender. Machado Sáez formulates not so much how diaspora operates as a mobile and hybrid utopia as some Caribbean literary criticism forwards, but rather how market aesthetics contextualize and decontextualize Caribbean diasporic historical fiction. In an age of globalization and multiculturalism, this book astutely demonstrates how struggles over representation are struggles about aesthetics.

Intersecting the cultural theories of diaspora and globalization with readings of Caribbean diasporic historical fiction, Market Aesthetics moves fluidly between the contradictory pressures of readership and market commodification on and within Caribbean diasporic historical fiction. In the first chapter, Machado Sáez unravels how the authors she examines must historically contextualize diaspora for unknowledgeable readers and simultaneously must entertain their audience (31-34). She offers the allegory of sexuality as one answer to reading this contradiction because it articulates and translates the threats posed by globalization and market pressure. In particular, the allegory of sexuality follows the logic of “el secreto abierto” (the open secret) in Caribbean history, which deploys an anxiety about queerness, a tension between knowing and not knowing, and a fraught encounter between the authors’ ethical imperative to educate and the readers’ expectations for Caribbean diasporic history (40-41). These narratives expose a complex and contradictory negotiation between Caribbean writers and their market.

The most prominent way these contradictions emerge is in historical contextualization and decontextualizations, which Machado Sáez considers in her second chapter through Andrea Levy’s Fruit of the Lemon and David Chariandy’s Soucouyant. These novels trace how their narrators move from a historically contextualized rootlessness to a form of consumer belonging. Machado Sáez argues that these novels simultaneously contextualize and decontextualize the narrators and their histories, persuasively demonstrating at one point how diasporic aesthetics transforms into consumerism when the narrator sells his artistic productions: poetry, word, and text raises him from poverty (71-73). She finds that the market becomes the backdrop to forming diasporic communities in the narratives, often through the roles of sexuality, gender, and race. The fiction’s ethical imperative to educate readers and give them context for diasporic history must concurrently employ the de-contextualization of multiculturalism and color-blindness that permeate consumer citizenship.

The last four chapters of Market Aesthetics demonstrate how these contradictions play out in a wide array of Caribbean diasporic historical fiction that all share a postcolonial ethics and all struggle with the marketability of their respective diaspora. Chapter 3 follows the contradictory intimacies between writer and reader by considering the [End Page 237] postcolonial ethics of the writer, as author and as character, to (re)educate the reader through Julia Alvarez’s In the Name of Salomé, Michelle Cliff’s Free Enterprise, and Marlon James’ The Book of Night Women. She finds that the authors, both inside and outside the text, signify the problematic project for Caribbean diasporic writers “to articulate counter-histories within a marketplace that commodifies and privileges certain voices over others” (118). Chapter 4 examines the historical legacy of anti-colonialism and the historiography of postcolonial romance in Ana Menéndez’s Loving Che, Dionne Brand’s In Another Place, Not Here, and Monique Roffey’s The White Woman on the Green Bicycle. Machado Sáez critiques the legacies of male-dominated anticolonial...