- The Grenada Revolution in the Caribbean Present: Operation Urgent Memory by Shalini Puri
Grenada haunts the Caribbean radical imagination. Shalini Puri’s first monograph, The Caribbean Postcolonial, showed her to be one of the most thoughtful and committed cultural critics of Caribbean radicalism. That book’s readings of concepts like hybridity, transgression, opposition and resistance cleared ground in post-colonial studies for a substantial political rethinking of the field’s conceptual categories. Her most recent scholarly work, The Grenada Revolution in the Caribbean Present, takes advantage of that reclaimed intellectual space. Whereas the earlier book belonged to a moment of extreme theoretical introspection within the field, the newer book is part of a larger move in postcolonial studies to engage with the materiality of social movements and governmentality in the global south. As a result, The Grenada Revolution in the Caribbean Present provides a model for a politically urgent literary studies, showing how much a cultural studies approach can offer to the rethinking of radical postcolonial projects.
The Grenada Revolution in the Caribbean Present is brilliant simply as a cultural history, offering a compilation of the wide range of ways in which the Grenada Revolution has been remembered or has shaped our political and intellectual practices. The extensive research means that the book’s bibliography alone is a massive contribution to Caribbean studies. In calypsos by Black Wizard and Mighty Sparrow, novels by Merle Collins, and David Franklyn, plays such as Redemption Time and Sitting in Limbo, the paintings of Kolongi Brathwaite and Canute Caliste, or poetry by Dionne Brand, Kendel Hippolyte and Marion Bethel, Puri uncovers resonances of the Revolution from throughout the Caribbean from the 1980s up to today. She couples careful analysis of these artistic responses with a pioneering form of what she calls “literary fieldwork” (24) in which interviews and visits to the sites of memory acknowledge a reality in which “The land is an archive” (22). Puri’s reading of the physical remnants of the Revolution, and the memorialization of it, supplements the readings of creative texts to fully engage with not only intellectual but also popular engagement with this history.
Beyond the vital accomplishment of rethinking the Grenada Revolution and recording the texts and practices responding to it, Puri’s work offers a new set of concepts for understanding Caribbean cultural history. Rather than attempting to apply to Grenada political or cultural frameworks developed in other contexts, Puri takes her inspiration from the Caribbean landscape, organizing The Grenada Revolution in the Caribbean Present around chapters such as “Wave,” “Volcano,” “Hurricane,” and “Straits.” The corresponding concepts allow virtuoso readings of [End Page 378] Grenadian history and culture while remaining supple enough that scholars could imagine adapting them to other regional contexts. Puri defines “volcanic memory,” for example, as “involuntary and restive … unauthorized, unexorcised, unsanitized, it erupts periodically, leaving traces but no monuments” (150). In contrast to “deliberate memory,” embodied in memorials and commemorations, Puri’s volcanic memory appears unexpectedly, breaking through apparent silence or amnesia to show the subterranean cultural unconscious in which traumatic events can reside. This approach to reading silences builds on the work of Michel-Rolph Trouillot and allows Puri to read the eruptions of the Revolution in works not obviously about it such as Earl Lovelace’s Is Just a Movie. This methodology allows Puri to uncover pan-Caribbean resonances similar to the kinds of specters of the Haitian Revolution that Sibylle Fischer finds haunting nineteenth-century Cuban and Dominican discourse in Modernity Disavowed.
The hurricane, similarly, functions as “a gentle corrective to the vision of history” as teleology embodied in the Grenada Revolution’s slogan, “Forward Ever, Backward Never.” By contrast, “a hurricane historiography is more attuned to repetition, disorder, and unpredictability” (212). This vision of history—in which the events of the Revolution are not conceived as scientifically inevitable—resembles the vision of tragedy David Scott puts forward in Conscripts of Modernity, but as Puri distinguishes, “hurricane does not result in the axiomatic or inevitable failure of the revolutionary projects … hurricane as poetics remains evenly split...