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Callaloo 25.3 (2002) 885-909

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A Small Place Writes Back

Jane King

Always use punctuation correctly. Revise your work, checking it carefully for faults. Your capacity to write well in the (hated) English language is not your birthright. It was not given to you; it was hard-earned, hard-won from the (hated) English. Keep their punctuation anyway, ignoring the new trends from the (slightly better?) USA. Use, for instance, commas for parentheses, to separate lists and for all the other reasons that you were taught in your (hated) English English classes. Make some of your sentences cover at least a page without missing a punctuation beat—it will show that you have beaten the (hated) English at their own game. They will notice; they will marvel. People will publish articles in which they will say that you can use the (hated) English better than the (hated) English. Write only in standard, formal English. If you must use the local Creole, put it in parentheses. Explain your own attitude to the content of the Creole speech in standard English to your reader, implying that there would have been no point attempting to explain yourself to the Creole speaker. Change your name; it will annoy your mother. But keep it sounding vaguely (hated) English or at least Scottish; it will remind people of your heritage. Give commands, or in some other way address your reader directly. Remember that symmetry and balance are important elements of literary correctness as taught in Caribbean secondary schools, so having begun a paragraph in one mode, continue in that mode to the (bitter) end. Of the book if necessary. A little repetition never hurt anybody; it establishes style.

Her language, her form, is what has drawn most praise to Kincaid. Her content has for the most part been a long analysis of her relationship with her mother. This has endeared her to a certain type of feminist scholar, and her brand of mother-hatred seems so fixated at a particular stage of adolescence that her work would seem to be a gift to the neo-Freudians. A desire to annoy your mother by flaunting your sexuality is a feature of the teenage years of many young women who feel repressed by their mother's desire notto rear a "slut"—a desire surely not unusual in mothers. But postmodern feminists, including psychoanalytic ones, are self-conscious about anything that sounds like a tendency to make judgements that universalize experience, especially when the writer under review is from a minority, in this case not only black, but also Caribbean. Kincaid, then, has chosen a good time to proclaim that her problems with her mother could not be described in anybody's "thick book" (Kincaid, Lucy 132). Fraser and Nicholson note that Chodorow's assumptions about the reproduction of mothering are problematic for the postmodern reader because they are essentialist. [End Page 885]

. . . postmodern feminist theory would be nonuniversalist. When its focus became cross-cultural or transepochal, its mode of attention would be comparativist rather than universalizing . . . Finally postmodern-feminist theory would dispense with the idea of a subject of history. It would replace unitary notions of woman and feminine gender identity with plural and complexly constructed conceptions of social identity, treating gender as one relevant strand among others, attending also to class, race, ethnicity, age and sexual orientation. (Fraser & Nicholson 34-35)

Anything that smacks of ontology is suspect in the postmodern view. Essentialism—the attribution of particular characteristics to different entities, such as "man" or "woman"—is one product of such older ways of thinking. Political and philosophical systems developed by such thinking are the means by which the old male imperial bastions established and maintained their hegemony. Thus Kincaid is postmodern in seeing her own arguments with her mother as different from those of any other young female, and particularly different from those of the white metropolitan middle class. Words associated with ethnicity seem not to have become quite as slippery as those associated with gender. 1 No more men or women, then, but still, "to be frank, white[s]" (Kincaid...


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