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Callaloo 25.3 (2002) 990-994
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New Histories of Writing and Identity
Edmondson,Belinda. Making Men: Gender, Literary Authority, and Women's Writing in Caribbean Narrative.Durham: Duke University Press, 1999.
Edmondson, Belinda. Caribbean Romances: The Politics of Regional Representation. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1999.
Recent years have witnessed an explosion in scholarly production about the Caribbean, and particularly about and by the Caribbean Diaspora in North America and Europe. From the entrance of Black British Cultural Studies, a discourse rooted in Caribbean Diaspora experience in the U.K., to the deepening attentiveness to Caribbean Latino literatures and histories, to the perception of the Caribbean as exemplifying the creoleness, mestissage, or mestizaje and disorder that many believe characterizes this post-colonial post-modern moment, the Caribbean has been seized upon as a tremendously desirable subject site. The increased attention to the Caribbean as a subject for scholarly discourse, however, demands the interrogation of ideas of Caribbean identity, literature, and politics that undergird this discourse. Belinda Edmondson sets out to do just that in her work and claims that purpose explicitly in the introduction to her edited collection Caribbean Romances: The Politics of Regional Representation. She states
The Caribbean that has developed in scholarly discourse over the past forty years or so sometimes seems to have a life of its own, at times bearing only a cursory relation to the events of today. Yet, the words, ideas and discourses of these archetypes of "Caribbeanness" . . . have such power to shape the way the region now imagines itself that they have become mythic. (2)
Both her study Making Men: Gender, Literary Authority, and Women's Writing in Caribbean Narrative and her edited collection Caribbean Romances reveal and critically analyze discursive constructions of the Caribbean from within and outside of the Caribbean. Both books build upon the recent texts by scholars such as Carole Boyce Davies, Simon Gikandi, and Supriya Nair that also address Caribbean writers' methods of redefining, renegotiating, and representing their own individual and national identities as well as the impact of external forces, including colonial legacies, on those methods. [End Page 990]
Making Men delves into the divergences between the approaches to constructing the Caribbean nation employed by English gentlemen, by Caribbean literary men of the 1930s and 1940s, including C.L.R. James and V.S. Naipaul, and by the women writers of the Caribbean Diaspora. Edmondson argues that the distinctions between the generations arise out of differing levels of access to and engagement with Victorian conceptions of manhood (gentlemanliness in particular), nationhood, and the writing self. The uniqueness of this study inheres most clearly in the juxtaposition of authors and text from these distinctive eras. While there has certainly been a marked increase in scholarly production on Caribbean literature in recent years, and particularly in work on each of these moments and/or authors from these moments, the works that study them comparatively or as part of a continuum are rare indeed.
The distinctiveness of the study also emanates from her convincing delineation of how the elements of literary constructions of the Caribbean (Victorian conceptions of manhood, nationhood, and the writing self) appear across political, chronological, gender, and geographical lines. The writers include figures widely accepted as canonical in Caribbean literature such as C.L.R. James and V.S. Naipaul as well as individuals like Una Marson, an oft-forgotten woman writer who was a contemporary of theirs. She illustrates that her theoretical framework and methodology have broad applicability. One of the strategies that she uses in the first third of the book to prove this broad applicability is highlighting the commonalities between staunch political opponents in their visions of manhood, nationhood (English and/or Caribbean), and literary authority. In the first chapter, for instance, Edmondson begins to make her argument by considering the place(ment) of Blackness in 19th-century Victorian discourses about the meaning of Englishness and West Indianness, discourses that by extension determine the Black intellectuals' possible ways of accessing, imagining, and articulating the nation, whether West Indian or English. A crucial...