Locating the Destitute: Space and Identity in Caribbean Fiction.
Locating the Destitute: Space and Identity in Caribbean Fiction goes beyond the promise implicit in its title not only to locate the destitute, those placed outside of colonial systems of legitimacy, but also to help readers recognize those Caribbean spaces and the identities they shape that do not appear on colonial maps. In locating those people who are excluded on the basis of space as it is configured by colonial ideologies, Radovic also makes visible these peoples' acts of creative resistance against colonial practices and denials. Drawing upon Henri Lefebvre's concept of "third space," she articulates how the destitute shape and claim their own spaces, and thereby themselves in the world. They do so, Radovic argues, by drawing upon both the material and the imaginative resources accessible through narrative.
According to Radovic, postcolonial studies still stumbles over its reliance on binaries and/or its promotion of an in-between solution to the problem of spatial and communal autonomy. As a result, it fails to take into account the "mutually constitutive relations between space and identity" (181). Locating the Destitute does the slippery and careful work of analyzing space as both a material lack and a metaphor. Drawing upon Henri Lefebvre's concept of "third space," she articulates how the destitute shape and claim their own spaces, and thereby themselves in the world. With Lefebvre's aid, the book explores how Caribbean literature, with its common use of spatial symbols, highlights material inequities by way of the social, economic, psychological, and linguistic exclusions that often characterize postcoloniality. Radovic posits that while literature cannot correct these inequities, it can--by communicating both the practice and representation of space--potentially challenge material lack and imaginatively claim spaces of belonging.
The book's argument is divided into six well-ordered chapters that make its discussion of Caribbean spaces and identities accessible to both scholars of the region and those who may be engaging with it for the first time. After an introduction stating the text's argument, goals, and methodologies, the first chapter offers one of Radovic's greatest contributions, putting pan-Caribbean postcolonial discourse into dialogue with contemporary spatial theory from Europe. The second chapter illuminates the unique particularities of Caribbean spaces and communities that evade Western (colonial) methods of identification, and thereby undermine Western pretensions to universality. Following these preliminary discussions, each of the subsequent four chapters analyzes a different Caribbean novel's use of space as both physical divider and crafted tool of agency. These text-based chapters move from exploring the West's traditionally exclusive conceptions of physical space to the more imaginative and thus inclusive notions of Caribbean cultures.
Radovic's first chapter, "Caribbean Spatial Metaphors," establishes that the region's spatial identity and location have always been contested, "torn between fact and fiction," and argues that the notion of a third space best characterizes Caribbean lived experience (28).The chapter draws upon Caribbean theorists such as Elizabeth DeLoughrey and Edouard Glissant who articulate the region's difficulty in representing its own reality within Western classifications of realism that exclude what they cannot account for. Within the Caribbean counter-imaginary, the slave ship, the sea, the archipelago, the island's landscapes, flora and fauna, weather and constructed shelters all "maintain their geographical specificity while being transformed into a metaphor (and subsequently an emblem) of cultural location" (38). Radovic posits that readers of spatial metaphors in Caribbean literature and theory enter into a network of history and poetics whose metaphors work to create intimate connections between readers and the region, and thereby require readers to care in order to understand. This ambiguous understanding of space as both material and metaphor preserves Caribbean history, both what is visible to the West above the sea and Karnau Brathwaite's invisible unity beneath it.
Chapter two, "A House of One's Own: Individual and Communal Spaces in the Caribbean 'Yard Novel'" explains one of the most historically prominent kinds of spaces featured in Caribbean literature. The space of the yard--at once private and open to the community--has been largely ignored by colonial spatial identifications: "Here the imagined perceptions of a 'stranger,' who sees the neighborhood only as a slum, are contrasted to what 'we,' the street dwellers see, in our environment" (69). The chapter begins by positioning itself alongside the work of contemporary spatial theorists such as Jeff Malpas, Yi-Fu Tuan, Doreen Massey, and Edward Casey, then goes on to explain how using Lefebvre's theory on the production of space will help us to appreciate protagonists' understanding of themselves as impacted by "socioeconomic deprivation" (49).The yard novel features a particularly Caribbean lived experience of shared space connecting a community rather than reinforcing individual private ownership. Here, spatial identification takes place outside, "beyond the boundaries of a house," and challenges the ruling classes' physical and ideological dominance (54).The identities shaped by the yard as opposed to the traditional singular house exemplify how postcolonial Caribbean people reappropriate space from its colonial configurations. The collective identity made visible in the spatial patterns of a yard novel is an "indirect plea for visibility and witness that the otherwise outcast and forgotten people must claim for themselves" (59).
Conversely, the yard novel reveals its protagonists' need for independence, self-reliance, and privacy, which destitution denies. Radovic: illuminates a genealogy of the yard novel that includes Earl Lovelaces The Dragon Can't Dance, C. L. R. James's Minty Alley, Roger Mais's The Hills Were Joyful Together, V. S. Naipaul's Miguel Street, and Joseph Zobel's Black Shack Alley. Images of yards and houses in Caribbean literature make visible to the reader what has always existed, the persistent humanity of characters in their struggle against material deprivation. Radovic's reading of yard novels clearly demonstrates her argument that space and identity are in fact dialectically intertwined. She ends the chapter with the suggestion that novels themselves function as "third spaces," allowing space to be understood as both imagined and material.
'"No Admittance': V. S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas" is the first chapter that focuses exclusively on one novel. Through its reading of Naipaul's work this chapter explores how the unrequited colonial desire to own a house can thwart one's postcolonial ownership of self. The chapter examines the material significance of a house, its impact on identity, and its symbolic effect on the poverty-stricken Mr. Biswas's autonomy. Radovic argues that the value of studying literature featuring spatial structures resides in its illumination of characters' resistance to dispossession, resistance that can then be traced outside of literature: "This equation of identity with its spatial setting suggests that, like many other Caribbean authors, Naipaul turns to spatial images to explore the questions of geographic limitation and denied autonomy, which lie at the core of the colonial predicament" (78). So, while language and narrative resistance do not answer the problems of destitution, they serve as critical tools for identifying injustice and making it visible.
While the chapter references Derek Walcott's and Homi Bhabha's difficulties in identifying Naipaul as a Caribbean writer, one might still wonder why Walcott's "The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory" (1992) does not play a larger role here given its identification of both Naipaul and his character Biswas as figures who exemplify Indo-Trinidadian national exclusion belonging to a historically displaced culture, a "tragic reflection of the split between imaginary rootedness and daily destitution" (81). Radovic even uses the same term as Walcott in his 1992 Nobel Prize acceptance speech and essay in describing Mr. Biswas's situation, arguing that Biswas, unable to own a home, "becomes a fragmented series of random biographical facts, which ... never amount to a story" (87). Walcott's "Fragments" or Tiepolo's Hound (2000) might, conversely, have helped to explain his accusation that Naipaul features "no love in his books" (91). According to Walcott's speech, Mr. Biswas and Naipaul would both have a legitimate claim to their Caribbean culture in their search for belonging by way of their lived experience, and it is precisely love that reconstructs and makes whole the Caribbean's perceived fragmentation. These omissions aside, Radovic's analysis of Naipaul's novel, which demonstrates the difficulty faced by destitute people who wish to dismantle poverty with the colonial master's tools, is thoughtful, detailed, and convincing.
Radovic's fourth chapter, "Squatters in the Cathedral of the Written Word," analyzes Patrick Chamoiseau's Texaco and its demonstration of two related spatial concepts, Ignasi Sola-Morales Rubio's terrain vague (unproductive spaces without specific borders) and Michel Foucault's heterotopia (alternative physical spaces created by exclusion). Chamoiseau's novel centers on the efforts of a protagonist named Marie-Sophie Laborieux to convince an urban planner nicknamed Christ not to raze an old oil refinery. Instead, Laborieux wants Christ to recognize the living community, as Chamoiseau calls it, a "Creole city" that she and others have made by occupying and using the space. The term "Creole" has a rich history and varies in definition from space to space, but for a French Caribbean creoliste writer like Chamoiseau, according to his 1989 essay "Eloge de la Creolite" (In Praise of Creoleness) coauthored with Jean Bernabe and Raphael Confiant, it refers to a self-recognized claim to unique identity, with multiple origins that in its mixture and creativity is distinct, legitimate, and whole. Radovic's reading of the "Creole City," capitalized so as to distinguish national origin, reveals the rhizomatic urban space to be both a destitute reality created by colonial structures and a utopian ideal that houses the very Creole reality Caribbean people are denied. The survival of this second space, she notes, depends on its narration, on how it is itself housed by language and literature. Texaco the community is legitimized by being recognized and communicated by literature, and "in this way fiction becomes an alternative metaphorical space rather than a vehicle of realistic spatial depiction" (106).
Radovic provides some interesting background about the actual urban planner who inspired the text, and whom Chamoiseau thanks in the novel. As opposed to Mr. Biswas in Naipaul's novel, the residents of Chamoiseau's Texaco reappropriate their exclusion and manage to own their own stories "even as they remain disowned and illegitimate on the territory they occupy" (109). Radovic thus argues that Texaco exhibits to the reader a third space housing both the imagined and material spatial identity of a community formed in opposition to colonial structures. She asserts, moreover, that Laborieux demands a linguistic and spatial recognition of Caribbean Creole diversity in the face of such structures in order "to make legible what her people cannot read, to conquer back, in space and language, the sites that have been denied" (124). In the end, the battle for the Creole city is a battle for spatial and linguistic autonomy. Radovic again reminds us that while the narrative does not succeed in changing the fate of real people and places, it does succeed in making visible "what would otherwise remain silent and buried in official records" (127).
"Heterotopia of Old Age in Beryl Gilroy's Frangipani House" is Radovic's most sensitive and persuasive chapter. Focusing on the novel's tender characterization of its protagonist, Mama King, whom age has rendered destitute, it suggests a widely representative experience of obsolescence that is simultaneously resistant to rationalization: "Bodies of the elderly are also the ultimate reminder of those aspects of human existence that cannot be brought in line with productivity, quantitative gain, accumulation, or any rational schedule" (137). Radovic identifies two heterotopias of exclusion in Frangipani House, one of spatial captivity and one of old age, and reveals the Western nursing home to be a prison that "allows us a critical view of the relationship between the space and identity of the aging and 'unproductive' body as it loses its social role" (128). Determining a human being's social identity based on one's corporeal use is related, of course, to the Caribbean's history of slavery. Ultimately, this chapter proves Radovic's argument that "ownership [of self] means something very different from material possession" (152). Radovic engages Foucault's theories on prohibitive spaces in order to clarify their common "goal of containing and policing human excess by means of corporeal control," suggesting that a society that chooses to put its elderly away in homes marginalizes not only their bodies but also their experiences, memories, wisdoms, and thus cultural contributions (131).
When Mama King liberates herself through a combination of physical escape and becoming a valued member in a community of beggars, she makes visible a path to autonomous personhood for everyone, including the reader. Whereas in previous chapters it was easier for the reader to identify the destitute as other, here it is much easier for the reader to identify with Mama King's desire to be treated as "somebody" defined not by age, class, or gender but by "full and autonomous personhood" (141). This kindhearted heroine actively fights against the loss of her self, regardless of the spatial luxury she has been relegated to, and in her emancipation celebrates what Radovic regards as "a Caribbean version of relational identity, evocative of the composite and communal identities of yard novels" (148). Mama King's excess of life and need for social connectivity challenges Western ideological structures and proves to be successfully postcolonial: she rediscovers herself in "a freely chosen heterotopia of destitution" that she creates for herself (151).
Radovic's last chapter analyzes the Creole residential space depicted in Raphael Confiant's L'Hotel du Bon Plaisir. This chapter examines how the novel's hotel, owned by three sisters and continually changing its policies, construction materials, and function in relation to individual tenants, turns out to be "the most important protagonist of all, showing that shared space creates community and shelters its evolving history" (154). The hotel houses a diverse assortment of people who are destitute not only because they are poor but also because they have no other site of spatial belonging. As a result, they exist outside of the social structures that are used to identify them. Radovic's account here of an architectural and literary space that houses Caribbean Creole identity draws upon a wealth of theorists. She brings together the Creolistes of the Francophone Caribbean, Confiant, Bernabe, and Chamoiseau, with Glissant, Mikhail Bahktin, Lefebvre, and Francois Rabelais to explain how the recognition and practice of creolization in language, architecture, and literature challenge Western colonial ideologies that refuse Caribbean reality and continue to alienate the region from itself. The Creole novel, as she terms it, enables a communicable contestation against Western destitution and makes visible the Caribbean's "cacophonous unity of disparate yet mutually intertwined parts" (167).
The hotel can house its diversity of residents in one space because it depends upon constant transformation and respects no existing order; it is "spatially constructed creoleness" (172). Radovic thus paradoxically sees the hotel's burning in a positive light, arguing that this episode reminds readers that creoleness always speaks to a culture at risk of losing its specificity by being calcified and contained: "the same way life unfolds, spontaneous and unpredictable.... So must the [Creole] novel engage in reproducing and preserving the chaotic, lively nature of oral storytelling" (175). The role of the writer is to preserve the reality of creoleness in the third space accessible by narrative. Any form of liberation from Western structures of space and therefore identity must account for political and economic independence (the material) and self-identification and governance (the imaginative).
Radovic's conclusion makes the case for her detailed discussion of spatial theory and the production of social space in relation to identity as a necessary contribution to postcolonial studies. She argues that "there is not enough explicit discussion of the mutually constitutive relations between space and identity in those places where the right to spatial and communal autonomy has historically been denied and has thus become the locus of a struggle for reappropriation" (182). She also reiterates her claims that autonomous selfhood is thwarted by an absence of autonomous space, and that in order to challenge their exclusion and illegitimacy, the destitute claim an alternative symbolic production of space divorced from material ownership and dependent instead upon lived experience. Ultimately, the book leaves the reader with a sharpened perception of how literature can be revolutionary: "When in the world of borders, one refuses to acknowledge the border and seeks to cross it by refusing its very existence, this move must be recognized as a radical one even when its wishful magic remains to operate in words only" (191).
Locating the Destitute makes important contributions to both postcolonial studies and spatial theory, drawing upon a wealth of Western theorists to intervene in what are otten regarded as postcolonial, Caribbean concerns. The book will be most helpful to scholars of spatial theory to whom it will introduce the Caribbean as a model for the rest of the modern world. It will be less novel for Caribbean scholars, who will recognize much of the discussion on plantation systems and creolization. However, the book invites Caribbean scholars to adopt a more nuanced understanding of how Caribbean identity is conditioned by spatial politics and how space is both material and symbolic. Locating the Destitute is an important study that not only provides a bridge for spatial theorists to that third space but also a map that leads them to the Caribbean as a site for radical transformations, productions, and reappropriations of space in the twenty-first century.
Allyson Salinger Ferrante is assistant professor in the English department at Bridgewater State University, where she teaches courses on pan-Caribbean literature, postcolonial literature and theory, and multicultural British literature. Her research focuses on literary articulations of creolization that confound and work to dismantle the psychological remnants of colonialism.
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|Author:||Ferrante, Allyson Salinger|
|Publication:||Twentieth Century Literature|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2016|
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