Rewriting the Mother/Nation

No Telephone to Heaven, In Another Place, Not Here and Cereus Blooms at Night

Authored by: Emily L. Taylor

The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature

Print publication date:  June  2011
Online publication date:  June  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415485777
eBook ISBN: 9780203830352
Adobe ISBN: 9781136821745

10.4324/9780203830352.ch28

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Abstract

Women writing in the Caribbean have often had to adopt a complicated stance in relation to the question of the nation. Seeking to reject male nationalist discourses of women as ‘mothers of the nation’, women attempting to write female subjects into national communities cannot risk rejecting the nation altogether because the nation, albeit largely heterosexualist and patriarchal, can function to resist neocolonial and colonial power. One important feature of Caribbean women’s writing in the last forty years is the attempt to imagine a more inclusive national space for women. Since the 1990s, anglophone Caribbean writers such as Michelle Cliff, Shani Mootoo, and Dionne Brand have continued this project of condemning national projects that require a heterosexual homogeneity from its subjects and have begun to imagine what might be required to imagine more inclusive national communities in the Caribbean. All three writers take up similar strategies to do so, including an extended meditation on the complex relationship between women and the natural environment. The natural environment as an object of male heterosexual desire has figured heavily in colonial discourse. Early examples include Columbus’s fantasy of his voyage to the Americas as one that traversed a woman’s body, imagining the earth shaped like a woman’s breast and his ship sailing over her nipple. The transformation of land into a woman became a means for colonizers to construct their conquest as a ‘natural’ one: feminizing the land extended the logic of heterosexual and patriarchal domination to the colonial encounter and positioned the male, colonizing subject as one ordained to rule by natural right. In colonial representations of the Caribbean, the land assumes the mantle of woman as virgin/whore: it is variously figured as docile Edenic paradise or a hellish, savage inferno. The trope of land as woman absorbs the racialized hierarchies of gender relations in the region, hierarchies often shaped by the history of slavery. Male nationalist writers such as Earl Lovelace and George Lamming also conflate women with the land, imagining women as mothers of the nation in a diasporic extension of ‘Mother Africa’. These representations of women lock female characters into a tightly scripted, biologically determined national story. Thus, the use of the physical environment as a trope to represent national communities becomes an important site of intervention for writers attempting to reshape Caribbean nationalisms. In this chapter, I examine how Michelle Cliff, Shani Mootoo and Dionne Brand employ queer desire as a means to reimagine the Caribbean landscape and introduce a new freedom for female and queer subjects in Caribbean narratives. By reimagining the relationship between women and the land, these writers disrupt the biological narrative of women as the site of national reproduction.

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