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Re-membering History

The Aesthetics of Ruins in West Indian Postcolonial Poetry

Authored by: Dania Dwyer

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.ch43_b

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Abstract

The Caribbean is arguably better defined by its historical gaps, loopholes and fragments than any historical centredness or unison. Many an account of Caribbean history and cultural experience speaks to its cyclical seasons of catastrophe and the sociological apocalypse of slavery. In fact, the entire institution of colonialism levied such trauma and brutality in the New World that it is said to have effected a kind of cultural vacuity, historical amnesia of sorts. Édouard Glissant, in his seminal 1976 essay entitled ‘The Quarrel with History’, argues that while it is ridiculous to claim that a people ‘has no history’, it may be argued that the recollection of this history proves challenging for a people when ‘the lived circumstances of … daily reality do not form part of a continuum, which means that its relation with its surroundings (… nature) is in discontinuous relation to its accumulation of experiences (… culture)’ (Glissant 2006: 1). Set against the dominant grain of Eurocentric historiography, this ‘disconnect’ of which Glissant speaks amounts to ‘nonhistory’ in the Caribbean collective consciousness, or a fragmented historical sensibility at best. This notion may be fundamentally flawed but as Eric R. Wolf suggests in Europe and the People Without History, ‘we have been taught, inside the classroom and outside of it, that there exists an entity called the West … a society and civilization [that] has a genealogy’ (1982: 5), a relatively smooth continuous progression into the present. This genealogy, according to Wolf, had us growing up believing in genealogy as the key to all history; ‘a developmental scheme [that] is misleading’ (5). Glissant concurs with Wolf in claiming that a linear conception of history was perpetuated by the West. ‘History (with a capital H) … is a highly functional fantasy of the West, originating at precisely the time when it alone ‘made’ the history of the World’ (2006: 8).

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