Hybridity as a Counter-Hegemonic Discourse in Elizabeth Nunez's Even in Paradise.

Author:Igoudjil, M. Kamel
Position:Critical essay
 
FREE EXCERPT

Introduction

They bear upon them the traces of the particular cultures, traditions, languages and histories by which they were shaped. The difference is that they are not and will never be unified in the old sense, because they are irrevocably the product of several interlocking histories and cultures, belong at one and the same time to several "homes" (Hall "Cultural Identity" 222) Caribbean identity is important because it expresses the ethos of the people. To establish such identity, it is a difficult subject because there are multiple historical contributing elements. The Caribbean has many cultural roots. After the European had exterminated the indigenous population, they settled the Caribbean with people around the world and forced them to labor. Thus, people of the Caribbean have extensive backgrounds, making "identity" a problematic topic. Indeed, oppression and slavery marked the Caribbean history, which caused a long-lasting trauma in the mind of the Caribbean imagination. In fact, Caribbean identity has been the topic of many texts such as Stuart Hall's "Negotiating Caribbean Identities" and David Scott's "The Re-Enchantment of Humanism: An Interview with Sylvia Wynter." Searching for one's identity has been a preoccupation for many Caribbean scholars, for instance, Frantz Fanon, C. L. R. James, Sylvia Wynter, and Edouard Glissant. This identity quest gives one a sense of belonging with one's self and with a community. Most importantly, the rich history and the previous Caribbean identities shape the postmodern sense of belonging in the twenty-first century.

I begin with these opening statements to initiate a theoretical and literary discussion. Based on colonial, postcolonial, and postmodern theories, this paper explores, inter alia, "Hybridity as a Counter-Hegemonic Discourse in Elizabeth Nunez's Even in Paradise." While criticism has yet to study Nunez's work from a postcolonial perspective, Even in Paradise reveals two types of narrative discourse: "personal mythology" intertwined with "historical mythology." Nunez utilizes history as a myth. The function of myth in Even in Paradise depends upon understanding the historical narrative in framing historical moments in the fictional narrative. In effect, the narrative proposes a radical view of many histories, used in a revisionist, subversive way to criticize history by providing alternative narratives to the historical moments that the novel explores. The narrative represents a journey into the past to comprehend the present.

The narrative structure in Even in Paradise is nonlinear as each chapter has a beginning/anti-beginning and an ending/open ending. As a postmodern writer, Nunez deconstructs the ideas of a fixed beginning and ending.

Indeed, Nunez subverts the chronology and presents the reader with what Brian Richardson calls a "nonlinear sequence [of events] but from which a consistent, linear story could be readily extracted" (Richardson "Time, Plot, Progression" 77). Even in Paradise exemplifies a work of literature with a temporal discrepancy between the historical timeline and the linear structure of the novel. Each chapter has its space, which generates a specific time.

Even in Paradise encapsulates multiple fictional and nonfictional narratives that move backward in time. Consider the paradoxical resonance on colonialism. The text has fixed sequences of events, which, I argue, disrupts the linearity of the fabula. (1) For instance, the story's non-fiction narrative starts with this historical reference: "[The Savannah] was once the property of the reigning British monarch since Trinidad was among the chain of islands in the Caribbean that belonged to England after she won the battles with Spain in 1797" (Nunez 14). This colonial narrative subverts the beginning of the syuzhet, which is simply the opposite of the order of the fabula. In fact, the fictional narrative, as the postcolonial discourse, begins by depicting a tale of the patriarch Peter Ducksworth, a wealthy Trinidadian landowner of European descent.

Discourse on narrative is commonly concerned with literary fiction in which a story is related in a manner and entices the reader with its specific logic. The chronological sequence can be sliced up, interrupted, and rearranged for the narrative. Brooks states that plot--the organizing logic behind narrative--interweaves both codes and principles of narrative with the interpretation of actions and characters affecting not only our perception of them but also our understanding of the logic of events. He suggests that this "overcoding" encourages an "interrogation" of actions regarding "their point, their goal [and] their import" and posits, "plot as a part of the dynamics of reading" (18).

The structure of the novel as shown in the above analysis uncovers a linearity constantly subverted within the temporal sequence. The text has its space. In fact, the beginning of the novel is crucial because the act of reading immediately clashes with other temporal orders. Undeniably, all narrative structures, because of the notion of beginnings and endings, set up a tension between the linear and the nonlinear. It is also worth mentioning that the novel displays a technical resistance to the Western tradition by challenging the Aristotelian unities of time, space, and subject matter (Aristotle 12-13). Nunez uses various literary techniques such as foreshadowing to disrupt the linear narrative throughout the novel. In this regard, the novel depicts a counter-narrative of resistance by examining the historical narrative through the lens of fictional narrative. This intertextual narrative and the act of rewriting reflects the alternative discourse--hybridity as counter-hegemonic discourse--in postcolonial, postmodern, and feminist literature.

It is noteworthy that Nunez's literary production explores the postmodern discourses of both identity and geographical areas. The narration is an intentional, structuring activity, which, as Peter Brooks has put it, "demarcates, encloses, establishes limits, [and] orders" (4). I am not concerned with the notion of narrative as the actual telling of stories but rather with narration as a process of thought, a way of making sense of the world.

Theoretical Discussion

Many scholars begin to view the Caribbean question through the lens of dominance and subordination. Caribbean literature denounces domination and colonialism. As Aime Cesaire says in his Discourse on Colonialism, "It is a new society that we must create, with the help of our brother slaves, a society rich with all the productive power of modern times, warm with all the fraternity of older days" (23). Colonialism's claimed civilizing mission, Cesaire argues, is the biggest lie of Western civilization. This idea demonstrates the consciousness that the West has been responsible for the subjugation of the colonized people. Albert Memmi in The Colonizer and the Colonized, and Frantz Fanon in his works, particularly in The Wretched of the Earth and A Dying Colonialism examine the dehumanizing effect of violence on the oppressor.

Colonization introduced the Eurocentrism as the epistemological system to legitimize the dominance by mean of ruling ideas. However, the desire to establish a Caribbean identity based on the anticolonial sentiment that dismantled the hegemony of the white superiority, using an Afro-Caribbean epistemology and sensitivity saw the light of the Trinidadian Black Power uprising and the civil rights movement in the United States. The 1960s and 1970s gave birth to the emergence of a certain generation to renounce the Western standards and a yearning to generate a theory of Caribbean cultural process (see Nixon). This critical, strategic intervention seems to be instrumental in shifting perspectives, shape new identities, and articulate a postcolonial epistemology to counter the Eurocentric narrative. The consciousness that seeks to subvert history and suggest a revisionist position juxtaposes the historical elements with the fictional narrative as a form of interrogation. This realization is, indeed, problematic in Even in Paradise.

The present study emphases the importance of reading Even in Paradise as a historical myth. Relying on...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP