Caribbean Perspectives on Modernity

Caribbean Perspectives on Modernity: Returning Medusa's Gaze

Maria Cristina Fumagalli
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 216
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    Caribbean Perspectives on Modernity
    Book Description:

    Taking up the challenge of redefining modernity from a Caribbean perspective instead of assuming that the North Atlantic view of modernity is universal, Maria Cristina Fumagalli shows how the Caribbean's contributions to the modern world not only provide a more accurate account of the past but also have the potential to change the way in which we imagine the future. Fumagalli uses the myth of Medusa's gaze turning people into stone to describe the way North Atlantic modernity freezes its "others" into a state of perpetual backwardness that produces an ethnocentric narrative based on homogenization, vilification, and disempowerment that actively ignores what fails to conform to the story it wants to tell about itself. In analyzing narratives of modernity that originate in the Caribbean, the author explores the region's refusal to succumb to Medusa's spell and highlights its strategies to outstare the Gorgon.

    Reflecting a diversity of texts, genres, and media, the chapters focus on sixteenth-century engravings and paintings from the Netherlands and Italy, a scientific romance produced at the turn of the twentieth century by the king of the Caribbean island Redonda, contemporary collections of poetry from the anglophone Caribbean, a historical novel by the Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé, a Latin epic, a Homeric hymn, ancient Egyptian rites, fairy tales, romances from England and Jamaica, a long narrative poem by the Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott, and paintings by artists from Europe and the Americas spanning the seventeenth century to the present.Caribbean Perspectives on Modernityoffers an original and creative contribution to what it means to be modern.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2999-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Breaking Medusa’s Spell
    (pp. 1-14)

    One of the most feared monsters of antiquity is Medusa, the deity with snakes instead of hair and a gaze that could transform people into stone. Medusa’s myth is expedient for describing how modernity creates its “others”: in order to legitimize itself, it petrifies those who stand before it, freezing them into a state of what she calls perpetual backwardness, primitivism, or non-modernity. In order to distinguish herself from her “non-modern others,” the Gorgon concocts her own periodization, according to which any distinction between the “non-modern” and the “modern” implies a break in temporality and the coming into being of...

  5. 1 Abreast with History Stradanus’s America and Grace Nichols’s Fat Black Woman
    (pp. 15-31)

    I would like to begin my incursion into Caribbean literature with what can perhaps be viewed as a reversal of conventional practices. In this chapter I will employ contemporary Caribbean poetry as a springboard to critically investigate past and current theoretical discourses. More specifically, I will illustrate how the work of the Anglo-Guyanese poet Grace Nichols compels us to reconsider both history and the present and the ways in which they are (re)constructed through historiography and discursive practices that sometimes end up reproducing what they set out to counter. In particular, I will contrast the empowering self-positioning of Nichols’s fictional...

  6. 2 What It Means to Be Modern: M. P. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud
    (pp. 32-52)

    In 1901 the little-known West Indian writer M. P. Shiel publishedThe Purple Cloud,a scientific romance that gives us a unique insight in a sustained critique of North Atlantic modernity formulated more than one hundred years ago from a Caribbean perspective. Usefully, Shiel’s text traverses all three phases of modernity identified by Berman: he revisits and recognizes the early modern colonial encounter between America and Europe, exposes and reviles the second phase and its racist, materialistic, and imperialistic agenda, and provides guidelines on what being modern should entail in the third phase if humanity wants to inhabit a better...

  7. 3 Scapegoating the Mulattos: Maryse Condé’s La Migration des coeurs
    (pp. 53-72)

    In one of her autobiographical stories, the Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé recounts a strange meeting she had with a little white girl in the 1950s whose name was Anne-Marie de Surville and who addressed her in Creole. Anne-Marie invited Maryse to play with her, but at the same time she warned her that they had to be careful because her mother would not approve. Maryse decided to take her chances and soon discovered Anne-Marie’s violent nature: “She would pull my hair,” she recounts, “she would pull up my dress to smack me. . . . She would climb on my...

  8. 4 Before and after Ovid: Metamorphosis in Marlene Nourbese Philip and Gabriel García Márquez
    (pp. 73-86)

    One day while Proserpina was gathering flowers, Pluto kidnapped her and brought her down to the kingdom of death while she desperately called to her mother, Ceres, for protection. The nymph Cyane tried to stop Pluto but, humiliated and full of sorrow for the rape of the goddess and her inability to prevent it, she finally dissolved into the waters of which she had been the spirit. In the meantime, Ceres roamed over the earth in search of her daughter, but in vain. When she arrived by Cyane’s pool, the nymph, willing to tell Ceres the truth but unable to...

  9. 5 Romances That Matter Lady Mary Wroth’s The Countesse of Montgomerie Urania and Erna Brodber’s Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home
    (pp. 87-104)

    In García Márquez’s “The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother,” as we have seen, young Eréndira’s emancipation depends primarily on her ability to steer away from past templates. Significantly, the name of Eréndira’s ancestors is “Amadises,” an allusion to the Iberian romanceAmadis of Gaul,a product of Berman’s pre-modernity as well as of his first phase of modernity. It was (apparently) written in Portugal by João de Lobeira in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, but when García Rodríguez (o Ordoñez) de Montalvo edited, expanded, and gave it to the printers in the...

  10. 6 Brushing History against the Grain: Derek Walcott’s Tiepolo’s Hound
    (pp. 105-134)

    “Forget the gods . . . and read the rest”: this is the advice that Homer gives to the Caribbean poet Derek Walcott inOmeros,a long epic poem that has St. Lucian fishermen as its focus.¹ We are implicitly invited to adopt a similar strategy when looking at the Treppenhaus fresco at Wurzburg, painted between July 1752 and November 1753 by the Venetian painter Gianbattista Tiepolo. It features the sun-god Apollo along with Europe, America, Africa, and Asia, but while the heavenly figures that occupy the ceiling are small, pale, indistinct, and decentered, the Four Continents on the friezes...

  11. Conclusion: The Power of Interpellation
    (pp. 135-138)

    This monograph is concerned with how modernity is and has been conceived, lived, and negotiated in the Caribbean and focuses on narratives of modernity from, about, or derived from the encounter with it. The works in question are very diverse in terms of media, genre, and provenance: sixteenth-century engravings and paintings from the Netherlands and Italy (chapters 1 and 6); a scientific romance produced at the turn of last century by the king of the small Caribbean island of Redonda (chapter 2); contemporary collections of poetry from the Anglophone diasporic Caribbean (chapters 1 and 4); a historical novel from Guadeloupe...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 139-174)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 175-190)
  14. Index
    (pp. 191-198)