The grace of effort: Studies in contemporary Anglophone Caribbean form
The literature of the contemporary Caribbean has been often recognized for its highlighting and heterodoxy of literary form. In this dissertation, I offer a series of case-studies in contemporary Anglophone Caribbean literary aesthetics, centered on what Gordon Rohlehr, in an earlier landmark study, wryly called "The Problem of the Problem of Form." The redoubling complexity indicated by Rohlehr suggests the intricacies characteristic of Caribbean form: its inventive inscription of oral features within a textual field; its baroque interdisciplinarity and crossing of genre boundaries; its dense allusiveness and self-referentiality; and, overall, its sheer unapologetic linguistic, stylistic, and structural difficulty.
Though oral and textual modalities have been treated sometimes as polarizing, viewing Caribbean writers as passionate formalists may better reflect the true integration and interdependence of orality and textuality within Caribbean writing. This conceptualization might also help to ground and clarify Caribbean writers' much-theorized, distinctive stance vis-à-vis literary modernism and postmodernism—a stance perhaps best described briefly as the merging of postmodern strategy with high-modernist mood. But finally, as my title suggests, it is an additional figurative and ideological tension within contemporary Caribbean literature, that of art/work, that is most significant to my study of Caribbean formalism. This particular paradox—artful work; the considered, constructed, and achieved "grace of effort" (Derek Walcott, "The Antilles" 81)—can be seen, I suggest, underlying the very diverse formalisms of such Caribbean authors as Derek Walcott, Jamaica Kincaid, Robert Antoni, David Dabydeen, Mark McMorris, and Nalo Hopkinson.
This foregrounded sense of a literature wrought—not over-wrought, but wrought in the sense of artfully made, with purposefulness and intent, and with process visible—can, I think, usefully illuminate the most distinctive features of the works I examine: their unusually pronounced metaphorics and stylistics; their interactivity, staging interventions in the space that opens between text and reader; and their subtle pressing of the textual, wherever possible, toward the visual and material. Caribbean formalism ultimately emerges as formalism of an unusually dynamic, metamorphic, and transforming type: historically and politically aware, culturally relevant and effectual.