All 2 entries tagged Jamaica Kincaid

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October 12, 2010

Diasporic Intimacies Panel at 'Writings of Intimacy in the 20th and 21st Centuries'

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Diasporic Intimacies: Papers from Houlden, Ramone and Wolfe.

The first paper by Kate Houlden from Queen Mary was titled ‘Post-Colonial Intimacies: Andrew Salkey, Same-Sex Desire and the British Home’. In particular, Houlden studied the novel Escape to an Autumn Pavement, which, she argued, presented the figure of the “respectable homosexual”. Houlden noted that Salkey was black and gay and that the hero of Escape to an Autumn Pavement, Johnny, is middle class and Jamaican. Salkey’s specific perspective on British culture creates disorientations, according to Houlden, and it questions nature, home and belonging. The context of the novel was outlined in the light of 1950s moral panics and the tendency in this period to figure homosexuality as a threat to the nation state. Houlden mentioned the 1961 film Victim and Rodney Garland’s novel The Heart in Exile (1953). Having outlined the context of Salkey’s writing, Houlden mapped out how the gay couple in Escape to an Autumn Pavement aspire to heterosexual norms within the home. For example, one character, Dick, is described as having ‘brisk housewife movements’ (p. 52). Although, the conventional heterosexual norms of the British home do emerge in the lives of Salkey’s gay characters, Houlden argued that they are still victims of coercive language. What is clear, however, is that experience of repression by gay and black subjects are not exactly the same, and that, in the novel discussed, Salkey emphasizes different kinds of prejudice and resulting behaviours.

The next paper, ‘Spilt Ink: Retelling and the Motherly Body in Postcolonial Diaspora’ was presented by Jenni Ramone from Newman University College in Birmingham. I was really glad to see this paper as I missed it when Ramone was presenting it at the CWWN conference in San Diego in July of this year. Ramone’s paper focussed on a number of texts: Hanan Al-Shaykh’s The Locust and the Bird: My Mother’s Story, Jamaica Kincaid’s Autobiogrpahy of my Mother and Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior: Memoir of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Kincaid’s pseudo-memoir tells how the Xuela’s mother died the day she was born, and later she aborts her own child viewing the motherly body as dangerous. Ramone is keen to note that Xuela is not diasporic, but is an alternate self for Kincaid: a self that stayed in the Caribbean. Ghosts in theses novels represent not only foreignness and the state of being an outcast, but the narrators themselves are ghostly witnesses in autobiography. So Ramone went on to discuss Hong Kingston’s memoir of growing up ‘Among Ghosts’. In this context, it is the American Chinese community who are ghosts, and Ramone describes how Hong Kingston’s women struggle to grapple with Chinese traditions in the context of the USA. Consequently, the woman warrior of the book’s title hides her maternal body and so lessens the prospect of marriage. Perhaps the most interesting text discussed was Al-Shaykh’s The Locust and the Bird, a book which expresses her ambiguous feelings about her mother, Camilla. Al-Shaykh is resistant to making the maternal body tangible and describes herself as having been given birth to by a voice. In thinking through her mother’s turbulent life and her attitude to it, however, photographs play a significant role. The first photograph shown seemed to display a group of children, but, in fact, it is a picture of Camilla, the child bride and mother, alongside her own children. The second is a picture of Camilla with her lover, and next to the figures are two deep scratches. Al-Shaykh tells that her mother scratched her and her sister out of the photograph, banishing them from her relationship with her lover, or perhaps hiding her shame at having taken her children along to one of their meetings.

The final paper by Jesse Wolfe (California State University) was titled ‘Intimate Passages to and From India’, and it was being developed out a book that Wolfe is writing on the influence of E.M. Forster. Wolfe focussed particularly on Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia focussing on Karim’s interracial eros and comparing it to the queer relationship of Aziz and Fielding in Passage to India. My notes on this paper are somewhat incomplete.

August 06, 2010

CWWN Conference Panel: ďConstellations of Home GroundĒ.

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Here are my notes on a panel on ideas of home at the CWWN conference . If you were there and I missed something, don’t be afraid to add a comment. It’s hard to remember all the details and I have terrible hand-writing in my notes!

The first speaker on this panel was Bonnie Kime Scott who discussed home as a domesticating term. The most memorable part of the talk for me was where Kime-Scott discussed Barbara Kingsolver’s book of non-fiction essays High Tide in Tucson, the title of which refers to a hermit crab that Kingsolver accidentally brings back with her from the Bahamas to her desert home. Kime Scott suggests that in writing about the transplanted crab, Kingsolver is articulating an ethics of care. Kime Scott also discussed a writer that I hadn’t come across before: Mary Lou Awiakta. Awiakta is a Native American author of the Cherokee tribe and Kime Scott explains that Awiakta presnts in her writing a sacred respect for the earth and for the “Earth mother”. Kime-Scott focuses though on an essay by Awiakta titled Baring the Atom’s Mother Heart , in which a history of Cherokee women is articulated through science: the quark, the atom’s mother heart, the eternal life-force that drives all human beings.

Nuclear energy is the nurturing energy of the universe. Except for stellar explosions, this energy works not by fission (splitting) but by fusion—attraction and melding. With the relational process, the atom creates and transforms life. Women are part of this life force. One of our natural and chosen purposes is to create sustain life—biological, mental and spiritual. (Nantahala Review )

This positive view of nuclear energy contrasts with the attitudes of many American writers, for example Terry Tempest Williams from Utah who wrote about the prevalence of cancer in her family after they were exposed to radiation during the nuclear testing in the Utah desert between 1951 and 1962. See her moving essay: The Clan of the One-Breasted Women .

Next was Pauline Newton who discussed home in relation to ideas of transplantation. Newton mentioned a few writers, but mainly talked about Jamaica Kincaid and her relationship with Wordsworth. Newton began though by discussing the symbolism of gardens in colonialism, noting the colonialist ideal of the garden/colony as a bounteous Eden. In her essay ‘Dances with Daffodils’ and her novel Lucy, Kincaid has described her feelings of disquiet about Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’, in part because she associates the poem with the colonial education system. Reconciling herself to the poem, however, Kincaid describes how her own garden has thousands of daffodils and she uses that garden to think carefully and deeply about troubling moments or aspects in history.

Finally Nancy Srebro spoke about Gurinder Chadha and her film Bride and Prejudice focussing on the different spaces that appear in the movie, including Amritsar in India, Britain and LA in the States. Chadha works out of the heritage film tradition and its sentiment for countryside spaces (especially England). Chadha, however, uses the visual style of the heritage film to focus on India and Indian women. So, in reworking Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet family become the Bakshi family and Bollywood meets Hollywood. Srebro notes that in this meeting, a lush and visual India is contrasted against the homogeneity of LA, yet the India presented is a ‘Disneyland India’, which makes it all the more ironic that discovering an authentic India is one of the themes of the film.


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