Part 4 of the author's "My Dear Will You Allow Me to Discuss the Politics of Reading and Writing?: An Exploration of Language and Narrative Architecture in Erna Brodber's Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home in the Context of Postmodernism and Postcolonialism." © 2000 Kevin Cryderman.
With special thanks to Dr. Proma Tagore and Jesse Bundon, University of Victoria
One can situate Erna Brodber's Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home within certain debates between postmodernism and postcolonialism, such as the issues of language and narrative architecture as it relates to subjectivity and identity. Jane and Louisais a useful text in this regard because it is an aesthetically beautiful work that nonetheless engages with societal-historical discourses involved in a sociological analysis of psychology within postcolonial Jamaica. The fragmentation of the text undermines modernist totalizing narrativization and Othering of Jamaican people under colonialism. Brodber's text rejects the notion of Jamaica as primitive or backwards in time. Moreover, the dissociation of consciousness and language within the novel not only reflects a reaction to colonial master narratives and language but also asserts the fundamentally historicity of art and its usefulness in helping one to understand a particular culture from within. The character of Nellie is a useful postmodern and post-colonial archetype because her racial mixture not only embodies hybridity of cultures, but the process of negotiating various violent divisions within history between black and white, colonizer and colonized. Indeed, the very weight of Brodber's 'novel' is that it is difficult to master or categorize. It is unclear as to what genre -- such as bildungsroman, fictionalized autobiography, case study, testimonial, historiographic metafiction, anti-novel -- or even what format it is. Is the text prose or a poem? This blurring of lines, fragmentation, and indeterminacy in a literary sense is a strategic device by which Brodber can create not so much a counter-colonial narrative as an alternative sociocultural space whereby explorations of history and colonial legacy can take place. Thematically within the novel, the wrestling with traditions and history becomes a postmodern work of art that situates itself within postcolonial discourse. Our struggle with the text as readers mirrors this struggle for identity. Brodber challenges modernist assumptions about art being apolitical and ahistorical -- for example, that art somehow transcends the stream of history and occupies a special place. Both postmodern and postcolonial discourse seem to assert the fundamentally historicity of art while simultaneously subverting either art or history as part of grand totalizing or universalizing narratives. Linda Hutcheon argues that today:
Postmodernism represents the attempt to re-historicize -- not dehistoricize -- art and theory. But it both uses and abuses the modes of historiography we had come to consider "natural" : continuous narrative, inevitable development, universal (in other words, recognizable) patterns of action" (Postmodern Poetics 225).
Meanwhile, Said seems to reject the focus on differences and instead opts for the fundamental hybridity of any culture. Ultimately, at the end of Culture and Imperialism, Said concludes that:
no one today is purely one thing . . . .No one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages, and cultural geographies, but there seems to be no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about. (336)
Arif Dirlik posits that the simultaneous emphasis on difference and liminal space arises out of the condition of late capitalism and, in fact, facilities the movement of capital across boundaries. Dirlik asserts that the postmodern and postcolonial challenges to the "unilinearity of inherited conceptions of history and society" (89) -- such as in Brodber's Jane and Louisa -- actually destroy the subject in history and the possibility for political action. Dirlik would probably have difficulty with the "liquidity" (Brodber 69) of subject position that the character of Baba asserts that this trend of "fluid subject positions" (Dirlik 98) in postmodernism to postcolonialism merely reinforces Global Capitalism and the free flow of capital by the removal of boundaries. Brodber's Jane and Louisa situates itself within borderlands and yet by blurring the line between theory and practice, politics and art, Brodber allows art to become a critical tool of current capitalist imperialism, rather than merely an 'object' that allows one to escape from the world into a special realm of aesthetic appreciation. Brodber is perhaps not too far from the postmodern theories of Baudrillard:
In traditional critical thought artworks, museums [and] cultural centres. . . are the devices by which the bourgeois culture produces cultural dupes, narcotizing the masses. Or, to follow the argument of cultural elitism, artworks elevate the masses to a higher cultural level, and invoke critical consciousness. But Baudrillard tells a different story. When the masses enter into the Beaubourg, they do not conform to the official culture, they transgress and destroy the myth of the system. They simulate and play with models. They do not make sense of the cultural objects, for they know there is no meaning but only simulation. (Sarup 166).
It is difficult to ascertain what meaning Brodber wants the reader to come away with but Brodber seems to want the reader to reassess the way s/he engages with a literary text and how one views the role of art in its relation to history, politics, and subjectivity. The question then arises about how we, as Western readers, think about the role of art, such as literature, within capitalism and political discourses. We also need to think about how one engages a work of Caribbean fiction from outside of that culture. Rather than undermining the subject's place in society and history and destroying the possibility of political action, perhaps Brodber's Jane and Louisa's use of language and narrative architecture undermines modernist assumptions of historical inevitability and predictable underlying mythical cycles by utilizing postmodern literary tools to engage in the discourse surrounding postcolonial Jamaican identity.
Brodber seems concerned not with a disinterested outside examination of the sociology of Jamaica, but an internal illumination of how the postcolonial subject conceives itself and apprehends the world within which it interacts. Jane and Louisa undermines totalizing colonial narratives that construct a West Indian 'Other' in favor of the process of Jamaican struggle for identity between 'I' and 'We': the tension between collectivizing ascension as a 'people' united in struggle and the fundamental irreducability of that same population to one homogenous identity.
Ultimately, the search for the words and images to describe postcolonial Jamaica must involve the recognition of and reconciliation with past history. Nellie, in her description of Baba, notes that she " knew Baba's past" and he knew hers (Brodber 67). This shared societal-historical legacy is perhaps where Nellie, and Erna Brodber, search for a shared "common language" (67) that will lead to some kind of "resurrection" (67) of a polyphonic Jamaican and Black diasporic voice that will be born. The final image of the novel, Nellie's dream of being pregnant with a fish, encapsulates the sense of anticipation of something indescribable coming for Jamaica: "Strangely enough, I felt neither sadness nor frustration no even pain that the fish couldn't come for afterall I could still see it" (147).
At the end of Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home, the literary ring game has finished its cycle and order begins to form as one pieces the apparently disjointed text together by starting with the major titles of section, which illuminate the underlying cyclical infrastructure of the novel. One then can reflect on how the chaos of the novel's narrative structure forms a kind of game or dance that involves the play with multiple voices and registers, much like the children's ring game: "My Dear, will you allow me to walyz with you into this beautiful garden? Jane and Louisa will soon come home." At the end of the novel, Nellie says goodbye to her home and family. Nellie finishes by adding "We are getting ready," thereby implying the beginning of new cycles that will regenerate Jamaican identity in the very process of the struggle to come to terms with its historical colonial legacy, much like the vast expansion of which Brodber's book is capable.
Ashcroft, B., Griffiths, G. and Tiffin, H. Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies. New York: Routledge, 1998.
Brodber, Erna. "Fiction in the Scientific Procedure." (essay)
Brodber, Erna. Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home. London: New Beacon Books, 1980.
Dirlik, Arif. "Borderlands Radicalism" in After the Revolution: Waking to Global Capitalism. Hanover: Wesleyan UP, 1994.
Hutcheon, Linda. "Postmodernism" in Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory. Ed. Irena R. Makaryk. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.
Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. New York: Routledge, 1988.
Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Random House, 1993.
Sarup, Madan. An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism. US: University of Georgia Press, 1993.