[Caribbean Literature]

"Our Literature": Robert Antoni's Divina Trace

Part Two: Goodbye Postcolonialism, Hello Postmodernism?

David P. Lichtenstein '99, Brown University, Contributing Editor, Caribbean Web

The structure of Robert Antoni's Divina Trace reveals both how it has (to some extent) fallen into line with a postmodern agenda and how it has broken free from some of the common, limiting concerns of Postcolonialism. Divina Trace comprises seven different versions of the story of Magdalena Divina, a black madonna figure, as told to Johnny Domingo, who through his family (nearly all of whom have been intimately involved with Magdalena in some way or another) has inherited both the stories and the weight they imply, hanging upon his shoulders. This fragmented structure positions Divina Trace as a premier example of a polyrhythmic text that allows Caribbean writing to exist beyond the realm of Postcolonial theory.

This multivocality (each narrator speaks with his or her own dialect, and at least one -- Hanuman, monkey prince -- uses an entirely new language which Antoni appears to have invented) also forms the first sign of Divina Trace as a postmodern novel by linking it to Bahktin and even the world of hypertext. Another indication comes in Mother Maurina's admission of the superficiality of her story:

This black book you holding in you hands full to the cover overflowing with nothing more than frontpage stories steal repetitious from the Bomb incomplete chonological disorder with the table of contents at the front listing the whole of this great fortnight of thirteen headlines of apparitions.(259)

The Mother's confession seems to reflect the postmodern concern with multiple versions of a nonexistent original (like the simulacra) scattering the truth across their surface. Only in pulling all of the pieces together -- as Johnny must do in trying to unify all of the stories he hears -- can one arrive at a sort of conclusion, though only approximate -- as absolutes of truth no longer exist in a Postmodern world. Finally, the novel's use of varied media including drawings and even a mirror (another hint at postmodernism's preoccupation with reflection) signify another link with postmodernity and hypertext, as each have broken down walls between one media and another, or even between author and reader, just as Antoni does.

Despite these postmodern associations, it would be ridiculous to assert that Divina Trace is not a Postcolonial novel. There very fact that its author hails from a former British colony, and its subject matter details life in such a colony, assures the novel's Postcolonial status. But this falls short of limiting the novel to similar themes as other Postcolonial Caribbean works, such as deconstruction of binaries (center/margin, colonizer/colonized, etc.), language problematics, interrogation of the First World, rejection of imposed western culture, etc. Indeed, Antoni's novel does accomplish some of those aims, but rather than writing of how he has accomplished these, as many other writers have done, he instead takes them as a starting point and thus frees himself to tackle a wealth of issues (the postmodern conerns above, the tension between science and religion, the power of myth in family heritage, etc.) from his personal West Indian perspective.

Several marks point to Antoni's escape of traditional Postcolonial issues. First and perhaps most significant, Antoni has not begun with a structure of binary opposites and then proceeded to knock them down. Rather his fragmented story permits no space for limiting binarisms to exist. Each of the seven different versions of the story contradicts another in some way, but the sheer number of them prevents the reader from considering any one version the true version, the main narrative, nor any storyteller as central, opposed by a subversive margin. Antoni further evades traditional Postcolonial issues by minimizing the presence of empire altogether. No colonizing characters, such as Prince from Earl Lovelace's The Wine of Astonishment or even Major Plunkett from Derek Walcott's Omeros, appear in Divina Trace. While the Pope does make an appearance to negate Magdalena's official status as saint, Antoni renders his judgment superfluous by presenting it after a wealth of conflicting evidence. Finally, unlike Postcolonial peers such as Walcott, V.S. Naipaul, or even Jamaica Kincaid, Antoni does not rely on allusions to the canon to spice up or elevate his prose. He does refer to Joyce and Shakespeare, but rather than humbly pay tribute to these greats, he twists them to fit his own text:

"Wanderloo," he now sololoquize. "Tutupaia, ono toque? Twoolly tisnoble tabear teasing stones of orangutudinous fortune? Thomasi? Presbytis obscura? Aye, rub de rub!" (200)

Here he has filtered Hamlet through the voice of Hanuman, the monkey prince, and thus deprived Shakespeare of the colonial authority and power on which his (character's) words once rested. References such as this dot Antoni's text, continually asserting the centrality and power of his novel over that of the Canon, continually appropriating its words for his own use.


Antoni, Robert. Divina Trace. New York: Overlook Press, 1991.

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