[Caribbean Literature]

Hypertext and Robert Antoni's Divina Trace

Part Two: Multiplicity

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

Note: Jaishree Odin's article "The Performative and Processual: A Study of Hypertext/Postcolonial Aesthetic is now published on the Postcolonial web. Thus, after each quote taken from the article, the symbol *** will link to the actual passage.

Postcolonial subjects have developed from a interplay between the colonizer and colonized, between the powerful and powerless, between the First and Third worlds. Jaishree Odin explains how the existence of this splintered "border subject" reverses traditional limited notions of subjectivity:

Border subjects, thus, live in two or more cultures at the same time. This has given rise to the notion of subjectivity defined in terms of multiple subject positions, which is a direct challenge to the earlier formulation of subjectivity as unitary and singular. ***

This multifaceted status as subject gives rise to the first feature which hypertext and Divina Trace share -- the use of multiplicity. Just as Postcolonial writing (the expression of border subjects) seems to demand, hypertext allows for different voices and different subject positions all to share equal ground, linked as they are without a hierarchy that might determine one (voice, subject, theme etc.) more dominant than another. Divina Trace proves an excellent example of the multiple expressions of this unchained subjectivity. To begin with, in constructing the identity of Magdalena -- and indeed of the island Corpus Christi -- Robert Antoni relies not on one narrative perspective, but eight. Seven storytellers and the unifying narrator, Johnny Domingo Jr., participate in the development of Magdalena's story for the reader. This multifaceted subjectivity does not allow itself to be neatly consumed by the demands of traditional narrative, either. For although Johnny's ostensible task involves forming a cohesive story from what he hears, Antoni challenges him (and traditional conceptions of unified narratives) by causing the accounts of Magdalena to conflict with each other. Thus the "narrative" of Divina Trace forms a polyrhythm of different accounts playing off one another, each with their own cadence and unique quality.

Furthermore, Antoni's use of the multi-subject narrative structure produces a kind of Bakhtinian multivocality. For each narrator speaks with his or her own unique dialect or language (in the case of Hanuman). In this spread of accents and dialects we begin to see the diversity of a Caribbean culture which may once have stood static and unified in our minds. This multivocality has been observed in hypertext by George Landow, as he cites Bakhtin's hypertextual revisioning of Dostoevsky:

One would do well to pay heed to what Mikhail Bakhtin has written about the dialogic, polyphonic, multivocal novel, which he claims "is constructed not as the whole of a single consciousness, absorbing other consciousnesses as objects into itself, but as a whole formed by the interaction of several consciousnesses, none of which entirely becomes an object for the other" (18). Bakhtin's description of the polyphonic literary form presents the Dostoevskian novel as a hypertextual fiction in which the individual voices take the form of lexias. (36)

Odin also notes this multivocality, citing it as exemplary of the new space which hypertext and Postcolonial texts create for themselves, a space for which I believe Divina Trace makes a strong Caribbean claim:

The perpetual negotiation of difference that the border subject engages in creates a new space that demands its own aesthetic. This new aesthetic which I term "hypertext" or "postcolonial" aesthetic represents the need to switch from the linear, univocal, closed, authoritative aesthetic involving passive encounters characterizing the performance of the same to that of non-linear, multivocal, open, non-hierarchical aesthetic involving active encounters that are marked by repetition of the same with and in difference. ***

Hence, in both hypertext and Postcolonial works (such as Divina Trace) multivocal structures call out for diversity. They represent a refusal to be subjugated under one dominant discourse, a refusal to be silenced by one overpowering voice.

This multiplicity functions in another way to better represent fragmented subjectivity. As Odin explains using the example of Leslie Silko's Storyteller, the reader experiences diversity beyond conventions of multiple narrators:

Fragmentation and discontinuity also mark postcolonial literary and theoretical works because they are most suitable for representing the multiple subject positions that the postcolonial subject occupies. Silko's Storyteller combines many genres -- photography, poetry, fiction, as well as telling and retelling of traditional Laguna stories -- to produce an open weave of texts. ***

As in any hypertext document combining sound and images, Divina Trace employs a variety of forms and sources to pay homage to the complex roots from which it emerges. Antoni's text encompasses letters, storytelling, discourses on history, pictures, a mirror, even epic poetry. The last, the epic poem, adds yet another hypertextual dimension to this tribute to the diversity of the Caribbean. For in retelling the Ramayana, Antoni both reconnects with the Indian roots in the West Indies and develops a living, dynamic connection with the past. Odin finds this hypertextual interplay marked by sharp cuts between past and present, in Silko's Storyteller:

The textual play of two narratives, the old and the new, the past and present, the oral and written is accompanied by yet another type of rupture brought about by sudden shifts of time frames -- the distant past, the near past, the present are all juxtaposed in a non-linear fashion. ***

Similarly, Divina Trace cuts from the mythological epic of Rama and Sita to stories that Johnny hears as a boy, to Johnny's thoughts as an old man (where the novel begins) to Johnny's monologues at a variety of ages, as the reader witnesses his growth. The narrative is thus fragmented in time, with each piece, each story, each monologue, possessing its own unique setting and background -- just as Postcolonial subjects do.

In sum, hypertext, as Odin explains, allows or even encourages a revision of common conceptions of the subject:

Artists of both print and electronic media use strategies of disruption and discontinuity to create visual and textual narratives that are multilinear and where meaning does not lie in the tracing of one narrative trajectory, but rather in the relationship that various tracings forge with one another. Shelley Jackson...and Leslie Silko..use similar strategies to represent the multidimensionality of hypertextual/postcolonial subjectivity...The unitary subject of the modernist era is thus transformed into the nomadic subject no longer passively contemplating the artist's expression but actively involved in shaping her experience. ***

When a character or subject can be represented by various narrative threads, all linked together but without the neat sense of order and unity that hierarchy offers, one's conception of any character/subject as unified or homogenous becomes problematic. In this way, Antoni challenges his readers and his narrator Johnny not to limit Magdalena (the black Madonna of Corpus Christi) to one essentialized, dead character. Rather, she comes to life best by seeing her reflections in the eyes of each of her storytellers. The narrative of Magdalena's history is thus opened and presented in all its rich complexity, all its folds, twists, and contradictions.


Landow, George. Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Odin, Jaishree. The Performative and Processual: A Study of the Hypertext/Postcolonial Aesthetic. Full Text Online.

Hypertext and Divina Trace

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