[Caribbean Literature]

Hypertext and Robert Antoni's Divina Trace

Part Three: Orality

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.

Hypertext aesthetic is rooted in active and interactive reading like oral storytelling. Multilinear narratives of hypertext can be regarded as a return to oral storytelling which Walter Benjamin reminds us "permits that slow piling one on top of the other of thin, transparent layers which constitutes the most appropriate picture of the way in which the perfect narrative is revealed through the layers of a variety of retellings" (93). Benjamin's lamentation about the death of storytelling in the age of information finds its apotheosis in the birth of hypertext, since hypertext marks the beginning of storytelling once again. ***

Here Jaishree Odin drives home the relation between hypertext and storytelling. This relationship springs from hypertext's allowance for a new dialogue between author and reader, a dialogue emphasized by storytelling and shut out by print. Earlier in his article, Odin demonstrates how Leslie Silko uses storytelling as a reflection of the living text, one that permits greater interaction between narrator and audience:

Leslie Silko's print narratives also reflect hypertextual strategies such as resisting the fixed unilinear status of the written word in order to embrace the open, multivalent, ambiguous nature of the spoken word... Just as in storytelling, the context and the participants constitute an important element of the direction the story takes, so it is with Silko's works where the reader's positioning determines the trajectory that she traces through the weave of texts. ***

Divina Trace, too, relies on storytelling to meditate on the interaction between author and reader and to give Antoni's words new life. The most common narrative structure of the novel involves Johnny listening to someone (his father, grandfather, the Mother Superior...) speaking of the history of his family and Magdalena. But this history belongs not only to the past, as Odin comments that

Oral storytelling operates at two levels -- at one level it is the representation of an incident that happened a long time ago and at another it is the actual enaction of the incident itself. Due to its improvisational character, the storyteller, the participants and the occasion are all important to determining the direction the story will take. This interacting whole does not aim to describe some final state to be reacehed, but the process itself which has fluid boundaries in an essentially open structure. ***

Although these stories of Magdalena come from the past, nonetheless the story has endless ramifications and reflections in the present. Johnny has inherited this story with all its questions of faith and doubt, of science and religion, and thus in sorting through this story Johnny sorts through his own beliefs. Delving into this family story, Johnny develops his own take on the heritage which he receives in pieces from his elders. In a sense, he shapes his heritage just as much as those who transmit it to him. Thus Johnny, like Odin's border subjects whose "essence lies in the act of becoming rather than being," (***) through the oral history he receives, grapples with that history's relation to the present. Like many Postcolonial authors, the interaction between Johnny and his narrators involves an effort to refigure the past, to draw it in a contemporary form into the present. Odin cites Homi Bhabha in his explaination of how this past-present dialectic works in Postcolonial art:

Such art does not merely recall the past as social cause or aesthetic precedent; it renews the past, refiguring it as a contingent "in-between" space, that innovates and interrupts performance of the present. The "past present" becomes part of the necessity, not the nostalgia of living. ***(The Location of Culture, 1994, p.7)

Here Bhabha notes that Postcolonial theme which even Robert Antoni could not escape from, the need to grapple with a difficult history and find salvation, even hope, for the future. But Antoni does find this hope, in part because of his hypertextual creation of a dynamic past-present relationship. The dialogue of this relationship in Divina Trace relies on the greater interaction between narrator and audience that storytelling allows. Thus, this emphasis on orality proves essential to Antoni's ability to rework the past, to turn the history of the Caribbean from a tragedy of disempowerment to a living, ongoing process.


Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

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

Hypertext and Divina Trace

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Last Modified: 14 March, 2002