[Caribbean Literature]

Divina Trace and Polyrhythm

Part Two: The Reader Joins the Novel

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

Robert Antoni's choice to insert a mirror in the middle of Divina Trace serves more than to simply add yet another medium to his brew of signs and symbols. It also functions as a tool by which Antoni attempts to reconcile two other traditionally contrasting rhythms -- those of author and reader. For when the mirror appears (significantly in the middle of a passage in which the words "write" and "read" are always combined together) the reader, "seeing in de page you own monkeyface" (205), joins the world of the book. Gone are the boundaries that the pages of a text traditionally represent, as now the reader lies within these pages. However, Antoni does not suggest that this placement gives the reader any more power or control. In fact, Dr. Domingo (Sr.) humorously mentions (referring to the story of the old man and the swallowed glass eye) "the old joke about looking in the mirror to find the asshole looking out," (299). Johnny Jr. also seems to pick up this notion. With consistent quotes such as "Now I could not help but listen. Now I could not help but hear my father's voice," (310) Johnny echoes the position of reader/audience as powerless to change the direction of the story, as a passive receptor -- a position that those working in the environment of hypertext seek to change. Nonetheless, though he acknowledges that he has not necessarily altered the power of the reader, Antoni has certainly shifted the relationship between author and reader slightly, by self-consciously drawing the rhythm of reading into his pages.

Antoni makes consistent reference to the process of publication, of overseas distribution, and the dominance of the First World (particularly America) in these matters. Divina Trace's polyrhythmic structure encompasses so many different aspects of the process of communication -- contrasting oral (the storytellers, rooted in the African influences on Caribbean culture) versus literate (publishing, Hanuman taking up "he pencil in blindfaith") processes, the concern with the reader in the novel -- that one cannot doubt that this work also serves as a meditation on the process of telling a story. Thus Antoni writes not only of how Johnny Domingo assembles various pieces in order to make sense of the history of Magdalena Divina, but also in essence of how the author himself has assembled diverse genres, characters, and media, and tackled the challenges of publishing in the First World, in order to bring us this novel.


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

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