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Postcolonial Archipelagos

Essays on Hispanic Caribbean and Lusophone African Fiction


Kristian Van Haesendonck

Writers from different postcolonial regions are usually classified according to their different nationalities or linguistic areas, and have rarely been brought together in one volume. Moving in a new direction, Postcolonial Archipelagos crosses not only geographical but also linguistic boundaries, by focusing on two contexts which seemingly have little or nothing in common with one another: the Hispanic Caribbean, and Lusophone Africa. Kristian Van Haesendonck thus opens new ground, in two ways: first, by making connections between contemporary Caribbean and African writers, moving beyond the topos of slavery and negritude in order to analyse the (im)possibility of conviviality in postcolonial cultures; and secondly, by exploring new ways of approaching these literatures as postcolonial archipelagic configurations with historical links to their respective metropoles, yet also as elements of what Glissant and Hannerz have respectively called "Tout-Monde" and a "world in creolization". Although the focus is on writers from Lusophone Africa (Mia Couto, José Luis Mendonça and Guilherme Mendes da Silva) and the Hispanic Caribbean (Junot Díaz, Eduardo Lalo, Marta Aponte, James Stevens-Arce and Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá), connections are made with and within the broader global context of intensified globalization.

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We are all Caribbeans now in our urban archipelagos.

(James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture)

How consistent is an assemblage? How united is an archipelago? A common answer would be: “It depends.” Yet a more specific answer would sound slightly different: “It depends on its dependencies.” Instead of a nice (yet admittedly all but poetic) alliteration, what such an answer would imply is that the (often invisible) junctions that transform a random group of islands into an archipelago are the key elements that make it into what it is; likewise, the joints of an assemblage, whether “high” or “low” tech, are of crucial importance in making a technical device work, in “unifying” the various elements that turn it into a functional system. While such questions might have been far from relevant for the humanities three or four decades ago, today they are at the cusp of what the humanities can mean in the present and the future. Doubtlessly, the “liquefying” of traditional, fossilizing ways of thinking under the pressures of intensified globalization is a call to scholars in the literary field to constantly rethink and adapt their methodologies and theoretical reflections on how to study literature from a number of linguistic areas, whether they are engaged in “Lusophone”, “Hispanophone”, “Francophone” or other areas, or the less common comparative study of postcolonial literatures.

The term “archipelago” as I will use it here stands for a flexible way of approaching and interpreting literatures (which...

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