V19 – EDITORIAL – Special Issue: Jamaica Kincaid (2018)


Guest Editors:
Corinne Bigot, Toulouse Jean Jaurès Université
Andrée-Anne Kekeh-Dika, Université Paris 8
Nadia Setti, Université Paris 8
Kerry-Jane Wallart, Sorbonne Université


Corinne Bigot, Toulouse Jean Juarès Université; Andrée-Anne Kekeh-Dika, Université Paris 8; Nadia Setti, Universite Paris 8; Kerry-Jane Wallart, Sorbonne Université

corinne.bigot@wanadoo.fr; andree-anne.kekeh-dika@univ-paris8.fr; nadia.setti@univ-paris8.fr; kjwallart@yahoo.fr

To cite this editorial:

[“Editorial.” Wagadu: A Journal of Transnational Women’s and Gender Studies, Summer 2018, vol. 19, pp. 1-6]

In the beginning was my word and my word became the world as I ordered it to be. If it now sounds too bold, it if now sounds too made up, if it now sounds too in retrospect, all the same it is true. (Talk Stories, 11)

Jamaica Kincaid’s provocative statement in her introduction to Talk Stories lays blunt claim to the singularity of her own “word” even as she self-consciously reprocesses the Bible. Excessive as it may sound, Kincaid’s statement captures and recasts her unabashed positioning as regards the issues of filiations and debts which traverse her production at large. Also at stake here is Kincaid’s engagement with an imaginative and theoretical construct of what women’s Caribbean writing might be all about—the rehabilitation of the “true,” of the primacy of personal experience as a legitimate and valuable point of departure towards creation (Tate, 1985, p. xvii; Boyce Davies & Fido, 1990, p. ix). The writer’s abrupt formula forcibly gestures toward what Kincaid actually does with writing, i.e., “taking positions and changing words” as Cheryl Wall has it (Wall, 1989, pp. 1-15), “m aking up” with different materials, tinkering with, grafting, and disrupting the foundation and certainties of dominant and less dominant languages and frames. Indeed, in the beginning is Kincaid’s word, in the ways she estranges vernacular, ordinary language as well as scientific discourses. She makes them radically other as she extensively reworks existing genres and texts (her own included), stocks of clichés and images in order to forge idiosyncratic ways of inscribing her multiple Caribbean selves in the global cultural landscape (see Boyce Davies on “portable identities,” 2013, p. 53). Kincaid’s makeshift writing takes much in its stride, as she crafts and grafts ordinary material into her textual fabric – books of all sorts, tools, plants and fruits, food, weeds, photographs, garment, craftwork, popular culture iconic texts, artefacts and songs, among many others. The writer takes it all, recycles this deceptively ordinary material, opening up in turn unexpected venues into classical music or Greek mythology, and entering intertextual conversations with scientists, writers and thinkers across the world.

Writer Michelle Cliff, for one, has touched on the grafting image, the mango, as a way of rendering the versatility of the Caribbean: “In Jamaica we are as common as ticks. / We graft the Bombay onto the common mango. The Valencia onto the Seville. We mix tangerines and oranges. We create mules.” (Cliff, 1985, p. 22). This issue suggests that Jamaica Kincaid goes one step further as she expands and extends the grafting process into creative practice / praxis and ways of stretching the horizons of words. This, she does through deliberate but unauthorized incursions into scientific domains as she proceeds to explicit or implicit deliberations with writers and creative artists the world over – Colette, Vita Sackville-West, Tsitsi Dangaremgba, Henry James, Michel Butor, Bruno Schulz, or film-maker Pat Barker (Kekeh-Dika 2016). Grafting and crafting her writing way, Kincaid’s work moves on in a deceptively “disorderly” fashion (Kincaid, 2001, p. 222) and finds new entries into the familiar, as Jamie Herd shows in her contribution to this issue. Kincaid’s move toward discursive genres (autobiographical, fictional, essayistic) is one more example of the ways in which the practices or grafting and crafting may help elucidate her writing venture. Grafting is an apt image for the capacity of her writing to change texture and direction, to overlap and complicate boundaries and connections of all sorts, as with her “Wisteria” (Kincaid, 1999, pp. 11-28).

Jamaica Kincaid’s words, “I use a cut and slash policy,” in her interview with Gerhard Dilger (1992, pp. 21-25) imply a rough and concrete type of approach to words. They also highlight Kincaid’s desire to associate her writing enterprise with the ordinary manual practices her personae are engaged in—sewing, knitting, gardening, and cooking among other things. Cutting and slashing adequately account for the painful labor of the author’s writing hand, of forcing words out of their usual route and trying to put them back together; of possibly reviving language, bodies, garments or plants through seeing them from a new perspective. As she cuts and slashes, Kincaid also recycles images often used to account for female creativity (knitting, sewing, quilting, as shown by Woolf [1927], Walker [1983], Kingsolver [2013]) distorting them, rearranging or estranging them along the way. The volume seeks to explore Kincaid’s “policy of writing,” which we understand as her political and aesthetical commitment to the word. The articles presented here scrutinize her urge to cut and trim, to get rid of what is unnecessary or overused, as well as the desire to expand what needs expanding, or perhaps repeating, to borrow from Benítez-Rojo’s theorizing of repetition as a fundamental mode of Caribbean creativity (Benítez-Rojo, 1992). In the beginning was Kincaid’s words; her constant arrangement and “worrying” (Sherley Williams, 1979) her own words and others’ demonstrate that in order to move beyond boundaries one needs to go back one step and move on again.

Jamaica Kincaid has been a household name in the United States and in the Caribbean for a long time now and much has been written about her works there and, more recently so, in Europe (Boyce-Davis 1994, Ferguson 1994, Brooks Bouson 2005, Donatien-Yssa 2007, Braziel 2009, Yassine Diab 2014, Kekeh-Dika 2016). This volume is timely in its taking stock of the resonances of grafting in Kincaid’s later texts, looking back and ahead at the same time, scrutinizing new “relational readings” (Wall, 1991, p. 9) of Kincaid’s writings. One of the points of departure of this volume was the conference on Jamaica Kincaid’s works co-organized by Université Paris 8 (Saint-Denis), Université Paris Sorbonne and Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès in May 2017, “The art and craft of grafting in Jamaica Kincaid’s works.” The conference endeavored to put to the fore how the notion of graft can be understood and articulated from diverse points of entry (botany, craftsmanship, and text-building). The authors explore in this issue how grafting, seen as painful historical reminder and as clinical, agricultural and textual practice, operates in Kincaid and helps approach her more recent production. The volume focuses on the writer’s latest books, which have been less examined by scholarly inquiry: See Now Then (2013), Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya (2005), and My Garden (Book): (1999). A number of contributions also connect these publications with The Autobiography of My Mother (1996), notably through the ways in which this particular novel introduces “domesticating/ed” practices (see Alexander).

The volume evidences how the clustered notions of art, graft and craft make fuller sense of the many branches, rootstocks and fragments of Kincaid’s world as they initiate a critical dialogue with unexpected domains, but also as they draw the outlines of a metafictional reflection on writing. Through their focuses on Kincaid’s refashioning missing links, bodies, filiations, women’s gardens, provision grounds and other submerged subtexts, the contributors lay special emphasis on Kincaid’s skillful invention and fabrication of replacements; they pay heed to how she grafts together spare parts of the self and kin into textual fragments that recompose what has been lost in life stories and collective History. These articles thus put to the fore how the everyday, gardening, botanical practice address Kincaid’s critical and literary enterprise, her ways of revisiting established narratives and of encroaching onto History and science (botany in particular) in order to envision other ways of (re)defining a writer’s own positional and critical praxis.

This volume of Wagadu is comprised of eight diverse inquiries into how grafting functions as a metaphor for seeing and writing the world. Carole Boyce Davies foregrounds the tensions springing from a (doubly) diasporic Caribbean identity; after Fanon, she connects the dots between displacement and dislocation, between spatial containment and transformational experiences. Her forays into Kincaid’s distinct positionality, both as an insider and an outsider, shed light upon the expansive, fluid and migratory nature of Caribbean spaces. Boyce Davies convincingly underpins the overlapping areas present in such novels as Lucy and Annie John, but also Among Flowers, whose reflection on tourism is a case-in-point of Kincaid’s ambivalent politics.

Jamie Herd looks at Kincaid’s latest novel, See Now Then, and juggles its generic singularity and indeterminacy with Gérard Genette’s notions of hypertextuality and parody; she traces the webs of semantics and semiotics radiating from a text where “[t]he madwoman in the attic has been recast as a madwriter with a voice, a garden, a set of knitting needles and a room all her own.” Herd demonstrates how thinking of writing in terms of grafting reveals practices that, for all their resistance to conciliatory solutions, aim at repairing damage and resisting disease: the original purpose of botanical grafts, after all.

The diasporic dimension of Jamaica Kincaid’s œuvre is at the core of Myriam Moïse’s essay, as she yokes together My Garden (Book): and Olive Senior’s Gardening in the Tropics. In both literary texts the garden generates unexpected processes of memory. Moïse demonstrates how such processes go hand in hand with the construction of spaces as unstable categories; in the wake of Ben Heller she interrogates the links between female subjectivity and landscape and shows that transculturalism is not merely about transgressing borders but about leaving linearity behind.

Pauline Amy de la Bretèque posits the similarities and asymmetries between grafting and creolization; her paper embraces both the historical context of the plantation and the role of botany in the economy of colonial territories, as well as the proposals of recent investigations in ecopoetic criticism in the field of Caribbean Studies by such critics as Savory (2011), Braziel (2005), DeLoughrey, Gosson and Handley (2005). This article also scrutinizes how Kincaid pays attention to the scientific names of plants, in a postcolonial revisiting of language that functions as an endless process of (perhaps impossible) epanorthosis, or “redressing.”

In a paper centered around Kincaid’s “gardening books,” Josette Spartacus addresses the ambivalences of gardening, of shaping the ground, mapping out a territory, and possessing plants, in the context of the post-plantation and through the concept of Benítez-Rojo’s meta-machine. This repeating machine, which projects its pattern on plants but also on writing, is that of the conquest itself, Spartacus argues.

In the continuity of Marden’s “plant thinking,” Eleanor Byrne follows the meandering of two plants which have been endowed by Kincaid with a series of significations and even more so, with a sense of evasiveness and unreadability: the wisteria and the rubber tree. Such an emphasis on moments of epistemological appropriation is in keeping with DeLoughrey’s insistence that ecocriticism, which has been devised around discussions on North American literature, cannot be borrowed straightforwardly and applied to Caribbean literature. Byrne moves on to isolate moments in Kincaid’s My Garden (Book): when “the ghosts of the individual life, of the personal story suddenly open into the history of the world itself.”

Natacha d’Orlando tackles issues of biopower as she sees emerging in The Autobiography of My Mother a possible metaphor of the child as a graft, through master discourses on genealogy echoing back to the biological practices inherited from the colonial period. Through the gendered perspective of Caroline Rody’s “mother-as-history” concept, D’Orlando sheds light on the complex handling of the narrator’s body in this novel; a body whose self-creation also unleashes a fair deal of destruction outside itself, as the recurrent abortion motif intimates.

In a paper also focused on The Autobiography of My Mother Simone Alexander takes up a slightly different route as she addresses the botanical possibilities in terms of disrupting and reactivating linearity and lineage and considers the human implications of such lines. Alexander’s scrutiny of the novel’s sexual exploitation and suspended genealogies leads her to ponder on the tension between visibility and invisibility; this in turn convokes the figure of the ghost and makes for a prism through which to envisage the very concept of the timeline.

All contributions in this issue tackle dynamics of self-awareness and processes of liberation as they are introduced by Kincaid through a myriad of practices. Stock forms of text mediality are grafted onto rhizomic explorations and interpellations, writing back to what Young had identified as “the threat of the fecund fertility of the colonial desiring machine” (1995, p. 166). Kincaid’s “archi-textures” (Sheller, p. 209) resonate here with the most up-to-date research in such fields as ecocriticism, trauma studies, affect studies, diaspora studies and transculturalism and form a welcome addition to critical interventions around the Antiguan’s more recent work.

Works cited

Boyce Davies, Carole & Savory Fido Elaine, eds. Out of the Kumbla: Caribbean Women and Literature. Trenton: Africa World Press, 1990.

Boyce Davies, Carole. Caribbean Spaces: Escapes from Twilight Zones. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013.

Braziel, Jana Evans. Caribbean Genesis. Jamaica Kincaid and the Writing of New Worlds. Albany: SUNY Press. 2009.

DeLoughrey, Elizabeth, Gosson Renee, Handley George, eds. Caribbean Literature and the Environment: Between Nature and Culture. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2005.

Cliff, Michelle. The Land of Look Behind. Ithaca: Firebrands Books, 1985.

Donatien Yssa, Patricia. L’Exorcisme de la blès, vaincre la souffrance dans L’autobiographie de ma mère de Jamaica Kincaid. Paris, le Manuscrit. 2007.

Kekeh-Dika, Andrée-Anne. L’imaginaire de Jamaica Kincaid : Variations autour d’une île caraïbe. Pessac: Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, 2016.

Kincaid, Jamaica. “I Use a Cut and Slash Policy of Writing, Jamaica Kincaid Talks to Gerhard Dilger.” Wasafiri 16, 21-25, 1992.

____. My Garden Book:. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.

____. Talk Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.

Kingsolver, Barbara. “Where it Begins” Orion Magazine, 2013 https://orionmagazine.org/article/where-it-begins. Accessed 19 October 2017.

Sheller, Mimi. Citizenship from Below: Erotic Agency and Caribbean Freedom. Durham: Duke University Press, 2012.

Tate, Claudia, ed. Black Women Writers at Work. New York: Continuum, 1985.

Wall, Cheryl, ed. Changing our Own Words. Essays on Criticism, Theory, and Writing By Black Women. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989.

Williams, Sherley Anne. “The Blues Roots of Contemporary Afro-American Poetry” in Michael S. Harper and Robert B. Stepto, eds. Chant of Saints. A Gathering of Afro-American Literature, Art, and Scholarship. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979. 123-135

Yassine-Diab, Nadia. Aliénation et réinvention dans l’oeuvre de Jamaica Kincaid. Montpellier : Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée 2014.

Young, Robert. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Culture, Theory and Race. London: Routledge, 1995.