The Tropics Bite Back: Culinary Coups in Caribbean Literature
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Similarly, texts and artifacts resonate outside their immediate context to form a new composite body based on a disorganized reorganization. Allewaert's argument begins even before her words begin with the book's cover image: the face of an underwater statue by the English-Guyanese artist practicing off the coast of Grenada, Jason deCaires Taylor. No other image could better illustrate the parahuman agency Allewaert theorizes.
The statue's face has African features and closed eyes. It is covered by coral and sea moss and barnacles that create a visual illusion of alert, open eyes. The image embodies the book's epigraph in which Shakespeare's Ariel describes King Alonso's body:. Full fathom five thy father lies, Of his bones are coral made; Those are pearls that were his eyes; Nothing of him that doth fade But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich and strange.
In the context of slavery—which challenged the personhood and humanity of the enslaved—Allewaert, instead of speaking of dehumanization, evokes the parahuman resistance of human subjects who were metaphorically as well as bodily dismembered. The enslaved resisted through parahuman assemblages, a liminal category between human and animal The integration of the animal is not, for Allewaert, a source of dehumanization, but rather the formation and restructuration of tortured human agency.
For example, the severing of human limbs, or trees, like in Wifredo Lam 's Jungle , puts "animals, parahumans, and humans, in horizontal relation that is to say para or beside each other without conflating them" This provocative claim could, on the surface, entail the reaffirmation of the animality of slaves; however, through her careful readings, Allewaert insists instead that this alliance is a source of agency and power.
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Allewaert takes her critical cues from the historical context of the tropical Plantation South. Here, slaves were amputated of their limbs and personhood through actual acts of torture and dismemberment but also while "living on the threshold of citizenship" 16 , being considered, for instance, as three-fifths of a person in the US Constitution She helpfully extends Glissant's concept of creolization—which he would apply to cultural production—to the material and ecological world made of objects and landscapes, which thereby gains agency 9.
In short, the introduction exposes the radical redefinition of subject and personhood in the American tropics. Readers will take delight in the fact that all other chapters of Ariel's Ecology appear in print for the first time. This elaborately developed analysis bases its conclusions on the entanglement of land and humans, the loss of self in the tropics, and a drowned individual productivity that leads to an enriched collective subject in readings of American naturalist William Bartram — Bartram's drawings of flora, fauna, and Cherokee Americans are based on observations and notes taken during his journey to Georgia, South and North Carolina, and East and West Florida.
Allewaert acutely observes that Bartram's illustrations and travel notes demonstrate the entanglement of human subjects "with the lowland as pleasurable loss of self" Instead of a weakness or defeat, this leads to a strengthening of subjectivity, which becomes—through its entanglement with nature—a communal agency, similar in function to Glissant's notion of a composite collective subject.
For Glissant, the self and the community, disjointed and fragmented by slavery, exile, and colonialism becomes an active multifocal agency built precisely on loss, breaks, and interruptions see for instance the "Open Boat," in Poetics of Relation. Allewaert systematically and compellingly demonstrates that natural sites, with the primary example of the swamp, hold agency and "revolutionary significance" The space of the swamp, relegated to a space of wildness and savagery in colonial discourse, finds a place in the construction of national agency.
Allewaert's rethinking of the swamp as a space of agency is of particular value for the study and teaching of many American literary and filmic productions in which the swamp, or other bodies of water, act as a main agent in cultural historical agency. These include William Faulkner 's Absalom, Absalom! I have already used it successfully in undergraduate and graduate courses.
Allewaert also illuminates the controversial conception of vitalist materialism, which "verged on offering a scientific basis for an anarchy of forms" based on "a fluidized matter unendingly intersecting" 62 , with a comparison to Deleuze's analogical thought that "presumes the identity or self-sameness of the terms that it puts in relation" Allewaert offers exquisite readings of botanical sheets through figures of style.
For instance, she interprets Bartram's illustration of the American lotus as "a palindrome, a sequencing of plant-animal-plant that swallows the animal into vegetable life" This reading of Bartram ends with the crucial conclusion that botanical illustrations, and more generally, the practice of the naturalist, has implications of a political and legal nature, that Allewaert calls "American cosmopolitics" She convincingly demonstrates that Bartram, who recognized the "political stakes of natural history," used his work to protect Native American rights In it, Allewaert develops her theory of the "parahuman," whereby humans, parahumans, and animals exist in a "horizontal relation that is to say para or beside each other without conflating them" Her definition stems from the condition of African humans whose humanity, during slavery and its aftermath, was put into question legally, economically, and ontologically.
Such an argument may seem incompatible with thinkers who have reflected on the dehumanization of the slave and have insisted on the slave's resilient and creative humanity, and the inhumanity of the institution of slavery. Most notably, Toni Morrison famously offered that "bestial treatment of human beings never produces a race of beasts.
Tropics Bite Back, The: Culinary Coups in Caribbean Literature
Instead, Allewaert chooses an alternative and unexpected path. Rather than measuring the inhumanity or humanity of one or the other, she argues that the forced juxtaposition and confusion of humans, animals, and plants during slavery put into question the notion of a discrete and sovereign category of the human.
This theory stands not in contradiction with Morrison's claim, I would argue, but rather as a helpful continuation of the criticism of the supremacy of Western thought, and of the arbitrary and absurd fixed categories that slavery invented and implemented. Allewaert argues that "Afro-Americans drew on the brutal colonial circumstance of dismemberment and bodily disaggregation to produce models of personhood that developed from the experience of parahumanity and in relation to animal bodies and that registered a deep skepticism about the desirability of the category of the human" Founded in , the MLA provides opportunities for its members to share their scholarly findings and teaching experiences with colleagues and to discuss trends in the academy.
The MLA sustains one of the finest publication programs in the humanities, producing a variety of publications for language and literature professionals and for the general public. The association publishes the MLA International Bibliography, the only comprehensive bibliography in language and literature, available online. See MLA press release. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account.