“Qu’est-ce Qu’elle Dit? What she say, what she say?” Translating the Resisting Other in Contemporary Caribbean Women’s Writing

Published: May 1, 2015
Amryl Johnson Erna Brodber Merle Collins postcolonialism Jamaica creole
Suzanne Scafe

I focus my discussion of Amryl Johnson’s poem “Qu’est-ce Qu’elle Dit”, Erna Brodber’s second novel Myal, and Merle Collins’s The Colour of Forgetting, on the texts’ representations of cultural difference and cultural transformation. The poem and the novels, I argue, present a version of Caribbean history that resists colonial discourse and that effects a process of healing and recovery from the epistemic violence of colonial historiography and the continued imposition of its cultural norms. At the same time I suggest that part of the process of resistance involves a radical reconceptualising and transformation of the Other. In these texts, what Nathaniel Mackey defines as “artistic othering”(55) is, as I wish to demonstrate in this article, a mode of resistance, a textual strategy that confronts, resists and refuses a too easy reappropriation of meaning, and yet insists on possibility. I approach the three texts as examples of counterdiscursive praxis, as texts which make “an intervention into postcolonial theoretical discourse” (O’Callaghan “Play It Back” 67). Amryl Johnson’s poem, from which the title of this paper comes, is emblematic of the tensions that arise in seemingly paradoxical processes of othering, reintegration and recovery in a creolized Caribbean context.

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Author Biography
Suzanne Scafe
Suzanne Scafe is a  Reader in  Caribbean and Postcolonial Literatures at London South Bank University. She has published several essays on Black British writing and culture and Caribbean women’s fiction. Her recent work includes essays on Black British women’s autobiographical writing, published in the journals Changing English (17:2), Women: A Cultural Review (20:4) and Life Writing (10:2) and for a forthcoming volume for Cambridge University Press. She is the co-editor of a collection of essays, I Am Black/White/Yellow: The Black Body in Europe (2007), which includes her chapter on the drama of Roy Williams. She has written several articles and book chapters on contemporary Caribbean women writers such as Merle Collins, Brenda Flanagan, Donna Hemans, Zee Edgell  and the Caribbean –diasporic poets Dorothea Smart, Jean Binta Breeze and Amryl Johnson. She has also published chapters on the Caribbean short story, the most recent of which are “‘The Lesser Names Beneath the Peaks’: Jamaican Short Fiction and its Contexts 1938-60’ in The Caribbean Short Story: Critical Perspectives, published by Peepal Tree Press (April 2011) and “‘Gruesome and Yet Fascinating’: Hidden, disgraced and Disregarded Cultural Forms in Jamaican Short Fiction 1938-50,” Journal of Caribbean Literatures (2011). Her essay “Unsettling the Centre: Fiction by Black British Women Writers” will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014. Forthcoming also is her essay on space, place and affect in Diana Evans's fiction in “Diaspora, Cultures of Mobility, Race” (PULM).
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