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Persona Non Grata: Anger and the Transnational Reception of Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place

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Abstract:

Upon its publication in 1988, Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place elicited outrage in its reception both in the United States and Antigua. Not only was Kincaid declared persona non grata in her native land as a result of the slim volume, but she and her text were criticized for what readers perceived to be a vitriolic attack on the government and people of Antigua. In this paper, I explore how anger functions ambivalently in the transnational reception of A Small Place to enable its dismissal as an embittered, emotional attack on the island and simultaneously to strengthen its critique of the postcolonial condition by disrupting its own accessibility as an authentic account. That is to say, by opposing the neo-colonial, military, and touristic intrusions of the United States and Europe in Antigua, Kincaid defies her position as a docile native informant. Rather, she uses her own anger to educate readers about post-colonial Antiguan life, but only inasmuch as they are willing to be unsettled and at times insulted.

I begin the essay by tracing the tension between Kincaid’s deliberate use of anger to incite readers to action and the dismissive critical response to this strategy. Kincaid herself describes A Small Place as a “prolonged visit to the bile duct,” as well as an “airing of dirty laundry” that takes Antiguan government officials and public citizens to task (Kincaid 32). Throughout the volume Kincaid explicitly mobilizes anger to advance a radical critique of island tourism, Antiguan complacency, and US politics in the region—as she says in an interview with Donna Perry, “you can’t do anything before you get angry.” Due to the essay’s overt polemic, critics have denounced Kincaid for expressing a “shrill,” “subjective,” “dogmatic” and “shapeless,” viewpoint; presenting a “distorted” and “unsatisfying” narrative; and circulating “a sniveling attack on Europeans and North Americans” (Edlmair 61).

In this way, reviewers’ anger toward the text overlooks its salience as a political commentary. These same readers often relegate the essay to an embittered, autobiographical account—subject to the often limiting expectations for tokenistic representation and authentic narration that unfairly accompany genres of nonfictional, transnational feminist writing. As I argue in this paper, the anger that the text produces in its reception is a crucial component of its meaning; anger is precisely what enables A Small Place to exemplify its own postcolonial critique. As a text that explicitly provokes the reader’s discomfort, Kincaid’s essay creates a reading context in which “insiders” and “outsiders” to the island of Antigua cannot presume easily to “know” the text, or the place it describes.

Thus, Kincaid offers a productive example of what Gayatri Spivak in The Post-Colonial Critic names as “the problem of autobiography” for the post-colonial subject. Kincaid redefines the position of native informant by offering a personal, subjective account of the post-colonial Antiguan condition, to offer objective knowledge to her readers. In doing so, Kincaid discursively casts herself and the island as subjects rather than objects of knowledge.
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MLA Citation:

Bhalla, Tamara. "Persona Non Grata: Anger and the Transnational Reception of Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Puerto Rico Convention Center and the Caribe Hilton., San Juan, Puerto Rico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-23 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p569472_index.html>

APA Citation:

Bhalla, T. "Persona Non Grata: Anger and the Transnational Reception of Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Puerto Rico Convention Center and the Caribe Hilton., San Juan, Puerto Rico <Not Available>. 2014-11-23 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p569472_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: Upon its publication in 1988, Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place elicited outrage in its reception both in the United States and Antigua. Not only was Kincaid declared persona non grata in her native land as a result of the slim volume, but she and her text were criticized for what readers perceived to be a vitriolic attack on the government and people of Antigua. In this paper, I explore how anger functions ambivalently in the transnational reception of A Small Place to enable its dismissal as an embittered, emotional attack on the island and simultaneously to strengthen its critique of the postcolonial condition by disrupting its own accessibility as an authentic account. That is to say, by opposing the neo-colonial, military, and touristic intrusions of the United States and Europe in Antigua, Kincaid defies her position as a docile native informant. Rather, she uses her own anger to educate readers about post-colonial Antiguan life, but only inasmuch as they are willing to be unsettled and at times insulted.

I begin the essay by tracing the tension between Kincaid’s deliberate use of anger to incite readers to action and the dismissive critical response to this strategy. Kincaid herself describes A Small Place as a “prolonged visit to the bile duct,” as well as an “airing of dirty laundry” that takes Antiguan government officials and public citizens to task (Kincaid 32). Throughout the volume Kincaid explicitly mobilizes anger to advance a radical critique of island tourism, Antiguan complacency, and US politics in the region—as she says in an interview with Donna Perry, “you can’t do anything before you get angry.” Due to the essay’s overt polemic, critics have denounced Kincaid for expressing a “shrill,” “subjective,” “dogmatic” and “shapeless,” viewpoint; presenting a “distorted” and “unsatisfying” narrative; and circulating “a sniveling attack on Europeans and North Americans” (Edlmair 61).

In this way, reviewers’ anger toward the text overlooks its salience as a political commentary. These same readers often relegate the essay to an embittered, autobiographical account—subject to the often limiting expectations for tokenistic representation and authentic narration that unfairly accompany genres of nonfictional, transnational feminist writing. As I argue in this paper, the anger that the text produces in its reception is a crucial component of its meaning; anger is precisely what enables A Small Place to exemplify its own postcolonial critique. As a text that explicitly provokes the reader’s discomfort, Kincaid’s essay creates a reading context in which “insiders” and “outsiders” to the island of Antigua cannot presume easily to “know” the text, or the place it describes.

Thus, Kincaid offers a productive example of what Gayatri Spivak in The Post-Colonial Critic names as “the problem of autobiography” for the post-colonial subject. Kincaid redefines the position of native informant by offering a personal, subjective account of the post-colonial Antiguan condition, to offer objective knowledge to her readers. In doing so, Kincaid discursively casts herself and the island as subjects rather than objects of knowledge.


Similar Titles:
Love and Anger in a Small Place: Ethnographic improvisation on the politics of volunteer tourism

Touring a "Small Place": (Neo)Colonial Circulations in the Literary Imagination of Jamaica Kincaid


 
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