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“Perfection with a hole in the middle”: Archipelagic Assemblage in Tiphanie Yanique’s Land of Love and Drowning


This essay uses frameworks derived from Archipelagic American studies to examine Tiphanie Yanique’s novel Land of Love and Drowning and the United States Virgin Islands on the 100th anniversary of their transfer from Denmark. Yanique’s vision of a specifically USVI literature is necessarily archipelagic in that it participates in inter-island exchange based on circuits forged by colonial practice that have been dynamically revised through global black freedom struggles taking place in archipelagoes of the Virgin Islands in conjunction with the continents that comprise their diasporic communities. The archipelagic perspective exposes the circuits of connectivity between water, land, human, animals, and commodities that travel through the submarine routes of the Atlantic basin. Using a strategy of literary assemblage to build a diasporic mythology that is nevertheless grounded in the specific ecologies of the USVI allows Yanique to counter trenchant stereotypical portrayals that reify the VI’s historical invisibility in American culture. More urgently, she draws attention to the islands as a forgotten U.S. territory in times of crisis such as the wreckage of hurricanes Irma and Maria. One manifestation of Yanique’s literary assemblage are her fictive hybrids, her “ocean grown” folks; I read Land of Love in Drowning alongside Wangechi Mutu’s Nguva na Nyoka (Sirens and Serpents) and St. Croix-based artist La Vaughn Belle’s video installations/counternarratives of Danish slavery to further illuminate the archipelagic nature of Yanique’s narrative assemblage, which demands a interartistic perspective that considers multiple mediums and modes of exchange and encounter across national and natural boundaries. As Yanique’s generational tale coalesces around the commemoration and nostalgic unease of Transfer, her image-based thematics resonate with Belle’s and Mutu’s visual reckoning with the hybridity of splintered identity that results from an accumulation of colonial legacies and diasporic sensibilities.

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