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Paradoxical Republics: Tropes of Civic Longing in Postcolonial Caribbean Writing


What can a poetics of longing suggest about unrequited political promises? In my dissertation I demonstrate how postcolonial fiction strategically recovers founding moments of civic awakening and revolutionary consciousness in order to transmit a greater understanding of anti-colonial resistance in the Americas. Focusing on four authors who retrace the transition from colony to nationhood and from royalist to republican rule in the Hispanic new world, I uncover a literary strategy that Spanish American (Martí and Carpentier) and Anglophone writers (Conrad and Naipaul) share in common. I argue that a structure of longing that yearns for a sense of the greater good, which it also mourns as unreachable, informs this subset of new world writing. Offering an image of a republican ideal under siege, this paradoxical mode of longing is also marked by a homosocial desire for male friendship and companionship, a desire increasingly at odds with modern commercial society and its overt reliance on a heterosexual private sphere. This homosocial desire for male friendship and companionship serves as a common structuring device, transforming Hispanic and Anglophone literary traditions into a cohesive body of writing.

At the heart of each work--from Martí's Versos sencillos to Naipaul's A Way in the World--lies an abiding preoccupation with the meaning of civic virtue and its oft-described opposite: corruption. Faced with realities that exceed North Atlantic republican models, each author reconsiders the relation between virtue and corruption under precarious political conditions. Moving beyond dualist definitions (duty versus self-interest, austerity versus greed, community versus individuality), I argue that postcolonial new world writing offers a more fluid and wide-ranging means of conceiving this relation than political theory has traditionally acknowledged. In its paradoxical formulation, each author reflects a poetics of longing that yearns for correspondence between Caribbean realities and a European civic vocabulary. In striving toward such an aim, however, each author inevitably confronts the painful knowledge of the impossible nature of his task. It is this moment of mournful self-awareness, I argue, that enables all four authors to abandon a project of mimetic correspondence and gesture toward an understanding of the Caribbean as a geography defined less by linguistic and insular categories, and more by a shared paradoxical experience of revolutionary modernity.

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