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"Calling the Magician": The Metamorphic Indo-Caribbean

  • Author(s): Khan, Aliyah Ryhaan
  • Advisor(s): Freccero, Carla
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation examines the relationship between bodily shapeshifting in the literature of the Asian Indian Caribbean and the construction of postcolonial Indo-Caribbean identity. Metamorphosis, in opposition to hybridity, is the lens through which I examine the political and literary relationship between the Indo- and Afro-Caribbean. In contrast to creolization, mestizaje, and other hybridizations, various forms of metamorphosis, including mimicry and doubling, provide agency in the colonial and postcolonial context. Metamorphosis suggests ways of intervening in the historic ethnic and political divides in postcolonial Caribbean nations like Trinidad and Guyana. It is thus the key literary figure deployed in the texts under consideration.

The Indo-Caribbean is a distinct subgenre within Anglophone Caribbean literature that includes works produced by the descendants of nineteenth-century East Indian indentured laborers in, primarily, Trinidad and Guyana. Most of the texts examined in this dissertation are written and set in the 1960s and beyond, i.e., during and after the Caribbean independence period. While employing the common theme in Caribbean literature of indigenizing post-independence national identities, Indo-Caribbean literature focuses on tensions over the acculturation and assimilation of East Indian indentured laborers and their descendants into Afro-Creole culture--tensions that are expressed on the bodies of women and queer people. The literature also engages with the larger Caribbean fabulist literary tradition of animal-human shapeshifting, and socio-political interventions by land-based spirits.

I draw on fiction and poetry by Shani Mootoo, Ramabai Espinet, Ryhaan Shah, Wilson Harris, Cyril Dabydeen, and others to show how Indo-Caribbean literature imaginatively configures the way bodies function in the national space and in the natural environment. Race, gender, politics, sexuality, and the definition of being human are interconnected and always in flux in the Caribbean colony and postcolony. Metamorphosis offers a non-assimilationist intervention into the Indo-Afro-Caribbean divide by articulating and promoting an ever-changing ontological (and thus epistemological) diversity in a way that static conceptions of hybridity cannot.

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