chapter  34
9 Pages

Modernism and Anglophone Caribbean Literature


In literary studies, of course, the definition of modernism itself is capacious and widely contested. As one critic notes, ‘modernism’ has typically been ‘an invitingly empty term, a noun awaiting semantic content’ (Rainey 2005: xx). Another warns that the concept ‘has been notoriously inhospitable to definition’ (Blair 1999: 157), and thus readily adaptable to numerous agendas. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that, at the most fundamental level, understandings of modernism can be seen to cohere around two broad conceptions: modernism understood as a discrete historical period or modernism understood as a set of stylistic tendencies. These rival conceptions, perhaps not surprisingly, overlap to a substantial degree. In the case of the former, modernism is used to classify literature, produced during a certain era (roughly 1900-45), that critiques aesthetic conventions via a pronounced, self-conscious use of formal and stylistic innovation; in the latter, the category is expanded to consist of all texts employing self-consciously experimental, disruptive techniques regardless of the date of composition. These two basic classifications largely agree on literary modernism’s basic traits: a stance of aesthetic oppositionality; a suspicion of literary convention with a concomitant desire for renewal and innovation; an anxiously ambiguous relation to narratives of progress and modernity; a concern with individual consciousness and the ways it can be structured by cultural and linguistic discourse; and an overtly self-reflexive engagement with the contingencies of language, authority, and representation. More importantly, under either broad understanding of modernism, one can observe a substantial amount of convergence, similarity, and interchange with anglophone Caribbean writing.