Hybridity and Subalternity in the Postcolonial Caribbean: Splitting the Difference: Lincoln Z. Shlensky
The twin conceptual pillars of postcolonial theory, hybridity and subalternity, have fascinatingly different intellectual trajectories in Caribbean discourse. My claim, in what follows, will be that this genealogical difference has profound consequences for a scholarly understanding of how, and how much, postcolonial theory is relevant to Caribbean studies. Intellectuals, activists and scholars have acknowledged hybridity’s uniquely heterogeneous forms within Caribbean discourse, and I suggest that this has allowed us to help identify (and to interrogate) a diverse yet specific range of postcolonial identity positions that are now comprehensible in the Caribbean context. The same cannot be said, however, of the concept of subalternity, a key theoretical component within postcolonial debates since the 1970s that remains overlooked politically and underdeveloped intellectually within Caribbean discourse. I argue that this disparity in the intellectual and political fortunes of the concepts of hybridity and subalternity has led to a number of deleterious outcomes in terms of our ability to theorize the problems of identity and power in the Caribbean, particularly in relation to the frequently idealized political models of hybridized social identity that have become a staple of Caribbean intellectual production and political programmes. We need merely consider a few recent literary examples, as I shall show, to recognize the extent to which the concepts of hybridity and subalternity are imbricated and mutually dependent within Caribbean discourse, despite the dissimilar genealogical development and political deployment of these concepts in the regional context. By developing both conceptual lineages in relation to each other within Caribbean
discourse, rather than separately, I contend that we are more likely to understand and avoid the ethical and political hazards that either term carries as a potential result of the abstraction necessary to theorize it beyond the particularity of any specific cultural or historical instance.