“Fighting mad to tell her story”: Madness, rage and literary self-making in Jean Rhys and Jamaica Kincaid

deCaires Narain, Denise (2018) “Fighting mad to tell her story”: Madness, rage and literary self-making in Jean Rhys and Jamaica Kincaid. In: Ledent, Bénédicte, O'Callaghan, Evelyn and Tunca, Daria (eds.) Madness in Anglophone Caribbean Literature: On the Edge. New Caribbean Studies . Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, pp. 39-62. ISBN 9783319981796

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Abstract

This essay explores the ways that Rhys and Kincaid mine the slippage in meanings and registers of “mad” and “madness” in their texts. Rather than reading Jean Rhys as primarily the chronicler of alienation and “terrified (white-Creole) consciousness,” I read across her autobiographical and fictional works to argue that “mad” is deployed in an energizing and critically reflective manner that suggests a more varied and nuanced attunement to the cultural and affective legacies of colonialism. Jamaica Kincaid, for her part, is frequently described as a writer propelled by fury, whose signature affect might without controversy be designated as “anger.” I argue that this emphasis on “anger” elides the other more profoundly unsettling resonances of “mad” that inform Kincaid’s oeuvre, as part of her wider project of questioning established repertoires of feeling (including “anger” and “rage”). The persistence with which autobiographical elements feature in both writers’ works attests less to a desire for “self-expression” than to a painstaking commitment to writing as a space for exploring the very possibility of selfhood. Drawing on selected works by Frantz Fanon and Judith Butler, I navigate across their respective arguments about colonial patriarchal hegemonies as a violent “disintegration” or “undoing” of the gendered, colonized “self” and consider the political and cultural implications of their insights for a reading of Rhys’s and Kincaid’s texts. Focusing on Rhys’s Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography (1979), “The Day They Burned the Books” (1968) and Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) alongside Kincaid’s My Brother (1998) and See Now Then (2013) as well as selected interviews, I suggest that reading these two writers in tandem allows us to nuance the meanings that have accrued to “mad” and “madness” in Caribbean literary studies. It also allows questions of authorship, authority, autobiography and gender to more fully inform prevailing understandings of “madness” in Caribbean literary culture.

Item Type: Book Section
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Depositing User: Denise DeCairesNarain
Date Deposited: 14 May 2019 09:55
Last Modified: 01 Feb 2021 13:27
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/83697

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