Postcolonial Odysseys

Maeve Tynan, Postcolonial Odysseys: Derek Walcott’s Voyages of Homecoming (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2011); 179 pages; ISBN: 9781443828420 (hardcover).

• February 2014

Offering a multifaceted and interesting analysis on myth, language, and imperialism, Maeve Tynan’s Postcolonial Odysseys suggests that we evaluate the imitative qualities of Derek Walcott’s work not from a standpoint that considers the work derivative but from one that notes the interpretation of the works of Homer and James Joyce, among others, as Walcott’s way of reclaiming the fragmented Caribbean self. Postcolonial Odysseys is thorough and ambitious as Tynan highlights the tension between Walcott’s utilization of Homeric myth and its Caribbean appropriation, rethinking how we analyze intertextuality in the light of a world that finds its origins within a creolized history of diverse parts and sources. Tynan asserts that Walcott “raises up a mirror to Western culture in order to expose successive genealogies of imitation” (xxii) and that “literature of liberation is also a literature of assimilation” (6). Like others before her, Tynan recognizes that the postcolonial hero is one prepared to embrace the various sources of his inheritance as part of his united, complex identity. However, where others have read mimicry in these celebrations of the fragmented self, Tynan astutely captures how the complexity of the voyage allows the postcolonial hero to gain self-awareness, suggesting that the protagonist may find home only through traveling.

Tynan’s methodology is apparent in the way she reads particular tropes of Caribbean fiction found in Walcott’s poetry. Her critique of not only his body of work but also his collaborations with other writers and artists helps the reader to understand how literary genealogies can be disrupted and reconstituted. When she engages the discussion surrounding the classification of Walcott’s Omeros as an epic, she insists that Walcott does not reify the epic but instead uses its tropes to demonstrate how art is consistently in the present tense. Homer is no more past tense than Walcott. Rather than pitting Homer against Walcott or vice versa, Tynan’s reading of the texts as comparatively informed by colonization illustrates how postcolonial theory can be used to examine a variety of issues in the modern and classic worlds. By offering a broader scope through which to view the causes and effects of colonialism, Postcolonial Odysseys has the potential to be utilized not only to support an argument on the merits of modernism in Walcott’s work but also to demonstrate how postcolonial theory is applicable beyond Caribbean fiction.

Part 1of Tynan’s book deals specifically with the mythological aspects of Walcott’s poetry as well as the nature of the sea as the bearer of cultural history and identity. In opposition to critics such as Gaston Bachelard and Roland Barthes, who view the sea as ahistorical, Tynan offers a thought-provoking close reading of the sea both as a wound and as a site of cosmogenesis and rebirth for the Afro-Caribbean brought over it as a slave. With poetry and history born from the sea instead of the earth, the poetic Caribbean voice is consistently called back to this place to situate itself as a presence within the world. The sea represents a larger issue in Tynan’s interpretation of Walcott’s work; it is equal parts the bearer of cultural history and inheritance and the catalyst for the process of creolization that takes place during colonization.

Relating to her claims about creolization and colonization, part 2 of Tynan’s book suggests that modernism is not something that essentializes and negates the issues central to postcolonialism; it is instead a tool that Walcott uses to dismantle European structures of power and complicate literary genealogical paradigms. What is fascinating about Tynan’s analysis of the father/son dynamic in Walcott’s poetry is her integration of this relationship with modernist thought. The figure of the swift plays into this claim as it continually moves back and forth, consistently dislocated yet always able to find home. The Caribbean self is a fragmented one, yet in its divisions, it is culturally whole. Since there is no going back to a precolonial Africa, and no way to undo the effects of colonialism, Walcott highlights the connection between collage and creolization, both of which take diverse parts and assimilate them into a fully realized whole.

Creolization, in Tynan’s view, is not mimicry but the tool through which the poet claims his European literary inheritance. Building on the work of critics such as Graham Huggan, Maria Cristina Fumagalli, and Carol Dougherty, Tynan asserts that by speaking through the European voice, Walcott demonstrates how “the colonizers try to recreate the world they left behind through a series of ‘belitting deminutives,’ . . . unflattering superimpositions of the language which distort local realities” (48).1 When Walcott or the narrative voice encounters modernist writers or their characters, Tynan claims that this literary appropriation connects the postcolonial subject to his home. Tynan’s book is particularly useful in its interpretation of modernism as a generative tool in Walcott’s poetry, a thing that connects him to his European literary predecessors.

In the final section of Postcolonial Odysseys, Tynan considers the voyage home for the traveler, looking at the wound as a purveyor of cultural trauma and the tension between the poet’s cultural allegiances. Here, Tynan posits that while Walcott has expressed uneasiness with using the wound (for while it universalizes the trauma of colonialism for both the colonizer and the colonized, it could do more harm than good in assimilating the shades of difference that make the Caribbean self fragmented yet whole), it helps to dismantle the binaries found within postcolonial discourse. Characters such as Philoctete and Achille are connected to their Greek counterparts not only by name but also through the violence that is inherent in both Caribbean and ancient Greek history. The wound, in Tynan’s opinion, is not a badge of honor or symbol of resistance but a deconstructive metaphor that collapses binarisms and divisions within society.

While there were a few grammatical errors present in the text, Maeve Tynan’s interesting interrogation of Walcott’s work makes Postcolonial Odysseys a worthwhile read for any postcolonial scholar.

 

Gyasi Byng is a third-year master of arts student at Florida Atlantic University. She is currently completing her thesis analyzing the use of simulacra in constructing mixed-race identity. Her creative work has been featured in Black Magnolias Literary Journal, Coastlines Literary Magazine, Penwood Review, and Blackberry.

 

 


Tynan quotes from Walcott’s poem “Names.”