Constellations of Queer Caribbean and Diaspora Literary Histories Online: Symbols into Subjects, Texts into Testimony and Praxis.
What is at stake in imagining, in etching the queer Caribbean and diaspora experience onto digital spaces in differing forms? This question is one of the central locomotives propelling one facet of my doctoral research on queer Caribbean and diaspora literatures and cultures. In June of 2016, the Smallaxe Journal editorial team set out to consider the digital turn as it relates to the Caribbean and diaspora experience. Director of the Small Axe Project, David Scott and his team would then move to create archipelagos: a journal of Caribbean praxis. The first of its kind, archipelagos has evolved into a literary hub for considering the impact of the digital on archipelagic life and diaspora bodies. Indeed, “the Caribbean, we believe, in its persistent historicity and conscripted modernity, is a geopolitical zone that lends itself to the kinds of experiment and exploration that the digital turn obliges us to confront” (Scott, archipelagos 2016). It is within the space of experimentation and exploration that I situate my doctoral research on issues of queer West Indian and diaspora life. And what better way to experiment, to explore such a rich and ever-expanding (hi)story than via the largely uninhibited online space.
In fact, this very uninhibited digital frontier holds the potential for queer Caribbean scholars like me to imagine a space of sovereignty beyond the hold of what Sylvia Wynter coined as this bios and logos associated with western Man (Wynter 35). I envision something as naïve as a bibliography project (some critics may perceive this project as just another website/information dump), often taken for granted in the academe, turned interactive-map database, might also act as a source of this very elusive sovereignty that many queer West Indians are in search of realizing. I present and contextualize the bibliography of approximately 2500 queer Caribbean and diasporic writings in two ways. First, it is important to interrogate the role of technology in rendering a new source of queer epistemology and genealogy for queer Caribbean and diaspora writing. Second, it is equally significant to propose correctives to the inaccessibility of queer writing in the both physical and digital public spheres. Sovereignty for queer Caribbean peoples in a digital age then must include these two key variable: (i) accessibility and (ii) critical historicization. Creating this database of bibliographic entries advances ideas of a queer endemic writing and literati beyond the traditional means of literary production inside and outside of the region. As a researcher who continues to experience difficulty in sourcing and accessing writings about the queer Caribbean experience because of the absence of protective legal dictates, in addition to hostile heteronormative structures, I envision this interactive database as a viable starting point for contemporary and future researchers of queer Caribbean writing and culture. The turn to the digital is then, for me at least, a tool by which to infiltrate technology’s “homogenizing rule against the diversity of human experiences” (Molldrem and Thakor 3) online. This digital turn is as much about information curation as it is about accessibility to the information being curated. Accessibility is key so as to not replicate some of the restrictive conditions of database-type resources currently available (universities are notorious for limiting who and how knowledge is made available to the general public both in person and online). Queer Caribbean and diaspora literatures remains rooted in fundamental human experiences both unique and interconnected. This project seeks to capitalize on the qualities of this very interconnectedness by making the database available online and to the general public however and whenever they please. Both the bibliography, and the process of constructing the interactive database, as sources of sovereignty provide “durable structural mechanisms to secure the reliable transfer of queer knowledges” (Rubin 354) to the public, gathering references to writings undiscovered, ignored, and unexplored by researchers.
So, what’s at stake in my research on queer Caribbean and diaspora writings is that of the potential for generating new forms of authority on these very experiences. This project is not the only means by which to realize the queer West Indian sovereign self. Rather, my work is but one pragmatic avenue by which I move to foster discourses about the manifold ways of thinking the queer island body and diaspora experience anew. My turn to the pedagogy of mapping is inevitably tied to the history of colonial and imperial cartographies, “material projects of modernity and colonialism…through a geographic reordering of sovereignty” (Bonilla and Hantel, archipelagos 2016). That said, I want to sit with such fraught cartographic histories in my own work. I turn to constellations with the understanding that long histories of cartography work took place largely offline and outside the comprehension of the digital. With this unpleasant truth and complicated legacy in one hand, I look to my other hand and the digital age as a means of shifting future iterations of the map towards a queer orientation. An orientation that moves us beyond unproductive discourses like that of symbolic orders and textual representation of falsely one-dimensional human experiences. The sovereign queer Caribbean self then must realize the promise of accessibility and historicity, in the socially-conscious digital age, if we are to transform symbols into subjects, text into testimony and legitimate praxis.
Works Cited and Consulted
Bonilla, Yarimar and Max Hantel. “Visualizing Sovereignty: Cartographic Queries for the Digital Age.” archipelagoes: a journal of Caribbean digital praxis, vol.1, 2016.
Molldrem, Stephen, and Mitali Thakor. “Genealogies and Futures of Queer STS: Issues in Theory, Method, and Institutionalization.” Catalyst, vol. 3, no.1, 2017, pp. 1-15.
Rubin, Gayle. “Geologies of Queer Studies: It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again.” Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader. Durham, Duke University Press, 2012, pp. 347-356.
Scott, David. “Introduction. Learning from Each Other.” archipelagoes: a journal of Caribbean digital praxis, vol.1, 2016.
Wynter, Sylvia. “The Pope Must Have Been Drunk, the King of Catile a Madman: Culture as Actuality and the Caribbean Rethinking of Modernity.” Reordering of Culture: Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada in the ‘Hood. Ottawa, Carleton University Press, 1995.
Acknowledgments: Gratitude to Dr. Andrea Zeffiro (SCDS Director, Assistant Professor, Dept of Communication Studies and Multimedia, McMaster) for her leadership and advice in refining the scope of my doctoral research. Gratitude also goes out to my fellow SCDS residents who provided me with much needed insight to better the work that I am committed to realizing. To my PhD committee: Dr. Amber Dean (Associate Professor, Dept of English and Cultural Studies, McMaster University), Dr. Daniel Coleman (Professor, Dept of English and Cultural Studies, McMaster University), and Dr. Ronald Cummings (Assistant Prof, Dept of English, Brock University) for their continued guidance as I complete this research project. Here’s to charting constellations new and old together.