My article on Edouard Glissant’s mid-career and late writing, "Edouard Glissant: Creolization and the Event" was published by the Caribbean studies journal Callaloo in 2013. In this essay I argue that, contrary to critics such as Chris Bongie and Peter Hallward, Glissant’s “postmodernist” book Poétique de la Relation is not less politically oriented than his earlier “modernist” work, Le discours antillais, but rather is more so in one specific way: in the later work, he considers the rupture of established historical narratives that collective, frequently traumatic, events can precipitate. I review the wider post-1968 discourse on events among philosophers such as Claude Romano and Gilles Deleuze in order to show how Glissant’s writing similarly opposes the structuralist inclination to dismiss events or to treat them as hinge-moments in patterned historical narratives. Events take on increasing importance for Glissant in his late texts, such as Ormerod and L’intraitable beauté du monde, where he examines how historical macro- and micro-events interact, and why authentic événements tend to be confused with mediatized actualités in ways not foreseen by the Continental theorists. Creolization, from this perspective, deserves to be considered not only in terms of spatial “archipelagic thought” but also within a discontinuous temporal framework of events that Glissant’s late work develops. This article, which represents my current thinking about trauma as a context-rupturing event, is currently under review.
In “Not (Yet) Speaking to Each Other: the Politics of Speech in Jamaica Kincaid’s Postcolonialism” (2012), published in Literature for Our Times: Postcolonial Studies in the Twenty First Century, I argue that Kincaid’s deployment of the autobiographical voice in many of her texts posits an ethics of postcolonial history that depends on rethinking the genre of autobiography. In a number of her fictionalized autobiographies, Kincaid takes up Elizabeth Bishop’s modernist technique of obscuring the discursive subject. In doing so, she implicitly responds to Spivak’s appeal for “women [to] tell each other’s stories” without establishing essential ontologies. She thus acknowledges the traumatic consequences of racial and sexual oppression while never foreclosing on the potential of critical re-readings of history, particularly literary ones, to introduce more egalitarian modes of social being. Kincaid’s refusal to accept the designation of her work as “postcolonial literature” serves to reiterate her rhetorical position that autobiography, like the postcolonial itself, must be treated as a mode of critical engagement with history. Her implicit citation of Bishop suggests, nevertheless, why I include her among the postmodern agonists of traumatic discourse. This chapter was published in a new volume of Rodopi’s series “Cross Cultures: Readings in Postcolonial Literatures and Cultures in English” that includes contributions by prominent academics in postcolonial studies. A review of the collection, including this article, appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of CACLALS's journal, Chimo.
In my essay “Hybridity and Subalternity in Caribbean Postcolonialism: Splitting the Difference” (2011), published in The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature, I argue that postcolonial discourse in the Caribbean has reached an impasse due to the divergent genealogies of the concepts of hybridity and subalternity. While critics such as Shalini Puri have shown that hybridity has become enriched as an idea and a practice through its formulation in local and conceptually specific terms such as mestizaje, creolisation, jíbarismo, and dougla, the same cannot be said of subalternity, which remains under-theorized in the Caribbean context. As I show, however, in readings of texts written by the Trinidadian Earl Lovelace and the Antiguan-born Jamaica Kincaid, hybridity is a socially incoherent concept unless it is correlated with the kind of class analysis and epistemological inquiry into the nature of traumatic experience that a Spivakian conception of the subaltern introduces. This chapter develops an idea, implicit in my third proposition above, that political responses to trauma must not be permitted to subsume cultural discourse. It was published in a new volume of the esteemed Routledge Companion series.
My 2010 article, “Tumbling Monoliths: Edouard Glissant’s Césaire and Paris,” published in La Habana Elegante, considers Glissant’s evolution as a writer through his fraught relationship with the legacy of the Négritude movement and particularly with Aimé Césaire’s modernist oeuvre. I argue that Glissant sees in Paris a comparison with Césaire himself, because the French colonial empire’s glorification of Paris as the nucleus of the world parallels, on a different scale, the elder poet’s positioning as the central figure in the Négritude movement’s re-centering of the Black self. Glissant engages in a paradoxical reclaiming of Césaire and Paris that arises from his understanding of repetition as the symptom and therapeutic remedy of trauma: repetition is the trace of inessential difference in Césaire’s poetics, just as the repetitious, rationalized and ultimately isolating Parisian architecture signals the reasons for the crumbling from within of France’s imperial edifice. This article, which forms a theoretical counterpart to my essay on Appelfeld’s postmodernism, appeared in La Habana Elegante, in a special issue on cross-cultural “insular literature.”
A chapter from 2009, “Otherwise Occupied: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in the Francophone Cinema,” published in The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in the Francophone World, bridges two topics of my research: Jewish studies (Israel in particular) and postcolonial studies. Although the essay functions as a survey, the argument I make in it relates to the ways in which traumatic history tends to become politically displaced when it is not addressed directly in its specific cultural context. My claim is that the ways the Israeli-Palestinian conflict comes to be represented in the French cinema have everything to do with the state’s inability or refusal to confront the history of postcolonial repression that culminated in the Algerian war. In all but a few films, the Mideast conflict in the French cinema thus enacts a kind of proxy cultural war in which the French left and right continue to debate the effects of the Algerian war’s aftermath. This chapter appeared in a collection published by Routledge.
“‘To Rivet and Record:’ Conversion and Collective Memory in Equiano’s Interesting Narrative” (2007), published in Slavery and the Cultures of Abolition: Essays Marking the Bicentennial of the British Abolition Act of 1807 (Essays and Studies in Romanticism), is my only publication whose subject-matter lies primarily outside of the contemporary era; its topic, nevertheless, bears directly on the questions of trauma and collective social dynamics of concern in all of my publications. Here I argue that the recent preoccupation by scholars such as Vincent Carretta with the historical veracity of Equiano’s account may obscure the fact that his rhetorical purposes in writing an autobiography using the tropes of the evangelical conversion narrative have less to do with modern autobiographical identity than with Equiano’s need, as an ex-slave painfully aware of the precariousness of his freedom, to interrogate the deficient framework of racially unmarked national identity extolled in the West. The chapter on Equiano thus serves, in a sense, as a chronological preamble on the potential pitfalls of Western modernity and humanism upon which the rest of my work depends. This paper was published in a volume of the English Association’s prominent Essays & Studies series.
My 2006 article in Prooftexts, “Lost and Found: Aharon Appelfeld’s Hebrew Literary Affiliations and the Quest for a Home in Israeli Letters,” touches on all three of the above ideas. In it, I argue that Appelfeld could not adopt the mythopoeic literary model of his modernist predecessor, H. N. Bialik, who provided the template for a modernist national literary canon in Hebrew. As a Holocaust survivor aware of the socially centrifugal effect of historical trauma, Appelfeld viewed Bialik’s cultural nationalism as inattentive to the fracturing of the heroic Hebrew mythos that the survivors’ experiences of helplessness and isolation introduced. Appelfeld thus needed to create a new literary model that would critique the social exclusion of the survivors while advocating a more inclusive—and, as I argue, highly ambivalent—national vision. This article was published in Prooftexts, perhaps the premier Jewish literary studies journal.
Bibliography of Authored Essays and Reviews
Shlensky, Lincoln. "Edouard Glissant: Creolization and the Event." Callaloo 36.2 (2013). 353-74. Print.
---. "Not (Yet) Speaking to Each Other: The Politics of Speech in Jamaica Kincaid's Postcolonialism." Literature for Our Times: Postcolonial Studies in the Twenty First Century. Bill Ashcroft, Ranjini Mendis, Julie McGonegal, and Arun Mukherjee (eds.). Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2012. 37-51. Print.
---. "Splitting the Difference: Hybridity and Subalternity in Caribbean Postcolonialism." The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature. Eds. Alison Donnell and Michael Bucknor. New York and London: Routledge, 2011. 304-313. Print.
---. "Imagining Justice: The Politics of Postcolonial Forgiveness and Reconciliation, by Julie McGonegal." Book review. ESC: English Studies in Canada. Volume 36.2-3, June/September 2010. 246-255. Print.
---. "Tumbling Monoliths: Edouard Glissant's Cesaire and Paris." La Habana Elegante: Segunda Epoca. No. 47 (Spring-Summer 2010): n. pag. Web (13,063 words). Special issue: "Islands: Insular Literature." Ed. Hernan Diaz. Web.
---. "Otherwise Occupied: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in the Francophone Cinema." The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in the Francophone World. Ed. Nathalie Dubrauwere-Miller. New York: Routledge, 2009. 105-119. Print.
---. "'To Rivet and Record:' Conversion and Collective Memory in Equiano'sInteresting Narrative." Slavery and the Cultures of Abolition: Essays Marking the Bicentennial of the British Abolition Act of 1807. Essays and Studies in Romanticism. Eds. Peter J. Kitson and Brycchan Carey. Cambridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2007. 110-129. Print.
---. "Lost and Found: Aharon Appelfeld's Hebrew Literary Affiliations and the Quest for a Home in Israeli Letters." Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History 26:3 (Winter 2006): 405-448. Print.
---. "Mandrakes from the Holy Land, by Aharon Megged." Book review. 1475 words. Shofar 25:1 (2006). Print.