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Open Access Reading the archipelago

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Reading the archipelago

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image of New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids

[First paragraph]A History of Literature in the Caribbean, Volume 3: Cross-Cultural Studies. JAMES A. ARNOLD (ed.). Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1997. xvii + 399 pp. (Cloth US$ 120.00)The Other America: Caribbean Literature in a New World Context. J. MICHAEL DASH. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1998. xii + 197 pp. (Cloth US$ 42.50, Paper US$ 18.50)In his most recent theoretical work, Traite du Tout-Monde, Edouard Glissant stresses the virtues of what he calls "archipelagic thinking." "The entire world is becoming an archipelago," he asserts (1997:194), and for this reason we need to distance ourselves from both insular and continental ways of thinking if we are to register the complexities of that global creolization process. The archipelago is situated between the solitary confines of the islands that constitute it and the expansive territory of the mainland toward which it points, relating the one to the other while retaining its own indeterminately distinct identity. For Glissant, actual archipelagos such as the Caribbean are exemplary sites for understanding the complex new relations that ambivalently and chaotically join together all the hitherto unconnected parts of the world. As a consequence of this, the need for understanding the Caribbean as an archipelago becomes ever more pressing: the Caribbean must be considered in its archipelagic totality, as a region that can only be adequately understood through comparative, cross-cultural analysis focusing less on its discrete parts than on the way these parts exist in relation with and to one another.

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