A Poetics Against Fragmentation

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Throughout his career, Brathwaite has developed a series of cultural concepts that shed important light on his poetry. The most important is the notion of fragmentation, by which he refers to the geographical, historical, cultural, political, ethnic, and linguistic realities of the West Indies. To deal with fragmentation, Brathwaite believes, a West Indian writer’s mission is to establish political and ethnic unification by helping forge a national culture.

Connected to fragmentation is the idea of “the submerged,” by which Brathwaite refers to the “base” of the fragments preserved in the racial memory of Amerindians and Afro-Caribbeans. This submerged culture, similar to the geographical formation that connects the individual Caribbean islands at the base of the ocean, is a potential force for the sea change of unification. Brathwaite sometimes personifies the submerged as the untamable and uncolonizable Sycorax, the mother of the colonized subject Caliban in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest (pr. 1611, pb. 1623). On other occasions, he calls it nam, which he defines as “secret name, soul-source, connected with nyam (eat), yam (root food), nyame (name of god)”; nam is “the heart of our nation-language which comes into conflict with the cultural imperial authority.” As the “core” inside the protective mask, nam represents the survivability and spirituality of the Afro-Caribbean.

In literary terms, to overcome fragmentation by means of the submerged entails a conscious effort to develop what...

(The entire section is 659 words.)