Emplacing the Local


Big Talk, Small Places: The Caribbean Epic

Wesleyan University

As genre, the epic makes large and pretentious claims: it’s very old, it’s very big, it’s a myth of national origins—even more, it’s universal. In this talk, I will discuss V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas as epic, which it is generally conceded to be, but as a specifically Caribbean, even specifically East Indian West Indian—an Indo-Trinidadian—epic. It’s big in the sense that it’s long, but it’s neither old nor national, and only arguably universal. Historically the descendants of indentured servants, the East Indian community in Trinidad numerically counts for almost 50 percent of the island’s population, but is virtually invisible in the cultural, national, and international imaginary. The Caribbean is imagined as an “African” space, a “Black” place. A House for Mr. Biswas is embedded in the absent space of Indo-Trinidad. Its epic thrust is to convert that absence into a specific place, a nationalist originary myth, and to make a claim to universalistic representation. It does so through an engagement with literary form, moving from the genre of the epic, which it parodies, to the novel, which is necessarily capitalist.

MONDAY, APRIL 15, 2013  |  6 P.M.  |  RUSSELL HOUSE