Unruly Women Who Put Themselves First

Many thanks to Peter Jordens for helping us following up on our previous posts New Book: A Regarded Self and Kaiama Glover’s A Regarded Self. In “Unruly Women Who Put Themselves First,” Eve Glasberg (Columbia University News) interviews the author, explaining that this new book “celebrates female protagonists who champion individual rights over community restraints.”

In her new book, A Regarded SelfKaiama Glover, the Ann Whitney Olin Professor of French and Africana Studies at Barnard, reframes Caribbean literary studies by championing unruly female protagonists who refuse to abide by the constraints of their communities. Concentrating on novels by Marie Chauvet, Maryse Condé, René Depestre, Marlon James, and Jamaica Kincaid, Glover shows how these authors’ women characters enact practices of freedom that privilege the self in ways unmediated and unrestricted by group affiliation. They challenge the primacy of the community over the individual and propose provocative forms of being. [. . .]

Q. Why did you write this book?

A. I wrote this book in the hopes of opening up a conversation about how we judge women’s self-centeredness when that centering of the self doesn’t contribute to an explicitly polis-facing agenda or practice. How do we value—do we value?—expressions of individual freedom that don’t amount to explicitly anti-racist, feminist, or otherwise political projects? What is individual freedom worth if it doesn’t attach to collective liberation?

I was looking for answers to those questions. And I wanted to think about how women’s aspiring to adamant self-regard might be viewed as an ethical practice, even in the context of ostensibly progressive, liberating, or otherwise righteous communities—or communities that seem to be so, but are revealed to be differently coercive.

Q. Can you give some examples from the book of female protagonists who challenge the constraints of coercive communities?

A. Since the whole book is about protagonists who fit that description, you’re really asking me to play favorites here. I can’t do that, so I’ll indulge in a few words on each of them. Maryse Condé’s Tituba Indian goes head-to-head with the religious-cum-political patriarchal authority of the New England Puritans by adamantly privileging her own erotic humanity; Marie Chauvet’s Lotus Delgrave literally puts her life on the line in a colorist political context where opposing communities do battle through women’s bodies and within the domestic space; René Depestre’s barely escaped zombie Hadriana Siloé breaks the mold of passive victim, refusing to let her self and its pleasures be sacrificed for the benefit of her struggling community.

Jamaica Kincaid’s Xuela Claudette Richardson reminds us of the intramural conflicts around hemispheric American indigenism that remain unsettled within postcolonial Afro-Caribbean communities; Marlon James’s Lilith chooses her self—and her complicated love for a white overseer—over the political solidarity offered by her enslaved would-be sisters.

Each of these women is arguably “politically incorrect,” both with respect to her narrative community and to our extra-textual community of reader-scholars.

Q. Are there any lessons learned from these Caribbean literary characters that can be applied to crises that women face today?

A. This book emerged from my frustration with how virtue is often expected of women—especially Black women—as a condition of being treated as rights-deserving subjects. In this political climate, where #BlackGirlMagic and Black women’s political contributions are being so widely recognized and heralded, I see these characters as calling on us to interrogate our demands for political heroism from women of color. [. . .]

Q. What’s the last great book that you read?

A. Aimé Césaire’s Notebook of a Return to My Native Land. This gorgeous prose-poem is canonical within the overlapping fields of Caribbean, French and francophone, and postcolonial literary studies, and I’ve read it scores of times, of course, but most recently I returned to it as part of an experiment in collective translating in close conversation. As a professional translator, I sincerely believe that the intimacy of rendering an author’s words in a new language creates a richer, deeper path into a text. Coming back to the Notebook in this way was confirmation of that. [. . .]

For original, full interview, see https://news.columbia.edu/news/new-book-kaiama-glover-a-regarded-self

A Regarded Self: Caribbean Womanhood and the Ethics of Disorderly Being
Kaiama L. Glover
Duke University Press: January 2021
296 pages
ISBN 978-1-4780-1124-8 (pb)
ISBN 978-1-4780-1017-3 (hc)

Online conversation with the author:

Thinking with Kaiama L. Glover
Kaiama L. Glover in conversation with Elsa Dorlin, Carine Zaayman, and Tessa Mars
April 1, 2021, 6:00 – 7:30 pm Central European Time
Research Center for Material Culture, Leiden, The Netherlands

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