Books—Literary Drowning: Postcolonial Memory in Irish and Caribbean Writing

Stephanie Pocock Boeninger’s Literary Drowning: Postcolonial Memory in Irish and Caribbean Writing was published by Syracuse University Press in October 2020. The author examines traditional rituals of memorialization and the role of memory in literary depictions of drowned bodies. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for sharing this information.]

Literary depictions of drowning or burial at sea provide fascinating glimpses into the often-conflicted human relationship with memory. For many cultures and religious traditions, properly remembering the dead involves burial, a funeral, and some kind of grave marker. Traditional rituals of memorialization are disturbed by the drowned body, which may remain lost at sea or be washed up unrecognized on a distant shore.

The first book of its kind, Literary Drowning explores depictions of the drowned body in twentieth-century Irish and Caribbean postcolonial literature, uncovering a complex transatlantic conversation that reconsiders memory, forgetfulness, and the role that each plays in the making of the postcolonial subject and nation. Faced with fissures in cultural memory, postcolonial writers often identify their situation—and their nation’s—with that of the drowned body. Floating aimlessly without a grave, unmemorialized and perhaps unremembered, the drowned corpse embodies the troubled memory of the postcolonial nation or individual.

Boeninger follows a trail of drowned bodies and literary influence from the turn-of-the-century Irish playwright J. M. Synge, through the poems and plays of St. Lucian Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, to the lesser-known work of Guyanese British novelist and poet David Dabydeen, and finally to the contemporary Irish plays of Marina Carr. Each author, while borrowing from those who came before, changes the image of the drowned body to reflect different facets of the project of remembering postcolonially.

Stephanie Pocock Boeninger is associate professor of English at Providence College, specializing in modern drama. She is the author of numerous articles on Irish and Caribbean literature in journals such as Modern DramaContemporary Literature, and Theatre Journal.

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