‘Making Eden a Reality’: Caribbean Ecopoetics and Ethnic Environment in Andrea Gunraj’s The Sudden Disappearance of Seetha

Wiebke Beushausen (Heidelberg University)

Abstract

Literary scholars have only recently started to investigate the treatment of the environment as well as the interrelation of nature and culture in Caribbean fiction and poetry. Caribbean ecopoetics not only engages in ecological themes and strategies to aestheticize nature in fiction, but also takes into account the specific contexts of dispossession of the land and human bodies as well as colonial exploitation and the making of the postcolonial state. By applying an ecopoetical methodological approach, this paper contributes to the increasing scholarly field of postcolonial ecocriticism in Caribbean studies, foregrounding such pressing issues as environmental damage, ethno-politics and related processes of ‘othering.’ In addition, the juxtaposition of ecopoetics and ethnic environment helps to understand the way literature deals with human interaction with nature, access to resources, racial conflict and hierarchies of human and non-human bodies. This ecopoetical reading of Andrea Gunraj’s debut novel, The Sudden Disappearance of Seetha (2009), a vivid portrayal of the heartland of an unnamed Caribbean country that resembles Guyana in its geographic structure and ethno-political composition during the Burnham era, critically highlights the capitalist exploitation of land and people, but also foregrounds the aesthetic function of the vegetation in the problematization of this relationship. The novel creates a microcosm in which the socio-ethnic structures of power and oppression characteristic for large parts of the post-independence Caribbean are reproduced, in which the hierarchic relation of wilderness and civilization is deconstructed, and in which the dichotomous notion of nature and culture needs to be re-negotiated.

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