Beauty's Blemish: Figuring Caribbean Landscapes

The environmental figures that seek to portray the Caribbean's strange place in the world can be easily recalled and most attributed to the work of male poets and thinkers Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, Antonio Benítez-Rojo, and Édouard Glissant which often feature the sea or the ocean. But looking inward into the island,1 different textures of figuration allow us to feel and discern other perspectival glances that surround and ground the plight and promise of these islands. Wilson Harris calls the landscapes living and musical, while Édouard Glissant signals that the history of the Caribbean is underground a positional line of sight that inspired many scholars and most assuredly allowed for a view from the bottom, to think with Mimi Sheller.2 A place like the Caribbean inspires multiple poetics, political movements, and tropological perspectives. For Suzanne Césaire, the trope of camouflage better corresponds to the ambivalent beauty of these tropics an undeniable topographical beauty that can function as a seductive smokescreen for suffering. This perspectival shift, from oceanic vista to island interior, matters if we seek to find relief from the scene of the tourist beach, to abandon the watery horizons of oceans and seas, and to keep our gaze in the Caribbean rather than outward, looking to elsewhere. In what follows, I trace the motif of camouflage, first figured in Caribbean letters by Suzanne Césaire in her 1945 essay "The Great Camouflage," as a dangerous invitation to take yet another look at the Caribbean to see what its beauty hides and to see that which finds relief in its dense ecology. Caribbean figuration of flora and fauna and people have long been acknowledged as entangled matters,3 reaching back to the multiple indigenous cosmologies that were in dynamic flux upon colonial contact, transforming with waves of transplantation of both person and flora, and playing crucial roles in the taxonomic practices of coloniality itself. Such taxonomies often undergirded the strong, colonial ideation of paradise one Columbus clung to madly and insistently with the supposition that he had "discovered" the Terrestrial Eden. Such haunting figurations of the Caribbean matter urgently in relation to humans and the more-than-human world as their topographical and tropical discourse may cloak more insidious forms of persistent coloniality, racism, extractivism, and gendered violence.

Recent attention in ecocritical studies asks us to consider what genres and modes, what figurative constellations, can best help us to envisage something like deep time or "the Anthropocene." Meanwhile, Caribbean letters and movements have always harnessed figurative language, steeped in the elemental, to consider a place that is not one place, but many grounded in the abyssal archives of the Middle Passage and the Kala Pani. So too has recent scholarship on the Caribbean refuted how disaster capitalism creates purchase on creating crisis and, also, how any environmental crisis is compounded by ongoing coloniality and dispossession4. The Caribbean, then, requires nimble thinking even dashing considerations. This present juncture marks a moment for re-reading Césaire's writing, which strikes as particularly prescient. Césaire's articulation of camouflage shows how the Caribbean's beauty cloaks legacies of enslavement and coloniality, but so too does she give especial mention to the even further difficulty of seeing women "of four races and dozens of bloodlines." 5

This attention to gender in an essay that does not thematically center gender may seem like a small detail, but even those who heavily critique the way the map has been drawn and figured by colonial phantasy can lapse into a naturalization of land that reimposes perhaps not paradise, but certainly female and fecund tropological overlays as they narrate the catastrophes of colonialism through modernity. One particularly grounding metaphor, using racialized women's walk, surfaces as that which wards off the end of all. Early in La isla que se repite, Antonio Benítez-Rojo talks about how two Afro-Cuban women walk, "de cierta manera," or in a certain way. This anecdote operates as a hinge and a catalyst for Benítez-Rojo's writing in a few ways. First, this rhythmic, racialized, and gendered walking follows a rather inflated moment wherein Benítez Rojo relates to us how he came to nothing less than reason itself. The story likens him to "the hero of Sartre's novel" and situates this hero in Cuba after Havana has evacuated children because nuclear threat seems nigh. As everyone waits for news fearing apocalypse:

Mientras la burocracia estatal buscaba noticias de onda corta y el ejército se atrincheraba inflamado por los discursos patrióticos y los comunicados oficiales, dos negras viejas pasaron "de cierta manera" bajo mi balcón. Me es imposible describir esta "cierta manera". Solo diré que había un polvillo dorado y antiguo entre sus piernas nudosas, un olor de albahaca y hierbabuena en sus vestidos, una sabiduría simbólica, ritual, en sus gestos y en su chachachero. Entonces supe de golpe que no ocurriría el apocalipsis.6

While the state bureaucracy searched for news off the shortwave or hid behind official speeches and communiques, two old black women passed "in a certain kind of way" be-neath my balcony. I cannot describe this "certain kind of way"; I will say only that there was a kind of ancient and golden powder between their gnarled legs, a scent of basil and mint in their dress, a symbolic, ritual wisdom in their gesture and their gay chatter. I knew then at once that there would be no apocalypse.7

This saunter, this walk, he says assures him that the Caribbean will be spared because it is not apocalyptic, not phallic. This phrase, "de cierta manera," will carry much force in the "conjuring away of the apocalypse." And as it conjures away the end of the world, it also concomitantly is part and parcel of the stuff of Caribbean culture the mystical or magical that is "el légamo de las civilizaciones que se contribuyeron a Ia formación de la cultura caribeña. //The loam of civilizations that contributed to the formation of Caribbean culture."8 El légamo is translated in the English edition as loam, though it can also mean clay or mud. It is a wet, fecund earth, ritualistically rebirthing islands that can repeat themselves through a disavowed Black mater(nal). The Caribbean is often figured as a womb, a dark womb in La isla que se repite. Wilson Harris, too, uses womb metaphors in his creolized, Caribbean musings, as Édouard Glissant uses the womb abyss to anchor his Poetics of Relation. The womb, the uterus, the hystera serves to figuratively ground the Caribbean as one birthed through the Black mater(nal)9 with little regard to the material wombs of enslaved and colonized persons, often women,10 that endured so much rape, forced sterilization, and unsanctioned medical testing in and across the Caribbean through to the mid-Twentieth century a horror most recently revived in ICE detention centers in the United States. Such figurations of the Caribbean as grounded in a disavowed Black(ened) maternal, most acutely, haunt many renderings of Caribbean landscapes and can hide in plain sight as the beauty of an Afro-Cuban woman's saunter becomes a rhetorical tool to universally save the Caribbean, rather than thinking at the distinct perspective that is hers, that necessitates her walk, that shows how she may use rhythm to get by. This feminist and figurative critique does not seek to diminish the truly fantastic thinking of landscape in specifically Glissant's Caribbean Discourse and Poetics of Relation that do not hinge upon a feminized oceanic womb, nor am I reducing Wilson Harris who, as a landscape surveyor, had intimate conversation with what he called a living landscape. Rather, it is the easily recalled watery poetics of Caribbean figuration that I most want to reconsider from a non-progressivist stance, that is to look before these figurations, now familiar, to read one that offers a prescient, urgent, and abiding problem that confounds how one may witness the Caribbean.

In order to trace the enmeshed issue of thinking race, ecology, and gender together, I turn to Shani Mootoo's 1996 Cereus Blooms at Night to think, through Césaire's provocative hermeneutic, how the elemental charge of the Caribbean remains one to both see and unsee: a figurative entanglement of coloniality, queerness, and gender that refuses to cloak over the grounds of suffering that makes sharing an identity difficult. Smokescreens cover over harm and trauma of the novel's supposedly mad protagonist who, importantly, neither narrates the story nor speaks in the literary present of the novel: Mala Ramchandin. Instead, Mala inhabits a place of vegetation and destruction; and her story can only be glimpsed or sensed after ruination11 turns to fire. After having been left by her Indo-Caribbean mother and her mother's illicit, white girlfriend, an affair that scandalizes both in its lesbianism and miscegenation, she alone defends her younger sister by submitting to her father's drunken, serial rape. Years of this abuse isolate both Mala and her father, while her sister somehow escapes a final abandonment for Mala. After years of isolation and abuse, Mala reunites with childhood friend Ambrose, who returns home from missionary work in the Global North and their sexual tryst is discovered by her father, Chandin. Mala attacks Chandin who becomes violent beyond measure in his discovery of Mala's time with Ambrose and she commits patricide when he erupts. After this murder, Mala is once again abandoned, deemed mad by Ambrose and the larger community. Left to her plot of land, she fastidiously allows the house to fall into disrepair a house which has become her father's mausoleum as his corpse is boarded up in the home that she encourages to rot through the fortification of decay and pestilience. Many read a queer ecology in Mala's hands and it's true that the 1996 novel does much to remind us of how queer the natural world can be. However, read through the ambivalent hermeneutic of camouflage, the traumatic story remains open, un-foreclosed, and beyond the reaches of either political instrumentalization or allegorical catharsis. With both Suzanne Césaire and Shani Mootoo's fiery writings, the question of colonized women's positionality become both fundament and limit a stubborn, unruly, but also unromanticized, referential dilemma. Both texts place Caribbean women and landscape as proximate, enfolded, and resonant, but so too do both texts show us the political and epistemic limits of colonial language as that which shares or extends relation whether it be the censorship of surrealist defiance, the overextension of identity categories, or the unnecessary translation of a material sensorium into taxonomic categorization. It is in the tension between source and sharing, or ground and relation, that camouflage figures the Caribbean as a site for recursive reading and scalar recalibration at the level of both the narratable and the ordering of bodies.

Camouflage: We Do Not Share a Language

Often writing and working alongside, but in the shadow of her husband, Aimé, Suzanne Césaire's writerly career remained unseen and eclipsed as the first wave of anticolonial defiance the Caribbean favored, like many movements, the work of men. Nevertheless, Suzanne Césaire was a force that propelled the work of Négritude, political discourse in both France and Martinique. Her prescient, urgent thinking surfaces in the few essays she wrote, defiantly, in the journal Tropiques, which ran from 1941-45Maryse Condé credits her as both the theorist of Négritude and, also, as someone who pushed the concept beyond its essentialist limits to a literary cannibalism.12 Césaire's best-known essay, "The Great Camouflage," is also her last writing that figures the Caribbean as a place of both incredible vitality and also devastating disenfranchisement, suffering, and political strife. When gazing over the Caribbean, the overall perspective of the essay shifts kinetically. Ekphrastic renderings of material life figure a Caribbean that is actively processual through dynamics of fire, earth, water, and wind an elemental mélange from which to sense and "see" the Caribbean. And seeing the Caribbean, visualizing it,13 seems to be the problem for Césaire, a problem that the native, anticolonial surrealist grapples with poetically, learning how to un-see a smokescreen of beauty. Césaire begins her essay if the genre can even do justice to these short, poetically dense pages with the fact of islands and their surrounding water: "There are, melded into the isles, beautiful green waves of water and of silence" (39). These existential clauses refract differing vantage points from which to consider the existence of all that is in the Caribbean, shifting from the "pretty square in Pétoinvile" to Césaire's own island of Martinique. The essay's perspective moves in scale and vantage throughout the essay, sometimes portraying Césaire's own sight and, at others, vantage points from a "master" who has just lost his horse to the elemental charge of lightning. At other times, the perspective is that of passengers on a plane so high above that islands appear as mere seashells. In this inaugural paragraph, we move from the existential clauses, to Césaire' sight, to this master who has lost his horse to "the age-old killer storm," significantly in Haiti. Such a loss at the hands of natural forces creates a "sudden access to terrestrial madness" which "illuminates his heart: he begins to think about the other Caribbean islands, their volcanoes, their earthquakes, their hurricanes" (39). Silence punctuates existential clauses that refract differing vantage points from which to consider what can be seen from what kind of figural perspectives. The movement shifts from person to plane, from island to island, tracing swerving movements from beach to interior. Silence creates a constantly shifting synesthesia that figures hearing/not hearing and seeing/not seeing--a crisis of sense and perspective.

Césaire published her most famous essay while Martinique was under the Petainist regime with its French colonial rule now occupied by the Nazi regime an occupied occupier. During these years, the collapse of Eurocentrism seemed nigh as Europe was waging a war that implicated, without consent, huge swaths of colonies. It is in this tense, dire, but also hopeful moment, that Caribbean poetics was charged by the ambivalence of the moment when Europe revealed itself to be genocidal enough to bring ethnic cleansing home. Suzanne Césaire pens the cannibalistic, surrealist trope of camouflage, which imbricates both beauty and suffering registered in this hostile landscape of the Antilles. Guided by cyclones that move between islands, news reports, historical events, and other sociogenic forces, often meditating on the specific, historical plight of Afro-Caribbean peoples, the anecdotal and poetic visions unsettle how and where and from what vantage the Caribbean is seen. To witness the Caribbean is both to see and not see: to know there's a cyclone churning off the coast of Puerto Rico while cicadas scream their ecstatic sonics in the denouement of death in Haiti, while also knowing, full well, that Mount Pélee may erupt again in Martinique. This Caribbean figuration features the whole of the archipelago in part and parcel, in ecstasy and danger, and as a place that overwhelms with vitality figured as vegetal fire the whole of the Caribbean in conflagration. These elemental figurations stand in stark contrast to the deadening work of the factory, the fascist shadow that technological warfare cast upon the globe, and the dashing failures of both colonization and decolonization. Between deadening fascism and vital, unruly ecology, Césaire weaves a trope of camouflage to understand patterns of beauty that both reveal and obscure through games of hide-and-seek.14 The cloak of paradise15 imposed on the Caribbean, as well as its abundant, flourishing life, makes it difficult to see the torments of these islands. Camouflage, as a figure that warns us of this difficulty in perception, enables us to consider how and why colonial configurations of the life worlds in the Caribbean continually envision it as a place of Edenic virginity long past deforestation, due to the favored monocultures of the plantation matrix which so easily evolved into the tertiary services that now rule the archipelago: the tourist industry and financial offshoring in the Caribbean. Suzanne Césaire's Négritude carries these ambivalences to the ones who suffer the most: "Blacks in the Americas." She pulls out a tension within the vitalist aspects of her thinking by underscoring the very alive afterlife of slavery: "If we are proud to observe everywhere on American soil our extraordinary vitality, if definitively this vitality seems to hold out the promise of our salvation, one must, however, dare to say that refined forms of slavery still run rampant" (41).

While airplanes allow for an aerial view of the archipelago, one may have the sense of a perspective that can see the whole of the island, but this is seeing "nothing" seeing only that which can be seen on a map or from on high: "On the planes they bring forth the disinfectants, or the ozone, whatever, you will see nothing. Nothing but the sea and the indistinct outline of lands" (40). This latter sentence shows how limited aerial and water bounded figurations of the Caribbean may be they obscure the quotidian machinations of life on these islands. Starting aboard a plane and then moving into what cannot be seen from this aerial and privileged vantage point, Césaire writes the distant view of these "small places":

Our islands seen from above, take on their true dimension as seashells.  And as for the hummingbird-women, tropical flower-women, the women of four races and dozens of bloodlines, they are there no longer. Neither the heliconia, nor the frangipani, nor the flame tree, nor the palm trees in the moonlight, nor the sunsets unlike any other in the world . . .

Yet they are there. (40)

Women, enfolded into landscape, become a punctuated absent-presence in Césaire's writing and, though she does not return to women in particular, I linger over this ambivalent statement to consider the racialized and gendered aspects of seeing and figuring the Caribbean.16 The figure of the hummingbird-woman comes from both poetics, a frequent trope tied to Suzanne Césaire in Aimé Césaire's poetry, and may also have gained figurative force from Amerindian cosmologies that considered these tiny, resilient birds the reincarnated souls of dead warriors. While the hummingbird takes flight in Négritude poetry, this figuration of hybridization with flora and fauna signals not a return to Africa as source, but instead an acknowledgement of at least four races and dozens of bloodlines that create the nonce taxonomies of race in the Caribbean. Walker warns against reducing such a poetic and cosmological figure to mere essentialism: "It should be observed that the recognition of the interpenetration of indigenous and neo-indigenous bloodlines and cultures hybridity, métissage, or creoleness is for Suzanne Césaire neither a new essentialism nor a flight from the fundamental fact and immanent lived condition of blackness in the Antilles and in the world" (xvii). These hybrid women, entangled with both bloodlines as well as flora and fauna, figure the challenge of the camouflaging beauty of the tropics and the ongoing question of how to figure the relations that flourish, those both sustaining and harmful, in the Caribbean. In showing how difficult it is to truly see these women, Césaire's essay functions, upon re-reading, as a proleptic diagnostic about how figurations of the Caribbean will be haunted by not only coloniality, but also a deeply entrenched notion of racialized, colonized women, certainly axially indexed to logics of anti-Blackness, as a fundament that can ward off the apocalypse or extend relation only in its engulfed disavowal as evidentiary fundament.

The question of gender and sex appears just once more in the essay, as Césaire poetically traces Eurocentric anxieties over the layered, melded bloodlines in the Antilles. In this way, blood adds to the elemental mélange and disequilibrium of the Antilles as this thinker of Négritude sardonically displays how métissage fills the colonist with fear and rebukes the United States' imperial obsession with racial metrics of purity exemplified by the one drop rule. In this tropological reversal of perspectives around the charged figure of the colonized subject as child, Césaire depicts this anxious, paternal gaze as the colonizer's encapsulated by "metropolitan functionaries" on the beach:

They dare note recognize themselves in this ambiguous being, the Antillean. They know that the métis have a part of their blood, that they are, like them, of Western civilization . . . They were not expecting this strange burgeoning of their blood. Perhaps they would not like to respond to the Antillean heir who shouts, but does not shout out "my father" (43).

Not seeing, here, which shifts into an inability to hear a muffled cry, is a disavowal of the very paternalistic discourse used in colonial discourse, as well as the coeval, intermingled bloodlines. In exposing the willful ignorance of colonial architecture's sexual relations,17 Césaire infuses her Négritude as one that prefigures theories of antillanité and creolité.18 A child cries but does not cry, eyes see but do not see, the women of a dozen bloodlines are "no longer there . . . yet they are there." The dizzying poetics of this short essay attends to the "invisible vegetation of desires" which Césaire hopes will be the grounds from which revolution will "spring up, inevitably" (44). Yet, that will inevitability requires that "tropical flames [be] kindled no longer" in the many plants of the Caribbean, but instead the flames will now be found "in the hungers, and in the fears, in the hatreds, in the ferocity, that burn in the hollows of the mountains" (45). Vitalism turns to fire's flames licked by hunger, fear, hatred, and ferociousness that register in the landscape ablaze. Fire subtends the archipelago as source and as potential ruin, perhaps most exemplified in Suzanne Césaire's witness of the 1932 Mount Pélée eruption which pales in comparison to the 1902 eruption. The former claimed an estimated 30,000 within minutes, destroying Saint-Pierre and making it the most violent volcanic eruption of the twentieth century.

Césaire's fire is at once deeply material and, also poetically charged as a political force. The end of the essay culminates with a fiery invocation of the deep, cutting ambivalence of the perceived beauty of the Caribbean:

It is thus that the Caribbean conflagration blows its silent fumes, blinding for only the eyes that know how to see, and suddenly the blues of the Haitian mountains, of the Martinican bays, turn dull, suddenly the most blazing reds go pale, and the sun is no longer a crystal play of light . . .

If my Antilles are so beautiful, it is because the great game of hide-and-seek has succeeded, it is then because, on that day, the weather is most certainly too blindingly bright and beautiful to see therein. (45-46)

But camouflage also protects through its blending into the background, through its flourishing and fractal textures that allow it to be both seen and unseen and this surrealist poetics of the journal offered a defense mechanism which allowed Tropiques to flourish, under hostile conditions, for some time.

That time ran short with increasing censorship from the Vichy controlled Martinican government. Suzanne Césaire herself would take issues of Tropiques to the information offices of Admiral Roberts for review and for the necessary paperwork for publication. In this sense, the surrealist and highly formal flourishes of the articles and poetries therein allowed for their publication a technique familiar to those enslaved and colonized a double speech through aesthetic means. On May 10, 1943, the censors caught onto the work that Tropiques had been doing since 1941, objecting to "a revolutionary, racial, and sectarian review" (xvii). Further censorship entailed with these pronounced asides: that the editors are government officials, that they are professors, and, most emphatically, that they are French. The letter ends on a note of conviction of the writers of Tropiques from Hitlerism's outpost in Martinique: "As for you, you believe in the power of hate, of revolt, and the goal you have set is the free unleashing of every instinct, of every passion. It is a return to barbarism pure and simple" (xxix). Against this indictment, Suzanne Césaire penned the response to the letter of Petainist law stating that none of the "epithets is essentially repugnant to us" and responded in a manner of surrealist cannibalism: "'Sectarians,' passionately like Rimbaud and Lautréamont. 'Racists,' yes. Racism like that of Toussaint Louverture, Claude McKay and Langston Hughes against the racism of that Drumont and Hitler" (xxix). Césaire takes on the language of her incriminator and inflates it, cannibalizes it, and conflagrates it ending with a defiant note on language itself: "As for the rest, expect from us neither a plea, nor vain recriminations, not even debate. We do not speak the same language"(xxix-xxx, emphasis added). Written in French to French occupiers, this final statement refuses relation in language through language. While all the editors of Tropiques signed the letter, Suzanne Césaire was its author. Such a moment of defiance could have ended in imprisonment, or worse, but such was the courage and risky writing of Suzanne Césaire who knew that to concede would be to assimilate, which would be no liberation at all.

Cryptic Sources or Ambivalent Informants

And yet, one cannot merely celebrate the forceful, vitalist ethos of "The Great Camouflage" without some ambivalence because, as Donna Jones has so rigorously articulated, the Césaires, and the Négritude movement more generally, gleaned this depiction of life forces from a questionable source, Leo Frobenius. 19 Frobenius was a German ethnologist and archaeologist who traveled through Africa, documenting customs and theorizing some rather dubious claims about "white civilization" that must have existed in Africa prior to colonial contact this was referred to as his "African Atlantis" thesis. Despite this legacy, Léopold Sédar Senghor praised Frobenius, as did both Aimé and Suzanne Césaire, for explaining a gestalt theory of destructive civilizations during a time of fascist, world-ending energies. Later, figures like Wole Soyinka would strongly rebuke Frobenius's racist ethnography as a "free direct invitation to a free-for-all race for dispossession."20 What Césaire found in Frobenius was an explanation of civilization emanating from the very continent that Négritude sought to return to, not uncomplicatedly, as source but so too did she find a potential category for "Euro-American man" who had been "seized with a veritable madness for science, technology, machines, the result of which has been the creative imperialist thought of the world economy and its encircling of the globe" (9). As such, the ambivalence of life under fascism found itself refracted through a fraught source, but one that, in its deep Germanness, did seem to describe a global imposition of category that cut down to a deeply bipolar mode of existence on the world, understood as the Global North, at war with itself.21 We must consider, then, that the vitalism of Césaire's essay derives from an ethnographic source that puts pressure on broader discourses of vitalism. Life philosophy is infused with these problematics and they take shape in Césaire's figure of the plant-woman, gleaned from Frobenius but so too does her essay trouble a purist African blood source, thus troubling an easy transplantation of Frobenius's ethnographic racism. That is, the use of Frobenius does not cohere with Césaire's larger interest in métissage and, in particular, with the women of many races and bloodlines that signal an unseen, or unthought positionality in "The Great Camouflage." Her use of this vitalism, then, shifts in her published essays in Tropiques  an ambivalent appropriation to be sure, but one that demands to be read under the relative dearth of African sources for the writers of Négritude understanding themselves in the Caribbean just decades after so-called liberation from enslavement, a faux-liberation that machinated indentureship. The ambivalence of source remains an issue for reading.

Camouflage obscures and, also, has felicitous and strange etymological roots that help us to see its tropological force in Césaire's writing. The word comes directly from French in the late 19th century, deriving from camoufler, which means to disguise, which was originally slang used most commonly by thieves. It may also derive from the French camouflet  a word whose first usages connoted a whiff or puff of smoke in the face and morphed to mean a rebuff or an affront. Currently, a camouflet is used in military science as a kind of underground bomb or mine that leaves a cavity of gas or smoke strategically deployed as a militaristic technique. Camouflets may be used to make a cavern near a tunnel or major structure, thus undermining the foundations of the structure. Camouflage itself can be a militaristic texture, but became so only relatively recently during the first World War, the second iteration of which Césaire was witnessing from the conflagrating Caribbean. Moreover, it is a militancy that takes so-called natural background as cover. In this way, any good camouflage has to know the ground upon which it seeks refuge. It is a prescient critique of development and modernity daring not only at the level of rhetoric, but more compoundedly given the force of its speech which garnered censure from the Vichy controlled Martinican colonial government. In a sharp rebuke of the censorship, Césaire declines to further react or respond, saying that they "do not speak the same language."

If fascism crests when its followers unwittingly subscribe to a transparent ideal22, then Césaire's text functions as an urgently pedagogical23 text about the risky writing under fascism and, also, the ways in which such writing may traffic in unquestioned analogies (the "same" language) or foundational sources (Frobenius). Césaire's theorization of camouflage requires an ambivalent reading not to condemn her message for using a questionable source, but to reread what beauty covers, how tragedy can hide in plain sight in paradise, and what sources reveal about themselves over time and time again. Questioning shared language and source materials requires us, at this juncture, to be vigilant about vitalisms and naturalisms that can easily turn to biological determinism, colonial depictions of so-called primitivism, and a romantic relation to ecology. If Césaire felt that Martinicans shared something of an Ethiopian, vegetal way, inspired by Frobenius's questionable writings, Césaire also refuses an order of shared language or resonant meaning with the censorship of the Vichy controlled Martinican government. The risks Césaire took in her writing reflect a tension between politics and aesthetics that take both as entangled, but not programmatically so. Césaire's writing dared a lot to be put into print and, as such, the anti-analogical move that ends Suzanne Césaire's writing career in that journal echoes forcefully. It is in this gesture of refusal, a refusal of sharing language, that I now turn to a text that lauds a shared queerness to return again to question source materials and analogous taxonomies, especially as it concerns the structural position of a racialized, colonized woman's body enfolded into ecological decay. Moving from Césaire's camouflage that pivots from island to island, concerned less with essentialisms and more with ecologies of suffering, I turn to a text that emerges not in the milieu of Négritude but in what may be called Coolitude.24 In so doing, I do not suggest a shared racialization, colonization, gender, or genre to these texts. Rather, Césaire's invective allows me to revisit a text that explores figurations of gender, coloniality, and the Caribbean in ruin just as many were beginning to think about the particular place of feminist and queer discourse in Indo-Caribbean letters and thinking.

Domestic Decay and Queer Ecologies of Care

While Césaire's text is written in a fiery surrealism, Shani Mootoo pens Cereus Blooms at Night as a magical realist text a genre familiar to this hemisphere. In so doing, she can, at once, capture the language of coloniality and, also, push against it through occurrences in the novel that can neither be explained nor categorized by Western taxonomy. And Western taxonomy certainly derived much of its force from the study of plant life, specifically in the Caribbean. And so, auspiciously, the novel begins with the anticipation of a plant: "The Cereus in the yard will bloom soon."25 This opening line inaugurates the narrative of the novel just after the narrator-author figure, Tyler, announces a preface, which I will return to shortly. Such a vegetal beginning opens with anticipation of a cactus vine's nocturnal bloom, an event that occurs but once a year an event that we, the readers, only witness in mediation, a screen memory narrated by Tyler after they've learned of Mala's story and turned that story into an epistle plea, a call for which the response remains pending like the cereus's flowering. The cereus succulent is known for a cyclical bloom and death that occurs nocturnally and inspires rapt attention to the intoxicating scent of its annual blossom. Just under an image of a hornet whose stinger reminds us that nature's cycles are not always painless, we are first introduced to a yard, then the place which is no real place, but a catachresis: Paradise, Lantancamara. The mystery of the crimes above looms large in the novel as the sole witness to the whole story, Mala, has retreated from language and into the sonic cadences of insect and bird song, briefly punctuated by soft calls that use elemental phonemes incantations for a long-lost sister, Asha, to return, as well as self-soothing messages to Mala's split, dissociated younger self: Pohpoh. The cereus blooming becomes both a horizon and marker of time passed. And, indeed, the time of the novel stays hinged at the opening line, waiting for another bloom and letters from a lost sister: Asha. As the novel does, we'll return to this ellipsis as an important narratological marker of how little of this book projects a futurity. The cereus scents become the measure of time that the book conjures in order to make sense of a crime case that is and is not the center the of novel. That crime may be patricide, as it seems that Mala killed her father out of self-defense, but that crime is compounded and entangled, indeed vastly complicated by Mala's subjection to repeated rape by her father who, after his wife leaves him for his childhood love interest, remains encased in colonial, heteropatriarchal legacies of harm and violence resultant from Christian, colonial impositions.

While the narrative of the novel begins and ends with the cereus's blossom, the novel itself begins twice, an enfolded structure of the book wherein we learn of the narrator and the intention of their story before we learn of the story itself. Section one of the novel begins with a page in italics that places faith in language itself. And if not faith, then hope that the novel will reunite two sisters who have been torn apart:

By setting this story down, I, Tyler that is how I am known, simply as Tyler, or if you want to be formal, Nurse Tyler am placing trust in the power of the printed word to reach many people. It is my ardent hope that Asha Ramchandin, at one time a resident of the town of Paradise, Lantanacamara, will chance upon this book, wherever she may be today, and recognize herself and her family. (3)

In this sense, the entirety of the novel is framed as a letter, but a letter that places its faith in fiction. Stories relate and disseminate, but they always also require a reading of source26 of the authorial function and frame. And yet, our author is not the author. If Tyler places faith in language and in intention, then to read Tyler at their word is also to read fiction literally a figurative and referential slip that exceeds the book's form. Tyler warns us against reading, though, their own missive as a mimetic record of events:

Might I add that my own intention, as the relater of this story, is not to bring notice to myself or my own plight. However, I cannot escape myself, and being a narrator who also existed on the periphery of the events, I am bound to be present. I have my own laments and much to tell about myself. It is my intent, however, to refrain from inserting myself too forcefully. Forgive the lapses, for there are some, and read them understanding that to have erased them would have been to do the same to myself. (3)

We can remark upon a few things regarding this opening authorial intention and confession. First, Tyler holds onto a hope that a well told story has the power to move people. Second, that people recognize themselves in story, language, and narrative. Third, that the narrator shifts the story, that the narrator has a profound story of their own, and, finally and perhaps most importantly, that we are to "forgive lapses." These lapses are the faltering of memory, of personal positionality, of time passing, of language failing, and of excavating the story of another, and the seduction of being seen and recognized. What ensues from Tyler's framed address, figured as an epistle, is their reconstruction of the events of Mala's life. But the order of Mala's life is told through asides, shattered memory, reconstructed sources, and we may say speculation.27 The fractured cadences of the text mean that we only learn the kernel of Mala's trauma belatedly, a temporal emplotment that corresponds with the witnessing of trauma and the difficulty of either witnessing, cognating, or reconstructing narratologically sensical accounts of traumatic events.28

Mootoo's novel allows us to see the open-ended reverberations of colonialism and how it is entangled with heteropatriarchal abuse, but such knowledge does little to alleviate suffering. Thought with the ambivalent texture and figuration of Césaire's camouflage, the novel itself performs the irretrievability of a veritable plant-woman a feminine figure racialized through colonial, Christian categorization who remains apart from her town of Paradise in her own home which has turned into a ruinate mausoleum. This feminine figure, entangled with land and the history of indentureship in the Caribbean, when centered, undoes queer ecological desires for progressive healing. Tracing figures of colonial taxonomy, sensuous embodiment,29 and curated camouflage through a reconsideration of Suzanne Césaire's "The Great Camouflage," the novel rather allows us to create an ambivalent relation to the more-than-human world as both intoxicating decay and refuge in finitude. The tacit, opaquely queer relations in the book give us a sensuous, rhizomatic understanding of phenomena like transitioning, care work, and colonial resistance at the level of the body, the environs, and the body politic. And, at the same time, this queerness is not always part of a shared language that is symmetrical and analogical language that can encapsulate and heal. What's more, this abiding openness to the Global North and ambivalence around homes requires readers to question a queerness in the book that is purportedly shared by those who tend to Mala Ramchandin after her home burns down. Queerness itself becomes ambivalent if and when we center Mala's body in our reading of this much celebrated novel. Working with power differentials and legacies of trauma, the following analyses focus on the substrata of racialized women's bodies as a referential dilemma and ongoing ethical concern that pulls us further into entanglement, rather than toward queer liberation.

The problem of naming itself becomes highlighted throughout the novel and the violence of category becomes deeply felt in contradistinction to a kind of "letting be" of natural decay, transmogrification, and life cycles. The first indication of naming as a colonial practice announces itself through the name of the town: Paradise a deeply ambivalent name that, in all of it semiotic and linguistic iconicity, flags a symbolic relation to the beauty and the environs of this non-referential place which best mimics Trinidad, or the closely colonially and racially related Tobago and Guyana. Set in the fictitious town of Lantanacamara, Paradise, the novel offers itself up as a critique of the very notion of the colonial idea(l) of a Terrestrial Eden, a colonial reminder that damns the concept of paradise by making it both a proper name and an allegorical catachresis where the ravages of colonial, racist, and heteropatriachal abuse are registered and negotiated under the cover of decay. Written in a place like Trinidad, Mootoo writes her novel in the ruins left behind by colonial missionaries. These ruins are portrayed in the lives of those that follow, generationally, indentured servants transplanted from India after the so-called "end" of slavery in Trinidad.

Such a gendered racialization certainly partakes in the story of how and when colonial and imperial forces "required" either enslaved African or indentured labor from India and China though these racializations, genders, and colonialities vary vastly. Yet, their colonial apparatus puts them, at times, in competing value precisely in order to separate and divide. Such a tense taxonomic difference, rendered through colonial control, metaphorically engulfed Afro-Caribbeans into the representational aspect of Creole nationalisms and cordoned off Indo-Caribbeans as a perpetual stranger.30 Neither of these impositions would yield "better life" in the Caribbean. Add to this the explicit historical connection between the two forced or difficult migrations and both connections and tensions rise. Because Césaire's invective calls for a perspectival shift by way of considering how little has been seen of the many women of many bloodlines, I take camouflage as a hermeneutic to read the lush ecological terrain of Cereus Blooms at Night with an anticolonial and feminist ambivalence. Thinking with the textural resonance of camouflage, this essay wants to consider how the constituent cultural, material, and geographies of Caribbean may be thought without having to rest upon a sharing of identification.

While there might not be a shared identification with the moment or even author of Césaire's conflagrating essay, the interpellation of Indo-Caribbean women into the workforce of places like Trinidad and Tobago helps us to understand the particularities around the aporetic articulations of Indo-Caribbean women's gender and sexuality. Indo-Caribbean feminists challenged the stereotypes of Indo-Caribbean women as housewives, showing how indentureship created an uneven labor force that strained kinship while wholly relying upon domestic discourse to legitimate the value of Indo-Caribbean women. Rhoda Reddock reminds us that "with few exceptions, Indian women, like their African counterparts before them, came to the Caribbean as workers and not as dependents or, as the planters wished to portray them, 'for other purposes.'"31 In retracing how Indo-Caribbean women navigated gendered constraints and finding both power and precarity in sexuality,32 Reddock demonstrates how quickly perceptions around racial difference have drawn on respectability campaigns that denigrate many in order to show the supposed civilization of a few. Rather than the plantocracy or heteronormative relations, Reddock writes that colonial, Christian missionary schools imposed middle-class housewife ideology33 as morally correct kinship systems which created a stereotype of the "docile Indian housewife who many would have us believe followed her husband from India. On the contrary, the women of the agricultural castes were not then or now housewives" (63). This history becomes encapsulated by the Oedipal, colonial conundrums that surround Chandin as he enters into the Thoroughly's home, family, and cosomology one resonant with the infamous Morton mission and an entrance into it that separates him, that produces a patriarch at odds with his own birth family, and that creates a chaotic conduit for the exercise of colonial control over feminized land and body. The missionary project's violence fulminates in the traumatized, supposedly mad, and often mute, body of Mala Ramchandin and the askance, queer networks of care that tend to her person and, also, put together her life story after she's left language. Language captivates, both in the sense of seduction and the sense of captivity and the name of Paradise foreshadows peril.

Peril is further introduced through the book's opening narration, with the arrival of Mala Ramchandin at a nursing home, received by Nurse Tyler. Mala arrives at the home in a cloak of mystery, rumor, and years of neglect. She's suspected of a crime, though she's quite old and frail. Nurse Tyler narrates with a nearly Nabokovian flair, writing his own auspicious first day at a new job in a nursing home as the center of a storm: "the I and the eye of the scandal" (5). This convenient homonym rhymes the subject of witness with the physical organ of witness, which is also what one would call the center of a hurricane. A cloud enshrouds the town, making it difficult to see, and readers will later learn that this cloud comes from Mala Ramchandin's home burning down. And though Nurse Tyler is the one who "sets the story down," Tyler also refuses to gossip a "spore-like dispersal" (6). We read, here, a lapse or falter because while Tyler refuses to gossip, they do pen a very long, lurid, and detailed letter gleaned from that very gossip reminding us that they have many informants who enter into a spore-like dispersal relating Mala's life story. Tyler's refusal may be unwitting camouflage underscored by the dispersal we read. Cereus Blooms at Night is told through refractions and is reconstructed from differing sources, completely out of sync with any form of linear narrative, utilizing formal ecologies of looped beginnings and endings. Time becomes scrambled in this fictional place that so deeply registers the lasting effects of coloniality's imposition of racialized gender on both lands and peoples.

Layers of information intensify when we learn that Tyler had first heard of Mala's family as a taboo and as an incomplete lesson in the quandaries of sex and kinship before they ever met Mala in the nursing home. As a child of ten, Tyler asks their less religious grandmother, Cigarette Smoking Nana, about kinship systems asking: "Can your Pappy be your Pappy and your Grandpappy at the same time?" (25). Struggling to answer earnestly, Tyler's grandmother begins to tell the story, now lore, of Chandin Ramchandin. Chandin, Mala's father, was a young boy born to indentured servants from India under colonial rule. He's taken out of the poverty of his parents' care by a Reverend, his wife, and their daughter. These missionaries come from a place called the Shivering Northern Wetlands which gesture toward the Global North of both Great Britain and, importantly, Canada. Reverend Thoroughly, a name that indicates the extent of colonial rule, re-educates Chandin at his seminary and, thus, Chandin comes to be a token exemplar of Christianity's civilizational superiority. Chandin falls in love with this white, colonial family and, more emphatically, with their daughter: Lavinia. When the reverend senses his charge's affection, he chastises him saying that Lavinia is his sister and cannot be married to him. Kinship works best when taboos are convenient. Such incestuous implantation, though, has ruinous effects later as the story progresses and the fire of this Christian crusade spreads beyond the convenient myth of missionary service. As time passes, Chandin marries another Indo-Caribbean missionary student, Sarah, who had gone to the Thoroughly's school and has two daughters with her. Lavinia returns to Paradise, single, and resumes her friendship with both Chandin and Sarah only to become Sarah's lover. The two lovers devise a plan to leave with Sarah's daughters, but upon their escape the timing falters and Sarah and Lavinia take off without the girls. In his grief and humiliation, Chandin takes his daughters to bed or, as Cigarette Smoking Nana puts it, he had "pick up with his daughter" (47). She hastens to add that said daughter didn't have children with her father. The ellipsis hangs on the what-if-he-had and Tyler's kinship lesson remains incomplete, interrupted by their mother's return from work. But the insinuation at the end of the story lingers in Tyler's mind: "Over the years I pondered gender and sex roles that seemed available to people, and the rules that went with them." These ponderings come back to Tyler as they connect the Ramchandin of then and now wondering what their grandmother might make of all this, including their "own nature." Further musing on secrets and the relations of those who find themselves "fortified against the rest of the world" as they see their kinship with Mala to a bloom in "affiliation" which they describe a few lines down as a "shared queerness" (48). Much has been made over the strange ecology of queer relations that flourish in the novel. In caring for Mala, Tyler comes into contact with the one who takes Mala out of her home, having discovered her father's rotting corpse upon delivering her a monthly package of food provisions: Otoh. Otoh, whom Tyler falls in love with eventually, is Mala's childhood friend and paramour's son, who himself queerly transitions in his childhood through a kind of askesis that never uses the language of transition nor trans.

Unsurprisingly, the novel has been taken up in some of the most trenchant and early work on queer diaspora and with good reason. Mootoo herself is a diasporic Caribbean, born in Ireland, raised in Trinidad, and now residing in Toronto. The novel's emergence34 is marked, too, by an increasing awareness in Caribbeanist criticism of the import of indentured servitude to the history of labor and migration in the Caribbean. Indentured servants entered into the plantation matrix at the supposed "end" of slavery, creating tensions between the groups and aligning the nascent, nationalist creolization projects with Afro-Caribbeanness that siloed Indo-Caribbeans as perpetual foreigners. So too were the racializations most often framed not from the groups themselves, but in contradistinction to Afro-Caribbeans through the colonial gaze and metrics of the East India Company. But at the time of publication, Indo-Caribbean movements, particularly feminist ones, were gaining traction.

Yet, a revisitation of the novel's criticism also betrays some faceted, unidimensional responses attachments to thematics that tend to privilege one order of difference over another and many still unable to reckon with the difficulty of the lives of women in the Caribbean over many historical and colonial eras. In much of the criticism, the novel is appraised at the level of a supposedly shared queerness35 or queer diaspora36 or at the level of its ecological promise.37 In more suspicious readings, critics question Nurse Tyler's narration, narrowing on the ethical quandaries that surround re-presenting trauma.38 In other words, the novel's criticism shows fissures in attachments to the political. Taking on this ambivalent reception, we may consider the tensions between these critiques as already etched into the text through its tapestry of characters who range in complicity and kindness. Ultimately, I question the "shared queerness" that Tyler narrates alongside the critiques of queerness heralded by Cathy Cohen,39 but I also push back against castigating Tyler as someone to moralize against as a narrator. Instead, the novel encourages us through its own narratological ecology to hold onto ambivalence and tension. Gayatri Gopinath traces the legacy of the housewifiziation in Trinidadian Indian legacies of indentured servitude, concentrating on how Mala's de-territorialized and unruly housekeeping occasions a critique of both coloniality and heteronormativity. While the novel does indeed "rearticulate queerness in the shadow of colonialism," it does so by concentrating on a body that does not relate much to naming, language, or even recognizable patterns of sociality by the time we the readers, and Tyler the narrator, meet Mala. Gopinath warns that there is no way to celebrate "easy fluidity" in the novel as change comes at incredible cost for many of the characters, but the dense interwovenness of these characters and how they come to rearticulate themselves in relation to one another suggests "the impossibility of viewing one particular trajectory to the exclusion of others" (185). Skeptical of ready conclusions, the novel demands something beyond object choice or identification from readers if we are witnessing faulty witness, what are we asked to do with language aporias?

As the ur-witness, in retrospect, to Mala's story, Tyler's narration is quite decorous, verging on the baroque that Glissant aligns with creolization.40 And yet, we see in this flair very earnest forms of desirous relation, the want for pain to mean something, and the understandable forms of extension and even identification that come with care work. But being seduced into an analogy of shared queerness makes one pause to ask what queerness means and, if it means perversion or non-standard sexualities, one must further ask what kind of imposition the name, or marker, queer puts on Mala's person. Her desires are barely perceptible and her ability to live amongst queers may itself be queer in 1996, resonating with Sedgwick's early articulations of queerness in Tendencies (1992). And so too do queers tend to comprise a disproportionate amount of care workers. The readerly hesitation that I call ambivalence hovers over this word, queer, and the rhetoric of sharing not to police Tyler's desires and benevolent kinship through care. Rather, it is the way in which that word, queer, may put a progressive polish on a devastating story that we cannot fully know within the terms of novel itself.

Through Mootoo's language we learn of how Mala has found words radically insufficient. And so language itself becomes a thing to lose, after the world has retreated. Mala delves into sense over word:

In the phase just before Mala stopped using words, lexically shaped thoughts would sprawl across her mind, fractured here and there. The cracks would be filled with images. Soon the inverse happened. A sentence would be constructed primarily of images uttered in recognition, a descriptive word confirming a feeling or observation. A flock of seagulls squawking overhead might elicit a single word, pretty. That verbalization, she came to understand, was not the feeling itself but a name given to the feeling: pretty, an unnecessary translation of a delight she experienced seeing the soring birds. Eventually Mala all but rid herself of words. The wings of a gull flapping through the air titillated her soul and awakened her toes and knobby knees, the palms of her withered hands, deep inside her womb, her vagina, lungs, stomach and heart. Every muscle of her body swelled, tingled, cringed or went numb in response to her surroundings every fibre was sensitized in a way that words were unable to match or enhance. Mala responded to those receptors, flowing with them effortlessly, like water making its way along a path. (126-127)

It would or could be easy enough to read this passage as regression, noting how language is not accrued but is lost in almost exact inversion to how one might narrate a young person acquiring language. But here, language becomes "an unnecessary translation" of the splendor of the flora and fauna that surround Mala. As soon as we learn that she "all but rid[s] herself of words," note how the reader is rushed into many words: a lush description of seagulls in flight that cascades into a lurid awakening of Mala's whole being an immediate sensorial thrill that rushes to each part of her body, amassing it into a whole body that pulses, delights, and withdraws from its surrounding environs. Words don't thrill her anymore and so, she leaves them to communicate, instead, with her little "half acre world" where "Mala's companions were the garden's birds, insects, snails and reptiles. She and they and the abundant foliage gossiped among themselves. She listened intently" (127). But what Mala hears is radically inaccessible to us. We come to view her without access to her interiority and so we may learn of her delights but she retreats into a listening we will not hear. This lack of access is aporetically made known to us through language itself. This gossip does not disperse beyond her garden.

Orchestrated entropy rules the scene of Mala's home where ruin and cycles of finitude go on without much landscaping: "She did not intervene in nature's business. When it came time for one creature to succumb to another, she retreated. Flora and fauna left her to her own devices and in return she left them to theirs" (128). If we read this as Mala's ecological care, we see that she leaves life and death to their own rhythms and cycles. But if we instead see this as a kind of indifference, of which what we call nature would also exhibit, we can see how easily this may too be cultivated, that is a learned behavior: letting one creature succumb to another is not only what Ambrose did to Mala, but the whole of her relations as well. The scales of neglect and abuse are intricately articulated in the novel, but I want to linger on this which we might be tempted to read as an ethic, but to do so would be to collude, potentially, in Mala's neglect and abandonment. Camouflage of intricate vines and composting insects corrode the colonial house, hide her father's corpse, as well as the layers of harm that led to his death. In this manner, we may pause on the impulse to romanticize Mala's participation in ruination noting that camouflage keeps her safe, but neglected, inured from sociality and left to her own defenses.

Persons and plants cloak one another and also create strange relations across generational divides. Parallelisms that don't quite line up abound in the novel and if Chandin's life as a puppet of missionary colonization takes place in one generation, in the next Mala's childhood friend and only consensual lover, Ambrose, goes a colonially aspirational step further to study at the seminary abroad in Shivering Northern Wetlands. Chandin never had this escape, only the ideology and affected lifestyle from these northern colonial forces. Upon reuniting with Mala in Paradise years later, Ambrose delivers loquacious sermons that seem anticolonial, but betray something of the craven extractivism of Christian relations to the natural world. Explaining his departure from the seminary, Ambrose waxes:

Look. At the heart of theology there is a premise they will try to tell you otherwise, but if one listens carefully there is a premise that we humans are the primary sun around which the entire universe revolves. Unstated but certainly implied is the assumption that humans are far superior to the rest of all nature, and that's why we are the inheritors of the earth. Arrogant, isn't it? What's more, not all humans are part of this sun. Some of us are considered to be much lesser than others especially if we are not Wetlandish or European or full-blooded white. (198)

Here Ambrose uncovers the racist and colonial humanism that undergirds Christian discourse. We learn that Ambrose tried to study insects in the Bible and was dismissed, so he turns to entymology with the caveat that he must "return and work as a good Christian in the ministry of agriculture" (199). Rather than work in the fields, which Mala understandably assumes agriculture would entail, Ambrose negotiates instead to work in tourism: "Bringing people to god via the ministry of His marvelous nature" (199). It is at this point that Ambrose's project of undoing the premise of an anthropocentric theology based on white supremacy fails. Given what we know of tourism in the Caribbean and its tropological adherence to the most damaging of figurations of land as fecund, as biodiverse, as extractable, as a Judeo-Christian god's bounty, Ambrose's way out of fieldwork to display nature reinforces the thinking of even insects as proof of a marvelous nature created by a sovereign. Such extractive thinking around nature surfaces as more demonstrably craven as he waxes on about the technical and structural wonder of spider silk. Ambrose shares his vision to commercialize a spider's ability to make a filament so fragile, but resilient. Hoping to market this technology as "Softer-Than-Cotton: Stronger-Than-Steel," Ambrose seeks to harvest this natural fiber that needn't require the plantation matrix of cotton nor the metallic ambitions of fascism. In nearly fanatical speech, Ambrose implores Mala to "Imagine a finely woven curtain miles high in the sky, hung between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. A curtain that would not deny light, yet could contain and halt a hurricane" (213). Would this finely woven curtain halt coloniality?

But what Ambrose is truly spinning about, like a gale force wind, what kind of curtain he's trying to lift, is language as separation a desire to know Mala through touch. Trying to find a way to express his feelings, Ambrose performs sermon upon sermon to Mala, his "favourite and indulgent audience," and one issues along the lines of language itself:

A word is not the substance itself," Ambrose stated simply enough but soon slid into a morass. "A world freed of nomenclature, syntax and lexical form is experienced . . . named senses are enhanced . . . sensors in your joints open up like eager blossoms, their little receptors waving wildly, anxious to engage. Your entire being, the physical, and most of all the spiritual, is a vibrant network of synesthesia... throughout your body miles of blood, water, serums, toxins, effluvia and nutrients ebb and wane in tune to the moon . . . the tiniest random fraction of your being is connected to your sensorium, and your sensorium experienced as integral only when you recognize yourself as a conduit, a vibrant little cog in the functioning of the universe. (211)

Ambrose's sermon on "fine fabric spun by spiders" issues from this strange treatise on how words get in the way of experiencing one's body as porous, as entangled in larger systems of the senses and stimulants beyond a word's confines. If a word is not the substance itself, it becomes impressive how much Ambrose has a priest's attachment to words as conduits for nature's wonder. But also, "Hidden behind his words was his desire to know the delicacy of [Mala's] skin, to sip from her lips" (212). At this point, one would do well to hold onto a good deal of ambivalence around either pathologizing Ambrose's desire an ache familiar to those of us who scramble for words when what we want cannot be expressed, when what we want is touch and contact or romanticize it. Rather, Ambrose becomes an important allegorical figure for the damage that ensues when one has not, to use Sylvia Wynter's provocation, properly de-godded thought.41 The anthropomorphism may be critiqued, but it perversely remains in place if the natural world should be known, extracted, and profited from for tourist means. Biblical knowing betrays the aim of words. And this knowledge gleaned from a colonial education in entomology relies upon naming and taxonomies that order the world, no matter how much one might protest, in a hierarchical cline which is why Ambrose can so coyly avoid the fieldwork of agriculture and, instead, remain part of the lucky few who have degrees from the Northern Shivering Wetlands. Moreover, this passage anticipates the re-inscription of paradise onto the Caribbean that will follow the colonial era reflected in Cereus Blooms at Night  that tourism and rare plant life will bring a tertiary economy that always keeps the Caribbean in a figurative and material mode of performing paradise for pay.

While both Mala and Ambrose are pensive and hesitant in their advances toward one another, they do have one brief scene of consensual sex wherein, for the first time, Mala does not feel pain, though she does have to work to repress the senses her body associates with intercourse: nausea and repulsion. This scene is brief, tender, and utterly heterosexual. Ambrose sneaks out of the house to avoid Chandin, while a far more ominous scene of physical battering and repeated rape occurs upstairs, as Chandin notices that "A man tiefing" his daughter and he vows "No man, no woman, no damn body going to tief my property again" (220). Chandin's use of "property" underscores the enduring violence of the colonial attitude toward both land and person and "tief" or thieving, here, quickly flashes the dangers of proprietary rhetoric where one can own land and person through a sovereignty that ruins any possible relation beyond ownership. Ambrose hears Mala's refusal of her father and rushes back into the house, resulting in a confrontation with Chandin. Mala, in a reflexive attempt to save Ambrose from her father's wrath, attacks him slamming his head with a door until he is limp and lifeless. After this bout of self-defense, she appears to Ambrose in descriptions entirely reminiscent of Bertha Mason, the iconic creole madwoman in the attic, and he deems her too mad to reach by way of speech and so he abandons her, marries, and sleeps through many decades rising only once a month to take his mad, former friend provisions. With the provision of these offerings, this property will become Chandin's masouleum, a colonial home turned coffin. Mala will tend to this "little half-acre" of the world alone after she's killed her own father and after Ambrose has deemed her too mad to reach. The one who reaches her, Otoh, will have done so only after his own gendered transformation. But I retrace this scene of glimpsed heterosexuality between Ambrose and Mala and, indeed, the only consensual sex that makes itself known in Cereus Blooms at Night not to further categorize Mala as heterosexual, but to decouple queerness from all forms of aberrant sexuality for at least this moment in the text. This is to say that the political languages of and valences of queer, feminist, anticolonial, and anti-racist discourse shifts profoundly in this novel, inviting us to read again what may have appeared, once, as shared. The camouflage of queerness may cover over too much: we may question this sharing as analogical or question the seduction of a beguiling source. To linger in this ambivalence is to hear Mala's silence which claims to share nothing her retreat into vegetal camouflage, as with Césaire's text, requires us to read landscape as not only fecund, but also that which may cover over layers of structural dispossession and abuse. Mala's survival instincts harness her ruinate housekeeping and unruly gardening, aiding all creatures in the decomposition of a colonial home and a patriarchal abuser. Yet, her silence is a refusal of sharing regarding words as unnecessary translations. If translation's roots as translatio remind us of metaphor's ability to carry over meaning, then Mala's refusal of such forms ought to be read as pushing against categorical carryover.

Response Pending: Regarding Lost Sisters

Cereus Blooms at Night harnesses the mode of the literary to figure Mala's story as a foundational problem that cannot be easily equivocated or, even really, interpreted or allegorized at the service of a queer optimism or an ecological imperative. By foundational, I mean that the best informant of the traumatic kernel at the heart of the novel has mostly left the world of language and so her story is, at once, the center of the story and the one most removed. This question, then, becomes a question of frames of reference that form our foundations those that corrode, those that decompose, those that ruinate. As we follow routes of ruination in this novel, we are confronted with how the ecological and the queer are still suffused with a coloniality, romanticizing change and trauma that needs to be interrogated along the lines of race and feminism. The problem of Mala's mute body then becomes, also, the problem of our source materials. The challenge of reading fiction, of having a character as narrator who asks us to forgive lapses does not mean, then, all lapses are repositories of queer lacunae. It is rather the literary drawing attention to its own limits and topography of unreliable, irretrievable fictions. Mala's tragedy and trauma are witnessed most earnestly by the queerest of characters in the book. But this care and queer network does not provide a new telos for the direction of the text, a text which ends firmly in a compromised institution with a network of characters who create intimacies amidst ruin, tending to a transplanted cereus plant and a traumatized woman's person, and await word from a lost sister. Acts of care, acts of ruination are not always disruptions of colonial grammars. Sometimes they are the quotidian acts that make something like survival possible, but this survival and its attendant witness are not "paving" new futures but enduring the long durée of racist, colonial, and gendered violences that, while entangled, cannot be analogized neatly nor undone with one generational queer remove.

And yet, Mala does not, technically, have a psyche because she is a literary character, a further source issue and an issue that requires an ambivalent reading practice. In order to not analogize or allegorize Mala's pain, one must retain the textual complexity she presents as text, not as psyche as such. This comes also to an ambivalence around character analysis in scholarship and the classroom when we confuse text with psyche we repeat the taxonomic drive to pathologize and impose categories, a larger theme that Mootoo's novel resists through the thematization of Paradise and through the myriad ways that Global Northern vocabularies of queerness do not find their way into the book. Neither Tyler nor Otoh, arguably the most queer characters in the book, announce identifications as such. This may be our limit to the text, as well as our limit to instrumentalizing trauma and reading narrative for identification. And while this mercurial place may be celebrated as opacity, it is also a felt limit that remains out of reach to be politicized or allegorized or analogized. I still hold this part of the text dear and it is the part of the text that holds some kind of glimmering potential it is just that I can't tell you any more than this limit desire I hold, one that remains, at once, open and ambivalent.

Ambivalence, in the Kleinian42 sense routed through Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's later work,43 may be a tolerance for taking into view the whole object and with most objects, subjects, peoples, and histories, this would mean understanding the entanglements that allow us to shift our perspectives on the texture of what we think we see or read, asking us to re-assess the whole story, which we can never do. Ambivalence, as a reading practice, may surface as a kind of constant hypervigilance, a re-reading that may reveal a paranoia that one once did not have. But such re-visitation, too, requires re-reading as a reparative move: a look back at flashes of danger in the historical that refuses to castigate in order to gain moral, presentist high ground. Ambivalence, though, may also be an occasion to question what we've castigated as source, as mat(t)er, but also what we've romanticized as mother nature, as beguiling source, as beautiful ruin. And what do we make of a person who has refused to speak? What do we make of the person who identifies with trauma? Isn't there still beauty beneath all this camouflauged suffering? It is at this point that I think the greater pedagogy of Césaire, Mootoo, and their abiding, ambivalent ecologies demand that we look at structuring logics and grounding material conditions that require scalar recalibrations rather than taxonomizing or moralizing against, or for, individual characters.

Tolerating ambivalence may be one way, too, of de-romanticizing relational thought. Thinking through the difficulty of relationality with Éduoard Glissant, Kandace Chuh (2019) writes that "for relationality to be meaningful as a response and corollary to entanglement, it is necessary to acknowledge and reside in irresolvable complicity and associated and historically induced antagonisms" (96). Such an ambivalent relation to relation itself seems inherent in Mala's withdrawal from language and Suzanne Césaire's refusal of a shared language. It is in the mode of the literary that such tension can dwell without being resolved into the expediency of either the political or the moral which can afford a mediated place from which to uncomfortably read entangled, structural violences and the relations forged therein. Perhaps the tension, or the ambivalence, need not be resolved in the mode of literary analysis. Sustained ambivalence is the feminist promise that Barbara Johnson (1998) saw in the literary a place where more than one story can co-exist:

Most discussions of ambivalence treat ambivalence as a temporary, unfortunate, and remediable state of feeling.  But perhaps that is the problem.  Perhaps there is something healthy about claiming the right to ambivalence.  Or at the very least, there may be something deadening about having to renounce one's ambivalence too soon, on someone else's terms.  If resistance is always the sign of a counter-story, ambivalence is perhaps the state of holding on to more than one story at a time. (2)

Because both the story of trauma and the figuration of the Caribbean refute narrative closure, this article ends on this insistent reverberation of ambivalence. Camouflage, as both figure and hermeneutic, allows us to think through the ambivalent matter of questionable source material and shared language that is, it makes us question both our sources as fount and our relations and grammars as shared. Both Césaire and Mootoo figure, through dense ecologies of entanglement, the problem of seeing or understanding Caribbean women, especially those racialized through coloniality and those who, by virtue of either chattel slavery or indentured servitude, have turned away from a shared parlance women who comprise the many bloodlines that defy, or are camouflaged by, colonial taxonomy, that to this day may find an ill fit in relation to language and may not be readily seen or instrumentalizable in our available language and contemporary configurations of either relation or person.

Read with camouflage's lessons, Cereus Blooms at Night creates intricate problems for reading relations of gendered violence and queer care. One character's resonance, Tyler's felt connection to Mala, need not be the text's ethos. Interlocking oppressions do not require analogy, nor shared experience, for ecologies of difference to co-exist. Moreover, since its inception as discourse, queer thinkers of race and coloniality have often asked us to consider the limits of the project's ability to hold or denote. The lack of an articulatable shared queerness does not diffuse the queer flourishings of Cereus as a text. Rather, it registers that certain violences and traumas refuse, or ought to refuse, allegorical analogy or allegorical instrumentality. To ignore this aspect of the text is to take Mala's body as both evidence of a queerness amidst colonial ruin and catalyst for a queer future a future where feminism still lies in ruin, at the level of the body, language, and ecology and does so with a traumatized, racialized woman's body as its grounding possibility. Maintaining this ambivalence, which the text itself does, resists closure at the level of ethics, politics, or allegory. Indeed, the text ends not on a scene of liberation but in a scene of awaiting an answer from a sister whose letters have been withheld, outside of the symbolic territory of the novel. Ambivalence as ellipsis itself remains at the end of the novel not new futures but a newly articulated hope for missing missives. This hope is that the novel, itself, will be a correspondence in place of years of stolen correspondences. This hope is overlapped with the anticipation of the nocturnal blossom of the cereus plant, the cutting that has been saved from the fire of Chandin's colonial home and taken to the alms house, but it remains unclear if the cereus will bloom in this new plot of land. The open-ended categories of ruin, queer, ecology, and care create intricate problems for reading, for a takeaway from the book that either liberates queers, produces decolonial liberation, or creates egalitarian relations between peoples and lands. Rather, we end with what is just beyond the scope or purview of the novel: the lost object of letters, the deferred arrival of post cards of a sister escaped, the possibility of anticolonial and feminist fantasy just out of sight.

Christina A. León is Assistant Professor of English at Princeton University. Her research and teaching focus on Latinx and Caribbean literatures in addition to critical engagements with literary, feminist, queer, critical race, and anticolonial theory. She is at work on two books: first, Material Inscriptions: Reading Figures of Latinidad (under contract NYU Press) which traces material figurations of stone, dust, viscera, and animality in the work of queer and feminist writers from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Latinx New York in order to disentangle the reading of these texts as anchored in the individual, biographical, and neoliberal sovereign self. Her second book, Textures of Return: Material Movements in Gender and Genre in the Caribbean, continues this work by reading key textures and figurations that reorient queer writers and artists relationship to home-islands that they return to in order to join anticolonial movements. At these sites of thinking, León's work engages the edges of materiality and semiosis to better attend to works by authors and artists who too often become known only through their identificatory markers, overdetermined by grammars of race and gender. Her scholarship can be found in ASAP/Journal, Diacritics, GLQ, Women and Performance, Small Axe, and Sargasso.


  1. I am also inspired by what I take to be a sister text to "The Great Camouflage" and that is Jamaica Kincaids's A Small Place which, quickly, takes us from plane, to interior, to beach, and back back both in time and back to the beach. []
  2. See Mimi Sheller, Citizenship From Below: Erotic Agency and Caribbean Freedom (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012). []
  3. Jill Casid shows this work brilliantly in Sowing Empire: Landscape and Colonization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005). Her work shows how agriculture and landscape made material metaphors for colonial "cultivation" of heteronormative reproduction in the Caribbean. Her reading of Cereus Blooms at Night, though, finds more promise in the novel than my own ambivalent reading that will follow in the second half of this article. []
  4. Recent work on Caribbean disaster, as both event and continuation of coloniality, puts added pressure on Caribbean figurations or figurations of the Caribbean. Environmental damage, disaster capitalism, and enduring colonial/imperial forces all threaten the existence of the Caribbean as such, especially for Caribbean inhabitantsthose who never leave "a small place." For excellent work on this much larger question, see Aftershocks of Disaster Bonilla and LeBrón (2019). See also the dossier States of Crisis: Disaster, Recovery, and Possibility in the Caribbean in Small Axe Journal. In the introduction to the issue, Ryan Cecil Johnson (2020) thinks catastrophe within the quagmire of these crossroads: "The survival of the species may well be secured after the onset of Caribbean extinction. Beyond its status as the proverbial canary in the climatological coal mine, the Caribbean is a measure of the limits of liberal universalism and the category of the human it purports to defend" (72). []
  5. Suzanne Césaire, The Great Camouflage: Writings of Dissent (1941-1945), ed. Daniel Maximin, trans. Keith L. Walker (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2012), [40]. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text. []
  6. Antonio Benítez Rojo, La isla que se repite: el Caribe y la perspectiva posmoderna, ed. Rita Molinero (San Juan: Plaza Mayor, 2010), 29. []
  7. Antonio Benítez Rojo, The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective, trans. James E. Maraniss (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996), 10. []
  8. Rojo, La isla que se repite, 31; Rojo, The Repeating Island, 11. []
  9. For a thinking of the unthought matrixial power of the Black mater(nal) see Zakkiyah Iman Jackson's Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Anti-black World (New York: NYU Press, 2020). []
  10. My consideration of those who carry wombs is not relegated to the category of women, but the reduction of women to womb carries profound consequence and has a deeply racialized and colonial history. For more on this history, see François Vergès, The Wombs of Women: Race, Capital, Feminism, trans. Kaima L. Glover (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020). []
  11. Ruination is a particularly rich concept in Caribbean letters. Michelle Cliff writes about the Jamaicain and anticolonial significance of this unruly, ecological term: "The civilizer works against the constant danger of the forest, of a landscape ruinate, gone to ruination. Ruinate, the adjective, and ruination, the noun, are Jamaican inventions. Each word signifies the reclamation of land, the disruption of cultivation, civilization, by the uncontrolled, uncontrollable forest. When a landscape becomes ruinate, carefully designed aisles of cane are envined, strangled, the order of empire is replaced by the chaotic forest. The word ruination (especially) signifies this immediately; it contains both the word ruin, and nation. A landscape in ruination mean one in which the imposed nation is overcome by the naturalness of ruin. As individuals in this landscape, we, the colonized, are also subject to ruination, to the self-reverting to the wildness of the forest." Cliff, "Caliban's Daughter," Journal of Caribbean Literatures 3, no. 3 (2003): 157. []
  12. See Maryse Condé, "Unheard Voice: Suzanne Cėsaire and the Construct of a Caribbean Identity," in Winds of Change: The Transforming Voices of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars, ed. Adele S. Newson and Linda Strong-Leek (New York: Peter Lang, 1998). []
  13. For a recent exhibit on Caribbean visual registers of violence see David Scott, Erica Moiah James, Nijah Cunningham, and Juliet Ali, eds., The Visual Life of Social Affliction: A Small Axe Project (New York: Small Axe, Inc, 2019). []
  14. In his translation notes on Césaire's essay, Keith Walker elaborates that Césaire was concerned with these textures of history: "Throughout her essays, Césaire is perplexed by the willful amnesia, by the willful blindness or blind-eye of history, by the knowing or conscious suppression and repression of the self, and by the work it takes not to see" (ix). []
  15. For a nuanced critique of how the tourist industry feeds this mythos of paradise, see Angelique Nixon, Resisting ParadiseTourism, Diaspora, and Sexuality in the Caribbean (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2015). She writes: "In both imagined and real ways, 'paradise' signifies 'Caribbean,' and as a result, the region is deeply invested in and affected by the production of paradise, which is most powerfully inscribed within and created by the tourist industry" (3). []
  16. The Caribbean's ambivalent place as the ground zero of the "new world" is often figured through wombs, as noted in-text. Kimberly Juanita Brown's, The Repeating Body: Slavery's Visual Reference in the Contemporary (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015), takes more seriously some of Benítez-Rojo's descriptors which rely on Afro-Cuban and Afro-Caribbean women's bodies. Like Benítez-Rojo, so too does Glissant invoke the "womb-abyss" to theorize the natal alienation that took place in the Middle Passage. Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press). Recent interventions into thinking at the precise site of Black women's bodies has put increased pressure on these figurations. I am thinking, in particular, of the work of Ronald Mendoza-de Jesús who, following crucial interventions by Black feminist thinkers Hortense Spillers, Christina Sharpe, and Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, interrogates this figure of the womb-abyss to show how quickly the figurative work of the Black mater-nal (following Jackson) grounds the world after natal alienation and how, in that operation, the Black mater-nal is unthought and disavowed. Ronald Mendoza-de Jesús, "Glissant's Medusa: Un-worldly Materiality in 'La barque ouverte,'" paper presented at Earth, World, Ethics: Conversations in Black and Caribbean Studies Serial Symposium, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, May 14, 2021. []
  17. T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting reads this passage with nuanced acuity: "The Antillean human landscape of racial métissage and cultural assimilation is overwhelming for the metropolitans. The Martinicans, are, importantly the "unexpected sons" and "charming daughters" of France. Césaire begs the question regarding the nature of the unexpectedness in light of centuries of intermingling (sexual and social, coercive and consensual) and cultural importation (also coercive, at least initially)." T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Negritude Women (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 100. []
  18. Both antillanité and creolité are theorized by Glissant in Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays, ed. J. Michael Dash (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia,1999). Glissant himself uses the term camouflage in precise, poignant ways throughout Caribbean Discourse, though Suzanne Césaire is not cited in these instances. The larger, chapter version of this essay grapples with the absent-presence of Césaire's camouflage in Caribbean Discourse. It should be noted that Glissant went to the Lycée where Suzanne Césaire spent most of her career teaching. []
  19. Donna Jones, The Racial Discourses of Life Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012). Jones writes: "As the original recorder of this 'superior African ontology, Frobenius allowed the Négritude poets to repudiate a dialectical and linear scheme of history in which all gains are preserved and transcended, which allowed them to shatter the idea of objective progress, to find in African cultures, as the putative cradle of civilization, philosophical superiority in their recognition of the continuity and omnipresences of life force" (156). []
  20. Wole Soyinka, 1986 Nobel Prize Speech, accessed August 1, 2021. []
  21. Such a reading of Frobenius delivered witness of so-called "primitive" civilizations at a time when it seemed all but certain that "Euro-American man" was hell bent on extinguishing itself. Frobenius associated machinic energies with so-called "Hamitic"customs and figured as animal-man. Contrastingly, Frobenius theorized plant-man as emblematized by more peaceful Ethiopian customs from which Suzanne Césaire cannibalized the figure of the plant women, turning the colonial stereotype of Afro-Martinicans as lazy into a fecund vegetation. Linking such a destructive, Hamitic forces to the fascists and colonialist in Europe, Césaire writes, in another Tropiques essay on Frobenius, that this "madness for power and domination, which turned humanity upside down during catastrophes as horrible as the wars of 1914 and 1939, is the symptom of a new surge of the Paideuma" a new vitalist surge of conflicting civilizational forces. "These surges we cannot fully comprehend, the real meaning of which remains hidden. Therein lies the drama of the earth" (9). For Césaire, the drama of the earth operates in surges that are deeply ambivalent and remain, to a certain extent, obscure. []
  22. My thinking on fascism here is not exactly only relegated to the specific historical frame that encased Martinique as Suzanne Césaire wrote in defiance of both French colonialism and the Vichy regime. Rey Chow showcases how fascist impulses toward a transparent ideal intermingle with the inclusion of underrepresented voices and literatures and areas into scholarship. For more, see Chow, "Fascist Longings in Our Midst," in Ethics After Idealism: Theory, Culture, Ethnicity, Reading (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998). []
  23. "The Great Camouflage" was Suzanne Césaire's last published piece of writing. No one knows why her writing stopped, but her position as a teacher at the Lycée Schoelcher and her five children may allow us some insight into the short lived, but explosive, writing career she had. Suzanne Roussi Césaire died at the young age of fifty from a brain tumor. []
  24. Coolitude refers, explicitly, to Négritude as an inspiring politico-aesthetic project that would center the many "coolies" incentivized into indentureship in the Indian Ocean, Pacific Islands, Caribbean, as well as East and South Africa. For more, see Marina Carter and Khal Torabully, Coolitude: an Anthology of the Indian Labour Diaspora (London: Anthem Press, 2002). []
  25. Shani Mootoo, Cereus Blooms at Night (New York: Grove Press, 2009), 5. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text. []
  26. I have elsewhere written about the question of source materials and how they haunt pursuits of origin and return. See the first chapter of the forthcoming book, Material Inscriptions: Reading Figures of Latinidad under contract, NYU Press), on Ana Mendieta's return to Cuba and her fraught source materials. []
  27. The speculative has exploded as a particularly fertile place for imagining worlds otherwise and the renewed interest in genre fiction. The adroit theorizations of thinkers like Saidiya Hartman in Wayward LivesBeautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2019) and Tavia N'yongo in Afro Fabutlations: The Queer Drama of Black Life (New York: NYU Press, 2018) show us how and why the speculative affords a way of relating to pasts that have been archived according to power's grammar. My emphasis on the speculative here is to remind us of the fictional apparatus at work within this novel, which becomes ethically important as a limit for what can be instrumentalized or extracted from Mala's story. []
  28. This mode of temporal deferral that necessitates a different narratological strategy is called, in Freudian psychoanalysis, Nachträglichkeit. The deferral occurs because the traumatic event eludes the psyche at first occurrence, necessitating another event to trigger or ignite the memory. First theorized in Freud's studies on hysteria, the concept was later taken up later psychoanalytic theorists and formed a significant literary intervention from thinkers like Cathy Caruth and Shoshana Felman. []
  29. My thinking of the possibilities of sense and sensuality are indebted to Amber Musser's work on sensuous flesh and jouissance. In particular, her work invites us to think sense and flesh in ways that take submission, masochism, and vulnerability as vantage points from which to think difference and relationality in non-identitarian ways. Amber Jamilla Musser, Sensational Flesh: Race, Power, and Masochism (New York: NYU Press, 2014) and Musser, Sensual Excess: Queer Feminity and Brown Jouissance (New York: NYU Press, 2018). []
  30. On this note, Carter and Torabully elaborate: "The difficulty of integrating Indians into a broader Caribbean Creole identity stems, at least in part, from a historic antagonism between the Indian who came as an indentured immigrant, and the ex-slave, whom he supplanted on the plantations of the sugar colonies. The Indian was perceived, consequently, as a lackey of capitalism whose presence perpetuated coercive, unequal labour relations and inhibited the growth of an independent peasantry." Carter and Torabully, Coolitude, 12. Such tensions require, too, especial attention to how this might have further isolated Indo-Caribbean women in particular. []
  31. Rhoda Reddock, "Freedom Denied: Indian Women and Indentureship in Trinidad and Tobago, 1845-1917," Economic and Political Weekly 20, no. 43 (1985): WS84. []
  32. Rhoda Reddock traces the heteropatriarchal and colonial encasings that lead to the stereotype of the Indian housewife in indentureship and post-indentureship in the Caribbean. Rather than merely accept this domestic encasing of this colonial gender, Reddock retraces how male Indian workers desired docile and domestic women to affirm a higher caste status which was at odds with the plantocracy's need for women as productive labor force. These two, rather opposing, interpellative constraints did not, however, confine Indo-Caribbean women to the whims of either the colonial planters nor Indo-Caribbean men though the contradiction around this imposition of a colonial gender created increased violence of Indo-Caribbean men over women. []
  33. Such ideology came to Trinidadian Indo-Caribbeans through the missionary campaign of the John and Morton two Scottish, Canadian Presbyterians who organized an educational mission in Trinidad specifically for Indo-Trinidadians, instructing in Urdu and Hindi to serve the population. But such linguistic difference also served to cut Indo-Caribbean converts off from both their cosmological past and from other racial alliances through a drive to create separate schools and discourses. Though perhaps not intentional, the missionary work created further class division within Indo-Caribbean peoples, cutting them off from their culture, and making difficult any organic alliance between Indo and Afro Caribbean peoples. []
  34. Anne Cvetkovich summarizes the material history of the novel, which shows how it comes to circulate as a part of a larger, queer diasporic movement. Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures (Durham, Duke University Press, 2003). The novel was first published by Press Gang, a small feminist publishing company in Vancouver, Canada. It then was reissued by McClelland and Stewart, a large Canadian press. Then in 1998 Grove Press in the United States republished the book "thus ... migrating to become part of a more transnational public" (140). I track this history of the book to make sense of how it comes to be known as Caribbean. []
  35. Grace Hong beautifully tracks how natural history uses racialized and queer genders to colonize in the nineteenth century and tracks how the novel undermines such logics. Hong, "A Shared Queerness," Meridians 7, no. 1: 73-103. []
  36. See Gayatri Gopinath, Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures (Durham, Duke University Press, 2005) and Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings. []
  37. Sarah Press finds a "terrestrial cosmopolitanism" celebrated in Mala's unruly housekeeping. Press, "Terrestrial Cosmopolitanism, Posthumanism, and Multispecies Modes of Being in Cereus Blooms at NightHumanities 8, no. 2: 92. []
  38. Vivian May offers a strong critique of reading Tyler's narration as transparent and reads the novel, instead, through trauma theory. May, "Trauma in Paradise: Willful and Strategic Ignorance in Cereus Blooms at Night," Hypatia 21, no. 3: 107-135. Such critiques hold and, yet, the essay tends to castigate Tyler's in a manner that implies his identification with Mala is narcissistic. My reading aims to hold onto the tension between Tyler's narration and Mala's retreat from language. []
  39. Cathy Cohen's trenchant and early critique of queer activism's binaristic thinking around queer versus heterosexual becomes refreshingly poignant in the reception of Cereus Blooms at Night. Cohen, "Punks, Buldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?" GLQ 3, no. 4: 437-465. In this tapestry of sexualities and genders, it becomes important to rehearse Cohen's argument that not all heterosexuals enjoy heteronormative privilege. I take this text to be axiomatic in its ambivalent relation to the moniker queer. As such, it also concerts with more recent interventions into thinking queer/cuir hemispherically. For more, see Joseph M. Pierce, María Amelia Viteri, Diego Falconí Trávez, Salvador Vidal-Ortiz, and Lourdes Martínez-Echazábal, eds. "Cuir/Queer Américas: Translation, Decoloniality, and the Incommensurable,special issue, GLQ 27, no. 3 (2021). []
  40. Glissant writes: "It is the unknown area of these relationships that weaves, while dismantling the conception of the standard language, the 'natural texture' of our new baroque, our own. Liberation will emerge from this cultural composite. The 'function' of Creole languages, which must resist the temptation of exclusivity, manifests itself in this process, far removed- from the fascines (linked facet, fascination) of the fire of the melting-pot." Glissant, Caribbean Discourse, 250. []
  41. See Sylvia Wynter, "Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation An Argument," CR: The New Centennial Review 3, no. 3 (2003): 257-337. []
  42. Fascinatingly, ambivalence is introduced to psychoanalysis not through Klein or Freud, but by way of Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychologist and eugenicist who influenced Freud's early work on hysteria and introduced three forms of ambivalence into psychoanalysis: affective, volitional, and intellectual. Bleuler's work also influenced theories of schizophrenia and psychic splitting. He first theorized ambivalence to show how a schizophrenic patient does not sublate two contrasting, affective positions. []
  43. In Touching Feeling, written over the course of what we would come to learn as the author's last years, Sedgwick thought at the interstices of object relations, affect theory, and Buddhism in order to articulate the middle ranges of agency, a place of relative complexity and also not so powerful ambition, found in the sway between the positionalities of paranoia and depression. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham, Duke University Press). Returning to Sedgwick's later claims now seems particularly fruitful as what we know of our increasingly accelerationist world confirms and, truly, inspires both paranoia and depression. But the positional slippages make a diagnosis of either impossible as the positions are mobile, not at all teleological as, say, development might be. They are positions in a field of object relations that register how relationality itself can be a harrowing place. []