A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid–If only we could have more works like this: bold, not politically correct, honest, and unedited in many ways. I haven’t read her other works yet, but I bet that she no longer writes in this bold way. She would be opened to too many attacks from members of the intellegencia who are looking for writers to adhere to a certain writing template. That wouldn’t do well for her career as a writer.
And by the way, I think it is a grave misreading of the book to just say Kincaid is angry. Sure, she is angry, but her anger is controlled, and that is what drives the substance, scope, and content of the text. Additionally, there is a lot of humor in the anger. So if one is to say it is an angry text, one should be opened to hearing it is also a humorous text.
While I enjoy this work (and it is my second reading—my first was in undergraduate), I would caution persons who solely celebrate it as a radical production, since there are many aspects within the text in which Kincaid glorifies the very imperialism she condemns. To take a case in point, look no further than her mockery of Antiguans who fail to speak the standard variety of English (an imperializing variety of colonial England, I might say). So writing, Kincaid dares to use this standard variety of English to represent Antiguan history yet frowns upon the popular registers and variety of their English tongue.
To be noted is that Kincaid’s condescending tone towards Antiguans emerges from her own access to privilege—her exposure, education, and security within the United States. At points, she positions herself as the only educated person, gazing upon an island of dunces. It also seems as if she forgets she is Antiguan. Yes, she sounds like a tourist too? And how funny, because she is critical of the tourist industry!
What could have created Kincaid’s alienation from her country and the people whom she writes about as if they are her research objects? It certainly is her distance as an emigrant, but one can also blame it on her inadvertent alliance with the fashions of imperialism. (I make no mistake in saying “alliance.”)
I should remind you that my ability to critique Kincaid’s own imperialist fashions is due to knowledges produced after Kincaid published the book in 1988. That is to say, let’s cut Kincaid some slack! Furthermore, I prefer a bold work that risks vulnerability to criticism than a dull, pretentious ass-kissing piece of writing. Thus, I think Kincaid’s book borders brilliance.
Which means that, before condemning Kincaid, it’s useful to acknowledge that she takes a risk by writing a politically incorrect narrative about the political, architectural, and psychological Antigua. She talks about the history of the architecture and the government’s failure to attend to dilapidated ruins. She identifies corrupt political leaders, profiteering governmental strategies, and violence that have been strangling Antiguans. She notes that, though small, Antigua houses the extensive legacies of colonialism, and it is a popular resort for tourists who fail to understand that their tourist status should be psychologically deconstructed. For why do they only want to be around Antiguans whenever they are looking for a retreat from the boredom and ruins of their lives? IN other words, who is a tourist? Kincaid forces us to begin thinking, a economic savior, a warm visitor, or an scornful exploiter? Kincaid’s analysis of these visitors and other aspects of Antiguan culture is captured by the title of the text, which accounts for a web of histories of the colonial and imperialist worlds that Antiguans and those interested in Antigua cannot escape.