Book Review

Goldberg, Jonathan. Tempest in the Caribbean. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

Reviewed by Liberty Stanavage | March 19, 2004

In Tempest in the Caribbean, Jonathan Goldberg attempts to bring together The Tempest and a variety of twentieth-century texts that rewrite or reenvision the play through a post-colonial or anticolonial lens. He suggests that the “unfixed” nature of the play’s island location may work as “a condition of possibility for the reinscription of Shakespeare in numerous sites of colonial translation,” and constructs a parallel between Caliban’s own fluid identity (created by the collision between the apparent geographic specificity of Caliban’s “cannibal” name and the geographic vagueness of the island) and the fluidity of a “Caribbean” identity. Goldberg describes his project as nothing less than an exploration of possibilities for the “different kind of creature” created by colonialism, and an attempt to envision “a future made by new social actors, a future that necessarily will also have broken with an Enlightenment legacy of liberalism and the market that lends ideological support to colonialism, a future that could resemanticize otherwise suspect terms”; for Goldberg, this is not just a literary project, but an envisioning of cultural possibilities.

He gamely attempts this task by dividing this “inquiry into race, gender, and sexuality in the Caribbean” into three parts: an examination of anticolonial rewritings of the play (by Roberto Fernandez Retamar, Aime Cesaire, and George Lamming in addition to less well known revisions by authors that include Michelle Cliff and Sylvia Wynter) in terms of their figuration of gender and sexuality; rereadings, prompted by this examination, of “classic” revisionary texts (by Edward Kamau Braithwaite and Aime Cesaire); and an examination of “the limits of the Enlightenment” in the theories of Locke, Kant, and Hegel as applied to possible “Caribbean” subject(s).

This seems, on the face of it, an extraordinarily ambitious project, and one that is, perhaps, easier to suggest than to perform. Indeed, Goldberg does encounter some difficulties in its execution. While he claims that this work “is an essay in cultural theory and literary analysis situated at the crossing of Caribbean and early modern studies,” this location of synthesis seems difficult for him to maintain; although at times this joint discussion of early modern and Caribbean issues in The Tempest and its revisionings seems to operate comfortably, there are moments in the argument when these connections seemed forced or contrived. In addition, the project of reading rewritings back on themselves through the lens of both other rewritings and the text that they attempt to reenvision, can become, at times, so deeply layered that the question of the object, the context and the lens of the inquiry can be difficult to discern. As a whole, though, the work is fascinating and well researched, incorporating and exploring prior debates and theories concerning both these Tempest reworkings and issues of Caribbean and anticolonial identity, and working to examine (as Goldberg does so well) issues of “invisible” sexual and racial identity, and the radical elision of the female in some of these “foundational” revisionary texts. While, I am not fully convinced that Goldberg succeeds in even fully beginning to envision his looked-for “new social actors,” the work performs a great deal of provocative and intriguing analysis of the play, its rewritings, and the points of meaning created in their intersection.

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