Chantal Carleton

Maksim Hanukai

Nidesh Lawtoo

Elisabeth Lore

Michael A. Mikita III

Giovanna Montenegro

Benjamin Morris and Ari Messer

Wendy Salters

Laurel Seely

Olga Zilberbourg


Hybridity, Dialogism and Identity in Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea and Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions

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Nidesh Lawtoo
University of Washington

Much of the ongoing debate concerning the theme of identity in Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea (WSS) can be read as a confrontation between different epistemologies that inform conflicting ways of understanding selfhood in relation to otherness. Two major perspectives concerning this fundamental binary can be delineated if we consider Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's "Wide Sargasso Sea and a Critique of Imperialism" and Sandra Drake's "Race and Caribbean Culture as Thematics of Liberation." To put it in the most economic terms, Spivak conceives of the relationship between selfhood (colonizer) and otherness (colonized) in terms of fracture and opposition: she affirms that "[n]o perspective critical of imperialism can turn the Other into a self" (246). Drake, on the other hand, advocates fusion and "reconciliation" of self and other (204). Their theoretical discordance is epitomized by their respective interpretations of Antoinette's black childhood friend, Tia. Whereas Spivak defines her as "the Other that cannot be selved" (243), Drake argues that "Antoinette and Tia are . . . the same person" (204). In this paper my concern is not, of course, to challenge the totality of Spivak and Drake's seminal readings, but rather to work with and against them in order to nuance the epistemological assumption that the theoretical possibilities to think about selfhood and otherness should be thought either in terms of dichotomic opposition or total undifferentiated synthesis.1 In my reading of WSS, hence, I begin to delineate possibilities of dealing with the theme of identity formation in terms of a generative, dialogic process. A process which, as Rhys seems to suggest, takes place between subjects that are neither fully identical nor radically other.

By focusing especially on Parts One and Three of WSS (but in an attempt to consider the novel holistically), and by extending my reflections to Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions (NC)--a text that belongs to another chronotope but that shares a similar interrogation of subjectivity--I begin to challenge dichotomous ways of thinking about identity politics. In fact, through the theme of "hybridity," both Rhys and Dangarembga provide a starting point for shifting questions of identity formation from fixed and hierarchical binary oppositions to more fluid and "egalitarian" binary relationships.2 This shift calls for a reconceptualization of the concept of "binary." For the moment, suffice it to say that the dichotomous connotation inherent in this concept is already challenged if we consider the astrological use of the term. "Binary stars" correspond, in fact, to a "double star system containing two associated stars revolving around a common center of gravity in different orbits."3 According to this definition, the emphasis shifts from opposition to co-existence, from difference and separation to difference in unity.

Redefinition of a concept calls for a modification of the way the "self/other" binary notation is represented. Therefore, in what follows, in order to stress the relational dimension of binaries, I substitute the slash whose function is to divide "self" from "other" (it works as a barrier), by a hyphen, representing both connection and opposition. Thus redefined, the binary "self-other" comes to signify a generative interaction between two terms on a non-hierarchical plane.

This redefinition of "binary" parallels the theory of identity that I find implicit in both WSS and NC. In fact, as we shall see, subjectivity in both texts cannot be considered in isolation merely by taking into account the interior dimension of a self supposedly identical to her/himself (identity, from Latin idem, the same). Instead, its exploration calls for a (re)consideration of the interactions of different (but not incommensurable) identities.4 More precisely, identity must be understood as a process of negotiation that takes place on that thin hyphen that relates one self to another self (as opposed to a mere other).5 And it is in this light, that the notion of "dialogism", as defined by Mikhail Bakhtin, is instrumental in exploring the in-between condition of hybrid subjects and their relationship to both dominant and dominated ideologies.

The centrality of dialogue in the creation of consciousness is posited by Bakhtin as he writes: "To be means to communicate" because "I become myself only by revealing myself to another" (in Todorov, 1984b, 96). Dialogism, for Bakhtin, becomes a way to rethink identity formation in terms of a continuous, creative, and interactive process with others who represent other possibilities of selfhood and being. Contrary to Hegelian dialectics, Bakhtin's dialogic principle calls for a non-hierarchical and non-teleological relationship where opposites do not dissolve in a unifying synthesis, but are engaged in a process of negotiation instead. Hence, resolution (i.e. self-unity) in dialogism is striven for but only provisionally (i.e. never definitively) achieved. It is with these necessarily sketchy and general theoretical remarks in mind that we now turn to consider Rhys's treatment of the Creole subject.

The theme of cultural hybridity that characterizes the Creole subject appears in the very first paragraph of WSS:6

They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks. The Jamaican ladies had never approved of my mother, 'because she pretty like pretty self' Christophine said. (9)

At first sight, it appears that such a beginning allows for little space for a dialogue between different cultural identities to take place. In fact, Rhys posits the pronoun "we," which signifies the Creole subject, in a strategic intermediary textual position, squeezed, as it were, between the "white people" and the "Jamaican [Black] ladies." Not only the theme of the frontier implicit in the term "ranks," but also the structure of the paragraph, emphasize the Creole's hybrid condition and the double exclusion that ensues. Needless to say that a direct cultural consequence of the Creole subject's "intermediate" textual/existential location is the impossibility to belong to a clearly defined cultural identity. Less directly, Antoinette and her family's in-between condition not only prefigures the precarious and unstable identity position they occupy, but also calls for a negotiation of the boundaries of selfhood. That is to say, a negotiation of the frontier that divides "self" from "other."

Michel De Certeau's discussion of the notion of frontier is useful to challenge static notions of identity borders and to set in motion a dialogue between the self-other binary within a Bakhtinian perspective. De Certeau points out that the frontier occupies a paradoxical (conceptual) position since it is "created by contacts" and that "the points of differentiation between two bodies are also their common point" (127). Hence, according to the French theorist, the frontier is a place both of "conjunction" and "disjunction" (127); convergence and divergence; encounter and tension; unity and opposition. Simply put, it is a locus of "generative tensions" (Butler, 2000a 146). Or, using Du Boisian terminology we could thus speak of the "two-ness" (5) of both the frontier (which then becomes the "color line") and of the hybrid Creole who lives her/his life on it.7

These necessarily brief and sketchy theoretical considerations are instrumental to move from the static implication inherent in the military, nationalist, and exclusive expression "close ranks," to more fluid and unstable implications that characterize the condition of in-betweenness.8 Notice that any identity positioned on the borderland is deprived of the illusion of being a stable, unitary, self-sufficient subject that is identical to him/herself. It is therefore relevant that the protagonist's name (the ultimate signifier of personal identity) is only introduced towards the end of Part One (31), and that, throughout the novel, it is constantly replaced by other signifiers.9 This "undetermined" condition does not necessarily imply immediate liberation, nor a joyous liberation from a totalizing signifier but, rather, the opening for a space where the painful process of self-definition can be initiated.10

Antoinette realizes the existential weight implicit in the transitory state which defines hybrid identities in the initial pages of the novel. These pages describe a loss of the ontological security necessary to sustain the Creole subject's sense of selfhood: what is abstractly posited by the first person narrator in the first paragraph is here experienced by the character. Redefined as "white nigger" (14) by her Afro-Caribbean friend Tia, and subsequently exposed to the eyes of white visitors while wearing Tia's dirty dress--a sharp contrast with the visitors' "beautiful clothes"(14)--Antoinette is doubly defined in terms of otherness. In both cases, she suffers a denigration (from Latin, denigrare, to make very black) which symbolically and existentially strips her of her whiteness. However, such denigration, contrary to its etymological meaning, does not entail Antoinette's identification with "blackness." She reaches a state that Mary Lou Emery aptly defines as "double marginality" (163). Neither white nor black, she is put in a double bind position. And the only exit consists in the adoption of the "unnatural"11 category of "white cockroach" (13). What ensues is a deprivation of any possibility of belonging and, thus, of a sense of stable selfhood. In fact, immediately afterwards, we read: "[I]t was as if a door opened and I was somewhere else, something else. No longer myself"(16).12 In both passages, identity is defined in function of the subject's positionality. Being "somewhere else"--on a threshold between "whiteness" and blackness--displaces the subject from her location within her self. The hybrid subject epitomizes Bakhtin's vision of subjectivity. The subject, in fact, according to Bakhtin, "never coincides with itself" (Todorov, 1984b 24) since "[m]an has no internal sovereign territory; he is all and always on the boundary" (Todorov 96). However, the impossibility of self-identity does not correspond to a "death of the subject," but rather to a birth of a more complex, heterogeneous and, therefore, unstable sense of identity. The latter is reflected in Rhys's thematic use of mirrors.

The multiplicity of references to mirrors in WSS epitomizes Antoinette's search for a psychic unity which constantly eludes her and which would provide the guarantee of "safety"--an ongoing obsession for Antoinette. The theme of mirroring can thus be read in terms of a Lacanian imaginary relationship with one's specular image through which internal coherence can be achieved. In a sort of mythic return to a world of fullness, the pre-Oedipal child, according to Lacan, gains a unified sense of identity by identifying with her/his specular image. The effect of this imaginary identification, as Lacan puts it, is to counter "the turbulent movements which animate the subject" (Lacan 95; my translation).13 This reference to Lacan allows me to now turn to two competing readings of WSS.

Spivak's reflections on narcissism are predicated on the theoretical assumption that an imaginary identification between Antoinette and her textual alter-ego, Brontė's Bertha, is possible (see Spivak 243). Drake, on the other hand, makes a similar assumption with regards to Tia (see above). The crucial point that both authors disregard concerns the fact that such univocal identifications cannot encompass the complexity of the hybrid subject. While sharing Narcissus's obsession with mirrors, Antoinette is never allowed to reach the insight of her mythic predecessor that would make her utter "iste ego sum" (Spivak 242). In fact, from the position of Brontė's mad woman in the attic, Antoinette retrospectively meditates on the specular image she used to contemplate during her honeymoon in Dominica. She affirms: "The girl I saw was myself yet not quite myself" (107). I choose to read this passage not so much as confirming a schizophrenic division of the self that attests Antoinette's loss of lucidity and critical thinking but, rather, as its very opposite. Namely, as a critical insight into a divided psychic condition which has been there all along. In fact, she immediately adds: "Long ago when I was a child and very lonely I tried to kiss her: But the glass was between us--hard cold and misted over with my breath" (107). Hence the necessity of both Antoinette and her mother to "pretend" (78) in order for identification and semblance of unity to take place.

Antoinette's impossibility to reach (or regress to) a Lacanian imaginary stage is foreshadowed by Rhys's use of symbolism. The destruction of the garden of Coulibri, associated with the "garden in the Bible . . . [where] the tree of life grew" (10-11), anticipates the loss of an Edenic unity (Lacan's imaginary stage on psychological terms; the colonial imperialist domination in historical terms) and with it the existence of a unitary, independent, and coherent self. What is gained, on the other hand, is the possibility to engage dialogically with others. As Paulo Freire succinctly puts it, "self-sufficiency is incompatible with dialogue" (79). To put it in Antoinette's language, the Biblical expulsion corresponds to the opening of a door that takes the subject somewhere else, where it is no longer possible to be oneself independently of others. The world of unitary identifications is replaced by a world of binary relationships whose differences, contrary to those introduced by the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis, are not of kind but of degree--hence the possibility for dialogue to take place. To put it differently, the result of this expulsion is that the Creole subject begins to understand self-completion in terms of a search (i.e. a dynamic, dialogic process), rather than as a state (a static product). Antoinette's encounter with mirrors, to use a Bakhtinian language, is never allowed to be monologic but is always of a dialogic nature.

In WSS, Rhys introduces a political dimension which supplements Lacan's psychological model. Her exploration of the theme of personal identification is complicated by the problematic of racial, economical, cultural and historical differences that inform a key and controversial passage in the novel. The dispute turns around the possibility or impossibility of identification across the color line. The passage depicts the violent encounter that takes place between Antoinette and Tia right after the Afro-Caribbean's upheaval against the descendants of the colonizers. It does not resolve the Spivak/Drake controversy but, rather, indicates the ambiguity that sustains it:

Then, not so far off, I saw Tia and her mother and I ran to her . . . We had eaten the same food, slept side by side, bathed in the same river. As I ran, I thought, I will live with Tia and I will be like her . . . When I was close I saw the jagged stone in her hand but I did not see her throw it . . . I looked at her and I saw her face crumple up as she began to cry. We stared at each other, blood on my face, tears on hers. It was as if I saw myself. Like in a looking-glass. (27)

The ambiguity of this passage is generated by strife between two opposing textual forces. On the one hand, the socio-political dimension that informs the scene indicates the oppositional and violent nature of this confrontation. "Blood" and "tears" function then as signifiers of racial, economical, historical and cultural division (i.e. Spivak's "fracture of imperialism"). On the other hand, the common existential condition of pain that derives from this violent encounter (from Vulgar Latin, incontrare, from Latin in- + contra, against, opposite) indicates, if not a undifferentiated "merging" of identity (Drake 205), at least the existence of a common ground where a generative dialogue can potentially take place.14 It follows that the simile of the looking glass does not reflect a unitary self, but rather indicates the existence of sameness in diversity--a necessary condition for the disruption of the self/other dichotomy.

Rhys does not posit the tension between social fracture and psychological recognition in order to resolve it according to a dichotomic "either/or" logic, but rather in order to affirm and investigate its complexity. To put it with Antoinette's words, we can say that for each perspective "[t]here is always the other side, always" (77). In fact, this tension epitomizes the condition of the hybrid subject in a society based on racial conflict. The drive towards the possibility of belonging and, therefore, identity stability, must confront and engage the exclusion that ensues. And yet, the above passage seems to indicate the direction in which Antoinette sees the possibility for a generative dialogue to take place. Ambiguity in WSS does not foster an "epistemic closure" but rather its openness.15

In Part Three of WSS, the question of identification with Tia reappears and new elements are added to a theory that investigates the relationship of self and other across the color line. In her final dream, Antoinette gains a sense of selfhood understood in teleological terms, that is to say, as a project. It is the recollection of the fire that burned down her colonial mansion in Jamaica that reminds her of "something [she] must do" (111). Her project is a direct continuation of the Afro-Caribbean's reaction to colonial domination. The Creole subject, thus conceived, stops functioning as a frontier between opposing worlds and assumes the role of a bridge that mediates the relationship of power between colonized and colonizer. In an inversion of the Promethean myth, Antoinette's final dream prefigures a return of the fire to the white colonizers who, at the dawn of colonial domination, assumed the status of divinity in order to facilitate their process of subjugation of the indigenous populations. Her dream, therefore, is not of a personal nature; neither does it function as a catalyst for the return of a private repressed fantasy, but rather for a return of the violence that the Western colonial empire had (has?) collectively (i.e. historically and culturally) repressed. Moreover, Antoinette's intermediary position between colonizer and colonized, as well as her shifting status from one pole to the other, helps disrupt the fixity of the self/other dichotomy. In fact, the hybrid subject makes clear that the political status of identity is a matter of position within specific power relationships--what Stuart Hall influentially christened a "struggle around positionalities" (Hall, 92)--and do not depend on a postulation of an essence inherent in the subject.

In order to do justice to Spivak's reading of WSS, it must be stressed that she recognizes that the Creole subject is "caught between the English imperialist and the black native" (242). And yet, in this particular piece, she does not fully consider how the Creole subject cannot be considered independently of the colonizer and the colonized. In fact, it is not entirely accurate to state that WSS is a rewriting of Jane Eyre "in the interest of the white Creole rather than the native" (Spivak 246), since Antoinette's project cannot be dissociated from the project of her black counterpart, Tia (i.e. the former chooses to enter in a dialogical relationship with the latter). Moreover, what characterizes a dialogical relationship is the fact that no "other" who participates in it can be considered as "tangential" (as Spivak defines Christophine's place within the narrative) because in a dialogical relationship self and other are united like binary stars. This does not involve a "merging" that "turns the Other into a self," (to use both Drake and Spivak's problematic assumptions) but rather a Du Boisian understanding of this dynamics: "In this merging," Du Bois specifies, the hybrid subject (of which the African-American is a representative) "wishes neither of the older selves to be lost" (5). It is in order to preserve this generative "two-ness" that Antoinette, at the end of the novel, chooses again to move towards the Caribbean side of her identity.

Antoinette's choice of direction is a political choice which is based on her epistemological understanding of the prerequisites necessary for a generative dialogue to take place. Remembering her parrot from Coulibri which burned during the fire because its wings were clipped (significantly) by Mr. Mason, the colonizer figure, Antoinette says: "I heard the parrot call as he did when he saw a stranger, Qui est lą? Qui est lą? And the man who hated me was calling me too, Bertha! Bertha! The wind caught my hair and it streamed out like wings"(112). Contrary to the parrot, Antoinette is granted "wings" (albeit metaphorical ones) which suggest the possibility for liberation. Rhys offers the Creole subject two possibilities which are representative of two fundamentally opposed theories of identity. Bluntly put, one interrogates identity, the other affirms and asks merely to accept and repeat (parrot?) an oppressive definition of selfhood. On the one hand, the question "Qui est lą?" is characterized by an epistemic openness: it suggests both tolerance towards difference as well as an invitation to engage with difference in a creative dialogue whose goal is an active questioning of identity (as opposed to a re-active answering). On the other hand, the answer to that question provided by the Rochester figure epitomizes an "epistemic closure." In fact, not only does Mr. Mason provide a fixed answer to an open question, but he also imprisons the subject within an alien sense of identity: the signifier "Bertha" replaces identity with otherness and thwarts any possibility of dialogic interrogation.

Antoinette's choice, as the symbolism of flight suggests, indicates a movement towards the question "Qui est lą"--which is also a move in the direction of her Caribbean origins--rather than towards the answer. However, as Sandra Drake's reading proves, the danger of epistemic closure can be encountered even within this perspective. In fact, Drake affirms that Antoinette succeeds in "finally answering" the question, by jumping "into her deepest self" (202)--a sort of "pure" Caribbean identity represented by Tia. Drake argues in favor of a resolution of the paradoxical nature of hybridity by returning to an essentialism that grounds the "truth" of identity within the psychological depths of the individual subject. Contrary to Du Bois' dialogical understanding of "merging," the assumption of Antoinette's totalizing identification with Tia implies the loss of one "of the older selves" (Du Bois). Put differently, Drake seems to advocate the dissolution of the Creole subject's specificity. Furthermore, such a synthesis of self and other brings to a stop the dialogical process of self-interrogation that engages two selves in a common project of self-definition. Synthesis, according to Bakhtin, is the death of communication, questioning and the discovery of new possibilities of being. Hence his insistence that dialogue necessitates "two consciousnesses that do not fuse" (Todorov, 1984b 99). Therefore, while being aware that no definitive answer can be provided to this question, I propose that the beginning of an answer can be found if we turn to a West African proverb which says: "I am because we are; we are because I am. I am we" (Butler, 2002, 180; my emphasis).16 By attempting to answer the question, the self finds herself immediately in communication with another self. The inability to "finally answer" that question is also what keeps the subject alive since to quote Bakhtin again, "to live means to engage in dialogue, to question, to listen, to answer" (Todorov, 1984b 96).

Identity, as Rhys's unanswered question Qui est lą? suggests, can be understood as a continuous process of questioning which takes the form of an unresolved dialogue with other selves. It is a process that sets in motion a dialogic interaction between an "inside" and an "outside." Thus understood, identities stand "as a function of knowing rather than a quality of being" (Adell paraphrasing James 14). They are "ways of making sense of our experiences" (Mohanty 398) which are constantly modified by the subject's interaction with others and with the world. Moreover, WSS's closure suggests that the notion of agency is key for the process of identity formation. Antoinette engages her question through action: the setting on fire of Thornfield.17 The heuristic function of identity suggested by both James and Mohanty can be extended in order to define identity as a way to gain agency in the world. However, the ambivalent image of Antoinette burning with the colonial mansion indicates that the intersection of agency and knowledge do not imply a facile liberation for the Creole/colonial subject. Therefore, what can be read as a "triumph" (Drake 194) also represents the "epistemic violence of colonialism" positing a "self-immolating colonial subject" (Spivak 243). This fundamental unresolved ambiguity--as well as the contradictory nature of hybrid identity and its heuristic function--finds a continuation in Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions.

In WSS, Rhys complicates the notion of the hybrid subject by focusing on questions of cultural hybridity. Dangarembga's meditation on the question of emancipative education concerning the African subject in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) further expands the frontiers of the concept of hybridity in another chronotope.18 She considers the interaction of a dominant culture with a cultural minority (understood as a minority in terms of power) and the production of hybrid subjects that ensues. This move has theoretical consequences in the way we understand hybrid identities because it involves an extension (and therefore transformation) of this concept. More precisely, the notion of hybridity implicit in NC can be seen as encompassing every subject belonging to a cultural minority which has had contacts with different forms of Western imperialism. The "nervous conditions" proper to the hybrid subjects stem from the inability to rethink the ideological hierarchy inherent in the opposition "dominant/subordinate" in order to subsequently initiate a dialogue between binaries in which there is space for the negotiation of cultural identities.19 The confrontation of the dispossessed with the dominant culture becomes in the sarcastic words of Tambudzai's cousin, "a marvelous opportunity [ . . . ][t]o forget who you were, what you were and why you were that" (178-179). Emancipation, thus defined, turns into a violent "assimilation" (179)--a more explicit political counterpart of Mr. Rochester's violent renaming of Antoinette.

Inherent in the theme of emancipation is a struggle to negotiate opposing identity models. Tambudzai's struggle to gain literacy in order to move to a higher degree of "freedom" involves the risk of a loss of her "older self" (Du Bois' term) caused by a disconnection with her cultural origins. Retrospectively, Tambudzai realizes that she "had been too eager to leave the homestead and embrace the 'Englishness' of the mission" (203). The move from "homestead" to "Englishness" is initially introduced as a move from dispossession to possession. However, what the novel progressively investigates is the danger of self-dispossession inherent in the inability to negotiate an identity between two hierarchical cultural spheres.

The strongest opposition to a total "assimilation" with the ideology of the dominant empire signified by the "Englishness," (179) comes from a character who, more than others, is torn between the African and the English world: Tambudzai's cousin, Nyasha. Since Nyasha has been to England during a crucial period for her identity development (the years of primary school), it is in her that the sense of hybridity is mostly developed and, with it, the capacity to critically interrogate the value of the two worlds she carries in herself. And it is precisely through Nyasha's counter--discourse that Dangarembga further explores Rhys's question, "Qui est lą?" and with it, the heuristic and revolutionary potential inherent in the hybrid subject. Contrary to Tambudzai who, newly acquainted with the "Englishness" her uncle represents, avoids "the mazes of self-confrontations," (116) Nyasha, we are told, "thrived on inconsistencies and liked to chart them so that she could turn her attention to the next set of problems" (116). The violent heterogeneity that constitutes the hybrid subject becomes, thus, a privileged place to confront the "inconsistencies" inherent in both internal and external worlds. Put differently, by looking at her African origins through the prism of her Englishness and vice versa, Nyasha creatively exploits what Du Bois calls the gift of "second-sight" (5). However, there is a danger in this hermeneutic gift, since as Du Bois reminds us, the "two-ness" of second sight also corresponds to the two-ness that threatens to tear the subject apart.

Nyasha's case makes clear that the exploration of the generative power of the subject's "inconsistencies" requires an anchorage to social reality which, in her case, is provided by her friendship with Tambudzai. The absence of a dialogic interaction with another self turns what could be called Nyasha's generative inconsistencies into degenerative symptoms. After Tambudzai's departure to a Catholic school named Sacred Heart, Nyasha realizes the centrality of the role of the other for the completion of the self. She writes to Tambudzai: "In many ways you are very essential to me in bridging some of the gaps in my life, and now that you are away I feel them again" (196). The notion of "gap" is key to understand the condition of hybridity. Lacking wholeness in the sense of a unitary and coherent sense of selfhood, the hybrid subject is constituted by internal contradictions that need to be dealt with in order to connect distinct aspects of identity. What takes place in a dialogic process is a co-operative and mutual effort to attend a provisional coherence which, in turn, allows to move forward towards new possibilities of being. Thus conceived, self-unity is never definitively achieved. Instead of a totalizing whole, subjectivity can then be defined as an ever expanding ramification of bridges that holds difference together in order to constitute what Bakhtin calls the "unfinalizability of human consciousness" (14). Dialogism can then be compared to a conjoint hermeneutic effort which attempts to bring about an expansion of consciousness of both subjects involved. Nyasha's realization that Tambudzai is "essential" to her life confirms the wisdom of the African proverb "I am we" as well as the displacement of existence into co-existence inherent to it.

The interruption of the dialogic process of friendship with Tambudzai brings about Nyasha's fragmentation of selfhood. Left alone, the latter cannot sustain the clash of two "unreconciled strivings" (Du Bois 5) and thus fails to negotiate her place on the borderland. Her final words, however, should not be reduced to a schizophrenic (and therefore meaningless) delirium. The heuristic function of the hybrid subject is still at work even (especially?) at this stage. She says to Tambudzai: "I'm not one of them but I'm not one of you" (201). Her impossibility to find a place on either side of the frontier (i.e. either in the world of "Englishness," or with those who blindly try to conform to it) is a clear and lucid diagnosis of her state and of its causes. It is, in fact, important to notice that the unmasking power of Nyasha's language stems from its paradoxical nature. She repeatedly affirms: "I'm not a good girl. I won't be trapped" (201). What is at stake here is the subversion of the dominant definition of "goodness"--a concept which is deftly re-conceptualized in terms of imprisonment of the self (being "trapped"). From this perspective, freedom calls for a refusal of dominant standards of "goodness." The incoherence of Nyasha's speech, therefore, "is perfectly coherent with the incoherence of the world she lives in" (Todorov 1984a 574; my translation). Furthermore, Nyasha's condition cannot be defined as a "nervous condition'--an assimilation to the world of the dominant ideology--but rather as the effect of trying to counter it. Put differently, her failure to disrupt the double bind between "goodness" and "freedom" illustrates the impossibility of bridging the gaps between inconsistent identities from outside a dialogic relationship.

What the narrator defines as "Nyasha's kamikaze behavior" (201) bears important similarities with Antoinette's self-immolating act. Rochester's colonial mansion is paralleled by Nyasha's father's replica of it in Africa. Both signifiers of colonialism are the target of the dissident hybrid subject. In both cases, the disruption of the dominant order affects the dominated self--a narrative move which seems to stress the fact that there is a high price to pay in order to move towards liberation. And yet, it is significant that Nyasha's crisis ultimately functions as an effective communicative act. In fact, it endows Tambudzai with the seeds for a more critical understanding of the position of the colonial subject within fields of power. Tambudzai, at the end of the novel, says: "I was young then, but seeds do grow. Although I was not aware of it then, no longer could I accept Sacred Heart and what it represented as a sunrise on my horizon" (203). In a way reminiscent of WSS's last chapter, this image foreshadows the subaltern subject's re-appropriation of the equatorial sun as a light instrumental for the broadening of her/his cultural horizon--a move which is necessary in order to promote a dialogic (as opposed to dialectic) engagement with the dominant other.

What Dangarembga, in NC's concluding words, defines as a "process of expansion" (204) indicates an expansion of knowledge which helps situate the self within cultural, historical and political forces. What is at stake in this process of expansion is a critical engagement with the ideological fetters that imprison the hybrid/colonial's subject within oppressive paradigms of identity. In fact, both NC and WSS seem to stress the fact that an expansion of one's understanding of selfhood brings about a renewed sense of agency. Further, both novels challenge limiting, partial and totalitarian notions of identity through the power of a creative narrative act. Significantly, Dangarembga concludes NC by writing: "[T]his story is how it all began" (204). The continuation of her project implies an active participation of the reader in that subversive act of communication which is the act of reading. The narrative "I," as it is given voice by the reader, is ultimately always a dialogic "we" signifying the author and reader's participation in a common generative effort to constantly rethink the fundamental question, "Qui est lą?"


1 It is worth noting that Spivak's expression "turning the Other into a self" implies either a conflation (synthesis) of the two poles or, as she argues, its impossibility due to the "the fracture of imperialism" (243).
2 My use of the notion of hybridity is informed by R. Radhakrishnan who defines it as "an excruciating act of self production by and through multiple traces" (Radhakrishnan 314). This concept allows us to think of identity in terms of a process which implies the disruption of binary oppositions. I hasten to add that in this paper I use "hybridity" and "in-betweenness" interchangeably.
3 Collins English Dictionary. Glasgow: HarperCollins, 2000. It may also be worth noting that the majority of stars are part of a binary system, as if to indicate a universal law that privileges co-existence over disconnectedness.
4 For lack of a better term, I continue to use the term "identity" without endorsing the connotation of internal unity and coherence implicit in the etymology of the word.
5 In recent theoretical developments, there is an awareness that the Post-Colonial identification of "self" with the oppressor and "other" with the oppressed perpetuates a form of theoretical imperialism that denies the colonized direct access to selfhood (see Butler 2000b note 7, 30). While embracing this theoretical inversion, my main focus in this paper is to show how identity formation is dependent upon a dialogic relationship in which the other (whoever it is) must be conceived in terms of selfhood. In dialogism, interaction does not occur between self and other but, rather, between self and self, or as Bakhtin puts it, "a fully valid 'thou,' that is, another and other autonomous 'I' " (Bakhtin 93). For the sake of clarity, I will maintain the distinction between "self" and "other" in order to denote the colonized-colonizer relationship. It should be noted that in WSS, the subject's status varies according to the position s/he occupies within a system of relationships. Antoinette, in fact, assumes the status of "self" in relationship to the Rochester figure but should then be defined as "other" in relationship to Tia or Christophine. I find it interesting that the text already disrupts fixed dichotomous ways of thinking.
6 I use here the term Creole in Jean Rhys sense: i.e. as denoting a white subject born in the Caribbean. The category of Creole should then not be confused with the one of "colored" which denotes a subject of mixed descent. The notion of Creole indicates that questions of hybridity, even when they refer to mixing of "races" (understood as a biological fiction that is nonetheless visible and determines a social reality) always imply problems of cultural belonging. Whiteness must then be understood as a cultural rather than biological (i.e. essentialist) category. It is a social, historical and political construct and, as such, it is the product of power. This does not dissolve whiteness as an arbitrary fiction (its status has a social reality), but rather reveals the culturally construed status of "race."
7 Indeed, W. E. B. Du Bois's seminal definition of double-consciousness perfectly matches De Certeau's definition of the frontier. Hence, the heuristic potential inherent in African American identity to help conceptualize future studies on hybridity. The obviousness of the African American in-between position should not be left unnoticed. The reason I first introduced De Certeau's notion of frontier to think through the self-other binary is to subsequently come to a better understanding of Du Bois's definition of "merging' (5).
8 To put it in Gloria Anzaldua's terminology, we must shift from a conception of "border" understood as a "dividing line" to an operative notion of "borderland" defined as a "constant state of transition"; a "vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary" (qtd. in Butler, 2000, 141; my emphasis).
9 The practice of (violent) renaming occupies a central role in the narrative: "white nigger," "white cockroach," "beke," "marionette," and, finally, "Bertha," indicate a multiplicity of signifiers (representative of different social perspectives) that threaten to disrupt the hybrid subject, and contribute to the creation of a contradictory and ambivalent identity. Thus, Antoinette's "undetermined" sense of identity derives from its overdetermination. Antoinette's task, within Rhys narrative project, is to turn this potentially disruptive ambivalence into new possibilities of selfhood.
10 R. Radhakrishnan makes a distinction between a "metropolitan" and a "postcolonial" versions of hybridity. He writes: "whereas the former are characterized by an intransitive and immanent sense of jouissance, the latter are expression of extreme pain and agonizing dislocations" (314).
11 I use this term that repeatedly occurs in NC with critical distance, and with an awareness that the psychology of the colonial subject cannot be considered independently from her/his social, political, historical and cultural context. Such an assumption complicates given notions of "normality" and 'naturalness."
12 The same problem persists throughout the novel. Years later, when talking to the Rochester figure Antoinette says: "I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong . . ." (61). Radhakrishnan postulates a provocative connection between a totalitarian sense of national unity and the notion of identity as a unity. Antoinette's case illustrates the opposite point: lacking any sense of national belonging which would give her a sense of "normative citizenship," she is deprived the "ideological effect that secures the regime of a full and undivided identity" (Radhakrishnan 314).
13 Although I am aware that Lacan's considerations refer to the development of the pre-Oedipal child (six to eighteenth months), their implications can be expanded to encompass fundamental psychic mechanisms that can help clarify Antoinette's struggle for self-definition.
14 As the etymology of the word suggests opposition and therefore the possibility for violence, is not excluded in the meeting with difference and in the nature of relationship. Opposition as part of dialogism should however not be thought of as the only form of interaction. In this lies a fundamental difference between the notion of dialogue and the Hegelian dialectic. In fact, Hegel thinks of the relationship between self-consciousnesses in terms of a "life-and-death struggle" only (12).
15 "Epistemic closure"-a term that I borrow from Louis Gordon while adapting it to the Creole hybrid condition-implies that knowledge of the impossibility of fully belonging "brings knowledge claims to a close" (Gordon 23).
16 This proverb has its European counterpart in Ponge's statement: "Je parle et tu mÕentends, donc nous sommes" (Kristeva 156). Both sayings counter Descartes's cogito ergo sum.
17 Bakhtin writes: "Action and dialogue give expression to all that is within man" (Todorov 90).
18 Neither Rhys nor Dangarembga make use of the concept of hybridity explicitly. My goal is to interact dialogically with these literary texts in order to extrapolate elements for a theory of identity concerning the hybrid subject.
19 It is not my intention to deny the fact that there is a profound gap between the so called First World and the Third World in terms of material conditions. My point is that the hierarchy inherent in the term "first" and "third" should not apply to questions of the domain of cultural heritage. The difficulty in dissociating economic from cultural values stems from the fact that the economic dimension is promoted by the dominant ideology of the First World as the signifier of culture tout court.

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---. Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogic Principle. Trans. Wald Godzich. Minneapolis: U of         Minnesota P, 1984b.

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