Caribbean Immigrants in Relationship: Tracing the Transnational Connections between Austin Clarke and Samuel Selvon
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Austin Clarke and Samuel Selvon are similarly positioned in the literary field and offer overlapping perspectives in their depictions of Caribbean immigrants, yet for the most part, there has been no in-depth comparison of their careers. Moreover, their decades-long friendship and its documentation—archived correspondence and Clarke’s memoir dedicated to Selvon’s memory—have never garnered critical attention. My dissertation fills this gap in criticism through an investigation of the transnational relationships surrounding and explored within their literary production. In situating these two authors as simultaneously connected and isolated as they traverse different national boundaries, I foreground their emphasis on the interplay between the interpersonal relationships of Caribbean immigrants and the social structures within which they function. Drawing on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, I argue that both Clarke and Selvon investigate how social reality is encoded, inscribed, and naturalized while also suggesting the transformative potential of the social practices of Caribbean immigrants. Underlying this dissertation is a reflective reconsideration of the categories used to organize Caribbean writers and the interpretive frames applied to their literary production. Through reference to their archived correspondence, I explore the parodic strategies deployed by Clarke and Selvon as they conform to and undermine established boundaries, categories, and modes of behavior. My careful study of the privileges and pressures of macho performance in their correspondence guides my reading of their fiction and my refashioning of their critical reputations. Though critics have read their work as simply sociological descriptions of distinct social contexts and have misrepresented them as inept or reductive when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality, I demonstrate that both authors present remarkably nuanced depictions of gender construction as informed by and informing racial tensions, economic realities, and sociopolitical contexts. Clarke and Selvon demystify naturalized systems of domination, and careful analysis of the relationships that shape the lives of their characters uncovers how their practices and perceptions are tied to their manufactured feelings of loneliness and vulnerability as they desperately seek control of or become resigned to their constrained circumstances.