In The Politics of Caribbean Cyberculture, Curwen Best argues that “…the transnation is…already an aging concept” because “[t]he cyber state has superseded it as a frontier category” (26). The suggestion that ‘transnation’ or the ‘transnational’ are losing their currency as critical and rhetorical tropes is perhaps debatable, but it’s interesting to think about the ‘national’ and its interstices when talking about the Caribbean, particularly considering how this week’s readings engage in and with — for lack of a better term — disciplinary criticism.
Best (and Baucom!) ask us not just to consider how we talk about the Caribbean as individual scholars but how this talking-about the Caribbean is caught up in an institutional and (inter)disciplinary apparatus. Both interrogate the concept of the postcolonial — Best more skeptically than Baucom. (Side note: I feel like Best’s willingness to declare transnationalism and postcolonialism “over,” as well as his and Negroponte’s enthusiasm for post-geography, to be part of a similar project of sweeping techno-optimism. It may be useful to consider how a focus on the digital bleeds into these scholars’ work on a subtextual level. Do cultural tropes of technology and progress necessarily shape writing about the digital in this direction? This may be an interesting question to consider as the semester progresses.)
Anyway — returning to the transnational, or the post-transnational, and considerations of how it affects disciplinarity — Best’s work seemed like it ought to be put in conversation with The Integrationist Caribbean. I was struck by the website’s title — to which integration does it refer? The integration of the Caribbean as a singular political or social unit? The integration of the Caribbean with the rest of the world? The site explicitly advocates for the first sort of integration as a path toward the benefits of the second type (e.g., political and economic negotiating power). What I was most surprised to discover, though, was that this integrationist impulse seems to be directed only toward the English-speaking Caribbean, though this decision is never explicitly mentioned or explained on the site.
This is interesting considering arguments around the multiplicity, profusion, and indefinability of the Caribbean cultural-social-political space made by many Caribbean theorists, and particularly considering Benitez-Rojo’s specifically language-based argument: though one may disagree with his thoughts on how the “soup of signs” ought to fit into a larger theorizing of the Caribbean, it’s clear that, as he says, “the Caribbean is saturated with messages…sent out in five European languages (Spanish, English, French, Dutch, and Portuguese), not counting aboriginal languages [and] … the different local dialects” complicate both communication and any idea of the ‘pan-Caribbean’ (2). Disregarding this complication — as The Integrationist Caribbean seems to be doing — certainly makes it easier to theorize an ‘integrated’ Caribbean, but it seems intellectually dishonest.
I’m skeptical of any claim (about the digital or the Caribbean) that seems too simple and easy, and I find that Benitez-Rojo’s thoughts on codes, signs, messages, and language games problematize not only The Integrationist Caribbean but also Best’s optimistic argument that the cyber-state is a new frontier, rendering obsolete (to an extent) both the nation and the transnation. To be fair to Best — he isn’t blinded by naive techno-optimism to the degree that Negroponte is, and his thoughts on questions of access to technology are useful and important. However, it seems as if he simply argues for an interdisciplinary approach to the Caribbean, where Benitez-Rojo and Baucom actually do it (and — I believe — had already done it at the time Best’s book was published) with their interventions via mathematics, art history, and systems biology.
I feel like this interdisciplinary, profuse, chaotic approach is particularly apt in the way it reflects the perceived ‘messiness’ or ‘indefinability’ of Caribbean space/place. Thoughts?
I am also drawn to the creatively inter-disciplinary work of Benítez-Rojo and Baucom and their approaches to talking about or locating the Caribbean in a framework of Chaos, in the former’s case, and a kind of organic, embodied metaphor in the latter’s. While, Benítez-Rojo draws on images of turbulence, the void, and clashing, I still think there is a kind of integrated Caribbean in his re-reading of the repeating Island. His images of a Milky Way or a network comprised of muiltiple subcodes is a a kind of ordered chaos read chaotically but still intent on capturing the entire Caribbean into some kind of sprawling but connected system. Similarly, with Baucom’s metaphor of the Atlantic as “the nervous system of empire”, there is an image of connected parts constituiting a whole but in dynamic and fluid ways. I think you are correct that both these authors might problematize The Integrationist Caribbean as it is geared toward official policies of economic integration and foreign policy approaches that do not allow for the messiness and indefinability of the Carribean as Milky Way or Caribbean as synaptic sea.
*Also, just want to note that your title made be think of Appiah’s essay, “Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?”, a piece which I think speaks alongside Baucom’s efforts to interrogate the space/time of the postcolonial Benítez-Rojo’s interest in reading the Caribbean from a postmodern perspective.