Dismantling the Prison-House of Colonial History in a Selection of Michelle Cliff’s Texts

Abid Larbi Labidi


Most, if not all, writings by Jamaican writer Michelle Cliff are connected by a subterranean desire to re-write Afro-Caribbean history from new untold perspectives in reaction to the immense loss and/or distortions that marked the region’s history for entire centuries. In this paper, I meticulously read four of Cliff’s texts--Abeng (1984), its sequel No Telephone to Heaven (1987), Claiming an Identity They Taught Me to Despise (1980) and The Land of Look Behind (1985)--to look at how Cliff retrieves her black ancestors’ submerged history and erased past. I particularly explore the methods Cliff deploys to re-center a history deliberately erased/or distorted by what she ironically calls “the official version” (Free Enterprise, 1994, p. 138) in allusion to the Eurocentric narratives about the twin imperial projects of slavery and colonialism. Finally, I investigate the wealth of possibilities offered by fiction, unrecorded memory, oral story-telling and imagination to out-tell Eurocentric historiography and re-write Afro-Caribbean history from the victims’ perspective: slaves, colonial subjects, marginalized female figures, black Diasporic characters, etc.

Keywords: Michelle Cliff, “official” history, history re-writing, memory, fiction

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