Schamp, J: ”From ‘Terrified Consciousness’ to the Self: Unveiling and Re-imagining Whiteness in Jean Rhys’s ‘The Insect World’ and Helen Klonaris’s ‘Flies’"


Jutta Schamp


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In 2018, Jamaican writer and Professor Kei Miller caused an uproar when his controversial essay “The White Women and the Language of Bees” reopened a debate initiated by Barbadian poet and Professor Kamau Brathwaite in 1974. This debate, which Brathwaite himself elaborated on in 1994, sought to address the following: are white and/or white creole Caribbean authors like Jean Rhys (1890-1979) an inextricable part of Caribbean literary history. While Brathwaite and Miller alike note the specific positionality of Afro-Caribbean literature, which is indelibly marked by the legacy of slavery and African spiritual traditions, they also emphasize that this positionality is often eclipsed by cultural appropriation, neocolonial power relations, and Eurocentric publishing agendas. For both critics, Rhys is an uncertain figure, as her literary works unveil white colonial dysfunction while at the same time can be understood to perpetuate it. In order to take a necessary step in decolonizing and reconfiguring the colonizer-colonized dynamic, as postcolonial theorist, Paul Gilroy, and International Human Rights Lawyer, Shelley Wright, have advocated, I will put Rhys’s short story “The Insect World” in dialogue with a contemporary short story by LGBTQ+ activist, post-Jungian, energy medicine practitioner Helen Klonaris, “Flies” from her 2017 collection, If I Had the Wings, the first published book about the Greek Bahamian experience. Klonaris’s short story gives insight into the construction of modernist white feminine angst while elucidating a contemporary literary reconfiguration of whiteness. Focusing on “Flies,” I will argue that a post-Jungian perspective, one that utilizes James Hillman’s analysis of the symbolism of whiteness and its shadow in conjunction with relevant historical can scrutinize how both authors dismantle the destructive side of whiteness. While Rhys and Klonaris both explore the projection, social hierarchy, patriarchy, violence, trauma, self-alienation, and psychological fragmentation inherent in white colonial British and European culture, Klonaris’s short story gestures towards intervention and healing through the protagonist’s integration of the unconscious and the body. By urging white readers to re-envision race relations through critiquing the supremacist operations of whiteness in her texts, Klonaris extends Rhys’s injunction beyond the Caribbean, implicating readers of global literature to identify and challenge the perpetration of white colonial dysfunction.

Jutta Schamp, Ph.D., is a lecturer at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and California State University, Northridge. She has written a book-length study, Die Repräsentation von Zeit bei Shakespeare, on the representation of time in Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV, and Macbeth (1997). Her published work has examined the reconfiguration of Jewish American femininities, post-Holocaust literature, Shakespeare appropriation, and black and Jewish relations, as well as the presence of trauma, transfiguration, and literary alchemy in the work of David Dabydeen. Her recent post-Jungian publications include “Whose Shadow Is It? The Representation of Postcolonial Trauma and Creativity in Anton Nimblett’s ‘Ring Games’ and ‘Sections of an Orange.’” (International Journal of Jungian Studies; Routledge, August 2018) and “Creolizing C.G. Jung? Re-imagined Alchemy and Individuation in Anton Nimblett’s Sections of an Orange and Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming’s Curry Flavour(Journal of Postcolonial Writing; Routledge, June 2016). jschamp@csudh.edu

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

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