Mapping the Literary Imagination

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Mapping the literary imagination

Sunday, August 12, 2012
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Little, if any, of local landscape and culture is omitted from Kris Rampersad’s LiTTscapes: Landscapes of Fiction from Trinidad and Tobago. Building on a bibliography of more than 60 authors and 100 literary works, with nearly 300 photographs, Rampersad draws readers to the real-life landscapes, landmarks and cultural institutions that forged the literary imagination of local authors. As Rampersad describes it in the postscript, “LiTTscapes is a kind of GPS of the writer’s imagination; a map of the journey from place to page as much as it is about specifics in terms of location and experiences.” 
Rampersad bridges the gap between fiction and reality, painstakingly mapping the spaces in which characters in classic novels such as V S Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas and Earl Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance were imagined, and the spaces where those characters were written into existence.
However, unlike an actual atlas, LiTTscapes does not merely locate places of importance, but contextualises them for readers. Rampersad includes more than 30 pages of guidelines for LiTTours: detailed directions for walking and driving tours based on literary works. The book and the tours were launched on August 4 with a reception at Whitehall, referred to in the chapter LiTTerary Houses as the foremost of the Magnificent Seven buildings lining the Queen’s Park Savannah. Probably the most endearing aspect of LiTTscapes is the thoroughness of the text, which does not focus only on stalwarts like Nobel laureates Naipaul and Derek Walcott, but on the sometimes less well-known author. Rampersad’s section on Carnival, in the chapter FesTTscapes, certainly includes excerpts from and analysis of Lovelace’s Dragon, but for the description of the jab-jab she turns to Isaiah James Boodhoo’s Between Two Seasons. References to the fancy sailor are sourced from the short stories of Willi Chen and Seepersad Naipaul. But it is Lovelace in the final analysis who is credited with “the most passionate and intense effort at defining Carnival.”
The Dragon, one of the more abstract tour guides included in LiTTscapes, requires you to “feel Aldrick’s tallness and pride as he contemplates ‘the guts of the people’” and to “drag yourself to the corner of Calvary Hill and Observatory Street” at the end of Carnival. More concrete guides direct readers to go to Woodford Square and lean against the wall like Lavern from Lawrence Scott’s Witchbroom, followed by a walk to Our Lady of Sorrows in the Laventille Hills. Rampersad aptly characterises Laventille and the challenge it poses to authors. “The hill is a metaphor. It is the ultimate example of life, the business of living, people being that challenges many a Trinidadian writer to capture its essence… Earl Lovelace opens While Gods are Falling with a contrasting (view) of the poverty and wealth of the city, as do virtually all the writers when (contemplating) the city from the hill or the hill from the city.” Most likely this understanding of characterisation, in addition to thoroughness, is what led Rampersad to include the village shop and rumshop in the chapter on cultural institutions.
Yet, for a text attempting to make concrete some of the most notable spaces of T&T’s vast literary imagination, the accompanying photos did not seem to submerge the reader into the spaces, and a higher resolution might have helped some photos. Still, LiTTscapes successfully charters a path towards deeper understanding of not only the literary works that define us, but also the authors and their multifaceted inspiration. In the final chapter, Global MovemenTTs, Rampersad alludes to the fact that maps are not only for pinpointing your locale, but discovering how that locale relates to the rest of the country and the world. Excerpts from writers writing away from home, such as Shani Mootoo and Ramabai Espinet, demonstrate that their contribution is just as vital to the local imagination as those who remain on the island. “The Trinbagonians out of the wider diaspora of London, Toronto, the USA, India and Africa, complete and at the same time continue the circle and cycle of migrations that characterises the progress of world civilisations”. LiTTscapes is available at Metropolitan Book Suppliers.
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