Poetics of coolitude hauntings
Haunted stories of Elizabeth Jaikaran
To think of haunting as abstract and divorced from a present history is to depoliticize the present moment in which brown bodies actively resist oppression — be it from corrupt governments, institutional racism, and/or misogyny sponsored by a patriarchal culture. Yes, there is a past that haunts Caribbean poetic and imaginary landscapes: slavery, indenture, and colonization.
In her book Trauma: A Collection of Short Stories, Elizabeth Jaikaran features the stories of the women that she comes from, holding their narratives as various pieces of the mosaic that haunts her writing, refusing erasure or forgetting. Behind every story in the collection is an essay that grounds the reader in the political thinking necessary for understanding the actors’ various contexts.
The ghost in the story is laid bare through its direct exploration in a change of voice from narrative essay to a more journalistic tone. The result of this pairing of voices astonishes the reader with the “story-behind-the-story,” given national contextualizations for the experiences of the various protagonists.
The journalistic chapters take the reader through the hauntings of “Domestic Violence in Guyana,” “Guyana’s Disposition on LGBT Rights,” and “The Phenomenon of Guyanese Suicide.” These chapters, paired with women’s stories — like those of Pansy, Inez, Leela, Melissa, and the writer’s own self Elizabeth — invigorate the text in its unflinching truth speaking. To forget these women is to forget the self.
Jaikaran ends her book with a piece that talks about trauma, that I read as functioning in a similar way to haunting. She writes,
Trauma flirts with your sanity in unlikely places. Like an inappropriate suitor who asks for your number at a funeral. It reminds you of its significance in your most peaceful moments. Like just as you’re recounting a good day before bed, only to have your mind drift to all the horrors that generations of women have borne for the sake of your comfort. Truly, I do not fear the day when I will be questioned by the Creator. But I fear my reunion with my foremothers and the questions they will ask me. “Why have you lost your language, child?” “Have you made the most of the life we gifted you with our blood?” I do not have worthy answers. (Jaikaran 119)
For Jaikaran, trauma is affective, tied to a sense of loss, haunting the self’s understanding of time and place. For Jaikaran, the reckoning of the foremothers displays the questions that haunt her speaker — language attrition and personal joy. Indeed, all of the stories in this collection thrum with these ghosts: what is lost, what is loved, what is remembered.