Literary Authenticity & the Caribbean Writer
And while these debates are useful, they become tedious when they limit “authenticity” to the time spent in a locale (or to race, gender, or sexual preference). For what these arguments have in common is a focus on the identity of the storytellers rather than the “authenticity” of the story—which is the real issue at stake. Storytellers come and go, but the story of the Caribbean continues to evolve--waiting for storytellers to respond to the relationship between a people and a place through time.
So how do we know if a story is authentic? According to Walter Fisher, an audience evaluates a story by two criteria: fidelity and coherence. Based on Fisher’s theories “Coherence can be best defined as if a story makes sense structurally. Is the story consistent, with sufficient detail, reliable characters, and free of any major surprises? The ability to judge coherence is learned, and improves with experience.” Narrative fidelity is "concerned with whether or not the story is true and Fisher has five guidelines for evaluating narrative fidelity:
- questions of fact that examine the values embedded in the story, either explicitly or implicitly
- questions of relevance that consider the connection between the story that is told and the values being espoused
- questions of consequences that consider the possible outcomes that would accrue to people adhering to the espoused values
- questions of consistency between the values of the narrative and the held values of the audience
- questions of transcendence that consider the extent to which the story’s values represent the highest values possible in human experience
Therefore, the identity of the storyteller—however that is defined—is irrelevant to the story of the Caribbean which I’ve defined as “The nations of the Antilles that share a common history of colonialism under European dominance and whose Creole identity has been shaped primarily by the merging of African and European cultures and most recently by Asian influences.”
I suppose these debates over literary authenticity and the identity of our storytellers are part of the racial, political and social struggles of the region and will continue as long as the idea of Otherness (based on race, creed, gender, sexual preference—and now time spent in the Diaspora) persists. But these are extra-literary criteria. The real question is how can we increase the publication of stories that illuminate the evolving story of our region: Who are we? Where are we going?