The CFP version, more or less.
The Dunghill of the Universe:
Ned Ward and the origins of a Caribbean Anti-Episteme
At the end of the seventeenth century, the London poet and publican Ned Ward (1667-1731) offered London readers his Trip to Jamaica (1698). Ward's pamphlet was popular, and led to many sequels and imitations.1 However, Ward defies common expectations for something that purports to be travel literature -- it is not clear if he ever visited Jamaica at all.2 The natural inclination of a reader with this question in mind is to look for clues that would determine if Ward visited, but a perusal of this brief work reveals the limitations of this approach -- Ward might have visited Jamaica, but he would not have needed to in order to produce this text. Instead of empirical data collected through experience, Ward (re)produces a hot, degenerate and unhealtful Caribbean that is always already familiar to metropolitan readers. Ward's work, I argue, suggests an earlier origin for a virtual Caribbean that exists in the minds of non-Caribbean readers, than we might expect. In a different valence, Ward's Jamaica is the progenitor of the empty signifiers of the "islands" that can be produced with a hasty sketch of a palm tree and umbrella drink.
In the apparent absence of empirical data, Ward borrows heavily from preceding accounts of Jamaica, and diffuses these rather steadfast accounts with a persistent vulgarity as inventive as it is misogynistic: Ward observes that the "cussue," a fruit he found distastefully tart, are "much fitter fruit to recover Lost Maiden-Heads, properly applied, than to be eaten."3 The character of Jamaica itself Ward gives as "The dunghill of the universe, the Refuse of the whole creation… The Nursery of Heaven's Judgements... The Receptacle of Vagabonds, the Sanctuary of Bankrupts, and a close-stool for the purges of our prisons."5 In short, malediction and dirty jokes for the amusement of a metropolitan audience take the place of empirical observation.
This irrelevance of any actual experience to the appearance of this text is all the more surprising considering that it appears at the end of a century during which experience supplanted other kinds of authority in colonial discourse.6 Even as experience becomes the foundation of authority in discourse about England's colonies, Ward can speak with authority, and without experience about the Caribbean. If the Caribbean is simply an empty field, a blank slate where metropolitan writers can scribble dirty jokes, how does this recognition revise our understanding of this literature?
Ward's success with this text suggests an emerging tropical anti-epistemology where the details of any particular place in the Caribbean are subordinate to metropolitan generalizations and individual locations are interchangeable or irrelevant. This discourse depends on the same kind of hemispheric bifurcation as Said's Orient, but the tension here is North and South, rather than East and West, and denuded of the kind of empirical rigor characteristic classic Orientalist discourse. London, Paris, Madrid and Amsterdam are distinct places, with unique characteristics, but the colonies under the sway of these metropolitan centers are not. Ward's text, for all its demotic language and scurrilous appeal, participates in a broader discourse of colonialism by working to deny an individuated identity to this Caribbean island. At a time when "the Global South" is gaining traction as a label for the developing world, it is worth identifying discourses that deny an individual identity to the pieces of this region.