Campbell Corner Language Exchange

"Infinities of Islands":
Reconfigurations of Crusoe's Island in the Work of
Bishop, Coetzee, Tournier, and Walcott

by James McCorkle

Part one

The re-visioning of Crusoe, Friday, and the island upon which they were castaway offers a register of the connections between postcolonialism and postmodernism. Both involve a radical decentering of economic, aesthetic, and political identities and structures. Postmodernism may be posited as the sliding chain of signifiers, where signifier is subsumed or erased by a subsequent one, resulting in either indeterminacy or accretive space. If this can serve as an abbreviated description of postmodernism, then what is most striking is the unmarked interstices within the slide of signifiers, the in-betweenness in the lattice-work of the accreted space. This translational arranging, and this diaspora of meaning, can describe postcolonialism. Thus both postmodernism and postcolonialism reveal temporal and spatial disjunctions which subvert the totalizing effects of dominant metropolitan culture.

Implicit in this brief sketch of postmodernism and postcolonialism are oppositional and transformational elements. Rather than defining postmodernism as the globalization of multinational capitalism, postmodernism is the interrogation of that imperative culture including oppositional positions. This process is subsumed in such a postcolonial project perhaps best typified by Derek Walcott's poetry. Homi Bhabha describes Derek Walcott's project as going beyond "binaries of power in order to reorganize our sense of the process of identification in the negotiations of cultural politics" (233), so as to write "a history of cultural difference that envisages the production of difference as the political and social definition of the historical present" (234). Walcott's poetry registers the history of language--its genealogy and geography--and offers the prospect of a transforming language, one not rejecting its histories but "turning the right to signify into an act of cultural translation" (234). The complex of the figures of Crusoe, Friday, and their island provide a narrative in which, in the works of Walcott, Elizabeth Bishop, J. M. Coetzee, and Michel Tournier, the interstitial condition of identity becomes the primary focus. While Defoe's narrative was an accumulation and writing over of previous accounts of exile fused with Defoe's economic doctrine, the recent re-visions of the narrative displace Defoe's interests with a re-reading of Crusoe's position. Defoe's vision of a cohesive, hierarchial, colonial world driven by capitalism and theology became praxis as Defoe was writing his narrative. We have become Crusoe, his name is part of ours, he is the mask that Walcott, Bishop, and Tournier assume to consider their own identities. For Coetzee, Crusoe is the originary but lost figure who controls the identities of all who come into contact with him.

The materialist history that Defoe theorized and initiated (where history and the novel, for Defoe, emerge as discourses supplanting and complementing each other), is not the modality these writers explore. The perceived failure to engage history on materially explicit terms of class, economics, gender, or sexuality are criticisms levelled especially at Bishop and Coetzee. The question of representation, how identities of self and other are constituted, do not omit or abandon history, but militate, as Brian Macaskill writes of Coetzee, "against facile and misleading oppositions, and not only generates subtle and affective ways to 'do-writing', but allows also for the activity of 'doing-listening'" (472). Embedded in the dynamic of self and others or their representations is the condition of listening. Listening is the interstitial space where reception, response and transformation are possible. The conditions of reception are explored, theorized and tested in the texts of Bishop, Coetzee, Tournier, and Walcott. To listen closely opens an ethical space and temporality. To listen implies an approach to the other who is speaking, so that the words become shared and dwelled in or upon. To listen is to accumulate and accomodate histories; the failure to listen results in entrapment within a restrictive identity. Listening is the opening toward interpretation and a re-vision of one's self and one's relation to others. Elizabeth Bishop's poem "Crusoe in England," from her final collection, Geography III, begins with Crusoe's lament that no one has listened thus his chronicle has been misread:

But my poor island's still un-rediscovered, unrenamable. None of the books has ever got it right.

Crusoe's island, unlike the report of an island being born, named, and "caught on the horizon like a fly," remains uncharted and unrecognized except as a misidentified feature. Later Crusoe, when introducing Friday's memory, parenthetically remarks that "Accounts of that have everything all wrong." What "that" refers to is left undisclosed, necessitating that we listen carefully to Crusoe's elegy.

Crusoe serves as a mask for Bishop, who avoided writing direct autobiographical poetry. David Kalstone dates "Crusoe in England" as having its inception in Brazil, reporting that in a 1965 letter to Bishop's friend, the poet and editor, Howard Moss, the poem needed "a good dusting" (255). It was not published, however, until 1971. With the death of her companion Lota de Macedo Soares in 1967, Bishop's desire to remain in Brazil, where she had been living for over fifteen years, diminished and she returned permanently to the United States. The loss of Lota was further amplified by the loss of the houses in Ouro Preto and Petropolis, which Bishop shared with Lota. A castaway since her childhood, these houses represented a haven for Bishop. The poem, narrated by a Crusoe bereft of his island filled with singularities and his beloved Friday, uncannily portrays Bishop's bereavements.

Bishop suggests that not to hear Crusoe's lament, to continue to get it "all wrong," is to fail to hear Bishop's own, albeit mediated, self-definition. Portraying herself as Crusoe, Bishop considers herself as an outsider: Crusoe's only home is memory. Sexuality, too, is displaced: neither Crusoe's nor Bishop's homosexuality is directly expressed, instead that identity must be listened for. This does not mean to suggest ambivalence, but a political and social necessity, as well as personal temperament, for discretion, and more importantly the awareness that homosexuality is indeed not listened for, except so as to silence.

Homosexuality remains difficult to name--accounts always get it wrong. Bishop has seized another text, a different history, and re-visioned it to provide her own history of identity. It is a Crusoe and Friday who we recognize, but who are also re-enunciated. For Bishop as a lesbian, a history of desire and presence must be retrieved; failing that, one must be invented. Or more radically, Bishop transgresses by utilizing an archetypic narrative to open a space to listen to what has been silenced. Bishop must cross genres and figuratively cross-dress to disclose her identity. Boundaries are thus revealed but also shown to be permeable or porous. What is striking about "Crusoe in England," and somewhat parallel to Tournier's Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique, is that it is Friday who appears to re-vision Crusoe's sexual and spiritual identity:

Just when I thought I couldn't stand it
another minute longer, Friday came.
(Accounts of that have everything all wrong.)
Friday was nice.
Friday was nice, and we were friends.
If only he had been a woman!
I wanted to propagate my kind,
and so did he, I think, poor boy.
He'd pet the baby goats sometimes,
and race with them, or carry one around.
--Pretty to watch; he had a pretty body.
And then one day they came and took us off.

Crusoe's interest in Friday is not proprietory, though Bishop has indeed problematized the conditions of desire between the European Crusoe and the exotic, otherness of Friday. While Crusoe assumes a paternal voice in this passage, that voice is perhaps a variation on the voice of lament for the loss of an intimate, for Bishop ruptures this passage's enclosing, mirroring, coupling language with the breaking of the idyll: "they came and took us off." This does not resonate with rescue or salvation but punishment or imprisonment.

Crusoe's exile in England returns him to a world of interrogating gazes, that of Foucault's panopticon. His artifacts are desired by a local museum, though "How can anyone want such things," Crusoe asks, especially since the "living soul has dribbled away" from each object. Friday's presence suspends the genealogy of disciplinary modalities; prior to Friday's introduction to the poem, Crusoe describes his recurring nightmare of "islands / stretching away from mine, infinities / of islands, islands spawning islands" where he had to live on each, "registering their flora, / their fauna, their geography." Ironically, this is the nightmare of procreation, belonging to the same genealogy as Crusoe's comment that both he and Friday "wanted to propagate"--where an economy of reproduction replaces eros.

Crusoe, however, marks a difference in how one constitutes oneself within sexuality, for he also desires Friday. Desire holds aesthetic values as well as the colonial rejection of individual subjectivity and possible freedom. "Pretty to watch; he had a pretty body," Crusoe remarks, thereby combining the gaze's possession and mastery of the body as well as aesthetic pleasure. That these two modalities may not be exclusive reflects a genealogy that cannot be erased from Defoe's figure of Crusoe. Indeed, Bishop may be implicitly scrutinizing her motives in her relationship to Lota. To write from Crusoe's position or to ventriloquize his voice is then to hear in her own voice the ethos of Crusoe.

Bishop's Crusoe is determined by her own loss and estrangement: Crusoe is appropriated figure to convey Bishop's condition. Bishop offers a critique of the self, as does Tournier in Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique. However, there is a crucial difference: Bishop's Crusoe expresses desire for Friday, whereas he is not an object of desire for Tournier's Robinson. Despite all the roles Robinson insists on Friday performing, Friday seemed to belong "to an entirely different realm, wholly opposed to his master's order of earth and husbandry" (180, 188) and as Crusoe writes in his journal, "As to my sexuality, I may note that at no time has Friday inspired me with any sodomite desire" (211, 229). Eros humanizes Bishop's Crusoe--the absenting of eros, as we shall see, dehumanizes Tournier's figure of Crusoe.

Gilles Deleuze, writing on Tournier's novel, distinguishes between the concrete Other, which "designates real terms actualizing the structure in concrete fields" and the a priori Other, which is this structure or "the existence of the possible in general, insofar as the possible exists only as expressed" (318). The novel is Robinson's meditation on a world absent of all Others; indeed, what Tournier has indicated is the "otherwise-Other" (319). Rather than belonging to a shared landscape or perceptual field, Robinson lacks this structure, with its double fold of concrete and a priori others; instead he lives within a completely different structure. Though Robinson exhibits no perverse behavior--indeed he seems potently rational--Deleuze argues Tournier has theorized, by showing, the manifestation of perverse structure, or the principle from which perverse behavior is actualized: "the perverse structure may be specified as that which is opposed to the structure-Other and takes its place" (319).

While at first Robinson is discouraged by the absence of others and how cognition and identity seem structured by the presence of others, he soon abandons these early speculations in favor of what Colin Davis describes as a "poetic meditation" and a "rejection of discursive reason and the abnegation of selfhood" so as to "allow the genesis of a new kind of order" (377-8). While Davis correctly sees Robinson's ambition, at one stage of the novel, to affect a "reversal of individuation" and a "synthesis of consciousness and nature" (376); the novel unfolds into a theory of the very renunciation of nature, a removal of being from self and the world. Thus Robinson's is a journey into the absenting of Others, which describes, perhaps in extremis, the colonial enterprise. The colonial project is a perverse structure in that it presupposes the "murder of the possible" or commits an "Other-cide" and an "altrucide" (320), to use Deleuze's terms. Although Deleuze does not draw together the psychoanalytic and the historical in this discussion of perversion, Tournier constructs a new myth whose structure is that of perversion which can describe colonialism. While the absenting of the other, and thereby the murder of the possible, is replete throughout history, by assuming Defoe's narrative, Tournier has placed this fiction's description of perverse structure in a postcolonial context.

Robinson's journey is toward an undifferentiated state where he embodies the solar myth or merges with the surface of the sky. Robinson's journey takes him through the elements: he is delivered to the island over water; he moves through the earth in all its degrees from wallowing in the mire with the peccaries to cultivate the earth, and to curl into the island's deep cave:

He was suspended in a happy eternity. Speranza was a fruit ripening in the sun whose white and naked seed, embedded in a thousand thicknesses of skin and husk and rind bore the name Robinson. (101-2, 106)

While enmeshed in the element of the earth, Robinson slides between the realities of the island and phantasms, memories, and reveries. Tournier's organic metaphor of shedding and ripening, however, does not designate generation or fertility. Instead, Robinson acts incestuously to drain the island of its life:

. . . he could not conceal from himself the fact that although his own belly might be filled with milk and honey, Speranza herself was being exhausted by the monstrous maternal role he had imposed upon her. (108-9, 113)

Robinson grows more than he can consume; in fact, he creates prohibitions against consumption. All his activity is directed toward accumulation. His accumulation, however, is the consumption of the entire island, which is the primary effect of a colonial economy. Robinson transforms his desire. He sees himself as both the agent of monstrous generation--

Even worse, I came near to sullying her with my semen. What hideous ripening might not that living seed have produced, in the dark, vast warmth of the cave? I think of Speranza swelling like a loaf in which the yeast is working, her bloated body spreading of the surface of the waters, eventually to die in disgorging some monster of incest. (109, 114)

--and, as the outcome of that hideous coupling, he implicitly names himself as that "monster of incest." Increasingly, his desire and his sexual identity becomes undifferentiated and objectless. Desire, language, and memory are all interwoven. As desire loses its sexual energy in its course toward an undifferentiated condition, words and memories lose their energy. Writing in his journal, Robinson expresses this solar desire, which will separate himself from the world of others:

To say that my sexual desire is no longer directed toward the perpetuation of the species is not enough. It no longer knows what its purpose is! For a long time memory was sufficiently active in me to feed my imagination with objects of desire, non- existent though they were. But that is over now. Memory has been sucked dry. The creatures of my imagination are lifeless shadows. I may speak the words, woman, breasts, thighs, thighs parted at my desire, but they mean nothing. Words have lost their power; they are sounds, no more. Does this mean that desire has died in me for lack of use? Far from it! I still feel within me that murmur of the spring of life, but it has become objectless. Instead of flowing submissively along the course set for it by society, it floods out in all directions like the rays of a star, as though in search of a channel, the course wherein all the waters will be joined and flow together toward a goal. (113, 118-9)

Robinson indicates that his journey is toward some transcendent and imperial goal. A total, celestial unity is his aspiration; instead of integrating or submitting his desire to the demands of society, his desire becomes over-arching, drawing all desire into a radiating golden flood.

Part two

Robinson is his own interrogator. As he moves from the identification with the elemental earth, past the violent, regurgitative fire of Friday's inadvertent explosion of the storage cave, to his solar or airy identification, Robinson maintains a rigorous self-examination. Aware that a "new man seemed to be coming to life within him, wholly alien to the practical administrator," Robinson realized that he "must continue his labors, while observing in himself the symptoms of his own metamorphosis" (119, 125). While the text is deployed as two narratives, one the diachronic, omniscient narrator or analyst and the other being Robinson's journals, the increasingly synchronic trace of the analysand, what both narratives describe is Robinson's study of the self's relationship to itself. This examination of one's relationship to oneself, or what Foucault has termed ethics, seeks to reveal "how the individual is supposed to constitute himself as a moral subject of his own actions" (228). This shift of emphasis from the usual understanding of the study of ethics, does not, as Arnold Davidson notes, deny the "importance of either the moral code or the actual behavior of people" (228). Robinson, in committing his "Other-cide," creates an ethics which is solely a rapport or discourse with himself. Furthermore, this discourse is directed increasingly toward what Foucault has termed telos, the final aspect of four in his study of ethics contained in his volumes of The History of Sexuality. Here, what is of concern is what we aspire to be or what our desired being might be. Robinson seeks to ascend out of himself, time, and history: in his apostrophe to the sun, Robinson pleads,

"O Sun, deliver me from the pull of gravity! . . . O Sun, cause me to resemble Friday. . . . But if my aeolian comrade draws me to himself, O Sun, is it not that he may guide me toward you? Sun, are you pleased with me? Look at me. Is my transformation suffciently in the manner of your own radiance?" (202-3, 217).

Friday's presence altered the arrangement of power. Power, particularly after the explosion, which destroyed Robinson's reconstruction of European social and geographical organization, shifts from judicial, economic, and disciplinary, to that of the aspiration for ascension and the complete annihilation of self and other. The subjection of Friday, although never total, disappears after the explosion. Friday emerges, for Robinson, as his guide. However, it would be a mistake to see Friday as a Virgilian mentor: Friday is Robinson's mirror insofar as Robinson constructs that mirror. Following his own desires and the wish to enter the world of possibility that the Whitebird offered, Friday is separate from Robinson's aspirations. Ironically, it is Friday who compels Robinson to maintain his journal, fashioning quills from albatross feathers and ink from porcupine fish. Though writing may have seemed to have been rendered impotent, Friday recognizes that it is Robinson's guide toward the condition he aspires to. The logbook is increasingly synchronic, in that history and time fuse into a single moment; the writing is Friday's double, for it anchors Friday's image in Robinson's imagination as his being-to-be:

He carries his body like a sovereign affirmation, he bears himself like a monstrance of flesh. His animal beauty proclaims itself, seeming to create a nothingness around it. .....

He smiles at me and, raising his hand in a gesture like that of an angel in a religious painting, points to the sky, where the southwesterly breeze is dispersing the clouds that have accumulated during the past several days, to restore the untrammeled reign of the sun. (206, 221)

Writing traces Robinson's aspiration toward a solar subjection, where total submission is demanded the sun's "all powerful majesty," whose "golden weight" pressed on the expanse of sea and island (171, 181). This solar reign transforms Robinson: the intrusive landing of the sailing vessel Whitebird inserted Robinson into the world of possibility and history also returned him to his age. Its departure returns him to his solar idyll and to his own image of himself within that solar reign: "The glowing light clad him in an armor of unfading youth and set upon his head a helmet flawlessly polished and a visor with diamond eyes" (235, 254). At this moment, Robinson is rendered completely inhuman, he has become a "sun-god." Writing stops at his self-imaged ascension; with the cessation of writing comes the ending of our listening, for we (complicitous with the omniscient narrator or analyst) cannot hear the inhuman Robinson. The question of listening and writing is central to Coetzee's Foe. Here, as in Tournier's novel, Friday is the primary figure, around which all else is defined or seeks definition. Friday is most often portrayed as having an animal vitality and playfulness; in Tournier's fiction the image of the noble savage is completely assumed by Robinson. Tournier's novel depicts the production of colonial identity in terms of perversion and the economy of desire: "It is always in relation to the place of the Other," Bhabha writes, "that colonial desire is articulated: the phantasmic space of possession that one subject can singly or fixedly occupy, and therefore permits the inversion of roles" (44). Tournier's Robinson reads Friday much as he reads the random passages of the bible for self-illumination. Coetzee's Friday, however, ironically disallows the production of identity or it takes place only with its futility fully evident. As Richard Begam has argued, in Foe Coetzee "seeks to represent the unrepresented as unrepresented, to show precisely the necessity of enabling them to represent themselves"; in so doing, this is "a novel whose postmodernism is ultimately pressed into the service of its postcolonialism" (125).

In Foe, writing is depicted as a means of gaining power, either to exert subjection or to elude it, and thus to be able to represent one's identity. Friday and Foe are parallel but independent figures from whom Susan Barton seeks her own identity. Foe occupies a position of apparent power as he is situated in the rising dominant literary economy of journalism and the novel. Even so, Foe is besieged by creditors, forcing him into hiding and furtive movements. In so portraying Foe, Coetzee has made any salvation he could offer Barton ironic. What Barton seeks cannot be maintained in the literary economy Foe participates in: her narrative will be erased for there is no means of representing it from his position. Barton asserts that writing requires and insists upon truth: to Captain Smith's comment that the bookseller's (a conflation of the author and the publisher) "trade is in books, not in truth," Barton replies "If I cannot come forward, as author, and swear to the truth of my tale, what will be the worth of it? I might as well have dreamed it in a snug bed in Chichester" (40). Barton implicitly is caught between veracity and art: she recognizes that her narrative, as spoken, "passes the time well enough," but fears "its charm will quite vanish when it is set down baldly in print" (40).

Barton distrusts the written word. In the remarkable exchange between Barton and Foe, she argues that "Letters are the mirrors of words. Even when we seem to write in silence, our writing is the manifest of a speech spoken within ourselves or to ourselves" (142). Foe responds that "Writing is not doomed to be the shadow of speech" and that indeed "May it not be that God continually writes the world, the world and all that is in it?" (142-3). It is that Barton insists on listening, and that there would thus be an authentic narrative to be recounted, that in part determines her imprisonment to what will never be heard: her daughter's fate and Friday's story. In turn, insisting on authentic speech imprisons others, such as Friday, to Barton's prescribed discipline. Of course the opposite--some form of inauthetic speech or writing--offers no hope. The problem lies the very positing of the notion of authentic speech and the implicit oppositional dynamics that term evokes.

Truth is, however, only a commodity for Barton. The truth of Crusoe's life on the island is locked in Friday, as is the truth of his mutilated condition. While Barton is engaged in recovering a narrative of the island prior to her arrival, this narrative is analogous to the harvests of gold and souls desired by Europeans in their conquest of the new world. Although Barton protects Friday from falling into the hands of slave-traders--albeit her credulity is the cause--Friday remains in her thrall in as much for his being her possession as for her concern for his safety. Friday is seen by Barton as an obdurate innocent whose origin is simply Africa. Friday, however, holds Barton enthralled, hence she cannot release herself from him. Barton's reading of Friday is not sufficient; she realizes that her representation of him remains incomplete. Coetzee, however, suggests that no representation can describe Friday--unless it is Friday's own. Barton's desire for obtaining Friday's identity amounts to her own colonization of Friday's body and soul. Indeed, Foe reveals this: "We deplore the barbarism of whoever maimed him, yet have we, his later masters, not reason to be secretly grateful? For as long as he is dumb we can tell ourselves his desires are dark to us, and continue to use him as we wish" (148). Foe succinctly describes the cynicism of the metropolitan ethos of the postcolonial period.

Coetzee's fiction suggests that any description of colonial power must be cited in the immediate locale and in the intimate relations of individuals. Barton herself reveals this in her journal-like letters to Foe: "To tell my story and be silent on Friday's tongue is no betters than offering a book for sale with pages in it quietly left empty. Yet the only tongue that can tell Friday's secret is the tongue he has lost!" (67). Coetzee has placed Barton in the middle of writing; her voice has no historical context as recognized by the dominant culture, compared to Crusoe's or Foe's. Nor does she have a legacy: her search for her stolen daughter is fruitless; the child who claims her as her mother is a chimera. There is no writing after Barton, that is she does not initiate or inspire a tradition; instead her discourse disappears into the text of Crusoe's story. The struggle for representation is a linguistic and aesthetic one--as Foe states,

You err most tellingly in failing to distinguish between my silences and the silences of a being such as Friday. Friday has no command of words and therefore no defence against being re-shaped day by day in conformity with the desires of others. I say he is a cannibal and he becomes a cannibal; I say he is a laundryman and he becomes a laundryman. What is the truth of Friday? You will respond: he is neither cannibal nor laundryman, these are mere names, they do not touch his essence, he is a substantial body, he is himself, Friday is Friday. But that is not so. No matter what he is to himself (is he anything to himself?--how can he tell us?), what he is to the world is what I make of him. Therefore the silence of Friday is a helpless silence. He is the child of his silence, a child unborn, a child waiting to be born that cannot be born. (121-22)

Foe's power is that he shapes the discourse and forms of representation. Those accorded no recognized place in the culture--indeed Barton and Friday are literally transients in England--are represented or silenced by those like Foe; their social position is formed by the possibilities of discourse: as those possibilities are foreclosed and severed, they become increasingly positionless. Thus the aesthetic discourse informs and merges with the economic and political.

Each of these works of Coetzee, Tournier, and Bishop is an anti-pastoral. As anti-pastorals, the landscapes of these works are never humanized and subdued, that is rendered into simple, peaceful and productive gardens. Tournier's Robinson parodies pastoral productivity in his obsessive accumulation and prohibitions against consumption. His cultivation of the island is disciplinarian and panoptic, suggestive of expansionist projects. His ethical telos is an escape from Speranza's elements of earth and water, ascending instead into the abstracted solar identity of air and fire. Robinson does not so much pervert the idea of utopia but shows the perversion inherent in utopian thinking.

In Bishop's poem, Crusoe reflects that his island was "a sort of cloud-dump," the landscape was pocked with "fifty-two / miserable, small volcanoes I could climb / with a few slithery strides," and the "whole place hissed." Indeed, this island is ruled by the sounds of Eden's serpent. In its desolation, Crusoe finds it claustrophobic, his very language is repetitive and imploding:

        --a glittering hexagon of rollers
closing and closing in, but never quite,
glittering and glittering, though the sky
was mostly overcast.

Upon Crusoe's return to England, however, he finds his life and England desiccated: implicit in his lament of Friday's death is the desire for the nostalgic return to their shared idyll. Crusoe's brief description of Friday evokes a pastoral innocence: "He'd pet the baby goats sometimes, / and race with them, or carry one around." With Friday, the island becomes hospitable and perhaps Edenic. Crusoe, however, is unable to break the silence about his relationship with Friday--like the silence surrounding their homosexual love, the silence surrounding the island as a site of their idyll suggests that any Edenic vision or return is unspeakable. Bishop, furthermore does not suggest that the labor of cultivation was central, rather the labor of desire and love re-presented the island to Crusoe and (Friday we are to presume). This re-presentation shifts the defining features of the pastoral and renders it unrepresentable.

Teresa Dovey describes Coetzee's novels as "atopias" or drifting habitations (qtd. Barnard, 38), a term derived from Roland Barthes, who defines it in contrast to utopia, which is "reactive, tactical literary, it proceeds from meaning and governs it" (49). Bishop's and Tournier's islands are also "atopias" in that they are unanchored representations--their meaning drifts: the island is never a defined topography. Human desire and memory change that topography; yet how do we read these topographies? The island's topography vanishes below the sky's horizon for Tournier's Robinson. For Bishop's Crusoe eros transforms the island he perceived as excremental--"The island smelled of goat and guano"--an island that spawned nightmares of infinitely dividing, propagating islands. Eros remains unwritable; it is the gap in Crusoe's language or in the means Cursoe has to represent eros outside its conventional form or its generic pastoral versions.

In the narrative of Foe, the island was the original prison, for Barton initially could desire nothing but her escape from it. But in time, Barton nostalgizes the island and desires to return for it would, she believes, complete or fill in the lacunae in the narrative that is otherwise silent about Friday's mutilation. As she nostalgizes the island and the dead Crusoe, the island reveals that her condition of imprisonment extends from the island and implicitly predates her arrival on the island. Barton finds herself moving through a series of maze-like enclosures that are architectural in their physical and narrative structures. Encamped in one of Foe's houses, she tells Friday that "In Mr. Foe's house there are many mansions." These "mansions," however, are the place for cast-offs: "There is place yet for lepers and acrobats and pirates and whores to join our menagerie" (77). Barton explicitly inhabits a Foucauldian "carceral archipelago" where punitive techniques are transported "from the penal institution to the entire social body" (298). Each place she has inhabited has been a prison where she labors and is interrogated. In her series of letters to Foe, Barton remarks that "the life we lead grows less and less distinct from the life we led on Cruso's island. Sometimes I wake up not knowing where I am. The world is full of islands, said Cruso once. His words ring truer every day" (71).

The possibility of the garden, figured as an Edenic site, becomes impossible in each of these three works. Indeed, Barton, like Friday, labored on Crusoe's barren stone terraces, which she remarked would one day be misinterpreted as the "ruins of a cannibal city, from the golden age of the cannibals" (54-55). This ceaseless labor, done only to satisfy Crusoe's belief in the eventual arrival of salvation in the form of someone bearing a sack of corn to sow, supplements the labor of Friday in the ruined gardens of Foe's house. As Friday ekes out a harvest of beans and carrots, it might be said that he "keeps alive 'the idea of gardening' almost by its negation: the idea of plenty through starvation, the idea of self-affirmation in self-erasure," as Rita Bernard writes of K in The Life and Times of Michael K (53). If the gardens of language, of eros, and of life are subject of depletion and abandonment or perceived to be barren or constitute forms of confinement in the depictions of the island(s) in Bishop's, Tournier's, and Coetzee's works, Walcott may offer a differing view.

Walcott's figure of Crusoe is part of his more embracing figure of the castaway, which includes such characters of his as Shabine (from "The Schooner Flight") and Omeros. Walcott's poems enact the profound schism defining postcolonial literature: while the poems create a new language, they also demonstrate a profound unease with the position of the colonial. In the poem "The Castaway," Walcott invokes a mythic creative power:

If I listen I can hear the polyp build,
The silence thwanged by two waves of the sea.
Cracking a sea-louse, I make thunder split. (58)

The castaway, is however, condemned to solitude so vast the building of coral reefs can be heard. The castaway, or implicitly the colonial, is left at the extreme periphery, longing for transport toward the center: "The starved eye devours the seascape for the morsel / Of a sail." The dilemma Walcott examines is that of creating a postcolonial voice from the traditions left by the colonial powers. Because of circumstances of history, Walcott does not belong expressly to the metropolitan center, as once could argue that Tournier, Bishop, and Coetzee do, though by increasingly lesser degrees.1 While all of these writers belong very much to the center of international literary interests should not be overlooked, it is Walcott that is attempting the affirming task of re-visioning language. Whereas the narrative of Crusoe provides the frame for the critique of the self in Bishop, Coetzee. and Tournier, Walcott finds in the figure of Crusoe the image of the castaway who must make anew from the shipwrecks of cultures.

Furthermore, the island itself is the source of language rather than a place to be drained of resources. While the narrative of the poem "The Castaway" depicts debilitating isolation and the meanness of survival, the poem's language expresses aesthetic richness, concision, and power that transcends the narrative's expression of bare survival.

Walcott's two poems that explicitly evoke Crusoe, "Crusoe's Island" and "Crusoe's Journal," find in Crusoe a didactic, that is instructional, figure. Walcott writes in "Crusoe's Journals," that

from this house
that faces nothing but the sea, his journals
assume a household use;
we learn to shape from them, where nothing was
the language of a race (94)

While Walcott sees the postcolonial writer as forming new languages, Walcott also does not fail to consider the ironic reversals in this absorption of past dominant cultures into a new culture,

into good Fridays who recite His praise,
parroting our master's
style and voice, we make his language ours,
converted cannibals
we learn with him to eat the flesh of Christ. (93)

It is this absorption of voices and styles, of languages and cultures, that marks the translational and transnational postcolonial vision that is Walcott's. Nothing loses its history; thus irony coincides with a language of transformation.

Walcott insists on the primacy of human community. That Coetzee cannot represent the possibility of a just and shared human community (that Friday is mute) implies the significance and necessity of such a community. That Bishop does not find for Crusoe the words to express eros again suggests the necessity of forming the means to share in eros. Tournier's Robinson turns away from the shared space of community, transfiguring himself into a golden but frightening abstraction. Walcott celebrates human presence, but sees in art only the most limited ways of expressing it, as at the close of "Crusoe's Island":

Now Friday's progeny,
The brood of Crusoe's slave,
Black little girls in pink
Organdy, crinolines,
Walk in their air of glory
Beside a breaking wave;
Below their feet the surf
Hisses like tambourines.

At dusk, when they return
For vespers, every dress
Touched by the sun will burn
A seraph's, an angel's,
And nothing I can learn
From art or loneliness
Can bless them as the bell's
Transfiguring tongue can bless. (72)

Rather than portraying the postcolonial condition in terms of subversion and transgression, Walcott establishes the right to signify and the right to one's presentness. Human community, where there is a solidarity among ethnicities, is the postcolonial desire, as suggested in such poems of Walcott's as "Names" or "The Schooner Flight" or Omeros. Against this vision of community is Crusoe's fate, where isolation--that of the castaway, elite, or the separatist-- "sent him howling for a human voice / ... / his own brain rotting from the guilt / Of heaven without his kind" (69).

If Coetzee presents the difficulty--if not impossibility--to present the colonial other and instead focuses upon the mutilation of the other, then Walcott offers a the voice of that other. Tournier presents a radical theory of the abnegation of self and other, where the world collapses into a single spatial and temporal point. Robinson has radically misread Friday, hence Friday flees. Bishop offers a differing view of Crusoe: her poem must be read transgressively so as to reveal its commentary on sexuality and desire. Like Walcott, she finds in Crusoe's narrative a way of questioning herself. Yet, her Crusoe cannot find a language to express himself openly; only Walcott begins an exultation, for as he writes in The Antilles, the writer "finds himself a witness to the early morning of a culture that is defining itself, branch by branch, leaf by leaf. . . . This is the benediction that is celebrated, a fresh language and a fresh people, and this is the frightening duty owed."

Note 1) Ian Glenn (in his "Nadine Gordimer, J. M. Coetzee, and the Politics of Interpretation." South Atlantic Quarterly. 93, 1 (1994): 11-32.) offers a clear description of Coetzee's position within South African literary and academic circles, his international position, and his social position, all of which place him as an outsider.

Works Cited

Barnard, Rita. "Dream Topographies: J. M. Coetzee and the South African Pastoral." South Atlantic Quarterly 93, 1 (1994): 33- 58.

Barthes, Roland. Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.

Begam, Richard. "Silence and Mut(e)ilation: White Writing in J. M. Coetzee's Foe." South Atlantic Quarterly 93, 1 (1994): 111-30.

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

Bishop, Elizabeth. Geography III. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1976.

Coetzee, J. M. Foe. New York: Viking, 1987.

Davis, Colin. "Michel Tournier's Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique: A Novel of Beginnings." Neophilologus 73, 3 (1989): 373-382.

Deleuze, Gilles. The Logic of Sense. Ed. Constantin V. Boundas. Trans. Mark Lester. New York: Columbia UP, 1990.

Davidson, Arnold. "Archaeology, Genealogy, Ethics." Foucault: A Critical Reader. Ed. David Couzens Hoy. New York: Blackwell, 1986. 221-233.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage, 1979.

Kalstone, David. Becoming a Poet: Elizabeth Bishop with Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1989.

Macaskill, Brian. "Charting J. M. Coetzee's Middle Voice." Contemporary Literature 35 (1994): 441-475.

Tournier, Michel. Friday. Trans. Norman Denny. New York: Pantheon, 1969.
_________. Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique. Paris: Gallimard, 1988.

Walcott, Derek. Collected Poems: 1948-1984. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1986.
__________. The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1993.