University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Njelle Hamilton

Assistant Professor, Department of English


“Caribbean Chronotropes: The Politics, Physics, and Poetics of Time in Contemporary Fiction”

“Caribbean Chronotropes” is a book-length investigation of the depiction of time technologies and time travel in speculative Caribbean novels written between 2008 and 2018. Its central concern is the ways in which Caribbean writers have grappled with concepts from theoretical physics to conceptualize a regional temporality that is out of sync with linear time, and to consider its implications for narrative and consciousness. Each of the four chapters develops a literary analysis of the narration of time in a pair of novels, read through the lens of key time-concepts in physics. But even as “Chronotropes” tracks the intersections between Caribbean trauma and the general theory of relativity, Caribbean music and string theory, natural disasters and fractals, and between ancestral memory and black hole singularities, it illuminates how contemporary authors center decidedly Caribbean modes of time-keeping to render the disjunctures and discontinuities of the Caribbean past and present, and to speculate on alternate futures. My attention to the time-markers or chronotropes(my neologism) in novels by Erna Brodber, Marcia Douglas, Nalo Hopkinson, Rita Indiana, Anthony Joseph, Karen Lord, Ernest Pépin, and Luis Othoniel Rosa reveals that time travel and nonlinear timelines are not merely science fiction but are fundamentally mimetic of Caribbean space-time. These Anglophone, Hispanophone, and Francophone texts depict a region marked by competing notions of time: linear models introduced by colonization, and anterior or creolized temporal practices drawn from indigenous, South Asian, and African cultures. Building on the regional cosmologies posited by Caribbean theorists like Kamau Brathwaite, Wilson Harris and Sylvia Wynter, I not only rethink phenomenology and Afrofuturism from a Caribbean perspective, I also offer a Caribbean version of what Kodwo Eshun calls “chronopolitics,” the reengineering of time to subvert the trajectories set in motion by colonization, and as a means of reclaiming and contesting power. Ultimately, I argue, close attention to the Caribbean reveals avant-garde conceptions of time that speak to pressing global issues including black trauma, postcolonial development, and anthropogenic climate change. 


Njelle W. Hamilton is Assistant Professor in the departments of English and African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia. She specializes in 20th and 21st century Caribbean literary and cultural studies, especially the impact of orality, music, and trauma on the Caribbean postcolonial novel. Her first monograph, Phonographic Memories: Popular Music and the Contemporary Caribbean Novel (Rutgers, 2019), investigates how Caribbean subjects turn to nation music when personal and cultural memory have been impacted by time, travel, or trauma. Her current project, tentatively titled Caribbean Chronotropes: The Politics, Physics, and Poetics of Time in Contemporary Fiction, reads recent time-bending novels through the lens of physics, phenomenology, and Caribbean theory. She serves on the editorial board of Caribbean in Transit: An Arts Journal, and her essays on sound studies and trauma theory have appeared in Anthurium, Journal of West Indian Literature, Critical Perspectives on Indo-Caribbean Women’s Literature, Wasafiri, and SX Salon.