Ruins of Empire: Decolonial Queer Ecologies in Cliff’s No Telephone to Heaven

Gregory Luke Chwala


This paper examines the ways in which Michelle Cliff’s No Telephone to Heaven (1987) uses postcolonial Gothic conventions to articulate a convergence of gender, race, sexuality, capitalism, colonialism, and environment. I argue that the novel diverges from colonial values in its production of conflicting identity politics, and that these can be best understood through decolonial queer ecologies. The paper begins by situating the work of Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley and Edouard Glissant to lay a foundation for the decolonial queer ecocritical analysis that follows. Both Tinsley and Glissant stress the importance of the land to Caribbean culture and people, but Tinsley further establishes a framework for queer Caribbean studies that can help one better understand my critique of Cliff’s No Telephone to Heaven. From this framework, I show how both raced and classed queer and trans characters transgress colonial boundaries through the ways that they reappropriate spaces and bodies in Jamaica’s ruinate. I further examine how the Afro-Carib people who assemble in the ruinate challenge imperialism by forming a coalition that embraces trans leadership. In order to renegotiate human agency in the ruins of empire, Cliff’s novel utilizes coalition building as a form of decolonization to explore non-hierarchical relationships between queer/non-queer characters and their relationship with the land. No Telephone to Heaven repurposes the Gothic as a means for characters to discover new, more productive relationships with one other and their environment.

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