VOL. 31 No. 1 MARCH, 1985
Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
1 The Problem of the Problem of Form
53 World Order Models A Caribbean Perspective
Edward Kamau Brathwaite
64 An Aesthetics of the Caribbean Basin: The Carpentier Perspective
73 La Negra as Metaphor in Afro-Latin American Poetry
83 An Overview on Caribbean Literary Magazines: Their Liberating Function
Emilio Jorge Rodriquez
93 The Influence of the Casa de las Americas on English Caribbean Literature
Joseph R. Pereira
104 Bun Down Cross Roads
106 BOOK REVIEWS
120 Notes on Contributors
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
The Hon. R. M. Nettleford, O.M., Professor of Extra-Mural Studies (Editor)
G. M. Richards, Pro Vice-Chancellor, St. Augustine, Trinidad
Roy Augier, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Mona, Jamaica
Keith Hunte, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Cave Hill, Barbados
Lloyd Coke, Department of Botany, Mona
Neville McMorris, Department of Physics, Mona
Janet Liu Terry, Associate Editor
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A muted debate about aesthetics and form in Caribbean literary and other artistic output
remains dynamic and alive despite its subterranean operations. Caribbean Quarterly is
here daring to bring it to the surface for much needed airing and to advance the plot. For
the question of whether the Caribbean emerging from half a millennium of creolised expe-
rience has any reasonable claims to uniqueness and originality plagues all efforts at self-
evaluation. self-direction and self-definition.
Six articles constitute this issue of Caribbean Quarterly, and it begins with Gordon
Rohlehr's The Problem of the Problem of Form: The idea of an Aesthetic Continuum
and Aesthetic Code-Switching in West Indian Literature that probes the "remarkable
phenomenon" of how the "Caribbean mind has coped with the rich diversity and contra-
diction of its experience". Rohlehr writes that the sensibilities of both writers and "our
people" in the Caribbean have been shaped by the experience of twentieth-century mo-
dernism and ancestral praxis and wisdom which lend to the works of our writers inter-
related themes of "rootedness and exile, journey and homecoming". "The problem of the
problem of form", suggests the author, "is a different thing for each writer and for each
work". As the Caribbean writer grapples with the problem of providing aesthetic form to
the social system in which they live by combining the inward stretch of the imagination
with the outward reach of the intellect, there is a direct relationship between the differ-
ent notions of literary aesthetic which is also directly related to the social reality of a re-
gion "which is itself caught up in a vortex of social and political change, whose pressure
has been inescapable, and has forced writers to adopt modes and forms which would
earlier have seemed alien to their temperaments and sensibilities". The article addresses an
important dimension of Caribbean life as it looks at the linguistic and aesthetic code-
switching in the works of some of the region's finest writers and attempts to outline some
of the directions taken by them to structure certain aspects of the Caribbean's experience.
Caribbean culture forms the sub-text of Edward Kamau Brathwaite's article World
Order Models A Caribbean Perspective. In it he echoes what the people from below in
our societies have been saying for generations through their creative and artistic endeav-
ours: "Culture must precede politics and politics must remain an aspect of culture, rather
than of power". Brathwaite identifies the absence of the role of culture in the formula-
tion of modern "World Order Models". pointing out in the same breath that "The pre-
Renaissance model (of a world order) stressed (and assumed) the ecumenicalism of cul-
ture; the modern models comes out of the reality of the hegemony of politics". But to
the author this ordering of the priority between culture/politics is wrong, and he takes
the alternate view that the Caribbean can offer a resolution to what he perceives as a con-
tradiction inherent in this mode of prioritisation by utilising our designs for a "universal
interculturation" (based on centuries of contact between different cultures) which can
transcend nationalist fragmentations and the spectre and reality of global conflict. The
author defines all men as equal (and by implication all cultures) and gently implores that
we see the relationship of people as more important that the relationship between struc-
Lloyd King's An Aesthetics of the Caribbean Basin: The Carpentier Perspective
probes the works of the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier who was threatened in his life-
time with the "rootlessness of the traveller". Carpentier's relationship to the environment
in both the Caribbean and Europe, King reminds his readers, was in the form of a "Cultu-
ral ecologist" with the remarkable gift of recovering from landscapes ideas of the past
"and finding symbolic meanings in the actions of Caribbean and European men . ."
As a novelist, Carpentier's main focus was the "documented weight of the past" rather
than the sociological/psychological nuances of humanity. King's article, then, is about a
man who was ably gifted with the ability to fashion the tools of literary scholarship out
of the environment in order to live in it. "His landscapes and characters", writes the au-
thor, "become carriers of the documented weight of an aesthetics and a politics".
In La Negra as Metaphor in Afro-Latin American Poetry, June Carter skilfully
examines in historical terms how the myriad experiences of Black women have been
treated metaphorically in the poetry of Afro-Latin Americans. She explores the themes.
symbols, and values that repeatedly emerge with respect to "la negra" and "la mulatta"
in Afro-Latin American poetry and traces the transformation in the repertoire of sym-
bolism, themes and values over time. Her conclusion is that negrista poets (Black and
Non-Black) no longer depict the black woman as an object of sensuality and evil since her
inner landscape has become more important than her outer spheres. And since "literature
reflects, "makes" and "remakes" reality", writes June Carter, in this era of women "the
vision of the black woman as a potential revolutionary figure surfaces with vigour and
"How much does the rest of the world know about the literature that has been
created by the peoples of the Caribbean?" is the question asked by Emilio Jorge Rodri-
quez in his article An Overview on Caribbean Literary Magazines: Their Liberating Func-
tion. In his attempt to answer this question, the author highlights some of the Caribbean's
literary magazines which show how the literary movement of the region is linked with its
social history. Rodriquez correctly points out that the influence of the region's literary
journals on the Caribbean's internationally acclaimed literary movement is rooted in the
region's post-war de-colonisation process, in the emergence and victory of national lib-
eration movements in countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, "and [in] an aware-
ness of the need for a de-Europeanization of the concept of internal culture".
The influence of the Casa de las Americas on English Caribbean Literature by Joseph
R. Pereira is a welcome study on regional cultural integration in practice as put into effect
by the Cuban government under the aegis of Casa de las Americas, a cultural institution
established in 1959. Pereira's article puts to shame the paucity of material/organisational
support for the Caribbean literatis by governments administering over free-market poli-
cies and suggests to his readers that Cuba's efforts at cultural integration throughout the
region via casa de las Americas should not be viewed as a surprise "given that, apart from
the ideological commitment to regionalism and internationalism, there is the material
basis of governmental support for cultural institutions like Casa". By bringing our cul-
tural artists together under one umbrella organisation, Casa's success as an objective
reality, Pereira points out, "outweighs the subjective reservations some of our writers
and audience may have towards the principles of culture in a socialist society".
The debate continues beyond this issue of our journal for obvious reasons and
Caribbean Quarterly will naturally return to it as time allows and circumstances demand.
THE PROBLEM OF THE PROBLEM OF FORM:
THE IDEA OF AN AESTHETIC CONTINUUM AND AESTHETIC
CODE-SWITCHING IN WEST INDIAN LITERATURE
Form involves a number of factors. Firstly, there is the writer's intelligence, temperament
and sensibility. Secondly, there is the material, the stoff on which that sensibility nur-
tures or famishes itself. This material or stoff may include both the given conditions of
personal and social experience and vicarious experience: what the writer has read, absor-
bed, admired or hated, reacted to or against; the world of writing of which what he writes
is a part and to which it is, perhaps, a contribution. Thirdly. there is the writer's imagina-
tion which shapes experience by means of processes which may be arbitrary, intangible
and unpremediated. Indeed, for some writers, the work of art is its own subject, and tells
about itself and the processes whereby it came into being, some of which may be hidden
from the artist himself.
Form is the result of the inter-relation of these factors and the problem of form is
how to appreciate this inter-relationship. It involves a sense of process as well as the
capacity to recognize structure as the end result of process. The problem of the problem
of form is a different thing for each writer and for each work. The Caribbean problem is
complicated by the fact that some of its writers have been productive for over three
decades and have. naturally, undergone several changes of style and developed very com-
plicated notions of aesthetic. They have been part of a Caribbean which is itself caught up
in a vortex of social and political change, whose pressure has been inescapable, and has
forced writers to adopt modes and forms which would earlier have seemed alien to their
temperaments and sensibilities.
The problem is further complicated by the nature of the creative person who has
evolved over the last fifty years in the Caribbean. This person is usually multi-talented:
Norman Cameron: accomplished historian of the pre-colonial era in Africa, mathemati-
cian, teacher, essayist, playwright, bibliophile. man of letters: C.L.R. James: novelist,
playwright, historian, philosopher, politician, literary critic: Edward Kamau Brathwaite:
poet. historian, critic with a seventy-page curriculum vitae; Derek Walcott: poet. play-
wright, critic, painter with, perhaps, an even longer CV; Michael Gilkes: playwright,
actor, critic, teacher, chemist and, it has been whispered, alchemist about to find the
philosopher's stone; Dennis Scott: poet, playwright, dancer, teacher; Rex Nettleford:
choreographer, dancer, political analyst, labour expert: Wilson Harris: land surveyor,
My point is not to celebrate or applaud but merely to cite these creators as exam-
ples of a quite familiar Caribbean tendency; one that, ironically, had to do with the very
restrictions of Caribbean societies: the emergence of an intelligentsia which was simul-
taneously rooted and elitist, and which was willing and able to adjust to the currents of
change in Caribbean societies. To read any of our writers at any depth is to be plunged
into a thicket of letters. Our writers have themselves read widely, and what they have
read has helped determine their notions of form. The comments in this paper, therefore,
concern only fragments of writers' works and are not final, comprehensive or prescriptive.
One would naturally expect from such multi-disciplinarians a sense of form based
not on the notion of a specificity of genre or aesthetic, but on the inter-relationship of
various art forms, aesthetics and areas of interest. The problem of the problem of form is
to understand this compulsive Caribbean drive to realise a complex, multi-faceted flexible
sense of shape. Such a multi-faceted shape is easily visible in works as different as
Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin, Natives of My Person, and Water with Berries,
Brathwaite's The Arrivants, Mother Poem, Sun Poem and "Crab", Harris's Guyana
Quartet and several works since then, Walcott's Dream on Monkey Mountain, Gilkes's
Couvade, Brodber's Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home, Clarke's Douens, Mc Neil's
Credences and Scott's An Echo in the Bone. Two or three long essays would be needed
to account for this remarkable phenomenon; and even then one would not have described
all the dimensions of the problem of form, which involves an appreciation of how the
Caribbean mind has coped with the rich diversity and contradictions of its experience.
This paper is therefore a positionless one which attempts to outline some of the direc-
tions taken by us to structure certain aspects of our experience.
The evidence of our writing suggests that we live in late twentieth century societies
in which there are memories of villages but the cities determine the dynamics of change.
There is a groping for the pastoral even in writers who criticize other aspects of such
yearning when they see them revealed in the work of their fellow writers. There is, con-
versely, a preoccupation with the worst effects of urbanism; nightmare slums, ecological
atrocity, violence, madness, despair and dislocation. Our peoples and our sensibilities have
been shaped by both experiences, and we have added to village and town, suburb and
metropole. A Guyanese huckster, for example, who travels to the bush to obtain raw gold
which will be used to buy foreign exchange and bribe officials in any country from
Trinidad to Toronto, spans an even wider geography of experience. Our writers have dealt
with this movement of people backwards and forwards, and we can recognize predomi-
nant and inter-related themes of rootedness and exile, journey and homecoming in a
significant amount of our writing.
Recognizing this oscillation between geographical and situational opposites as an
integral part of our social and psychic experience, I had in "Literature and the Folk"
(1971) suggested that we apply the sociological concept of a folk/urban continuum to
our literary situation.' Continuum theory thus applied allows for both linguistic and
aesthetic code-switching; for the dialectical collision of opposite tendencies and notions
of form in the same writer and between different writers. Continuum theory, employed as
a tool for clarifying the problem of the problem of form, points us to two poles which
have guided our writers in the achievement of shape : the oral traditions of the West Indies
and certain aspects of the aesthetics of modernism.
If the oral tradition directs our attention to assemblies of people, the lime, the
calypso tent, church, grounation, cult, drum, dance, performance, narrative, song, and
sermon, modernist aesthetics highlights the separateness or the alienation of the indivi-
dual, who is placed or lost in a universe of open possibilities, where he must create self,
style and form. Modernist aesthetics may raise problems of void or vortex, chaos or
silence, the irrelevance of the individual, the dehumanization of art and the emergence in
an incomprehensible universe of the art object as its own circular self-contained world,
exploring itself, echoing itself, and sometimes with enviable, worm-like flexibility, even
copulating itself. My point is that many of our writers have been simultaneously attracted
to both sets of possibilities, so that the same works may contain the tension between two
poles of shaping, as well as two modes of being. In some writers, indeed, the poles are
complementary, and curious continuities exist between them.
Examine, for example, Martin Carter's statement of aesthetic at precisely that
moment when an oral tradition seemed to have lost its relevance in his work. Carter began
as our most rhetorical poet, a writer whose work grew out of political polemic and
oratory, and was read aloud in the streets by the poet himself.2 In the twilight period
after the suspension of the Guyana Constitution in 1954, he moved from rhetoric to reti-
cence: from a poetry based on oral, and indeed oracular considerations to something
cryptic, half-image and half-riddle: the silence when the oracle has lost its message and
there is "no voice from Delphi".3
It is at this point that Carter writes the significantly titled "Poems of Shape and
Motion", the first of which begins with an attempt to conceptualise an idea of form that
he briefly entertained on his journey towards an aesthetics of silence.
I was wondering if I could shape this passion
iust as I wanted in solid fire.
I was wondering if the strange combustion of my days
the tension of the world inside of me
and the strength of my heart were enough.4
"Solid fire". a contradiction in terms, becomes his aesthetic ideal. As in Blake's "Tyger"
or "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", art is defined as the giving of shape to energy. An
aesthetic of energy is what Carter now seeks; not the obvious and externally directed
energy of political rhetoric, but an interior energy which consumes and tears one apart.
The idea is repeated in "the strange combustion of my days". Combustion is the explo-
sion taking place within the sealed-off confines of an engine, whereby energy is controlled
and converted into movement. Carter's aesthetic in this brief period challenges the idea of
void by an act of making in which the poet's Self assumes the shape he bestows on what-
ever he creates. The poet and the poem, self and form, become one:
and the challenge of space in my soul
be filled by the shape I become.
Wilson Harris, writing out of the same furious cradle of Guyana, articulates the
geological/geographical concept of "implosion" that eruption of energy beneath the
apparently placid surface of a river; an eruption sometimes strong enough to split
boulders. "Implosion" is another metaphor for an aesthetics of energy, one which, like
Carter's combustion metaphor, reconciles the apparent contradiction of eruption and
containment, movement and stillness; giving shape and clean definition to the fluid and
catastrophic. As one reads through Harris's Tradition, the Writer and Society, one is
struck by how frequently words like energy or power appear.
All this is of crucial importance to the emerging notion of an aesthetics based on
the oral traditions of the Caribbean. For the oral tradition has always been concerned
with matters of energy, its containment in the shaped process of ritual enactment, and
catharsis. Any aesthetic based on the oral tradition seeks naturally to address itself to
these considerations: energy, containment, catharsis. So the oral tradition, far from being
a static "folk" inheritance, is proving to be the vital and adaptable source of new explora-
tion. Edward Brathwaite, grounded at the opposite pole to that which informs Carter's
"Shape and Motion", describes how Caribbean and Afro-American oral traditions adapted
themselves to the necessities of the social upheavals of the 1960s.
The art of the Revolution ... has been an art which,
in the first place, has moved from the concept of 'art
as exquisite object', 'art for art's sake', as concern of
the elite/initiate (art as distance,or as Raja Rao put it
at ACLALS, art as 'silence'); into art as energy
(Coltrane, Aretha, the Wailers) as force-field (sound-
system. soul sermon) emanating from poet or artist
but achieving complete meaning only through contact
with the audience (community/congregation), who
then complete the circuit through response to source:
grounation into heart, light, vision, transformation.5
Brathwaite in The Arrivants is true to this aesthetic of energy in that, whenever states of
"nothingness" or "void" or "silence" appear, they do so as the dialectical other of an
aesthetics of kinesis. One of the "contradictory omens" of our situation, then, has been
the fitful dialectic between "art as silence" and "art as energy". It is part of what involves
us here in our attempt to define the problem of the problem of form.
Paradigms of the Oral Tradition The Religious
I want to extract from the oral tradition two inter-related paradigms: a religious
and a secular. When one speaks of a religious paradigm, one is speaking not of religion
itself, but of a shape or trope accessible for aesthetic extension into form. There is a wide
range of religions in the Caribbean, occupying different positions along a continuum
which stretches between those religions with the greatest non-European (i.e. African or
Asian) and those with the greatest European content. Donald Hogg, indeed, applies con-
tinuum theory to a range of Jamaican religions.6 Religion has been one of the main areas
in which oral tradition has been preserved. The most African of the religions, those
related to Orisha worship, contain an integrated complex of drum, chant, dance, liturgy,
shaped ritual, and performance. Every loa has its rhythm, prayer, form of word and
movement; its particular pace, tone and vibration.
The movement of ritual enactment is towards climax and catharsis, in which cele-
brants become possessed and their normal everyday personalities are displaced by a force
of extra-ordinary inner energy. This capacity for movement beyond and beneath the
threshold of ordinary surface experience persists even in Caribbean cities, as well as in
those areas of the metropole to which Caribbean peoples have migrated. Some residents
of Miami have been signalling concern at the presence of vodun and santeria. which have
survived the passage across the gulf. In these days of what Rene Girard has termed "the
sacrificial crisis", when religion ceases to contain and cleanse the impulses towards
violence and self-destructive chaos, and when West Indian societies are under extreme
stress, many people have been impelled towards the more ecstatic and cathartic forms of
worship. Black music of the New World, too, have constantly celebrated and re-enacted
on both the sacred and the secular planes a capacity for movement beyond.
It is only natural, then, that ecstatic religions should have served as tropes for novel-
ists, dramatists and poets, by providing accessible metaphors of a process of descent into
the inferno of the Self. which leads to a recovery of the-word-as-energy, electric, kinetic
utterance. The process which leads to this moment of possession is constantly repeated
in West Indian and Afro-American literature, which has also realized an aesthetics of
energy. It is there in Lamming (Of Age and Innocence. Season of Adventure) who expli-
citly points us to his metaphorical interpretation and use of the Haitian Ceremony of
Souls ritual. One sees it in Shake Keane's "Calypso Dancers" and "Shaker Funeral",7 in
Brathwaite's "Jah". "Shepherd". "Wake". "Negus", "Ogun", Dennis Scott's An Echo in
the Bone and Salkey's A Quality of Violence, that remarkable exploration of the connec-
tion between cosmic and human violence on the one hand, and the idea of sacrifice as
catharsis and containment on the other.
Among Afro-American writers the process which leads to possession by and
release of the loas of energy can be seen at work in Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain,
Toomer's "Kabnis" from Cane, and briefly in Ellison's Invisible Man. Ishmael Reed has
spoken about his "Neo Hoodoo" aesthetic, in which he seeks to make accessible to liter-
ature all the mystery and rationality of Louisiana religion.8 The same impulse is inherent
in much Afro-American music: for example, Max Roach's Lift Every Voice and Sing,
whose "Troubled Waters" and "Sometimes I feel" are the exact musical equivalent of the
Threshing-Floor passage in Go Tell It on the Mountain; or Aretha Franklin's Amazing
Grace and Coltrane's A Love Supreme, Sun Ship or Kulu Se Mama. Such music not only
aims to fill one with the spirit, but operates at a visceral level, somewhere between the
navel and the solar plexus, where some of our philosophy has wisely anchored itself.
The interior descent of all of the writers named is not an escape from surface reality
into fantasy but a descent beneath reality into rediscovered rhythms connected with the
historic experience of the people. So Baldwin's John on the threshing floor discovers the
whole history of his people, and the voices of the chanting sisters become in the subliminal
ear "a sound of rage and weeping from time set free". Toomer's Kabnis, intoxicated, dis-
covers under the face of his daily humiliation a form burned into his soul, that is
some twisted awful thing that crept in from a dream.
a godman nightmare, an won't stay still unless I feed
it. An it lives on words. Not beautiful words. God
Almighty no. Misshapen, split-gut, tortured, twisted
The very face that Brathwaite's Ogun carves when he descends into Self, and the very
word-pebbles that Brathwaite himself cracks in The Arrivants in his resolve to write "a
literature of catastrophe, to hold a broken mirror up to broken nature". "That,"
Brathwaite declares, "is my aesthetic ideal."10
"Man entering his voice": Lamming's Of Age and Innocence
George Lamming was one of the first West Indian writers who openly proclaimed
his use of Afro-Caribbean religious ritual as a metaphor of interior descent into the sub-
merged history of his people. First in The Pleasures of Exile (1960), then in his essay
"The West Indian People", Lamming described the Haitian Ceremony of Souls, a ritual
which he had witnessed in !956, in which the living, through the medium of the houngan,
hold with the dead a dialogue that is crucially necessary for the fulfilment of their
According to Lamming:
The dead are supposed to be in a purgatori .1 state
of water, and it is necessary for them to h; ve this
dialogue with the living before they can be released
into their final eternity. The living, on the other
hand, need to meet the dead again in order to
discover if there is any need for forgiveness. This
dialogue takes place through the medium of the
Priest or Houngan...
It is not important to believe in the actual details of
the ceremony. What is important is its symbolic
drama, the drama of redemption, the drama of
returning, the drama of cleansing for a commitment
towards and future."
This statement illuminates and suggests the fundamental similarity between a number of
incidents and situations in Lamming's novels: Pa's descent through dream and trance to
an Edenic Africa of the mind in In the Castle of My Skin; Fola's initiatory experience in
the tonnelle, which sends her on a compulsive quest to recover not only her real past, but
her other Self and double; Teeton's encounter with Myra on an English Common, which
takes place, symbolically, in darkness. Lamming again points us to the Ceremony of Souls
ritual in order to underline the significance of the dialogue between Teeton/Caliban and
Myra/Miranda about their common participation in a squalid colonial history, which has
tragically altered or shaped both of their destinies.12
The most surprising of all these symbolic descents into Sell and history, however,
is that of Mark Kennedy in Of Age and Innocence. It is also one of the most important
because Kennedy through this descent comes to represent the duality of the Caribbean
mind and its ambivalent swing between folk/oral and Euro/modernist aesthetics. Kennedy
is significantly a mulatto: that is, ethnically he embodies, or is supposed to embody, as
does Walcott's Lestrade and Shabine, Denis William's Lionel Froad or John Hearne's
Mark Lattimer, the dual potentialities of the Caribbean situation. He is theoretically
capable of realising a substantial part of the continuum of Caribbean possibilities, but he
may also be the desert, the waste and void which Lionel Froad says stretches between
Europe and Africa. Mark Kennedy has residual childhood memories of the fundamental-
ist/charismatic religion of Shephard, and though he has never participated in it, has
remained fascinated by Shephard. His "folk" roots, however, never strong, have become
almost completely obliterated by his long and rootless sojourn in Europe, the disorienting
influence of World War II, and his adoption of, or absorption by a philosophy of aliena-
tion similar to the one which in Nausea paralyses Sartre's Roquentin. It is with this
alienating paralysis that Mark returns to a San Cristobal which is now on the verge of
crucial political change, and seems to make urgent nationalist demands on its intellect-
uals. Mark is, in this respect, a forerunner of Patterson's Blackman, Naipaul's Kripalsingh,
Wyck Williams's Ikael Torass, or some of St Omer's somnambulists.
It is important that we consider Mark's encounter with the primal, since, in one
important respect, Mark is made to function as the author's mouthpiece. It is he who
explains Lamming's problematic approach to form in Of Age and Innocence; and despite
his normal inability to articulate his ideas in public or even within a closed circle of
friends, it is he who, through his diaries, makes a constant attempt to explore his inner-
most feelings. In the process of so doing, he provides us with a clear clue to the problem
of form as it confronted Lamming in the mid-fifties. Here we see the novelist wrestle with
an elusive and perhaps inexpressible quality in personal experience, which leads to a
complex notion of form as a dialectic between language and silence, the constant imposi-
tion of order on an experience which constantly reverts to chaos. Mark asks:
Is this failure to communicate a kind of illness which
puts me out of touch with the others? I have looked
for it in them, and I am suddenly made feeble by
their fluency. I try to find a way which would enable
others to enter my secret so that they might, through
a common experience, lead me to its source. But my
effort moves off the mark. I begin, as it were, from
the circumference of my meaning, moving cautiously
and with loyal feeling, towards a centre which very
soon I discover I cannot reach. Then speech deserts
me. I abandon what I had felt to be an obligation,
and the result is silence. Yet my silence contains a
need to begin again. But the difficulties accumulate.
For I have hardly resigned myself to the solitude of
one secret before a new enthusiasm entices me. I
am once more at the centre of something 1 must
share, and the origins which I seem to understand
for myself suddenly disperse into a frantic chaos.13
The paradox here, one central to some modernist literary movements, particularly
existentialism and absurdism, is that Mark is being both lucid and lyrically eloquent about
his inability to reach or communicate his meaning, which he terms his "secret". Kafka,
for example, had said it before:
What I write is different from what I say, what I say
is different from what I think, what I think is differ-
ent from what I ought to think and so it goes on
further and further into the deepest darkness.
Or there is T. S. Eliot,
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in
One is no longer disposed to say it.15
Sartre's Roquentin and Beckett's protagonists experience these problems of communica-
tion and language to a pathological degree.
Mark's paradox, then, is the paradox of writing itself, particularly in the twentieth
century where language has become, not only the medium of exploration, but also the
subject explored. This paradox receives its most extreme expression in Beckett's tragi-
comic novels where over and over again we encounter characters who tell us that they
cannot tell us. But in the act of telling us that they cannot tell us, they are communicat-
ing. Such art becomes a constant structuring of space, a shaping of nothing, and the
investment with fluid form of what the artist has deemed the incommunicable: a paradox
whereby order is imposed on non-meaning, non-experience. This idea frequently occurs
in Carter's later poems, and is best expressed in his "Proem" (1975), the first poem in
Poems of Succession, where the elusiveness of experience is beautifully celebrated in an
elusiveness of style and idea.
Mark Kennedy, then, articulates a modernist aesthetic which is the polar opposite
of one based on the oral tradition, and is equally attractive to Lamming. What Kennedy
says bears striking resemblance to Lamming's description of the predicament of the
artist in "The Negro Writer and His World", an essay originally read at the First Interna-
tional Conference of Negro Writers, Paris, 1956.16 The writer. Lamming declared then,
needs to render justice firstly to the secret inner world of the Self, secondly to his milieu,
and finally to the necessity for making a universal appeal. The secret inner world is des-
cribed in terms identical to those employed by Mark Kennedy. It is
the world of the private and hidden self, a world
which turns quietly, sometimes turbulently, within
one man, and which might be only known by others
after that man has spoken. Each man who becomes
aware of himself as a separate existence shares this
solitude: each man has had an experience, momentary
or prolonged, of the meaning of being alone. I do not
mean loneliness or any similar illness of certain
self-important natures. I am speaking of the experi-
ence proceeding from the depths of one's being,
It is a moment marked by silence. It is a moment
when a mian's utterance cannot catch and convey the
shape and shade of his thought and feeling. Language,
it would seem. has actually surrendered just when his
need is greatest. It is then he requires this weapon of
words to enter that hidden area of his consciousness,
and bring back with it, so to speak, the kind of
picture which another's eye cannot conceive.16
It is very clear from this that Mark's predicament with language and communication
is exactly the same as the primary necessity of the artist as Lamming defines it in this
essay, which was written while work on Of Age and Innocence (1958) was going on.
Mark's strange and sudden involvement in Shephard's political movement and his charis-
matic experience while on the political platform are really the result of Lamming's need
to explore the other pole of his own divided personality. The scene (Part II. Chapter 2) is
an extraordinary one and parallels, in its way, Penelope's and Shephard's self-revelation on
Bird Island (Part Ill. Chapter 1) and the boys' ritual of self-confrontation, self-discovery,
self-revelation and self-concealment in the wood (Part I. Chapter 7).
Mark, who earlier is shown to be incapable of choosing, now defines politics as
choice and nationalism as:
The source of discovery and creation. It is the private
feeling you experience of possessing and being
possessed by the whole landscape of the place where
you were born.'7
Unable to speak before, he is amazingly eloquent on this, the most public of platforms.
Lamming explains this eloquence as being the result of the kind of fervour and charis-
matic frenzy which possesses both politician and crowd, and is typical of Jamaican politi-
cal life. The meeting takes place, significantly, in Sabina Square. Mark is dizzy from the
He was struggling quietly to recover from the awful
spell which gradually possessed him. It increased with
the sound of voices until he felt imprisoned by this
hallucination which now possessed his senses.18
Here the abstract alienated modernist encounters the immense pressure of the
presence of people. His private solipsistic silence is invaded by the sound of voices, his
experience thus becoming a paradigm for what has continued to happen to Caribbean
writers inclined towards existentialism. Particularly in Jamaica, writers have found their
private worlds invaded by the intense violence of the world around them, and by the
sound of the reggae voice exploding in testimony or complaint or violent protest. This has
led to fascinating tensions in writers such as Dennis Scott (Uncle Time and Dreadwalk),
Anthony McNeill (Reel from the Life Movie and Credences at the Altar of Cloud),
Mervyn Morris (The Pond and Shadow Boxing), Kendel Hippolyte (Island in the Sun -
Side 2) and Brathwaite (Black + Blues). In all of these writers we see the direct impact of
social and political pressures on earlier ideas of form. resulting in different attempts to
reconcile the two poles of the aesthetic continuum.
Mark, as we can see from words such as "awful spell", "hallucination" and the
twice repeated "possessed", undergoing a charismatic experience in which he is possess-
ed by the demons of futurity. Hence part of his physical reaction to possession is a
sensation of heat, a sort of hell-fire:
The weather had turned to a furnace which boiled
the sound of voices acclaiming his speech. It was as
though a terrible heat had dissected everything, like a
plague producing permanent scars over the earth.19
He has an Apocalyptic vision of the whole universe disintegrating:
He was part of a constant and perceptible disintegra-
tion of things: leaves, grass, asphalt, the hooves of the
animals which waited, patient and enduring over
Mark's Apocalyptic vision is similar to Shephard's epileptic one while on the plane,
but goes further, acquiring Macbethian characteristics. He sees, for example, a bloody
in a scarlet mess which the heat slowly turned to pure
fire. But he would see the revolting spectacle of its
This is a prophetic vision of the conditions of fire, turbulence and revolt in which the
new nation will come to life; just as the slogans "Vote for the Donkey" "Vote for the
Knife" suggest the mixture of folly and murder which the first politics of the new nation
will include. Lamming was writing Of Age and Innocence with the 1953/1954 experience
of Guyana in mind, and accurately foresaw the tragedy of 1962 to 1964.
Mark's vision, which is almost completely a reordering of the external scene within
the inferno of his psyche, ends with a mysterious oracular statement; one that is as com-
pulsive an issue from the subconscious as his earlier speech about nationalism.
And someone approached with a malevolent face and
black eyes, wide open and sightless, and a voice
spoke: 'What is the origin of that voice which calls
you to freedom? It is life on the level of pure partici-
pation. Man entering his voice.' The blind seer and
Sabina Square and the liquid red birth of the animal
The blind seer, not mentioned before, is an issue from Mark's unconscious mind, a
fictional equivalent to Vergil's Sybil guide to the underworld; a-sort of weird brother and
double; an archetype whose propulsion to the surface of consciousness becomes
necessary, because his statement epitomises that particular political moment which urged
its utterance. It is a moment of fearsome awakening throughout those countries which are
today termed the "developing nations": hence "the liquid red birth of the animal".
The prophet is malevolent and blind because the awakening of San Cristobal is the blind
beginning of nothing less than a new world order, which will of necessity challenge the
equilibrium of capital and labour, authority and servitude on which the old consolidated
Western Atlantic order has been based; and in so doing awaken the malevolence of that
San Cristobal, then, stands for the emerging independent nations of the Third
World, whose birth is a manifestation of that instinct for freedom which Mark had earlier
defined in his speech, when he said that the instinct for freedom revolts against whatever
threatens it. The seer expands on Mark's observation when he declares that the instinct
for freedom also seeks positively to fulfil itself "on the level of pure participation". Free-
dom, then, manifests itself both negatively and affirmatively: negatively in that it says
'no' to whatever limits it, by revolting: positively in that it affirms the necessity for parti-
cipation. It thus runs counter to the alienation and incapacity for communication which
have been Mark's life so far. If freedom is "Man entering his voice", its aesthetics can
hardly be an aesthetics of silence; its achieved form will of necessity challenge the closed
circle of an absurdist or neo-modernist aesthetic.
Such then is the meaning of Mark Kennedy's extraordinary descent into subliminal
space, a descent which, as we have seen, Lamming was later to define in terms of the
Ceremony of Souls metaphor. Kennedy's failure is that he lacks both the emotional
ground and the faith to give his vision permanent shape. and the rituals which might
enable him to move towards catharsis, healing, and reconciliation. His experience leaves
him more empty and paralysed than before. Tragically, he denies the terror and "awful
daring" of having been caught up in a communal moment, by imposing on it a purely
He had been talking to himself. His speech was a
fragment of dialogue between Mark Kennedy and
himself and the theme was his identity.23
Affirming Self and denying Other Mark, that finished product of a modernist aesthetic,
retreats from further participation in people or politics, in an act of withdrawal which
becomes a catalyst for the catastrophe in the novel.
Lamming, then, provided us since 1958 with a forevision not only of the turbulence
which lay in wait for new nations whose freedom would challenge the existing order, but
also of the inadequacy of our intellectual drift towards the more nihilistic aspects of
modernism. That it isn't only intellectuals who were faced with existential emptiness has
become clear in the novels of Earl Lovelace. In The Dragon Can't Dance Lovelace
provides us with a different version of energy which lacks a mould for its containment, in
the figure of Fish-Eye, the Bad John. What has damaged Fish-Eye is his loss of that ritual
-the stickfight whose link with African manness and warriorhood Lovelace deliberately
points out which, by providing a container for energy, might have married strength and
speed to skill. Work, another means of giving energy direction, is abandoned. So Fish-
Eye becomes empty with the emptiness of the city itself, his energy his own enemy.
As a warrior whose energies require iron he plays the three-note boom and the
iron in the steelband he's Ogun/Shango. But like the tragic youths of Brathwaite's
"Springblade", his Ogun energies are all misdirected and wasted in the fratricidal violence
of the steelband clash.
People said he was mounted: a spirit of a warrior
was inside him, and he couldn't help himself. At
certain times he just had to fight.24
It is with this energy which has never realized its creative form, its "fearful symmetry",
that he enters politics; or politics enters him. His contribution to politics is. inevitably, an
energy frustrated into empty gesture.
What we have been lookingat, so far, have been works which have sought to explore
both the identity crisis and particular historic moments in terms of the metaphor of
possession, one aspect of the religious paradigm. What the authors of these works have
realized is that there is an aesthetic, a trope, a shape locked up in the religion and fully
relevant to their contemporary quests. What they seek to do is to discover and release the
shape of the hidden paradigm, what Toomer calls "the form that's burned into my soul".
"Soul-thunder": Shake Keane's "Shaker Funeral"
Growing awareness of the religious paradigm has led naturally to an integration of
genres which has always been latent in the oral tradition. In Afro-Caribbean religions
drumming, dance, liturgy, chant and sermon are sometimes indivisible elements of
the same process. Consequently, poetry written with an awareness of the religious
paradigm has tended towards performance. It maintains a balance between introspection
and communication with a world outside of the psyche, between Self and Other. It com-
bines the symbolic and dramatic modes, preserving balance between sight and sound and
establishing an inter-relationship between rhythm or vibration and image, which combine
in unique ways to illuminate idea. We have, for example, Senghor's concept of rhythm
as image,25 while Harris has noted in Brathwaite the coincidence of oracular voice and
In the light of the foregoing, a little-known poem such as Keane's "Shaker
Funeral"27 emerges as a most successful early attempt to capture something of the shape
of the religious paradigm. The occasion is a Shouter/Baptist funeral, one of those cere-
monies of release whose function is to facilitate the transition of the soul from the realm
of the living to the world of ancestors, spirits, les invisibles. In the syncretic cosmos of the
Shouters, the Apocalyptic imagery of Christianity blends with Old Testament ideas of
sacrifice and older African notions of the funeral as purgation and catharsis, involving
ecstatic possession. Philip Sherlock had a similar vision in his well-known "Pocomania",
but Keane is much closer to the feel of the actual process, and it leads him naturally to
broken, violent drum rhythms, nowhere present in the Macbethian incantations of
Sherlock's poem.28 In Keane. as Edward Baugh has suggested in an article which first
made me aware of Keane's poem,29 we find the true forerunner of Rights of Passage.
bound, pelting din
o' the mourners:
with a shout for the dead.
ing sadness in the dusty tread
o' the mourners.
Sweet Mother gone
to the by and by,
follow her to the brink o' Zion.
The mourners are first heard (din, big chorusclash, shout, yelling, crash-ing). Their
feet keep the rhythm of life and death (dusty tread). Note the short broken lines, the
broken words, the alliteration, onomatopoeia and word-echoing. Note also the dual
worlds inhabited by the mourners. They begin the funeral with the traditional Christian
view of themselves as being "sin-bound", caught up in the trammels of sin, from which
they seek to liberate themselves. But their mode of Self-liberation, through dance, the
counterpoint of call and response (chorusclash), handclap, shout and tumultuous energy,
that mixture of affirmation and anguish (yell-ing crash-ing sadness) is African in its origin.
In the first chorus, which the poet recognizes as the funeral comes closer, we learn that it
is a leader, a Mother of the congregation who has died. This chorus is a traditional
Shouter chant and could easily be sung within the poem. The function of the hymn here
parallels that of the ditty or song in Afro-Caribbean folk tales. Such songs flow naturally
out of the narrative, and are generally part of the story. The religious paradigm integrates
modes, and the hymn is one of its natural forms which enters poetry based on this para-
digm either directly or by means of allusion.
as they roared to grave
a drench song
was aymens through
the wind, shrieks flew,
and eyes were strong;
for 'twas madness gave
them dirge, that grew
As the mourners enter the graveyard and surge towards the grave, the focal and
dramatic centre of the ceremony, their emotion-charged voices overwhelm. Their voices,
like 'Trane's vibrant tenor horn', suggest the primal elements and the tumultuous forces of
nature -ocean, thunderstorm, hurricane -- as they become possessed with the "madness"
or enthusiasm of the "powers" or "spirits". That Keane's use of the word "madness" is
not pejorative is indicated by the preceding line, "and eyes were strong". Madness here is
connected with inner energy and an intensity of vision inseparable from an intensity of
passion. Their ritual descent, impossible without passionate conviction and the urgency
of despair, is also a gateway into vision.
pious rags o'
mitre o' tattered
straw, bamboo crozier
wagged by wind's clenching
deathwind that bragged
Saints in blue
about the ranks
o' the sinners,
and froth-lipped virgins
with powdered skins
and frocks that stank
with the slime and the stew
from the purged away sins
o' the sinners:
And heads were white
in starched cloth. . Bright
was the blood from the eyes
o' the candles;
and the "horn of the Ram
of the great I Am"
spoke hoarse in cries...
and crowned with the
light o' the Judah Lamb
were the candles.
Thus, the next stanza focuses on the heads of the congregation, and sees them redis-
of the cult drum, ragged robes, tattered straw mitre and bamboo crozier, signalling the
people's imitation of the vestiges of the plantation Church, which had helped outlaw
them in this period. The mourners are caught in the firm grip of death at this point.
Yet their robes stenching sweat, and the slime and the stew, are dross to be purged away,
as in exorcism rituals. Keane maintains detachment to record the smells and sounds. Yet
he empathises with the mourners and understands the process beneath their rituals. More
than that, he captures the dynamic feel and movement of the ritual, even as he records the
pathetic caste distinctions within the congregation between saints and sinners and 'froth-
lipped virgins'; the saved, the damned, the possessed, all actors in the theatre of misery,
pathos and hope.
Thus, the next stanza focuses on the heads of the congregation, and sees them redis-
covering the meaning of sacrifice and reconciling themselves to the death of the mother.
And heads were white
in starched cloth . Bright
was the blood from the eyes
o' the candles
The first image suggests the halo, and this is made explicit near the end of the stanza,
where the mourners are described as having been "crowned with the light". Vision (eyes)
is connected with sacrifice (bright blood). With vision comes ecstatic utterance,
symbolized, as in Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain by the ram's-horn trumpet-
blast of "the great I Am". It is precisely this hoarse-sounding horn that Keane, himself an
accomplished trumpeter and flugellist,30 seeks to express in his poem. Indeed, the poet
who so closely follows the wave and curve of the congregation's feeling, who records the
vibrations of their "soulthunder", is himself caught up in their discovery of language
which is also his own.
Lord delivered Daniel
from shame's mouth,
(o strong, o strong roll Jordan.)
Lord deliver our Mother
gone to the Glory Home,
gone to the Glory Home, gone to Zion.
All God's brothers
were loud, and the ten
holy lampers were
reeking in smoke:
and the "valley of sod-
was blenched as the canker-
ing sweat o'men
and the reeking o' God
in the smoke.
Ecstatic utterance is followed by a mixture of prayer and song, hymns of
deliverance and faith, and the final exorcism of the spectre of death, by a ritual of incense
and light. Such exorcism is an attempt to combine the efforts of man and God; to make
their energies touch and so reintegrate man with the life-force of the great I Am. So
the elders of the congregation who, the gap between human and divine having narrowed,
are "all God's brothers", walk not only through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but
in a redeeming cloud of incense (smoke), mixing their own cankeringg" (conquering?)
sweat with God's, in a new Gethsemane and harrowing of Hell, sharing a common travail
in the effort to conquer death.
His willing be,
but her soul is strong.
Follow her to the brink o' Zion.
And now the grave
was washed in a wave
o' wails and a
city o' stars
that dribbled and burned
in the tears that turned
hot sins, on the smoke-white pillars...
But their sorrow was yells,
and their faith was brave,
as the blood-blemished lambs
piled big on the grave
their city o' wax and stars.
Sweet Mother gone,
King o' Mansions -- over-Jordan
Leave her safe on the brink o' Zion.
After the climax of the human/divine struggle with death, the poem moves towards
a catharsis which never quite includes resignation, despite the hymn and prayer, "His will-
ing be". There is submission, but no final reconciliation with the idea of death. The con-
gregation, spirit-filled with the great "I Am" of affirmation, follow their Spiritual Mother
as far as the barrier between life and death permits "to the brink o' Zion" releasing
her "in a wave o' wails", and placing on her grave the now almost burnt-out candles of
their charismatic vision, to create their replica of, and on-going hope for the heavenly
city "their city o' wax and stars". To the end they are seen as "blood-blemished
lambs". Does blemished here mean tainted? Impure? Or does it mean that they have
understood the meaning of sacrifice once more? Maybe the latter;for it is the courage of
their faith ("and their faith was brave") and their strength in affirmation that the poet
commends as the poem closes.
This analysis, I hope, illustrates some of my earlier assertions about the shape of the
religious paradigm: a preoccupation with the movement of energy towards climax and
catharsis: the emphasis on vigour and even violence of rhythm; the break-up of the lines;
the fusion of sound and sight and feeling in the illumination of idea; and the suggested
plasticity of a form flexible enough to include intimations of hymn, prayer, chorus-
wail, drum-beat, hand-clap, dance and sermon. This flexible, multi-faceted form had
begun to free itself in the fifties, as man entered his voice.
Sermon, Possession, Testimony
The sermon has been receiving growing attention in Afro-American studies as a
special and dynamic form of rhetoric and performance.31 Both Baldwin and Ellison
employ it as a shaping device in their novels. Indeed, the very rhythm of Baldwin's best
prose depends on the sermon, and Go Tell It on the Mountain, with its alternations of
sermon, hymn and testimony, is an excellent example of how the religious paradigm can
inform prose fiction. Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon is structured on recurring testi-
monies, which become the basis of flash-back illuminations of the past. As far as I know,
there is no study of the style and imagery of West Indian preachers, though the Keane
poem just examined, suggests that our poets have long been aware of the sermon as a
potential model, while the force of Bible and sermon has been partially responsible for
the austere beauty of Mais's prose. The impact of Bible and sermon is also strong in a
great deal of reggae and such works as proceed out of the reggae ethos.
The direct impress of sermon and testimony may also be seen in Brathwaite's
"Wings of a Dove", "'The Stone Sermon", "Negus", Mother Poem. and in the tone of
many of his post-1970 monologues such as "Kingston in the Kingdom of This World"
which originally was also entitled "Good Friday 1975".32 In much of Brathwaite's per-
formed poetry there is a curious conflict between Anglican liturgical tones and the
Shouter rhythms of the roots Churches. The poet's natural reading voice in the Argo
recordings of The Arrivants suggests the Anglican pulpit, but it is precisely against this
plantation establishment Church, which in Barbados helped maintain class snobbery and
the stupidities of status, that much of Brathwaite's satire in Mother Poem is directed.
One may conclude that it is because Bajan Anglicanism constituted such a major force in
his upbringing that it is subjected to ironic reduction in his writing.
Brathwaite is aware of the Anglican Church as a shaping influence on his rhetorical
style and his satire of Anglicanism is the result of his growing awareness of the force of
the submerged aesthetic of the roots Church. He is thus impelled to dramatise a con-
flict in style which exists at the very roots of Self and Society. He creatively explores this
tension between aesthetics in "Angel/Engine", and we are fortunate to have on tape a
detailed discussion of how that poem came into being and what it is trying to do33'
According to Brathwaite, the carpenter's shop which now houses a revivalist Church, once
belonged to his great-uncle. He has transformed this piece of factuality into a metaphor
of great potency, which we first see explored in "Ogun". In that Church, as in Ogun's
"shattered Sunday shop", Brathwaite observes a layering of movement and ritual gesture,
which suggests that beneath the style of Christian Pentecostalism lies something older and
closer to the primal, a movement truer to the first and original nature of the congrega-
The woman in the poem, whom Brathwaite says he observed in the process of
becoming possessed, is transformed, like some of the other women in the poem, into
a persona for the poet. She is his island, but she is also his muse and his consciousness.
According to Brathwaite:
The woman has moved from the ineffective Church
of England and she is moving towards the Zion; and
when she goes into Zion she is going to enter into
possession. The kind of Church that. she is going to
enter now is an African-based Church, whose worship
is based upon motion, kinesis, energy, communal
Brathwaite too has in his career from 1950 to the present made this movement in terms of
style and form, from the Church/School of England towards the Afro-American, Afro-
Caribbean and Akan oral traditions; so that there is a parallel between the woman's
journey to the chapelle and his own movement towards an alternative aesthetic. Curious-
ly, the woman ends somewhere between the two extreme poles, no longer Anglican, but
not yet in full possession of the lost iron of Shango/Ogun.
What is happening to that woman is that she is
becoming a train. That is what the possession is all
about. And the train is called "Shango". But in the
same way that she moves from being unable to say
"God" (she starts off by saying "Praise be to God",
but as she becomes possessed "God" sticks in her
throat, and she only uses the guttural "ggn") and in
the same way that happens, she is not able to
pronounce fully the god, the other god on the other
side of the experience, who is Shango, the god of
the train. She is able to say "Shhhaaa", and she
hears the whisper of that train and the escape of
steam, and the scissors; as if it is a scissors cutting
silk cloth down the line.
She is not able to identify the god himself because of
the nature of the Caribbean experience, which cuts
some of our African experience off. There is a
deformation of the African culture in the Caribbean,
similar to a deformation of the European; so she loses
"God" and she does not quite reach, in this poem,
"Shango". But she gets very close to it, because she
at least understands. She is invested with the power
of the train.33
So, just as Mark Kennedy's prophetic vision merges with Lamming's, her Odyssey in
spirit is the poet's partially successful exploration of the aesthetics of energy and kinesis,
and her struggle to build a bridge of sound between the different and equally unutter-
able pseudonyms for the divine, are also his effort to reconcile the tension between alter-
native modes of shaping.
Testimony, or public confession and witness, because it involves an individual's
laying bare of the soul, shares common roots with the centuries-old Catholic and Puritan
conventions of spiritual autobiography. Even in the seventeenth century, however, one
could distinguish between open oral testimony of, say, the Mechanick Churches, and the
private written confessions which took the form of minute records of one's spiritual state,
from day to day. The one type of testimony assumed the group, the congregation of
saints, the other, the privacy of the individual conscience in the presence of God. Both
types of testimony assumed formulaic shapes. Public testimony placed the individual "I"
at the centre of a narrative which is really a variant of the autobiography of the entire
group. Thus, public testimony became a necessary ritual in the cathartic process. Private
testimony provided the roots for soliloquy and monologue, and after Wordsworth's
Prelude, became the basis for a major trend in all literature. After this, the ego of the
writer becomes his most valuable resource, particularly in poetry.
Testimony in West Indian poetry assumes the shape of dramatic monologue oi
soliloquy, though there is public testimony in Brathwaite's "The Dust". In prose it is
best seen in the lengthy confessionals such as The Mimic Men, Other Leopards, Ikael
Torass, An Absence of Ruins, most of Jean Rhys, John Stewart's Last Cool Days, G. C.
H. Thomas's Ruler in Hiroona, and certain of Naipaul's short stories, such as "Christmas
Story", "One out of Many" and "Tell Me Who to Kill". The confessional novel has
become a virtual domain for modernist aesthetic experimentation, and Caribbean
existentialists have naturally been attracted to it. These confessionals may move in
opposite directions: towards the reduction of Self and the negation of experience (The
Mimic Men, an Absence of Ruins), and towards the ingathering of experience in a
celebration of memory and a constant becoming (Ikael Torass, Invisible Man, Other
Leopards). Other Leopards, indeed, seems strangely to have succeeded in combining both
processes, in that Froad seems simultaneously to absorb and to void new and soul-
Such testimony as is more directly based on the oral tradition tends towards the
emergence of a communal eye and I, as is evidenced by poems such as Malik's "Pan
Run II",34 or Carter's "I Come from the Nigger Yard", or Roach's "I Am the Archi-
pelago". The distinction which existed at the start of the tradition between public confes-
sion and private spiritual autobiography, still exists between such testimony as is based on
the oral tradition, and its polar opposite, the private introspective voice telling its pain to
itself. Carter provides illustration of both. The cryptic riddles of Poems of Affinity are
the anti-thesis of the extended rhetorical testimonies ("I Am No Soldier", "I Come from
the Nigger Yard") of the early poems. Yet the riddle in Carter is still part of a constant
effort at self-judgement and self-justification, which are the two related impulses of
testimony. So in this matter of testimony, continuum theory is clearly applicable to
Caribbean writers. It is fascinating to observe how deeply our need for testimony grows,
as the atrocities increase, and the processes of alienation intensify in our societies. If the
oracular poet adopts the cryptic silence of the riddle, the hermetic, self-obsessed poet
frequently finds it necessary to escape from the prison of Self, to emerge from the closed
monadic world of his dry brain, his clean unlighted place.
One of his ways of doing this is by dramatising his angst through the creation of a
double, a voice, a Tiresias persona who bears the burden of his testimony and confes-
sion. One sees this happening in Questel's poetry (Near Mourning Ground and Hard
Stares).35 Often the voice that testifies seeks not the cleansing of confession, but a self-
justification which is most successfully achieved when one can show the unworthiness of
society. This is particularly true when the writer feels that the sincerity of his commit-
ment is being questioned by a younger generation (e.g. Carter's "After One Year".
Walcott's "The Schooner 'Flight' ").36 In the latter poem the persona Shabine becomes a
distancing device which enables the poet to deal with a personal trauma of guilty
recrimination, and at the same time to assume the role of flagellant of an indifferent and
corrupt society, and the tones of morally righteous indignation so necessary to the
testimony of the 'justified'. The poet, like Camus's Judge-Penitent Jean Batiste Clamance.
has it both ways: as Shabine he simultaneously confesses and condemns, "a shabby
prophet for shabby times". One is reminded of Naipaul's use of the Kripal Singh persona
in The Mimic Men, as well as of the fact that modernist confessional is usually aggressive,
in that it aims to undermine the complacency of society by making lucid, sick anti-
heroes its most representative voices. Walcott's Shabine is the distillation of the bitter
voices of the latter section of Another Life, the post-1970 political poems of Sea Grapes,
and the enraged persona of "What the Twilight Says".
In both versions of the poem he is a problematic persona who experiences problems
with language and tone, because he has to be both a grass-roots sailor from Laventille and
Walcott's voice. In The Starapple Kingdom version, his speech is given a vibrant calypso
lilt, and he is at one point knife-man and bad-john prepared to turn beast to defend his
poetry. The poet and his double draw close in this most unrealistic event. For while it is
most unlikely that we would find a real Shabine, a violent vituperative sailor-poet, it is
eminently possible that we would find a poet fully capable of the verbal violence of the
streets, seeking and defending power in the word, because he believes that this is the
only power possible in his society. Ultimately, Shabine is a thinly constructed mask
which easily becomes the face and speaks with the acerb voice that wears it.
Formally. Shabine represents Walcott's deliberate and tentative experimentation
with an oral tradition, on whose unsuitability as a paradigm for poetic exploration he had
been most bitterly eloquent.37 He represents the poet's compromise with a model of
shaping in which he had never quite believed, a partial attempt at aesthetic code-switch-
ing. He also represents the result of a twenty-year dialectic, the thesis and antithesis of
which were first an Anglo-Saxon and next an increasingly modernist European tradition
on the one hand, and the Afro-centred Caribbean oral tradition on the other.
There were several testimonies in Brathwaite's Black + Blues (1976), a collection of
poems in which he examines the manscape of urban contemporary Jamaica, within a
context of international politics and history, with which he has become increasingly pre-
occupied. As is his wont, he preserves the distinction between himself and his protago-
nists. Hence, the dread voice which testifies in "Starvation" is recognizably that of one of
Kingston's sufferers.38 In "Kingston in the Kingdom of this World"39 Brathwaite
globalizes his sufferer, who now becomes a universal spokesman for all who have endured
the diabolization of history, absorbing atrocity, torture, the balance of terror, "the values
of whip, values of bomb. . the culture of materialism".40 He is, like Shabine, ridden by
history: but unlike Shabine, he cannot shuck this history off by sinking into land or
seascape, or retreat like Makak into "the green beginnings" of the world. He is man in
prison, bearing the weight of a doom that cannot be dodged through movement or
amnesia, since it is not the static legacy of past catastrophe, but the recurrent and lived
atrocity of the present.
Testimony in "Kingston in the Kingdom of This World" is relocated in its reli-
gious context, in that the imprisoned voice is an analogue of Christ's, and his historic
experience a type of crucifixion. Brathwaite in doing this follows the examples of Mais'
Brother Man and Salkey's A Quality of Violence. True to the tendencies of Rastafarian-
ism, he endows his sufferer with centuries of humane 'authority', achievement, and root-
ed naturalness. But it is precisely these pastoral, adamic, green beginning qualities that
have been denied and superseded in the development of the material structures of the
world and all that those structures have helped elevate: force, repression, destruction,
and the perennial threat of nuclear annihilation.
Unlike the debased youth in "Springblade" or Scott's "Apocalypse Dub", the
sufferer here is a 'righteous' victim who represents the human potential denied, the Muse
in chains. He serves as mouthpiece for the poet, in the sense that he dramatises
Brathwaite's personal antipathy to society's disintegration. It is in this respect that he
resembles Walcott's Shabine, though it is significant that while the Jamaican ethos should
have demanded a religious framework for the testimony, the Trinidad ethos should have
led ineluctably to the secular contexts of Carnival and the Calypso.
Paradigms of the Oral Tradition The Secular
As the discussion on testimony has clearly illustrated, any absolute distinction
between religious and secular is unreal when one is dealing with the oral tradition.
There are several points of intersection, areas of interplay between the two modes. A
shortlist of forms predominantly employed in secular contexts would include folktales,
proverbs, worksongs, calypsoes, reggae songs, the steelband; the drum which, like reggae,
inhabits both religious and secular domains; riddles, which have surfaced in quite differ-
ent ways in Carter and Shake Keane (One a Week with Water); forms of rhetorical
performance such as Tobago Speech Mas, Robber Talk. Carnival word games of all kinds,
children's ring games, jokes and speech-making. Since each of these forms generally has
a distinctive shape, they collectively represent an almost inexhaustible resource for the
writer who is interested in such tropes.
Folktales and story-telling remain alive only in remote villages and rural areas
throughout the Antilles. The living story-telling tradition, which Daniel Crowley found in
the Bahamas during the sixties,41 today faces extreme pressure from television, video and
"the milk of transistors"42 which feed the Antilles the plastic instamatic culture of
America. In spite of this, raconteurs such as Louise Bennett and Paul Keens-Douglas have
been fairly successful in popularizing traditions of story-telling. Their success signals the
closeness of the Caribbean people to conversation, story-telling and the tale. Wordsworth
McAndrew during the seventies did readings of well over one hundred stories in his radio
programmes in Guyana, while Alfred Pragnell did the same for Barbados. One also
remembers with pleasure the fine achievement of Ken Corsbie, Henry Muttoo and Marc
Matthews as they performed poems, stories, songs and jokes taken from all over the
Caribbean.43 Matthew's "Eleven O'clock Goods Train" is one of the most powerful of
our short stories, demanding of the performer a flexibility of tone and pace capable of
conveying its rapid alternations of humour, pathos, nostalgia for a lost era, and the energy
of possession by the spirit.of the train, which merges with the intensity of a recalled boy-
Thus, although the lineaments of the original tradition of story-telling are being
erased, the tale still exercises a certain power and force. It may be possible to discuss the
evolution of the West Indian novel by considering the linkages between street style, story-
telling, the short story, and the formal and extended shaping of these things in the novel.
While this approach will not tell the full story, it would provide interesting insights into
novelists such as C. L. R. James, Alfred Mendes, Selvon, Vidia Naipaul. There is, for
example, a clearly discernible link between the early wit of Naipaul's Miguel Street which
reinforced itself by, and was a comment on, the Ballad calypso; the grotesque comedy
of A House for Mr Biswas, and the confessional absurdism of The Mimic Men. Each
phase represents a movement along the continuum, from a detached, but still partici-
patory perception of the secular/oral paradigm, towards an increasingly more abstract,
literary and modernist model.
Of the secular oral forms, one may choose the Calypso and Reggae as two living
forms, capable of self-adaptation to the extreme pressures of contemporary life. Reggae,
indeed, has in twenty years internationalised itself in a way that attests the creative life-
force of the ordinary people of Jamaica. Like Blues and Kaiso, its cousin forms, it has
coped triumphantly with the conditions of urban life, exile and rural dislocation. The
calypso is older as a form, and has itself evolved through several identifiable stages.
As examples of the secular aspect of the oral paradigm, Calypso and Reggae offer
quite different glimpses of a Caribbean potential. Both contain elements of celebration,
conflict, censure and praise, and are related to the history of dance in the New World as
release, as alternative to plantation structure and prison, and to puritan censorship of
instinct and eros. Commentators on dance in the New World constantly note its compul-
sive cathartic quality. This has been true whether one was talking about la kalinda of the
French Creole societies from Louisiana to Martinique45 or of week-end dances in
Barbados during the slavery period, or the Harlem 'dance schools' of the early twentieth
century. The picture that has emerged has been of the dance as secular ceremony, break-
ing the tedious routine of plantation, factory and bourg.
As with "Shaker Funeral", Shake Keane was one of the first poets to recognize this,
and to realise the concept of dance as secular ceremony leading to catharsis. It is this
process already commonplace in the poetry of French and Spanish Caribbean -- that
Keane seeks to enact in his "Calypso Dancers", whose rhythms do not simply imitate
those of the Calypso, but become the process whereby, as with the examples of religious
enactment, the dancers as celebrants make their descent into subliminal space. The
Calypso dance becomes for Keane what the Haitian Ceremony of Souls is for Lamming:
a ceremony of re-entry into fossil memories, a transfiguring ritual.
Men say the earth is a vital graveyard
of its own history,
that every fold of rock
with imprisoned residues of an exhausted age.
So is music -
so is the music of the Calypso -
centuries of warm compulsion
spinning a woof of fire -
pulsating aeons instantly unwombed.
charred passions, fossil emotions
cast up in
rhythmic spurts of undulating dance46
This was something new in the poetry: an early definition of the aesthetic of
Music has form and colour,
Rhythm has force -
Music is a river,
men are the strengthless stones
swept on and on...
Notice the preoccupation with defining the relationship of rhythm to the music of which
it is a part. This is perceived as the relationship of force to form and colour; of kinetic
energy, then, to that which contains it and bestows upon it shape and shade. So
immediately we have that fusion of sacred with secular; that celebration in both modes,
of a capacity to move from surface to the realm of the primordial; that preoccupation
with an archaeology of the psyche, a geology of the innermost Self; a history of the
psyche which runs beneath what we normally term history. Here we have our early
connection Harris was even more deeply involved in this in Eternity to Season (1954)
- with the world of Paz's The Other Mexico: A Critique of the Pyramid, in which a sub-
liminal, archetypal history is seen as existing beneath the surface of ordinary action, to
emerge and overwhelm how a people behaves during periods of stress. The point here is
that this sort of vision is emerging from a contemplation of the Calypso as dance, some-
thing that, given the normal superficiality of commentary on the Calypso, was most
surprising when it did appear.
The Calypso as it moved through its phases kalinda, Oratorical, Sans Humanite
minor, ballad, single tone, double tone had always been concerned with language as
magic, ornament, sharp cutting satirical tool and vehicle for a humour of the grotesque.
The Calypso helped preserve and formalise a certain twist of mind, which I believe helped
in the emergence of Selvon, Naipaul and Lovelace. I have elsewhere outlined its possible
contribution to the Selvon consciousness.47 Since Independence (1962), the Calypso.
faced with a burden of self-definition which Trinidad itself feels, has grown in
complexity, density and an awareness of itself as a serious form. It now, for example.
often alludes ironically to former calypsoes, styles of singing and modes of consciousness.
Valentino's "Dis Place Nice" contains a critique of Sparrow's "Drunk and Disorderly"
(1972), while his "Barking Dogs" begins with a reaction to certain lines in the classic
"Get to Hell Outa Here" (1964/65). Black Stalin's "Repainting the Portrait of Trinidad"
(1972) explodes all the complacently nationalistic cliches of Sniper's well-loved "Portrait
of Trinidad" (1965).
As the anxieties of Trinidadian nationhood intensify, the Calypso displays a grow-
ing capacity for seriously explored metaphor. Delamo's Apocalypse (1981) employs the
idea of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to signal the nation's distress and anger at
the state-approved and corruption-ridden 5250 million dollar Caroni Racing project. Its
grimness is equalled by Black Stalin's "Vampires" (1982), or "Breakdown Party" (1980)
whose puns on both 'breakdown' and 'party' remind one of the 'blow-mind' pun in
Mervyn Morris' poem for Don Drummond. "Valley Prince", and Leroy Calliste's poem
about San Fernando's deranged trumpet player, Chancellor, "South Trumpeter". Or there
is Penguin's the "Devil" (1980). which employs the chant of a traditional Carnival Devil
band to redefine the diabolical in familiar secular terms. Then there is Relator's gro-
tesquely and cruelly humorous "Deaf Panmen" (1974), in which Trinidad is depicted as a
steelband of deaf-mutes, led by the deaf Dr Williams in a crazy Carnival masquerade.
Williams decrees that only deaf people can join his band. Here then was a painfully comic
measure of the non-communication between leader and led, and the resultant national
disharmony which ensued from this lack of dialogue or meaningful participation.
What we see reflected in this small sample of contemporary "consciousness"
calypsoes are signs of the complex adjustments of a city's young people to its growing
chaos. They are attempts to resist the Absurd, part of a quest for order as profound as
anything in Naipaul or Walcott. I sense this quest for order in even the cruel reduction of
the murder of Gale Ann Benson, and her interment under a bed of lettuce to the 01'
Mas caption, "Benson under Hedges". What is happening is more disturbing than mere
cynicism, and represents something sharp, strong and fiercely alive, capable of offering
poet, novelist and dramatist a wide range of stimuli.
How writers have responded to such stimuli has depended on their temperaments
and their initial ideas about the viability, or otherwise, of the oral tradition. John Agard,
the Guyanese poet, welcomes the evidence of strength in the Calypso, and produces his
prize-winning Man to Pan (1982). This poem draws heavily on the ideas of Malik's "Pan
Run I & II". Keens-Douglas' "Sugar George", Kitchener's "Spree Simon" and
Brathwaite's Islands. But its technical virtuosity, its elated experimentation with rhythm
and shape, are completely Agard's own development, and arise from his close listening to
Kaiso and Pan. Agard's Man to Pan illustrates the directness and immediacy of the oral
heritage, and its accessibility to new types of shaping.48 Sound poets such as Brother
Resistance and the Network group in Trinidad are also illustrating this potential of the
root form for new and extended shaping. Linton Kwesi Johnson is doing the same thing
with his reggae Dub poetry.
Walcott, Calypso, Carnival, Spoiler
Derek Walcott has also felt the irresistible force of the oral paradigm; but he experi-
ences it as something to be confronted, wrestled with until it is made to justify itself.
The long essay, "What the Twilight Says: An Overture", provides ample evidence of this
violent wrestling, as Walcott confronts the vigorous new manifestations of the emerging
oral paradigm, triggered into audibility by the Black Power movement and the rhetoric
of African revival. This essay is itself the testimony of the dialectic process taking place
in Walcott's ridden head, evidence of which may be found in his essays and newspaper
articles since the early sixties.
Walcott arrived in Trinidad with the elation of one who was attracted to the living
oral forms of that country. As he attests in a 1973 interview with Raoul Pantin:
I think a lot of West Indian writers should experience
this society, especially poets. First of all, this is a
society that is very verbal. Apart from its music,
there is a very strong sense of composition. The
dialect, for instance, even if it borrows a little too
much from the States now and it's got tired in terms
of its own originality, is always being refreshed. Now
from the time I was a boy in St Lucia, Trinidad
expressions were popular all up the Eastern Carib-
bean. So there's always this verbal excitement or
novelty in the dialect in this country. Let me take
a little time to explain this.
When I first came to Trinidad. I had an isolated res-
pect for calypsonians. In other words, I could stand
back, I could look at the calypsonians, admire them
tremendously and what they stood for and what
they were doing and all that because they were work-
ing as poets. In a public auditorium with public
approval and public booing and that sort of thing.
So there they were, entering the arena and taking the
blows or taking the praise.49
Walcott had already written the first version of Ti Jean and His Brothers (1957), a play
based on the exploits of the youthful St Lucian trickster-hero Ti Jeanso and the pageant
Drums and Colours with its Calypso-influenced prologue. The early years of the Theatre
Workshop were also years of subjecting Calypso and Carnival to a constant measuring.
Walcott listened to the Calypso closely, and even served in the early sixties as a judge
of the Calypso King competition5'.
One of his earliest comments on the Calypso appeared in 1960 when in an article
entitled "Popular Poets Are Now Severely Tested", he declared:
Songs like Melody's "Peddlers" can be read as poems
without the accompanying music, and so can most of
Commander's or Mr Action; in fact Commander's
ballad of last season on the paradox of crime and
justice can stand by Germany's best poet of this
generation, Bertolt Brecht, in its irony.52
There is also a positive appreciation of the rhythmic daring of some Calypso compositions.
The usual criticism of calypso composition is that it
is too restricted in form to have poetic merit. There
are several examples even if a bit dated which show a
natural poetic ear in the daring of their rhythmic
Two weeks later, Walcott, still on the look-out for what he deemed 'poetic' qualities in
the Calypso, tells us that Sparrow "knows the effect of a flattened ending, both verbally
and musically for comic effect".
Walcott continued to use the term "poet" to refer to calypsonians for the next
four years at least, though he was later to repent of such blasphemy when, obviously
remembering his own articles, he berated those intellectuals who, finding values in what
"they had formerly despised.. apotheosised the folk form, insisting that calypsoes were
poems".54 The Walcott of the early sixties felt free to call calypsoes poems and compare
them to poems by Brecht and Eliot. Thus in 1963 we read him saying: "If any poet
has made the concept of the calypsonian and the caiso up-to-date, streamlined and con-
temporary, it is Sparrow himself."55
But it is in this article that he begins to distinguish between Calypso and poem;
or perhaps, to clarify the distinctions which had always existed in his mind. Commenting
on Sparrow's "Slave", he declares:
One admires what Sparrow is after. A dignity and
extension of the range of the calypso. But it seems to
me to be making the same mistake of formal poets
who try the calypso form in poetry. The poetry has
to be used, it does not belong to the poet but to the
public, and it must be danced. "The Slave", however
daring in intention is feeble in lyrics, and sounds
more right for the concert-hall than for the open
road.ss (my emphasis)
So here the gap between Calypso (public poetry) and formal (private?) poetry is defined.
It is even suggested that it is as fatal for the calypsonian to try for seriousness and lament,
as it is for the "formal" poet to attempt the Calypso form in his poetry. This would
appear to be a departure from the 1960 position where, it seemed, a calypsonian was
able to achieve ironies as subtle as Brecht, although his rhythms and vocabulary were
those of his own presumably informal oral tradition.
By February 1964, Walcott is describing the Calypso as "Our Poetry in Song".s5
This article, however, not only acknowledges the presence of two traditions in the
society, but distinguishes between 'poet' and calypsonian, clarifying the distinction
between public and private which Walcott had begun to articulate in 1963. The initial
sense of rhythmic possibility in the Calypso is now, if not denied, at least held to belong
only to the Calypso. It is non-transferable. Yet there is evidence that Walcott was becom-
ing even more deeply attracted to the 'poetic' possibilities of the Calypso. In an article
of 30 January 1964 entitled "Cheers for an Insincere Clown", he commented thus on
Bomber's calypso, "Bomber's Dream":
Nobody expects great poetry from calypsoes, but
it is after all, a poetic medium and it can come pretty
close, no? Compare Eliot's meeting with a master in
He left me, with a kind of valediction
And faded on the blowing of the horn:
with Bomber's bidding farewell to Spoiler's ghost:
the break of day
I don't know where he went
but he went away.57
Fifteen years later we will get Walcott's "The Spoiler's Return", a poem inspired by
"Bomber's Dream" and written in the erstwhile non-transferable Calypso couplets. Two
years earlier (1962) Walcott had written The Charlatan, a play whose central figure is a
second-rate calypsonian, and for which Walcott attempted to write calypsoes as well as
All of this was taking place in the context of a parallel ambivalence towards the
Trinidad Carnival, whose quasi-theatrical qualities Walcott viewed with a similar mixture
of hope and antagonism. On the same day that Walcott thought he heard the similarity
between the ending of "Bomber's Dream" and Eliot's Four Quartets, he was contrasting
the "moving stillness" of the great classical Greek plays with the kinetic restlessness of
Carnival. He asserted that:
The masked actors (i.e. in Greek drama) are moved
like objects, inexorably, by fate. The Greek arena,
bowl-shaped, contained that silence. Timelessness.
These Greek classic principles are, the antithesis of
Carnival. The essential law of Carnival is movement.
Restlessness. It is outward, directionless. Its dictum
is, keep going, and it does this for three days.
But now. other qualities have entered it which aspire
to the conditions of art. It has become more theatri-
cal. It works closer to the concepts of sculpture. It
explores the psychology of colour in the manner of
the abstract painter. It is heavy with historical
research and obsessed with authenticity. Like ballet,
its material is flesh for which it has evolved its own
orchestra, the steelband, and it works to simple, but
rigid principles of music, the calypso.
It will never become art, the way that tableaux
vivants, or "the happening" trys (sic) to. It has to be
regarded as something apart, as a mass art, an
idiosyncratic form of popular expression.
It is now torn between two directions, a visual
formality and its true spirit, anarchy.5s
One recognizes immediately the two poles of the Walcott dialectic: Greek stillness
and timelessness: Trinidadian kinesis, anarchy and temporality. Nietzsche's Greeks,
torn between the Apollonian and the Dionysiac (The Birth of Tragedy) are replaced by
the simpler, less humanly complex figures which a conventional classical education has
taught Walcott to venerate. Carnival is as much a challenge to his assumptions about
theatre as Calypso is to his assumptions about poetry. Because of this, Walcott ends
his article on a pronounced note of doubt:
The bands are designed to be on the move. to avoid
giving the impression of being art, while usir all its
skills, dance, design, colour, belief. But all < f these
elements combine to make the curious force of Carni-
val its great almostness, its near-poetry from the
calypso. its near-orchestra from the steelband, its
near-theatre from the bands, its near-sculpture from
its craftsmen. It will remain always as close as that,
but no one should look on Carnival as art. It is an
expression of a people with a fantastic, original
genius for the theatrical, who may never produce
Just as a gulf had arisen in Walcott's mind between the territories of calypsonian
and poet, even so a gulf arose between the domains of masquerader and dramatist. Earlier
in the article he had stressed the danger of "the artist" in this case the dramatist -
abandoning his "isolation from the crude, popular forms" to attempt to impose theatrical
discipline on Carnival's "anarchy". This was a reference to the 1963 Carnival, which had
seen the beginnings of an attempt to organise the Dimanche Gras show along theatrical
lines. Errol Hill, who had been in charge of that production, was also responsible for the
organization of the 1964 Dimanche Gras affair. The form which this organization took is
described by Hill in detail in his The Trinidad Carnival59. Walcott was unimpressed by the
show, of which he said:
"Whistling Charlie and the Monster" is the work of a
man who has lost touch with the argot of our streets.
It is a determination to impose art on a force that is
anarchic, artless and restless. I could use my
programme and let you know the plot. but I don't
think it would help much. This is not the place to dis-
cuss Mr Hill's qualities as a playwright, just as the
Dimanche Gras stage is no place for him to display
Four days later, in an article on Stephen Lee Heung's "Japan, Land of the Kabuki",
Walcott seized the opportunity to advance the Kabuki and Noh theatres both already
sanctified by Brecht and Yeats as potential models for imposing "stillness" and "formal
pattern" on Caribbean folk arts.61 Two positions emerge from these articles so far:
(i) No attempt should be made to impose pattern on Carnival itself, since it is too anarchic
and restless a force. (ii) The Caribbean dramatist in isolation could/should employ the
formal patterns of Greek, Kabuki or Noh theatres as models for imposing "stillness"
or "timelessness" on his own kinetic forms. Through recognition of what the Kabuki
have done with their folklore of "devils, thief-heroes, old men, witch-figures and. ..
masks", so similar to the folklore of Carnival, West Indian playwrights might find ways
of creating a theatre which achieves "the powerful simplicity" of traditional dance and
The music and dance are waiting to be used so
expressively that village audiences can comprehend
archetypal figures set in a formal pattern.61
After all this, Walcott in 1965 attempted exactly what he had so severely con-
demned Hill for trying the two previous years: he produced a theatricalised Dimanche
Gras Show. The flood of correspondence which followed indicated that it was the worst
failure of all three attempts. Errol Hill's review of March 1965 tells us what happened.
True to precept which had become almost instinct, Walcott had imported his Greeks into
the people's mas'.
As far as can be made out, in BATAI Mr Walcott was
attempting an historical survey of Carnival based on
an article by Andrew Pearse in the Carnival issue of
Caribbean Quarterly published by the University
Extra-Mural Department. The theme is permissible
enough provided the production stressed a carnival
rather than an ethnological atmosphere.
But Mr Walcott is obsessed with the life eternal, as
achieved through his celebrated verse, and herein
begins his tale of woe. For trusting not to the indes-
tructible masquerade spirit of the Trinidadian, which
perhaps he does not truly apprehend, to inform the
mass movement, the tempo, tone and colour of his
production, he delivers himself of a tedious narra-
tion which was accompanied by silence and stillness
on the yawning expanse of the stage. So that
Dimanche Gras suffered at the altar of Mr Walcott.
A Mr. Walcott, that is, buttered up by the culture of
Athens. For his BATAI script parades a host of
classical allusions that include Aeneas, Dido,
Cassandra, Minerva, Juno and Venus, Anchises and
a Sybil. Only Narcissus is missing.62
Walcott, then, according to Hill, had achieved a kind of "silence" and a sort of "still-
ness": the kind that breeds boredom.
Hill gave his picong a sharper edge because a few weeks before Walcott had
published a withering review of Hill's recently published Man Better Man, in which he
accused both Hill and Errol John (Moon on a Rainbow Shawl), "vigorous young pioneers,
however crude and uninformed", of "debasing their gift to alien gods, one the commer-
cial, the other the academic."63 Hill had altered the prose version of his play into a play
of rhyming calypso couplets and rewritten the entire work after a more tragic original
version had been discussed by his Yale Drama class. Walcott's criticism is mainly of what
he sees as the inauthenticity of the language which he says "Offers slices of American
slang, Elizabethan, (there is one character who says 'Alas') and some slightly dated
Trinidadian." Hill,' he claims, is writing a musical with a hope for Broadway production,
"Winking at the Broadway audience while keeping his face turned steadily towards
Since Mr Hill is neither a calypsonian nor a poet, but
a naturally powerful writer of dialect plays in prose,
(see "Ping Pong", see the original, wherever it is, of
Man Better Man) the doggerel that results is very
awkward. He has chosen to manipulate a metre that is
by its nature lyrical into the dramatic. He employs
the four beat line of the calypso, (Villon's metre), but
Because he has stubbornly set himself the useless
task of writing in couplets he distorts the language
and the feel of the character to find the academic".63
Walcott had dismissed the play before he had seen it acted. My own experience of a
mid-seventies production of it in San Fernando is that the language works quite well on
the stage, and does enable Hill to capture the sound and feel of grandcharge, picong,
robber-talk, the rapid word-play and wit associated with the stick-fight, the kalinda, and
the Sans Humanite picong Kaiso. There was flexibility and variety in the use of song, an
instinctive correctness in the music, which was itself commendable as an attempt to
reconnect with the musical history of nineteenth and early twentieth century Trinidad.
Hill also handled his new plot well. His folk types, the trickster who is unmasked, the
warrior, the coward, the Jamette, were never boring. Indeed, Diable Papa's fraudulence
and impotence and his fear of relinquishing power were immediately applied by the audi-
ence to the case of Eric Williams. The value of the play for them was as a satire on power
corruptly exercised, and on authoritarianism become a mask for the impotence of age.
What lay behind Walcott's review was clearly his own theory that the "serious"
poet and the "folk" poet are two different people, who write in two different and
mutually exclusive and non-transferable languages. The irony in his situation was clearly
visible to the Trinidad public after his Dimanche Gras 1965 failure to blend codes which
he had hitherto described as antagonistic to each other. Walcott's reaction was to widen
the gulf which already existed in his mind between "the people's crude aesthetic" (Twi-
light) and the sanctified classical models. It is in the post-1965 period that we get a poem
such as "Mass Man" which focuses on the difference between the mindless frenzy of
Carnival and the anguished howling isolation of the poet who must impose stillness on the
directionless energy of the mass/es.64 Carnival now evolves as Walcott's antagonist, his
rival, and a convenient metaphor for all that enrages him about Trinidad. Hence the
aggressive tone of both "What the Twilight Says" and "The Muse of History", essays
whose positive aspect is the warning which they both issue against ethnic and aesthetic
chauvinism, against the closing-off and confinement of the West Indian sensibility, but
which, ironically, seek to close off the West Indian sensibility from its own indigenous
oral tradition, by presenting it in terms of limitation rather than possibility.
But with Walcott nothing is that simple. Whatever he warns against, he is on the
verge of attempting. The Calypso, for example, deepened his sense of the necessity for
narrative, and despite its banality made him modify his notion of the language of drama.
So by 1973 we witness a modification of the 1970/71 Twilight/Muse position:
Because you come to realise how many bad calypsoes
there are, you get tired of hearing the same type of
calypso and so on. But what I think began to happen,
particularly through the theatre not yet in the verse
or maybe to some degree there too, but particularly
in the theatre was, here I was living in a society which
was very lively, where this was a vital tradition.
Right? You're not joining it because you want to be
identified with it. It's just the momentum of the fact
that this is where you are; it draws you into that
world. Right? So I found myself now trying to write
songs or getting into the rhythm of the society I was
in because that was a root thing. You see what 1
mean? You can't be a poet who writes for the theatre
and use an esoteric language. You have to get down
into the language. So the influence of the calypso
or the tone of the whole area of the calypso is some-
thing one has to learn from a theatre person.65 (my
So by 1973, the movement towards a more positive assessment of the oral tradi-
tion had begun for Walcott the dramatist. There is also a hint that Walcott the poet had
begun to feel the pressure of the voice. Also. with The Arrivants the terms of the
debate about aesthetics had undergone a change. After The Arrivants (1967-69) poets
and playwrights would seek to develop forms from such tropes as were available in their
own societies, hence the growing interest among playwrights in ritual drama (Scott,
Gilkes, Maxwell, Walcott, Gibbons, Questel, Creighton). Several poets also emerge who
now find it easier to begin from the oral tradition. As with Man Better Man, Walcott
had nothing positive to say about these.
As had happened with the mid-sixties Carnival polemic, Walcott's (1970-1971)
derogation of oral poets was accompanied by his recommendation of whatever literature
currently engaged his fancy. In the early sixties, his interest in the Greeks, Chinese and
Japanese had coexisted with an affection for Modernists and Absurdists: Sartre, Camus,
Genet, Artaud, Beckett, Grotowski. By the late sixties he had become attracted to the
vitality of various New World voices Whitman, Carpentier, Cesaire, Perse, Denis
Williams, Harris, Neruda, Vallejo and Paz. By the early seventies he had achieved a per-
sonal synthesis of the Old World nihilism of the Absurdists and the New World "prim-
alism" of the Anglo- Franco- and Hispanic-Americans. It was a synthesis of dead-end
and green beginning, the opposite Legba poles of a Caribbean possibility. It gave Walcott
a new freedom with language: the sealed-off crypt of the lyric began to yield to the
pressure of narrative, and it became increasingly possible for Walcott to open himself up,
not only to the immense achievements of Latin American prose, but also to the steady
pressure of Caribbean orality.
Yet even this is too simple a reduction of the dialectic between aesthetic possibili-
ties which continued to take place in Walcott's head. For he converted his personal
synthesis of dead-end and green beginning Beckett and Neruda into a new orthodoxy
of great achievement, which he now used to sharpen his attack on pastoralistss of the
African revival" (Twilight), that is, those who had recognized, as he was himself being
forced by the pressure of the voice to recognize, the viability of an alternative tradition.
Such "whores and catamites" the language is as abusive as this receive scathing and
dishonourable mention in Another Life, a poem which is itself evidence of Walcott's
movement towards orality. The extremity of the abuse, then, is related to that inner
reluctance to yield to the pressure of the voice; that fear of experimentation in regions
uncharted and unsanctified.
The law of dialectic, so crucial for an understanding of aesthetic code-switching in
the Caribbean, makes us confront our imagined opposite which, in the process of trying
to negate, we come somewhat to resemble. Thus Walcott is obeying an inbuilt Caribbean
necessity when he criticises Hill's use of batonniers in Man Better Man then does the
same himself in Batai and later in The Joker of Seville; when he condemns Hill's play as
a Broadway-type musical, and later produces O Babylon and Marie Laveau; or when he
eschews the hybrid language of Hill's rhymed calypso-couplets and goes on to produce
equally, if not more hybrid language in the calypso-couplets of "The Schooner Flight"
and the more successful achievement of a calypso-poem: "The Spoiler's Return".
We noted earlier Walcott's comments on "Bomber's Dream" (1964). We also noted
the increasing depth and bitterness in calypso commentary during the seventies and
eighties. Walcott's poem absorbs the acerbity of the time, and also contains all of that
rage which had characterized his post-1965 statements of aesthetic. Spoiler, like Shabine,
becomes the poet's double, the doppelganger and ghost of the oral tradition which has
haunted and tormented him for such a long time. Alive, Spoiler had never been noted
for social or political commentary. His domain was rather the borderland between fantasy
and reality, shadow and substance. It is interesting that the idea of the double thrice
appeared in his calypsoes. In "My Shadow", for example, he eventually determines to get
rid of his tenacious shadow by placing his neck on a railway track. In "Twin Brother"
he suffers because of the exploits of an identical twin whom he has to eliminate. He thus
dies and they bury his twin brother by mistake. In "Magistrate Try Yourself", a magis-
trate arrested for speeding is forced to try himself. He cross-examines, sentences and
exonerates himself by questioning his image in a mirror. Spoiler also has calypsoes on
amnesia ("Lost Memories"), sleepwalking ("Sleepwalkers"), strange personality displace-
ments ("Cat Brain") and the sudden horror of comedy ("Fountain of Youth").
So the real Spoiler actually explored in his weird style a few favourite Walcott
themes: amnesia, schizophrenia, illusion and reality, showing an entire nation its absurd-
ity, while dying from alcohol and tuberculosis. He died in 1961. He had even grasped the
idea of the double and the technique of looking in the mirror to confront one's image,
which Walcott employs in "The Schooner 'Flight' ". In the poem he is given the wide
political awareness of some contemporary calypsonians, the immense literacy of Walcott
himself, and the retributive menace of the Mighty Shadow, who also wanted to kill the
man in his head ("Bass Man", 1974). He has also read the Penguin Book of Literary Anec-
dotes, from which he borrows a joke about the mock-opera composer Sullivan, "I decom-
pose, but I composing still", palming it off as his own; the oral tradition being, one guess-
es, the common property of all. Choosing satire, he calls on the aid of Martial. Juvenal,
Pope, and extends his bedbug activities from biting juicy young ladies to biting the hard-
ened, unyielding arse of Authority.
Spoiler's satire resembles Juvenal's most in spirit. It is satura, the mixed form, suffi-
ciently free to accommodate a wide range of topics and moods. It rails against corruption,
employs scatology, anguished sarcasms and grim humour, in a wide-ranging vision of
human degradation. Like Juvenal's, it is angry middle-aged railing, though it retains some
of the violated innocence of angry-young-man satire, typical of John Donne's Satires and
early Elegies. Spoiler's targets are similar to Juvenal's which, according to Charles Plumb,
The legions, the luxury, gladiatorial shows, pomp
slavery, triumphs and crucifixions; the gross and tedi-
ous over-eating; the almost too abundant facilities for
natural and unnatural vice; in short, unmitigated and
In Juvenal, bacchanal, corruption, Authority, Power, role-playing and sexual licence, are
all scatologically reduced to their constitutive filth. In the face of these abuses, Juvenal
well it's hard not to write satire. Who's such
a man of steel
as all the imposture of the imperial city
not to feel?67
Spoiler in similar vein declares:
When Spoiler see all this, ain't he must bawl,
"area of darkness", with V. S. Nightfall?
It is difficult, indeed, to avoid feeling that Walcott had been reading Plumb's translation
of Juvenal's satires while writing "The Spoiler's Return". Concerned with producing a
contemporary and idiomatic translation while preserving the vigour of the original,
Plumb departs from the heroic couplet format of earlier translators. He explains:
For this purpose, relying on Juvenal's own express
dispensation for latitude, he has made use of the
widest possible range of forms, from straight or looser
sorts of 'blank' verse, to 'sprung' rhythms, hexa-
meters or near hexameters, and various rhyming
schemes, down to the doggerel of the street ballad,
where appropriate, and even once the calypso.68
Now, Plumb's translator's licence is precisely what Walcott was seeking at this moment in
his career: a model for freeing up the line, yet keeping the pointed regularity of the four-
beat calypso line. Plumb's Calypso translation of Satire VI, Section III employs the four-
beat line in a commendably authentic imitation. It is just the sort of 'classical' assurance
that Walcott, who hears Villon's metre in the Calypso, Brecht in Commander and Eliot
in Bomber, would have welcomed. With him, all experimentation with Caribbean forms
must first be validated with reference to the classical model.
Walcott's Spoiler, leaving one hell for another, foresees disaster for a Trinidad, gov-
erned by a parasitical African elite, a new petty bourgeoisie of latrine-fly speculators
overseered by a deaf impotent. He rails against censorship, what Carter calls the assassina-
tion of the voice, as exemplified by the killing of Walter Rodney in Guyana, where he
sees an Amin-type regime developing.
So I sing with Attila, I sing with Commander
what right in Guyana, right in Uganda
(It is possible, though, that Amin could have learned from Batista, Machado, Somoza,
Trujillo or Duvalier.) In Trinidad, if censorship is more subtle, it is equally necessary as
a means of controlling protest against the reality of corruption in high places.
The corollary of the censorship of real protest is the withholding of real information,
which leads to a corruption of the word, a rot of language.
it has been done before, all Power has
made the sky shit and maggots of the stars
until all language stinks, and the truth lies
a mass for maggots and a fete for flies.
In this atmosphere of decayed language gutter journalism flourishes, the consequence and
cause of the absence of real information. For Art, there is Scouting for Talent and Best
Village where "the audience have more talent than the show". His conclusion is easy to
Is Carnival, straight Carnival that's all,
the beat is base, the melody bohbohl,
all Port of Spain is a twelve-thirty show,
some playing Kojak, some Fidel Castro
Here we have that automatically negative use of the Carnival metaphor to mean role-
playing, play-acting, fantasising and waste. This opinion of Carnival, deeply rooted in the
society, is partly the result of the Puritan vilification of Eros, that centuries-old religious
urge to direct human instinct towards the divine usefulness of production within the
established system. Here Walcott's voice, always, of course, behind Spoiler's, predomi-
nates. The real Spoiler existed almost completely outside of that productive system, so
that the Carnival of waste which he now condemns after his two decades of purgatorial
fire, is the natural offspring of the sort of Tizzic life69 which he lived and affirmed and
celebrated while on earth. This is the major irony which Spoiler/Walcott as righteous flag-
ellant excludes. For the highest point of satire has always been the point when it turns
inward; when Gulliver realises, to his horror, that he too is a Yahoo.
This moment never occurs in the poem where, because Spoiler is already the fully
fledged and unchangeable conscience of the society, he is incapable of further moral
insight. He differs slightly from Shabine here, in that his own deficiencies never become
the issue. Of course, they seldom do in satire which, to paraphrase Swift, is a glass in
which everyone sees everyone else's face. Thus, after he sees the neglect and dessication
of the East Indian peasantry and the painful arrogance of oil-enriched Trinidad, Spoiler
retreats to the more organized Hell down below. The poet and his double merge here,
for Spoiler presents himself as Cassandra of Tiresias, the neglected, ignored artist/prophet/
poet/conscience of the city.
All you excuse me, Spoiler was in town:
you pass him straight, so now he gone back down.
This is how Walcott, the fortunate traveller, would like to be seen on abandoning Trini-
dad. He needs a persona who will be able to contain that sense of moral completeness
necessary for self-justification, that sense of superiority to the world he is condemn-
ing and leaving. In a way, the poem reconciles Walcott's ambivalence, his love/hate of the
oral model, his acute discomfort, as poet, with the multiplicity of codes available to
us. He is able to employ aspects of Calypso form to castigate the very people who created
it; and he can rightly claim that dozens of post-1970 calypsoes have not only done this,
but in the process have also criticised, modified, and in a few cases transcended the cliche
of their own form.
Rastafarianism, Reggae, Dread
outta dis rock
a green riddim
even more dread
de breeze of glory bread.
is how wi move
rocking widgreen riddim
an dry root out . (Linton Kwesi Johnson)
Reggae as secular paradigm differs from the Calypso in that its linkages to people's
religion are direct. It thus reveals many of the features of the religion. Its emergence has
been part of that immense explosion of energy which occurred in 1954 when the police
destroyed the Rastafarian settlement at Pinnacle.70 They thus made visible hundreds
of Brederen who became urban slum-dwellers, where before they had been cocooned in
their self-sufficient, communal world of marijuana, charcoal and drumbeat. The destruc-
tion of Pinnacle increased the sense of righteous suffering on which the movement
thrives, and deepened the Brederen's search for their own alternative righteous forms, as
counter to Babylon's down pressure. So it was that master drummer Count Ossie began
his camps at which musicians experimented with new rhythms, and Don Drummond, that
mighty trombonist, found his direction, one which was to give depth to the emergence of
the Ska out of Mento, Rhythm & Blues, Jazz, spirituals, Pukkumina chanting, trumping
What happened in the mid- to late-fifties, accelerated by the Independence drive
for a national image, influenced people such as Nettleford and Scott. It provided a
counter pressure of people's nam (Brathwaite's name for the irreducible soul or
psyche of a person or people) to whatever colonial culture had instilled in the minds of
the intellectual. It is out of this that Nettleford emerged from the McBurnie influence to
create new forms: "Kumina", "Pukkumina", "Two drums for Babylon", and that dance I
saw during Carifesta '72, "Desperate Silences", the first true kinetic growth out of the
new urban form of Reggae.
In this dance an attempt was made to explore the exploding urban violence in terms
of the alternation of sound and silence in Rock Steady. The dancers celebrated to the
sounds and tore each other apart during the silences, dancing all the while and maintain-
ing a kind of fluid tension, the paradox of rigidity and flexibility which the music
embodies. It is significant that 'silence' in that dance symbolised alienation, failure of
dialogue, the most destructive basis for an aesthetic, while community flowered in song,
speech, the release of word and riddim.
My only reservation about that fascinating experiment was that it separated the
music from the silences when in fact the best Ska and the whole Rock Steady/Reggae
continuum contains its own silence within the sound. Listen to how most of Drummond's
timeless solos abstract themselves from the chaos of cymbals, while the rest of the
orchestra keeps time, keeps time. Or in Rock Steady there is the interplay of bass/silence,
bass/silence, which need no separation since they are complementary.
So, while separating fragments of sound by desperate silences was a brilliant idea,
my feeling was that complete songs should have been used, and fewer of them.
Nettleford would still have been able to depict the history of dread; and within each
whole song he might have been able to show something even more difficult than the
schizophrenia of his society trapped in its time, and its history of violence and repression,
autocratic abuse of power and eternally imminent rebellion. Using whole songs and less
extensive silences, he might have been able to show how the heart, breaking under its
tension, or the mind driven to frenzy, is yet sustained by both the relentless, timeless
pulse and the empty silences which howl and flow around the beat. For it is this which
happens in the better of the music in which anarchy, violence and madness are simul-
taneously celebrated and contained.
Yet, "Desperate Silences" did travel far enough, resembling in its fragmentation an
emerging Caribbean idea of form. Much to my regret, the NDTC eliminated that dance
from its repertoire, to do the much more straightforward tributes to Marley and Cliff.
Dennis Scott: Crystal and Chrysalis
Dennis Scott was part of the emergence of the indigenized dancing of the sixties;
part. that is, of those who were privileged to feel the pressures of the people's nam as
it cracked through both the older and perhaps outmoded folk forms and the European
overlay of modernist abstraction. It has not surprised me that whatever preference he
may feel for the hard, clean, imagistic lyric has been qualified by voice, sound of nam
pushing through the poem's crystal. While this was true since Uncle Time (e.g. "No Suf-
ferer"), it becomes more central in Dreadwalk,71 where Scott achieves a fine equilibrium
between the poem as self-contained crystal and the poem as chrysalis, always about to
unfold, to become something other.
The images of crystal and chrysalis and the parallel images of pebble and egg. coral
and tendril, emerged in my Pathfinder72 Explorations of Brathwaite's poetry. They
represent complementary possibilities for the West Indian writer. 'Crystal' is contained by
its boundaries of hard clean edges. It may let light through and permit one to see inside
the poem's self-contained universe. 'Pebble' resembles crystal in its hardness and self-
contained sufficiency, but it is opaque and defies penetration. Coral is hardened, encrust-
ed, crystalline fossil-reminder of the life it once contained. Chrysalis, egg, and tendril,
on the other hand, are always potentially about to unfold; always uncurling, becoming,
reaching out beyond themselves towards an otherness that is potentially and embryoni-
Many of our poets have been attracted to the idea of the poem as crystal or pebble,
and aim for dryness, hardness, reticence and economy. My argument is that most of them
have been compelled to acknowledge quite the opposite tendency in the oral practices of
their society: the desire for a poetry which is not its own end; which like the tendril
reaches out beyond its space; or like the chrysalis represents a process, a becoming, a
movement towards otherness of shape. In Dennis Scott's most recent work, crystal and
chrysalis exist as separate entities in different poems, or coexist in the same poems as the
complementary elements of a dialectical process.
One is quite accustomed to the imagistic aspect of Scott's poetry Uncle Time,
1973); but only An Echo in the Bone would have signalled the presence of a persona such
as that which is assumed in "Nightwalk". There the poet becomes houngan and draws his
veve at the foot of the tree (i.e. the poteau mitan), in order to attract the demonic
Damballah forces of the unconscious. In other words, "Nightwalk" signals the emerging
presence of a fearsome Other who patrols the poet's dream world; an Other whom the
poet, like Lamming's Fola in Season of Adventure, needs to acknowledge, attract and
embrace. This process acknowledgement, attraction and embrace occurs, or is sug-
gested in the patterning of several poems in Dreadwalk.
Sometimes the Other assumes precise human form. He is one's neighbour. In
"Neighbours" we are introduced to this recurring double, one of the impoverished shanty
dwellers whose 'snackbox' shack is framed in the poet's window of remote vision. A flood
washes away the cardboard shanty. Scott doesn't sentimentalise his reactions to this catas-
trophe. Like Pilate:
I washed my hands
and lounged before the television flood
He shuts out the double; ignores the disaster immediately framed in his window pane and
chooses instead to watch the television's frame, which makes disaster palatable by setting
it at a comfortable distance.
Scott is, however, drily aware that one pays a price for each failure in compassion
towards, or acknowledgement of, the Other. One's dream turns into something unpalat-
able and nauseating as the sensibility becomes gross.
But miss his cooking fire
in the evenings now
I eat my dreams
Such grossness is suggested in the link between the poet who lunches on disaster and the
flood which licks its tongue and belches after swallowing the snackbox shack.
Lemonsong is a response to the Other in his most compelling guise that of revo-
lutionary sacrifice. The scene of the poem is Cuba's War Museum which is housed in what
used to be Batista's palatial Havana residence. Here Scott contemplates Guevara's
assertion that "the true revolutionary" is guided by a great feeling of love.
I am crying under the lemon trees at Moncada
because of death and the hardness of such love
Is this what we must pay
to be complete, my son?
The question is directed to his son because Scott is concerned with the implications that
Cuba's example might have for a Jamaica where the next generation may be forced to
choose between dubious liberty and certain death. Indeed, Scott's recent and bleak play,
Dog, indicates that such dog days have already come. Cuba deifies and keeps alive the
memory and meaning of sacrifice. Yet Scott questions the worth of "such sour sacrifice"
and dreams of a less relentless and more flexible freedom, imaged in his Aureliano-like
dream act of melting the guns "to small bird shapes, gleaming behind glass". The revolu-
tion's "hard love" has no use for such fancies. It is this that Scott fears most. In spite of
his reservations, he leaves the matter open and does not pre-empt his son's right to choose
his ideals love, war, or art -in a Caribbean whose future may well make the hard-
ness of revolutionary choice both necessary and inevitable.
Son, lament, lullaby: Lemonsong is all of these, and represent a deliberate attempt
to counterpoint Latin American languor with Jamaican rigour. It is an opening up to the
pressure of the voice, which prepares us for "More Poem". "And It's true", "Apocalypse
Dub" and "Dreadwalk". "More Poem" recalls the earlier "No Sufferer" with which Uncle
Time closed, and "No Sufferer" was itself an indication of how far nam had broken
through the poem's pebble. It was the people who through Reggae ("We a Sufferer"
1968/69) had defined themselves as 'sufferers'. The righteousness of this definition pre-
empted the usual claim of poets to a monopoly of suffering and victimhood. Such poets
suddenly discovered that their word stood in dialectical opposition to that of the people
for and to whom they still felt an urge to speak. In Scott's case, the pressure of the suffer-
er's claim has forced a redefinition of Self and responsibility; an acknowledgement of
joint participation in humanhood and a shared poverty, strength and violence of spirit.
The dialectic of Self and Other is best resolved in the title-poem, "Dreadwalk",
which begins with a dread who walks by, singing in a voice as dry as sand. His voice, then,
is the voice of the desert, a harmattan voice; the "cracked gullet crying for the desert" of
Brathwaite's "Ogun". His song is clearly a "song of the skeleton".73 The poem is a con-
frontation between "I" and the dread: I-and-I one might say. Ian Smith draws atten-
tion74 to the utter absence of punctuation, which forces the reader to determine who
says and does what. This is Scott's way of suggesting the fluid interplay of personae. The
"I" and the dread are doubles, semblables, Self and Other. Their dialogue, therefore,
requires openness, absolute honesty of interstanding, a nakedness of spirit and a patience.
Scott seems to have been working for this flow for a form to suggest how this dialogue
between Self and Other, the poet and his double has been taking place in his mind.
By the time the poem ends, the confrontation/conversation, dialogue/dialectic of
Self and double is complete.
would not step aside
then he held me into
his patience locked
now I sing for the children
like wind in the quarry
hear me now
by the wide torn places
I am walking75
Afraid of the Other, the poet/Self yet understands the necessity to confront him. It is a
confrontation between fear and love, the possible issues of which are violence and
compassion. It takes place in an atmosphere of shadows, because the dread is the poet's
Shadow/Self, his dark double. In this case love does prove stronger than fear, and the.
initially mistrustful dread stays the hand of violence, accepting the poet's extension of
love. His next reaction is to arrest ("he held me") to force the Self to share in his suffer-
ing, his world-sorrow at the destruction of the children. That holding is both compulsion
and embrace. "Patience", deriving from Latin pati to suffer, is, as in Hopkins, both the
pain itself and the quality of one's enduring.
The dread teaches the poet, the Other teaches the Self, that this sharing of suffer-
ing, this compassion, must be absolute. This is why they are "locked" in the attitude of
the two adversaries who in the biblical dream wrestled for their names. "Locked" also
suggests "imprisoned" in an inescapable commitment, though the end result of both
antagonism and imprisonment is reconciliation; the mergence of Self and Other which is
indeed love. Focus is directed on the absoluteness of the shared identity of Self and
Other, by the splendid isolation of the word "one". The result of this coming together in
a spirit of "One Love" is that the poet learns the Other's art, the Other's song, and
assumes, like that nineteenth century dread, the Ancient Mariner, the journey, pilgrimage
and soul-wandering of the Other. Having participated in a tense process of healing, he
now journeys to unify and sings to heal "the wide torn places" in his society.
Like all Jamaican writers, or writers who have adopted Jamaica, Scott has had to
come to terms with the overwhelming violence of his society, with the mindless and
diseased nihilism of the four motor-cycle riders of "Apocalypse Dub" and the righteous
suffering of father figures, such as the dread in "Dreadwalk" and Father in Dog. His
search has been for a principle of healing, one which already exists in Reggae, whose
movement has been both external, towards confrontation (Blood and Fire, War, Beat
Down Babylon, Babylon Burning) and internal, towards healing and reconciliation
(Selah, Jordan River, One Love, Satta Amasa Gana). Scott's "Dreadwalk" moves like a
painstakingly choreographed dance in which the dancers, Self and Other, poet and his
double, feel their way around mutual mistrust, menace and uncertainty, towards a recon-
ciliation which is neither escapist nor sentimental. The love which he advocates is every
bit as hard as the one he fears in "Lemonsong". which is a love circumscribed by the
inflexible rigidities of revolutionary commitment.
Futuriginal: Kendel Hippolyte's Poetry
The theme of reconciliation appeared early in Scott. During the sixties, for
example, in a sonnet entitled "Third World Blues", Scott described his mixed cultural
heritage and aesthetics, in terms of the metaphor of song and dance.
I go among the fashionable drums
trying to keep true my own blood's subtle beat.
Something of darkness here, of jazz-horn heat,
but something too of minuet; it hums
cool in my voice, measures my heart, my feet
strictly. And not all the blues, the concrete
jungles of this Third World, mine, can defeat
that pale and civil music when it comes.76
As our exploration of Walcott's articles should have indicated, those were the terms in
which the question of aesthetic choice was being posed in the sixties and early seventies.
The word "fashionable" is pejorative, and suggests that the drum-centred aesthetic is a
momentary, clamorous fad. The aesthetics of energy suggested by "jazz-horn heat" is
qualified by the implied association of jazz and blues with the jungle (a concrete one, it is
true) as well as with unsophisticated and uncontrolled sexuality. The antithesis is the
disciplined, cool, pale and civil minuet. In short, Scott here conceptualises the conflict
of the mulatto, whose realm constitutes the Third World between Black and White,
in the most rigid and stereotyped terms. His aesthetic aim is to reconcile these two stereo-
types and so do justice to both.
As we have seen, the combined pressures of fashionable drum, voice and dread, con-
siderably altered the terms of the dialect, the notion of what needed to be reconciled.
Kendel Hippolyte, a St. Lucian, entered Caribbean letters in the seventies when the terms
of the dialectic had already changed. Linton Kwesi Johnson had already published his
Dread Beat and Blood77 and by 1977 had, with Poet and the Roots, pioneered a serious
and politically committed Dub Poetry78 which, while drawing heavily on the sound-
pattern of DJs such as Hugh Roy, had moved away from the context of entertainment
and celebration within which the DJs normally operated. Marley and the Wailers
had entered into their major phase and become an international voice. Jimmy Cliffs
The Harder They Come had happened, startling us with its naturalness and its truth.
Fashionable drums were with us to stay.
Thus, Hippolyte perhaps unconsciously restates the argument of Scott's "Third
World Blues" in "The Last Waltz", where no reconciliation seems possible between the
indigenous aesthetic of energy and the rigid 'square' dancin' of the "pale and civil" minuet
world. Hippolyte's only question is:
can the new rhythm ever
break out of these bars
Here, the aesthetic of the "minuet" which tells us to keep quiet until we have learned
"to suffer/ in accurate iambics",79 is viewed as a jail, just as the "pale and civil music",
not giving up without a good fight, persists in Scott's poem; Waltzing Mathilda insists
that she must have the last waltz with the persona of Hippolyte's poem'. But Hippolyte's
persona is far less welcoming than Scott's.
No! No! No! No!
even my feet say no,
see them stamping?
they will break her
if she makes another
false step, waltz step
they will trample her.
my steps are earthquakes
my anger is another rhythm,
Here the testimony is clear; new vision, energy and anger demand their own forms
and rhythms. "Feet" and "steps" in this poem relate to the concept of metre. The new
poem, ridden by the loa of his experience, "stamps". He is a person possessed, and later
in the poem describes his music and dance. The waltz of Waltzing Mathilda is replaced by
the Reggae and something beyond and beneath the Reggae:
you dance like a burning bush
your feet prophesy
the new ways, and you go
your movements flowing like
you always did know how
you would reach
to where you always know
you had to go back to ...
The old arthritic colonial waltz is finally trampled under the feet of the ancestral
loa of energy. . "Trampling Mathilda, Trampling Mathilda".
Mathilda, however, doesn't die. Nor does her mate, the vampire. If their attack on
Hippolyte's generation has been on the level of aesthetics, their attack on the children
is conducted through the futuristic mythology of television. "Bed-time story W.I." is
a deft clever poem built on constant wordplay, reminiscent of Victor Questel's poetry.
Hippolyte in this poem imagines the children in "the living room" watching television,
being able to make their illusions reality by entering the dream/nightmare world behind
the screen, which he ironically terms the "eye of god". Television, then, is an extension of
the mind-control of Big Brother. It is the creator of contemporary folklore and futuristic
myth, as well as a projection of America's nostalgia for its lost dream of innocence.
Both its apocalyptic futurism and its nostalgia are manipulated by commercialism, whose
target is the children.
Entering the screen's eye, the children become absorbed by its symbolic white
light, that is, its vision, its tyrannical control of image. In this grave "new world" they
find only wires and electronic "transformers", the viscera of the machine which will
consume and change them utterly. Hippolyte concludes: "the twentieth century had out-
foxed them". Such, then, is his condemnation of the post-modernist aesthetic, concerning
which the poem is a witty if grim parable. All are consumed by Kellogs Cornflakes
except one boy.
only one boy returned
into the living room.
now, alone, he stares at his own vision.
Because the general urge is to conform, even when this means being consumed by what
we as consumers consume, the new rebel is alone in his resistance; and though this alone-
ness earns him the right to exchange staring at television for "his own vision", there is the
clear suggestion that the nonconformist has become autistic (he stares at his own vision},
incapable of any relationship with the world outside of his mind's electronically trans-
"Systematomic hegemoney" grotesque satire
Hippolyte's collection contains a number of love poems, but is, for the most part,
political. One recognizes the imprint of Rastafarianism on his vision, which resembles the
neo-anarchism of British and American counter-cultures, in its consistent attack on the
machine, money and material (e.g. "Your Main Street Ends in Soweto"). In "system-
atomic hegemoney", the very name of the poem suggests the linkage between money,
concentrated monopoly power and the Bomb. Hippolyte normally writes with joy, wit
and a healthy, energetic humour. In this poem. he lets himself go in his exploration of
this linkage; his long lines reminiscent of Ginsberg, though their verbal exuberance,
strange when one considers the poem's theme, suggests that a more immediate model
might have been Shake Keane's "Per Capita Per Annum: Lesson Five in Seven Studies in
Keane satirizes statistics grown obscenely inhuman and irrelevant in face of the real
horror which it purports to tabulate. Compare Hippolyte's grotesque satire with these
lines from Keane:
Number of large heads, spring beds,
large bellies, distended guts, percentage
of placentas per square-inch of a
school-yard; estimate of prostitutes
per cubic-centimetre of a cradle.
Number of beggars, wooden legs,
scrunters, hunters, highest-
common-factor of broken skulls
per milli-litre of strong rum;
of broken hearts per man-hour
of gossip, percentage of
sheep per driver81
Certainly Keane's "Per Capita per Annum" with its immense compilation of absurd statis-
tics it runs for seven stanzas similar to the one quoted -is a vision of the overwhelming
unfitness of things.
One heard it emerging in the poetry since Islands (1969) as Brathwaite started to
focus on the ghetto town.
How many islands will be counted in this congress of
how many fathers will revoke the edicts of their
Yet this is not as startling or as sustained as Keane's or Hippolyte's grotesque, "dark"
comedy. Brathwaite begins to approach the violence of bizarre comedy in Mother Poem
("Peace fire") where he imagines a futuristic Bajun revolution:
the institute of social and economic research
financed by ford, revived by rockefeller
would begin, until further unless otherwise notice
a four year developmental study
of harp projects and the consumption of ice
in the newer industrial parks of the island
and the connection (if any)
between drum-beat and goat-death in the sound-system
of the city82
Here the grotesque satire of a reactionary and irrelevant economics and sociology, reveal-
ing its hurt, ends on the Reggae note of pain. So the humour, if it is that, barely holds the
hurt and bitterness in place, and may indeed be a way of intensifying the perception of
disorder. Such corrosive humour is superbly deployed by Walcott in the trial scene in
Dream on Monkey Mountain and throughout Pantomime.
Hippolyte, confronted with the disorder of Jamaica in the late seventies, is not
interested in the poised distancing from anguish. He seeks, rather, to shock the reader
into awareness of horror, in ways as immediate as those of Scott's "Apocalypse Dub". If
there is a hint of surrealist distortion here, it exists only insofar as the ordinary world
has assumed the distorted features of a nightmare. Hippolyte seeks, like Scott, to present
the ordinary as nightmarish. He links the deterioration of life in Jamaica to the country's
unconditional surrender to the power of the purse.
Last week John Day committed suicide, slitting his
wrist with a five-dollar bill
Joseph screwed Marianne again, using a rolled up
twenty for a condom
The pound this month went down, the union jack
went with it;
the dollar is up on the flagpole conducting the
national anthem. .
So the island have exchanged British for American imperialism, achieving what
Brathwaite has termed "the return of the status crow".
but the dollars are whispering- per capital!
anotherr head lopped off per capital!
whatsa time, whatsa time? per capital!
anotherr fuck? Coming up per capital!
Or there is the obscenity of "they are installing slot-machines between the legs of love-
lost women". The same sense of the obscenity of money entered Trinidad's calypsos
after the 1975 oil-boom. Black Stalin comments in "Money" (1980)
Money today change up so much life
Calculators take the place of wife
Hippolyte is particularly concerned and here we may compare the Walcott of
"The Spolier's Return" with the debasement of an entire lifestyle. Note how the voice
employs the rhythms of children's ring games (Children, children Yes Mama?) or
(Rick, chick, chick, chick -Congotay) or most likely (Pay de Devil" djab, djab),
where the devil is both Money and Sex -in order to suggest the perversion of innocence.
Earlier in the poem we have the image of the under-nourished children:
it is the children who rose like kites in February and in April
hung from electric wires like the broken bodies of birds
United Nations statistics on arms document that it is on such malnutrition, such skele-
tonization that according to Hippolyte the "inter-continental cannibalistic missiles" are
built. The pyramid of society, with its rigid class structure, is a tomb for a mummitied
the carefully kept
corpse of the American dream, whose bandages we smell
in our children's hair
Hippolyte's attack, like Kwesi Johnson's, is more precise in its political focus than
Scott's and more all-embracing than Walcott's in Another Life, "The Schooner 'Flight' "
and "The Spoiler's Return". Where Scott explores violence as a property of the human
heart, and converts the sacrificial crisis in his society into a psycho-metaphysical confron-
tation between Self and Other, Hippolyte gives the same violence a face and a distinctly
political root. He focuses on that nightmarish amoral universe of international power
politics, so meticulously described and documented by Noam Chomsky and Edward
Herman in The Washington Connection and Third World Facism and After the Holocaust.
Thus the horrifying catastrophe in Orange Lane where children were deliberately
thrown into a burning building, perhaps the very catastrophe which causes the dread such
distress in Scott's "Dreadwalk", is traced by Hippolyte's reasoning brederen back to the
charnel house of power politics:
vampires with attache cases
who break life into stocks and shares
men prattling among bones
in a white house of the dead83
It is another line of approach to the phenomenon, one which is as necessary and as true,
if more simple than Scott's or Walcott's exploration of the phenomenon of violence. Part
of a generation bred on the grim politics of independence, Hippolyte recognizes the neces-
sity for locating parochial atrocity in its international context. In so doing he reverses
conventional ways of presenting America, whose dream is a mummy, White House is
cemetery or charnel house, like Conrad's portrait of Europe as whited sepulchre in
Heart of Darkness or Twain's sarcastic dismissal of the combination of American capital
and European militarism during the scramble for Africa, as a pyramid of skulls and bones.
Hippolyte also suggests that both major political parties in Jamaica have functioned
as the accomplices of "Per Capita". The derangement of the sufferer and the birth of the
terrorist in "Suburban Footnote" are attributed to forty years of the politics of fracture
since 1938, as well as to bourgeois indifference to the cry of the poor. The sufferer,
ignored for years, finally recognizes the emptiness, the human nullity of the bourgeois
today he heard
the space between
each word; and wondered ...
the silence suddenly left his head
and, just as it exploded,
he fled inside
hearing your crazed voice
on the final sentence.84
He becomes the Society's double here Hippolyte resembles Scott his madness
being the mirror image of their lunacy of indifference. Hippolyte doesn't make it clear
what the explosion of his silence portends. On the one hand, it may be the literal explo-
sion of a bomb or gun. The exasperated sufferer shoots his complacent, indifferent
bourgeois double. On the other hand, the words "he fled inside" suggest derangement, an
autistic inability of Self to relate to an Other which it views as "crazed". The word
"sentence" on which the poem ends suggests the mutual condemnation in which Self and
Other, society and its double participate. Here, however, we have the opposite to the
reconciliation that occurs in Scott's "Dreadwalk" and differently in Walcott's Dream on
Monkey Mountain or Harris's Place of the Peacock: the emergence of an autistic, solipsist,
lunatic hermeticism, the aesthetic of the closed system. The final stage in this process is
dead-end rather than green beginning. We see it in aforementioned existentialist-type
characters such as Lamming's Mark Kennedy, Patterson's Blackman, Naipaul's Beckettian
tramp in "The Tramp at Piraeus", as well as Santosh or the narrator of "Tell Me Who to
The poem of Hippolyte's which best explores the derangement and alienation
implicit in "Bedtime story W.I." and "Suburban Footnote" is "Zoo Story Ja 76". The
occasion of the poem is an occurrence which has taken place not only in Jamaica, but
also in Trinidad and Guyana. A Rastafarian, mistaking metaphor for reality, decides to
test his own lion-like Lion-of-Judah-sponsored courage against the ferocity of a real lion
in the zoo. The lion attacks and kills the dread. Hippolyte presents the Jamaican version
of the story through the eyes and language of another dread, or one who is thoroughly
familiar with Dread Talk, its syntactic economy, tautness and leanness. The model is
probably Bongo Jerry, whose "Sooner or Later" and "Mabrak" made this sort of poem
As with Brathwaite's "Wings of a Dove" or McNeill's "Ode to Brother Joe",
there is the illusion/reality theme. Here, the dread's failure to distinguish one from the
other is both comic and tragic. Zion is a necessary illusion if one is to survive the reality
of Babylon. But the dread cannot attain Bongo Jerry's "I-tyopia rainbow": not even on
wings of ganja. His quest is for the lightning of the blinding vision. Unable to find this
sort of revelation among men, he seeks it at the zoo; realising in another confusion of the
literal with the metaphorical that both he and the lion come from the "dungle". But
even this claim to an environment of the primal shared with the heraldic beast is under-
cut by the etymological confusion of the "dungle" dunghilll) where the dread lives, and
the rhyming "jungle" where the lion originated. So his problem is partly one of language;
of Dread Talk as a language of pure mask, a self-protective cocoon of shared metaphor
which preserves the dread from confronting the literal and lunatic reality of his society.
Ultimately, his leap from the metaphorical prison of his society into the real cage at
the zoo, is made in the name of that illusory freedom of spirit which he at last "sights"
through dark glasses. His last illusion is that the fire in the lion's eye is the lightning, or
the red, gold and green rainbow which he has sought all his life.
lightning in a lion eye
and dis dread
again now find him rainbow
him climb dis last bright hill
down into Zion
to the charging lion.
Rhyme suggests that the dread's final mistake is to have confused "lion" with "Zion",
just as before he confused "dungle" with "jungle".
Just as the protagonist of "Suburban Footnote" recognizes the lunacy of the sane
society, the dread of "Zoo Story" perceives the imprisonment of the free world. But
both are destroyed by what they sight, the sacrificial nature of the dread's self-destruc-
tion suggested by the allusion to "dis last bright hill", though even this brief ennoble-
ment is undercut by the phrase "down into Zion". This is descent into the pit, rather
than its opposite. The poet, or rather the neutral tone of the narrating voice, preserves its
distance from the horror which it relates. The poet is, in the best modern style, invisible,
so that the poem can evoke from each reader a response according to the quality of his
compassion. The poem itself teeters on the brink of grim laughter, and yet implies the
horror of the process which has deranged the dread. So laughter is circumscribed by a
terror out of which it has grown.
"Zoo Story" is an accomplished poem. McNeill has a few which are on the verge of
this but none of them is as close to the actual language of Dread Talk as this one. Hippo-
lyte is writing simultaneously out of both traditions; out of the starkness that produced
Hughes' Crow, say, or McNeill's Reel from the Life Movie and out of the different stark-
ness and energy that has given us Marley, Bongo Jerry and Reggae.
His poetry is an articulate rejection of much that modernity implies, even though it
at ease with the techniques of modernism. While much of it is protest, it does at times
suggest an alternative to Crow's "systematomic hegemoney". Per Capita, the status crow
cannot, we are told:
dream the juice of flowers into our life-blood
cool the sky into our drinking cups, it cannot
sustain the human exchange, will not supply
the human demand; it will never draw
into a futuriginal circle. (emphasis added)
The language of the exchequer continues but it is reversed and employed in a human
context which rejects its abstract reductive indifference. The nature of what Hippolyte
strives to bring into being is captured in the neologism "futuriginal"; a Whitmanesque
world, a sensibility, a people, an aesthetic, a form of the future; a totally original and
wholesome growth which yet partakes of the cyclical firstness of man's heritage. So
runs the dream.
This paper has covered only a small part of the possible ground suggested by such a
topic. My attempt to state the problem of the problem of form has led me to a single
idea, which I have tried to pursue with relation to a fragment of the work of a handful
of writers. The idea, however variously it has presented itself, is that of an aesthetic
continuum stretching between forms derived from an oral paradigm, and forms suggested
by various aspects of modernist aesthetics. I have tried to show that while some writers
are able to accommodate both extremes with relative ease, others have been involved in
an intense dialectic in which the extremes appear as thesis and antithesis. My claim is
that the notion of an aesthetic continuum allows us to understand and accept the
existence of both types of writer. This paper has been biased in that its treatment of
writers operating out of the oral paradigm has been far more specific and extensive than
its exploration of the impact of modernist tendencies. I trust that a number of ideas have,
nevertheless, emerged about the latter.
The various contexts out of which the writing has emerged and the relationships
between context, content and imagination, and their combined impact on the emergence
of form have been described at length. I early described this paper as "positionless"
because it is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It begins with the writing, the writers
and their societies, and moves outward from there in a series of radial directions. I hope
at least to have illustrated the need for flexibility and the folly of seeking to impose
on our restless and varied sensibilities rigid monolithic notions of shaping. Words such as
"interplay" and "reconciliation" have recurred in our discussion of art, artists and
society. My hope is that this paper has in its form reconciled the various and interwoven
elements out of which it has taken its genesis.
1. G. Rohlehr "The Folk in Caribbean Literature", Tapia Vol. 2, nos. 11 & 12, 17 & 24 (Dec.,
2. 0. S. Asein, "The Protest Tradition in West Indian Poetry from Campbell to Martin Carter,"
Jamaica Journal, Vol. VI, No. 2, 1972
3. The quotation is from Conrad Aiken, A Seizure of Limericks, London, W. H. Allen, 1965.
For my discussions of Carter see
G. Rohlehr, "The Creative Writer in the West Indies", Kaie No. 11, Guyana (August 1973)
G. Rohlehr, "The Poet and Citizen in a Degraded Community: Martin Carter's Poems of
Affinity 1978-1980. "Trinidad & Tobago Review, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Dec. 1982)
4. M. Carter, "Shape and Motion One" Poems of Succession, London, New Beacon, 1977, p. 55.
5. E. K.. Brathwaite, "The Love Axe/l: Developing a Caribbean Aesthetic 1962-1974," Cyclo-
styled typescript. The section quoted has been omitted from the Bim version.
Bim No. 61, (June 1977) pp. 53-65
Bim No. 62, (Dec. 1977) pp. 101-106
Bim No. 63, (June 1978) pp. 181-192
6. D. Hogg, "Jamaican Religions: A Study in Variations", Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Yale Univer-
7. E. M. Keane, L'Oubli, Barbados, Advocate Press 1950
8. I. Reed, Shrove-Tide in New Orleans, New York, Doubleday & Co. Inc. 1978
9. J. Toomer, "Kabnis," in Cane, 1923, republished by New York, Harper Row, A Perennial
Classic. 1969, p. 224.
10. E. K. Brathwaite, Poetry Reading/Discussion, Creative Arts Centre, UWI, Mona, 1975, Chair-
man, M. Morris.
11. G. Lamming, "The West Indian People." New World Quarterly Vol. 2, No. 2, (1966) pp.
12. G. Kent, "Conversation with George Lamming," Black World. Vol. 22, No. 5 (March 1973)
pp. 4-15 & pp.88-97.
13. G. Lamming, Of Age and Innocence, London, Michael Joseph, 1958, pp. 110-111.
14. F. Kafka, Letter, July 1914. Cited in Bradbury & Mc Farlane, eds. Modernism 1890-1930,
London. Pelican Books, 1976, p. 328.
15. T. S. Eliot, "East Coker," Four Quartets, London, Faber
16. G. Lamming, "The Negro Writer and His World," Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Feb.
17. G. Lamming, Of Age and Innocence, p. 174
18. Ibid., p. 175.
19. Ibid., p. 175.
20. Ibid., p. 175.
21. Ibid., p. 176.
22. Ibid., p. 176.
23. Ibid., p. 179.
24. Lovelace, E., The Dragon Can't Dance, London, Deutsch, 1979, p. 62.
25. L. S. Senghor, "Image as Rhythm,",in Wake, C. & Reed, J. (eds.) Senghor: Prose & Poetry,
London, OUP, 1965, pp. 87-88.
26. W. Harris, "History Fable and Myth in the Caribbean and Guyanas," Caribbean Quarterly,
Vol. 16, No. 2 (June 1970) p. 27.
27. I. M. Keane, "Shaker Funeral," L'Oubli, Barbados, Advocate Press, 1950
28. P. Sherlock, "Pocomania," Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 3 (April 1958) pp. 192-193.
29. E. Baugh, West Indian Poetry 1900-1970; A Study in Cultural Decolonization, Savacou
Pamphlet, No. 1 Jamaica, Savacou Publications, n.d. (c. 1971/72) (Baugh's comments on Keane
first made me aware of the poem).
30. E. M. Keane, Indo-Jazz Fusions, Joe Harriot/John Mayer Double Quintet. London, EMI
Records, 33 rpm. L. P. SX 6122 (Keane on trumpet, flugelhorn); also Shake Keane with the
Keating Sound, Decca, 33 rpm LP, Mono. LK 4720; also Rising Stars at Evening Time, London,
PAMA Records Ltd. 33 rpm. LP SECO-30/ NBP 1000.
31. E. Lincoln, (ed) The Black Experience in Religion, New York, doubleday/Anchor Books, 1974
32. E. Brathwaite, "Kingston in the Kingdom of this World." in Third World Poems, London,
Longmans, 1983, pp. 53-56.
33. E. Brathwaite, "Edward Brathwaite's Mother Poem: Reading and Analysis by the Poet," Lon-
don, ATCAL 1980.
34. A. Malik, "Pan Run II" in Black Up, Port-of-Spain (Delano Decoteau) 1970. Discussed in the
close reading by G. Rohlehr, "My Strangled City," Caliban Vol. 11, No. 1 (Fall/Winter 1976)
35. G. Rohlehr "My Strangled City," op. cit, and "A Severity of Seeing," Introduction to Questel,
V. Hard Stares, Port-of-Spain, New Voices Publications, 1983.
36. D. Walcott, "The Schooner 'Flight' in The Starapple Kingdom, New York, Straus & Giroux,
1979. A substantially different version exists in Harper, M. & Stepto R (eds) Chant of Saints:
A Gathering of Afto-American Literature, Art & Scholarship, Urbana, Chicago. London, U. of
Illinois Press, 1979, pp. 166-174.
37. D. Walcott, "What the Twilight Says An Overture," in Dream on Monkey Mountain & Other
Plays, New York. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970 also: "The Muse of History," in Orde Coombs
(ed) Is Massa Day Dead? New York, Doubleday, 1974 (essay written c. 1971).
38. G. Rohlehr "Songs of the Skeleton," Part One: "The Poetry of Fission," Trinidad & Tobago
Review, Vol. IV, Nos. 3 (Petit Caremel 1980) & 3A (Divali 1980). Part Two: "A Poetry of
Dread," Trinidad & Tobago Review, Vol. IV, No. 5, (New Year, 1981) and Vol. IV, No. 6
(Croptime March/April 1981) This still unfinished essay contains full discussions of "Starva-
tion", "Springblade" "Caliban" and other testimonies in Black & Blues.
39. E. Brathwaite. "Kingston in the Kingdom of this World"
40. E. Brathwaite Transcribed from tape of a 1975 Poetry Reading/Discussion, Creative Arts Centre,
UWI, Mona, Jamaica.
41. D. J., Crowley I Could Talk Old-Story Good: Creativity in Bahamian Folklore, Berkeley & Los
Angeles, University of California Press, 1966.
42. E. Brathwaite, "Eating the Dead," from Islands, in The Arrivants.
43. M. Matthews, Marc-Up, TIE 33 rpm LP record, Barbados, 1978.
44. M. Matthews "Eleven O'Clock Goods Train," Kairi No. 3, 1974.
45. D. J. Epstein, Sinful Tunes and Spirituals, Urbana, Chicago London, Univ. of Illinois Press,
46. E. M. Keane, "Calypso Dancers," L'Oubli, 1950, p. 30.
47. G. Rohlehr, See Reference No. 1, as well as Baugh, E (ed) Critics on Caribbean Literature,
London, George Allen & Unwin Ltd. 1978 pp. 153-161.
48. J. Agard, Man to Pan (A Cycle of poems to be performed with drums, steelpans) Cuba, Casa de
las Americas, 1982.
49. D. Walcott, R. Pantin (Interviewer) "We Are Still Being Betrayed." Caribbean Contact (July
1973) p. 14
50. A Trinidad version of the Ti Jean story exists in the Ti Jean Lopez tales of Paramin. See Barbara
Wafe. Paramin: A Socio-Cultural Study via Folk-Tales Collected at Paramin. ULWI, St. Augustine
Trinidad, Caribbean Studies Thesis, 1979.
51. D. Walcott, Trinidad Guardian (7 February, 1967).
52. D. Walcott, "Popular Poets Are Now Severely Tested." Trinidad Guardian (14 February. 1960)
53. D. Walcott. Trinidad Guardian (26 February. 1960).
54. D. Walcott, "What the Twilight Says," op. cit. pp. 34 35.
55. D. Walcott, "Alas! The Last Minute Road March Is Gone," Trinidad Guardian (3 February,
1963). my emphasis.
56. D. Walcott, "Our Poetry in Song," Trinidad Guardian, (9 February, 1964).
57. D. Walcott, "Cheers for An Insincere Clown," Trinidad Guardian (30 January, 1964).
58. D. Walcott, "Carnival: The Theatre of the Streets," Sunday Guardian (9 February, 1964) p. 4.
59. E. Hill, The Trinidad Carnival: Mandate for a National Theatre, Austin & London, Univ. of
Texas Press, 1972.
60. D. Walcott, "Curious Mish-Mash of Style," Trinidad Guardian (12 February, 1964) p. 5.
61. D. Walcott, "The Kabuki: Something to Give to Our Theatre," Sunday Guardian (16 February,
62. E. Hill, "No Tears for Narcissus," a review of Derek Walcott's BATAI, Sunday Guardian
(7 March, 1965).
63. D. Walcott, "Sangre Grande Tonight: Broadway Next." Trinidad Guardian (25 January, 1965)
64. D. Walcott, "Mass Man," in The Gulf & Other Poems, London Jonathan Cape, 1969, p. 19.
65. Same as No. 49 (my emphasis)
66. In Preface to The Satires of Juvenal, C. Plumb (trans.) London, Panther Books, 1968.
67. Ibid, Satire I, p. 21.
68. Ibid, p. 15.
69. For Tizzic, see The Arrivants. Tizzic is an irresponsible boozer, father of several illegitimate
children, and independent peasant and lover of Kaiso and Mas, dying like Spoiler, of booze
70. L. E. Barrett, The Rastafarians, Kingston, Sangster Heinemann, 1977, pp. 86-89.
71. D. Scott, Dreadwalk: Poems 1970-78, London, New Beacon Books Ltd. 1982. also Uncle
Time, Pittsburgh, U of Pittsburgh Press, 1973.
72. G. Rohlehr Pathfinder: Black Awakening in The Arrivants of Edward Kamau Brathwaite,
fort of Spain, 1981.
73. E. Brathwaite, "Eating the Dead," The Arrivants.
74. 1 Smith, "A Dangerous Art" Paper Read at Conference 3, UWI, May 1983 St. Augustine, Trini-
75. D. Scott, Dreadwalk, pp. 39-40.
76. D. Scott, "Third World Blues" in The New Ships, D. G. Wilson (ed) Jamaica, Savacou Publica-
tions, 1971, p. 50.
77. L. K.. lohnson Dread Beat and Blood. London, Bogle l.'Ouverture Publications, 1975.
78. L. K. Johnson, Poet & the Roots. 45 rpm LP record, London. Bogle L'Ouverture/Virgin Music,
1977 VS 19012.
79. D. Walcott, "Prelude" in In a Green Night: Poems 1948-60. London, Jonathan (ape. 1962.
80. K. Hippolyte, Island in the Sun, Side Two. St. Lucia, n.d. (c. 1981 ) p. 27
81. [. M. Keane. "Per Capita Per Annum: Lesson live in Seven Studies in Home I economics "
Kairi, 1976. pp. 22 23.
82. 1. K. Brathwaite. Mother Poem. London. OUP. 1977. p. 106.
83. K. Hippolyte, "Orange Lane. the lire's Light" op. cit. pp. 14 15.
84. K. Hippolyte "Suburban footnote" op. cit.. p. 19.
WORLD ORDER MODELS A CARIBBEAN PERSPECTIVE
EDWARD KAMAU BRATHWAITE
The concept of WORLD ORDER a 'Just World Order', a 'preferred world', a 'Model or
Utopian World Order' (see Mendlovitz 1975) is a recent (early 60s) and specific (it
originated in the USA) response to the ancient vision of the Human Family: to the belief
that there is or can be such a thing as 'World Culture', 'Global Integration', 'Human
Consensus', even a 'World Federation of Cultures'2 (see Mazuri in Mendlovitz 1975 and
Mazuri 1976). The difference between medieval universalism and the idea of a modern (or
future) world order, however, is that while the former was based on the notion of super-
structure of organic communities, the latter is based upon the need to transcend nation-
alist fragmentations and the spectre and reality of global conflict. The first concrete and
institutionalized World Order Model was the League of Nations (1920). The pre-Renais-
sance model stressed (and assumed) the ecumenicalism of culture; the modern model
comes out of the reality of the hegemony of politics. Neither model, however, has super-
seded the other. So that our concern, essentially, is with the resolution of the culture/
politics contradiction. Until we come to terms with what I call metaphorical reality, we
can only continue to construct ideal world models based upon our own subjective senses
of 'world' and 'order'; each concept aboriginally dictated by who we are, where we live
and what kind of prejudices (ideologies) we inherited with baby-bottle or mother's milk.
Culture and Politics: the two intransigent models
Man, emerging out of his landscape, develops a certain relationship to that land-
scape; so that the texture of his skin, the smell of his sweat, becomes an aspect of whe-
ther the environment is stony or chalky or marshy, is highland or lowland, riverain or
maritime; whether he eats wheat, drinks scotch or apeteshi; holds in his retina mountain
or gully or sand. The essential organization here was the group or family, band, clan, tribe
- and the concern of the group was to deal with the environment: to fashion tools out of
it in order to live out of it; to find words to name its features, record its histories; halloo
across its mountain valleys; mutter among its trees. The problem was: how could this
kind of intimacy be shared? Groups moving into the deltas of their development, proli-
ferated; groups, holding on to their ancestral landscapes, could become isolated, maroon-
ed or overrun by more modern developments. What was once an intimate totem, became
flag, dogma, offensive or defensive banner. Machiavelli replaced the shaman and the
machine the man.
But it was an increasingly unequal development. Environmental man did not enter
into the cities of the plain at the same time. While some cultures became increasingly
'articulate', others remained as they had always been and some came to be called by the
more 'articulate' backward or primitive, and later (by themselves) as 'developing', 'under-
developed' or 'traditional'. Columbus dramatized the difference in 1492. One afternoon
in 1531 a handful of Spanish warrior/politicians destroyed the culture of the Inca. And
this confrontation was repeated in time and space from Cuzco to Hiroshima.
This is not to say, however, that in either of the aboriginal polities, culture and
politics are mutually exclusive. In 'traditional' states like the Inca of Peru, the Yoruba of
Nigeria, pre-Industrial Japan, for example, there is/was a remarkable equation of culture
and politics: the controlling institutions came organically out of the manscape. Similarly,
in expansionist polities such as Rome, China through all her dynasties, the Inca of the
Andes, the laws and governments set up beyond the civis originated in the civis and
remained relevant to its culture. So that it is theoretically possible to conceive of a world
order in which culture and politics appear like the two swords of Gelasius; except that
there remains an intransigent difference between traditional societies (even with a cul-
ture/politics harmonium) and expansionist societies (no matter what the infrastructure);
and that difference is one of functional shape.
A traditional society is one based on what Gary Snyder has termed (Alcheringa NS
2.2. (1976), p. 14) ecosystems: 'Ecosystem cultures being those whose economic base of
support is a material region, a watershed, a plant zone, a natural territory . .'
Expansionist societies, on the other hand, are biospheric cultures:
Biospheric cultures are the cultures that begin with
early civilization and the centralized state; are cultures
that spread their economic support system out far
enough that they can afford to wreck one ecosystem,
and keep moving on. Well, that's Rome, that's Greece.
It may be Babylon. It's just a big enough spread that
you can begin to be irresponsible about certain speci-
fic local territories. It leads us to imperialist civiliza-
tion with capitalism and institutionalized economic
growth ...4 (Snyder, op. cit., p. 15)
The functional shapes are respectively the circle (traditional) and the missile
(expansionist). These two images are primordial, antagonistic and linked. The First Man
threw in a stone or dug a hole. And that choice of action (his environment and psyche)
determined the nature of his culture. The objects of the landscape reflect the choice:
round hut, cooking pot, the circle of elders, the cycle of time, a subsistent political eco-
nomy. In missilic cultures (crescent or cross or sickle): the spire, the minaret, lance, bow,
arrow, gunpowder, locomotion; straight road, train line, eiffel tower, skyscraper,
The drum is the icon of traditional culture. The rocket is the icon of the other.
The antagonism comes because the missile, the locomotive, needs fuel. First man (slavery)
then fossil; and always a consumption of landscape.Explore, explode, destroy. The link is
there: the arrow seeks its target.
When two antagonistic forces come into contact, certain options become imme-
diately operative in a perhaps unconscious drive to restore equilibrium or create a resolu-
tion out of the conflicting ideological shapes.
1. There can be subjugation, one of the other; the deculturation of one by the stronger,
so that there comes about a forced or false equilibrium.
2. There can, on the other hand, be 'permanent' conflict between the two, leading to
i. 'permanent' conflict (The Protestants & Catholics in Northern Ireland(?) for
ii. detente (Communism/Capitalism)
iii. a federal arrangement, in which both shapes retain certain essences of their
identity, subject, in varying degrees, to the centrification of the dominant
iv. apartheid or negative federation
The option which most nearly fits the reality of the situation and holds out most
hope for a preferred future is the federal arrangement: raised by Rajni Kothari in
Mendlovitz (1975 pp. 39-69): 'World Politics & World Order: the issue of autonomy'.
Which is just the point. Federal arrangements cannot satisfy subdominant demands for
autonomy and remain federal. The United States fought a civil war on this issue in 1865.
Richard H. Falk's 'Towards a New World Order: Modest Methods and Drastic
Visions' (Mendlovitz 1975: 211-258), is a most impressive attempt to set up paradigms
for a new World Government.5 But its superstructural bias and mechanistic/logical con-
cept of Government, which take little or no account of the complexities and illogicalities
of the Third World, make it more of a blueprint than the visionary document we would
like it to be.
Indeed, all the World Order Models that I have so far seen are based on metropoli-
tan superstructural assumptions which leaves a significant part of the world out of this
model making. I shall use the example of the Caribbean to illustrate what I mean.
To participate equally and meaningfully in a Just World Order, each participant in
such an Order must first have solved his own problems. Each participant will therefore
have his own concepts of what World Order is and will, in varying degrees, attempt to
impose his thought-shapes upon others.
The Super Powers
Missilic destruction of the biosphere is a crime against us all. The brighter the
rocket shines the more fuel it consumes. A Just World Order cannot conceive of Super
Powers. The question is: can Super Powers conceive of themselves as inconceivable and
can they become so? It is a major and fundamental problem which has not even been
touched on yet. The present World Order, the United Nations, gives them a special veto
at the horseshoe table.
Retreating and/or developing empires: Britain, France, Japan are concerned with
patronage of their erstwhile or future subject clients and for the sake of their own pres-
tige, with a holding or jump-off operation in relation to the rest of the world. Developing
empires, especially, will be X factors and will fit into a New World Order only if it is of
advantage for them to do so, or if, as Gustavo Lagos would like to hope, there is a
'Revolution of Being' (Mendlovitz 1975:71 -109).6
The Third World
It is interesting to note that while initiatives for a political world order come from
the super powers and the ageing eagles, the impetus towards a new world economic order
has come from the Third World. Here, population is related to production, poverty, rising
prices, socio-political instability, underdevelopment. Change cannot be achieved, however,
without power or diplomacy. The latter is available through World Order/United Nations
agencies: hence the increasing pressure and enthusiasm of developing countries for such
agencies. It is the power and the glory that are lacking. It is the Third World, therefore,
that is most likely to support the idea of a Just World Order, and see it set up as part of
revolution of being.
But 'Third World' is a very protean term. India, the Middle East, Latin America:
there are crucial infrastructural and cultural differences within these entities that could
politically alter their status and relationship at any time. We have seen this happening
with OPEC in our time.
Transnational Ideologies and the Problem of Nam
In addition, we are faced with the realities of ideological differences political and
religious so deep, that they assume the status and problematic of the missile/circle
But these are superstructural problems. In every polity, there is also an infrastruc-
ture. often more intransigently 'particular' than any superstructural projection. This
infrastructure is composed of a complex of pressures and forces: class, caste, ethnic,
linguistic/class, linguistic/ethnic, religious, folk/urban, literate/illiterate, elite/mass.
But at the heart of the infrastructure, and giving style to the superstructure, is an essence,
an indestructible culture-core, imparting to each group an identity which in normal times
one is proud enough of, but which, at times of crisis, may be fiercely defended by its
possessors. I call this essence or quality nam: the reduction of one's name to its essentials.
In the case of oppressed peoples, it is the necessary disguise of manhood, retaining the
possibility of resurrection, the divine spark, nyame or dynamo.
The presence of these national/ethnic cores could pose problems to a Just World
Order though the atomic quality of nam, capable of intro/expansion, could become the
universe. It is in nam and its peculiar quality and potential that I will place my faith and
The case of the Caribbean
The Caribbean, a 2,000-mile arc of jewel-islands: brown and green: jumping like
porpoises from Florida. outward and south to the South American coast: some 5,000
fragments, varying in size from Cuba (44,218 sq miles) through Jamaica (4,411 sq miles)
and Trinidad (1,978 sq miles) to sand spits the size of Friday's footprint, is an archi-
pelago/region of some 30 million people. The island/fragments are themselves the tops of
a sunken cordillera; an ancient mountain range, once part of mainland America, which
swung out castastrophically from that double continent's western spine: Rockies and
Andes: out into the Atlantic through the gape of Yucatan to end, perhaps, in what was
once Atlantis (El Dorado, Sargasso, Bermuda Triangle. Isles of Youth).
Societies are either whole or hole. By whole we mean those where the geo-politics
coincides with the culture. Where from Original Parents the nation/tribe speaks the same
language, worships the same gods, prepares and eats the same foods, creates shelters
which are aesthetically similar, where they share, consciously and articulately, the same
norms and the same nams.
A hole (or partial) society is one where this integrity does not exist, although
through time, force, circumstance and cultural interaction, a group of people living toge-
ther in a specific area, often, through a process of conflict, attempt to create a whole
World models cannot be evolved from hole societies; although the prismatic com-
plexities of such societies may give us omens from the past towards the future.
The Caribbean: the region as defined: was once a whole society: or rather, an
aspect of homogeneous culture. Before the missilic intrusion of Columbus, this was a part
of Amerindia: and the fact that we can find no other than this artificial name is sympto-
matic of what becomes the problem: no name: no man: Red Skin, Bush Negro, Abori-
But there were Taino here, Carib and Arawak and Luayo and canoe connection
between Florida and Guanahani, between Yucatan and Aruba, and between Trinidad
and the coasts of Venezuela to the south.
Then the catastrophes and fragmentations began: echoing the ancient cainozoic
land/falls. With the appearance of European sail and sword and small pox, the Caribbean
population of Hispaniola alone fell from 300,000 to 500 by 1548. Today, in the entire
region, you can count the Amerindians on the finger bunches of your hand. All that is
left is names, Arima, Tunapuna, hurricane that people don't even recognize as Amerin-
dian. Cassava culture on some coasts, a sudden broken zemi underneath your foot.
The conquistador replacement was most thorough: town/camp, barracks, ware-
house, harbour, cross, chapel, plainsong, Castillian curl of tongue, the distant absent
presence of the metropole: the first creation of the hole. Unlike Mexico, for example, we
are not dealing with conqueror and Aztec: mestizo baby birth. The Caribbean would have
to have a new beginning: moonshot explorers walking on the island moon. If that were
'all', we might at least have had a Spanish Caribbean: to match the dream of Spanish
Amerindia: and a new page of history might have been washed upon these shores. But
two significant events took place in waking Europe at this time which would destroy,
once and for all, any chance of a neo-monolithic model:
1. The rise of rival nations
2. The alter-Renaissance
The rise of rival nations
When Spain discovered the New World for Ferdinand and Isabella, the genesis was
blessed by the native traditional European Order in that the State planted a sword, the
Church erected a cross, and the political/Papacy sanctioned the Treaty of Tordesillas
(1494) in which it was understood (if not agreed) that all these newly discovered lands,
from longtitude 50 West, belonged to the Christian Empire. But the Americas were
longer than pope or cartographers knew, and when in 1500 Cabral came upon the coast
he called Brazil, there were from then two European pioneering nations in the Americas;
to be followed quickly after as poacher, pirate and finally settlers, by England, France
and Holland: each with its nation-centred concept of the World. So that soon, it was not
one master-language but four; not one mother church, but at least two; and a mercantilist
system that consolidated these fragmentations.
Let me offer an example from the present/past. From the Morne in 1980 in the
English/French-patois speaking island of St Lucia, you can look across the blue to
Martinique: still a d6partement of France. In 1480, you could have done the same thing,
same way, from the same place. But there were cousins across that water then; or friends
or intimate enemies. And if the group set off in the canoe at early dawn, they could be
there next day: looking back from Martinique to the Morne. In 1980, unless you have
Onassis yacht, you could not get across unless you swim. The canoes are gone, replaced
by iron ships fashioned from the furnaces of Europe and flying the flags of the nation.
From St Lucia now, to reach those hills across the sea your eyes can hold and touch, you
would have to catch a northbound ocean liner up to London or Southampton, how many
weeks away; and from the coast of Dover sail for France, from where, back down through
all those thousand miles to Fort-de-France. And then no cousins. Aliens. Psycho-political
More devastating still was the plantation planted without flour and flowers. When
the Puritans gave up their settlement in New Providence in the 1680s and sailed north
to Massachusetts the new fragmented world of Carib/Arawak was condemned to dust that
follows death. New York, New France, New Zealand and New Spain could not be here
where there was no gold, where there was no power source (Niagara was north), where
there was no liquid wealth. A vegetable empire was what we were now destined to be.
Already patterns of World Order had been developed in Europe: a political impe-
rialism based on Rome and revived by now expanding nation states; a world religion
based on Rome, propounded by its priests; communication means that had already linked
the world, speaking the languages of the discoverer/conqueror, spreading his culture and
his faith, an economic system that was increasingly flexible, inventive and integrated to
the needs of local nationhood; Science and Philosophy that spoke of Man; an Astronomy
that linked man to universe.
And whether France or Spain or Portugal: it was a 'whole' society: developed
infrastructure: monarchy and its bureaucracies, social stratification, religion reflecting
these, upward mobility, accommodation of the nation's wealth. But twin to this material/
power emphasis was a reflection of the spirit. While Columbus sailed west, Da Vinci and
Michelangelo reached other worlds. The Olive Blossom landed its first Englishmen in
St Lucia (1605), four years before Galileo commenced the development of his telescope;
and by the time Penn and Venables had taken Jamaica from the Spaniards (1655),
Montaigne had written his Essays, Spencer had composed The Faerie Queene, Shakespeare
had finished Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest; Don Quixote had been completed and
so was Rembrandt's Night Watch. By the time the slave trade was underway, Palestrina
was writing his Mass ofMarcellus.
But none of these spiritual forces was exported by Europe. Botticelli was not here,
nor was Cellini; no sign of Kepler, Grotius, Harvey or Descartes. Where was Voltaire and
Cervantes? How did the Calvinists see the New World? The Europear missile was mercan-
tilist. And as, at the apogee of orbit, the capsule/culture bearing rocket must turn upon
its own axis for re-entry into the earth's atmosphere, so did the missile of the European
Renaissance, its most magnificent achievement within Europe, alter itself high up over
the Atlantic to bring us not Shakespeare, Milton, Hamlet but Cortez, Crusoe, Simon
Legree. The geo-political fragmentation of the Caribbean was completed in the psyche of
the alter-renaissance. No aboriginal model: no chance, therefore, to return to a Romantic
Past. Rather, a new materialist society planted upon the death of the landscape's culture.
Geological fragmentation, political fragmentation, psychic fragmentation. To be followed
by plantation slavery.
Caribbean Plantation Slavery
The needs of the behemoth of the plantation brought some 15 million Africans
from a wide range of West African ethnicities out to the Caribbean area as part of an even
larger forced migration into the Americas as a whole. This event further deformed the
neo-culture of the Caribbean, since it consolidated the materialist/mercantilist tendencies
of the European colonists, and made Renaissance spiritual imput into this part of the
World even more unlikely. It also further fragmented the neo-culture: new people, new
languages, new religions: and corrupted the psyche of us all, but particularly of the Euro-
pean superstructures, with racism: a cyclopean way of looking from one racial group to
another, in order to justify the inequality imposed by the dominant group on the other.
It was doubly easy in Plantation America: because Africans were black, a colour
which European languages and Biblical imagery already associated with beast, ugly, savage,
heathen, evil, disaster, hell; and each slave master (and mistress) needed a working and
everyday way of seeing; which could make the habit of control, the sense of superiority,
the justification of injustice, scientifically and theologically acceptable. In the course of
time, this theosophy of race corrupted plantation owner, merchant, artist (see Jane Eyre),
philosopher (see Hume), and the very metropole itself: the 'death of God' in the Europ-
ean mind begins with the birth of the slave in the New World. Now no Just World Order
Model can be attempted without centrally coming to terms with this psycho-cultural
reality. And so far, only two 'world concepts' have emerged which have even attempted
to come to terms with it: miscegenation (see the work, for example, of Gilberto Freyere),
Slavery further fragmented the Caribbean by 'staggering' the expectations of the
slaves for their emancipation. Haiti achieved its emancipation and independence in 1804,
the British slaves in 1834, the French in 1848, the Cubans not until 1886. So that there
does not appear to be a single core or centre from which a Caribbean/World model might
be built. Indeed, the most pervasive and influential theory of (anglophone) Caribbean
society is that of M. G. Smith's 'plural society' (see M. G. Smith, The plural society in the
British West Indies (U of California Press, 1965);' a situation acerbated and given further
credence by the post-emancipation importation of Asiatic labo ir (and culture) into the
The traditional Caribbean cultural paradigm may then be summarized as follows:
Traditional Caribbean Cultural Paradigm: The Plural Society
colonial society based on no extant ancestral culture
material/mercantilist in nature
imitative of Europe
based on establishment of European languages
the word-symbols of those languages
the political and social institutions of Europe
colonial ethnicities Europeans
Jews, Syrians, Lebanese (merchants)
class/colour structure white/upper
Since all Caribbean territories were colonized (made dependent and imitative) since
1492, it follows that the greatest thought/action concerned in the Caribbean has been
anti-colonialism: political in the first instance; then combined with cultural independence.
But even here, theoretical fragmentation makes itself felt, so that we have to speak of
Hispanic Caribbean inter-colonial models; francophone Caribbean models dealing with
colonialism and independence; and the models coming out of the English-speaking Carib-
The outstanding Hispanic Caribbean thinker (and activist) in this regard was most
certainly Jose Marti of Cuba: with his hemispheric, even holistic vision of liberation.
America, 'Our America', he felt, was the property of the people, whose fight, cutting
across race, would be against Spanish and North American imperialism, for the establish-
ment of independent politics throughout the Caribbean and the Americas, based on what
he perceived to be an American, New World Adamic culture. World Culture for him
would be an equal federation of free continents.8 See Marti, Our America (trans. Monthly
Rev. Press 1979), Inside the Monster (1975)
The Haitian Model and Negritude
The only successful slave revolt in modern times took place in St Domingue
(renamed Haiti) in 1791, when the 480.000 slaves of the former French colony, itself
the western half of Hispaniola, rose in armed revolt, under Toussaint L'Ouverture, and in
alliance with the native mulattoes, against the French plantocracy found leaderless
through the events of the French Revolution of 1789.
Toussaint's was, however, an ambivalent model. Slaves: yes: slaves no more: yes.
But liberation, having been achieved, the superstructural and cultural hegemony of
Europe could be more generally acknowledged; and the blacks of Haiti would move from
the status of slavery to a status of partnership/patronage. This position has been declared
a realistic compromise, given the realpolitics of the 19th century and the damage that
racism and dependence had already done. There was no way that the missilic world could
accept the proposition that black = man = mankind. What the 'world' said was black =
man(?) = maroon. And Haiti was marooned.
Later, with the American Occupation of 1915-1934, would come the more sophis-
ticated notion of creole negritude: to be developed and surrealized by Aime Cesaire of
Martinique in 1939 (see Cahier d'un retour au pays natal). But again the presence of per-
vasive racism prevented universal acceptance of the equation black = man = mankind.
One way of 'solving' the dilemma of conflicting cultures is for the sub-dominant
to accept the hegemony of the dominant; Afro-Saxons, Imitation Frenchmen, Euro-
Indians. This however is a negative and unacceptable model since it involves the forced
or willing giving up of one's nam and the creation, therefore, of what Fanon called a false
consciousness. And World Orders based on falsities cannot but implode.
Theoretically, the progression from 'colonial' to 'Independence' through national-
ism is a solution model for the kind of plural/fragmented society for the Caribbean.
With nationalism, the political status would be changed, the social and ethnic stratifica-
tions could be consumed into the national ideal. And each particular nation-state could,
theoretically, be federated into some kind of regional whole: as was in fact attempted by
the anglophone Caribbean in the period 1958-1961.
But Caribbean nationalism has so far been nominal only. Political independence
has, in most cases, led to increased certainly more subtle economic dependence on
the 'developed world'; and infrastructurally, nationalism has, on the whole, failed to
transcend ethnic investment. The classic case is Guyana. In 1953 the two main colonized
groups, the Africans and the East Indians, formed an Independence coalition political
party until the eve of Independence when the competing norms split apart into what
has virtually become two separate states. In Trinidad and Suriname, where there are also
significant post-emancipation ethnicities, fragmentation is little more than a tick away. In
any case, nationalism can hardly be considered a model for World Order because of its
heavy investments in competitive particularism.
One consequence of Caribbean (and Third World generally) post-Independence, a
way of solving the rigidities of inherited social stratification, of redistributing private and
natural wealth, has been socialism in Cuba, Guyana, Jamaica, Grenada in varying degrees
and times. The ethnic fragmentation problem should also, theoretically, be solved under
this praxis which is unquestionably one of the World Order Universals like Christianity,
Islam, Capitalism and Imperialism.
The 'weakness' of this model is that a) it has too many intransigent competitors; b)
certainly in the Caribbean, it has not been a 'natural' enough part of the evolutionary
process of development. At least not yet. But Caribbean socialism, like Caribbean negri-
tude, is an attractive model for large and significant minorities, with Marxist/socialism
having more universalist appeal than negritude.
The neglected modular possibility is cultural interaction: a process which is, in a
way, the essence of the Caribbean experience. The essence, in fact, of all societies which
have, for one reason or another, come into being through transnational and trans-ethnic
contact with each other.
Put simply, the notion of interculturation is as follows. When two or more cultures
come into contact with each other, creating an abnormal, culturally heterogeneous situa-
tion, a gravitational obscure process immediately comes into play, the object of which is to
restore order and homogeneity. To make this new order possible, however, the first
instinct is the aggressive one of establishing norm images: the dominant culture creates
the norm; the subdominants respond and react. Sometimes the subdominant culture is
destroyed; often a process of deculturation is attempted by the dominant role-player.
This, at any rate, is the classical paradigm of culture contact. There is, however, a
concomitant and even more subtle action whereby both cultures the dominant and the
subdominant set up a symbiotic relationship with each other: so that conquerors are
conquered and the colonized colonize. In the 18th century Caribbean, during the very
height of the racist slave period, white women were wearing African headties, and speak-
ing the nation language of the slaves; while the slaves used European words with African
syntax and tone; and adapted the violin, for instance, as a percussion instrument.
This process of interculturation has, in fact, created
the Caribbean personality and life style a prismatic
culture, separated mainly by prejudice and ignorance.
It was this same process which created what today we
call English culture: which is an osmotic development
out of Angle, Saxon, Dane, Viking. Celt and Briton.
The cultures of the United States, of South East Asia.
of the Swahili-speaking peoples of East Africa are
Interculturation, however, is not the final answer. No matter how intimate the
symbiosis, there remains the residual nam which, at moments of crisis, has the ability to
re-activate itself: Ghost Dance, Indian Mutiny, Black Power in the States, Soweto, the
vitality of Caribbean slavery, despite the geo-psychic catastrophe and despite the holo-
caust of slavery. So that without a sense of nam without taking it crucially into
account we have no way of constructing a realistically Just World Order.
An Interculturation View of a Just World Order
Based on my Caribbean experience, therefore, I would posit a World Order based
not on politics or structures or institutions; but on a relationship of peoples, increasingly
conscious of each other; increasingly influenced by each other modern travel, modern
technology has clearly made this a reality; but the essentiality of each culture must also
be recognized and employed in the new transcendence. World Government cannot be
conceived of as centralized, but its opposite: an acephalous council of equals. The New
World Economic Order, on which success or failure of the whole enterprise will rest, will
have to return to the notion of subsistence as opposed to accumulation: with rational
planning and sharing of the globe's resources. Above all, all the world's human and tech-
nical resources, its entire educational and media systems, will have to be employed in
making the process of universal interculturation effective. Or, to put it another way,
certain important orders of priority will have to be reversed: culture must precede politics
and politics must remain an aspect of culture, rather than of power.
All men are equal even though their nations may not be.
AN AESTHETICS OF THE CARIBBEAN BASIN:
THE CARPENTER PERSPECTIVE
There is a symbolic appropriateness in the fact that Alejo Carpentier died in Paris and was
buried in Cuba. But his ashes belong to the Caribbean Sea or perhaps to what another
novelist, Jean Rhys, called The Wild Sargasso Sea to denote the alternative Middle Passage
- not the one to Africa but to Europe. Born in Havana to Franco-Russian immigrant but
middle-class parents, Carpentier regularly commuted from the Caribbean to Europe,
living alternately in Havana, Paris and Caracas. Not surprisingly, his fiction deals with
travellers, a familiar emblem of his work being the "Camino de Santiago", the medieval
pilgrim's route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, by extension, the road along which
every man pursued his restless Quest. Except that the modern pilgrim seems to seek a
shrine which had started to become illusory, for he journeys in a post-Nietzchean age when
the death of God had already been proclaimed. Threatened with the rootlessness of the
traveller, Carpentier reacted by anchoring his sight in the architecture of landscapes and
the stylistic fixity of buildings or the emblematic ruins of the past. Where another
novelist might delight in accumulating the sociological circumstance or the psychological
nuance, Carpentier sought to be a cultural ecologist recovering ideas from landscapes
and finding symbolic meanings in the actions of Caribbean and European men, as he
imaginatively probed at the documented weight of the past. His landscapes and characters
become carriers of the documented weight of an aesthetics and a politics.
Europe and the Americas
The philosopher against whose vision the Caribbean writer has tended to struggle,
whether consciously or unconsciously, particularly if he is a writer, who like Carpentier
is concerned with History, is surely Hegel. It was Hegel who first endowed History with
its very special significance. As Lionel Trilling rather amusingly put it:
When God died, as by common consent he did, how-
ever slowly the explicit news of his demise reached
us, history undertook to provide the beginnings
which men once thought necessary to the authen-
ticity of the world and of themselves . .the great
narrative historians in some considerable degree main-
trained the weightiness of things by thickening the
past, making it exigent, imperative, a sanction of
authority, an assurance of destiny.'
Hegel did not, like Nietzche, proclaim the death of God but he found Him manifest in
history as World Spirit. In his Philosophy of History, he asserted in that confident manner
proper to nineteenth century Europe that (a) the History of the World presents us with a
rational process, with the World Spirit starting to manifest itself in the East, moving to
Greece and finding its current apotheosis in Europe. particularly in its Germanic Protest-
ant section, (b) Africa had no historical part of the world nor did the indigenous Ameri-
can peoples since such peoples were deficient in the tools and appliances of progress and
(c) the New World in so far as it has received the impress of Europe "was merely an echo
of the Old World".2 The terms of his Hegelian model have continued to obsess the Carib-
bean consciousness in its double form: History as an assurance of destiny and its obverse,
History as Absurdity. Carpentier can be seen to enter the dialogue between Europe and
America in the twenties, at a time when the Hegelian model and its counterpart Cartesian
rationality were both being seriously questioned after the First World War when
Europeans turned from subjecting Third World natives to the barbarism lurking within
its "civilizing mission" and directed their aggression against each other, and of course
later followed up with Nazism and the Second World War.
The prophet of Europe's decline was another German philosopher, Oswald Spengler
whose Decline of the West had a significant impact on Spanish America. The critic
Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria has argued that Spengler's work had a crucial influence on
Carpentier when he sought to assess America's relationship to Europe:
Spengler provided the philosophical ground on which
to stake the autonomy of Latin American culture and
deny its filial relation to Europe. Spengler's cyclic
conception of the history of cultures kindled the
hope that if Europe was in decline, Latin America
must be in an earlier, more promising stage of her
own independent evolution.3
Echevarria's assessment, it must be said, is only partially acceptable. Spengler's most
direct influence can most directly be seen in certain essays of two Mexican intellectuals
Alfonso Reyes and Jose Vasconcelos. In the essays collected under the title, La iltima
Tule, Reyes shows that for him, the notion of the decline of the West suggested that
America was destined to be the future abode of the World Spirit since it had always been
open to the heritage of Europe. And since an American had no nationalist prejudices of
the sort that blocked a French intellectual from being receptive to an English idea, the
American could be more authentically European and America as "La 1ltima Tule"
historically that mythic region in which the European mind had situated Utopia and the
Future would be well placed to bear the burden of civilization.4 Vasconcelos on the other
hand was more Latin Americanist in perspective in that in his essay La raza c6smica, even
if he accepted the notion of a westward drift of civilization, he nevertheless tied Latin
America to the Latin part of Europe, dissociating this cultural region, not only from
Anglo-Germanic Protestant Europe, but also from Anglo-Saxon Protestant North
America. Defying the Hegelian model without naming it, he also exalted America, as the
title of his essay proclaims, because it was a land of miscegenation, involving Africans and
indigenous peoples.5 In an essay in the forties, written in Venezuela, Carpentier writes
very much as one who like Vasconcelos believed that the "genius of his race" was Latin
but a Latin stock on which had been grafted "certain ethnic contributions, certain mis-
cegenations, particular historical, social and telluric imperatives".6 It is a perspective very
much reflected in the meditations of the protagonist-narrator of his novel Los pasos
In fact, far from denying America's filial relation to Europe, Carpentier's fiction was
constantly devoted to an exploration of the relations between Europe and America which
he considered to involve a quite dynamic process. During a visit to Haiti, in 1943, he tells
in an essay, how he came to conceive of "the possibility of transferring certain European
truths to our latitudes, going counter to those who, travelling against the sun's trajectory,
wished to carry out truths where, up to thirty years ago, there was a lack both of under-
standing and judgement to see them in their proper perspectives.7 As late as 1974, in
his novel El recurso del mitodo, a title which indicates the author's desire to mock
Descartes' Discourse on Method Carpentier displayed his obsession with testing or trans-
ferring European truths in an American environment, in this case not only Cartesian
rationalism but also Marxist dialectical thought or at least Marxist insights into neo-
colonial Spanish-American republics.
The Emergence of the Afrocreole
Altogether more than any other Caribbean or Spanish-American writer, Carpentier
seems to have been tormented, perhaps as a result of his own antecedents, by the nature
of America's relationship to Europe which determined to deal with the conception of the
New World as a mere echo of the old. From the very start of his career, it is obvious that
if Carpentier accepted Spenglerian notions about European decadence, he could be in no
doubt of the deep disorder of life in the plantation society of which he was a part. His
earliest interests therefore were Afrocuban-cult primitivism and European avant garde
experimentalism. Jorge Mai~ach has explained some factors which generated the vogue for
Afrocubanism, as cultivated by a young white generation in revolt, in the following
manner: "We encouraged Afrocreole happenings because we saw in them a silent insur-
gency, an attempt to crack the crust of our petrified society."8 What MaFiach fails to
state is the salient fact that up until the Cuban Revolution, Cuba was an openly racist
society and those who genuinely valued the Afrocuban folk genius were subject to abuse
of every kind. Carpentier was one such and writing in the thirties about his experiences he
had this to say:
When I think of the bitter moments, the struggles, the
sarcasms, the withheld greetings which eight years ago
were my lot because of my determination to conse-
crate my modest efforts to the defence and promo-
tion of Afrocuban rhythms!9
He had been willing to assert that the Afrocuban "son" was a musical form just like a
Sonata or Symphony, and had eagerly co-operated with the Cuban composers Amadeo
Roldan and Alejandro Garcia Caturla, who incorporated Afrocuban rhythms in their art
music compositions. For Carpentier had hoped to promote a Cuban version of a Latin-
American style, inspired perhaps by the experiments with Brazilian music of Heitor
Villobos and, as strongly, by Igor Stravinsky's use of Russian folk material. He saw the
vital linkage as a matter of the relation between craft and subject matter and in 1931
could write: "it is necessary that youth in America should have a thorough knowledge of
the representative values of modern European art and literature, not in order to carry out
a shameful labour of imitation and to write, as so many writers without imagination or
character have done, pale replicas of some overseas model but rather in order to seek to
understand the techniques inside out by analysis and find constructive methods able to
convey with greater power our Latin American thoughts and sensibilities." (Crdnicas, 2,
p. 482) Indeed after he escaped into exile in Paris, fleeing the regime of the dictator
Gerardo Machado, Carpentier acted as something of a cultural broker, sending back
reports on the happenings in the metropolis, introducing his readers to Surrealism, Picasso
and other notable matters.
Nevertheless, even while he believed that an enlightened awareness of European
experimentation was vital to "the arduous task of creating an art both American and
universal",10 he always detested imitation. In his prologue to El reino de este mundo he
not only criticized the Surrealists but poured scorn on their American imitators, and in
Los pasos perdidos, the narrator mocks at three young Venezuelan artists for whom Paris
was a Mecca. The paradox lies in the polemical relationship he always maintained with
European culture. For elsewhere he would declare: "Surrealism made a deep impression
on me. It taught me to see textures, aspects of American life I had not noticed."" Yet
the most stinging criticism he had to make of the "nativist" tradition as cultivated by an
earlier generation of writers such as Romulo Gallegos was that they were imitating the
nativist novels of European writers such as Ladislan Raymont (Nobel Prize winner for
Literature), Panait Istrati and Knut Hamsun.
In fact, Carpentier thought that the nativist writer's failure lay in his shallow hold
on native history, and by history he meant not only the accounts of professional histori-
ans but the myths, the songs, indeed the superstitions of the folk, all that made up their
traditional culture, for it all constituted for him "a civilization or way of life . that was
truly an art of social living".12 This is borne out by Carpentier's first novel Ecue
Yamba' O, in which he sought to exalt Afrocuban ritual belief as a value in itself and as a
way of life that with its instinctive spontaneity provided an almost automatic critique of
the Americanized, debased and passionless life of the Havana bourgeoisie. It was a novel
innovative in its attempt to fuse the language of Futurism and documentary-style material
for it included photographs of Afrocuban ritual objects. Like the later novel, El reino de
este mundo (1949) it shows Carpentier functioning as a Caribbean writer, as one who
believed, as Sylvia Wynter would put it, "that the African heritage has been the crucible
of the cultural deposits of the immigrant peoples" of the Caribbean. (New World Quar-
terly, p. 14)
A Latin American Identity
Not satisfied with his first novel, Carpentier, while in exile, spent many years read-
ing American historical texts:
I felt an intense desire to express the American world.
I did not know how as yet. But the difficulty of the
task due to my ignorance of American essences spur-
red me on. For many years I dedicated myself to
reading everything about America from the letters of
Christopher Colombus, taking in the Inca Garcilaso
down to eighteenth century authors. (Valoracion
multiple p. 63)
Carpentier's own search for his and a Latin Caribbean identity had to go beyond the neo-
African crucible theory. Seeking an assurance of Caribbean destiny, he seemed to discover,
if we can judge from the fiction, the Caribbean as a fluid space towards which European
cultural and economic impulses flowed, having to deal with the resistant power of the
neo-African presence in slavery and the magic of the New World land/seascape. If the
Conquest left a Hispanic impress on Spanish America, for Carpentier the truly modern
shaping moment lay round about the juncture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
This was the era when the Latin Caribbean simultaneously inherited the progressivist and
radical perspectives of the Encyclopddie and the nationalist-imperialist expansionism of
the French, and adjusted them to the vagaries of a provincial context. The Frenchman
Vector Hugues, one of the protagonists of El Siglo de las luces, is a prototype of the New
World caudillo promising liberation only to impose a new internal colonialism. History as
possibility is always being undermined by history as absurdity.
Carpentier's conception of the prototypical both in terms of character and situation
is absolutely crucial for an understanding of the process whereby he translated his obses-
sions about American essences into literary terms. In "Perfiles del hombre americano",
(1954) Carpentier explained his perspective on the prototypical. In Spanish America, he
noted, the Conquest had established a common colonial pattern with the diffusion of
the same songs, popular poetry and dances and as well as these, the typical rural occupa-
tions of herding, mining and fishing. For example, a Venezuelan plainsman and a Cuban
farmhand had much the same characteristics, except that the former is much more of a
folk musician and poet, has a richer folklore and lives in a more dramatic landscape.
Therefore, he was willing to argue that a novel about a plainsman could cover what one
might write about a farmhand and be more universal in reference at the same time:
"tendrfa mas elements de universalidad que una novela sobre el guajiro" (Letra y solfa,
p. 123). Although Carpentier did not attempt a novel about the Venezuelan "Ilanero",
this perspective certainly helps to explain how, though Cuban novelist, he set his first
really significant piece of fiction, El reino de este mundo, in Haiti. The Haitian struggle
for independence was the richest, most dramatic instance of the black man's quest for
liberation from the dread grip of slavery: more epic in context, more sharply etched in its
historic rhythms, an exemplary image of Caribbean experience as a recurring sequence of
guerrilla ideals and tides of betrayal.
Carpentier's New Worldism
In this way, Carpentier sought to construct his own view of New Worldism, its pos-
sible weakness being that it tends to flatten the idiosyncracies of the various republics,
simplify the question of the indigenous Indian populations and the specificity of the indi-
vidual country's historical experience. Its shakiness showed up in El recurso del metodo
where Carpentier imagined a patchwork country and a caudillo with features drawn from
various Spanish Caribbean Republics, Cuba, Guatemala, Venezuela. But this approach
defined a disposition of Carpentier's mind, so that he would write of Venezuela:
Getting to know Venezuela completed my vision of
America, since this country is like that of the Conti-
nent. You find there its great rivers, its interminable
plains, its gigantic mountains, the forest. Venezuelan
soil for me was a grounding in American soil and
venturing into its forests was to experience the
Fourth Day of Creation ... To go up the Orinoco is
to travel backwards in time." (Valoraci6n multiple,
Nevertheless, what seems to have ignited the Venezuelan experience so that the novel Los
pasos perdidos would be written was the interaction of Venezuelan realities and Carpen-
tier's polemical response to Jean Paul Sartre and existentialism. For example, certain ten-
dencies of Sartre's treatment of space as characterized by the critic Joseph Halpern can
equally well be applied to Carpentier's novels, from El reino de este mundo onwards.
Halpern notes that in Sartre's novels space seems to generate a decipherable message
within a consistently schematized decor and that there is a tendency to set meanings
within a system which limits interpretive possibilities, "reinforcing clearly designated
donations".13 Gonzalez Echevarria has noted that in Los pasos perdidos, Sartrean con-
cepts as authenticity surface in the novel and "the predicament of the protagonist, caught
between a search for his essence in the past and a commitment to the present-in-history is
clearly Sartrean" (Pilgrim at home, p. 159). It is a novel, in fact, in which one senses in
the background the presence not only-of Sartre but of Camus and Malraux, in the play
between authenticity and alienation, in the narrator's self-conscious association with the
mythological figures Sisyphus and Prometheus, and in the nature of his relationship to
Adventure. Carpentier's view that "it is perfectly possible to escape from Time" (Valor-
acidn multiple, p. 27), repeated by the protagonist of Los pasos perdidos is closer to
the Malraux of The Royal Way than to the Sartre of Nausea, for Roquentin insists from
the standpoint of nausea that the escape into adventure is a doomed attempt to use the
tools of culture against culture itself, since the adventurer proves his fraudulence in his
inability to surrender one of civilization's comforts, the writing of the book of his ex-
ploits. This view is close to that expressed by T. E. Lawrence in The Seven Pillars of
Wisdom, for Lawrence felt that a life of inner complexity made adventure fraudulent
since "the modern adventurer's actions ramify not into a story but into a portrait of his
sensibility, an aggrandized mythology of his self awareness".14
The Carpentier perspective is one in which the crucible of the cultural deposits of
the immigrant Caribbean peoples is the Caribbean Basin as a geographical entity and a
New World landscape informed by both indigenous and immigrant myths. It may be
worthwhile here to consider how the notion of "lo real maravilloso" fits into the Carpen-
tier schema. First of all, in a talk, given in Caracas in 1975, Carpentier made it clear that
his "lo real maravilloso" is not to be confused with "el realismo migico", or magic realism.
Lo real maravilloso, he said, refers "to certain incidents which have happened in America,
certain characteristics of the landscape, certain elements which have nurtured my
work".15 For example, the literary adventures of Amadis of Gaul may be marvellous but
the real life adventures of the conquistadors as narrated by Bernal Diaz del Castillo in his
Historia verdadera de la conquista de Nueva Espana which describes the meeting of
Spaniards and Indians are marvellous in a truer sense, and constitute "lo real maravilloso".
Henri Christophe's building of the Citadel La Ferriere to resist Napoleon or the revolt of
Mackandal who persuaded his followers of his lycanthropic powers are other such
instances. Later Carpentier preferred to use the term "baroque" to describe the unique
character of New World history and culture because "every symbiosis, every cross breed-
ing engenders a form of the baroque" (La novela latinoamericana, p. 126).
But how exactly, it can be asked, did Carpentier convert a theory of cultural des-
cription which is what the notion of the baroque or "lo real maravilloso" really is, into
novelistic material? The answer lay in Carpentier's view that one key to the modern novel
was to invest a plot with an epic character, by relating that plot to "a great and public
action ... an uprising, a strike, a revolution, a conflict involving groups of men against
other groups of men" (La novela latinoamericana, p. 153). And as is now well known, the
Carpentier novels were based on a scrupulous researching of texts, and indeed were often
very literally a rewriting of texts. For example, Noel Salmon has shown how closely
Carpentier used certain French historians in developing scenes for El siglo de las luces.16
Returning to the notion of epic events we are able to see that Carpentier set his novels in
relation to the Haitian war of Independence, the French Revolution, the Second World
War, the Spanish Civil War and the Bay of Pigs fiasco, or even the performance of the first
opera in Europe which featured the Aztec emperor Montezuma. And always, there is the
Carpenterian conviction that the Euro-Mediterranean past is immanent in the American
present, that The New World rather than going through the stages of Man according to
Positivism and Auguste Comte, was living out the Western process as a simultaneity. Large
sections of Latin America, he has maintained "belong culturally to the era of medieval
Europe" (La novela latinoamericana, p. 155), the figure of Shango in the voodoo pan-
theon echoes an ancient Cretan myth figure, and St Barbara has a curious functional
resemblance to the Mexican rain god, Tlaloc, even as Don Quixote in a pastoral speech
evoked scenes from Hesiod. Medieval or ancient Grecian typologies lurk in Carpentier's
novels where one might least expect, not only explicitly as in the scene in The Lost Steps
where the narrator likens the travelling prostitutes of the Venezuelan hinterland to equi-
valent medieval types, but in less spelt-out situations. For example, the whole sequence,
later in the same novel in which Nicasio, the leper and outcast from the community of
Santa Monica de los Venados, attempts to assault the young Indian virgin sexually, has a
straight correspondence with medieval literature on lepers and the belief that they could
be cured by a virgin. A related belief about sexual contact with a virgin is also still held in
regard to the cure of venereal diseases.
It is this vision of layers of history cohabiting in a modern time-space continuum
which Carpentier fashioned his elaborate style to capture, based on the view that the New
World artist must convey to the reader the colour, density, weight, size, texture and
appearance of the object". He believed, with Balzac's narrator of La Recherche de
L'absolu that "human life in all its aspects, wide and narrow, is so intimately connected
with architecture, that with a certain amount of observation, we can usually reconstruct
a bygone society from the remains of its public monuments",17 except that the New
World narrator's archaeology through revelation of a hidden present and the architecture
to be explored must refer not only to human constructs but to American Nature whose
profusion of forms was as yet untamed or domesticated by man's technology or imagina-
tion, as was the case with European landscapes.
Again Carpentier felt that one could read the New World landscape in terms of neo-
Mediterranean typologies and his approach can interestingly be compared to the Guate-
malan novelist Miguel Angel Asturias for whom a nativist archaeology revealed a land-
scape and history immanent with Mayan mythology. What unites them is the fact that
Asturias often gave the "Mayan" perspective novelistic coherence by reference to similar
myth figures from Babylonian and Mediteranean mythology. This is the mark of the
creole writer in the Caribbean whose reference is to multiple traditions, and who must
forge his individual talent at one and the same time from native sources and a mature,
seductive and domineering Western tradition so pervasive in its forms and modalities
that the "native" writer can confuse homegrown content with innovation in form, and
even mere technique with the elaboration of a style.
What Surrealism taught both Asturias and Carpentier as writers of prose fiction was
very simply to re-examine the relation between realism, a Western literary phenomenon
with specific assumptions about the nature of reality, a style which taught one to pro-
duce a certain description of social reality, and their own alternative reading of Latin-
American reality itself. Of the two Carpentier was much more rationalist and stayed
closer to realism while also pursuing a rationality which could include the belief struc-
tures of that world once scorned by Cartesian philosophy and Hegelian history. Carpen-
tier risked his talent on the belief that the Caribbean Basin formed part of a neo-Medi-
terranean diaspora and the achievement as well as the limitations of his novelistic output
derives from this perspective.
A reading of the essay on El siglo de las luces by Edmundo Desnoes, a younger
Cuban novelist, shows something of the ambivalence with which Carpentier's views and
indeed his novels have been received in Cuba and Spanish America. Carpentier, according
to Desnoes, wished to mythify reality and emphasize the scenography, to focus on primi-
tive landscapes while the task "of the young novelists is to demystify reality".18 Desnoes'
remarks help to draw attention to a fact we have not so far indicated, which is that in his
essays Carpentier tended to direct attention away from the novelist's critical function.
It is indeed as if, at a certain level of consciousness, he could not bring himself to discuss
the contradictory reading of New World history which he actually produced in his novels.
It was Carpentier's destiny as a writer always to need to depict the New World under
creolized Western eyes but it was also his peculiar gift to understand at some level of
consciousness that the Western model could only produce degraded emblems and a
crypto-history. A writer must of course resolve his artistic problems at the level of style.
And Carpentier produced a universe of discourse which in his view expressed both his
populist obsessions and the forms of a sophisticated art which he resolved by wedding high
culture to picaresque traditions. On this basis he constructed his baroque vision of the
1. Lionel Trilling Sincerity and Authenticity. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1972, p.
2. Hegel Philosophy of History. New York: Dover Books. 1956, p. 87
3. Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, Alejo Carpentier: The Pilgrim at home Ithaca and London:
Cornell University Press, 1977. p. 56.
4. c.f. Alfonso Reyes, Obras Completas. VI 1
5. Jose' Vasconcelos, La raza cdsmica, Mexico: Escasa Calpe, 1966.
6. Alejo Carpcntier. Letra y solfa. Caracas Sintesis Dosmil, 1975. p. 302.
7. Alejo Carpentier, Literatura y conciencia political en America Latina, Madrid: S.A.E.G.E..
1969, p. 112.
8. Jorge Manach, Homenaje a la nacion cubana, Rio Piedras: Editorial San Juan, 1972
9. Alejo Carpentier, Cronicas. V.2. La Habana: Instituto (ubano del Libro. 1976, p. 107.
10. Alejo Carpentier, Cronicas V.I. La Habana: Instituto ('uhano dcl Libro. 1976. p. 136.
11. Alejo, Carpentier. series valoracidn multiple. La Havana: Casa de las Americas. 1975. p. 63.
12. c.1. Sylvia Wynter, "Creole criticism -a critique" New World Quarterly v. 5. n. 4. 1972. p. 19.
13. Joseph Halpern. "Sartre's Lnclosed Space" Yale French Studies. n. 57. pp. 61 62.
14. Paul Zweig, The Adventurer, New York: Basic Books, 1974, p. 237.
15. Alejo Carpentier, La novel latinoamericana en visperas de un nuevo siglo. Mexico: siglo XXI
editors, 1981, p. 128.
16. Noel Salhon. "FI siglo de las luces", historic e imaginaacion in Recopilacion de textos sobre
Alejo Carpentier, La Habana, 1977.
17. Honored de Balzac The novels of Balzac. V.22. Philadelphia, 1898. p. 2. (Irans. by Lllen Mar-
18. Homenaje a Alejo Carpentier (ed. Helmy F. Giacoman) New York: Las Ame'ricas Publishing
Co. 1970, p. 306.
LA NEGRA AS METAPHOR IN AFRO-LATIN AMERICAN POETRY
Literary critic Kenneth Burke regards art forms as practical tools for living. They are
strategies, answers to questions posed by the situations in which they arose.' Hence,
works of art are legitimate sources of data and are useful "generators of hypotheses".2
Within this framework, then, poetry -the most notable genre of symbolic activity -
would serve as a valuable vehicle for extracting cultural meaning. As Nelson Goodman
says in Languages of Art, all symbolic systems are denotative in the sense that they
"make" and "remake" reality.3 And going even further, metaphor, the very substance of
poetry, can be treated as a potential vehicle of knowledge. These views serve as the assump-
tional base of the present study. Within this framework we will consider the "truth" or
"reality" presented of la negra and la mulata through the use of various metaphors in
Afro-Latin American poetry or negrista poetry.
Attention will be drawn in this analysis of negrista poetry to those symbols which
operate in diverse ways and at different levels so as to categorize human experience and
express distinct values specifically connected with la negra and la mulata in Latin Ameri-
can society. The principal questions of this study are: 1) what are the symbols, themes,
and values that repeatedly emerge with respect to la negra, la mulata? and 2) what changes
or transformations have occurred among these throughout time? Because change is of
interest, it becomes necessary to provide the historical matrix of Afro-Latin American
Most literary historians agree that negrista poetry, defined as that body of poetry
which sings the beauty, tragedies and struggles of black people, reached the New World in
the 1920s and experienced its apogee in the 1930s and 1940s. Many insist that the root
of negrista poetry was the negrophilia that struck Europe following the ethnographic
research of Leo Frobenius (1873-1938). During the first decade of the 20th century a
new vogue had emerged in Europe Blacks came into fashion. It was, in the words of one
critic, "a period during which a large and enthusiastic number of people were crazy about
Negroes a period during which iconoclastic brilliance chose savage artists as its
mentors".4 Undoubtedly, the Latin American poet's impulse toward the black theme
came from the European cult for lo africano or lo negro. The black theme became fashion-
able in Latin America when it found aesthetic appreciation and validation in European
art. Suddenly, Latin American poets found themselves in the delightful position of
having right at home what their European models were seeking abroad to wit, African
folklore and craftwork, jazz, the rumba, and Josephine Baker".s
Afro-Latin American poetry took two fundamental directions: the first began with
an external, coloristic portrayal of the Black, and the second chose to depict the Black
with more depth by penetrating his inner being, thus allowing him a more authentic
human role. On the whole, muchof early negrista poetry written by Blacks and non-Blacks
in Latin America reflected a preoccupation with racial identity, with great emphasis on
the struggles and sufferings experienced by the black male. The role of the black female,
la negra or la mulata, in the historical, social, and cultural development of Blacks in Latin
America has been largely ignored by historians and degraded excessively by writers.
Before the negritude movement reached the New World the appearance of the black
female motif in poetry was infrequent. Not only was she virtually absent from the poetry
of non-black Latin American writers but also from that written by black poets. During
the early stages of development and infusion of the black female motif into poetry we
have found that the poet was more interested in poeticizing the physical attributes of la
negra: skin colour and hip dimensions and in promulgating the deeply ingrained myth
that la negra is instinctively and inherently evil, sensual and primitive. As such she has
been perennially or constantly associated with nature: water, animals, fruit.6 Unlike the
black male whose portrayal in negrista poetry began to experience a progressive refine-
ment as early as the 1930s, the black female image remained in its coloristic, caricatu-
resque stage for several decades afterwards.
Early non-black negrista poets such as the Cubans, Ramdn Guirao and Emilio
Ballagas; the Puerto Rican Luis Pales Matos, and the Mexican Jos6 Juan Tablada depicted
the black woman as an object of sensuality and evil. Manifest in their works are numerous
metaphors which allude to her mysterious eroticism. The cumulative effect of a series of
metaphors employed by Jose' Juan Tablada in "Cancidn de la mulata" is an emphasis on
the highly sensual nature of la mulata. The poet cannot say what he means, therefore,
he suggests it instead with an accumulation of tropes metaphors that furnish us with
the equation, semantic element X equals the particular element Y, la mulata. The proper-
ties of the various X's (metaphors) accumulate in such a way as to give the reader a pretty
good idea of what y, la mulata, is. The poem reads:
Esos "que ven claro de noche",
iAqui hay candela!
Mi cuerpo es una hamaca
tropical con vaiv6n de danzon;
mis labios tienen miel de nispero;
mi cuerpo es un jard'n nocturno;
mis senos dos guanabanas;
mis ojos dos cocuyos ...7
First the poet has distanced himself from his fantasies by inventing another speaker, the
main character herself, la mulata. The juxtaposition of the various x elements hamaca,
miel de nispero, jardin nocturno, guanabanas, cocuyos with cuerpo generates the idea
of the sensual nature of the protagonist, element y. The poet speaks of her body being a
hammock which signals movement, position, and locale of the sexual act. And in the
sense that hamaca denotes a physical object, la mulata is then too a mere object of sex.
The sexual climate of the poem becomes more emotionally and dramatically intensified
with the poet's use of fruit imagery. This fruit imagery provides both a visual and mental
sensual impression. In addition, the social implications in the use of fruit imagery to
describe la mulata cannot be overlooked. First, one well knows that fruits are cultivated
not for their beauty, as is a flower, but rather to carry out the more utilitarian function
of nourishing and sustaining the consumer. In order that this fruit might perform its duty,
it is handled, squeezed, tasted, and finally devoured. Second, on the comparative level,
the fact that la mulata is linked with imagery fruit of a degrading and offensive
nature while her counterpart, la blanca, is traditionally associated with flowers la rosa
el lirio, eljazmin- objects of adoration and beauty, underlines the society's assumptions
about the cultural and aesthetic inferiority of the black female.
Especially noticeable in Caribbean poetry is the comparison drawn between la negra
and the tropical landscape, particularly those elements related to the production of sugar
- melaza, cachaza, ron. The black Cuban, Nicolas Guille'n, in his "Secuestro de la mujer
de Antonio" clearly demonstrates the black woman's importance to the tropical land-
scape. However, what appears to be the central message in the poem is her expendability.
In other words, la negra becomes one more element of nature that is sought after, culti-
vated, and exploited for the pleasure and satisfaction of the cultivator the male.8 The
protagonist in Guille'n's poem expresses this attitude quite clearly in the following verses:
Te voy a beber de un trago,
como una copa de ron;
te voy a echar en la copa
de un s6n,
prieta, quemade en ti misma,
cintura de mi cancidn.
Zifate tu chal de espumas
para que torees la rumba;
y si Antonio se disgusta
que se corra por ahf:
ila mujer de Antonio
tiene que bailar aquf!9
Luis Pales Matos is even more forceful in his elaboration of the sensual nature of
the black woman in his poetic creation of what he envisions as a black pueblo in "Majestad
negra". He begins the poem with a geographical description of the town and ends it by
depicting la negra in what has become a stereotypical role. In the poem a parallel is drawn
between sugar and its production and la negra. Once again, sensual impressions are abun-
Por la encendida calle antillana
va Tembandumba de la Quimbamba
Culipandeando la Reina avanza,
y de su inmensa grupa resbalan
meneos cachondos que el gongo cuaja
en rios de azucar y de melaza.
Prieto trapiche de sensual zafra,
el caderamen, masa con masa,
exprime ritmos, suda que sangra,
y la molienda culmina en danza.10
The concluding verses of the poem depict the black woman in the dance act, la danza
being another distinctive feature of negrista poetry. La danza was incorporated into this
type of poetry as a thematic element and also as a device for creating rhythm through the
poem's use of onomatopoeia and verbal syncopation. The black woman's role in the
dance is central. However, again, what the poet most often projects is the physical aspect
of her role as he focuses on her body movements and emphasizes repeatedly the colour of
her skin and the rotundity of her hips.
Frequently, in negrista poetry the black female's body became metaphorically a
musical instrument by virtue of its form. For example, we find the juxtaposition of las
caderas with la guitarra and los senos with las maracas. 1 Attention is once again drawn
to her physical attributes.
Spanish Literary Influence
As a direct influence of the Spanish literary current called poesia neopopular -
Garcia Lorca being one of its leading exponents negrista poets began to employ ele-
ments of nature which helped describe and depict Blacks as part of their pueblo. Elements
of nature and the celestial sphere such as la luna and las estrellas were transformed and
incorporated into the tropical setting. These elements were not only used for scenery, but
also as personifications.12 La noche, la luna, el sol, las estrellas and el mar often repre-
sented la negra and her licentiousness:13
En la oscura plaza del cielo rumbea
la luna. Y sus anchas caderas menea.
Con su larga cola de blanco almid6n
va la luna con
su bata de olan.
Por la oscura plaza de la noche va
con una comparsa de estrellas detras.14
Again, the function of the metaphor is to underscore black female sensuality.
As temptress, la negra is associated with the serpent. Just as the snake is a mys-
terious, totemic, and somewhat erotic animal which preys on the defenceless, so is la
negra. She is portrayed as a creature of serpentine movements who arouses the male and
later devours him (sexually):
Y en tus brazos locamente
el hombre cae sin sentido.
como cae en fauce hirviente
de americana serpiente
el pijaro desde el nido.
Cogelo entonces la gentil mulata
convulsiva, frenetica, anhelante,
y en voluptuoso arrullo murmurante
su labio exhala la palabra amor.
y triunfaal exhalarla. El hombre es suyo,
el blanco le obedece servilmente;
en la boca fatal de la serpiente
el encumbrado pajaro cayd.15
The above poems are just a few examples of such poetry that results in exotic and
erotic descriptions and simplifications, literature which presents a unidimensional view of
its subject. The metaphorical representation of the black female is that of an inferior.
sensual, evil, hip-swaying being. Such a portrait stems from white ethnocentrism which
has its literary roots in:l) the role of the black man and woman in Spanish literature of
the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance; 2) the stereotype of the black buffoon in
Spanish Golden Age drama, especially that written by Lope de Vega; 3) the constant of
a stereotyped black language called disfraces negros found in Quevedo and Gongora: 4)
the portrait of Blacks in 18th century anonymous popular poetry and ballads: 5) and the
19th century anti-slavery novel. However. following the example of late 19th century and
20th century writers such as Marcus Garvey, Jean Price-Mars, and Fernando Ortiz, all pro-
ducts of the Antilles, who vocalized their opposition to the exploitation literary and
otherwise of Blacks, Latin American poets began to present a new image of Blacks.
They were led to concentrate on the inner consciousness of Blacks rather than exploit
further their outer, physical attributes. And, hence, the most accomplished negrista
poetry began in the Antilles ranging from a recreation of black reality in Emilio Ballagas,
to the making of a self-contained world by Luis Palds Matos, to Nicola's Guille'n's employ-
ment of new lyrical and political elements. A parallel development took place later over
Latin America and continues up to the present. Blacks became increasingly concerned
with civil rights and justice and therefore negrista poetry had to engage in social criticism
if it was to reflect faithfully every aspect of black life. Latin American writers who once
made use of negative stereotypes made an attempt to correct previous misconceptions
and unfavourable myths about Blacks. Consequently the image of Blacks in Afro-Latin
American poetry began to evolve from caricature into an image of more human dimen-
During this period of "race redemption" the image of the black female born of
literary expression continued to suffer, although to a lesser degree, degradation. The con-
tinued negative portrayal of la negra consequently "undermined the process of re-evalua-
tion. This disparity is particularly evident in several poems by the black Colombian writer
Manuel Zapata Olivella. In Zapata Olivella's collection titled Bullanguero published in
1974, the poem "La negrita Claridi" echoes the old stereo-typical image of la negra:
Mirala que linda esta',
la negrita Clarida,
su piel oscura y el nombre claro.
Clarida mueve la cadera
menea bien los ojos en la oscuridW:
baila el.son montuno,
canta el mapale,
vibra al son alegre
de la moceda;
revienta en la cumbia,
que es la danza negra
de verda', verda!
ritmo de alegrfa
clarida que alumbra
de noche y de dia.
Eres la mas linda
eres de carbon,
eres pura danza,
Si no fueras negra, negra de verda,
no te Ilamar'an negra Clarid . .6
These closing lines of the poem sum up what seems to be the poet's assessment of
la negra Claridd, a tantalizing, erotic creature. The placement of the adjective pura before
the nouns danza and sensacidn further emphasizes this point wherein we are left with the
impression that Clarida' is nothing more than dance and sensation.
Vindication of the Black Woman
Two poems by Nicolis Guille'n, however, were inspired by a desire to vindicate the
black woman. These poems, "Nueva mujer" and "Angela Davis", are devoid of the des-
criptive exoticism which characterizes his earlier poems. Guillen goes beyond the portrayal
of the black woman as a primitive sensual creature and stresses her fecundity, which
underscores her role as sustainer of the race. Because she is giver of life and sustainer of
the race she is compared to the earth and elements of nature:
Con el circulo ecuatorial
ceiido a la cintura como a un pequeno mundo,
la negra, mujer nueva,
avanza en su ligera bata de serpiente.
Coronada de palmas
como una diosa recien Ilegada
ella trae la palabra inedita,
el anca fuerte,
la voz, el diente, la manana y el salto.17
Black poets began to urge their fellow black brothers to reaffirm their kinship to
Africa. Hence, the original homeland, Africa, became a primary motif in negrista poetry.
Despite the physical separation from Africa, there remained a nostalgia for the mother-
land which most black Latin American writers incorporated into their literary creations.
A close correlation between woman and the motherland developed. The jungle-like land-
scape complements the woman and becomes part of her attire (as was revealed in the
last poem). In this capacity la negra is the source of the spiritual progress of the race.
A re-evaluation of the role of miscegenation in Latin America also became a major
concern of black writers. Unlike what many presumed to be the results of mestizaje -
cultural continuity of both racial elements Blacks found there had not been a blending
of cultures with equal respect for both. Instead, the black culture had been absorbed as
an inferior culture. Mestizaje has been called by one writer linchamiento dtnico,18 a phy-
sical, spiritual, and cultural violation of black people. For some, miscegenation was a
"whitening" process, an attempt to eliminate negroid features. This, of course, provoked
self-debasement among Blacks as they themselves began to accept the dominant-class view
that dark skin was a sign of inferiority with its corollary, a preference for lighter skin.
Black poets like the Afro-Peruvian Nicomedes Santa Cruz have therefore incorporated as
thematic content in their poetry the effects of mestizaje. In their negrista poetry of social
protest la negra as metaphor took on a different meaning. She was now used in sole func-
tion of the social theme to which the poet addressed himself. For example, on the topic
of miscegenation, Nicomedes Santa Cruz and the Afro-Ecuadorian Adalberto Ortiz have
used la negra as a target of ridicule. In much of the negrista poetry of social protest the
poet satirizes and caricatures black characters in order to help Blacks realize their some-
times nonsensical acts and thoughts, and to incite them into taking positive steps toward
improving their social conditions. The following poem titled ''Pelona" expresses the
poet's contempt for miscegenation by satirizing la negra's attempts to assimilate white
values and life styles. He especially mocks her use of cosmetics to alter her skin colour:
Te cambiaste las chancletas
por zapatos taco aguja,
y tu cabeza de bruja
la amarraste con peinetas.
Por no engordar sigues dietas
y estas flaca y hocicona.
Imitando a tu patrona
has aprendido a fumar
iHasta en el modo de andar
como has cambiado, pelona
Usas reloj de pulsera
y no sabes ver la hora.
Cuando un negro te enamora
le tiras con la carter ...
iQue tambien usas polvera?
ipermite que me sonria!
tQue polvos se pone usfa?
iOcre? iRosado? ,Rachel?
o le pones a tu piel
cisco de carbonerfa,
Deja ese estilo bellaco.
Vuelve a ser la misma de antes.
Menos polvos, menos guantes,
menos humo de tabaco ...
Vuelve con tu negro flaco
que te adora todavfa;19
New Image of La Negra
While the potential for a new image of la negra clearly exists it can only be fully
realized when black people as a race are totally liberated. A poem by the black Cuban
writer, Nancy morejon. presents a complete image of la negra as a revolutionary figure.
The black protagonist-narrator in the poem titled "Mujer negra" recounts the history of
Blacks in Cuba, beginning with their arrival as slaves and continuing up to their present-
day participation in socialist Cuba. Of great significance is the revolutionary nature of
this black woman during each historical period related: while still a slave she rebelled and
ran away to join with Maceo in the fight for Cuban independence from Spain, and most
recently joined the supporters of Fidel Castro and marched down the Sierra Maestra with
them. A strong sense of black consciousness is apparent from the opening verses of the
Todavia huelo la espuma del mar que me hicieron atravesar
La noche, no puedo recordarla.
Mi al mismo oceano podria recordarla.
Pero no olvido al primer alcatraz que divise.
Altas, las nubes, como inocentes testigos presenciales.
Acaso, no he olvidado ni mi costa perdida, ni mi lengua ancestral
Me dejaron aqufy aquf he vivido.
Y porque trabaje como una bestia,
aqu volvi a nacer.
A cuanta epopeya mandinga intenterecurrir.
Su merced me comprd en una plaza.
Bord6 la casaca de Su Merced y un hijo macho le pari.
Mi hijo no tuvo nombre.
Y Su Merced, murid a manos de un impecable lord ingles.
Esta es la tierra donde padecf bocabajos y azotes
Boguea lo largo de todos sus rios.
Bajo su sol sembre, recolect6 y las cosechas no comf.
Por casa tuve un barracon.
Yo misma traje piedras para edificarlo,
pero cant' al natural compas de los pajaros nacionales.
Me fui al monte.
Mi real independence fue el palenque
y cabalgu6 entire las tropas de Maceo.
Solo un siglo mas tarde,
junto a mis descendientes,
desde una azul montana,
baje de la Sierra
para acabar con capitals y usureros,
con generals y burgueses.
Ahora soy: solo hoy tenemos y creamos.
Nada nos es ajeno.
Nuestra la tierra.
Nuestros el mar y el cielo.
Nuestras la magia y la quimera.
Iguales mlos, aqui, los veo bailar.
alrededor del arbol que plantamos para el comunismo.
Su prodiga madera ya resuena.20
Here, Nancy Morej6n does not avoid the use of more traditional images of the black
woman but does so with a sense of protest. Note, although the protagonist has had sexual
relations with her slave masters, she has not done so by choice. Although she is pictured
singing another stereotype of black people her songs are political and in support of a
nationalistic movement: "Cante al natural compas de los pajaros nacionales." A sense of
triumph characterizes the poem in that the narrative yo of the opening verses changes to
the plural nosotros indicating a degree of national solidarity.
In summary, on the preceding pages we have shown how la negra as metaphor
(motif) in Afro-Latin American poetry has gradually evolved. Poets have slowly moved
from the one-dimensional portrayal of a sensual, animalistic, evil, and primitive female
creature to a concentration on her innermost qualities. For not only does la negra have
earthy qualities, but also dynamism and strength. She is sustainer of the race by virtue of
her intellect, physical and spiritual dynamism. And since literature reflects, "makes" and
"remakes" reality the vision of the black woman as a potential revolutionary figure sur-
faces with vigour and hope. We are led finally to postulate that if negrista poetry continues
to move in this direction a move to penetrate internal rather than external qualities it
will avoid the rut into which this type of literature tends to founder. In other words, in
order for negrista poetry to survive its poets' metaphors "no deben ser de care, sino de
1. Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action (Baton Rouge:
Louisiana State University Press, 1941) pp. 293-304.
2. Jane S. Jaquette, "Literary images and female role stereotypes", paper delivered at Latin
American Studies Association meeting. 1977.
3. Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1968) p. 241.
4. Lemuel Johnson, The Devil, the Gargoyle, and the Buffoon (Port Washington, New York:
Kennikat Press, 1971) p. x.
5. Pedro Barreda, The Black Protagonist in the Cuban Novel (Amherst: University of Massachu-
setts Press, 1979) p. 28.
6. There is one study solely dedicated to the image of the black woman in Afro-Latin American
poetry. See Ann Venture Young, "The Black Woman in Afro-Caribbean Poetry," Blacks in
Hispanic Literature' Critical Essays, ed. Mirium De Costa (Port Washington, New York;
Kennikat Press, 1977) pp. 137-142. However, a treatment of la negra as motif can be found
as part of a broader study of imagery in negrista poetry in Monica Mansour, La poesia negrista
(Mexico, D.F.: Ediciones Era, 1973) pp. 180-184, and G. R. Coulthard, Raza y color en
la literature antillana (Sevilla: Universidad de Sevilla, 1958) pp. 105-126.
7. Jose Juan Tablada, "Canci6n de la mulata", in Rosa E. Valdes-Cruz, La poesia negroide en
America (New York: Las Americas Publishing Company, 1970) p. 196.
8. Ann Venture Young, p. 140.
9. Nicolis Guillin, "Secuestro de la mujer de Antonio", Obra pohtica 1920-1972 1 (Habana:
Editorial de arte y literature, 1974) p. 129.
10. Luis Pales Matos, "Majestad negra", Poesia 1915-1956 (San Juan, Puerto Rico: Editorial Uni-
versidad de Puerto Rico, 1968) p. 233.
11. Emilio Ballagas, "Piano", Obra poetica (Florida: Mnemosyne Publishing Inc., 1969) p. 88.
12. Mansour, p. 186.
14. Ballagas, p. 86.
15. Francisco Munoz del Monte, "La Mulata", in Rosa E. Valdes-Cruz, La poesia negroide en
America, pp. 41-42.
16. Manuel Zapata Olivella, "La negrita Clarid6", Bullanguero: poesfa popular (Bogota: Ediciones
Tercer Mundo, 1974) pp. 32-33.
17. Nicolis Guillen, p. 120.
18. Abdias do Nascimiento, Cuadernos Brasileiros 10, no. 47 (May-June 1968) p. 5.
19. Nicomedes Santa Cruz, "La pelona", Cumanana (Lima: Mejia Baca, 1964) pp. 33-34.
20. Nancy Morejon, "Mujer negra", Casa de las Americas, no. 88, 1975, pp. 119-120.
AN OVERVIEW ON CARIBBEAN LITERARY MAGAZINES:
THEIR LIBERATING FUNCTION *
EMILIO JORGE RODRIQUEZ
How much does the rest of the world know about the literature that has been created by
the peoples of the Caribbean? To answer that question, we must examine the influence
of the region's literary magazines.
This subject is full of implications and peculiarities. Leaving aside, difficult as it
may be, the separate development of the various national literatures of the region -
inevitably tied to the level of economic development, history, the formation of nation-
ality, social classes and education in each territory it becomes clear by examining the
catalogues of the major publishing houses of the metropoles or former colonial metro-
poles of Caribbean countries that at least the top Caribbean writers are well known. This
points out an obvious fact when the Caribbean is considered from abroad; i.e. the rele-
vance attained during the last 30 years by some Caribbean writers and the partial interna-
tional distribution (in a few countries of Western Europe and North America) of their
works. In many cases, especially in the non-Spanish-speaking Caribbean where the lack of
publishing houses makes it necessary, these works undergo the same process as the raw
material processed in the metropoles, reaching the native consumer with the blessing of
a prestigious publishing house as a seal of guarantee for the product. Examining the
causes that brought about this promotion is a complex matter. Aside from the actual
qualitative development of regional literature in this phase, this phenomenon is rooted in
the postwar decolonization process in general, the emergence and victory of national
liberation movements in countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and an awareness of
the need for a de-Europeanization of the concept of international culture. All of these
have contributed to a greater interest in Caribbean history and culture in the rest of the
world. The last of these contributing factors had its antecedents at the turn of the century,
especially in terms of the rediscovery of African art which broke through the ossified
Eurocentrism in the international art scene.
Even though it is correct that the most eminent personalities in Caribbean literature
receive international recognition, it is impossible to gain a systematic view of the history
* Paper presented at the Literary Arts Symposium, CARIFESTA '81, Barbados.
of the Caribbean literary movement through a few isolated figures, even if those figures
are representative of the general problems that concern intellectuals in the region. Several
anthologies of English-speaking Caribbean literature published in the countries mentioned,
most of which are intended for students, have tried to overcome these difficulties. In
general, these anthologies have a thematic structure and an historical focus, which does
not provide an accurate picture of the literary movement in the context of Caribbean
An exploratory investigation leads us to believe, however, that literary development
in the Caribbean region has been closely linked to the literary journals as a voicing ground
where the need can be filled to express specific circumstances and urgent concerns in the
life of the colony, neocolony, and pseudorepublic during a large part of this century.
And although this process could be identified by mentioning its principal sponsors, pub-
lishers and writers, it is only possible to understand it thoroughly if we put it in the social
framework in which it was formed. This provides a wider panorama of the literary life
in each Caribbean territory, giving us a view of Caribbean literature from the inside, by
tracing its continuity and totality without ignoring the characteristic collective creativity
that has predominated in the literary life of the area.
We will outline some of the highlights of the Caribbean literary magazines that
demonstrate how the literary movement is linked with the social history of the region.
For this necessarily brief survey, we will avoid the usual linguistic "boxes" which divide
and hinder an analysis of Caribbean literature from a global perspective. We will concen-
trate our attention on one aspect of this urgent and extensive study: the presence of para-
meters for the formation or affirmation (depending on the level of development of each
society) of national consciousness in the goals and directions of some of the Caribbean
literary magazines many of which have far-reaching cultural influence in response
to colonialist and imperialist actions.
The literary movements of Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic
established themselves during the 19th Century through magazines with different levels of
distribution, almost all short-lived. Anti-colonialist sentiment and militant insurrection-
ism were an integral part of life in these Caribbean lands and triggered the founding of
quite a few periodic publications. United States military interventionism in those
countries and others in the Caribbean basin left its mark on the poets of the late 19th
century and early 20th: Romantic's, Parnassian's and Modernist's works testified to the
offences inflicted upon these countries. One publication worthy of extensive examina-
tion is the Haitian magazine La Ronde (1892-1902), which characterized the climate of
unrest and crisis of the Haitian bourgeoisie prior to the interventionist phase, when a
fierce battle for economic control of the country was taking place between France,
Germany and the United States. This publication displayed differences in viewpoint
between the poets and prose writers involved in it: the poets wrote works in which the
idea of Haiti as a cultural province of France predominated, while the prose writers used a
realistic style, closely scrutinizing the society and thereby serving as a focal point for the
ideology of bourgeois reformism.
In this sense, the prose writers conformed most with the general ideas expounded in
La Ronde's issue of 5 May, 1898:
Our friendship goes to all those who, despite the ridi-
cule to which they are subjected, contribute to the
enrichment of our literature. But our admiration goes
to the writers who, as Ame'dee Brun has said:
"absorbing all the physical and moral wisdom of our
corner of the earth," express, in an original form, the
beauties of our natural world and stamp their works
with a truly national seal.
Revista de las Antillas (1913-1915), founded in Puerto Rico, fostered an overdue
and lengthy Modernist trend and became a firm Hispanic-American bastion in response to
the attack on culture which accompanied the US intervention. This attack was especially
aggressive and destroyed traditions in the educational sector, imposing compulsory
instruction in English at all levels. Revista de las Antillas also continued the spirit of
Caribbean unity which inspired the Cuban independence struggle led by Jos6 Marti' at
the end of the 19th century.
The Cuban journal Social, founded in 1916, revealed a certain frivolity in its first
issue which would yield a few years later to the strength of a fighting generation of
writers. That generation, whose contributors to Social included Juan Marinello, Ruben
Martinez Villena, Alejo Carpentier, Jose' Z. Tallet and Jose A. Fernandez de Castro,
attempted to rescue the national sovereignty which had been battered under the tutelage
of the United States, taking strong anti-imperialist positions. This group of writers who
participated in the Protest of The 13 (1923) against administrative corruption was part
of the Grupo Minorista (1927) and continued its cultural and political work in the
pages of Revista de Avance (1927-1930), also introducing innovations in Cuban art and
literature with its assimilation of the vanguard movement.
Also in 1927, the Revue Indigene was founded in Haiti emerging out of the rejec-
tion of intervention and the fear of its consequences on national culture. This journal,
whose impact was maintained during the century through the movement known as
"indigenism", helped revive the folklore, traditions and heroic history of Haiti. The
journal's poets, including Carl Brouard, Emile Roumer and Jacques Roumain, "reject the
rhetoric of the previous generation". They also developed the idea of solidarity with
discriminated black people all over the world. With the advent of an invader speaking a
foreign language, Creole literature gained more strength. (This period can be compared
with the period of national liberation from the French, during the 19th century when
literature written in Creole, the national language, first appeared.)
The reaction of Haitian intellectuals was the cultural response to foreign rule and
yoke, a complement to the military response of the Cacos, the people's guerrilla army
led by Charlemagne Peralte. Thus, it was not strange that the Revue Indigene would advo-
cate a literature with popular roots as another weapon against the foreign presence.
A different kind of confrontation came out of the experience of Caribbean stu-
dents in the metropoles and gave rise to various ideological trends which had repercus-
sions in the colonies. People from different cultures with ancestors of different ethnic
origins met in Holland: Anton de Kom from Suriname met Mohamed Hatta and Ahmed
Sukarno of Indonesia. All of them left Holland with the common conviction that it was
imperative to return to their countries and carry on the political battle for national liber-
ation, a conviction which would soon turn into intense action.
In Paris, Caribbean and African students began an ideological battle of another
nature the defence of their culture in the metropole itself. The only issue of Ligitime
Defense (1932), published by a group of students from Martinique including Etienne
Lero, Rene Minil, and Jules-Marcel Monnerot, caught the attention of many African and
Caribbean intellectuals. The publication spoke out against bourgeois ideology and morals,
rejecting the introspective and local colour literature that characterized the previous liter-
ary generation in Martinique and searching for African roots that had been blurred by
three centuries of colonial rule. Legitime Defense was the first conscious declaration by
Caribbean intellectuals from the French colonies against cultural colonization, the first
theoretical attempt at decolonization in the field of culture. The editors tacitly
recognized the need to incorporate elements from the anti-discriminatory literatures
of other latitudes by publishing an excerpt from the novel B injo by Claude McKay in
their magazine. Marxism was their guiding force in terms of principles and they accepted
surrealism as an aesthetic current aimed at breaking bourgeois canons.
In one sense, L'Etudiant Noir (1934-1935) founded in Paris by Aime Cesaire,
Leon G. Damas and Leopold Sedar Senghor, among others continued the line estab-
lished by Legitime Defense, in its opposition to capitalist society and colonialism, con-
sidering them to be the direct causes of racial discrimination. On the other hand, it did
not go beyond expressing the opposition of "black youth" to the policy of assimilation,
while aspiring to racial emancipation outside the context of the national struggle: "Les
jeunes negres d'aujourd'hui ne veulent ni asservissement, ni assimilation, ils veulent 6man-
cipation."' In the same issue Leopold Sedar Senghor tried to fundament the particularities
of black literature, basing himself on the unscientific "duel entire Raison et Imagination,
Esprit et Ame, Blanc et Noir".
The magazine Tropiques (1941-1945), founded in Martinique by Rene Me'nil and
Aim6 Ce'saire, went beyond the concepts of L'Etudiant Noir. It favoured the recovery of
the elements that made up the nation, calling for an awareness of the Caribbean physical
environment (the flora and fauna), its history, Caribbean folklore and its relationship to
African traditions, along with the imaginative elements latent in Caribbean culture.
Beginning with a run of 1,000 copies and later holding steadily at 600-700 copies per
quarterly edition over a period of five years, Tropiques had a reading public mostly com-
posed of high school students who followed it as an extension of Menil and Cesaire's
teaching. It attempted to eliminate the condition of the French Caribbean colonies as
passive recipients of culture and to promote self-expression through their own national
cultures. As M4nil stated, Tropiques insisted on the conjunctionn du sorcier et du savant
de la poesie et de la science, de l'imagination et de la raison raisonnante.. ."3 The editors
of Tropiques maintained firm opposition against the Fascist Vichy government, which
in May of 1943 denied them paper to print the magazine and labelled them as "racists,
sectarians, revolutionaries, ingrates and traitors to the country". This did not intimidate
the editors, who continued publishing with an even greater anticolonial and antifascist
Anglophone West Indies
In the English Caribbean colonial possessions, literary clubs, associations, leagues
and circles increased in membership and social acceptance during the first four decades
of the century. Local literary life was stimulated and took root in these institutions
clearly manifesting the need to express national reality. Nonetheless, it was the literary
magazines that stimulated the heated discussions, helping define the course of literature
in several territories and serving as formative agents for new generations of writers.
The local colonial powers and Britain's most faithful collaborators did not view the
literary magazines with the same benevolence as they did the literary groups. The reasons
for this cold reception lie in the qualitative level that can be achieved by a periodical in
broadcasting ideas, as opposed to the limited reach of meetings, get-togethers or sessions
of cultural institutions. The permanence of ideas on the printed page alarmed the colonial
powers, unlike the ephemeral nature of a lecture or oral discussion. The polemics around
various themes circulated by the cultural publications reached the point of causing pro-
test actions and aggression to avoid the spread of unorthodox, subversive ideas that
opposed the system at a given moment. Cultural interchange and actualization within the
groupings interested in the literary arts, which increased considerably with the founda-
tion of literary magazines, contributed to the circulation of new ideas. The independent
character of these publications often turned them into true stimuli for social reforms and
In Trinidad, in 1929, two members of a literary circle, C.L.R. James and Alfred
Mendes, published the supplement Trinidad, producing only two issues. However, another
member of the group, Albert Gomes, zealously dedicated himself to publishing The
Beacon (1931-1933), which led to a substantial change in the development of English-
speaking Caribbean literature. From that moment on, literary texts were not limited to
fortuitous publication in the daily press: literary magazines began to fill in for the
absence of Caribbean publishing houses and later became the centre of literary activity.
These magazines allowed the reader to become acquainted with a good number of authors
and offered bibliographic information and reviews which contributed to the creation of a
The community which promoted The Beacon among contributors and friends con-
stituted a unique abolition of racial barriers. In this and other aspects The Beacon consti-
tuted a vanguard in the cause of liberal ideas. It was thus forced to suffer the conse-
quences of its firm editorial policy; when it supported the liberalization of divorce
laws in the so-called Divorce Controversy which later led to broad confrontation
between Church and State pressure was exerted on many of the magazine's sponsors
to withdraw their advertisements so as not to offend the Church. Nevertheless, Gomes
managed to continue publication without compromising his principles. This example
gives an idea of the importance of The Beacon as a means of influencing the society of
its time. A clear indication of this importance and the gap which this publication filled
is the fact that its circulation reached 5,000 copies at a time when the population of
Trinidad, according to the 1931 census, was 387,425. Under Gomes, we can affirm that
The Beacon "assisted in no small measure in providing the improved cultural infra-
structure in preparation for the stirring events of 1937".
The following stage, after the growth of the trade union movement, with strikes
and mass demonstrations, the formation of various nationalist political parties and reiter-
ated demands for the autonomy of the Caribbean territories dependent on Britain, was
characterized by the founding of a number of very important publications. The most
outstanding was Bim (1942), founded by Frank Collymore. The most long-standing Carib-
bean literary magazine, Bim was initially sponsored by the Young Men's Progressive Club
of Barbados, an institution at the forefront of the struggle for the island's autonomy.
Bim has been one of the most influential Caribbean magazines, it has contributed to
defining the profile of national literatures in the English-speaking Caribbean territories
and its pages have marked the beginning of the literary life of a good number of the most
relevant writers of the area in the last four and a half decades. Bim has thus contributed
to shaping numerous homogeneous factors in the literary history of the English-speaking
A Jamaican publication in anthology form, Focus, edited by Edna Manley, had a
nationalist character and was linked to the People's National Party. In its first volume, it
recognized that: "Great and irrevocable changes have swept this land of ours in the last
few years, and out of these changes a new art is springing". It continued saying: "but
underlying the picture of the present is the trend of the future, where new values will
predominate and a new approach to things will be born". Focus helped promote this new
type of art.
Arthur J. Seymour founded Kyk-over-all (1945-1961) which represented the then
British Guiana Writers' Association. The magazine's aims were related to the struggle for
autonomy and it hoped to become the literary voice of this aspiration. "Kyk-over-all we
hope will be an instrument to help forge a Guianese people, to make them conscious of
their intellectual and spiritual possibilities." While concentrating mainly on Guyana, they
included the works of writers from all the English- and French-speaking Antilles. In its
effort to stimulate all Guyanese creative work, the magazine published many works of a
critical and progressive nature. The task of promoting national Guyanese literature has
continued through the government magazine Kaie, founded in 1965.
The Greater Antilles
The same year Kyk-over-all was created, one of the most important journals of the
anti-colonial cultural struggle and in defence of national independence in the Spanish-
speaking Caribbean another journal was also founded. I am referring to Asomante (1945-
1970), a Puerto Rican publication, headed by Nilita Vientos Gaston. The publication
folded as a result of a law-suit, but another journal, Sim Nombre (1970), took over its
function. Nilita Vient6s, with these two magazines became the most outstanding promoter
of Puerto Rican literature and has helped confirm that Puerto Rican intellectuals have
maintained a frim pro-independence position. Through both of these magazines one
comes to a fundamental conclusion for understanding a stage of Puerto Rican literary
history: that authentic and quality expression in Puerto Rico is antagonistic to the
colonial status of the island, and that there is no coherent literature outside the borders
of this pro-independence stance.
The rise of dictatorial governments dependent on the United States became charac-
teristic of the Antillean pseudorepublics (Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba). These
regimes set up strong repressive systems and silenced all nonconformist literature. This
cruel reality is hidden between the lines of the literary text, through the evasive treat-
ment of social themes, the retreat into lyricism, the use of the writer's own symbols or
the evidence of personal frustration. Isolated voices in exile cry out against the iniquities.
In spite of the limitations, publications which thumb their noses at censorship or make
daring attacks still appear.
A short-lived Haitian political and literary newspaper, La Ruche, left proof of the
opposition to the dictatorship of Elie Lescot in 1945. Headed by Rend Depestre and
Thdodore Baker, it printed contributions of young Haitian writers such as Jacques
Stephen Alexis. Depestre himself commented: "The violence of our articles awoke the
sleeping conscience and galvanized all those who were ready to take action". The Lescot
dictatorship quickly jailed the leaders of the publication but later were forced to free
them because of popular protest and this movement continued to grow and eventually
led to the overthrow of the government the following year. The newspaper La Ruche
remains an exponent of the intellectual and political dignity of those young people.
In Cuba, the magazine Nuestro Tiempo (1954-1959) worked in defence of national
values and against imperialist penetration, eluding dictator Fulgencio Batista's censor-
ship. The magazine Brigadas Dominicanas (1962), sponsored by Aida Cartagena, brought
together the most prestigious Dominican intellectuals in a democratic and anti-imperialist
struggle. During the constitutionalist stage, it voiced the dignified position of Dominican
writers against the invasion by US troops.
At the beginning of the 1960s, a stream of literary magazines cropped up in the
Caribbean. It was an era of change in the region, starting with the triumph of the Cuban
Revolution and the independence of some of the British colonial territories. These events
led to a considerable development of national consciousness in Caribbean countries, as
revealed by the renewed interests in researching the sources of the popular culture which
shapes Caribbean cultural identity.
In Puerto Rico, various literary magazines have arisen which group together the new
writers of the last 20 years. The first was Guajana (1962), headed by Vicente Rodriquez
Nietzsche, Josd M. Torres Santiago and Andr6s Castro Rios. It published the work of
young poets attempting to revive Puerto Rican political poetry committed to the struggle
for independence. Guajana is characterized by the dynamic, incisive and bold style of its
poetry and editorials. It brought to light some of the figures whose most progressive work
had been forgotten or unknown to the general Puerto Rican public. The magazine was
popular among the youth and circulated widely in student groups.
The last two decades also witnessed the development of literature in Creole
languages and national dialects found throughout the Caribbean. In opposition to the
contempt of the colonial elites towards linguistic systems neglected or scarcely used by
the writers, there arose a tendency to promote their revival, to stabilize their grammatical
structures and consolidate them through literature.
The literary magazines have played the major role in promoting the use of national
linguistic expressions in the Caribbean. This is due to the difficulties encountered by the
metropolitan publishing houses in printing this type of literature, especially because its
narrow readership would bring them little profit. Moreover, the Caribbean literary
magazines have promoted this trend because of their interest in communicating with
popular sectors and distributing culture; also there are profits for literary magazines in
territories where large sectors of the population are illiterate in the metropolitan langu-
In Suriname, literature in Sranan Tongo (Surinamese) flourished during this period,
with the support of "Papa" Koenders in the monthly publication Foetoeboi (1946-
1956). The objectives of this journal were outlined by Koenders:
In Foetoeboi I have struggled over and over again against
the noxious system of education based on the superiority
of the Europeans and the inferiority of the blacks, since it
causes people to lose faith in themselves, to lose sight of
Other Surinamese publications have profited from the experiences of Foetoeboi
and view Sranan Tongo as an important element in the struggle to recover their national
identity. Among these magazines there is Tongoni, which published Maswa by Eddy
Bruma, one of the first short stories written in Sranan Tongo and which spurred a great
reaction in the country. The literary magazines Soela and Moetete (1968) also published
texts in Sranan Tongo.
In Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire, literary magazines have played a fundamental role
in the development of national literature, contrary to the trends that imitated Dutch
Literature. The publications that have been especially important in this respect are
Kambio, representative of a poetry movement with anticolonialist roots, and Simadan
(1951), founded to encourage the production of literature in Papiamento. In 1968
Watapana was founded by Henry Habibe, and it showed a strong concern for the role
that Papiamento should play in those Caribbean lands. The scope of the publication was
soon extended to other regions, in search of the essential elements making up national
literature and culture. Watapana has also been a forum for a new generation of writers
in the area.
A publication that shared this responsibility with Watapana was Ruku (1969-
1971), founded by Frank Martinus. Ruku was in the forefront of the struggle against
Dutch cultural domination. The significance of these journals is related to the period in
which they emerged, closely linked to anticolonialist attitudes. They presented a new
generation of writers known as "protest" or "consciousness-raising" writers who
began expressing themselves during a period of strong popular anticolonialist protest.
These protests reached their climax with the uprisings and arson on 30 May 1969, in
In the last ten years, Haitian literary magazines have contributed to an intensifica-
tion of literary expression in Creole, which as we know has had a long history. These
include Sel and Lakansiel, which are published entirely in Creole although they are pro-
duced outside of Haiti, This indicates the importance of Creole as the Haitian national
This summary has demonstrated the significant role that Caribbean literary maga-
zines have played from various standpoints in the liberation struggle. The role of forging a
national consciousness opposed to colonial and imperialist domination has been fulfilled
under precarious conditions, with serious financial limitations. This further enhances the
significance of Caribbean literary journals.
Since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Cuban literary magazines have
taken a different turn. Literary publications have been established, enjoying an uninter-
rupted publication as a result of the availability of financial resources which guarantee a
continued development of the infrastructure of literary production. Among the Cuban
publications with well-deserved international prestige are Unidn, Casa de las Americas,
Gaceta de Cuba, El Caiman Barbudo, Revolucion y Cultura, Santiago, Universidad de La
Habana and Signos, a few of the literary magazines that currently act as the voices of
cultural institutions, educational centres,associations of writers and artists, literary work-
shops. etc. These publications guarantee the maintenance of genuine Cuban cultural
values and the continuity of the tradition of popular culture and spread awareness about
new forms of struggle for anti-colonial and anti-imperialist culture in the context of a
As I pointed out at the beginning of this paper, Caribbean literature is little known
outside the geographic and linguistic boundaries of the region, and the history of its
literary journals is even less known. In order to bring Caribbean literature into the inter-
national spotlight it is necessary not only to publish the individual works of the most
important authors, in their original language and in translation, as we have been doing in
Casa de las Americas in Havana, but also to make known the cultural treasure encompass-
ing the diverse, scarcely accessible body of writing contained in the literary journals.
To this end, the Center for Caribbean Studies of Casa de las Americas is planning to
publish bilingual anthologies of the magazines Bim and Kyk-over-all in the next few years,
thus initiating a series designed to provide a wide panorama of Caribbean literary produc-
tion through the most relevant publications in the region. In that way, we hope to make a
modest contribution to the cultural rapprochement between the peoples of the Caribbean
and those of Latin America.
Aime Ce'saire, "Negrerles", L'Etudiant Noir, March 1935.
Leopold Sedar Senghor, "L'Huiiianism et nous: Rene Maran", Idem.
Rcn Me'nil, "Pour une lecture critique de Tropiques", Tropiques. facsimile edition. Ed. Jean-
Michel Place, Paris, 1978, vol. I pag. XXX
THE INFLUENCE OF THE CASA DE LAS AMERICAS ON ENGLISH
JOSEPH R. PEREIRA
One of the first cultural institutions established by the Revolutionary Government in
Cuba on coming to power in 1959 was the Casa de las Americas. The intention was to
provide a two-way link between Cuba and the rest of the Americas, especially Latin
America, whereby Cuban culture, literature and ideas could be diffused throughout the
hemisphere while Latin American writers and intellectuals could find a forum to reach
not only Cuban audiences but audiences in all parts of Latin America including their own
In the space of very few years, Casa had established its reputation as a respectable
and uniquely Pan-American intellectual catalyst/clearing house/meeting place. Its bi-
monthly journal, Casa de las Americas, had become a regular and often vanguard vehicle
of ideas and literary output and criticism, while its annual literary prize competition in all
genres of fiction as well as the testimonial and the essay had gained increasing prestige,
attracting greater numbers of entries from all over Latin America. Unquestionably, Casa
has stimulated and oriented very significantly the cultural production of the Latin
American region since the early sixties.
Up to the early seventies, the impact of this nucleus remained a Latin American
one, in the sense of the Spanish-speaking countries and Brazil. It is pertinent to remember
that when Casa was getting off the ground and Cuba moving into a socialist process, the
English Caribbean was yet under colonial rule. In December 1972, the then four indepen-
dent English Caribbean countries, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago
jointly agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, and in so doing gave a new
impetus to relationships between Cuba and themselves. Within a few years this initiative
was beginning to have its impact on the writers of the region, starting with exchanges of
visits. Thus, writers like A. J. Seymour of Guyana visited Cuba as a consequence of Cari-
festa '72, while the editor of the Casa journal, Roberto Fernandez Retamar, visited
Jamaica and Barbados in 1974.
Clearly, these were not the first encounters the sixties had seen some movement,
but largely at random as when Andrew Salkey and C. L. R. James were invited to the
Cultural Congress of Havana in 1968, or when a Cuban delegation visited Guyana for
Carifesta '72. But these were the first concrete steps in establishing an organized connec-
tion between English Caribbean writers and Casa. Interestingly, some of the first fruits of
these contacts were not in literature but in the visual arts, there being an exchange of
exhibitions of Cuban and Jamaican paintings in 1975. That year January, intellectuals
from the four countries were invited to the annual Meeting of Latin American Writers.
Casa Literary Prizes
The next and perhaps so far the most influential landmark in the development of
these relationships was the extension in 1976 of the Casa literary competition to entries
from the English Caribbean a direct result of the diplomatic and intellectual ground-
work. The guarantee of being published in English and then in translation into Spanish
with continental, indeed world, exposure, as well as receiving US$1,000 the sum the
prize offered proved an incentive to writers both new and established throughout the
English Caribbean, starved as they were/are for publishing outlets that assure a wide
audience, and weary of the rebuffs of the standard metropolitan publishers. Additionally,
the prestige of a Casa award was in itself welcome in a region where no regional recogni-
tion of the kind existed, though one could take comfort in a Jamaica Festival medal, for
example, as N. D. Williams had done prior to his Casa prize. Certainly, for English Carib-
bean literature in the seventies, this was a very significant catalyst in nudging writers to
complete and submit the manuscripts which the dynamics of their societies had already
motivated them to begin.
Before looking at the actual prize-winners, the point has to be made that the pro-
cess of judging these entries was in itself a stimulating experience for English Caribbean
writers. Following the pattern developed for the prizes in continent-wide literature in
Spanish, the Casa directorate adopted the policy of inviting various English Caribbean
writers to sit on the panel of judges, usually alongside a Cuban. Each judge had to read all
the entries in the section over a period of weeks at times, and gathered together in Havana.
These annual Jury assemblies were complemented by various Encounters, Round Tables,
Lectures etc., so that those who were involved were exposed to a feast of literary/cultural
discussion, meeting with other writers or intellectuals of the Hemisphere, who in turn had
the opportunity of exposure, often for the first time, to the literature of the English
George Lamming and Dennis Scott were on the first judges' panel in 1976. Since
then, Casa has continued to cast its net fairly wide both geographically and ideologically:
judges have been: Vic Reid (1977); Jan Carew (1978); Jimmy Carnegie and Anson
Gonzalez (1979); George Campbell and Richard Jacobs (1980) and Ken Ramchand and
Blazer Williams (of St Vincent) 1981. One will note that, latterly, literary critics and
non-fiction writers have been invited onto the juries. Additionally, Vic Reid returned for
the Encounter of Latin American Writers of 1978, Abdul Malik attended the one for
1980, and Blazer Williams the 1982 one.
It is not easy to assess to what extent the judges' experiences there have influenced
their outlook or writing, but one could point to a markedly sharper political stance and
anti-imperialism in George Lamming in recent years. On the lighter side, Ken Ramchand
found himself being called on by US Embassy Officials in Trinidad to explain his being a
signatory to a Havana declaration on the sovereign rights of the peoples of the Americas
before he was cleared to take up a US-based fellowship. It is quite likely that Brathwaite's
experience reflects the general impact on those involved in Jury or Encounter when he
speaks of the intellectual stimulation that these encounters provided him, and the sense
of recognition of the writer by the society he felt there.
The actual prize-winners include the novel (3); novella (1); short-story (1) and
poetry (4), coming from four Guyanese, albeit one Jamaican-based at the time (Williams),
and one UK-based (Richmond); two Barbadians (the Jamaican-based Brathwaite and the
Canadian-based Clarke); two Jamaicans (including the UK-based Salkey) and one
Vincentian who actually lives and works in his homeland. A fifth Guyanese would have
been in this listing with the first novel, but he set a precedent in the entire history of Casa
awards by being disqualified subsequent to the award because he had contravened one of
the regulations which require one to disclose one's real name. He gave a false name, Casey
Lee Hinkson, for his own protection at home it would seem, and his novel, The Enemy
Within, was struck from the records of the 1978 awards. However, the English Caribbean
invitee on the Jury, Jan Carew, has spoken highly of this work as a departure into the
area of espionage thrillers, set in the Guyanese Bauxite Industry.
Apart from this novel, four of the prize-winners were first fictional publications
(Williams, Carnegie, Richmond and Narain), three came from long-established writers
(Brathwaite, Salkey and Clarke) and two from writers who had published before but
were now coming to wide attention (Shake Keane and John Agard). These bald statistics
give an indication of the variety behind the prizes. Statistics are not available for the
annual number of entries or their details but from reports an estimate of between ten and
twenty each year would not be misleading. Only once, in 1977, was no entry regarded as
The three novels show parallels in their different ways. All three could be said to be
quest novels, although in the case of Clarke the quest is ironically treated, having been
superseded, and its ideology unmasked. Noel (Wyck) Williams, in his very contempo-
rarily-situated novel Ikael Torass (1976), deals with the nature of education and politics
in the Caribbean of the sixties through the character Michael Abbensetts. Dividing the
novel into three parts or stages of apprenticeship, and using a multiplicity of techniques
and narrative voices, Williams explores in Part I, through historical recall by the protagon-
ist of his childhood and adolescence, the class nature of the educational system and the
rot of the political system, opportunist and bourgeois-serving. The Michael that we are
meeting in the contemporary time of the novel has explained his psychological self by
these socio-historic contexts complicated by the absence of a mother figure. The alien-
ated son of the new bourgeoisie has detached himself from that world but still seeks a
Part II takes us through Michael's experiences as an undergraduate at the University
of the West Indies, Mona, revealing once more the elitist bent of the educational system,
here seen at the tertiary level. Incidentally, this interpretation of UW1 by the novelist so
infuriated an ex-professor at Mona that he tossed the unfinished copy of the novel over-
board in mid-Atlantic so much for the impact of literature on the readership. But
Williams, in this often autobiographically inspired novel, where many of the characters
are identifiable to those who experienced Mona in the late sixties, lived through the
period of Rodney and the Rodney 'riots' of October 1968. His character Michael shares
those experiences, where for the first time political involvement can mean to him a little
more than opportunism. Class consciousness is beginning to create resonances in his world,
where Skully Wilson, the working-class outsider of his schoolboy days in Part I whom he
had come to idolize in strange fascination, finds echoes in the working-class Jubba with
whom Michael develops an admiring friendship, and who is shot dead by the police under
the excuse of his being a 'criminal'.
From these gradually polarizing experiences in which his love life also plays a part,
Part III leads us to Michael casting aside the pretensions of the dominant class and finding
a replacement For his identity with the Rastafarians who provide a working-class and
consciously black identity. Part II had climaxed with Michael's discovery of anew identity
when he screams "lkael! TORASS" (p. 429). He now consolidates this self-confidence
and learning process discovering himself and his society not in the lecture rooms but
in the yards and Rasta circles. Community was, as he found, possible (p. 437). The
neo-colony of his mind has finally been liberated but Williams doesn't leave the story
neatly concluded. Ikael has to return home to apply there the lessons he has learnt from
this literal voyage of discovery. The novel concludes with an open-ended assessment:
"The passage ends, opens another world" (p. 501).
The novel is one of the few to explore the influence of Rastafarianism as part of the
process of decolonization and debourgeoisification. It does so without romanticising and
Williams maintains a highly credible and consistent character in Ikael. Interestingly, his
attempts to get the manuscript published before the award had met with demands for it
to be cut down in length, for strictly economic reasons. Fortunately, the novelist did not
bow to the dictates of the balance sheet. Even subsequent to the publication by Casa, the
metropole kept laying down its conditions and so the novel has not been republished, nor
has Williams been successful in getting a British publisher to take on his second novel.
Undaunted he is now planning a sequel to Ikael Torass. His experience highlights the
value of Casa as a source of publication more sensitive to the Caribbean world-view than
the metropolitan book-makers/breakers.
Angus Richmond in A Kind of Living (1978) gives us another type of guest novel,
which again explores the class antagonism of Caribbean society and where an historical
figure promoting Black Power influences the protagonist. The novelist sets his story in
Guyana in the forties, using a chauffeur, Willie Abbott, as his central figure. Willie be-
comes exposed to the Black Nationalist ideas of one Martin Harvey (Richmond could just
as well have given him his real name of Marcus Garvey), and through him learns of Nat
Turner whom he adopts as his hero/father figure. Willie's growing spirit of rebellion and
awakening to the realities of class and colonial oppression that he and his fellow workers
suffer takes on his employer, Wade King, in a dispute over wages. Gradually, the various
arms of the state fall in line to defend King as a member of the dominant class from this
threat to the stability of the hierarchy, and we are carried through to the shooting of
Willie by the police as a 'criminal' in a style reminiscent of Jubba in William's novel. But
Willie has made his point both to the characters within the novel and to the readers.
Richmond develops a character who radiates a lot of humour and warmth, and the
support given Willie by his woman, Martha, (despite their differences) goes a long way in
building up the sense of solidarity that is possible along intuited class lines. Perhaps more
in response to a contemporary issue of race division in Guyana than to the internal neces-
sities of his novel, Richmond sets up bonds of friendship between the African Willie and
the East Indian Dwarka. This alliance reinforces the class axis at the expense of racial
antagonisms. Similarly, the novelist's incorporation of A. W. Critchlow, leader of the first
Guyanese Trade Union, into his fiction as a mentor for Willie helping clarify his sense of