From New National to World Literature: Essays and Reviews 9783838208763, 9783838208626, 9783838208671, 9783838268569

From New National to World English Literature offers a personal perspective on the evolution of a major cultural movemen

151 56 3MB

English Pages [645] Year 2016

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD FILE

Polecaj historie

From New National to World Literature: Essays and Reviews
 9783838208763, 9783838208626, 9783838208671, 9783838268569

Table of contents :
Table of contents
I. Introduction
Chapter 1 Introduction
Chapter 2 How with the Help of Derry Jeffares I (an American) Became a Commonwealth Literature Specialist
II. African Literature
Chapter 3 Those Magical Years: The Making of Nigerian Literature at Ibadan: 1948-1966
Chapter 4 The Emergence of African Fiction
Chapter 5 Thoughts on African Literature
Chapter 6 African Literature and Aesthetics
Chapter 7 Is There a Nigerian Literature?
Chapter 8 Abioseh Nicol
Chapter 9 Gabriel Okara
Chapter 10 The Revised Arrow of God
Chapter 11 Wole Soyinka and the Nobel Prize for Literature
III. New English Literatures
Chapter 12 Nationalism, Internationalism, Periodization, and Commonwealth Literature
Chapter 13 Protest, Alienation and Modernism in the New Literatures
Chapter 14 The Commonwealth Writer in Exile
Chapter 15 Ethnicity as Response: Richler, Achebe and Naipaul
IV. Australia, Canada, New Zealand
Chapter 16 The Role of American Literature in Colonial and Post-Colonial Cultures
Chapter 17 Canadian and New Zealand Jewish Writers: A Contrast Between Mordecai Richler and Charles Brasch
Chapter 18 A.D. Hope and Australian Poetry
Chapter 19 Randolph Stow’s Novels of Exile
Chapter 20 Frank Moorhouse, Grand Days (1994)
Chapter 21 Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing
V. West Indies
Chapter 22 Anand’s Recherche du Temps Perdu
Chapter 23 Who Has Written Better?
Chapter 24 Garth St. Omer: From Disorder to Order
Chapter 25 West Indian Drama and the Rockefeller Foundation, 1957-70: Derek Walcott, The Little Carib and The University of the West Indies
Chapter 26 A Witness to Culture
Chapter 27 Derek Walcott’s The Bounty (1998)
Chapter 28 Religion and Education in Derek Walcott’s St Lucia
Chapter 29 Contextualizing Walcott
Chapter 30 White Egrets, Derek Walcott (2010)
VI. Internationalizing British Literature
Chapter 31 Who Wrote The Satanic Verses? (1988)
Chapter 32 David Dabydeen’s A Harlot’s Progress (2000)
Chapter 33 Abdulrazak Gurnah and Hanif Kureishi: Failed Revolutions
Chapter 34 Mike Phillips and the Making of Black British Literature
VII. Indian Literature
Chapter 35 Modern Indian and American Poetry: Some Contacts and Relations
Chapter 36 Keki Daruwalla: Outsider, Skeptic and Poet
Chapter 37 That Preface, Nissim Ezekiel Remembered
Chapter 38 2004: Ezekiel, Moraes, Kolatkar
Chapter 39 A Personal Moon: Adil Jussawalla
Chapter 40 To Be Or Not To Be Diasporic
Chapter 41 Narcopolis By Jeet Thayil
VIII. Muslims and Pakistan
Chapter 42 From Twilight to Midnight: Muslim Novels of India and Pakistan
Chapter 43 Alamgir Hashmi’s Poetry: Pakistan, Modernity and Language
Chapter 44 Jamil Ahmad, The Wandering Falcon (2011)
Chapter 45 Kamila Shamsie's Novels of History, Exile and Desire
Chapter 46 Dangerous Controversies
Acknowledgments
Index

Citation preview

“Impressive in range, scope and insight, these articles are still on the cutting edge of criticism … This collection is a must-read for anyone interested in World English literatures. By mapping the genealogy of a developing body of literature and of its corresponding critical field in the making, it also represents an invaluable contribution to literary history.” Laetitia Zecchini, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris “This is a pioneering book of essays. Dr. King could well be the Dr. Livingstone of World English Literature.” Arvind Krishna Mehrotra “Bruce King has one of the most capacious minds I know. His knowledge of postcolonial writings is unique in its depth and width. When combined, as is usually the case in these essays, with shrewdness of judgement and generosity of spirit, he is just about the most valuable critic in his domain. He is free of theoretical jargon, but always sympathetic to new ways of reading literature - in other words, he is a refreshing voice of sense and sensitivity.” Alastair Niven

STUDIES IN WORLD LITERATURE Series Editors: Janet Wilson, Chris Ringrose

From New National to World Literature

“Bruce King’s critical gaze, never fashionable, always up close and engaged, can be so penetrating of the text and illuminating of context that all writers wish that gaze were turned more often on their works. His collection of essays, wide ranging and present at the inception of all the important currents in post-colonial thought, is a cause for celebration.” Fred D’Aguiar, University of California

Bruce King

From New National to World Literature offers a personal perspective on the evolution of a major cultural movement that began with decolonization, continued with the assertion of African, West Indian, Commonwealth, and other literatures, and has evolved through postcolonial to world or international English literature. Bruce King, one of the pioneers in the study of the new national literatures and still an active literary critic, discusses the personalities, writers, issues, and contexts of what he considers the most important change in culture since modernism. In this selection of forty-five essays and reviews, King discusses issues such as the emergence and aesthetics of African literature, the question of the existence of a "Nigerian literature", the place of the new universities in decolonizing culture, the contrasting models of American and Irish literatures, and the changing nature of exile and diasporas. He emphasizes themes such as traditionalism versus modernism, the dangers of cultural assertion, and the relationships between nationalism and internationalism. Special attention is given to Nigerian, West Indian, Australian, Indian, and Pakistani literature.

STUDIES IN WORLD LITERATURE

Vol. 3

From New National to World Literature Essays and Reviews

ISBN: 978-3-8382-0876-3

ibidem

Bruce King

ibidem

Bruce King

From New National to World Literature Essays and Reviews

STUDIES IN WORLD LITERATURE Editors: Prof Janet Wilson, University of Northampton, UK Dr Chris Ringrose, Monash University , Australia

Advisory Board: Dr Gerd Bayer, University of Erlangen, Germany Dr Fiona Tolan, Liverpool John Moores University, UK

The book series STUDIES IN WORLD LITERATURE is devoted to the analysis of global literature, and the multiple, sometimes contradictory, tendencies it accommodates. Its field of enquiry is the ‘new’ world literature, a category currently emerging through multiple changes from the old Romantic concept of Weltliteratur, attuned to the challenges posed by postcolonialism and multiculturalism, the increasing globalisation of literature (but also its reverse trend, regionalisation), and the diversification of the market place. STUDIES IN WORLD LITERATURE encourages research which celebrates and critically assesses a phenomenon that can be understood, as Pheng Cheah points out, as the ‘literature of the world—imaginings and stories [...] that track and account for contemporary globalization as well as older historical narratives of worldhood’. World literature can be brought into dialogue with postcolonial writing through scrutiny of how it is written, read, circulated, and received transnationally within the contemporary circuit of global cultural capital. The series also responds to the need to examine the inherent contradictions in the concept of a world literature and dependence on a hegemonic (often English-centred) literary and critical discourse. The series seeks to address these tensions, and consequently welcomes: 1) volumes which debate such matters theoretically (including definitions of what counts as ‘world literature’ and the place of postcolonial literary production within this larger category); 2) comparative studies of texts and genres from different countries and cultures under common headings or concepts such as memory, ethics, and human rights. Volumes on national literatures, when these are set in a world/comparative or generic context, will also be considered, and the series will include discussions of other complementary aspects of discourse, narratology, and media. While writing by ‘canonical’ authors will be covered, the series will additionally propose wider cultural and intellectual genealogies for ‘minor’ or occluded writers. A key aim of this series is to redeploy the familiar rhetoric of postcolonial theory and discourse in relation to concepts relevant to world literature by introducing arguments that will be integrated with the evidence of individual literary practice. This emphasis on contesting definitions of ‘diasporic’ or ‘postcolonial’ writing, ‘transnational’ or ‘transcultural’ literatures and ‘world’ literature as used by writers, critics and thinkers may lead to a reconsideration of the boundaries that divide and intersections that link these related fields. Recent volumes: 1 Nadia Anwar Dynamics of Distancing in Nigerian Drama A Functional Approach to Metatheatre ISBN 978-3-8382-0862-6

2 Vincent van Bever Donker Recognition and Ethics in World Literature Religion, Violence, and the Human ISBN 978-3-8382-0867-1

3 Bruce King From New Literatures to World Literatures Essays and Reviews ISBN 978-3-8382-0876-3

Bruce King

FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Essays and Reviews

ibidem-Verlag Stuttgart

Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at http://dnb.d-nb.de.

Bibliografische Information der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek verzeichnet diese Publikation in der Deutschen Nationalbibliografie; detaillierte bibliografische Daten sind im Internet über http://dnb.d-nb.de abrufbar.

ISBN-13: 978-3-8382-6856-9

© ibidem-Verlag / ibidem Press Stuttgart, Germany 2016 Alle Rechte vorbehalten Das Werk einschließlich aller seiner Teile ist urheberrechtlich geschützt. Jede Verwertung außerhalb der engen Grenzen des Urheberrechtsgesetzes ist ohne Zustimmung des Verlages unzulässig und strafbar. Dies gilt insbesondere für Vervielfältigungen, Übersetzungen, Mikroverfilmungen und elektronische Speicherformen sowie die Einspeicherung und Verarbeitung in elektronischen Systemen.

All rights reserved No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronical, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

To Adele

Table of contents I. Introduction Chapter 1: Introduction ............................................................................................ 3 Chapter 2 How with the Help of Derry Jeffares I (an American) Became a Commonwealth Literature Specialist......................................... 29  II. African Literature Chapter 3 Those Magical Years: The Making of Nigerian Literature at Ibadan: 1948‐1966 ....................................................................... 39  Chapter 4 The Emergence of African Fiction ............................................... 47  Chapter 5 Thoughts on African Literature .................................................... 59  Chapter 6 African Literature and Aesthetics ............................................... 71  Chapter 7 Is There a Nigerian Literature? .................................................... 77  Chapter 8 Abioseh Nicol ..................................................................................... 105  Chapter 9 Gabriel Okara ..................................................................................... 109  Chapter 10 The Revised Arrow of God ......................................................... 135  Chapter 11 Wole Soyinka and the Nobel Prize for Literature ........... 147  III. New English Literatures Chapter 12 Nationalism, Internationalism, Periodization, and Commonwealth Literature................................................................................ 157  Chapter 13 Protest, Alienation and Modernism in the New Literatures ................................................................................................................ 169  Chapter 14 The Commonwealth Writer in Exile ..................................... 183  Chapter 15 Ethnicity as Response: Richler, Achebe and Naipaul .... 191 

VII

IV. Australia, Canada, New Zealand Chapter 16 The Role of American Literature in Colonial and Post‐Colonial Cultures ........................................................................................ 207  Chapter 17 Canadian and New Zealand Jewish Writers: A Contrast Between Mordecai Richler and Charles Brasch ............... 221  Chapter 18 A.D. Hope and Australian Poetry ........................................... 235  Chapter 19 Randolph Stow’s Novels of Exile ............................................ 259  Chapter 20 Frank Moorhouse, Grand Days (1994) ................................ 275  Chapter 21 Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing .................................................. 279  V. West Indies Chapter 22 Anand’s Recherche du Temps Perdu ...................................... 293  Chapter 23 Who Has Written Better? .......................................................... 313  Chapter 24 Garth St. Omer: From Disorder to Order ............................ 315  Chapter 25 West Indian Drama and the Rockefeller Foundation, 1957‐70: Derek Walcott, The Little Carib and The University of the West Indies .......................................................................... 333  Chapter 26 A Witness to Culture .................................................................... 349  Chapter 27 Derek Walcott’s The Bounty (1998) ..................................... 353  Chapter 28 Religion and Education in Derek Walcott’s St Lucia ..... 355  Chapter 29 Contextualizing Walcott ............................................................. 369  Chapter 30 White Egrets, Derek Walcott (2010) .................................... 377 VI. Internationalizing British Literature Chapter 31 Who Wrote The Satanic Verses? (1988) .............................. 381  Chapter 32 David Dabydeen’s A Harlot’s Progress (2000) ................. 389  Chapter 33 Abdulrazak Gurnah and Hanif Kureishi: Failed Revolutions ................................................................................................ 395  VIII

Chapter 34 Mike Phillips and the Making of Black British Literature ...................................................................................... 409  VII. Indian Literature Chapter 35 Modern Indian and American Poetry: Some Contacts and Relations ........................................................................... 421  Chapter 36 Keki Daruwalla: Outsider, Skeptic and Poet ..................... 443  Chapter 37 That Preface, Nissim Ezekiel Remembered ......................... 465  Chapter 38 2004: Ezekiel, Moraes, Kolatkar ............................................. 473  Chapter 39 A Personal Moon: Adil Jussawalla .......................................... 497  Chapter 40 To Be Or Not To Be Diasporic .................................................. 503  Chapter 41 Narcopolis By Jeet Thayil ........................................................... 529  VIII. Muslims and Pakistan Chapter 42 From Twilight to Midnight: Muslim Novels of India and Pakistan ................................................................................................ 537  Chapter 43 Alamgir Hashmi’s Poetry: Pakistan, Modernity and Language .......................................................................................................... 555  Chapter 44 Jamil Ahmad, The Wandering Falcon (2011) .................... 571  Chapter 45 Kamila Shamsie's Novels of History, Exile and Desire .... 573  Chapter 46 Dangerous Controversies .......................................................... 595  Acknowledgments ................................................................................................ 611 Index ........................................................................................................................... 617

IX

I. Introduction





Chapter 1 Introduction I have been writing about literature for sixty years. The fol‐ lowing pages consist of a selection that I and others have made from my essays, articles, and reviews about what is variously called New National, Commonwealth, Postcolonial, International, and World Eng‐ lish literature. The many names for a developing body of literature is itself significant and the republished pieces, besides their individual interest, can be read as a story about how a major area of literary study has developed and the political and cultural changes it repre‐ sents. Such a story told through reviews of literature is bound to be personal, even autobiographical, influenced by where I taught and what interested me at the time along with what was happening in the literary and cultural world and the concepts and associations that were being created. Someone with a different life and different publi‐ cations would tell a somewhat different story, but except for some jug‐ gling of the chronology it would probably tell a similar tale of how the centrality of British literature was challenged by the development of other national literatures until it was commonly accepted that we live during a time of International or World Literature. This possibility was anticipated in the title of the journal World Literature Written in English (1973–2004), the direct progeni‐ tor of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing (2005–), founded and long edited by Janet Wilson who is also co‐editor of the series in which these selected essays and reviews are republished. In what I now re‐ gard as the early stages of this literary and cultural revolution, I com‐ missioned and edited a book titled Literatures of the World in English (1974); for those involved the scent of the future was already in the air. The following pages are in eight sections: 1) Introduction and Derry Jeffares, 2) African Literature, 3) Commonwealth or New Litera‐ tures?, 4) West Indian Literature, 5) Writers from Australia, Canada,

3

4 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE New Zealand, 6) Internationalising British Literature, 7) Indian Liter‐ ature, and 8) Pakistani and Muslim Writing.

Starting Irish and Commonwealth Studies The collection starts with an autobiographical essay to intro‐ duce myself, but also so those unfamiliar with the history of this field can learn about A. Norman “Derry” Jeffares who shaped the organising and promotion of the study of the new English literatures in England, the Commonwealth, and in Europe. Those reading International Eng‐ lish or Postcolonial literatures today are, probably without being aware of it, indebted to him. Although not a literary critic, theorist, and certainly not an intellectual, he changed the shape of literary studies at a time when it still primarily meant the literature of England. Born in Ireland, trained as a classicist, he was not at ease in the many literary and cultural disputes of the period, but he was an organiser, an entrepreneur among literary studies, someone who saw signs of the future and knew how to speed it up while making use of it. Already as a schoolboy he had written to and obtained an un‐ published poem from W. B. Yeats for his school magazine. After Yeats’s death he obtained Yeats’s papers from the widow and wrote a monu‐ mental study of the author’s life and work. He was 30 years old when appointed to a named university professorship in Australia, and when he moved to Leeds University, England, where I was working towards a doctorate, he began to reconstruct English studies by introducing courses in American literature (then rare in England) and Common‐ wealth Literature, holding the first conference for the study of Com‐ monwealth Literature at Leeds during the summer of 1964; he was co‐founder of the Association for the study of Anglo‐Irish literature (1970). He also started the journal ARIEL (A Review of International English Literature). If I and others taught in Africa, New Zealand, Can‐ ada, or Australia, it was because Jeffares made the contacts, wrote rec‐ ommendations, and was persuasive.

I. INTRODUCTION 5 While literary, social, and cultural snobs, and, yes, racists were still mocking “colonial” writers and manners, Jeffares was building a network of young scholars who would write about and teach courses in the literatures of Africa, Ireland, the Commonwealth and who often knew many of the writers personally. I shared in the excitement and opportunities of this period of decolonization when the political and cultural assertion of former colonies and British dominions required the establishment of many new universities and emphasis on local his‐ tory, society, and arts. My essay was published in a collection titled A Shaping of Connections (1989) devoted to pioneers of Commonwealth literary studies intended to honor Jeffares’ role. There were others with different, wrong ideas, about how to shape the study of the then rapidly‐evolving world English literature. An American professor at the University of Texas (and an influence on the creation of the journal World Literature Written in English) recog‐ nised that the world was changing and it was necessary to be aware of literature outside England and the USA, but he felt that the place in which the writing was set made it part of that national literature: a Graham Greene novel set in Sierra Leone was a work of African liter‐ ature, an Anthony Burgess novel could be Malaysian literature. A few others teaching in the United States offered pioneering university courses in the English literature outside England and America, in other words writing from the British colonies and dominions. There were such literatures and a few dutiful books about them, but their histories began to be interesting only with the emergence of a body of writing and major authors that accompanied post‐World War II decol‐ onization. Just as the United States was promoting and helping finan‐ cially to support American literature and American Studies during the Cold War, so England had an interest in transforming the British Com‐ monwealth into a Commonwealth of independent nations, and this at first was the natural first stage for the study of world English litera‐ ture before it became entangled with other awarenesses such as dias‐ poras, gender, and the construction of society, nation and culture. Jeffares was the creative outsider who ignored the snob‐ beries, critical theories and academic cults that shaped English studies

6 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE at the time. He earned money and prestige from creating such influen‐ tial series of books as Writers and Critics, and built up the study of Commonwealth Literature at Leeds University, other provincial Eng‐ lish universities, and abroad, long before Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and other, older, established universities recognised that literary studies had to change because of the writing that was coming from newly independent nations and cultural decolonization. I had thought of including in this selection my early essay “Yeats’s Irishry Prose” from Centenary Essays on the Art of W. B. Yeats (Ibadan University Press, 1965: 122‐136). It might have seemed an odd‐ ity, especially as I had written about African literature earlier, but that was mostly about Francophonic African literature which along with black American writing was the starting place for many of us who became in‐ terested in the new English language literature that was appearing in Af‐ rica. I mention my essay on Yeats as transitional at a time when critics were asking how literature and the use of English from the United States, Ireland and England differ from each other. Soon we would be asking the same questions about writing from such nations as Nigeria, Australia, and India, but the issues first became apparent with American literature and how it might be unlike literature written in England. Not just different in setting and subject matter but also in language, rhythm, conventions, lit‐ erary kinds. American literature could be said to be the primal postcolo‐ nial literature in English and from the nineteenth century onwards pre‐ sented alternatives to writers from British colonies and dominions. Americans such as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and William Carlos Wil‐ liams showed what might be done with local material, local speech and voices, and how to invent new literary styles distinctive from those com‐ mon to England. While the Irish literary movement that accompanied Irish na‐ tionalism provided examples of how to create national literature, its very characteristics, the association of the peasant and rural speech with authenticity, would eventually limit its influence. It essentialized folk culture and the past as the true nation, a useful position during a period of cultural assertion against a colonizer but reactionary when the independent nation needs to participate in the modern world. The

I. INTRODUCTION 7 American example was more fruitful in offering both an alternative to England and in often being more at ease in modern literature, culture, and society. It had an immediacy formerly found in late Elizabethan and seventeenth‐century British literature but which had been lost over the centuries. Looking at my Yeats essay now, I can see how his prose be‐ longed both to the search for authenticity and being part of contem‐ porary literature. Throughout the English speaking world dialect was associated with nationalism as local political and cultural movements began to challenge the British Empire. Yeats also regarded his turn to‐ wards oral English, dialect, even Biblical English, as a rejection of the new mass culture, the tyranny of print, the ready‐made language and clichés of the newspapers and received opinions. The turn towards di‐ alect and the folk was part of modernism’s reaction to the new mass culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While the Irish literary movement anticipated the political assertion of dialect and local speech by West Indian, African, Australian, and Indian writ‐ ers, the politics were already there; James Joyce’s Stephen Daedalus for example was aware of the politics of language and how British and Irish usage of the same word differed.

African Literature Later Irish studies would become part of postcolonial studies, but first there was the influential development of African literature, which became the engine leading to awareness that decolonization was changing the literary as well as the political order. The emergence of a modern African literature was associated with the independence period, but was complicated by claims to a continental African or even a transatlantic Black (the word then was “Negro”) culture as opposed to European or white rationalism and rigidity. There were varieties of Negritude going back at least to the Harlem Renaissance but each pro‐ claimed authenticity in emotions, rhythms, the past. As more Africans began to articulate what they saw as their own culture, such generalities were questioned and often replaced by

8 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE tribe or ethnicity rather than nationality. If European history was about heroes, wars and conquests, why not celebrate African warriors and emperors? For some it seemed more intelligent to contextualize an author’s work in relationship to tribe (Yoruba, Igbo) or directly to political and social history (sometimes colonialism but also to inter‐ tribal relationships in the past). It was also important to separate writ‐ ings in different languages as it was becoming obvious that, say, writ‐ ers in English were influenced differently than those in Spanish, Por‐ tuguese, or French; present in their work were literary and cultural traditions in their own tribal language. This was made obvious by Wole Soyinka but could also be seen in the works of other African au‐ thors. Amos Tutuola’s reading of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was unlikely to be duplicated by Francophonic African writers as was the relationship of his tales to the Yoruba fiction of D. O. Fagunwa. The related issues I discuss in reviews and essays of this pe‐ riod are whether the African novel is about community rather than the individual (a more theorized version of this was later offered as the novel about the nation rather than the individual), whether Afri‐ can literature was an assertion of African culture (yes as far as a reply to the colonizer or racists, but cultural assertion would be a passing phase and would become reactionary and inhibit larger perspectives) or whether it was another version of contemporary European and American literature. It can now be seen that such writing was of its period, the search for authenticity (tribal, racial, social) that accompanied inde‐ pendence. Achebe for example questioned the authenticity of Nigeria in contrast to the village and tribe. He and Soyinka were responding to the obvious corruption in their society while at the same time re‐ plying to simplifications made about the African past. Achebe, for ex‐ ample, wanted to show that Africa had not been unchanging before the arrival of the white man, and he blamed the corruption common to Nigeria upon a class of interpreters who translated between Euro‐ peans and Africans. Soyinka was less sympathetic to the idealization of the African past, more fascinated by those transitional between cul‐

I. INTRODUCTION 9 tures, and based his writings on his own synergetic mythology of Yo‐ ruba traditions and symbolism. It might be argued that the various at‐ tempts to find a tribal basis for African literatures ended with Ben Okri’s The Famished Road (1991), which synthesized mythologies and symbols from various tribal groups to write an allegorical fantasy that was felt to be about Nigeria. From my standpoint the question of whether there were tribal writings or a Nigerian literature was ended by the Nigerian civil war (1967‐70) that was fought to prove that there was one nation. I edited the first book‐length Introduction to Ni‐ gerian Literature (1971) during the war against the Biafran succes‐ sion and had friends on both sides. As I have written on Soyinka and Achebe in my New English Literatures (1980) I decided to include here essays on two slightly ear‐ lier writers who are often overlooked although they are very good, Gabriel Okara and Abioseh Nicol. They were, I think, more concerned with the problems of biculturalism and the racial overtones of using English than Achebe or Soyinka. National boundaries were vague to such writers, who regarded British West Africa as a continuum. I do include an essay on Achebe’s revisions to The Arrow of God, as his re‐ writings within the novel demonstrate his concern with the art of fic‐ tion; he was not just writing back against Imperialism. I wrote mostly about the literature of Nigeria, as that was where I lived and taught for ten years. There was at that time a cultural nervous system that ran through West Africa from Paris and London to South Africa. I have not reprinted small articles I wrote on some writers from Ghana and South Africa, which can be found in such books as the Routledge Ency‐ clopaedia of Postcolonial Literatures. (1994), but I did not write about East African authors. Although I read their books they were not part of my immediate world and their concerns were different: I felt that they too often were sacrificing their art to politics and I privately ques‐ tioned the direction of their politics. My African literary and cultural world at the time was Nigerian; I say cultural because I occasionally wrote on African music and would have included some of those writ‐ ings here if (my continuing lament) I had more space.

10 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE There are always those who claim that you should not judge foreign literature or art by the standards you have learned in your own culture, but I would not have instinctively known who were the best writers in Africa if I, and the writers themselves, were unfamiliar with the classics of English and European literature. I thought it pat‐ ronizing to talk of Nigerian or any African writing in English as if it were something requiring an anthropological perspective. There is continuity between past and present within the arts; the present builds upon the past even as it changes and claims to rev‐ olutionize it. If I taught and wrote about seventeenth‐century English literature, it was because Shakespeare, Donne, and Marvell were part of a modern, or at least Modernist, literary sensibility. If my interest in jazz and drumming had not led me to Africa, I probably would have written about my contemporaries Tony Harrison, Geoffrey Hill and others I knew in England. They were part of the English literature that I read and among the writers that I knew, successors of the writers of the past. At first I did not need to choose as there was a continuum between African and European writing at that time and Tony Harri‐ son, James Simmons, and Geoffrey Hill (all of whom I knew in Leeds along with Wole Soyinka) taught for periods at universities in Nigeria, just as writers in Ghana, Kenya and India often had a Leeds, or other British university connection, and were appointed to the new univer‐ sities when they returned home. The universities created after the Second World War to pro‐ vide a governing elite through the former British Empire were also where the new national literatures flourished. The writers were lec‐ turers, research fellows, students or in other ways affiliated; there were literary journals and publishing houses; new courses were cre‐ ated for national, regional, or Commonwealth writing. The University of Ibadan was regarded as where the new Nigerian literature began. Literary and other cultural movements often begin at universities or in urban areas where there is a concentration of young restless talents and energies. That there was in the 1960s and 70s a contradiction be‐ tween such places and notions that authenticity was rural, tribal, or in

I. INTRODUCTION 11 the past is obvious now as is the theme in Nigerian and other Com‐ monwealth writings of the period. Many of my essays and reviews questioned what were then received notions of African culture.

New English Literatures? My decade of teaching in Nigeria and interest in Nigerian and other African literatures in English led on to what was then known as Commonwealth or New English Literature as the various former parts of the British Empire found themselves independent yet with shared commonalities, one of which was that each nation around the same period found itself with an emerging literature that required attention because of quality, quantity and politics. The literatures were taught at the new universities and the texts often had similar themes treating aspects of decolonization whether critical of the colonizer or defend‐ ing what remained useful from the imperial culture against those who wanted some immediate nativisation. What, we were asking, did Ni‐ geria, Ghana, South Africa, India, Canada, New Zealand, Australia have in common beyond having been ruled in the past by the British. How and why did they differ? Because of their shared history of British rule, law, culture, manners and society, an Indian, Nigerian, Australian, or Canadian might find more in common than with an American. The mu‐ tual support and recognition of a shared heritage continues in the in‐ ternational Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (ACLALS), its many regional and national branches, their con‐ ferences and publications. The Commonwealth also provides some protection and familiarity against American dominance. Many of the authors I was writing about are now famous, some were awarded international prizes, Soyinka, Gordimer, Walcott, Naipaul became Nobel Laureates; what had seemed a few decades ago a novelty rapidly became the most important literary movement since Modernism. What was it to be called? Commonwealth Literature too obviously recalled British Commonwealth, but New English or New National ignored what were long local histories. When I told a cousin I was now writing about Commonwealth Literature she thought I

12 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE meant mid‐seventeenth‐century England under Oliver Cromwell. Eventually Postcolonial would become a generally used term, but in‐ stead of being descriptive of an historical period it implied that the common and continuing concern of the writers was the encounter with Europe and still on‐going challenges to its political, cultural, so‐ cial effects. It is possible that the future will divide the emergence of World English Literature into two phases: New National and Com‐ monwealth Literature followed by Postcolonial and World English Lit‐ erature, similar to how we now see the years before 1940 as Modern‐ ist and after as Late Modernism. There is also the problem of minorities. The writers in the newly independent nations had a direct relationship to former elites and were part of a minority well educated in English language and cul‐ ture; they were products of universities abroad or of the new univer‐ sities that were founded at independence. Writers were often raised in families of teachers, journalists, pastors, those with cultural inter‐ ests. They were from educated minorities within their own communi‐ ties. So the new literatures were products of natives educated in the languages, values, and thinking of the colonizer and this caused a con‐ tinuing tension in their relationship to independence. Often it was a minority who had mastered the codes of their masters and became the so‐called clerks of the empire. There were other minorities. In many of the Commonwealth nations Jews played a disproportionate role in the creation of a na‐ tional culture and literature. In writing about this I was not concerned about the emphasis on literature and culture among Jews nor the role of culture in assimilation; I was more interested in how their other‐ ness helped shape their ethnicity as writers, a smaller topic, but a starting place. Some more politically attuned would question the right of minorities to be considered voices of the majority, others would see that throughout the former empires it would be those who both be‐ longed locally and shared in the imperial cultures who had to take over leadership roles and also become the writers of the decolonizing nations. Still later, other kinds of “minorities”, such as women, femi‐

I. INTRODUCTION 13 nists, less powerful social and tribal groups, sexual minorities, diaspo‐ ras, regions, would claim the right to be represented in the national culture and they would be supported by the questioning of the nation and its culture as a unity; such deconstruction of the social imaginary would become common to postcolonialism as it challenged the nation‐ alism that was part of the first stage of the decolonization. Commonwealth and New English Literature were followed by Postcolonialism. One reason was that American academics felt left out by the term Commonwealth, but more significantly Postcolonialism was a product of those against what was thought of as a history of Western imperialism, a movement that was developing on the politi‐ cal Left after the war in Vietnam. Books written by some Common‐ wealth literary critics tried to head off the potential delegitimatization of the white settlers by claiming that they as much as third world peo‐ ple were opponents of imperialism and that their authors wrote back against the empire. This, however, also meant recognizing and pro‐ moting the literature of the supposed original peoples whether met‐ ropolitans who wrote in English or the oral literature in precolonial languages. There was another problem. Postcolonialism was and remains shaped by political con‐ cerns, but it also moved away from the evaluation and promotion of literature into realms of theory, then fashionable in universities. There were serious discussions of the differences between Postcolo‐ nial, Post‐colonial, Post‐Colonial, even how Post‐colonial differs from postcolonialism, etc, etc, etc. If you think I am being humorous read the three essays on postcolonialism in the book I edited, New National and Post‐Colonial Literatures (1996). I seldom wrote about Postcolonial Theory. I found its assump‐ tions and rhetoric confusing as it seemed wedded to notions of oppos‐ ing all forms of colonialism and quibbling over authenticity and what was or was not politically correct. I find such politics boring, safe ra‐ ther than revolutionary. Under colonialism it was dangerous to ques‐ tion the governing culture; after independence decolonization be‐ came government policy and the academics who proclaimed it had

14 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE safe university jobs. The purposefully abstract language and general‐ izations of theorists were contrary to the plain descriptive prose I con‐ tinued to train myself to write. I read the basic texts on literary and postcolonial theory as they appeared and they are sometimes re‐ flected in my essays but I decided not to include any of my writings about theory here as I continue to question its methods and use, alt‐ hough it still dominates academic studies. It remains possible to be a literary critic and still imagine that you are writing for readers who enjoy literature and who do not re‐ gard it and all culture as disguised politics. I wrote about many au‐ thors who I do not have space to include here―Nadine Gordimer, Janet Frame, Patrick White, Wilson Harris, R. K. Narayan, Robertson Davies, Doris Lessing, Frank Sargeson, Edward Brathwaite, Ruth Prawer Jhab‐ vala. I reviewed and wrote short encyclopedic pieces about too many others―Trevor Rhone, George Walker, Kofi Anyidoho, Ken Saro‐ Wiwa, Francis Ebejer, Al Purdy. But I was discovering a seemingly ever expanding literary universe before it would be fragmented into specialized courses, postcolonialism, and aspects of this and that.

Some Commonwealth Writers The “White Commonwealth” and India were British domin‐ ions rather than colonies and they had for longer periods creative writing in English, although they lacked good critical studies in con‐ trast to chronological enumerations; university courses about their literature were rare. Beyond the politics of culture there were the tasks of trying to trace the history of such literatures (my essay on A. D. Hope) and writing about the new authors who were then publish‐ ing (Randolph Stow, Frank Moorhouse, Margaret Atwood). Older na‐ tional literary histories seldom showed much analysis, evaluation and judgment; newer histories by contrast were aware of creating a canon of major or significant authors and texts along the lines of the British canon that they were challenging and replacing. Later such high

I. INTRODUCTION 15 standards would be challenged by those committed to feminist, envi‐ ronmental, materialist, or other movements but first they had to be proclaimed, explained and demonstrated. A difference between writing about Shakespeare and a mod‐ ern writer is that you can meet your contemporaries and even some‐ times discuss their work with them. I knew or came to know many of those I wrote about. I knew Soyinka, Okigbo, Clark and others in Nige‐ ria. I had long admired A. D. Hope as a literary critic and as a poet; I went to see him the first time I visited Australia. I had republished his essay on John Dryden’s play All for Love in one of the first books that I edited and I invited Hope to contribute an essay to my Dryden’s Mind and Art. Which brings me back to Derry Jeffares. Derry had started the Mind and Art series of books about major writers. I met Randolph Stow at Jeffares’ house in Leeds as he was staying with them and was, I understood, an old friend from Australia. When Stow’s novels were first published in the USA I was teaching at an American university and I was a founding member of the American Association of Australian Literary Studies and wrote my essay for its new journal Antipodes. Stow interested me as he was regarded as a follower of Patrick White and had a similar mix of mysticism, interna‐ tional travel, and experimental writing; both wrote about the less ur‐ ban areas of Australia as if they were the authentic nation. Stow’s in‐ volvement with linguistics, Taoism, even his retreat to England as a cultural home seemed personal and unlike others I was reading. Moorhouse was someone I had met when I was teaching in Paris; he read from his work at a conference I organized on the New Literatures. I had already known his earlier publications as they were part of an Australian breakthrough into what at the time, the 1970s, was thought of as a post‐modernism as Peter Carey, Michael Wilding and others portrayed contemporary urban life and enjoyed using up‐ to‐date speech and playing with the conventions of fiction. Whereas Australian fiction had too often been gray, serious, realistic, they were self‐consciously scandalous, amusing, and a sign that rebellious times had reached down under. I was a Professor of English in New Zealand and regularly reviewing new books by Australian writers.

16 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE I had seen and briefly spoken with Atwood at several Com‐ monwealth Literature conferences. More important I was teaching in Canada when Canadians were going through a phase of nationalist cultural assertion and I knew the context in which her early works were written. That coincided with the feminist movement, another strong, perhaps more lasting, influence in her work. I have included my essay on Atwood’s Surfacing as having concerns about the United States―their powerful southern neighbor being an obvious threat to Canadians―but also because the American influence was especially strong and attractive during the period after the Second World War and the Cold War with the Soviet Union. As the world became increasingly Americanized there was a reaction and what had been liberating now felt like a new colonization. It was per‐ haps the lack of success of the Americans in Vietnam, the American invasion of Iraq, and the American attempt to drag others along as al‐ lies, which caused a reaction.

West Indian Literature My interests in African and Commonwealth literature led to West Indian literature. After organizing a book of essays about Nige‐ rian literature it seemed natural to next plan a book about West Indian Literature (1979) as my students would see it as a kindred literature because of its themes, its supposed racial affiliations, its troubled re‐ lationship to England, and because the West Indies were being given political independence around the same time as Nigeria; they shared in the great movement for political and cultural decolonization and their literatures came to general attention in the same historical pe‐ riod. Nigeria and the West Indies in fact were socially and cultur‐ ally very different. The hopes of a West Indian Federation soon shat‐ tered into many independent states, but the notion of a West Indian literature remained although each nation differed in its history, soci‐ ety, cultures, and racial composition.

I. INTRODUCTION 17 V. S. Naipaul is obviously a great writer and disliked by many for his politics and attitudes. His ironies and skepticism and the details of his fiction called into question the entire notion that decolonization was an absolute universal good for the formerly colonized. Here was a new writer from the Indian community in Trinidad mocking the transatlantic black celebration of independence and suggesting that there was still much to be said for the European empires and their culture. Although I have only included two essays on Naipaul―both concerned with his art―my critical study V. S. Naipaul (1993, revised 2003) begins by examining the social and political contexts of the Trinidad in which he was raised, where indentured Indian immigrants replaced the freed black slaves on plantations and themselves were ruled by black politicians, a situation that caused much violence in the decades leading up to and after independence. This was a different view of decolonization than the supposed absolute good I and most liberals held. There were intellectuals who demanded Marxist na‐ tions, opposed national governments as neo‐colonial, argued for the return to imagined ancient communities, and other further decoloni‐ zation, but they seemed unaware or unconcerned with the minorities who claimed to be oppressed or outsiders, although they did discover that the white dominions, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, were established, often violently, over earlier occupants (Indians, aborigi‐ nals, Maoris) and it became a social‐cultural necessity among the pro‐ gressive‐minded to use the latest vocabulary to describe such “origi‐ nal people”, the imperial history that led to their oppression, and their present condition. If I sound disillusioning it is not because I oppose or disagree, but because such causes seemed a distraction and too often influenced literary judgment. Achebe and Soyinka were critical of what national independence and decolonization had brought; Naipaul and Derek Walcott, although they would end up polar opposites to each other, were both clearly major writers, and both were disdainful about how Trinidad and the West Indies were developing politically since inde‐ pendence. As I was more interested in poetry and drama than the

18 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE novel, I wrote often about Walcott. I wanted to look into his life and its contexts, the results of which can be found in my two books Derek Walcott and West Indian Drama (1995) and Derek Walcott: A Carib‐ bean Life (2000). I began decades previously reading Naipaul and Walcott and writing about them as early in their careers they gained international attention. I decided not to reprint here chapters about them from my books and a long review essay on Walcott’s poetry and plays that has been anthologized. I decided instead to republish an early essay from a French academic magazine on Garth St Omer, a now forgotten nov‐ elist from Walcott’s St Lucia, as he has fallen out of the West Indian canon. I also decided to include several essays showing the range of Walcott’s interests and contexts, including establishing a West Indian theatre, the importance of the Methodists in the Caribbean, and that Walcott shares many of the same concerns as his contemporaries. Despite the differences between St Lucia and Trinidad, and between Walcott and Naipaul politically and ethnically, they both, as does St Omer, come from the Eastern Caribbean, which is unlike Ja‐ maica, the region that has too often been perceived as the model for writing about the West Indies. To claim that the new literatures were mostly about the empire writing back is a simplification. Each society has its own history, conflicts, influences, and politics; literary critics should either stick to describing the characteristics of a text or spend time learning about the actual contexts in which the author was raised and lives. The good will and generalities that were part of the promo‐ tion of African and other new literatures were being overtaken by the need for more serious study of the life and specific context of an au‐ thor.

Internationalizing British Literature There were now too many authors and many had become too successful to pretend we were still discovering a new world. When preparing a second edition of my West Indian Literature (1995) I felt I had to have chapters on writers outside the Caribbean, but how was

I. INTRODUCTION 19 it possible to squeeze into one chapter discussion of the works of such significant different British West Indians as David Dabydeen, Caryl Phillips, James Berry, Pauline Melville, E. A. Markham, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Fred D’Aguiar? And there were Mike Phillips, Grace Nich‐ ols, John Agard and many others. Probably as many West Indian writ‐ ers in England deserved attention as those remaining in the Carib‐ bean. The days and nights of Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners (1956) were over. Decades passed, and West Indians such as V S Nai‐ paul and Wilson Harris had settled in England. Others had come to England when young, or were born in England, many were second generation British, and had their own stories to tell. England had also attracted communities of Africans, East African Indians, Indians, Paki‐ stani, Sri Lankans, along with Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, and Americans. It was a different, more cosmopolitan and interna‐ tional England than in the past as could be seen from the changing lit‐ erary scene. Asked to contribute a chapter to James Acheson’s book on The English and Irish Novel since 1960 (1991), I discussed Shiva Naipaul, Buchi Emechta, Salman Rushdie, Timothy Mo, and Kazuo Ishiguro as examples of “The New Internationalism”. I was later invited to propose a volume of the new Oxford English Literary History, which became The Internationalization of English Literature: 1948‐2000 (2004). 1948 was a starting point sym‐ bolized by the arrival after the war of many West Indian immigrants on S.S. Windrush and the story line became the change in conscious‐ ness as the early immigrants settled, were followed by communities of other immigrants, intermarried and had children of mixed origins, and became increasingly British, although British with a difference. The students, exiles, expatriates, and diasporas of the past were a rec‐ ognized history of contemporary England and would seem parts of the society and culture; it was the more recent immigrants from Eastern Europe and Muslim and Arab lands who were now regarded as prob‐ lems. I include here a conference talk I gave on Mike Phillips, whose “black” West Indian detective novels showed that the former immi‐

20 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE grant communities of England were creating a literature that went be‐ yond the troubles of arrival and settling. I include a review of David Dabydeen’s A Harlot’s Progress as the novel and Dabydeen’s previous books were part of the recovery of an older “black” presence in Eng‐ lish that brought attention to such notable eighteenth‐century writers as Ignatius Sancho and Ottobah Cugoano. Rediscovery and recogni‐ tion of the continuing presence of black writers and even actors, along with Indians and West Indians, in England over at least three centu‐ ries were a necessity before England could come to terms with itself. My essay on Abdulrazah Gurnah and Hanif Kureishi was a chapter in a later book on the Contemporary English Novel (2005), co‐ edited by James Acheson. While they were writers whose work I read with interest, I also hoped to show that Muslims were not all part of the murderous fanaticism unleashed after the publication of The Sa‐ tanic Verses (1988). Rushdie as a British writer? Although he has become an inter‐ national writer at home in the United States after the British govern‐ ment seems to have become tired of protecting him, he had been edu‐ cated and long lived in England and was until the fatwa part of the London literary scene. He was one of a number of Indians who after the Partition settled in England, one of the many aliens who had be‐ come British. British literature had to include them in future and not regard them as birds of passage. They were part of British history and society and were creating its contemporary culture.

Indian Literature While I sometimes wrote about such earlier Indian authors as R. K. Narayan, my interest in India coincided with the publication of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981), the first Indian novel to be seen as a contemporary classic in the West. I came to Indian literature, however, through its English language poets rather than fiction. Jayanta Mahapatra had read my essay on A. D. Hope in Sewanee Review and sent me two volumes of his poetry and would send me issues of

I. INTRODUCTION 21 Chandrabhaga, an influential literary journal he edited from provin‐ cial Cuttack. This was a real discovery; no one in the books and jour‐ nals I read about Commonwealth literature had mentioned a flourish‐ ing English language poetry scene in India, and Mahapatra was new to me, although he had published in Poetry, Sewanee Review, and with the University of Georgia Press and would later appear in The New Yorker. I decided I had to investigate and I was happy to have an ex‐ cuse to visit India. My Modern Indian Poetry in English (1987) was the first of three books I was to write about Indian literature, actually four as the additional chapters in the “Revised” (2001) edition were in themselves a small book. I brought the first edition up to date with chapters on new authors as well as recent writing by those I had pre‐ viously discussed. After much hesitation I decided not to include here my essay “The Shapes of Solitude” from Madhusudan Prasad’s The Poetry of Jayanta Mahapatra (1986) as I had cannibalized it in my Modern In‐ dian Poetry in English (MIPE) and I felt that over the years I had noth‐ ing further to observe about Mahapatra. He was a great poet of the barely perceived, of nocturnal moods, of the nearly unsayable, who ei‐ ther repeated himself or more likely I was unable to appreciate the evolution of his work. Instead I decided to begin with an essay I wrote about the relations between this new poetry in English and the Amer‐ ican literary scene during the time when the Beats, Hippies, and Flower People were discovering India and the younger Indians were becoming a part of the American, especially the counter‐culture, liter‐ ary scene. Although later I would be asked how I could have discov‐ ered this history, I had been given it by the poets in India who wanted to tell me about and show me the American publications in which they appeared. The early essay on Keki Daruwalla is an exception to not re‐ publishing anthologized pieces but it has not appeared outside of In‐ dia. I had intended to supplement it with a later essay written as a re‐ view of Daruwalla’s Collected Poems (2006), but I have discussed the later poetry several times including in my ReWriting India (2014). Alt‐ hough Daruwalla has outgrown the tough guy personality of the early

22 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE poetry and is now a world traveler interested in history and other cul‐ tures and is more at ease at writing poetry in English than when he began, the early poems remain favorites and always gain approval when introduced to those coming across his work for the first time. It is not often that an excellent poet was also a police officer and head of national Intelligence. The quality of these poems was recognized by Robert Graves who, coming across them, began a correspondence with the author. Such poetry in English was a new start for twentieth‐century Indian literature after earlier novelists, such as Raja Mulk Anand, Raja Rao, B. Rajan, even R K Narayan, had focused on problems of cultural identity, the peasant, Brahmins, and seemed to imply an eternal, es‐ sential India that existed under the veneer of modernity. Another topic was the horrors of the Partition of India. Instead the new poets wrote about themselves and the world around them that varied from the dirty, dangerous, provincial cities to which Daruwalla was posted among strangers, to the discomforts, vanities, manners and sexual at‐ tractions of contemporary Bombay. Instead of an idealized or essen‐ tialized India, the poets wrote of individuals, actual experiences, their feelings and observations. They did not use artificial Sanskritized Eng‐ lish, write philosophically of the One of the One, or pretend India was a Brahmin society. The leader among the poets was Nissim Ezekiel, another writer and intellectual of Jewish origins at home in the modern world, and who returned from a period in London to create a place for him‐ self in Bombay. He mocked the semi‐literate, the idealization of the horrors of rural India, the pomposity and verbosity of politicians, the assumption that the true India was ancient, spiritualist or Brahmin. Secular, rational, intolerant of the inefficient and vague, he wrote po‐ etry, plays, literary and art criticism, politics, anything of interest to an intelligent observer of contemporary India. He recognized his own desires, sometimes enjoyed extramarital affairs, experimented with LSD, but remained married, ‐ a moralist who understood the dangers of romantic, political, and emotional excess. Writers in Bombay and

I. INTRODUCTION 23 elsewhere in India were influenced by his standards, tastes, and po‐ etry. He not only became leader of the pack he could be said to have created the pack. It is generally agreed that modern Indian poetry in English begins with him and those influenced by him and that the poets showed many of the next generation of prose writers, such as Amit Chaudhuri and Pankaj Mishra, that Indian life was a fit subject for lit‐ erature and that it could be written in English without either sounding imitatively British or inventing an artificial Indianised English. “That Essay” comes from Nissim Ezekiel Remembered (2008), a large book brought together after his death, containing tributes, scholarly stud‐ ies, interviews, and selections from Ezekiel’s poetry and prose. It was one of my several attempts to describe his poetry and his role in the creation of modern Indian poetry and culture. When Ezekiel and the two other major poets, Dom Moraes and Arun Kolatkar, died during 2004 it seemed not only the passing of a great period of Indian poetry but also of a time when Bombay had been a centre of creativity, a city comparable to Athens, Rome, Paris, New York, London, Alexandria. Almost mysteriously the poets, paint‐ ers, film makers, even those who illustrated advertisements, had learned, assimilated, and transformed the modern arts and emotions of Europe and the Americas into a contemporary Indian culture, and did so almost unnoticed by the rest of the world, which only recently became aware that this had been extraordinary. Often, as in the case of Arun Kolatkar, later publication in Eng‐ land and America or translation into French and German, was neces‐ sary both for worldwide recognition of the writer, and also to see how vital Bombay had been. Had been because it is generally agreed that this great period came to an end when a chaotically creative pluricul‐ tural Bombay was transformed into Marathi nationalist Hindu Mum‐ bai. The poet Jeet Thayil, who although younger was the literary heir to the earlier Bombay poets, wrote his novel Narcopolis (2011) as me‐ morial and celebration of the past and accusation of what killed it. Adil Jussawalla was central to this period, a friend of Ezekiel, Moraes, Kolatkar, an excellent poet, one of the founding editors of the

24 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE influential publishing co‐operative Clearing House, editor of the Pen‐ guin anthology, New Writing in India (1974), and a journalist who earned his living as a writer and editor for magazines and newspa‐ pers. The unexpected publication of his prose in Maps for a Mortal Moon (2014), selected and edited by another poet, revealed a continu‐ ity in his work, and some contradictions, of which I had not previously been aware. There was the cultural nationalist who opposed its sim‐ plifications and unsophisticated politics; there was a self‐mocking bourgeois Marxist; there was an amusing personality, who like most of the Bombay literary set of that time, drank and smoked too much; there was a tentativeness, an instinctive concern, an assertiveness, the continual resort to irony and self‐deflation, associations, allusions, im‐ ages, in other words a sophisticated complex serious writer publish‐ ing for a living in unlikely popular places. Jussawalla no longer was the past, he unexpectedly published several volumes of recent poetry. I had known Jussawalla for decades, indeed my Modern In‐ dian Poetry in English would not have been possible without his help; he was a repository of information and had kept otherwise forgotten texts, but he seemed increasingly overcome by ill health, disintoxica‐ tion, disagreements with publishers and other problems. Now sud‐ denly he was actively present and being described as a great prose writer and, I knew, the first serious academic studies were being pre‐ pared about his work. I decided to include my review of his selected prose here in preference to anything I wrote about his poetry, as I also wanted to indicate the popular urban cultural world of magazines, newspapers, anthologies, in which Indian literature survived, at times thrived, while being ignored by university English departments and when the only Indian literature to gain attention had to be exotic, self‐ consciously Indian, and published overseas. “To Be or not to Be” was written for a special issue of The Jour‐ nal of Postcolonial Writing guest edited by Jeet Thayil. It was written in New Delhi while I was staying with Sheela Bhatt, a well‐known jour‐ nalist who was Jeet’s mother‐in‐law. While the essay brings together many of the ideas I had formed over the decades about literature and other arts, especially music, it was shaped by my awareness that Jeet

I. INTRODUCTION 25 and his friends represented a new period of culture which travelled more rapidly and freely across national boundaries as do contempo‐ rary transportation, communication, goods, jobs and even industry. Their international lives were made possible by the new global econ‐ omy and ease of movement from country to country. National bound‐ aries had not been erased, but they were much easier to cross than in the past, and the movement of peoples had increased whether as ref‐ ugees, immigrants, emigrants, or the highly qualified that many uni‐ versities, businesses and nations sought. Nationalism would be reasserted in response, there would be calls to keep out the aliens, but it no longer made much sense to speak of exiles, expatriates, returns home, and other categories of the past. Nations had become or were increasing seen as pluricultural and whether you were or were not X or Y or Z was often a choice, a deci‐ sion to feel part of an international community whereas you could in‐ stead or simultaneously claim to be something else. The world or at least identities had become fluid, often optional.

Pakistan and Muslim writers Which brings this book to Pakistan and the identities of writ‐ ers abroad of Muslim origins. I had not given much attention to the conflicts between Islam and modern Western culture until I met the Pakistani poet Alamgir Hashmi at a Commonwealth Literature confer‐ ence in Germany. When he invited me and my wife to contribute es‐ says to The Worlds of the Muslim Imagination (1986), supposedly the first international anthology of its kind, I became interested in what Muslim Indian fiction and poetry existed previous to Midnight’s Chil‐ dren, and read for the first time the novelists Ahmed Ali and Attia Ho‐ sain, who seemed to me representative of the problems that the par‐ tition of India and the creation of Pakistan caused for many. Ahmed Ali moved to Pakistan and seemed to have little more to say. The Muslim culture and society of north India about which he wrote was over, memories, a lost past. The English and Urdu speaking

26 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Indians were strangers in the Pakistan they wanted. Attia Hosain, au‐ thor of the autobiographical novel, Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) remained in London where, from Distant Traveller (2013), a recently published selection of her writings, it appears she felt in‐ creasing an outsider as racism developed in response to large scale immigration. Rushdie was younger and educated in England, so the choice was less traumatic, and for Hanif Kureishi, (whose father had settled in England, married an English woman, and had no wish to re‐ turn “home”), Pakistan would be an unlikely designation unless it was a way of aggressing back against those who insulted you as a “Paki”. The freedoms and hedonism that Kureishi celebrated were, however, rejected by the Islamic militants of the next generation whom he de‐ picted in versions of the story “My Son the Fanatic”. Instead of assim‐ ilating, many younger Muslims wanted to separate and live by Islamic customs and laws. While some of Hashmi’s poetry was thin in texture, I found it enjoyable and was sympathetically interested in the problems of be‐ ing an English language Pakistani writer, as it seemed another exam‐ ple of how English, although the language of colonization, was also the language of modernization and cosmopolitanism in contrast to the as‐ sertion of a monoculture through enforcing some supposedly more authentic national language, which would be absurd in Pakistan where Urdu is also the language of an English speaking elite in con‐ trast to such local languages as Punjabi . I wrote about Hashmi, and then became interested in the fic‐ tion and theoretical writings of Zulfikar Ghose, and later the novels of Kamila Shamsie. Increasingly books by Pakistani and Muslim writers came to me for review and I looked forward to reading translations from Urdu Indian authors who were part of the Progressive Writers Movement. I became aware that the great Saadat Hasan Manto was under continual disapproval in Pakistan, had difficulty publishing and earning a living, and died a drunk at an early age. In his impressive novel Filming (2007) the Indian Marxist Muslim Tabish Khair, who lives in Denmark, blames the emigration of such artists on Hindu cap‐

I. INTRODUCTION 27 italists driving the small independent Muslim film makers from Bom‐ bay; military‐governed Pakistan, however, was unlikely to be support‐ ive of the bohemianism and outspokenness characteristic of Manto and others from the Bombay film industry. I flirted for a time with the notion of writing a book about Pa‐ kistani literature, and why it is different from Indian literature, and began a chapter on the novelist Bapsi Sidhwa, but I do not write about nations where I have not lived and it is too dangerous to spend suffi‐ cient time in Pakistan to see it through the eyes of its writers. Besides I had come to know Muneeza Shamsie, Kamila’s mother and herself a writer and critic and a niece of Attia Hosain, and she was preparing such a critical introduction. Books still came to me for review and even while I write this there is another review essay in my near future. Whether they will still come after the publication of the con‐ cluding essay in this collection remains to be seen. The international mobilization of Muslims against the freedoms of Western culture, which began with the demands that The Satanic Verses be banned, that Rushdie be killed, and the murder of translators and others associated with its publication, has continued with mass demonstrations, threats and killings over the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, and films offensive to Muslims. This also has led to de‐ mands that freedom of speech be curtailed if likely to cause offense to Muslims. As the liberty to express opinions and criticize even if it causes offense is the foundation of democracy, such demands seem religious tyranny. And they are expressed in the context of the Amer‐ ican, British‐supported, war against terrorism, the irony that attempts by the West to support democratic movements in the Islamic world have resulted in bombing Muslims, and that in the past there were other interventions in the Islamic world, such as the British over‐ throwing a democratically elected government in Iran and support of the Pakistani dictator Muhammed Zia‐ul‐Haq, and continuing support of Pakistan’s military as part of America’s campaigns against the Sovi‐ ets and later Al‐Qaeda in Afghanistan. Increasingly, Muslim writers

28 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE and intellectuals are claiming to be part of an international commu‐ nity discriminated against by, and opposed to, the West, which makes them even more suspect in the eyes of those expecting Muslim mod‐ erates to dissociate themselves from Islamic extremists. I live in Paris, where if you declare you are “not Charlie” it is understood that you approve of the murder of cartoonists and Jews. Which creates a crisis for liberals and progressives instinc‐ tively on the side of multiculturalism who are against racism and against imperialism. If support of liberation leads to self‐censorship, laws against expressing opinions, ignoring terrorists and accepting religious orthodoxy, something is wrong. This contradiction was, however, there from the beginning of the new national literatures where assertions of traditional culture against the colonizer often be‐ came the ideological foundation of tyranny, one party rule, and other distortions of social justice. Achebe, Soyinka, Walcott, and Ezekiel, claimed that freedom came first, but we are now hearing that respect is more important, that writers must represent their communities, that individualism and the independence of the artist are Western heresies. Muslims who reject such views are said to be unrepresenta‐ tive. The same dangerous controversies and temptations keep re‐ emerging in different forms, but almost always the claim to victim‐ hood is used to silence questions. To write back against the West at a time when Muslim societies are violently tearing themselves apart seems willful blindness. Accepting free speech and a less violent sen‐ sitivity towards possible offense are necessary for Muslims to present their case to Western society.

Chapter 2 How with the Help of Derry Jeffares I (an American) Became a Commonwealth Literature Specialist I came to Commonwealth literature by the way of jazz. I played drums and wanted to go to Africa, to the roots of jazz. I had read Amos Tutuola’s first novel soon after it was published when I was an undergraduate at Columbia University; then in Paris on holiday I met a young African writer who introduced me to Madame Rousseau (editor of Le Musée Vivant, author of several books on African culture, ‘aunt’ to many African students in Paris). At Maspero’s bookshop (later ‘plastiqued’ by the Right during the Algerian War) I became aware of Présence Africaine, Odu (the Yoruba journal edited by Ulli Beier), Senghor, Césaire and Negritude. After I started on a doctorate at Leeds University, Derry Jeffares became Head of English. As with many others my jobs and publications often depended on Derry as he became advisor to the new universities of the 1960s, editor of various magazines and the power behind the scenes in publishing. He con‐ vinced new doctorates and lecturers to leave England for university jobs in the Commonwealth and he brought Commonwealth scholars and writers to Leeds. Having broken from the ranks of those who fol‐ lowed the normal slow progress through a career, many of us (I con‐ fess) became high performers, difficult, unable to settle down; but the Irish side of Derry understood and found amusement in the uncon‐ ventional. There was a community of writers Leeds among the students and lecturers including Wole Soyinka, Geoffrey Hill, Jon Silkin, Tony Harrison and James Simmons which led to many links between British and third world writing. Adele, my wife, edited Geste, a French Depart‐ ment publication devoted to modern literatures. A special African is‐ sue (1960) was supposed to have Wole’s translation of some Nigerian writing. Instead he handed in a pseudo‐folk story he had written in pidgin. Not an authentic translation, it was at first rejected but was later published. 29

30 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE After doing my doctorate I taught in Canada during 1961‐62 at a time when Canadian Literature still often consisted of a couple of books tagged on to the end of a course in North American Literature. I went to the University of Ibadan, 1962‐65 on Derry’s recommenda‐ tion to Molly Mahood. Tony and Jimmy Simmons went to lectureships at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria. While at Zaria Tony began his modernizations of earlier drama; he and Jimmy published a Nigerian adaption of a Greek play. Wole, after trying to record his songs in Paris, returned to Ibadan on a Rockefeller Fellowship. This was the period when Christopher Okigbo, J.P. Clark, Wole and others were creating a modern Nigerian literature in English. Ulli Beier edited Black Orpheus, the Mbari Club was a place to meet, eat and hear African music, and there were many creative people in Ibadan including the West Indian novelists Ron Dathorne and Denis Williams. The English Department started an option of two examination papers on African literature. I learned to play Yoruba talking drums and wrote an article on West African High Life for Jazz Monthly. One night during the West Region crisis Wole held up the radio station and forced them to play a tape calling for the government to resign. Ron Dathorne had given me The Interpreters to review for Black Orpheus and I was going to mention this when I ran into Wole at the Ibadan University staff club. He had a gun tucked in his belt and was looking for Jimmy Simmons, who was in town for a conference, to drive him to Benin. The government kept Jimmy’s passport for months, and refused to let him leave the country. Derry recommended me to Frank Kermode at Bristol but as life seemed tame after Nigeria I accepted an invitation to a professor‐ ship at Lagos University (for which Derry had recommended me). The Department of English was good with J.P. Clark, Doug Killam, Daniel Izevbaye, Oyin Ogunba, and Tsaro‐Wiwa. But the courses were a mess, books had not been ordered and we had to cre‐ ate a new degree structure in English within days of my arrival. The African literature course was particularly messy as it had been seen as an extension of African Studies, with more books on African dance, religion and politics than literary texts. Since a course could only in‐ clude a limited number of set texts it was necessary to choose what

I. INTRODUCTION 31 was worth reading and why. I did not like most criticism of African literature at the time and felt we needed a book specifically on Nige‐ rian writing. I thought a Nigerian should edit it, but J.P. said that I would be regarded as more objective and that if he or his friends ed‐ ited it he would be accused of self‐promotion. Despite the civil war it was possible to get messages into Biafra and I unsuccessfully asked Ben Obumselu and others to contribute. J.P. got Paul Theroux, who was then teaching in Kenya, to write on Okigbo and everything fell into place without disagreement. I would have liked an essay on Ga‐ briel Okara but he had not then published enough. It seemed natural to include some essays on literature in the Nigerian languages. The problems came later as some essays were poorly written and needed much editing. Introduction to Nigerian Literature (1971) was the first book on any one African national literature and implied a canon. As it was still early in the study of African literature the writers could say what was obvious and necessary without becoming entangled in aca‐ demic blather. Such innocence would be impossible today. While I still thought myself a seventeenth‐century literature specialist I started tutoring in African Literature at Lagos and when I went to the University of Windsor in Canada (1970‐73) I offered a course in African Literature and supervised a thesis on Nadine Gordi‐ mer. I had not run into much anti‐white prejudice in Nigeria and was surprised by the anti‐American emotions in Canada that was going through the tail end of the counter‐culture and a period of extreme neo‐nationalism. The students were only interested in reading con‐ temporary Canadian authors; they did not want to read such ‘old‐fash‐ ioned eighteenth‐century poets’ as T.S. Eliot. The situation had certain analogies to the cultural assertion that had accompanied African inde‐ pendence. In the United States students would no longer study seven‐ teenth‐century or even British literature; they would only choose courses in American literature. The new populist, free‐enterprise con‐ sumerism in education had some curious affinities with the new na‐ tionalism. Notions of culture that had long prevailed were losing their power and new ideas of what constituted literature and culture were

32 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE being formed in response to contemporary political, social and eco‐ nomic realities. About this time Derry mentioned my name to a British pub‐ lisher who wrote to ask what I was working on. I replied that I wanted to commission essays on Literatures of the World in English (1974). In the long ‘Introduction’ I tried to think through what was happening with the rise of the new national literatures and claimed this to be the direction English studies must take in the future. Although I saw the new literatures as an outcome of colonialism and the postcolonial world, my emphasis was on the uniqueness of each society, its psy‐ chology, culture and its literature. The ‘Introduction’ was noticed. The new editor of Sewanee Review started sending me books by Common‐ wealth authors to review. Later a South Pacific writer told me that the ‘Introduction’ had a significant influence on him; until then he be‐ lieved that the only correct literary standards were those of the Lea‐ visite Great Tradition. In many ways it was an eccentric book. To show that each literature was distinctive I included England and the United States and gave equal weight to each nation. The contracted author of the American essay backed out long after the deadline and I hurriedly wrote something on the subject. New Zealand was left out. There were many problems with the authors, space (I had to reduce one essay from 30,000 to 7,000 words), deadlines, money; but the book is now in paperback. The most interesting review was by Terry Eagleton in Stand, who saw that in a time of challenging high culture I was putting new national canons in the place of older British ones. So there were other revolutions to be considered. When I returned to Nigeria, 1973‐76, everything felt differ‐ ent. There was antagonism against whites, there were shortages of housing, beer, petrol. The petrol boom, the rapid expansion of mass‐ expectations, the demands of a new Nigerian middle class, the new awareness of the situation in South Africa, the aftermath of the civil war and the possibilities of wild profits brought explosive tensions to the surface, especially in northern Nigeria where whites were em‐ ployed in senior positions. Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, was origi‐ nally under the control of the Sarduana of Sokoto (the power behind

I. INTRODUCTION 33 those who ruled Nigeria after independence); it was now going through rapid expansion under a Christian vice‐chancellor. I was head of a combined English‐European Languages De‐ partment. For the new M.A. degree I wanted to avoid the concentra‐ tion of research on a few limited Nigerian topics that was becoming common to Nigerian English departments. I taught a course in Samuel Johnson and Kola Ogunbesan taught South African literature. Until then English or any modern printed literature had not developed in northern in contrast to southern Nigeria. I hoped to carry on the Leeds tradition of a close relationship between creative writing and teaching literature. John Haynes, an English poet married to a Nigerian, put to‐ gether departmental sponsored pamphlets of creative literature by our students and others associated with Zaria. John also, with departmental support, began a monthly Nige‐ rian Arts Night that included everything from snake charmers to po‐ etry readings and satiric plays by a group of Nigerian artists. We began a drama subdivision within the department. Michael Etherton, who edited anthologies of African drama and later wrote a book on African drama, was in charge. Instead of a Western‐style auditorium he built a more traditional performing area consisting of mud huts around a clearing. He combined forces with Andy Horn to show non‐university people how to improvise plays on local themes of interest to the town. Celebration of Black and African Literature (1976) was origi‐ nally planned as the department’s contribution to the Second Black Arts Festival and was the only project that was ready on time; the fes‐ tival was delayed for a year. My hope that L.S. Senghor would write the preface was ended by a disagreement between Senegal and Nige‐ ria over the inclusion of Arab nations in the Festival. The idea for West Indian Literature (1979) was first floated at this time. As there were numbers of West Indians and those with West Indian interests teach‐ ing in Nigerian universities, we discussed the need for additional crit‐ ical works beyond the Louis James collection to support a course in Caribbean literature. I started commissioning essays although I did not have a publisher until Derry put me in touch with Macmillan.

34 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE A coup d’état replaced General Gowon with a Muslim head of state and brought radical changes to the University from the Vice‐ Chancellor down to the messengers. A failed Christian counter‐coup killed the Muslim head of state and left the university in the hands of radicals who started a witch‐hunt of a kind I remembered from McCarthyite America in the 1950s. The expansion had come to an end, everything new would be torn down as ‘neo‐colonial’. The rhetoric was Marxist and Fanonite but the results were reactionary, even to‐ talitarian. A course in the History Department in ‘Problems of Euro‐ pean Industrialization’ was replaced by ‘Medieval Europe’ (to provide an analogy to the demand for a unified nationalist Islamic society) and the course in the Russian Revolution was redesigned to avoid its fail‐ ures and the rise of Stalinism. My ‘Thoughts on African Literature’ discussed some of the contradictions of nationalism and how cultural assertion could turn reactionary, and appeared in the second issue of the West African Jour‐ nal of Modern Languages (1976). It was abstracted in a sociological journal and abridged in Dieter Riemenschneiders’s West‐und Ostaf‐ rika. But it was time to leave Africa before I became a white ghost haunting African universities. Objectively I had become one of the new colonizers heading departments that Africans felt they should control. Adele was a visiting professor of French in the United States while I started a book on Samuel Johnson. After two chapters I stopped as I realized that I wanted really to write about what had hap‐ pened in Nigeria and its relevance to what I had learned about Canada and the West Indies. I applied for a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow‐ ship. Then Derry, who had written one of my recommendations, asked for the proposed book for a series he was editing. About this time Se‐ wanee Review sent me books to review on Australian poetry, R.K. Na‐ rayan and others, and I decided I would see whether my views made sense in the context of Indian, New Zealand and Australian literature. New English Literatures: Cultural Nationalism in a Changing World (1980) would compare six national or regional literatures. The French Government offered me a visiting professorship to teach a course on African Literature for doctoral candidates at the University of Paris III

I. INTRODUCTION 35 during 1977‐78. At the end of the year I was unemployed again, but Derry arranged for me to be visiting professor for a semester at the University of Stirling where I replaced Alastair Niven. At Stirling I taught a course in Commonwealth Literature and supervised a final year thesis on V. S. Naipaul. I would soon give courses in New Zealand on New English Literature and African and West Indian literatures and began research on Modern Indian Poetry in English (1987). With much help from Derry I had become one of the pioneers of the New English Literatures.



II. African Literature





Chapter 3 Those Magical Years: The Making of Nigerian Literature at Ibadan: 1948-1966 Robert Wren mentions a conversation between the Nigerian critic Abiola Irele and the French Africanist Alain Richard concerning the need for a sociology of literature with attention to the material conditions that influenced and shaped the production of culture. In retrospect, this is what Those Magical Years (1991) attempts, although the unnecessarily convoluted structure of the book, moving back‐ wards in time from Christopher Okigbo’s death, a breathless, wide eyed “you are there” style, and way too many remarks about people telling unrepeatable gossip, result in a lack of focus, chronology, nar‐ rative or any generalized insights. Between 1982‐1983 Wren inter‐ viewed some of those who taught or studied at the University of Iba‐ dan between its foundation in 1948 and the start of the Nigerian‐Bia‐ fran civil war in which Okigbo was killed. Wren asks why there was such an outburst of original creative writing at the time from Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, J.P. Clark and others as‐ sociated with Ibadan. Although Wren keeps shrugging his shoulders and claiming that he does not understand more than when he began, much of the material for an answer can be found in the interviews. Because of material scattered throughout the interviews, this is an essential, if frustrating, book for anyone interested in Nigerian Literature or in comparing the rapid development of Commonwealth literature since 1950. I do not know whether Wren’s thumb‐in‐mouth dumbness is just one pose in a book filled with his attempts to appear as if he were writing a popular scratch‐my‐head thriller, whether he really was puzzled and ignorant, or whether the manner is an unfor‐ tunate result of his death before completing a final version of the man‐ uscript. The book certainly has its faults beginning with its undue re‐ liance on J.P. Clark for much information, and the refusal of Wole Soy‐ inka to be interviewed or have any association with the project. As Clark is notorious for his Clark‐centered view of the world, his envy of 39

40 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Soyinka, and his defence of and involvement with the Nigerian Federal Government that imprisoned Soyinka during the Nigerian‐Biafran war, Wren’s reliance on Clark is bound to produce a narrative which others will find suspect. If this appears harsh, then read what Clark says about others here. European journalists in Lagos during the civil war learned to listen to Clark as a source for one point of view―at the time the only point of view officially allowed; Wren, who taught under Clark at the University of Lagos, appears to have thought that J.P.’s was the only horse’s mouth. It is not just Soyinka who is filtered through Clark’s eyes. Ulli Beier, O.R. Dathorne, Begum Hendrickse and others are either not given their due or mysteriously become villains. With Okigbo dead and Soyinka unwilling to co‐operate, Wren might have interviewed Ulli Beier, Christine Obumselu, Omolara Ogundipe, O.R. Dathorne, W. Feuser, Denis Williams, Arthur Drayton, W.H Stevenson, John Ramsa‐ ran, Aig Higo, Gerald Moore, Peter Thomas, Paul Theroux and Ezekiel Mphahlele. For someone so late on the scene there is this odd innocence about Wren as if he had to invent the wheel. Those Magical Years shows no signs, either in acknowledgments or influences, that Wren had read the sociology, scholarship, thoughts or memoirs of others who had written about the origins and history of Nigerian or African literature. There are useful articles, theses and books that touch on the subject by J.P. O’Flinn, W.H. Stevenson, Begum Hendrickse, Dapo Ad‐ elugba, Omolara Ogundipe, Bernth Lindfors, Bruce King, Jeanne Dingome, and others. The articles in volume 2 of European‐language writing in sub‐saharan African, edited by Albert Gérard (Akademiai Ki‐ ado: Budapest, 1986), might be useful before reading Wren. They have information that is sometimes new to me, although I was there during six of Wren’s magical years. Writing the history of the new literatures should not be radi‐ cally different from the history of other artistic movements, and it is frustrating that Wren has not approached his task with professional‐ ism and method. If you were not already familiar with most of this



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 41 story you probably could not understand it. There is not even a chro‐ nology of events and publications. Some comparative awareness would have helped. The Ibadan story is so similar to what happened at the same time at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica (also founded 1948), that it is instructive to draw parallels. Other compari‐ sons might be to the take off of modern Indian English poetry in Bom‐ bay after 1947, especially during Nissim Ezekiel’s years at the Univer‐ sity of Bombay, and even the Tish group at the University of British Columbia. Basically universities brought together talented ambitious people, who were introduced to new ideas, techniques or styles, which were transformed into something more local; the universities also provided means of production, an audience, readership, critics and publicity. Modern Nigerian literature did not begin at the University of Ibadan; arguably modernist Nigerian literature did. The context was decades of West African writing in English especially in local newspa‐ pers and magazines from the late Victorians onward. Nigerians had to learn how to write in older styles before the Ibadan generation could bring West African Anglophone literature into modernism. Whether one takes into account the Negritude of Senghor and Césaire or the take‐off of Ghanaian writing with Awoonor and Armah, the common element is some aspect of elite westernized “black” culture finding its expression in the style of modernism, a style that was taught at the University of Ibadan but not at the few existing colleges of higher ed‐ ucation which earlier African writers attended. The one previous Ni‐ gerian whose writing showed awareness of modernism was Gabriel Okara. In many ways, including being the first Nigerian to publish in Black Orpheus, Okara was the precursor of the Ibadan group; older by a decade, without the chance of a university education, he somehow found the path from Wordsworth to Langston Hughes to G.M. Hopkins to Senghor. It was because writers like Okara and intellectuals like Olu Bassir were already familiar with Negritude that Soyinka and Okigbo could dismiss it as passé, although Achebe and Clark were partly in‐ fluenced by the ideas associated with it.

42 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE The story of how Nigerian literature reached the point of what economists call “take‐off” would need to include modern litera‐ ture in local languages, especially D.O. Fagunwa’s writings in Yoruba; popular Nigerian literature in English; cross cultural products by the semi‐educated such as Amos Tutuola; Christian missionary literature; children’s literature; the Arts Festivals of the 1950s; the British Coun‐ cil‐led writers clubs, publications and anthologies; the many South Af‐ rican refugee intellectuals, American foundation money, the influence of Negritude on Black Orpheus founded by Janheinz Jahn and Ulli Beier, the model of the Leeds University Poetry and Audience on the Martin Banham‐Clark University of Ibadan Horn. Basically the Nigeri‐ ans wrote in relationship to the European literary tradition as taught them by the British. Achebe would find a model in Hardy and reply to what he felt were misrepresentations of Africa by Graham Greene and Joyce Cary. Even Tutuola made use of Bunyan, Swift and the way Fa‐ gunwa had Christianized West African tales. A major influence, as shown in the interviews, was the excel‐ lent teaching in the elite schools, with their small classes, constant practice of reading and writing, and many school publications. The students had a traditional African culture marginally around them but their actual, primary culture, was Western, British and from second‐ ary school through university they shared in a British culture of school and university magazines, dance clubs, choirs, musical societies, drama groups. Their parents were school teachers, pastors, business‐ men, professionals, a Westernized elite more likely to wear London‐ made clothing than have African masks on their walls. Their schools and families were mostly Christian and inter‐tribal. They were not very political in the sense of being part of a struggle against colonial‐ ism. They were more likely to be politically disillusioned with the al‐ ready notorious corruption of Nigerian politicians. The British had been trying to get Nigeria off its hands for the past decade, but disa‐ greements among Nigerian politicians held up formal independence. This was, however, the first generation to go to university in Nigeria (although Soyinka went to Leeds after doing a university en‐ trance year at Ibadan and later used Ibadan as a base for research),

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 43 and this was at a time when the rediscovery and assertion of African culture was politically and psychologically important. Those with tal‐ ents were encouraged, and the high selectivity of the system at the time guaranteed they had talent. The year before I arrived at the Uni‐ versity of Ibadan there were four graduates in English. Then seven, then fourteen, then forty. A decade later there were forty universities each with another forty graduates in English. The creation of Black Or‐ pheus or The Horn would not have been possible later, and the stu‐ dents would not have had the same elite education, years of practice writing and reading, the same familiarity with Western culture. The world was all before the first Ibadan graduates. A government perma‐ nent secretaryship? A post‐graduate scholarship and a rapid profes‐ sorship? A decade later, during a time of forty universities, semi‐edu‐ cated graduates would do anything for a job. So what caused those magical years? At least fifty years’ evo‐ lution of Nigerian creative writing in English and acquisition of Euro‐ pean literary forms; two decades of the highest and most selective and competitive standards of British education to prepare Nigerians for independence; the coming together of the children of the educated westernized elite in such schools and in the first Nigerian university; the Oedipal relationship of the students to their Christian families; the social, psychological and intellectual context of Nigerian independ‐ ence and West African decolonization; the presence of many sympa‐ thetic foreigners who eased the way towards re‐Africanization and publication; the discovery of modernism as a style in which to assert the mixture of elitism, high accomplishment, intellectualization, bicul‐ turalism, alienation and Africanism―that was that generation’s way of saying we are part of the modern world, we are the equal of whites (indeed more elite than most foreigners among us), this is our land, and this is a generation that will go beyond the tribalism, provincial‐ ism, corruption and Victorian Christianity of our elders. The civil war, mass education, the continuing disaster of self‐rule, ironically even Af‐ ricanization, meant that within a decade and a half the magical years were over.

44 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE The Ibadan years were similar to an artistic movement such as Impressionism, Expressionism, Surrealism, Action Painting or Be‐ bop. An advance in craft and style was explored in various ways by a group of artists of approximately the same generation sharing some‐ what similar views and backgrounds. Despite minor differences of opinion about the value of African cultural assertion and the role of the artist, Soyinka, Clark, Okigbo and Achebe were extremely serious about the technique of their art and generally liberal humanists in pol‐ itics. In the Cold War they were on the side of the West. Any demo‐ cratic “left” party, whether the French Socialists or the American Dem‐ ocrats, could have found room for them. As with cultural movements, there were associates in the other arts such as painting and music. Such movements can only thrive in cities or universities where a group of diverse talents can find the jobs, critics, audiences and sup‐ port they need, including places to meet. What made them―and simi‐ lar explosions of creative energy in Commonwealth literature―differ‐ ent from other avant‐garde movements was the infusion of the local, in this case a re‐Africanization. At first it was mostly a matter of theme, subject matter, and concern with the role of European languages in Africa, but soon the Ibadan group was asking how they could make use of oral literature, ritual, myth, belief, and of new popular forms that had developed at the intersection of the West and Africa. Paradoxically, the radical, revolutionary, internationalist, even the anti‐rationalist, primitive side of Modernism seemed to wel‐ come such an Africanization in which verbal rhythms replaced tradi‐ tional English metrics, African rituals sat side by side with supposed Greek rituals in drama and a Yoruba world‐view became an allegorical subtext like the myths that Eliot and Joyce had used to structure their major works. Lawrence and Yeats would not have thought the Ibadan group “primitive” enough; only Soyinka appears to have believed in the rediscovered African rituals. So cultural politics come into the story, but not in either the crude cultural nationalism Wren expected to find, or even in a more “mediated” sophisticated politics of repre‐ sentation. Rather, an outdated provincial European artistic tradition in exile updated itself, and became part of the modern world, while

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 45 indigenizing itself as it absorbed and learned how to use native arts and culture, in the process transforming itself into a self‐generating local tradition. At the end of the day nothing specifically Nigerian seems essential to Nigerian English Literature―any more than any‐ thing is essentially American in American Literature―except that it be written by a Nigerian. Those magical years made such freedom possi‐ ble.





Chapter 4 The Emergence of African Fiction Charles Larson’s The Emergence of African Fiction (1972) is one of the best books available on African literature. It attempts to re‐ late fictional technique to theme, and show how both reflect the social and historical background of the African novel. Larson begins by que‐ rying whether most African novels written to date conform to West‐ ern notions of the novel and its characteristics. He points to areas in which African writing is either different or had been found deficient, making use of proverbs and African forms of English. African novels tend to be weak on characterization; character seldom develops. There is an emphasis on the community rather than the individual; emphasis is also given to what might be described as anthropological material. Dialogue tends to be weak, action relatively insignificant, and the narrator usually is representative of the tribe. There is a ten‐ dency towards the didactic that has been carried over from the oral tradition. The African novel seldom has a well‐made plot; plot often consists of loose narration of separate events or situations where a group of people are affected by some major event. Time, description and the sense of aesthetic unity are also different from the European novel. Where many critics have found such characteristics faults in Af‐ rican novelists, Larson claims that they represent a different cultural view of the purpose of writing, which is directly related to the main themes of African fiction. Larson claims that the major subject of the African novelist is the continent’s exposure to the West. There are five subjects or kinds of experience that can be considered as a chain of events caused by the colonial experience. The first stage reflects the initial exposure to European culture, whether as a clash between Christianity and pagan‐ ism or some early conflict with the new colonial government. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Ngugi’s The River Between are examples of this initial conflict. The second stage occurs after the advent of colonialism, 47

48 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE when the African attempts to adapt to Western education and values. Examples of novels using this as a theme include Achebe’s No Longer at Ease, Laye’s L’Enfant noir, Ngugi’s Weep Not, Child and Kane’s L’aventure ambiguë. As a result of Western style education, the African goes to the new cities in search of advancement. This third stage is reflected in Ekwensi’s novels of urban life. The fourth stage of devel‐ opment, represented by Achebe’s Man of the People and Ngugi’s A Grain of Wheat, comes after independence with the resulting social and political problems. As the new national and urban experiences disrupt tribal life and its values, the fifth stage is reached, the modern alienated individual living according to his own perceptions and val‐ ues. Examples of this include Soyinka’s Interpreters and Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, both of which Larson claims show the African is becoming indistinguishable from the American or Euro‐ pean. Larson says that while his categories are rooted in an histori‐ cal chain of developments, such themes do not necessarily appear consecutively in literature. A writer may treat a later historical devel‐ opment in fiction before writing a novel about an earlier cultural phase. Whereas one writer may be preoccupied with the first phases of the historical development, another writer may already be repre‐ sentative of the last phase. The first four phases, in which the author reflects the communal point of view, Larson claims can be found in Achebe’s novels. The fifth phase of Western style individualism Lar‐ son finds in what he describes as the second generation of African novelists, who have gone beyond the conflict with European culture that provided the first generation of writers with their main subject. The first novel given individual attention is Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which Larson sees as the “archetypal African novel,” de‐ scribing the coming of the white man and the initial disintegration of African society. Larson’s analysis of the techniques of the novel is among the best readings we have of it. He points to the use of the an‐ thropological background of tales within stories. Emphasis is given to Achebe’s use of proverbs and other rhetorical devices of oral litera‐ ture. He notes that Achebe is writing for the non‐African reader. In

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 49 1958, when the novel was published, African writers could not as‐ sume that they had an audience on their own continent; such an audi‐ ence only came about with the introduction of African writing into the school syllabus. Larson’s main point is that the novel emphasizes the community rather than the individual and is a novel of situation rather than of character. This is its major difference from the Western novel, which emphasizes the psychological development of character. It is clear that Larson sees Things Fall Apart as mainly a story about the breakup of an Igbo clan coming into contact with white culture. He wisely points to Achebe’s use of shifting points of view at the end of the book to indicate the collapse of tribal unity. I was impressed by the number of stylistic devices Larson found to be common to both Achebe’s writing and to Tutuola’s The Palm‐Wine Drinkard. Not only has the oral tradition left its influence on two dissimilar writers, but Larson makes a good case that both au‐ thors treat time and description in a non‐Western fashion. I also found useful the similarities which he shows in Achebe’s Nigerian novels and James Ngugi’s novels of Kenya. Ngugi’s Weep Not, Child is similar to Things Fall Apart in taking its title from a well‐known poem, in using the first part of the book to show tribal society and in portraying a cultural conflict which divides the society. In both Ngugi’s Weep Not, Child and The River Between, Christianity and Western education di‐ vide family and village. Again we have the situational novel with em‐ phasis on the community rather than the individual. Larson, however, points out that Ngugi’s “characters are usually more fully realized than Achebe’s” and that Ngugi, unlike Achebe, uses character intro‐ spection. In A Grain of Wheat Ngugi has gone beyond Achebe’s tech‐ nique. The story is told from the viewpoint of several of the characters and this is combined with “a quasi‐documentary technique,” which brings together human drama and historical objectivity. Larson’s interest in the sociology of literature leads him to the Onitsha market place writing produced for the semi‐educated and semi‐literate. While the writing as literature is of little value, this chapter helps us to see African writing in perspective as evolving from basically oral vernacular traditions into Westernized literary forms

50 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE which treat of life in modern society. Larson sees Onitsha writing as reflecting a conflict between traditional African morality and the de‐ sire to succeed in Western ways. Thus the books may both show how to succeed in having a romantic love affair and end with a didactic tag revealing disillusionment with metropolitan values. Ekwensi’s first publication, When Love Whispers, was among the Onitsha “novellas” and Larson sees him as still writing within this tradition. Ekwensi’s novels have urban settings, happy endings, and an “obsession with bodies, and especially breasts.” The heroine of his best known novel, Jagua Nana, may lead of life of excitement and sin, but she knows that she is doing wrong and “eventual reform is inevi‐ table.” Larson claims that such female characters as Jagua, and the portrayal of romantic love, are foreign to African fiction, and can only be found outside Onitsha fiction in South African writing, where closer contact with Western society and the “emasculation of the African male by the white population” result in love stories and portrayals of dominant females. Abraham’s Mine Boy illustrates such relationships and women. A related observation is that in Mine Boy, unlike most Af‐ rican fiction, there is no family life, no children or any sense of com‐ munal consciousness. Life for a Black in the South African cities results in loneliness and isolation. The last half of The Emergence of African Fiction treats of Laye’s Le regard du roi as “assimilated negritude,” Peters’s The Second Round as “West African Gothic” and the novels of Soyinka and Armah as examples of the direction African fiction is likely to take. Laye’s nov‐ els are seen in the light of the French colonial policy of assimilation, “designed to make the African into a black Frenchman.” Larson briefly traces the history of the Negritude movement as a reaction against as‐ similationist policies. L’Enfant noir offers us “a beautiful account of traditional African life” and is followed by novels treating the conflict between African and Western civilizations; Le regard du roi has its main character a European. This reverses the usual story of an African student’s exposure to the West. Larson reads the novel as showing the need for the West to be reborn through assimilating African culture. Larson has a number of useful observations on the novel, showing the

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 51 importance of clothing as symbolic of Western prejudices and the comic reversal of black and white sexual roles. He also notices that some critics have found the novel to have religious implications; he is, however, skeptical of such interpretations. In Peters’ The Second Round Larson finds a foreshadowing of the African novel of the future. The story could take place in Europe or North America, the main character is “deeply alienated from life on all sides of him.” Peters thus is like the second generation of African writers who reflect the problems that arise in post‐independence Af‐ rica. In these novelists the status quo is criticized, the community is shown as no longer existing, the “situational” plot is not relevant, and the hero is isolated and disillusioned. In other words, Africa is like the rest of the modern world. Various experimental fictional techniques are used to suggest modern chaos and alienation. In Soyinka’s Inter‐ preters there are “multiple flashbacks (often flashbacks within flash‐ backs) and the juxtaposition and overlapping of several different time levels.” Spatial techniques replace narrative. In both Armah’s and Soy‐ inka’s writing we find the theme of the isolated “stifled artist” in a cor‐ rupt, dehumanized society, a theme not previously found in African fiction. With Armah and Soyinka, “the African novel as a literary genre now moves into the main stream of Western tradition.” Larson’s thesis is not exactly new; various three and five stage models for development of African literature have been advanced in recent years. It is usually agreed that the years preceding and imme‐ diately after independence resulted in literature which affirmed the existence of an African culture and illustrated how colonialism harmed it. The initial joys of independence soon gave way to sorrow and the literature of cultural affirmation was overtaken by satire of the new ruling elite. This was followed by the literature of alienation. The trouble with such categories is that most novels do not fit exactly into any one square. Is Soyinka’s Interpreters a novel of satire or a novel of alienation? To which category do Tutuola’s or La Guma’s nov‐ els belong? Larson’s five stages are the best that have so far been offered because they attempt to relate an author’s themes and techniques to

52 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE subject matter reflecting periods of historical development, rather than assuming that at a certain moment a novelist must necessarily have a representative attitude towards African reality. Unfortunately, all such tools tend to oversimplify good imaginative writing where the experience portrayed is often more complex than that defined by a description of an author’s subject matter, theme, plot or characters. In general the criticism of African literature has been superfi‐ cial and unanalytical if compared to standards of observation we usu‐ ally apply elsewhere. Larson’s detailed analysis of style, structure and form is an improvement in this field. While it is good to see close read‐ ing and awareness of the social influence on literature fitted into an historical perspective, I feel that Larson has not got to the heart of some of the novels he discusses. In many cases I find myself disagree‐ ing with the interpretation that, even when based on close analysis, tends to oversimplify. I will give some examples where I feel that his thesis has led him astray. While Things Fall Apart has often been regarded as the classic African novel describing the effects of European culture on tribal so‐ ciety, and has been imitated by other writers treating similar themes, I am not certain this does justice to Achebe’s imagination. If Larson had begun his book with an analysis of some of the Francophone Afri‐ can writing in the decade before independence, he would have found purer examples of literature solely concerned with affirming a unified, harmonious African culture and purer examples of cultural conflict. Things Fall Apart does not do this. It is more subtle, less pure. The ten‐ sions that produce disintegration are shown to be already present be‐ fore the coming of the European, who is seen as a catalyst providing the possibility of change. Things are already falling apart early in the novel. We learn that in other villages of the tribe customs are performed differently; elders complain that traditions are no longer being observed. Okonkwo’s own family is illustrative of the contrast between tribal ideal and actuality. Okonkwo and his father exemplify opposite ex‐ tremes of how one could live within Igbo society; while Okonkwo ap‐ pears to represent the dominant cultural values, his death brings as

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 53 much dishonor on the community as his father’s. Okonkwo’s son, even before the coming of Christianity, has a different sensibility from his father. It is significant that whereas Okonkwo regards his son as ef‐ feminate, his daughter has masculine values. Okonkwo continually commits crimes against the female goddess. Okonkwo is a man who acts, unlike his friend Obierika, who is described as a thinker and who warns him not to act impulsively. In other words the harmony of male and female values has disintegrated. Okonkwo represents one ideal of Igbo culture, but it is an ideal carried to an extreme at the cost of ne‐ glecting other values which the culture has recognized. Even the prov‐ erbs which are quoted as moral wisdom to justify actions often have other deeper meanings suggestive of the need for inaction and cau‐ tion. While Larson is right to read Things Fall Apart as about a com‐ munity, readers are also correct when they respond to it as an Aristo‐ telian tragedy depicting someone, Okonkwo, whose fall results from an excess of one particular quality or virtue. Achebe is showing that while Igbos had a culture worthy of respect, it was near collapse be‐ fore the European intervention. It oversimplifies Achebe’s intelligence to see the novel as primarily lamenting the coming of the white man. It is not a novel of negritude. It is a novel showing the weaknesses in a culture that made possible conversions to Christianity and an ac‐ ceptance of European values. The title of the book is meant to bring to mind all of Yeats's poem, “The Second Coming,” and not merely the first lines. Things are already falling apart, thought and action, mascu‐ linity and femininity, achievement and sensitivity, Okonkwo and his son. Okonkwo’s passionate intensity is perhaps expressive of the in‐ creasing cultural anarchy. The coming of European culture is presum‐ ably the rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem, which will initiate a new cultural cycle in which harmony might again be possible. This application of Yeats's poem to Achebe’s novel may seem surprising, but I think it is important to realize that Achebe, and many African novelists, work through such larger metaphors. The implied analogy to some literary work or body of belief outside the text itself might be accounted for by the influence of T.S. Eliot and Joyce on the

54 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE university‐educated African writer, but such methods are an exten‐ sion of the traditional African oral technique of allusion and the as‐ sumption of the listener’s familiar with didactic myths that often ex‐ plain the universe. Thus in Achebe’s No Longer at Ease we are point‐ edly referred to T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” and Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter. Okara and Awoonor make use of the Passion story, Armah alludes to Plato’s Republic, and Soyinka’s writing show the Yoruba Ogun myth fulfilling itself in daily life. I have raised objections to Larson’s interpretation of Things Fall Apart because it seems to me that while we need an awareness of how literature reflects social changes, the conceptualization of such relationships usually ends by distorting the literary work and falsify‐ ing the author’s imagination. This is unfortunately true even where the critic has attempted to treat cultural themes in relation to literary techniques. No doubt it will seem pedantic to reaffirm that accurate reading must precede analysis of a literary work as a cultural docu‐ ment, but unless we respond to the text carefully we are likely to force it into our preconceived notions. Larson, for example, sees Achebe’s Man of the People as representative of the fourth phase of African writ‐ ing, novels which have as their subject the corruptions that came about after national independence. He dismisses the novel as merely entertainment: Many of the situations satirized can only be appre‐ ciated by someone who lived in Nigeria during those years: political corruptions, the increasing bureaucracy, the postal strike, the census, the means of communication, the daily news media. I think this gets the novel wrong. The satire does not seem to me to be limited to Nigeria of the mid 1960s. Political repression, the control of the communications media, the power of the state, the im‐ possibility of effective protest are topics of concern in most countries of the modern world. The literature of the new nations often handles



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 55 such topics more forcefully because their writers have in a short pe‐ riod of time been faced by the discrepancy between national ideals and life as they know it. Achebe’s use of the first person narrator in A Man of the Peo‐ ple is particularly significant, since the narrator lies, is bitter, and is not aware of the effect on others of what he does; he acts out of con‐ fused motives. It is part of Achebe’s craft, and tendency towards un‐ derstatement, that we are simply given the narrator’s feelings and the implications are not brought to our attention. I would argue that the confused and rather unsympathetic narrator is both representative of the situation of the educated African in the corrupt new nations and representative of the mixed motives from which any realistic future hope will come. Another criticism of Larson’s reading of A Man of the People is that within terms of his own categories he gets the book wrong. It is not solely a novel of disillusionment. At the conclusion the narrator specifically says that the period of communal values and judgment is over and that Nigeria has entered the era of the individual. This is shown by the uselessness of the traditional proverb. ‘Koko had taken enough for the owner to see’ … the owner was the village and the village had a mind ; it could say no to sacrilege. But in affairs of the nation there was no owner, the laws of the village became powerless. Max was avenged not by the people’s collective will but by one soli‐ tary woman who loved him. Had his spirit waited for the people to demand redress it would have been waiting still, in the rain and out in the sun. Larson’s attempt to show how the African novel expresses traditional African culture probably causes him to neglect symbolism and values imported from elsewhere. It is understandable that he has done so; some African critics have claimed that European scholars only see Western influences on African literature. Larson’s emphasis on the African aspects of the African novel shows that in our wish to

56 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE avoid being neo‐colonialists we may be simplifying the complex influ‐ ences on African writing and culture. For example, the African novel is filled with as many Christ figures as the American or Canadian novel, and certainly with more than we usually find in British writing. Larson does not mention any. He does not comment on the Christian imagery and analogies in The River Between; he devotes half a sen‐ tence to such imagery in A Grain of Wheat. Le regard du roi can be read as showing the need for Western culture to become assimilated with African culture if European hu‐ manism is to be reborn. But the novel can also be read as a mystical journey towards the negation of selfhood that is necessary purgation before communion with the divine. Larson sees the story as mainly political, showing the need for cultural syncretism and thus an aspect of the Negritude movement. But if this is Laye’s sole meaning, why does the final description of the coming of the King bring to mind tra‐ ditional mystical descriptions of the divine, and why does it suggest that Clarence might be dead when he is accepted into the King’s pres‐ ence? While the mystical vision at the end may be Muslim rather than Christian, the symbolism needs explanation. Some other non‐African influences which come to mind include Malraux on Ousmane, Bunyan and the Bible on Tutuola, Proust on Laye, Hardy on Achebe, Huxley on Mazrui, and the 1930s American protest novel on Abrahams and La Guma. Most African writers share in a dual heritage, that of their con‐ tinent and the European tradition. A major instance of ignoring an outside cultural influence is Larson’s interpretation of The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. While Armah is said to illustrate the new generation of African writers who treat of alienation and use Western experimental literary forms, it seems odd that in discussing the novel Larson makes no use of Plato, although the allegory of the cave is explicitly mentioned in the sixth chapter. The imagery of light, shadow, and indeed the title of the book itself is based on Books Six and Seven of The Republic, with its distinc‐ tion between the world of ideas and the realm of appearances. Marga‐ ret Olusola is right in suggesting that the novel should be read in the light of the entire argument of The Republic, with its concern for a just

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 57 and good society. Larson sees the novel as burning with “passion and tension” in its depiction of corrupt African society. While the novel portrays a corrupt society, I do not feel much emotional passion and intensity. The novel appeals more to the intellect than to the emotions. The main character’s development is largely a growing intellectual awareness that in this world, at least at present, it will be impossible to approach the beautiful and the good. It seems to me questionable that Armah’s novels represent a new generation of African writers whose work is indistinguishable from that created elsewhere. While it is true that Armah treats of al‐ ienation and uses experimental fictional forms, the central theme of his novels is the dream of Africa that was held during the colonial pe‐ riod and which became tarnished after independence. If I understand him correctly, Armah believes that the political elites, who at present control many African nations, are a legacy inherited from the colonial period and that they will eventually pass away to be replaced by an‐ other social order. Thus the “beautiful ones” may yet be born. Such hope does not seem to me to be international; in most countries we do not expect to see our ideals realized in the future, quite the contrary. Rather than The Beautyful Ones representing a new international gen‐ eration, it can be better seen as one of many recent African novels that have as their theme the problem of what happened to the dream of Africa. Awoonor’s This Earth, My Brother and Laye’s Dramouss are other examples. It should also be seen within a Ghanaian context. Ghana was the first independent African nation of the post‐ colonial period and Nkrumah was a leading spokesman for the rebirth of African culture, society and values. In few other countries of Africa were ideals proclaimed so loudly and in few other countries was there such a discrepancy between what was being said by the government and intellectuals and what was actually being accomplished. Nkru‐ mah’s downfall and the lacklustre regimes that followed perhaps ex‐ plain why such Ghanaian writers as Armah and Awoonor not only por‐ tray a corrupt society but also set it against an ideal, and the history of the ideal. While such themes with their wide historical reference

58 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE will probably be imitated elsewhere in Africa, it was logical for them first to be given conscious expression in Ghana and perhaps Guinea. Some minor points. Larson’s claim that the theme of isolation is not usually found in African fiction of the first generation seems de‐ batable. The tile of No Longer at Ease points to the alienation of its main character. Okara’s The Voice is about alienation. Les bouts de bois de Dieu may show the need for community action, but the hero suffers from the same individualism as any Western intellectual. L’Enfant noir shows that life unfortunately but necessarily is a process of outgrow‐ ing familial and communal bonds. While Larson is undoubtedly right about mixed values found in Onitsha market writing, it is time to query the accepted generalization that the African novel does not treat of romantic love. Some examples to the contrary are Achebe’s No Longer at Ease and A Man of the People, Ousmane’s Les bouts de bois de Dieu, Laye’s L’Enfant noir, Soyinka’s Interpreters and Armah’s Frag‐ ments. I found Larson’s interpretation of Soyinka’s Interpreters shal‐ low and in places inaccurate; for example, he misses the significance of Joe Golder at the end of the novel where, although previously de‐ testable, he becomes a symbol of all of us who feel like “a motherless child, a long way from home.” I also think Larson somewhat misreads Tutuola’s Palm‐Wine Drinkard. The quest motif does not end in “Deads’ Town.” The resolution of the quest is the return with the mag‐ ical egg and the sacrifice carried to Heaven. The reason why this story is at the end of the book can be seen from Fagunwa’s Forest of the Thousand Demons, where the traditional Yoruba symbolism is more explicit. I had hoped that The Emergence of African Fiction might trace the development of African narrative into the modern African novel or offer an historical survey of the many novels written in French, Eng‐ lish, Portuguese and the vernacular languages before the emergence of independent African nations. We do not have such studies and until they are written the history of African literature will be out of perspec‐ tive, limited to the past twenty years. Larson’s book is very good, but it would have been better if he could have built upon firmer founda‐ tions.

Chapter 5 Thoughts on African Literature Our perspective on African literature at present is limited to a few themes and a narrow political, social and cultural context that distorts the originality of each author into ready‐made comments. While I do not pretend that the following thoughts about African liter‐ ature are truer than currently held opinions, they at least have the ad‐ vantage of enabling us to look somewhat differently at recent writing. I do not claim that the ideas expressed in the following paragraphs are original with me; I have heard or read some of them, although I cannot now cite sources. I am perhaps formulating what has often been thought but not generally expressed. The current view of African literature is that it results from cultural contact with the West and is protest against colonialism and its effects. There are several versions of this theory. There is the his‐ torical approach which sees early African writing as apprentice work which later goes through such developments as protest writing, the literature of the independence movement and the post‐independence novels of disillusionment. Another version has it that the themes of African literature reflect cultural conflict by showing the various stages of contact with European civilization, although these stages did not necessarily appear sequentially in the development of African lit‐ erature, but can appear at any time. As in the first version, African lit‐ erature is seen as moving away from a conscious historical role after political independence freed the African from the burden of colonial‐ ism. Both versions assume that an African aesthetic developed along with protest literature, although the second version assumes that such a development is no longer relevant. Thus the contemporary African novel will be similar to the European novel. The trouble with both positions, with which Janheinz Jahn and Charles Larson are iden‐ tified, is that protest themes are perhaps more prevalent now than

59

60 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE ever, although they would seem to be less relevant to the actual polit‐ ical situation. Recent African writing continues to proclaim African values and even more consciously expresses an African aesthetic. We need to account for this. The first step is to forget our assumption that African litera‐ ture has to do with black and white cultural and political contact. While I cannot deny that much writing especially of the period before independence has such subject matter, it is absurd to assume that co‐ lonialism and its effect is the continuing dynamic behind African liter‐ ature. The continuing effect of Europe on Africa is technological; it is technology that changes society and culture. We need to bear in mind that modern printed writing is a for‐ eign technology that has been mastered by a westernized African elite. Many of the tensions and the dynamism of African writing have their origins in this fact. In a sense, modern African literature, especially if written in European languages, is a reflection of a rising class that by mastering Western technology and ideologies became the founders and the masters of the new African national states. Such a statement of course, needs a good deal of qualification of a kind that is impossible to make here. I am conscious that such a view does not take into ac‐ count the influence of oral literature on African poetry. But the fact remains that the modern African novel, poem or drama is a product of a mind strongly influenced by Western literary forms and goals even when the work itself does not have a Western significance. The very act of mastering writing, whether in English or a vernacular language, and creating a manuscript for a printer means the internalization of cultural changes. Tutuola’s novels are, along with the Onitsha chap books, evidence of such cultural transition at a lower social level. That modern African literature has developed alongside a governing class can be shown by considering the number of writers who have also been political leaders. From the eighteenth century on‐ wards, the movements towards re‐assertion of African cultural and political identity―whether in the resettlement movements, the Victo‐ rian nationalists, or the twentieth‐century negritudists―could only be



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 61 effective within a European political context and demanded propa‐ ganda aimed at the Western conscience. Similarly, within Africa the leaders of the mass movements had to appeal to westernized concepts of nation, race, equality and freedom, rather than tribal and commu‐ nity identity. Political effectiveness could only be achieved by those with Western education. This produced writers who were also politi‐ cians, many of whom are now respected and sometimes rejected fa‐ thers of modern Africa. Neto is perhaps the most recent example of a writer who is also a political leader. An elite creates an ideology; an ideology often disguises real‐ ity. The westernized elite proclaimed the value and nature of African culture, although it was often foreign to or only partly at home with such traditions. The ideology had the advantage both of offering re‐ sistance to colonialism, with its assumption of cultural superiority, and enlisting into supporters of the elite those who were making the transition from traditional to modern society. Thus there was a basic paradox within the growth of African literature. Only a westernized elite could lay the foundations for independence and create the con‐ cept of a modern state and run it. Its power was based on mastery of Western processes, and on enlisting the growing westernized urban masses. At the same time its ideology had to speak of a return to Afri‐ can values, traditional life, the rejection of Western influence. The elite and those it enlisted thus assumed an opposition between African and Western modes while in fact showing their compatibility. This paradox, I suggest, is the basic tension at the heart of Af‐ rican literature. It provided the dynamic for its growth, which has largely been new movements growing out of seeming contradictions within the older movements, and which in turn will give birth to newer movements shaped by the same paradox. These new move‐ ments represent different generations recruited into an increasingly industrialized society. Thus each generation will catch the discrep‐ ancy between what is said and what is done by its elders. It will be both more at home with foreign technology, expect what were once Western luxuries, and will insist upon greater African authenticity, of‐ ten accusing its elders of failure or corruption.

62 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE

Dominant Myths The dominant myths of African literature have changed over the years, but looking at African literature as a whole it is possible to make some generalizations. African writing until the late 1930s largely was concerned with what we might call the heroic past―em‐ pires, kings, heroes. Examples include, Thomas Mofolo’s Chaka (1925) and Paul Hazoume’s Doguicimi (1938). We can see this as late as Sen‐ ghor’s poetry, where the empires of the past are alluded to as symbols of African cultural dignity. During the late thirties a new generation took an interest in communal village life. This led to The African Child and Things Fall Apart. As most Africans lived in small communities, it is not surprising that this has become the dominant ideology; but it should be remembered that it has only been in the last thirty‐five years that African literature has idealized such a life. Moreover, the best writers have always treated the pastoral view of village life with a certain skepticism or been aware that it is an ideal which cannot be restored. Recent writers have treated both the heroic and the commu‐ nal village ideal as mystifications designed to give a false authority to a corrupt ruling class. It is perhaps too early to define the new rhetoric, but certain clear, sometimes contradictory features have developed. Negritude, national independence, the heroic past and the idealized village are often mocked. Praise singers are seen as flatterers, traditional chief‐ tans are seen as petty tyrants. There is a return to the older ideal of Pan‐Africanism rather than an emphasis on national independence. There is the same continuing paradox of wanting to strengthen tradi‐ tional African culture while insisting that the rulers are not doing enough to spread the benefits and knowledge of foreign technology to the masses. There is the same continuing paradox of acting and speak‐ ing with great individualism while proclaiming an even greater need for communal solidarity. As in previous generations an African form of socialism is somehow seen as a solution for fusing foreign technol‐ ogy with communal culture. It is tempting to speak of the development of recent African literature in terms of class and politics. Thus the growing bourgeoisie

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 63 led the populace to throw out the colonialists, but the bourgeoisie upon gaining power failed to meet the aspirations of the populace and became the new colonialists. In this situation the writer, as a voice of the nation, becomes alienated and a critic of the new Africa. While such an analysis throws some light on the recent literature of disillu‐ sionment, it does not take into account that the writers themselves are part of the elite and bourgeoisie. Perhaps only Sembene Ousmane ex‐ presses the views of a laboring class growing into greater political awareness. In most other writings we are aware of a growing individ‐ ualism and alienation, mixed with a vague desire for ‘authenticity’. Sig‐ nificantly Ousmane’s work carefully explores the conflict between tra‐ dition and the needs of a technologically orientated modern Africa, of‐ ten choosing the latter, but, in the process, trying to develop its own vision in which radical and African consciousness can be blended. Thus there is in Ousmane’s work a political sophistication lacking in many other writers. It would be a mistake to equate the de‐ tailed Marxist analysis of social and political development in Ousmane’s view of modern Africa with the broader but less precise socialism of, say, Armah. Curiously the conservative fatalism of Ca‐ mara Laye, in its acceptance that technology will bring cultural and social change has more in common with Ousmane’s Marxism than have the writers usually identified as African socialists. Perhaps this paradox can be explained by Laye’s training as an engineer that like Ousmane’s experience as a laborer has prevented a confusion be‐ tween nostalgia for African traditional culture and the needs of mod‐ ern society. Two major themes of African literature, besides the attack on colonialism, are national corruption and the corrupting desire for Western material objects that destroys African spiritual values. These themes are related and are a result of contact with Western technol‐ ogy and its effects on traditional values. It is, however, obvious that the modern African state is committed to satisfying the demand for ‘things.’ The modern African writer is not a rich business man or a pol‐ itician, but as a member of the elite, he is also a product of a culture increasingly concerned with luxuries. The traditional theme of the

64 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE corruption of African values by Western ‘things’ (whether in The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, Ambiguous Adventure or No Longer at Ease) should be seen as reflecting a crisis of conscience (both moral and of awareness) within the elite. Because of p’Bitek and Achebe we commonly speak of the Af‐ rican writers’ roots in the oral communal tradition. But the African writer is an individual who adopts the communal pose both as a liter‐ ary technique and for an ideological purpose. In a sense he is similar to the Europe intellectuals who have since the early nineteenth cen‐ tury opposed the cultural and social effects of industrialization by ei‐ ther idealizing an harmonious agricultural society of the past or by envisaging some future Utopia. It is noticeable that in European writ‐ ing the same basic criticism of the effects of industrialization may make a writer conservative (praising the past) or radical (envisaging a future Utopia). Often both kinds of values exist side by side. A future communal or communist society is seen as a recreation of past values. In Africa there is as similar pattern; the nostalgia for an ideal‐ ized communal past is held simultaneously with a political radicalism that envisages a future socialist society on a continental scale. Some‐ how the values of the village and tribe are to be recreated through in‐ dustrialization and a highly complex structuring of society. While it is good that such a vision should be posited as an African authenticity in contrast to the worship of individualism and material wealth, it may also show part of the elite becoming alienated from its own class val‐ ues. If so, the radical African writer is analogous to the European bour‐ geois rebel. Looked at in this way, modern African literature can be seen as an expression and criticism of the new elite, the growing middle class and the westernized city dwellers who as a result of the colonial experience have become the rulers and set the style of modern Africa. However, there is a fundamental contradiction between the ideology expressed by most writers and their own position as artists. The dom‐ inant ideology has claimed to represent the community, but the writer as part of the Western educated elite is separate from the masses he claims to represent. Indeed the writer has seen his job as creating the

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 65 consciousness of the African people, which means transforming it into an identity desired by intellectuals. If, as seems likely, popular aspira‐ tions are for westernized luxuries and individual social advancement within a developing industrial society, the writer, committed to a nos‐ talgic view of the past, cannot help but become a critic of his society. Thus the alienation we notice in recent African literature. Yet, this alienation is, ironically, in itself Western (in contrast to communal African social values) and no doubt influences the in‐ creasingly strident calls for a return to authenticity, communal values, and an African socialism. Such contradictions can be traced at least as far back as E. Casely Hayford’s Ethiopia Unbound (1911), which both praises traditional village life and calls for the establishment of an Af‐ rican university to train new leaders of society. If such an observation is correct, the moral crisis of the African writer will produce a contin‐ uing desire for authenticity, sporadic idealizations of the past, a grow‐ ing alienated individualism, increased criticism of existing institu‐ tions, and a radical political stance.

Recurrent Patterns If I am right about the fundamental paradox that has shaped African literature, it should be possible to list a few patterns that re‐ cur. The first pattern might be called the ancestors who failed. This re‐ sults from the colonial conquest but is itself a reflection of a dynamic, changing society. It is necessary to emphasize this, since to an outsider one of the main qualities of African society is its syncretism. Contrast African society with, for example, Indian culture that appears never to change even when surrounded and apparently overwhelmed by other cultural values and superior technology. African society, however, is dynamic because it absorbs what it comes into contact with. In litera‐ ture this is reflected through the theme of failed ancestors, or more specifically by showing the limitations within the past culture. It could be argued, for example, that Things Fall Apart while showing the cul‐ tural dignity of a traditional African life reveals the inherent failures within traditional Igbo cultural values.



66 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE The line of literature somewhat critical of African past ex‐ tends from the early South African writers to such work as Bound to Violence. It could even be argued that Mofolo is the literary ancestor of both Tutuola and Achebe in praising the past while being conscious of its faults. That such writers have been influenced by Christian‐ ity―and thus by colonialism―has created a double vision in which af‐ firmation of past cultural dignity is undermined by imported values. Thus we see a basic contradiction. Traditional African culture is praised, colonialism and its disruptive effects are attacked, authentic‐ ity is to be sought, but the past has somehow failed; it was filled with tyrants, exploitation, slavery and undesirable rites. The second pattern is the search for authenticity. The specifics of authenticity change as society develops and as writers face new cul‐ tural and political situations. Empires were authentic, then village life, now it is undefined masses and Pan‐Africanism. According to the new ideologies the nostalgia for villages and empires is being used to hold down the masses and prevents the development of a genuine modern African culture. A third insight is that these changes are generational. Each generation will attack its parents and seek something more authentic, while perhaps not realizing that it has moved even further away from past customs. African history and tradition are rewritten to suit the needs of those in their late twenties and early thirties who see them‐ selves as the heirs of a corrupt lineage. Those in their forties will be seen as corrupt and ineffectual. This might be looked upon as a power struggle between generations with an age group challenging those now in control. Such conflict is probably influenced by the desire for jobs and status. The struggle, however, will take new forms because of the spread of education. With the spread of education, the power of the elite is challenged and those who were on the margins of power will assert their own right to authenticity and status. Thus Senghor claims to be an heir to both the métis elite of nineteenth‐century Sen‐ egal and the empires of the past. Ouologuem’s Bound to Violence at‐ tacks such former sources of authority because the author comes from a group that Senghor’s ancestors treated as inferior. In Sierra Leone

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 67 the young, less well‐off Creoles now identify with the inland tribes; their new African radicalism is a result of social change within Sierra Leone. Those Creoles who formerly were denied power have associ‐ ated themselves with the non‐Creoles in challenging the older elite.

Search for an African aesthetic Alongside the growth of new ideologies and sources of au‐ thenticity, there is a desire for an African aesthetic. Birago Diop’s Les Contes D’Amadou Koumba (1947) was an early example of recreating traditional methods of narration. The attempts by critics to find an Af‐ rican aesthetic in the non‐Western use of time, space and character are genuine response to certain African novels. But such critics failed to see that the literature under discussion had been shaped for ideo‐ logical purposes. While it is probably true that village and communal tribal life created a different psychology from that of an urbanized technological society, the transformation of such a vision into fictional techniques is part of the heritage of the Negritude protest against westernization. Such an aesthetic is thus ideological. Writers belong‐ ing to a westernized elite used such techniques to affirm or imply an African view of life equal to that of the West. This is not to deny that the representations may indeed imitate the texture of the past in con‐ trast to the present, but similar styles of life could possibly be found in pre‐industrial and rural society elsewhere. Indeed English litera‐ ture from the mid‐eighteenth century through D.H. Lawrence offers examples of writers attempting to create an idealized view of the rural past and its culture which industrialism had destroyed. My next suggestion is that each new generation and ideology will attempt to create an aesthetic of authenticity. It will attempt to imitate something which it claims to be traditional and more African than the literary forms used by previous generations. This ranges at present from the use of pidgin through traditional song and dirge forms to the use of European avant‐garde techniques disguised as re‐ flections of African consciousness. Again this is a continuing story: Ca‐ mara Laye’s representative African society, Achebe’s village life and



68 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Soyinka’s ritualistic plays. The various experiments in form and style taking place in West and East Africa were anticipated by the ways in which Césaire, Senghor and U’Tamsi adapted and modified the tech‐ niques of Claudel and the Surrealists to express a black cultural iden‐ tity. These are conscious attempts at an aesthetic and can be expected to intensify because of the very contradictions within the role of the writer in Africa. The traditional dirge singer does not write novels or plays for international performance. He does not teach literature courses at a university or edit a magazine. It is the writer in search of identity and status who will consciously attempt to be more African than his father. I am not suggesting that modern African literature is inau‐ thentic. It is as authentic as the modern African state, the modern Af‐ rican political leader, soldier, businessman, or industrial worker. Modern African literature reflects the dynamics of a society going through rapid transition. The importance of autobiography in African writing is a sign of this. As education spreads and a new mass‐edu‐ cated society develops, further changes in the themes, rhetoric and style of African literature will occur and it is possible that it may be more directly rooted in traditional culture. I doubt this. The new ur‐ ban educated masses may have even less contact with traditional cul‐ ture than the elite. (African literature now includes science fiction, pornography and detective stories.) If so, the search for authenticity will continue as a long‐established convention within the literary tra‐ dition. I do not think the increasing influence of foreign technology on society and culture will result in African literature being like that found elsewhere. Besides treating of the past and of future hopes, Af‐ rican literature will be concerned with the specifics of how a society develops, as living cultural traditions come under new pressure. It is the tension between the new and the old, whether in explicitly or im‐ plied values, which is likely to be a rich area for the literary imagina‐ tion. The recognition of such tension, with its opposing claims, is not the same as the idealization of the past. This provides us with a rule.



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 69 Modern African literature set in the past should be seen as fictional‐ ized transformations of contemporary problems or, if idealizations, as related to contemporary ideological needs. Thus Things Fall Apart re‐ flects many of the same social tensions as No Longer at Ease. The por‐ trayal of village life in The Great Ponds and the irony of its ending may be said to express both nostalgia for the past and an awareness that such a society is impossible for modern Nigeria. Even the Onitsha pamphlets provide analogies to the patterns we have noticed in elite literature. Here again we find the same ten‐ sion between supposedly traditional values and the demands and op‐ portunity offered by urban society. Hence the well‐known conflicts between showing how to get something and the final scene where suc‐ cess is punished. Again we have an urban class (shopkeepers, clerks, mechanics) who aspired through westernization to move upward so‐ cially and financially, and here again we have though more crudely, homage paid to what is felt as past values. When will this process end? It is doubtful that it will in the near future. The reaction against industrialization has continued in Western literature for two centuries as has the development of sym‐ bolism and various formalistic techniques that reflect, if only by pro‐ test, the growth of urban industrial society and its effects on the indi‐ vidual and community. It is, however, probable that another literary tradition will develop alongside the patterns we have noticed. While it is necessary to record traditional Africa before it has been trans‐ formed beyond memory by the growth of a modern industrial Africa, the continuing emphasis given the past is in itself reactionary. There is a modern Africa of industrial workers, professionals, soldiers, busi‐ nessmen, civil servants, intellectuals, politicians, teachers and villag‐ ers making the transition from traditional to modern society. If art is an imitation of nature, the problems, conflicts, decisions and lives of such people would seem logical subjects for a contemporary African literature. Such an art would require a different, more realistic aes‐ thetic from that which has prevailed. While the main line of modern African literature has been the pastoral nostalgia of Senghor, Laye, and Achebe, it is possible that in the near future authors will learn

70 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE their craft from such classic writers but will see their subject‐matter as a development of the territory explored by the Onitsha pamphlet, Ekwensi and Ousmane. There is no assurance, however, that such writing will be better. The great modern classics of European litera‐ ture are less often shaped by realism than by reactionary mythologies. It is possible that the realistic aesthetic will develop in television plays rather than novels and poems.



Chapter 6 African Literature and Aesthetics Many African critics have claimed it is wrong to judge the con‐ tinent’s literature by European standards. As Chinese art, Indian mu‐ sic and Yoruba culture are created according to different kinds of taste and satisfy different needs, from their European counterparts, why should not this be true of African writing? Modern literature, however, came to Africa from Europe. As the continent has adopted Western genres, in contrast to the oral tra‐ dition, it is patronizing to evaluate its novels, plays and poems by any other standards than those that would prevail in Paris, London or New York. It could be argued that the claim for an African aesthetic is sim‐ ilar to the argument that has been advanced by many black Americans who say that their literature reflects an oral tradition. Such a claim might explain some characteristics of style in African poetry and prose. But in fact notions of an African aesthetic have changed over the decades. The first clear attempt to define and demonstrate an African literary aesthetic was Janheinz Jahn’s in Muntu and History of Neo‐Af‐ rican Literature. Jahn showed that such poets as L.S. Senghor and Aimé Césaire make use of strong rhythmic devices in their verse. The sup‐ posedly African tom‐tom rhythms were not common to French poetry but could be found in earlier West Indian and Cuban writing. In prov‐ ing the tradition Jahn unfortunately showed both its source and its lack of racial validity. The tradition began in the Harlem Renaissance ‐ and can probably be traced the turn of the century black American writing, where attempts were made to capture the moods and synco‐ pations of black music in prose and poetry. From North America it spread to the West Indies, where, ironically, many of the best‐known Cuban Negrit poets were white, and to Paris where it was taken up by the Negritude writers. Often the rhythm was no more than Camara Laye’s conscious, if psychologically effective, use of repetition of key‐ words in L’Enfant noir as a means of conveying an equivalent to the 71

72 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE beat of the drummer. The inability of rhythm to define an African aes‐ thetic is shown by Jahn’s later admission that such writers from Nige‐ ria as Achebe, Soyinka and Clark were not obsessed with the beat of the drum and that the earlier style was a necessary stage in the cul‐ tural politics of opposition. There was often romanticism in earlier theories of an African aesthetic. Senghor’s claim that the black man was closer to nature, more sensuous, along with his use of images of masks and allusions to the warrior kings of the past, and his argument that African writing was somehow akin to Surrealism now seem dated, although they helped Senghor and his generation to produce some very fine poetry. That such claims are products of a period is shown by the poor imita‐ tions produced by the Ghanaian poets who attempted to write in a Senghorian style. While the Nigerian poet J.P. Clark has argued for the importance of imagery in African writing, claiming it as a language of Caliban, his own poems have mostly been within a recognizable Euro‐ peans tradition. The Nigerian poets of his generation, of whom Chris‐ topher Okigbo remains the most impressive, use images and symbols in ways derived from G.M. Hopkins, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot; later they begin to explore the allusive obliqueness of the oral tradition, and the resources of tribal languages, as an alternative to, or extension of, modernist verse techniques. The attraction of the oral tradition is natural and would seem an obvious source for an African aesthetic. Besides Clark and Okigbo’s rediscovery of the methods of chant and song and Okot p’Bitek’s translation of his own verse from the vernacular into English, Wole Soyinka has used the metaphoric and textual characteristics of the Yo‐ ruba language in both his poems and plays. Whether this has always been an advantage to Soyinka is perhaps debatable. The more inter‐ esting question is whether such resources can be transferred to such genres as the novel and drama. Are they simply stylistic devices simi‐ lar to dialect? The claim by Kofi Awoonor that his novel, This Earth, My Brother, is based on a dirge may explain some images and structural principles, but the book, despite its passages of poetry and closeness



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 73 in places to some of his verse, would seem to be similar to many mod‐ ern European novels. Ayi Kewi Armah’s Thousand Seasons is another novel supposedly based on traditional African oral song forms. Alt‐ hough Armah is more consistent in style and mode than Awoonor, he appears to have created an equivalence that, although impressive in its unlikeness to the European novel, is far different from the oral tra‐ dition from which he has consciously borrowed his techniques. J.P. Clark’s attempt in Ozidi to translate a tribal epic ceremony to the the‐ atre has proved unstageable and is, I think, somewhat incoherent as a result of the need to compress its mythic symbolism. Attempts in East Africa to create an oral form of drama owe more to the experiments of Peter Brook than to tribal tradition. Whereas popular drama has developed in Africa, mixing song and dance and making free use of the relationship between stage and audience, it has been unlike the at‐ tempts of the elite to create within Western stage conventions a con‐ sciously African art form. At the time when Achebe’s Things Fall Apart appeared, fol‐ lowed by the novels of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, it was often claimed that African differed from European literature in reflecting and in its form the communal nature of village in tribal society. Things Fall Apart largely is narrated from the communal point of view and Ngugi’s nov‐ els try to show the individual caught within the larger conflict in which his own dilemma was subsumed by that of the tribe and nation. Such an argument was often advanced both for ideological reasons and to explain the weak characterizations found in some of the lesser African novelists; its most coherent expression is in Charles Larson’s The Emergence of African Fiction. It was an attractive theory, but it can now be seen as part of the period when the nostalgic assertion of the dignity of village life accompanied the cultural claims of independence in an Africa that was rapidly becoming urban and modern. Characterization has continued to plague many African writers―which may or may not have some‐ thing to do with cultural upbringing―and many of the best ones have preferred political, social or philosophical themes to individual psy‐



74 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE chology. But in general the communal point of view and stories of vil‐ lage life soon gave way to the more individualistic criticisms found in post‐independence writing. Achebe’s No Longer at Ease and A Man of the People, Soyinka’s The Interpreters and Armah’s first novels were clear instances of the change. If Ngugi has attempted still to write tribal and national novels, much of the most interesting recent fiction has dealt with the problems of individuals in modern Africa. It is true, however, that because of the highly political nature of modern African society, writers continue to focus more on public than private con‐ cerns. Perhaps the most interesting claim for what might be de‐ scribed as an African aesthetic is Soyinka’s belief that the authentic writing of the continent is ritualistic and re‐enacts tribal myth. Such myth in itself, according to Soyinka’s Myth, Literature and the African World, is an embodiment of a primordial drama, the African equiva‐ lent of the biblical creation or of Greek myth. Soyinka’s own plays, po‐ ems and his recent novel, Season of Anomy, might be described as al‐ legories of parts of the Yoruba Ogun myth, itself part of the Yoruba account of creation. After the shattering of the original unity into frag‐ ments, Ogun, one of the deities, must cross primordial chaos and lead the gods to mankind in the world of the living. This links the world of the spiritual to the material and creates the unified worldview of Yo‐ ruba culture. Subsequent stages of the story include Ogun’s attempt to live among mankind, his drunken slaughter of his own army, his real‐ ization of what he has done and his retirement. Most of Soyinka’s work is sacramental, reflecting this myth that is as much a part of the Yo‐ ruba Ogun ritual as Christ’s passion is part of the Roman Catholic mass. Soyinka claims that the writer, the actor and the man of action all must become possessed and undergo a similar experience to Ogun passing through chaos and despair to rebirth and affirmation. His au‐ tobiographical The Man Died, recounting his imprisonment during the Nigerian Civil War, shows the ritual being re‐enacted at the level of personal psychology.



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 75 Soyinka’s ritualistic interpretation of African literature is at‐ tractive because it explains his own often difficult work. In his criti‐ cism he has shown how it is applicable to the writing of both Amos Tutuola and Christopher Okigbo. In both The Palm‐Wine Drinkard and Labyrinths there is a similar movement through despair towards re‐ generation. While the quest pattern is universal and not limited to one continent, this could support Soyinka’s claim that the ultimate truth embodied in African literature can be found in the Greek rituals and drama of Europe and other cultures before rationalism and science alienated man from the spiritual and fragmented his knowledge into specialized compartments. Views similar to those of Soyinka’s have been expressed in recent years by other African writers. Kofi Awoonor has agreed with Soyinka that both his own novel and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, although coming from non‐Yoruba cultures, express a sim‐ ilar ritualistic movement. In the second edition of Arrow of God, Achebe’s preface speaks of the novel as a rite of passage of the com‐ munity. The Ghanaian dramatist J.C. De Graft, while accepting Western forms of theater, has argued the actors need to go beyond representa‐ tion to possession similar to that found in ritual. Possession is a key term when describing such experiences. In Soyinka’s The Road, the Professor, the main character, fails to find the Word because he approaches it rationally and is never possessed; however, a semi‐literate who is wearing a tribal mask when struck by a lorry remains in a state between life and death and possesses the Word the Professor cannot know. A West Indian poet, Edward Brathwaite, who lived in Ghana, claims to find in such possession the source of community and the inspiration for his poetry. Another West Indian poet, Derek Walcott, claims that such experiences are impossi‐ ble in the Caribbean, where the old gods have died and he cites the difficulty of staging Soyinka’s plays in Trinidad as an example of the West Indian not knowing the true state of possession. His own play, A Dream on Monkey Mountain, attempts to distinguish between true possession and hallucinations of authenticity brought about by psy‐ chological and social oppression.



76 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Is the ritualistic the basis of the African aesthetic or is it an‐ other attempt by black writers to find something unique in their writ‐ ing? In the case of Soyinka’s the Ogun cult is part of the heritage of Abeokuta where he was raised; after graduating from university he did research into dramatic elements in Yoruba ritual. While I am told that the specifics of the Ogun cult are not common to Yoruba belief, Yoruba culture, which emphasizes the importance of ritualistic sacri‐ fice as a means of communication with the dead, was not destroyed by colonialism. Previous Yoruba writers, such as D.O. Fagunwa and Amos Tutuola, also make use of quests of Yoruba tales symbolic of the jour‐ ney between life and death and the reunion of earth and heaven. The notion that the quest motive embodies a ritual, the belief that drama rises from ritual and the idea that earlier societies had rituals which express the cycle of the seasons, the process of growth, fruition, death and rebirth, and the status of the spiritual health of the community, were, however, very much part of the turn of the twentieth century. They found expression in Frazer’s Golden Bough, T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, and Jessie Weston’s From Ritual to Romance. Have recent Afri‐ can writers rediscovered ageless spiritual truths or have they applied somewhat out‐of‐date anthropological criticism to their own work in the attempt to reintegrate themselves to tribal cultures now threat‐ ened by the rapid growth of industrialization and urbanization in the modern African states?



Chapter 7 Is There a Nigerian Literature? Is there a Nigerian literature? There is a Nigerian national state with significant creative writing in English and other languages. It is partly the English‐language literature that presents the problem. Both Africans and Europeans seem happier when speaking of tribal or ethnic literatures than national African literatures. It is as if the boundaries of the national states were still considered artificial, a con‐ tinuing reminder of the division of Africa into colonies. There was a time shortly after the independence period when many nationalist and politically radical voices said that writing in the language of the former colonizer was not African. While such voices have not totally disappeared, they are not as strong today as previously, if only be‐ cause it is usually recognized that Africa has more pressing problems. The argument against the use of English, however, does have its rele‐ vance to the question of a national literature. Is there something that might be described as national in contrast to a grouping within an ar‐ tificial boundary of what are essentially ethnic literatures reflecting the perspectives of those whose primary identification is with tribal society and culture? Regarded in this light the problem looks different, as many West Africans would probably agree that the most common identification is first with village and tribe rather than nation. This would allow us, presumably, to regard both oral and modern written creative literature in indigenous languages as first tribal and national as result of the accident of colonial boundaries. I am not certain whether this is a valid claim as it ignores the cultural and historical context of the tribal literatures and how they reflect or have been influenced by their societies in relation to na‐ tional social and cultural changes of the past century. My impression is that some well‐known modern classics of tribal literatures are in fact so influenced by Western models that there is a disjuncture from the oral tradition; modern tribal literature, at least in its printed form, itself begins after colonialism, making the transition towards what 77

78 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE will become a westernized national literature.1 In any case, writing in English is the main subject of the question. It is tempting to dismiss the question by saying that because of historical circumstances English is the only national language of Ni‐ geria, the only language linking the various communal groups, and therefore Nigerian English‐language literature is the national litera‐ ture, even if perhaps only one‐third of the population knows English. I suspect that despite its apparent simplicity such an argument is cor‐ rect; but as it is open to many objections it will need to be examined further and tested.2 Some objections, further questions or reservations which come to mind include: Do Nigerian writers regard themselves and their writing as tribal, Nigerian, African or black? Is there any change in attitude towards a national cultural identity since independence? What is the internal evidence offered by the literature itself of a na‐ tional identity and does it change over the decades? What is the rela‐ tionship of the English‐language to the tribal literatures? Do the vari‐ ous critical and scholarly studies offer a guide to some national char‐ acteristics or have they unthinkingly followed the habit or organizing the study of European and North American literature by national boundaries? Is it a national literature like Canadian, Indian, British or Australian literature? What is the basis of or reason for questioning whether there is a national literature? Are there other approaches, such a sociological, historical, or in terms of poetics, that might yield a more significant way of tackling the question? 1 2

D.O Fagunwa, for example, is obviously influenced by Christianity and Western literature. The language issue is usually a red herring used to disguise specific ideo‐ logical or social aims. A foreign language is transformed and indigenized over a period of time as its use spreads below the colonial elite. For dis‐ cussion and analysis, see the articles on Nigerian and African English, and Joshua Fishman on the sociology involved, in Braj B. Kachru (ed.), The Other Tongue: English Across Cultures (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982). The best study of the relationship of traditional languages to nationalism is Joshua A. Fishman, Language and Nationalism (Rowley, Massachusetts: Newbury House Publishers, 1972).



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 79 While I have undoubtedly raised more questions than I can reasonably discuss, I think I have shown that the problem is a bit more sophisticated or complex than the ways it is usually approached. But because of its complexity, and as I do not want to write a book on the subject, I will need to assume familiarity with the various works and facts involved and treat matters in a somewhat summary fashion. For reasons that will be apparent, I need to separate early Nigerian Eng‐ lish literature from writing after the civil war. My impression is that the generation of writers who appeared at independence―Soyinka, Achebe, Okigbo, Clark, Okara, etc.―at irst thought of themselves in non‐national terms. Their self‐identification was more tribal and African. For example in Morning Yet On Creation Day of Achebe’s fifteen essays six have such titles as “Africa and Her Writers” or “Thoughts on the African Novel” and three treat of such specifically Igbo subjects as “Chi in Igbo Cosmology” and “Onitsha Gift of the Niger.” No title includes “Nigeria” and the only essay to refer specifically to a Nigerian, rather than Igbo, topic is the defense of writ‐ ing in English, written in reply to Tai Solarin’s newspaper columns. As Achebe said in Morning Yet On Creation Day, “the national literature of Nigeria and of many other countries of Africa is, or will be, written in English … these nations were created in the first place by the inter‐ vention of the British.” “ African writers who have chosen to write in English or French … are by‐products of the same process that made the new nation‐states of Africa.” “The only reason why we can even talk about African unity is that when we get together we can have a manageable number of languages to talk in―English, French, Arabic.”3 In other words, Achebe was at this point still thinking in terms of tribes; the nation and Pan‐Africanism are the result of colonialism. J.P. Clark made a similar point in objecting to generalization about African culture. The primary identification at the time of inde‐ pendence was ethnic:

3

Chinua Achebe, Morning Yet On Creation Day (London: Heinemann, 1975), pp. 94‐95.



80 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Then there is the fantastic variety of ethnic group‐ ings of peoples, ‘tribes and clans’ as these are called, with all their different languages, their social systems, their customs and conventions of religion, their practice of art and all that sum total of activities which members of each group have and share in common from birth till death, identifying them from others however closely related. There are hundreds of such human groups, each perhaps as distinct from the other as the Slavs are from the Latin or the Germanic peoples. If I seem to place a premium on difference of iden‐ tity, it is because there is the need to do this so that we do not fall into the popular pastime of indiscriminately lumping together African peoples. For Clark, as for Achebe, even the notion of Africa is a result of European colonialism which disrupted the tribal with the new cul‐ tural, racial and political concepts. After, in “Themes of African Poetry of English Expression,” surveying the nations in which English is ‘the common language,’ ‘the hard political and economic reality,’ he cites Abioseh Nicol’s poem “The Meaning of Africa” to illustrate what Africa means to the Anglophone West African writers: You are not a country, Africa, You are a Concept, Fashioned in our minds, each to each, To hide our separate fears, To dream our separate dreams.4 Although Ekwensi wrote on “Problems of Nigerian Writers,” Achebe was concerned with “English and the African Writer,” Soyinka

4

J.P. Clark, The Example of Shakespeare (Evanston: Northwestern Univer‐ sity Press, 1970), p. 42 and p. 40.



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 81 with “The Writer in an African State” and Clark with “Poetry in Africa Today.”5 Perhaps because Ekwensi is older, born in 1921, and lived throughout the nationalist pre‐independence period, he is the only Ni‐ gerian writer to refer to Nigeria, whereas the younger generation, born in the 1930s, think of Africa. In Soyinka’s Myth, Literature and the African World the claimed frame of reference is African, while the ac‐ tual context is primarily based on Yoruba culture. The index never mentions Nigeria. The only references to Nigeria I have noticed are the mention of “Duro Ladipo’s company, also of Nigeria” in a compar‐ ison of various kinds of ritual drama and the footnote on page 38 re‐ ferring to a traditional mask‐drama Soyinka observed, “some three miles south of Ihiala in the then Eastern Region of Nigeria, 1961.”6 Throughout the book Soyinka refers to the Yoruba and African world‐ view. I will refer to this later; but I want to qualify my claim that primary identification was with tribe. As at first Nigeria was divided into three large political regions under the dominance of the three ma‐ jor ethnic groups, and as tribes consisted of various sub‐groups, clans, etc., the identification was far different from what an outsider would consider a tribe. Identification might, in the case of Soyinka, be an area of Yorubaland; in the case of Okigbo identification seems diffuse and included the whole of what was then the Eastern Region of Nigeria; for Achebe it was a group of related villages, which comprised the unit of cultural identify and which he regarded as Igbo despite his aware‐ ness of the range of Igbo customs. His four novels traced the corrupt‐ ing effect of colonialism in mixing people with different values where there is no local social cohesion. Although a criticism of British rule, the novels show that there is no national community, only individuals and groups seeking what they can get. I think the attempted Biafran secession and the resulting Civil War brought a sense of national consciousness to the writers. Beyond 5 6

Ekwensi, Nigeria Magazine, 78 (September 1963); Achebe, Transition, 18 (1965); Soyinka, Transition, 31 (1967); Clark, Transition, 18 (1965). Wole Soyinka, Myth, Literature and the African World (London: Cam‐ bridge University Press, 1976), p. 38.



82 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE the creation of an ideology of the nation meant to cement the various groups into the community and the realistic fear of further national fragmentation and secessions, there were significant social changes as the three regions were divided into numerous states, giving minority tribes a voice. Many people, including writers or those associated with them, were brought into the government. Many smaller tribes from the Eastern Region felt liberated from Igbo dominance and supported the federal government. J.P. Clark, Tsaro‐Wiwa and Elechi Amadi were among the writers associated with the government, while Achebe, Ekwensi and Okigbo were Biafrans. Soyinka was imprisoned, he claims, for attempting to reach a compromise to form a third force, although the federal government claims it was for attending to ar‐ range a Yoruba uprising in support of the Biafrans. Although this would appear to suggest that the country was falling into two blocks, the former alliance of the Igbos with the Awolowo Yorubas against a federal group consisting of the North with its Akintola Yoruba allies now joined by many of the minority tribes and formerly unrepresented groups (such as northern Christians), the crisis of the secession effectively changed political alignments and has resulted in a more complex scene. Soyinka’s embittered post‐war writing, such as novel Season of Anomy, continues to regard the north as alien conquerors of the south, which is representative for him of the true Nigeria; but one result of the war was to make writers feel in terms of nation, whether or not they accepted who was in power. I am suggesting that the Civil War had a similar effect on identity to that of Fanon’s model of national liberation struggle. Most Nigerian writers had been children during the early nationalist phase of independence movement in the 1940s; as independence appeared to have come eas‐ ily they had developed no previous sense of Nigeria as more than a state, a ruling body, before the attempted Biafran secession of the war years. Ekwensi’s People of the City is the only work to refer to the na‐ tional movement. Ekwensi probably wrote his sketches that went into the novel during the late 1940s. By contrast Kole Omotoso’s Civil War novel The Combat was a sign that the nation as well as tribe and Africa was becoming a source of identity. This change can be seen in

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 83 Achebe’s 1968 comments in “The African Writer and the Biafran Cause” where, after describing earlier protest writing as trying to re‐ store to Africans “a good opinion of themselves”, he says: “Within six years of independence, Nigeria was a cesspool of corruption and mis‐ rule." "The creative writer in independent Nigeria found himself with a new, terrifying problem on his hands. He found that the independ‐ ence of his country was supposed to have was totally without con‐ tent.”7 There were several significant changes in the characteristics of Nigerian literature as a result of the war. One was the use of tech‐ niques and models from oral literature to treat of the war. This was first seen in Okigbo’s last poems and later in Clark’s poems on the war. With Okigbo the change in style and mode occurs with poems proph‐ esying war: “Path of Thunder,” which first appeared in Black Orpheus after his death.8 J.P. Clark’s Casualties: Poems 1966‐68 (1970) records both Clark’s view of what happened and his love of friends who had chosen Biafra. It seems significant that both are concerned with the nation, unlike their previous poetry which was mostly about them‐ selves as individuals and their perceptions; to express a national vi‐ sion they turned to an imitation of oral literary formulae: in other words, a nationalist mode which they previously ignored in favor of using modern English poetry, with its individualistic bias, as a model. In adapting animal folk tales as a method, Clark was trying to find a traditional form closer to oral poetics than his previous verse. Another consequence of the war was a new radicalization of Nigerian politics as reflected in the later works of Soyinka, Omotoso and others. This includes anger, the foregrounding of the political, some variety of so‐ cialism and a deeper involvement with Pan‐African problems, espe‐ cially the situation in South Africa. Soyinka’s Ogun Abibiman (1976) is representative of this new mood. A major change in Nigerian literature after the Civil War is the appearance of a new generation of novelists who treat Nigeria as a

7 8

Morning Yet on Creation Day, pp. 137‐147. Black Orpheus, 2, 1(February 1968), 5‐11.



84 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE country with a modern history; their characters refer to themselves as having grown up after independence or discuss life during the Civil War. Many of these writers are Igbo or from minority tribes that suf‐ fered during the secession. History has stopped being mythical and tribal; it has become recent and national. This sense of a nation is also reflected in the space covered by some novels. Whereas earlier novels were concerned with Onitsha or the Lagos‐Ibadan area, novels now may be set in Kaduna or other areas formerly neglected by the writ‐ ers; the characters move from city to city, mixing with people of other tribes and beliefs. It is interesting to contrast John Munonye’s The Only Son (1966) with Labo Yari’s The Climate of Corruption (1978) or Festus Iyayi’s Violence (1979).9 Munonye’s novel uses the Achebe formula of examining family relations in a small locale. It is set in “Umodiobia of ten villages and two.” Much of its material is anthropological and it is concerned with the rupture of family and community ties as a result of the coming of colonization. By contrast the new novelists focus on the contemporary national problems. Yari’s novel is a later develop‐ ment of the Onitsha theme of the corruption caused by urban life. Here the central figure is a Muslim who lives in what he considers a corrupt Kaduna; the family moves to Lagos, mixes with other communities and becomes totally corrupted. Iyayi’s novel portrays the condition of the poor, those without education or jobs, and shows the corruption and violence to which they are driven. The concern of these books is not the breakdown of community brought about by contact with the West. That has become the forgotten past. The writers focus on the injustices, corruption and lack of ethical and moral standards throughout contemporary Nigeria. It is no longer necessary to create a ‘usable past’; there is now a modern Nigeria with its own history of events and problems.

9

John Munonye, The Only Son (London:Heinemann, 1966). Labo Yari, The Climate of Corruption (Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1978). Fes‐ tus Iyayi, Violence (London: Longman Drumbeat, 1979).



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 85 I think the difference in national space covered by recent nov‐ els and the seeing of people in terms of class are significant when com‐ pared to the small locals recorded in earlier Nigerian literature with its tendency to view society through a local, tribal perspective. While Soyinka’s The Interpreters had some non‐Yoruba characters, it was concerned with Lagos and Ibadan, its characters were predominantly Yoruba and it saw life in relation to Soyinka’s Yoruba mythology. Kongi’s Harvest might be said to be about politics throughout Africa, but its source was Akintola’s regime in the then Western Region.10 By contrast, Kaduna and the North are symbolic in A Season of Anomy, but exist as real places in the map of Nigeria portrayed in his novel. Since the independence generation of Nigerian writers saw themselves as having an African or tribal identity, it is not surprising that critics have regarded Nigerian literature as pluralistic in its cul‐ ture and as having tribal styles. There is some truth to this. The use of the quest plot, a metaphoric allegory, and the importance of sacrifice can be found in Fagunwa, Tutuola and Soyinka.11 Soyinka clearly sees himself working in a Yoruba tradition both in the mythology that is the substructure of his creative writing and in his view of drama as possession and ritual. Yoruba history is the subject of Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, and of Ola Rotimi’s plays, in which charac‐ ters are given an heroic grandeur. There is also an obvious line of Igbo novelists concerned with the effects of social change on what they re‐ gard as Igbo communal values, their subject tends to be the traditional life of the village (which is portrayed from an anthropologist’s per‐ spective) and the corruption of communal values by outside contact in the cities or as the result of colonialism. Soyinka Yorubaizes English and uses Yoruba songs in his plays; Achebe and his followers use Igbo idioms and sometimes write in an Igboized English. In The Voice Okara creates an Ijaw English for his novel. 10

See James Gibbs, Study Aid to Soyinka’s “Kongi’s Harvest” (London: Rex Collings, 1973) p. 17; and Bruce King, New English Literatures: Cultural Nationalism in a Changing World (London: Macmillan, 1980), p. 90. 11 See Abiola Irele, “Tradition and the Yoruba Writer: D.O. Fagunwa, Amos Tutuola and Wole Soyinka,” Odu, N.S. 11 (1975), 75‐100.



86 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE While such characteristics undoubtedly reflect the cultures, history and social changes of the societies of the writers, I am no longer convinced that the evidence proves there are tribal literary modes. Okigbo’s work, for example, seems totally the opposite of the realism and social concerns of Ekwensi and Achebe. Since many Igbo poets seem to be influenced by Okigbo, it seems more likely that there are schools of writing that have developed as a result of the models created by earlier writers. For example there is an Okigbo‐influenced school of University of Nigeria, Nsukka poets, including Pol Ndu and Okogbule Wonodi.12 While Soyinka’s ritualized drama could be seen in metaphoric relationship to Yoruba sacrifice and mythology, it could just as easily be a conscious indigenization of what an older generation of scholars and T.S. Eliot felt was the relationship between ancient ritual, funeral ceremonies, the Roman Catholic mass and early drama. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral is an example of a play that reenacts the mass both in plot and symbolism and in having a mass at its centre; Eliot believed that Greek and early Elizabethan tragedy developed from ritual. Sim‐ ilarly Achebe can be said to have consciously naturalized the Euro‐ pean novel into a form appropriate for the communal life of a village and clan. While Nigerian poetry has tribalized traditional forms, it is still more rooted in European than oral literatures. I think that follow‐ ing the example of the Irish Renaissance the Nigerian writers tried to transform European literary genres to make them less alien, more Ni‐ gerian, by reshaping them in relation to their tribal culture or society. Their example was in turn followed by some later writers, who could be said to belong to their school. It would be better to think in terms of various schools of Nigerian writers, not a plurality of tribal litera‐ tures in English called Nigerian for convenience. That each school makes use of cultural, social and linguistic materials from the tribe to which the members belong does not seem

12

See Peter Thomas, “Ride Me Memories,” African Arts, 1,4 (1968), 68‐70; Hezzy Maduakor, “Peter Thomas and the Development of Modern Nige‐ rian Poetry,” Research in African Literatures, 11,1 (Spring 1980), 84‐99).



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 87 to me radically different from the affinities often found among re‐ gional writers in, for example, Canada, the American South, or parts of Australia where regional literary traditions share characteristics of language, style, form, as well as having a common mythology, values and kinds of subject matter. Although Africans sometimes speak of a West African litera‐ ture, it could be argued that literary criticism and scholarship have demonstrated a Nigerian literature. It is difficult to know what Sen‐ ghor, Beti, Armah, Clark, Okigbo, Ekwensi and Soyinka have in com‐ mon beyond a concern with Africa. Criticism at such a level quickly turns into vague clichés about protest, black identity or African cul‐ ture that have little relevance to the specific characteristics, styles, qualities and themes of each of the Nigerian writers. Soyinka’s early remark about Duikertude is appropriate. But if a West African identity is too vague to be useful, is a Nigerian identity really more specific? Perhaps my own experience may throw a little light on this problem. Introduction to Nigerian Literature13 was started during the Civil War because there was a felt need for something more compact and relevant than the wide surveys of African literature that existed at the time. Establishing a canon of Nigerian literature rejected the in‐ coherence of Pan‐African literary criticism, which always seemed to tell the same Negritude protest story; the Civil War had made many Nigerians aware that in the years since independence a modern cul‐ ture with its own literature had emerged and it was time to start judg‐ ing it and putting it into some kind of order. Significantly, no one at the University of Lagos questioned, as they might have done at the time, whether Achebe, Ekwensi and Okigbo were Nigerian. The gov‐ ernment’s ideology during the war said they were. The war was being fought to keep them Nigerians. Nor did anyone, as an American in a similar situation might, call them traitors and argue for their exclu‐ sion. The only questions raised concerned some borderline cases who

13

Bruce King (ed.), Introduction to Nigerian Literature (Lagos: University of Lagos Press, and London: Evans Brothers, 1971; New York: Africana Pub‐ lishing Company, 1971).



88 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE eventually were not subjects of essays because the literary critics in‐ volved with the collection felt they were not in the same league or had not yet published enough. There was, in other words, a clear view of who were the significant writers and what constituted Nigerian liter‐ ature by the University Publications Committee (all Nigerians) and by the Nigerian lecturers and foreign critics who were consulted about the collection. Despite each person identifying with a tribe, a national mentality was in the process of formation. Curiously during the Civil War communications between Ni‐ geria and Biafra were fairly easy. I wrote to a former Ibadan University lecturer who was then fighting for Biafra, asking whether he would undertake one of the essays and received a reply from his wife that in the circumstances he could not. It now seems incredible that I should have expected him to write for the collection and that the University would publish it. But that I could think this natural was an indication that despite the tribalism and the war there was a social‐cultural ho‐ mogeny among the writers, critics and academics. I think Bernth Lindfors’s Early Nigerian Literature offers evi‐ dence of how this mentality was formed, in his studies of school and university publications, his record of clubs and social elites and his examination of some pre‐independence creative writing.14 By the time of Civil War modern Nigerian literature already had a history of sev‐ eral decades and the leading role of the Ibadan‐Black Orpheus‐Mbari group had been in process for over a decade. Moreover it was closely involved with other arts, such as theatre, painting and a renaissance in traditional crafts. (The common African tie‐dye shirt was in the early 1960s an “Mbari shirt” as the fashion was apparently started by the writers and artists.) There was a culture that reflected a society. Studies by others have discussed the role of the Mbari Club and the creative groups of Nsukka and colleges in the East of Nigeria. The three main objections to treating Nigerian literature as a national literature might be described as quantitative, thematic and

14

Bernth Lindfors, Early Nigerian Literature (New York: Africana Publish‐ ing Company, 1982).



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 89 ideological. Those who argue there is not a sufficient body of major texts and authors are, I think, disproved by the large number of works of criticism on Soyinka, Clark, Okigbo, Achebe, Ekwensi, Tutuola and the articles on Aluko, Munonye, Omotoso, Okara and others. There are many national literatures that would like to have such attention by critics and to be so widely taught throughout the world. As for those who feel a literature must have a clear thematic identity, such as the pushing back of a frontier or the study of a class system, I think they are confusing the excluding nature of an academic thesis with a na‐ tional literature. Such criticism has a habit of leaving out more than it includes, significantly leaving out major writers to study minor figures of historical interest. But if such a theme is needed, I think it can be found in the way Nigerian literature has been concerned with the cor‐ ruption and political turmoil that has followed and preceded the cre‐ ation of the new nation and the attempts to explain this in relation to the past. Such a definition would be too exclusive for my tastes, but it would cover Soyinka, Achebe, Tutuola and others: and it is more sig‐ nificant and continuous than the concern with biculturalism in the early phase. Another objection is that the recognition of national litera‐ tures is politically conservative as it shifts the focus of attention from the need for Pan‐Africanist political consciousness. While it is possible to offer a sophisticated reply, it would not, I think, meet the objection, which is really a demand that literature travel a particular road. Such an objection is against the historical consequences of colonialism in the form of present‐day African national states and is a throwback to earlier times when some form of Pan‐Black consciousness was a cul‐ tural, political necessity. While its usefulness is not finished, and will not be in the foreseeable future, it has been overtaken by events and necessity. Modern African nations exist and each has its own society and culture, although, as with Denmark, Switzerland and Belgium, it may share parts of both with other nations to which some of its people have ethnic identity, history and shared language. As I have been implying that one useful approach to a national literature is a mixture of historical and sociological, I will suggest how

90 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE this might be formulated. I will only discuss elite literature, as that is the usual basis of identifying a literature. Although I agree that litera‐ ture in tribal languages, Onitsha marketplace writing and popular drama need to be placed in the picture, I think it no more necessary to do so than to define the main contours of American or Canadian liter‐ ature by its popular, regional or ethnic literatures, although they do modify the story. In any case I think that formulations of Nigerian writing in terms of Yoruba or Igbo ethnic traditions, while correctly pointing to social and religious influences on individual writers, are often an attempt at appropriating a national literature for a particular group. Onitsha marketplace writing, concerned with the effects of Igbo capitalism on the values of the village and clan, is an interesting social phenomenon with some thematic links to the novels of Ekwensi and Achebe, but it is not really relevant to Okigbo’s poetry. The much asserted importance of Yoruba popular drama does not seem to have any clear relationship to the plays of Soyinka or Rotimi. Popular liter‐ ature becomes significant in defining national culture when an elite writer, such as Omotoso, consciously decides for political reasons to write for that market, as happened after the Civil War. I think the de‐ sire to see African writing in tribal terms reflects both a simplified so‐ ciology and a cultural conservatism on the part of academic critics, who prefer to see literature in terms of a past history rather than in response to social changes. It might be useful if I made a further dis‐ tinction between social identity and belief. Okigbo’s social group was the Igbo tribe but when he speaks of himself as being incarnation of a priestly grandparent, that is a modern quest for identity rather than a firmly held belief as part of a religion he accepted. Okigbo's family were Catholics, he was educated as a Catholic and his poems draw parallels between Christian and Igbo beliefs. He is not mentally situated within an Igbo belief system. When Oyin Ogunba writes of sacrificial elements in Soyinka’s work I have the impression that Ogunba believes in sacrifice in traditional Yoruba



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 91 ways.15 Soyinka’s view of sacrifice is idiosyncratic, and he has admit‐ ted to bending traditions and myths to his ‘own requirements.’16 The play Strong Breed is a criticism of traditional notions of sacrifice, while his essays show that for him the experience is primarily psychological and has to do with creativity rather than an offering to the gods. In Okigbo, Clark, Soyinka and Achebe ritual has taken on a new, secular non‐traditional significance. It has been appropriated for personal use, as a cultural assertion in response to Christianity and the effects of colonialism. It is especially an attempt to go beyond the romantic pastoralization of Africa by Negritude writers and offers a more dy‐ namic, tragic, non‐static African worldview to set against dominant European secular rationalism. Soyinka makes this clear at the begin‐ ning of Myth, Literature and the African World. Nigerian Literature began as a by‐product of colonialism through the teaching of English in the schools. One of the main con‐ cerns of the writers was to defend their use of English. As Achebe said, “I have been given this language and I intend to use it.” Their superior competence in English, which allowed them to mix inter‐tribally and as social equals with Europeans, might be regarded as the basis of the new class produced by government schools and universities. Achebe points out that “all of the first generation of Nigerian writers had gone to one of the four or five government colleges: T.M Aluko, Cyprian Ekwensi, Gabriel Okara, Wole Soyinka, J.P. Clark, Christopher Okigbo, V.C. Ike, Nkem Nwankwo, Elechi Amadi.”17J.P. O’Flinn has shown that the novelists who came to attention shortly before and after inde‐ pendence were a homogenous group:

15

Oyin Ogunba, The Movement of Transition: A Study of the Plays of Wole Soyinka (Ibadan: University Press, 1975). 16 James Gibbs, Critical Perspectives on Wole Soyinka (Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1980), p. 4. 17 Achebe, “What do African intellectuals read?” in Morning Yet on Creation Day, pp. 61‐66, p. 65.



92 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE The first dozen Nigerian novelists who came forward to cater for the market thus supplied from a remarkably ho‐ mogenous group. They were: Timothy Aluko (b.1918); Amos Tutuola (b.1920); Cyprian Ekwensi (b.1921); Gabriel Okara (b.1921); Onuora Nzekwu (b.1928); John Munonye (b.1929); Chinua Achebe (b.1930); Vincent Ike (b.1931); Flora Nwapa (b.1931); Elechi Amadi (b. 1934); Wole Soyinka (b.1934); and Nkem Nwankwo (b.1936). With only three exceptions (Aluko, Soyinka and Tutuola), they were all Easterners and, with the exception again of Tutuola, all could be fairly described as be‐ longing to the upper levels of the bourgeoisie. Eight of them (Aluko, Ekwensi, Okara, Achebe, Ike, Amadi, Soyinka and Nwankwo) went to one of the four or five government colleges and seven (Munonye, Achebe, Ike, Nwapa, Amadi, Soyinka and Nwankwo) were at University College, Ibadan, the first Nige‐ rian university. Drawn as they were from tiny elite, their links with the governing class were natural strong, and at least two‐ thirds of them have at some time or other worked in branches of the government or civil service.18 Modern Nigerian literature was at first the product of the sons of elite families who had been converted to Christian‐ ity in the previous generation or two. Achebe, Okara, Okigbo, Soy‐ inka, etc., came from prominent Christian families. Usually the families had a leading place in tribal cultures and did well under the later stages of colonialism. (Members of the families of the writers often held important government positions after the in‐ dependence.) The writers attended good English‐language schools and attended the University of Ibadan. They wrote for school and university magazines, were part of the cultural life of the independence period, belonged to the Mbari Club and wrote for Black Orpheus. Often they were published by Mbari Press. 18

J. P. O’Flinn, “Towards a Sociology of the Nigerian Novel,” African Litera‐ ture Today, 7 (1975), 34‐52, 44.



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 93 Although they necessarily were strongly aware of being mem‐ bers of a tribe and an extended family, they were highly individualis‐ tic, strong willed and part of a inter‐tribal cultural elite with shared interest and assumptions. These ranged from promoting each other’s work as a part of the assertion of their own cultural and generational identity to defending the right to write in English against nationalist and some radical claims that an authentic national literature could only be written in traditional African languages. At that time they saw English as a Nigerian language and claimed to be bicultural or a fusion of cultures. The note prefacing J.P. Clark’s A Reed in the Tide is repre‐ sentative: As our epigraph goes, a man has two hands. In other words, he comes of a mother, and he comes of a father, each of the different family with a separate set‐up. As the off‐ shoot of such a union, a man not only fuses elements of both sides but he also constitutes a new independent whole. No doubt, this is all very elementary and obvious, but I should like to make the excuse here that I consider my case a little bit more complicated being that fashionable cultural phe‐ nomenon they call “mulatto”―not in lesh but in mind! Com‐ ing of an ancient multiple stock in the Niger Delta area of Ni‐ geria from which I’ve never quite felt myself severed, and go‐ ing through the usual educational mill with the regular grind of an English school at its end, I sometimes wonder what in my make up is “traditional” and “native,” and what “derived” and “modern.” Use of English and other European languages by writers in Africa and Asia today, this should now be accepted as a historical fact. We might say the colonial, made captive to an imperial flag, not only dislodged the ensign when inde‐ pendence came but actually took possession of a host of at‐ tributes that the master had held as his distinctive marks and emblems. Probably the most meaningful of these was

94 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE language―which for me, a Nigerian, is English, a language that no longer is the copyright of any one people or nation, and which to my mind is a positive step back from Babel’s house of many tongues.19 The English language was important to the writers and as an expression of their own social reality and as a cement holding the na‐ tion together. As pre‐colonial Africa consisted of tribal states, the new nation could only be held together by an acceptance of a common lan‐ guage and legal system, and this necessarily had to be ‘foreign’ rather than that of a tribe: “Remove this dual experience of foreign rule and language and many of the new African states might well collapse with‐ out any help from military coups.”20 The writers were aware of themselves as a new generation and representative of the new modern culture brought about by his‐ torical facts. The writings of the nationalists were dismissed by the younger generation. Clark says of the earlier poets: Bombast served on the one hand to prove young Af‐ rica had become the equal, if not the better, of the English‐ man at his own language, and on the other it served to con‐ fuse and befuddle the adulating mob. The woolly‐thinking nationalist had only to fire off a string of –isms unknown to the masses and they went delirious with thunderous cheers for a hero who was a walking book. By the time of Mr. Okara’s entry into the field of poetry such gimmicks had quite exhausted themselves. Recluse or aristocrat, the poet no longer was of the people. Withdrawn into himself, his problems had become his own, his language one constantly

19 20

J. P. Clark, A Reed in the Tide (London: Longmans, 1965), pp. vii‐viii. Clark, The Example of Shakespeare, p. 5.



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 95 geared to express issues personal to his own sensibility. The day of short circuit for both public and public had set in.21 The young were critical of the older generation of nationalists who inherited power at independence and whom they saw as reac‐ tionary, full of inflated slogans disguising political, moral and financial corruption―a corruption often rooted in tribalism, clan and the ex‐ tended family.22 Criticism of the older generation had started before independence with Ekwensi’s People of the City, took the form of de‐ bunking the glorification of the African past in Soyinka’s Dance of the Forest, and was the subject of Soyinka’s The Interpreters and Achebe’s A Man of the People, among many other works. Achebe’s four novels were an attempt to show how contact with the West had brought about the disruption of the communal restraints of traditional village and clan society and inadvertently led to corruption in modern Nige‐ ria where the demands of the tribe and village were as much to blame for evil as the unbridled acquisitiveness of individuals to whom na‐ tional independence brought possibilities of previous undreamt of wealth and comfort. Politically, then, this cultural elite (and its associates of the same generation and educational background in the universities, army and other elites) was in opposition to the government and has remained alienated. At first the tendencies were what I shall describe

21 22

The Example of Shakespeare, p. 73. The views of the post‐independence Nigerian writers I present here are radically different from the attempts by some Nigerian critics to associate Okigbo, Clark, Soyinka and others with Negritude and anti‐colonial pro‐ test, despite the often explicit statements of the writers on such topics. Whether or not my opinions are correct a useful analysis of why African academic critics have insisted on African literature being seen as anti‐co‐ lonial protest, rather than an expression of a new anti‐nationalist cultural elite, is David Attwell, “The British Legacy in Anglophone African Literary Criticism.” English in Africa, 11,1 (May 1984), 79‐106. Basically the critics, funded by the government, repeat the now politically harmless clichés of an older period, in contrast to the writers who intuit new social realities.



96 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE as liberal democratic. Although some members of the group were in favor of a form of African socialism, it was neither conservative nor Marxist. It wanted equality, the end to injustice, inefficiency and cor‐ ruption, and it especially wanted to preserve individual freedom in all spheres of life. That Black Orpheus received support from the Con‐ gress for Cultural Freedom is proof of nothing specific, but it is an in‐ dication of the views held by those associated with the Mbari Club and the Ibadan‐Lagos circle of writers. Their literary tastes were for modern literature and their styles and assumptions largely developed from the modernist move‐ ment of the first half of the century. This included the beliefs that drama had developed from ritual, that (in the cases of Okigbo and Soy‐ inka) literature is addressed to an elite, and that art has its own valid‐ ity. Contrasting Okigbo to the pioneer poets Clark said: Seen against the performance and philosophy of Chief Dennis Osadebay, gone here are the public statements, the identification of personal problems with the struggles and aspirations of diverse peoples just beginning then to rec‐ ognize themselves as of a corporate body with one country, one destiny, one God. In this process Nigerian poetry has moved from the pages of daily newspapers, from the soap‐ box and platform of popular political meetings, held in cin‐ ema halls and the open market‐place, to the private study of the individual and the exclusive confines of senior common‐ rooms.23 Achebe might speak of the social function of his novels, but he was also concerned to demonstrate his literary technique in creating the style of The Arrow of God, and he thoroughly revised the second edition of his novel. The fathers of this group were Hopkins, Yeats, Pound, Eliot, Joyce, along with such recognized masters as Johnson and Swift. In other words they reflected the taste of the more up to 23

The Example of Shakespeare, p. 70.



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 97 date university English Departments that had only in the previous decade began to accept the views of F.R. Leavis and the New Critics. Beyond this, the group had an interest in good African writing, which was translated in Black Orpheus and published by the Mbari press. Sig‐ nificantly this was usually modernist. When a writer such as La Guma was accepted, he was turned into a species of modernist―as can be seen from Soyinka’s interpretation of A Walk in the Night as a “vision.” Behind the modernism (seen in Soyinka’s The Interpreters, Okigbo’s poems, Okara’s poems, Clark’s “Ibadan” and “Ibadan Dawn,” etc.) was often a view of poetry as made of images and of drama as ritual, which was inherited from T.S. Eliot’s aesthetics. Soyinka and Clark early be‐ gan research projects into local ritual as drama. Clark’s Song of a Goat includes the sacrifice of a goat on stage; he has used the Ozidi legend for a play and published his version of the week‐long ceremony as The Ozidi Saga. Soyinka’s use of a mythic ritual substructure in his work is well known and explained in his various essays. Even Achebe’s village novels were regarded by others in the group, as was Arrow of God by Achebe, as a ritual celebration of a communal act through individual sacrifice. While such an aesthetic is appropriate for Africa, where it has subsequently gained wide currency, it might be seen as a reply to simplistic nationalist demands for a pseudo‐folk art. Instead the Mbari group found a modernist version of a communal art in Eliot’s assump‐ tion of the relation of the individual to the culture of a community. Just the way Eliot was nostalgic for a time when art was related to commu‐ nal rites, so Soyinka and Achebe tried to evolve a modern Nigerian lit‐ erature in which individual action (usually of a tragic, sacrificial na‐ ture) had a ritual significance for the community. Soyinka and Okigbo elaborated their own mythologies in which personal actions had a deeper symbolic significance. To an extent the Mbari group could be said to have a shared aesthetic. This is most obvious in the poets with their concentration on the image and use of image clusters, a preference for a high‐art which could take its place as world literature rather than a directness of speech which would be more accessible to most Nigerians, the sub‐ jective associational structures they use, and the personal, rather than

98 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE communal, voice of their speakers. The method is that of the modern‐ ist and their verse has the same compression, violence of imagery, obliqueness and restraint from moralizing or sentimentalizing. Feel‐ ings are expressed rather than ideas stated. The poems appear non‐ political. Ken Goodwin says: In general, modernization was a movement towards “verse as speech,” dynamic rhythms growing organically from the material, the primacy of the line rather than the stanza, absolute precision of description, the use of hard, clear images either by themselves or in associated clusters to give the exact nuance intended, concentration rather than discursiveness, the avoidance of direct avowals of emotion or thought in favour of their representation.24 Similar tendencies towards modernism, obliqueness, associ‐ ational structures, symbolism and compression can be seen in such novels as Soyinka’s The Interpreters and Okara’s The Voice, and the plays of Clark and Soyinka. Achebe’s novels have a similar high seri‐ ousness, but might be said to be based on a different aesthetic. There were, of course, differences of opinion. While Achebe has said “Art for art’s sake is just another piece of deodorized dog shit,”25 in “The Afri‐ can writer and the English language” he demonstrates his conscious artistry in Arrow of God.26 A surprising characteristic of the Ibadan‐Mbari group was a common view of the world as a process of destruction and renewal. This is a theme of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God, of Okigbo’s poems and runs through many of Soyinka’s works, including Kongi’s Harvest and Idanre. The belief was that in contrast to Euro‐

24

Ken Goodwin, Understanding African Poetry (London: Heinemann, 1982), p. vii. 25 Achebe, “Africa and her Writers,” in Morning Yet on Creation Day, p. 29. 26 Morning Yet on Creation Day, pp. 101‐102.



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 99 pean desire for building in stone and creating lasting monuments, Af‐ rican built in temporary materials, in recognition of their environ‐ ment. The old harvest had to be cut to make way for the new. The old order had to change if the new was to be born. The heroes of Achebe’s two best novels are admirable in their defence of the old order, but they must lose as a new society is being created as a result of contact with Europeans and Christianity. In Soyinka’s mythology this process is seen as continuing, as somewhat like cycles of reincarnation, and the problem is how to break free from the cycles. The impossibility of society doing so ac‐ counts for the pessimism in Soyinka and Okigbo. One way of looking at this myth is an acceptance of social change naturalized into an Afri‐ can seasonal metaphor. In Soyinka the old order, as in The Lion and the Jewel, is seen as a rich tradition which fertilizes a new birth with its seeds. As Soyinka notes in Idanre, the ideal fusion is “to preserve the original uniqueness … and yet absorb another essence.”27 The fas‐ cination of the abiku, the child who continually is born, dies young and is born again, for this generation of writers, is that the myth is an in‐ stance of life as the repetitive cycle of birth, death, rebirth, death, re‐ birth, with no end in sight. This group, despite an antagonism between Soyinka and Clark, held together until the Civil War, when with Okigbo’s death, Soyinka’s imprisonment, Clark’s support of the federal military gov‐ ernment and the support of Biafra by Ekwensi, Achebe and Okara, it began to fragment. It is significant that with the exception of Clark the group remained in opposition to the federal government and that Clark as new editor of Black Orpheus started the new series by pub‐ lishing Okigbo’s late poems with an introduction lamenting his death as a friend and fellow poet. Basically the Ibadan‐Lagos group, which was the start of a national literature, reflected the Igbos and Awolowo Yorubas alignment. Clark was first sympathetic to the 1966 coup and was close to the Igbo Okigbo faction which presumably intended to

27

Soyinka, Idanre and Other Poems (London: Methuen, 1967), p. 86.



100 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE put Awolowo in power.28 After the coup failed and the Igbo were mas‐ sacred, the situation changed. With Biafran secession Clark chose the federal government.29 Clark’s support of the federal government, for whatever rea‐ son, was a sign of a new period when minority tribes would have a larger role and say in the government. After the war new, shifting po‐ litical and tribal alignments would emerge in the literature expressing this larger, different awareness in its use of space, kinds of locality and sense of national history, including the war. Okigbo was dead, Clark and Achebe have written little of significance in recent years, Okara’s manuscript of his poems was lost during the war, Soyinka has moved into a new phase, and others have come to attention if not to the same degree of fame. What I have tried to show is that from about the time of inde‐ pendence there was a Nigerian literature in the sense that, like other significant literary movements, it came from a distinct social group with a similar background, Education, interest, assumptions, aesthet‐ ics and even politics, despite the different tribal identifications of the individuals. Although my starting point and approach is different, I reach conclusions about the relationships of social groups to cultural products similar to those expressed by Lucien Goldmann.30 Because the Igbos and Awolowo Yorubas shared a political stand against Northern domination, even tribe was more likely to bring the writers together than divide them. The group can be followed through The Horn, Black Orpheus, Mbari publications, etc. from about 1958 to the start of the Civil War in 1966.31 Clark’s editorship of The Horn (1959),

28

For Awolowo as inspiration for Okigbo’s Silences II, see Sunday O. Anozie, Christopher Okigbo: Creative Rhetoric (London: Evans Brothers, 1972), pp. 131‐147. Soyinka also wrote a poem on the death of Awolowo’s son. For Clark, see his notes to Casualties (London: Longmans, 1970). 29 See Robert Wren, J.P. Clark (Boston: Twayne, 1984), pp. 140‐149 30 Lucien Goldmann, “The Sociology of Literature: Status and Problems of Method,” International Social Science Journal, 19, 4 (1967), 493‐516). 31 See W.H Stevenson, “The Horn: What It Was and What It Did,” in Bernth Lindfors (ed.), Critical Perspectives on Nigerian Literature (Washington,



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 101 Soyinka's first appearance in Black Orpheus (1960), Soyinka becoming an editor of Black Orpheus (1961) later joined by Okigbo and Clark on the Black Orpheus committee with issue 14, the transfer of the journal from the General Publishing Section of the Ministry of Education, Iba‐ dan to the Mbari Club, show the emergence of a Nigerian literature. Significantly when Black Orpheus was started by Janheinz Jahn and Ulli Beier, it had no Nigerian writer on its committee, and the only Ni‐ gerian it published in the first four issues was Gabriel Okara. It was at first a Nigerian version of Présence Africaine, and its focus was on fran‐ cophonic African and black American writing. It started in a context of Yoruba studies. Beier also edited Odu: A Journal of Yoruba, translated with Suasanne Wenger a volume on Yoruba Poetry, etc. Next a group of foreign intellectuals formed around the University of Ibadan, in‐ cluding Ezekiel Mphahlele, Ron Dathorne, Gerald Moore. Gradually the magazine became Nigerianized. In 1968 Clark and Abiola Irele re‐ started Black Orpheus and significantly the eight contributors to its first issue were six Nigerians and two foreigners living in Nigeria. By now it was a Nigerian magazine. What was left of the old Mbari circle regrouped for Okike, which Achebe started in 1971, after the war, from Nsukka, with Soyinka and Beier on the editorial board. Its first issue included Okara along with Soyinka and Achebe. Mbari publications from 1962 to 1964 include, among other works, Soyinka’s Three Plays, Clark’s Poems and Songs of a Goat, Okigbo’s Heavensgate and Limits, and Duro Ladipo’s Three Yoruba Plays. Achebe had already published two novels. This group had shared opinions because, besides coming from similar backgrounds, they were born within five years of each other: Achebe 1930, Okigbo 1932, Soyinka 1934, Clark 1935, Duro Ladipo 1931. The Ibadan circle was a close group. “When everyone did meet in Clark’s flat just under D.C: Three Continents Press, 1980), pp. 215‐241. Stevenson points out that a few poems on politics were published in The Horn, but there were poems with Negritude themes. The Horn was published at the University of Ibadan between 1958 and 1964, and was founded by J.P. Clark. Con‐ tributors included Okigbo and Soyinka. Clark later dismissed such Negri‐ tude poetry as pioneer verse.



102 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE mine, J.P. talked J.P., Okigbo talked Okigbo, Soyinka refrained, saying that it was a mutual admiration society. But everybody wrote.”32 Oth‐ ers who might be included as having similar dates of birth and having attended the University of Ibadan include John Munonye (1929), Flora Nwapa (1931), Elechi Amadi (1934), and Mabel Segun. Those born earlier, such as Aluko (1918), Tutuola (1920), Okara (1921) and Hen‐ shaw (1924) did not attend the University of Ibadan and do not seem part of the group. Ekwensi (b.1929) was living in Lagos at the time, often visited Ibadan in connection with a film society, and appeared on the fringes of the Mbari group. The older writers had begun writing earlier and except for Okara seem untouched by modernism and its assumptions. Similarly their attitudes seem different from those of the 1930–35 generation. Except once more for Okara, they do not seem to start from elite literature with it seriousness of themes, sophistication of form and style, etc.; their literary origins lie elsewhere. Okara is a transitional figure with roots in pioneer poetry and with modernist tendencies, including strong feelings of alienation. It is difficult to say now whether Nigerian writing would be considered a national litera‐ ture if its main accomplishments were the work of Aluko, Okara, Tu‐ tuola, Ekwensi and Henshaw. I think not. A number of other African literatures lack a national identity because they are sporadic in quan‐ tity of production, works of value and shared concerns. It was the Iba‐ dan group that gave Nigerian literature a national identity. Examining the question of whether there is a Nigerian litera‐ ture has, I think, shown there were two stages. Modern Nigerian liter‐ ature was the product of a group educated at the University of Ibadan and earlier at University College, Ibadan, who attended good govern‐ ment colleges and came from westernized Christian families. Most had studied English or taken Arts degrees. They were highly compe‐ tent in the use of English, participated in British‐style clubs and mag‐ azines, and mixed socially on an inter‐tribal basis. They appeared on the scene after the Negritude movement, which they tended to regard

32

O.R Dathorne, “African Literature IV: Ritual and Ceremony in Okigbo’s Po‐ etry,” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 5 (July 1968), 79.



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 103 as a romanticization of Africa, and they were largely opposed to those who gained power with independence. Their political position might be described as liberal‐left. They shared a concern with revitalizing African culture and with defending the use of English that is part of their own social‐political–psychic identity. They shared certain aes‐ thetic assumptions in which aspects of the literary modernism of the first half of the century, especially as put forth by T.S. Eliot, were found in African ritual and in drama. They held a particular view of the Afri‐ can world as based on seasonal changes, which might be seen as sym‐ bolic of social changes. Instead of the conflict of the past and present, the old (tradition) would seed the new (the modern world), creating continuity. This group and its ideology might be said to have held to‐ gether through the Western Region crisis and until the first national coup in 1966, as it was cemented by shared politics. With the Civil War it split. The consequences of the war led to a second stage of post‐in‐ dependence Nigerian literature with more radical politics, changes in style, and other characteristics which need to be analyzed separately. A starting point might be Ola Rotimi’s remarks about the significance of his play The Gods Are Not to Blame, which alludes to the causes of the Civil War: But the root cause of that strife, of the bloodshed, the lavish loss of life and property, was our own lingering, mutual ethnic distrust which culminated in open hostility. The frightening ogre of tribalism stirs in almost every form of our national life. Okara said:



104 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Perhaps whatever other impact the war may have made on me as a writer will come out in my next novel or the poems I am going to write later, which I can’t predict at the moment. But one thing I do know is that my future poetry may perhaps become a bit political in tone. I have never been a politician and I will never be one. What is going to preoc‐ cupy my thinking will be the effect of politics on our society. Similarly Munonye argued: I think we have finished recreating our past. When we started writing, we felt a sense of mission about recon‐ structing our history, but now we must write about the pre‐ sent. We must go into our society―its strong and weak points, its problems, the prescriptions we would like to offer, casting these into art forms. We cannot ignore such sub‐ jects.33 If the Ibadan group, despite the ethnic roots of the individual writers, was the first expression of a Nigerian social and cultural iden‐ tity, the opinions of writers about the effects of the Civil War show a political identification with a nation. This was the start of the second stage of a distinctly Nigerian literature.

33

Bernth Lindfors (ed.), Dem Say: Interviews with Eight Nigerian Writers (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1974); Rotimi interview, pp. 61‐62; Okara interview, p. 46; Munonye interview, p. 40.



Chapter 8 Abioseh Nicol Abioseh Nicol’s The Truly Married Woman and Other Stories (Oxford University Press, 1965) reveals a deep understanding of pri‐ vate emotions. The emotions are not on the surface of each story, in the sense of being explicitly part of the action, but are its implied sub‐ ject. The young boy in ‘The Judge’s Son’ is raised in comfort but with‐ out familial attention. He misses his dead mother, is forbidden to make friends with servants, and feels that he can never meet the high stand‐ ards of behavior expected by his famous father; alone, unable to ex‐ press his discontent to others, he shoots his dog, his only companion, whom he imagines as having joined the adult world to judge him. The stories portray a wide range of society. There is the urban office worker in ‘The Truly Married Woman’, the High Court judge, the village woman in ‘Life is Sweet at Kumansenu’, and the colonial offic‐ ers in ‘The Devil at Yolahun Bridge’ and ‘The Leopard Hunt’. Several stories have a child as their main character; they are about the prob‐ lems of growing up, especially for those who have reached adoles‐ cence but who are not yet hardened to the adult world. In ‘As the Night, the Day’, a student breaks a thermometer and the class is pun‐ ished. Troubled by his conscience he tries to confess his guilt, but learns that his truthfulness only disturbs others. A victim has already been selected by the other students and made to confess the breakage. We are shown the crisis of conscience in a young mind that is just starting to learn responsibility, which is contrasted to the callousness of society even among the young. Nicol avoids the usual subjects of African writing. There are no nostalgic portrayals of traditional village culture, no attacks on for‐ eign colonialism, no criticism of post‐independence corruption. In ‘The Devil at Yolahun Bridge’ and ‘The Leopard Hunt’, Nicol shows that the colonial situation made it difficult for whites and Africans to understand each other. His attitude is sympathetic and understanding rather than critical towards those involved. ‘The Devil at Yolahun 105

106 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Bridge’ concludes with an Englishman jumping on a bridge, amazed that an African engineer built it. Ironically, the bridge is not used by the local people who believe that an accident has cursed it. In ‘The Leopard Hunt’, an ex‐colonial officer recounts his past to a young Af‐ rican whose father was inadvertently killed as a result of the English‐ man’s attempt to treat the man as an equal. The African learns that the nationalist newspapers have discovered the truth, turning the naïve, innocent European into a villain. Perhaps one reason for Nicol’s tolerance was the relaxed re‐ lationship between Europeans and the Creole elite in Sierra Leone be‐ fore independence. The Creole elite was Westernized in education, at‐ tended excellent public schools and often completed university in England. Nicol himself took a first‐class degree at Cambridge, followed by an M.A., M.D. and Ph.D., before a career as university lecturer and ambassador to the United Nations. In such an urbane and sophisti‐ cated society, there was a greater distance in customs between the elite and the inland African tribes than between the Creoles and the Europeans. Nicol’s wit, polish, tolerance, charity, and understanding as a writer reflect the cosmopolitan attitudes of his class. His writing, however, is indirectly part of the re‐assertion of African dignity that accompanied the independence movements. His intention is to show that Africans are human beings, as capable of feel‐ ing such emotions as pride, love, hurt, loneliness, and malice as are Europeans. The stories treat Africans as individuals; his characters are no longer tribal, but they have formed new, personal values. In ‘The Truly Married Woman’ a woman lives with a man for 12 years and bears him three children before their marriage; their story shows the human comedy that develops in urban African life where tribal and Western values produce new ways of behaving. The woman’s view of marriage, influenced by Western magazines, is comic and yet expresses a genuine individuality emerging from cultural confusion. We both laugh at and admire her unexpected assertion of status. The village woman in ‘Life is Sweet at Kumansenu’ who refused to break the bones of a dead child, to prevent him returning to be born again, disobeys custom and reveals a surprising freedom of behavior. The

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 107 story is typically African in subject matter, but the woman’s view that individual life is more important than traditional belief may be influ‐ enced by new ideals. Nicol’s stories are easy to read and well constructed; they are based on a series of incidents rather than a single event and there is usually an unexplained reversal at the conclusion of the story. The sto‐ ries end with some scene, event or simple parallel to the beginning of the narrative. ‘Love’s Own Tears’, for example, begins with a little black boy and concludes with ‘And men cry only in secret’. ‘The Judge’s Son’ begins and ends with the boy thinking of his mother. ‘Love’s Own Tears’ is representative of Nicol’s stories in its economical but detailed portrayal of modern African society, its focus on loneliness and solitude, its mixture of African and European cus‐ toms, its concern with the problems of growing up, and its illustra‐ tions of falsehood and deception in society. A middle class urban Afri‐ can child is aware that his grandmother is dying. We are not told his reactions. Nicol’s technique is to look at the event through the eyes or approximate the child’s vision rather than show what the child thinks. Although the child feels that the grandmother’s death is an event, oth‐ ers treat it as unexceptional, and are more concerned with proper so‐ cial behavior (‘white silk material for her shroud’, ‘turn around all the looking‐glasses’). ‘It all seemed to him an exaggerated play‐acting’. The boy’s mother, for example, demonstrates her supposed grief by pretending that she will be buried along with the grandmother. The boy’s awareness of an incongruity between feelings and behavior is hidden by his father’s bargaining over the price of the taxi in which to return home from the funeral. The discrepancy between what adults say and what is felt comes to its climax when the boy’s frantic attempt to reach the outhouse so that he may urinate is misun‐ derstood as a young man’s need to cry without being observed. The story is a striking portrait in the contrast of a child’s sen‐ sitivity to adult harshness. By objectively presenting incidents and un‐ derstanding emotions and reactions, Nicol brings out the child’s feel‐ ing of distance from the events. The technique of understatement also creates ambiguity. How does the boy feel towards the death of his

108 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE grandmother? Has he lost someone he loved or merely a familiar and comforting figure? What are his responses to the various incidents he has seen? How much does he understand? Has he in fact started to become a man with an awareness of others or is he still a child baffled by the world? The understated narrative leaves such questions to our imagination, thus suggesting something of the complexity of growing up.



Chapter 9 Gabriel Okara Books The Voice (London: Deutsch, 1964; New York: Africana, 1970) The Fisherman’s Invocation (London: Heinemann, 1978; Benin City, Nigeria: Ethiope, 1979) Other “African speech … English Words,” in African Writers on African Writ‐ ing, edited by G.D. Killam (Evanston, Ill.; Northwestern University Press, 1973) Selected Periodical Publications―Uncollected “Ogboinba: The Ijaw Creation Myth,” Black Orpheus, 2 (January 1958): 9‐17; “The Crooks,” Black Orpheus, 8 (1960): 6‐8; “Tobi,” Flamingo, 4, no.1 (1964): 29‐31; “Poetry and Oral English,” Journal of the Nigerian English Studies Association, 8 (May 1976): 41‐49. Gabriel Okara is the first significant English‐language black African poet, the first Nigerian poet to write in a modern style, and the first Nigerian poet to publish in and join the editorial staff of the influ‐ ential literary journal Black Orpheus (started in 1957). A Nigerian “Ne‐ gritudist,” he is a link between colonial poetry and the vigorous mod‐ ernist writing that began to appear in Nigeria around the time of na‐ tional independence in 1960. One of the founders of modern Nigerian and African literature, he has also published some short stories, a translation from Ijaw, and The Voice (1964), an experimental novel that was one of the more interesting works to be published during the unusually creative period of the 1960s, when Nigerian literature was coming into its own, providing creative leadership for other black Af‐ rican and third world literatures. If Okara has not published widely, it is partly because many of his manuscripts were destroyed during the

109

110 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Nigerian civil war and partly because he belongs to an earlier genera‐ tion than such university‐educated Nigerian writers as Wole Soyinka and J.P. Clark, who had the advantages of university teaching careers and university support for their creative writing. Because of his com‐ paratively small literary production Okara had not received as much attention as some of his better known compatriots until the publica‐ tion of his first collection of verse, The Fisherman’s Invocation (1978); since then he has been seen as having a major place among the poets of the African continent. Born 24 April 1921 in Bumoundi, in south‐eastern Nigeria, to Prince Sampson G.Okara, a Christian businessman, and Martha Olodi‐ ama Okara, Gabriel Imomotimi Gbaingbain Okara first attended local schools and then, from 1935 to 1940, Government College in Umuahia. Because of World War II he transferred to Yaba Higher College, where he passed the Senior Cambridge Examination, specializing in Art, which he had studied with the well‐known Nigerian sculptor Ben En‐ wonwu. After being a schoolteacher at the Ladilac Institute in Yaba, Okara tried to join the Royal Air Force, but, unable to become a pilot, he instead joined the British Overseas Airway Corporation auxiliary, traveled to Gambia, was briefly a businessman, and in 1945 became a bookbinder for the Government Press, for which he worked until 1954. He was sent from Lagos to start a branch of the press at Enugu in 1950. During this time he began translating Ijaw poetry and writing talks and plays for broadcasting. In 1953 his poem “Call of the River Nun” won an award at the Nigerian Festival of the Arts. In 1957 some poems of his were published in the first issue of Black Orpheus, in which he continued to publish. He was assistant publicity officer in the Ministry of Information from 1955 to 1959, after which he attended Northwestern University, where he studied journalism from 1959 to 1960. Returning to Nigeria, he worked as publicity officer (1960‐ 1962), principal information officer of the Eastern region Government Information Office in Enugu (1964‐1967), and director of the Cultural Affairs Division of the Ministry of Information for Biafra (1967‐1969), traveling to the United States in 1969 to speak for the Biafran cause. From 1971 to 1975 he was the general manager of the Rivers State Newspaper and Television Corporation (which he started), and he

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 111 founded the newspaper Nigerian Tide as well as being commissioner for information and broadcasting for the Rivers State. He has also been a writer in residence of the Rivers State Council on Arts and Cul‐ ture. Okara’s literary work is distinctive in its highly poetic style and his blending of private, public, and religious themes. He is con‐ cerned with the relationship of the past to the present and of tradition to modernization. His themes include biculturalism, the alienation of the intellectual from the masses and politicians, political corruption and the effect of materialism on African society, and the problems of an African writer using English. His works are marked by a conscious‐ ness of Ijaw traditions, Christianity, and a visionary mysticism close to nineteenth‐century romantic pantheism. His verse and prose are symbolic, private and “Ijawized” in language, Ijaw at times being transliterated by him into English. In his later poetry, written during and after the Nigerian civil war, Okara changes from an allegorical symbolism and an artificially African English style to a more direct, open, and natural manner. His theory about the nature of African literature is controver‐ sial, relevant to his own writing, and apparently has not changed over the years. He came to intellectual maturity during a time when a major problem facing African intellectuals was the cultural schizophrenia of affirming their Africanism through the languages, literary forms, poli‐ tics and concepts of European culture; writers were especially con‐ cerned with the question of language and literary types, as their works of protest, cultural affirmation, or self‐questioning were more likely to be read by foreigners than by their own people, for whom any liter‐ ature in European languages belonged to an alien culture. Okara be‐ lieves that a literature must reflect the culture and the way of thought of a country; an African writing in a European language must use it in such a way as to express African ideas, folklore, and philosophy. Okara attempts to get around the alien language in which cultural experience is being communicated by forcing himself to think of his sentences in Ijaw and then to translate them literally into English so that they re‐ main Ijaw in symbolism, syntactical structure, idiom, and reference. In

112 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE his 1973 essay “African Speech … English Words” he says, “I had to study each Ijaw expression I used and to discover the probable situa‐ tion in which it was used in order to bring out the nearest meaning in English.” The results are poetic, densely textured, serious, and some‐ times obscure, like many of the symbolist and modernist works of the first half of the twentieth century. The Africanization is paradoxically part of the modernism of his work. Okara is the first Nigerian, and per‐ haps the first English‐language, black African, modernist writer. He early rejected the outdated Victorian styles of the colonial poets and instead brought to Nigerian poetry an infusion of the styles of T.S. El‐ iot, Dylan Thomas, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Okara used free verse, abandoned fixed rhyme schemes, and allowed the flow of his thought to determine the shape of the poem. “The Call of the River Nun” is Okara’s earliest surviving poem and, like most of his poetry, is collected in The Fisherman’s Invocation. The poem was written in Enugu, where he was living in 1950. Sur‐ rounded by the local hills, the speaker is nostalgic for the Nun River he knew in his childhood; the river is also a symbol for his personal destiny and his journey through life toward death and God. In this poem Okara has already found one of his major patterns of symbols. Flowing rivers with such accompanying imagery as canoes and sea birds can be found throughout his work, the river representing the continuity of the past, present, future, destiny and the individual’s pil‐ grimage through life. The religious tone of the poem’s conclusion is noticeable in such other early verse by Okara as “Were I to Choose” (written in 1953) and “Spirit of the Word.” The former is influenced by Dylan Thomas, whose use of symbolic allegories Okara continues to develop in his own manner, while the latter poem brings to mind the seven‐ teenth‐century meditative poetry of Henry Vaughan in that the natu‐ ral world is seen as being more in tune with the divine than human‐ kind is. The conclusion of “Spirit of the Word,” however, is reminiscent of some of the black‐American‐influenced pioneer West African poets who asked whether they could find religious salvation despite having “Singed Hair and Dark Skin.” Okara’s manner, symbols, and themes

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 113 were established early. His poem “Once Upon a Time” could be back‐ ground material for The Voice; it is a dramatic monologue in which a father compares the happiness and contentment of the past to the hy‐ pocrisy of the modern world; he asks his son to regain such innocence. Okara experiments with language (“officeface, streetface, hostface”) and emblematic symbols (“While their ice‐block‐cold eyes/search be‐ hind my shadow”). The early poems show the influence of the Roman‐ tic ode in the way they begin with meditation on some object or event, the meditation then leading by a process of association to reveries, philosophical insights, or visionary experiences, which apparently cannot be sustained in this life as the poems end in uncertainty, often about the speaker’s own destiny. Such a structure is infused with late‐ Victorian solemnity, religiosity, seriousness, and depression in “New Year’s Eve Midnight,” where instead of renewal “it’s shrouded things I see/dimly stride/ On heart‐canopied paths/ to a riverside.” Although the many seasonal images in Okara’s poems imply life is a cyclical pro‐ cess of birth, growth, harvest, and renewal, the hope is weighed down by a consciousness that an individual journeys toward death. In these poems the future is gloomy, especially in comparison to reveries of childhood. While his education and career had taken Okara from home and parents into a world of change, desire, deception, and hypocrisy, the individual’s journey in his poems is also associated with modern‐ ization and Westernization. In “Piano and Drums” native ways are represented by “jungle drums,” which are “urgent, raw / like bleeding flesh, speaking of / primal youth and the beginning,” whereas the alien piano symbolizes “complex ways / in tear‐furrowed concerto; / of far‐ away lands.” The drums bring thoughts not only of exaggerated, ro‐ mantic primitive, communal scenes but also of childhood: “at once I’m / in my mother’s lap a suckling; / at once I’m walking single paths.” As younger Ibadan writers such as Soyinka, Clark and Chris‐ topher Okigbo rejected the francophonic‐negritudists’ idealization of a supposed innocent, uncorrupted, primitive pre‐colonial Africa, it is sometimes assumed that English‐speaking West Africa was un‐



114 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE touched by such views; but educated Nigerians were aware of negri‐ tude during the 1950s. Black Orpheus was at first, with its original Ger‐ man coeditors, an extension of the Paris‐based Présence Africaine and was aimed at English speaking West Africa. Just as the negritudists symbolized their longing for tradition and unity of self as a nostalgia for the comforting Mother Africa of their childhood, so Okara’s per‐ sonal unease at separation from his past and family is merged with the disturbing effects of social, cultural, and technological change as a re‐ sult of education, modernization, and his own experience of the world. Significantly a “wailing piano solo” speaks of complexity, which ends “in the middle of a phrase at daggerpoint.” The way the early 1950s themes of loneliness, nostalgia for home, and a depressed fatalism have evolved into an affirmative ne‐ gritude can be seen in Okara’s poem “You Laughed and Laughed and Laughed.” The “You” in the title is the white European who laughs at African culture as primitive and who is identified with ice blocks, mo‐ tor cars, and frozen emotions, whereas the African, in the tradition of negritudist primitivism, is identified with nature. The surrealism of the penultimate stanza could be that of Léopold Sédar Senghor or Aimé Césaire, as is the claim that Africa will rehumanize the West out of the rigid, mechanical way of life: My laughter is the fire of the eye of the sky, the fire of the earth, the fire of the air, the fire of the seas and the rivers fishes animals trees and it thawed your inside, thawed your voice, thawed your ears, thawed your eyes and thawed your tongue. “The Mystic Drum,” which appears to be concerned with sex‐ ual desire as well as evoking the natural world, is both a celebration and rejection of the surrealist mode: “I packed my mystic drum/and

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 115 turned away; never to be so loud any more.” “The Mystic Drum” is re‐ lated to two other poems concerning desire for a woman, “Adhiambo” and “To Paveba.” In the latter, after “young fingers stir/ the fire smol‐ dering in my inside,” the poem moves into the surreal (“the eye / of the sky on the back of a fish”), until the speaker remembers “my vow not to let / my fire flame anymore” and his fires dwindle to smoldering “beneath the ashes.” Probably the outburst of desire and the repres‐ sion are related to Okara’s personal life, which has included three marriages and divorces. (He has fathered two children.) The mystical streak in Okara’s poetry is taken up again in “One Night at Victoria Beach,” which also concludes with defeat before the unknown: “I felt my knees touching living sands―/ but the rushing wind killed the bud‐ ding words.” “The Snowflakes Sail Gently Down” was written in the United States in 1959, when Okara was studying journalism at North‐ western University and doing field research in the Public Information Department of the Atomic Research Station near Chicago, where he saw snow for the first time. In the poem the speaker falls asleep in a heated room on a snowy day and dreams of tropic Africa. He dreams that colonialism and foreign exploitation will be defeated. The striking but obscure ending may imply the possibility of renewal for the West through accepting African values. The five‐part “Fisherman’s Invocation,” written in connection with the coming of Nigerian independence, is, as K.E. Senanu and The‐ ophilus Vincent comment, modeled on a traditional ballad perfor‐ mance celebrating an important event, in this case the birth of the na‐ tion. Using the situation of two men fishing in a canoe on the river, the poem concerns the relationship of the past to the present and future: “The Front grows from the Back / like buds from a tree stump.” One fishermen complains that he no longer can remember his “Back,” and he is told to rediscover his origins: “let your eyes be the eyes / of a leopard and stalk the Back,” in order to move into the future. Other‐ wise independence will be stillborn. The negritude and cultural‐affir‐ mation themes are put forward in the Ijawized imagery (“teaching hands,” “sweet inside”) that Okara uses in The Voice, which he started



116 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE at about the same time the poem was written, in 1959. “The Fisher‐ men’s Invocation” appeared at the end of the negritude movement, which has been marked by the self‐conscious use of surrealist fantasy techniques of romantic, primitive Africa and the claims of African moral superiority over the Westernized world. The creation of inde‐ pendent black African nations ended the phase when the assertion of a cultural past was an analogy to political assertion of the right to self‐ government. “The Fisherman’s Invocation,” questioning the nature of the future if un‐impregnated by tradition, is a sign that independence and its possible disillusionments would soon be a main theme of Afri‐ can literature. Although Okara wrote many short stories, including “The Iconoclast,” which won first prize in a British Council short‐story con‐ test (1954), he’s only published two; the others apparently are lost. “The Crooks” (Black Orpheus, 1960) might be described as an updated version of a trickster folktale in which cunning is valued more than ethics and in which the deeper cunning of the peasant, or the seem‐ ingly innocent man, outwits the self‐assured, sophisticated urban con‐ fidence man. In the story two dusty, dirty, barefoot travelers, who ap‐ parently have arrived from the provinces for the first time in Lagos, the Nigerian capital, are stopped by a well‐dressed man who warns them against strangers and invites them to his house. He loses money to them at cards with the intent of robbing them in the morning of their bag, which he believes to contain their savings. But by morning they have disappeared and are on a train back to Enugu laughing at having tricked the trickster out of a night’s food, lodging, and the money won at cards. The bag that supposedly held their savings was filled with stones and old rags to deceive such men, as it had before in other cities: “ ‘They’ll never learn,’ said Okonkwo as he wiped his face. ‘They are green as green peas, the whole batch of them. See how they left their door only bolted.’ ” While “The Crooks” is simple, obvious, and crudely structured it is surprisingly effective, possibly because of its pidgin English and Okara’s ability to convey a sense of location and imply the ways of a society.



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 117 “Tobi” (Flamingo, 1964), Okara’s other published story, is a curious and less successful trickster tale about a guest who steals from his hosts, who in turn ignore his misdeeds: “He’s a relative; the only son left of your great‐grandfather’s slaves and you mustn’t do any‐ thing to make him feel we know. Only be very careful with your things, that’s all.” According to the curious psychology of the story, Tobi is an unwelcome guest but is needed to celebrate the harvest season. The Voice, Okara’s only published novel, was begun shortly before Nigerian independence and was seen by him as a struggle be‐ tween good and evil, as represented by a young intellectual versus the Nigerian politicians who were looking forward to the expected spoils of national independence. The elders in the novel look forward to “the coming thing,” over which they slap “their thighs in joy.” An early ver‐ sion of the opening chapter was first published in Black Orpheus in 1961, and the style, with verbs regularly following the object, is even more based on Ijaw than in the novel, which despite the controversy over its style, is mostly written in standard English. Okara used as a model the way Amos Tutuola translates directly from Yoruba into English, but in practice Okara thought it necessary to be less rigid. As he says in “African speech … English words,” Some words and expressions are still relevant to the present‐day life of the world while others are rooted in the legends and tales of a far‐gone day. Take the expression ‘he is timid’ for example. The equivalent in Ijaw is ‘he has no chest,’ or ‘he has no shadow.’ Now a person without a chest in the physical sense can only mean a human that does not exist. The idea becomes clearer in the second translation. A person who does not cast a shadow of course does not exist. All this means is that a timid person is not fit to live. Here, perhaps, we are hearing the echoes of the battles in those days when the strong and the brave lived. But is this not true of the world today? … What emerges from the examples I have given is that a writer can use the idioms of his own lan‐ guage in a way that is understandable in English. If he uses

118 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE their English equivalents, he would not be expressing Afri‐ can ideas and thoughts but English ones. Around the idea of the alienated, young, educated intellectual opposing the materialism of the elders and the politicians―a theme common in the 1960s in West Africa, as can be seen in Soyinka’s The Interpreters (1965) and Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease (1960) and A Man of the People, (1966)―other central themes are developed by Okara including a quest for “it,” or the meaning of life; a parallel between the protagonist, Okolo, and Christ; the relationship of the Af‐ rican past to the future; and the individual’s conscience versus con‐ formity to the community. Many of the features of The Voice are char‐ acteristic of the style of early Nigerian literature, including a Nigerian‐ ized English and the use of a quest to structure the story. While the plot has the economy and clear shape of a parable, the rich but open symbolism of The Voice shows its links both to Okara’s reading of Christian literature and to modernist high culture. Okolo returns to his town after his schooling and finds himself out of step with almost everyone because he’s searching for “it,” which no longer has roots. This situation makes him an outsider and disturbs the community. His spiritual concerns challenge the tribal elders’ glee at the expected wealth and material goods they will inherit with na‐ tional independence. In taking over from the white rulers, the politi‐ cians have forgotten the teachings of their fathers: by contrast Okolo is, like Christian of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (two volumes, 1678, 1684), someone who has learned from a book that he must give up all and search to be saved. The story is written in such a manner that Okolo, whose name means “the voice” in Ijaw, takes on the role of conscience, Messiah, reformer, sacrificial outcast, and quester. When he is first threatened by his townspeople, “Hands caught him, a thou‐ sand hands, the hands of the world.” Although Okolo is portrayed from the first as alone, he acquires a few disciples, including one, at the book’s end, who will tell his story and care for his words. The town is Christian (“We are all church people. We all know God,”) but it suffers



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 119 from old superstitions, from lack of conscience, and from a desire for worldly things. Although the “it” Okolo seeks is purposely left vague, it seems to cover such significances as conscience, a personal meaning in life, and perhaps the old Christian sense of vocation, truth, and the gospel: “I am the voice from the locked up insides which the Elders, not want‐ ing the people to hear, want to stop …” In this novel of few actions each confrontation between individuals or between Okolo and a group of people becomes a significant event. Okara’s secondary education (which even in the early 1950s would have still have been uncommon in Nigeria) is contrasted to the education of Abadi, another young man who has been to foreign countries and holds a Ph.D. Abadi praises the leadership of Chief Izongo and reminds the elders that many of them were “were fisherman and palm cutters … in the days of the imperial‐ ists”; he asks them to “toe the party line” and “support our most hon‐ orable leader.” When Okolo replies that the politicians and their fol‐ lowers are fighting no one but merely clamoring “to share in the spoils” of independence, it is worth recalling that Okara’s father was a prince. As in the writings of Cyprian Ekwensi, Soyinka, and Achebe there is a distrust of the politicians who gain their support from dis‐ tributing the spoils of office rather than from traditional customs of clan and tribe. Okolo is made to leave the town because he will not do as oth‐ ers do and betray his conscience. He insists on following what he be‐ lieves to be the timeless, straight ways of the past, whereas “Every‐ body’s inside is now filled with money, cars and concrete houses and money.” Just as Okara notes the creation of a new political class com‐ ing into being before national independence, so he records, as do the novels of Achebe and Soyinka, the increasing materialism and obses‐ sion with Western comforts that result in spiritual corruption and a disregard for the past. Okolo’s trip to Sologa corresponds to the period of exile be‐ fore return in messianic literature. In Sologa, Okolo finds people who brag of such things as being “a whiteman’s cook.” The white man’s money economy has corrupted people, and money is the only social

120 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE value. The city of Sologa is not a community but a conglomeration of various tribes and languages: “cars honking, people shouting, people dying, women delivering, beggars begging for alms, people feasting, people crying, people laughing, pollutions with grid that do not reach their insides bedding for votes, priests building houses, people doubt‐ ing, people marrying, people divorcing, priests turning away worship‐ pers, people hoping, hopes breaking platelike on cement floors.” Jus‐ tice is corrupt, there is tribal favoritism, and the powerful are beyond the law. In contrast to the people of the city who have no sense of pur‐ pose and “think nothing,” there is the carver, an artist who believes “everything … the white man’s God, the black man’s God … The Carver believes and puts even his shadow into creating forces out of wood and his inside of sweeter than sweetness.” In Sologa, Okolo also learns that the white men have become corrupted; they tell him that truth and honesty do not exist for the person who wants to get ahead. Okolo, still searching for a purpose, a faith, a belief, realizes that he must re‐ turn home and search for “it.” Meanwhile in his town some people have been influenced by Okolo’s words. They start changing their ways, which threatens Chief Izongo. Part of Okolo’s messages is to return to the “earth’s knowledge which has come down from my ancestors … they are the words of your father’s father’s father.” Eventually Okolo understands that his pur‐ pose in life is to plant “it in peoples inside by asking if they’ve got it.” In what appears to be a comment on Okara’s treatment of “it” in the novel, Okolo says that there is no single meaning to life; each person has his or her own purpose: “Names bring division and division and strife. So let it be without a name.” The syncretism is African and an adaptation of African beliefs to those of Christianity and Islam; there’s an appreciation (as in Soyinka’s works) that life is cyclical and that people will be reborn in different forms. As a cult of Okolo’s followers forms, Chief Izongo decides that Okolo must be destroyed and has him tied and set adrift in a canoe floating down the river towards a whirl‐ pool. The novel shows Okolo’s discovery of a need to have a pur‐ pose in his life, the beginning of his teaching to others, his expulsion

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 121 from the village, his trial in the outside world, his discovery of his mes‐ sage, his return, the formation of the cult of his word, and his death. Because of the language and themes, the novel appears to blend Chris‐ tianity with the negritudist concern to preserve or adapt African tra‐ ditions in the new materialist society created by European influence on Africa. People and events seem emblematic, symbols of ideas, and much of the book gives the impression of occurring in a dark, shad‐ owy, dimly lit place. As in many epics, the hero begins as an isolated individual but eventually learns that lives interact and that he is part of society. His “spoken words” enter other people, “remain there and grow.” The language of The Voice is the most controversial aspect of the novel. As the Nigerian poet Clark, also an Ijaw, complains in The Example of Shakespeare (1970), “With commands and requests like ‘Your nonsense words stop,’ Mr. Okara is no doubt trying to recreate the regional sentence structure of object‐verb, but he has no justifica‐ tion for converting the normal … order of straight statements.” Clark writes that Okara “has no cause to resort to the biblical verb ending ‐ eth, very rare as plural even in Elizabethan usage, and the odd use of both the negative and the verb to be. The result is not the reproduction of Ijaw rhythms in English, but an artificial stilted tongue, more Ger‐ man than Ijaw. It is a creation completely devoid of the positive attrac‐ tion of a living language like pidgin English.” While objecting to the method, Clark explains some of the words and idiomatic expressions Okara translated: “the it of the story … is the Ijaw iye meaning from the most to the least tangible of things”; “the term inside … is biri, the belly as the seat of human passion and will … Okara’s use of the expression ‘your head is not correct’ also de‐ rives directly from Ijaw idiom and usage.” The poetic quality resulting from Okara’s use of unusual word order (especially of verbs), repeti‐ tion of words (especially verbs, adverbs, and adjectives), parallel con‐ structions, recurring symbols, and similes and metaphors based on nature (such as a fish, water, river, and fire) has been discussed by J. Shiarrella, while Donald Burness also notes syntactic inversions, use of nouns as modifiers, simultaneous usage of an adjective and a noun

122 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE that are the same word, and use of a standard adjective as a qualifying adverb (as in “black black” or “cold cold”). Other language features in‐ clude unusual comparative forms, many proverbs, and the rephrasing of English sayings so that they appear Ijaw―instead of “out of sight, out of mind,” Okara writes, “When I do not see you, you will not be in my inside.” In general, critics assume that Ijaw ways of thinking are accurately reflected in Okara’s text. Burness feels that, whereas Eng‐ lish speakers choose from a rich store of adverbs, in Ijaw emphasis is achieved by such simple repetitions as “black black” or “slowly, slowly.” Adrian A. Roscoe claims that Okara’s style reflects character‐ istics of Ijaw thinking with a limited number of antonymic pairings: “‘Straight’ and ‘crooked’ dispose of every variety of truth and untruth,” while “‘sweet’ and ‘sour’ represent all shades of happiness or misery.” After being principal information officer of the Eastern Re‐ gion Government Information Office in Enugu during the mid‐1960s, Okara worked during the Civil War as a director of the Cultural Affairs Division of the Ministry of Information for Biafra. In contrast to the introvertedness of his earlier poetry, the poems in The Fishermen’s In‐ vocation written during and after the Nigerian Civil War have a new urgency and directness of experience. In the twelve lines of “Moon in the Bucket,” the word look occurs five times; the innocence and peace of the moon are contrasted to the people in the Nigerian Federal Re‐ public who shout across the wall―with a million hates. In “Suddenly the Air Cracks” the repeated use of suddenly and cracks, and such sim‐ ilar‐sounding words as striking and cracking, suggest the unexpected‐ ness, drama, and danger of an air raid made by the Nigerians on a Bi‐ afran Village, as the airplanes dive, fire at the people, drop bombs, and are driven out by an antiaircraft fire. Afterward children running with their arms stretched out play at being diving Jets, while bodies are stacked in the morgue. While poems treating the contrast of war and the drama of a bombing raid have a new concreteness, in many of Okara’s poems of the Biafran period there is too much sentiment, thought, and rhetoric. “Cross on the Moon” begins with the complex imagery he often uses in which one association leads to another: the dew on the leaves of

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 123 trees reflects the moonlight on hedges from which one can hear crick‐ ets and see fireflies, while overhead an airplane waits its turn to bring in relief supplies “to whimpering children /on the backs of fearless mothers.” The airplanes are “A testimony of Man's humanity.” While such sentiments are to be expected in the situation, they do not nec‐ essarily make for good poetry. Some poems, such as “Expendable Name,” appear to be written directly as appeals to Roman Catholics abroad for aid to Biafra. At his best in the early poems Okara is a symbolist, most ef‐ fective when treating a theme by metaphor; in the war poems imagis‐ tic descriptions too often become prose statements. In “Cancerous Growth,” “Today’s wanted massacre/burns up tender winds / and from the ashes / hate is growing.” These poems do show Okara’s con‐ trol of the rhetorical forms. Kenneth L. Goodwin calls “Expendable Name” “a powerful but bitter reproach to the comfortable war‐ mongers” and finds “Rain Lullaby” “an unsentimental poem” that con‐ demns the war fought by day in contrast to the nighttime mercy flights to Biafra. Many of the wartime and more‐recent poems use traditional Christian imagery and associations. “Come, Come and Listen” loosely imitates Christ’s Good Friday reproaches on the Cross to those who pass and is perhaps related to George Herbert’s well‐known “The Sac‐ rifice.” Besides pleading with Nigerians to think of the mothers and children they are killing, the speaker in the final stanza of “Come, Come and Listen” appears to ask why the God brought by the Chris‐ tians has deserted him. In “Christmas 1971,” “love and peace” are sac‐ rificial Christlike figures “caricatured, maligned /taunted and re‐ jected.” In many of the late war poems there is a feeling of betrayal because of the bombings and death of civilians, the wall created be‐ tween the Federal Republic and Biafra, the unwillingness of the lead‐ ers to compromise and seek peace, and the attitudes of those who profit from the war. Christian images are used in these disillusioned, often satiric poems, forming a pattern of irony. “The Revolt of the Gods,” a long poem from 1969, begins a debate between the gods dur‐ ing which readers learn that humans make and kill gods by their need,

124 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE love, and hatred. The scene next shifts to earth, where two men mock the idea of divine power, while another seemingly believes in the Ju‐ daic God, and the fourth is a Christian doomsayer prophesying the end of the earth and the coming last days. The poem concludes with the old gods dying with the apparent triumph of the scientific and skepti‐ cal, although they will eventually return for another cycle of belief and disbelief. The problem of faith haunts Okara’s later poems. In “The Glowering Rat,” written in Port Harcourt in 1970, shortly after the war, the spiritual life―its comforts and sense of being at ease―is dis‐ possessed by a symbolic rat “whetted on yesteryears.” As Susan Beck‐ mann says, the poem is a “mindscape” of someone returning to a war‐ scarred city and stumbling physically over shell craters, while his spirit, attempting to return to his home in faith, stumbles mentally over the emptiness left within by the war. Although Okara in his later poems does not experiment with language and symbol, he uses syntax in a new way, often delaying or not using punctuation, with the result that stanzas, as in “Suddenly the Air Cracks,” or entire poems, such as “Cancerous Growth,” “Freedom Day,” “Rain Lullaby,” and “The Dead A Spirit Commands,” flow on con‐ tinuously and gain greater force for the momentary suspensions caused by line endings, dashes, or a few capital letters at the start of a line. In place of the earlier concentration on image and song, the later poems are whiplike, depending on energy, repetitions, and ideas for their force. Often they project the state of the poet’s psyche on the ex‐ ternal world, as in “Flying Over the Sahara,” where “Here all is dead.” The expected picture of a lost man’s dying search for water is trans‐ ferred to the water itself, “sucked away by craving sands,” like the mind eternally searching for “fulfillment.” The speakers sees smoke from “oil in flames,” an example of the human mind creating “to build / and destroy, to nurture life and kill.” The Nigerian civil war was fought partly because of rights to the oil in Okara’s native Delta area. After the defeat of Biafra, Okara founded and wrote for a newspaper, the Nigerian Tide, and started the Rivers State Newspaper



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 125 and Television Corporation, of which he was a general manager until 1975. His manuscripts containing all his unpublished poems were de‐ stroyed during the chaos of war, and The Fisherman’s Invocation in‐ cludes mostly previously published poems. In his interview with Bernth Lindfors, Okara said that since the end of the Nigerian civil war he no longer could write, but The Fisherman’s Invocation has a few po‐ ems from 1976, including “To a Star” and “Celestial Song,” which refer to a renewal of poetic, and perhaps amorous, energies. In these poems Okara alludes to the symbolism of both his earlier and his wartime poems, with the result that his work takes on self‐referential, autobi‐ ographical, and myth‐making qualities, with each poem being part of the continuing story. Unfortunately the diction is sometimes Victorian or late Romantic: “O let this be as those / which lie scotched like rose / trampled by passing years.” While it is generally felt that Okara’s best verse was written during the late 1950s, when he was both a modernist and negritudist poet, some poems of the Biafran period seem more powerful now than when they were first published. Okara’s reputation has been influenced by the small quantity of his publications and by changing fashions in the criticism of African literature. As one of the first modern Nigerian poets, he has poems in all the influential anthologies of African Commonwealth verse pub‐ lished during the 1960s; there was, however, little criticism of African poetry written at the time, and much of the criticism was introductory or polemical. Critics have remarked on a Okara’s inwardness and mys‐ ticism. As Clark says, “This concern with the self, the soul, read through all his work.” In regard to Okara’s primitivism and romantic images of jungle drums, innocent virgins, mystic rhythms, and dark flesh, Clark feels that Okara showed characteristics of the early West African poets, and Clark places Okara’s verse midway between the large public statements and public oratory of the pioneer poets and the more concise, imagistic, purer poetry of Okigbo and Soyinka. Others felt that, despite the mysticism and experimentalism, Okara aimed to be a poet of the African continent. Noting his intensity of mood, richness of soul, and sense of an inner life, Roscoe claims Okara’s I signifies the communal we: “He is Nigeria’s best example of

126 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE the poet singing in solitude yet singing for his fellow men.” A similar line is taken by P.N. Njoroge, who calls Okara one of Africa's greatest poets and the embodiment of the continent’s experience; the poet in expressing his soul expresses the soul of society. Although hailed as more successful as a novelist than a poet, Okara received little sustained critical attention as a poet until the ap‐ pearance of The Fishermen’s Invocation, which shared the Common‐ wealth Poetry Prize with Ladders of Rain (1978) by the New Zealander Brian Turner. A revival of interest in Okara’s poetry immediately fol‐ lowed, with reviews and articles appearing in literary journals as dis‐ tant from Nigeria as Canada, Denmark, and India. Bruce King de‐ scribes Okara as one of the first and best of the African poets, who af‐ ter being lost is being rediscovered. Beckmann notes while Okara’s work is indispensable to any general anthology of African poetry, the award of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize was an indication that he was at last getting the recognition he deserved. Beckmann and King, like most reviewers, felt that his best poetry proceeded the Nigerian Civil War. Kristen Holst Peterson claims that Okara debated the rela‐ tionship between the past and the present traditional African imagery rooted in oral literature: “Through this use of imagery … he moves ef‐ fortlessly between private, public and cosmic levels.” Others have commented that Okara’s poems share negritud‐ ist themes and concerns, including identification with Africa symbol‐ ized by the natural world. Noting that Okara’s style changed at the time of the Civil War from lyric and celebratory to satiric, bitter and lamenting, S.A. Gingell comments that, while the Christian version ap‐ pears to suffer, a belief in the creative spirit remains. The difference between Okara’s early and later verse, according to Goodwin, is rep‐ resentative of a shift in African poetry from early‐twentieth‐century modernist models to a freer, more orational African manner. This change in direction reflected the new interest by radicalized poets in using verse as a means of communicating with an African readership about social and political matters. Okara has emancipated himself from European influence and writes like an African for Africans; he is “one of the first truly African poets in English,” according to Goodwin.

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 127 Samuel O. Asein says that Okara’s early poetry failed to gain attention among critics because in the 1960s he was absorbed in “an individu‐ alized quest … to find meaning in human experience” rather than pub‐ lic issues. In the later poems Asein sees signs of someone shocked by the effects of the civil war; instead of imagination, vigor, verbal en‐ ergy, and fluid oratory, there are pathos, sentimentality, banality, and labored rhetoric. Asein feels that Okara’s value as a poet lies in his ex‐ periments with language and his cultural nationalism, which made an important contribution to the development of modern African litera‐ ture. Critics of The Voice were at first concerned with its poetic style, then with interpreting its symbolism; recently there has been a feeling that the novel is most significant for its criticism of African so‐ ciety and politics and its prophetic truth. Early commentators on The Voice were puzzled by its unusual English and by the alienation of the main character from his society. The novel was unlike the previous West African literature of anti‐colonialism and cultural assertion. Sun‐ day Anozie compares the novel to Hamlet, seeing Okara’s book as the portrait of an African intellectual caught up in a double alienation from himself and from his society. Anozie finds Okolo’s search for “it” pretentious, the disillusionment unmotivated, and the novel too static. That it resembles the novels of Ekwensi and Achebe in being con‐ cerned with the disrupting and corrupting effects of modernization and social change was overlooked as were similarities to the work of Soyinka―such similarities including an unillusioned view of national independence and the feeling that the hero is a representative of a group of young, self‐destructive, truth‐seeking intellectuals. No one at the time noticed that Okolo could just as well be a character in Soy‐ inka’s novel The Interpreters. While a characteristic of early Nigerian literature is experi‐ mentation with language to create an African style, as shown by Tutu‐ ola’s successful use of transliteration from Yoruba and Achebe’s more sophisticated “Igboization” of English, critics have long discussed whether or not Okara’s experiment in using Ijaw language is success‐ ful. In The Example of Shakespeare Clark claims that The Voice offers

128 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE conclusive proof that such devices as special syntax and sentence structures based on the vernacular are likely to lead the African writer to disaster; in contrast to such external forms, Clark argues for reli‐ ance on images. After the initial negative evaluation of The Voice, opinion be‐ gan to shift as interpretation became more subtle. The Canadian nov‐ elist Margaret Laurence claims that The Voice is one of the most mem‐ orable novels to have come out of Nigeria, and she comments on its power and poetic imagery. She finds the use of imagery and Ijaw speech patterns fresh, says that the rhythms are those of prose poetry, and notes the use of Ijaw proverbs and parables, including imagery from Ijaw mask drama. Although set within Ijaw tribal society, The Voice is universal in its picture of a man who questions pretense, ri‐ gidity, and the establishment. For Shiarella, Okolo is a Messiah figure, and Tuere, the outcast woman who befriends him is a type of Mary Magdalene, while the cripple is the apostle who will carry the message to others. Okolo seeks the inner peace of “it” in contrast to the new ways that have replaced African tradition. Shiarella notes that many of the poetic devices, such as rhyme, alliteration, inverted word order, and repetition result from transliteration; the style and technique make The Voice a new form of experimental, poetic novel. Okara’s at‐ tempt to bridge the distance between European literary models and an African point of view and style, as represented by Tutuola’s fictions, is noted by Roscoe, who claims that The Voice blends the realism of Western fiction with the fantasy in traditional African tales. While its origins are in contemporary life, the novel is an allegory of the struggle between good and evil in a symbolic, dark, and hazy landscape. Okolo is a modern character, a man of inner tensions and depressions; but the “it” he seeks is too vague, according to Roscoe. Later criticism praises Okara’s achievement in The Voice as a successful attempt at creating in English the manner of African oral literature. Whereas older critics complain about Okolo’s alienation, recent emphasis is on the political relevance of the satiric elements. More attention has also been given to the details of the symbolism. Lindfors sees a poet’s concern with form, symbol, and language in the

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 129 novel; it represents for him the most eloquent African vernacular style in English. It is a brilliant achievement, a moral allegory about the search for truth and purpose in a corrupt world, and it is concerned about the moral consequences of rapid Westernization. Eustace Palmer also sees its imagery, style, and quest plot as being influenced by the oral tradition of the storyteller. Noting similarities to Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), Palmer finds The Voice religious, moral, and ex‐ tremely pessimistic, although one of the most significant African nov‐ els. The tight, closely drawn structure, symbolism, and solemn, moralizing tone create a nightmare world dominated by tyranny and materialism, says Emannuel N. Obiechina, who also comments on the novel as parable and the analogy between Okolo’s life and the Passion story. Burness claims identity is a main concern of any African novelist who is working within a European literary genre; no other African novelist has reconstructed a Western language so drastically to fit the rhythms of a tribal language. Okolo is a symbol of the pilgrim frus‐ trated by the moral laxity of his society and its leaders, a situation that can occur in any society or culture; the political leaders are mediocre, not evil. Reinhard Sander, however, sees the situation depicted in the novel as typical of postcolonial Africa, where a white ruling class was exchanged for a similar black ruling class, resulting in disillusionment and cynicism. The rebel is at a loss for progressive allies as the estab‐ lishment crushes opposition. Hugh Webb sees Okara as having trans‐ ferred to the novel the characteristic features of the African oral tale, such as moralizing parables, to form group conscience. Okara’s narra‐ tive is stripped of all detail not essential to parable, making the char‐ acters figures in an allegory. Although alienated, Okolo is a crusader, and his search threatens the conservatives’ retention of power. Noting a similarity of techniques and themes between The Voice and works of the early 1960s by Soyinka, Albert Olu Ashaolu sees the novel as concerned with the corrupting effects of Western materialism on traditional Nigerian society at the time of national in‐ dependence. Okolo is one of the intellectuals who preach reform. The Voice is “one of the finest African novels of social analysis,” according

130 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE to Solomon Iyasere; no other novel has so successfully captured the social injustice, corruption, and spiritual emptiness of contemporary Nigeria. Okara appears to have evolved from a late‐romantic religious poet to a negritudist, then in The Voice to a critic of materialism of Ni‐ gerian politics. Afterwards he became a Biafran poet recording the pains of the secession movement, while beginning to question his re‐ ligious faith. His style changed from the romanticism of his first poems to the modernist and surrealist tendencies of his negritude phase. With the Biafran poems his style became more open and his subject matter more clearly in view. He has written little since the end of the Nigerian civil war, but his reputation as an important writer is secure. Interview: Bernth Lindfors, “Interview with Gabriel Okara,” World Literature Written in English, 12 (November 1973): 133‐141; reprinted in Dem‐Say: Interviews with Eight Nigerian Writers, edited by Lindfors (Austin: African and Afro‐American Studies and Re‐ search Center, University of Texas, 1974), pp. 41‐47. References: Sam. A Adewoye, “The Effects of the Hand of the Past on the Protago‐ nist in Gabriel Okara’s The Voice,” Journal of African Studies, 12 (1985): 77‐81; Sunday Anozie, “The Theme of Alienation and Commitment in Okara’s The Voice,” Bulletin of the Association for African Literature in English, 3 (1965): 54‐67; Samuel O. Asein, “The Significance of Gabriel Okara as Poet,” New Lit‐ erature Review, 11 (November 1982): 63‐74; Albert Olu Ashaolu, “A Voice in the Wilderness: The Predicament of the Social Reformer in Okara’s The Voice,” International Fic‐ tion Review, 6 (July 1979): 111‐117;



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 131 Susan Beckmann, “Gabriel Okara, The Fisherman’s Invocation,” World Literature written in English, 20 (Autumn 1981): 230‐235; Donald Burness, “Stylistic Innovations and the Rhythm of African Life in Okara’s The Voice,” Journal of the New African Literature and the Arts, 13/14 (1972/1973):13‐20; J.P. Clark, The Example of Shakespeare (Evanston, Ill.; Northwestern University Press, 1970); R.N. Egudu, “A Study of Five of Gabriel Okara’s Poems,” Okike, 13 (1979): 93‐110; S.A Gingell, “His River’s Complex Course: Reflections on Past, Present and Future in the Poetry of Gabriel Okara,” World Literature Written in English, 23 (Spring 1984): 284‐297; Kenneth L. Goodwin, “Gabriel Okara,” in his Understanding African Po‐ etry: A Study of Ten Poets (London: Heinemann, 1982), pp. 142‐153; Solomon Iyasere, “Narrative Techniques in Okara’s The Voice,” African Literature Today, 12(1982):5‐21; Bruce King, “The Poetry of Gabriel Okara,” Chandrabhaga, 2 (1979): 60‐65; Margaret Laurence, Long Drums and Cannons (New York: Praeger, 1969), pp. 193‐198; Bernth Lindfors, “Gabriel Okara: The Poet as Novelist,” Pan‐African Journal, 4 (Fall 1971): 420‐425; Obi Maduakor, “Gabriel Okara: Poet of the Mystic Inside,” World Liter‐ ature Today, 61 (Winter 1987): 41‐45; Ayo Mamudu, “Okara’s Poetic landscape,” Commonwealth Essays and Studies, 10 (Autumn 1987): 111‐118; Emmanuel Ngara, Stylistic Criticism and the African Novel: A Study of the Language, Art and Content of African Fiction (London: Heinemann, 1982), pp. 39‐57;

132 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Alastair Niven, “Gabriel Okara’s The Voice and What It Utters,” Com‐ monwealth Novel in English, 1, no.2 (1982): 121‐126; P.N. Njoroge, “Gabriel Okara: The Feeler of the Pulse of Africa’s Soul,” Busara, 5, no.1 (1973): 48‐56; Emmanuel N. Obiechina, “Art and Artifice in Okara’s The Voice,” Okike, 1 (September 1972): 23‐33; Emeka Okeke‐Ezigbo, “The ‘Sharp and Sided Hail’: Hopkins and His Nigerian Imitators and Detractors.” In Hopkins among the Po‐ ets: Studies in Modern Responses to Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed‐ ited by Richard F. Giles (Hamilton, Ont.: International Hop‐ kins Association, 1985), pp. 114‐123; Eustace Palmer, An Introduction to the African Novel: A Critical Study of Twelve books by Chinua Achebe, James Ngugi, Camara Laye, Elechi Amadi, Ayi Kwei Armah, Mongo Beti and Gabriel Okara (London: Heinemann, 1972), pp. 155‐167; Kirsten Holst Peterson, “Heterogeneous World Yoked Violently To‐ gether,” Kunapipi, 1, no.2 (1979): 155‐158; Adrian A. Roscoe, Mother Is Gold (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), pp. 27‐35, 44‐48, 80‐81, 113‐121; Reinhard Sander, “A Political Interpretation of Gabriel Okara’s The Voice,” Omaba, 10 (1974): 4‐15; Patrick Scott, “The Older Generation: T.M. Aluko and Gabriel Okara,” in European‐Language Writing in Sub‐Saharan Africa, edited by Albert Gérard (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1986), II: 689‐ 697; K.E. Senanu and Theophilus Vincent, eds., A Selection of African Poetry (Harlow, U.K.:Longman, 1976); J. Shiarella, “Gabriel Okara’s The Voice: A study in the Poetic Novel,” Black Orpheus, 2, nos. 5‐6 (1971):45‐49;



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 133 Theophilus Vincent, The Novel and Reality in Africa and America (La‐ gos: U.S. Information Service and University of Lagos, 1974), pp. 11‐13, 34‐35; Hugh Webb, “Allegory: Okara’s The Voice,” English in Africa, 5 (Sep‐ tember 1978): 66‐73; Noel Woodroffe, “The Necessity for Cultural Redefinition in Gabriel Okara’s The Voice,” World Literature Written in English, 25 (Spring 1985): 42‐50; Derek Wright, “Ritual and Reality in the Novels of Wole Soyinka, Ga‐ briel Okara and Kofi Awoonor,” Kunapipi, 9, no.1 (1987): 65‐ 74.





Chapter 10 The Revised Arrow of God Although the preface to the second edition of Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God (1974) quietly mentions ‘certain structural weaknesses’ which Achebe has taken ‘the opportunity of a new edition to remove’, the revisions are extensive and are more of style and technique than ‘structural’. The second edition contains over one hundred revisions. While the largest number or changes are in the early chapters, there is probably no chapter in the second edition that has not been in some way modified, and the later chapters of the book contain the most sig‐ nificant revisions. As a detailed study of the changes in the second edi‐ tion would require a small monograph, it is possible here only to sum‐ marize the kinds and effects of the revisions. For this purpose I will list the changes in Chapter One and the major revisions in the remain‐ der of the book. (In my references the chapter number is followed by the page number of the Heinemann paperback edition of 1965 and secondly the revised paperback edition of 1977). First Edition Syntax and Word‐Order The woman who will bear the man who will say it has not yet been born.

Second Edition

has not been born yet.

(I, 4, 3). The more emphatic sentence is in keeping with Ezeulu’s character and usual way of speaking. May this household be healthy.

This household may it be healthy.

(I, 7, 6). The syntax of the former sounds ‘English’ and the phrase echoes Christian blessings. The inverted word order of the latter in

135

136 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE the revised edition is for interior monologue, prayers, public speeches, etc. May our wives bear male children.

And let our wives bear male children.

(I, 7, 6). Here and in the next quotation ‘let’ is less like church English and has a somewhat different meaning from ‘May’. May good come to the land. (I,7,6). Sacrifice a cow and not a chicken.

Let it come to the land Sacrifice to you a cow, not a chicken.

(I, 7, 6). ‘To You’ is less anthropological and general ; more a prayer to a god. Additional information: setting, character descriptions, etc. ‘It kills little girls,’ said Nwafo.

‘It kills little girls,’ said Nwafo, her brother.

(I, 3, 2). The reader probably does not have the family relationships clearly in mind this early in the novel. Said Ezeulu with a smile

Said Ezeulu with a smile, and Nwafo was full of happiness.

(I, 9, 8). More interaction between the characters. She told her mother about it



Then she gathered the bowls and went to tell her mother about it.

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 137 (I, 11, 9). This makes the situation more concrete. they would come out in force to defend their brother

they will come out in force to defend their brother. Then there will be work for you.

(I, 13, 11). More interplay between the characters, thus more dra‐ matic. Verbal Economy But in spite of this no one would be so rash

Nevertheless no one would be so rash.

(I, 4, 4). The substitution of an emphatic for a weak idiom is more in keeping with Ezeulu’s personality. What kind of power was it if everybody knew that it would never be used? (I, 4, 4). This internalizes the thought.

What kind of power was it if it would never be used?

‘When a woman marries a the kind of woman husband she should forget how who carried her big her father’s compound was’ father’s compound she always said. into the house ‘A woman does not carry her of her husband. father’s obi to her husband. (I, 12, 10). The former is didactic; the latter is witty and consistent with Okiugo’s mother’s attitude towards Akueke.



138 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Deletion of explanations What I am carving for the man of What I am carving for Umuagu is a Mask the man of Umuagu is not… (I, 4, 5). The first explains; the second is part of the dramatic mono‐ logue. You told me not to carve them. You told me to avoid it. (I, 5, 5). The former is explanatory; the second is part of a dramatic dialogue and is in keeping with the psychology of Edogo. Substitutions The proud dog who tried to put out a furnace (I, 4, 4). ‘tried’ is a weak, trite expression.

the proud dog who sought to put out a furnace



And would use a human and would take a pillow to rest its head softer pillow for its head (I, 8, 7). ‘Take’ is more correct than ‘use’ ; the vague ‘softer’ is appro‐ priate for an oracular message. That is what we do not understand. This is the part we do not understand. (I, 14, 12). ‘What’ is vague and British; ‘the part’ is stronger and sounds Nigerian. Afraid to speak (I, 15, 13).

Afraid to begin

I agreed and sent you (I, 16, 14).

I agreed to send you

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 139 Internalization His mind still persisted in His mind never trying to look too closely content with at the nature of his power shallow satisfactions crept again to the brinks of knowing. (I, 4, 4). The former sounds like the comment of an English narrator; the second, with its Nigerian usage (‘brinks’), expresses the psychol‐ ogy of Ezeulu. One of the rough, faceless Nwafo’s eyes picked okposi belonged to Nwafo. out the special It was carved for him because okposi which of the convulsions he used belonged to him. to have at night. They told it had been carved him to call it Namesake. for him because of the convulsions he used to have at night. They told him to call it Namesake, and he did. (I, 7, 6). In the revised version the scene is portrayed through the eyes of the characters. Everytime he prayed for Umuaro bitterness rose into his mouth. A great division had come to the six villages and his enemies tried to put it on his head. For what reason?

Every time he prayed for Umuaro bitterness rose into his mouth, a great smouldering anger for the division which Had come to the six Villages and which his enemies sought to lay on his head. And for what reason?

140 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE (I, 7, 6). By joining the first two sentences, the revised version gives the second sentence the effect of Ezeulu’s thought. as he returned each greeting. and returned their greeting (I, 8, 7). The precision of the first edition is an outsider’s comment. looking towards Ugoye’s hut looking towards the other woman’s hut (I, 11, 10). The revised version internalizes the perspective. Accuracy even the smallest piece of the yam (I, 6, 5). about as tall as the man’s forearm and having two strong horns (I, 6, 6)

even the smallest crumbs of the yam about as tall as a man’s forearm, its animal horn as long as as the rest of its human body

showed him the ripe fruit on the showed him the tree which were as big as water threatening ripe pots fruit on the tree, as big as water pots (I, 13, 11). ‘Threatening’ brings out the meaning; ‘as’ is more eco‐ nomical and direct than ‘which were’. Improved English shrine like a woman shrine, like a woman (I, 7, 6). ‘Like’ in the former incorrectly refers to ‘shrine’, whereas in the second edition it correctly refers to the legs described earlier in the sentence.



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 141 Translations of Igbo into English to make the text more readable Usa bulu Okpili long throat (I, 3, 2). Nigerian usage that the white man should come from so far to tell them the truth (I, 8, 7).

that the white man whose father or mother no one knew should come to tell them the truth

The changes in Chapter One contribute towards a greater concentration on the action, on the texture of local society, and on feel‐ ings. English clichés are replaced with phrases that sound more Nige‐ rian and are more appropriate to the characters. The language of nar‐ ration and the dialogue is more in keeping with the enclosed world of a village. The narration is more internalized as if seen and felt from within the perspective of the characters. In general the sentences are more emphatic, precise and dramatic (in the sense of arising from the response of interplay of the characters.) The changes in the remainder of the book reveal a similar concern with the craft of fiction, especially in the creation of character and how the English language can be used to show an active, dignified Igbo culture. In the second edition revisions sometimes give more gravitas to the character, make Ezeulu’s speeches more emphatic and proud. Then it would be death to its tormentor (XVI, 227, 184)

Then it would say to its tormentor: Here I am!



142 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE The revised version adds some dramatic defiance. Some revi‐ sions delete passages that explain Igbo words to foreigners: Akukalia nwadiani Akukalia Son of our Son of our Daughter Daughter (II, 26, 22) Other changes clarify ambiguous phrases: calling her father (II, 26, 22).

calling, ‘father, father!’

In general the style and the language are more active, tight, less abstract, and closer to the psychology of the characters. The per‐ spective appears more from within the characters than that from the narrator or story teller. The addition of ‘nowadays’ to Aneto’s speech is a small touch that adds a colloquial tone to the dialogue and con‐ tributes to the supposed contrast between past and present: ‘every‐ body you see nowadays sounds like a broken pot’ (XIX, 279, 224). There are revisions that expand and make clear the feelings of the character: bury him like Ezidemili (IV, 51, 42).

bury him with the ancient and awesome ritual accorded to the priest of Idemili

While the revisions mentioned above contribute towards a more consistently textured fictional world than that of the first edi‐ tion, they are relatively minor changes in contrast to some of the ma‐ jor revisions which begin with Chapter Four. The major revisions are mostly the deletion of the kind of anthropological material which of‐ ten filled novels of cultural assertion during the independence period at the expense of narrative speed and focus. Five lines of such material are deleted in Chapter Four: ‘the hut which faced the forest …’ (IV, 62, 51). In Chapter Six, Obiageli’s song is reduced from forty to five lines. It is possible that the description of Nwaka’s salute (XIII, 176, 143)

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 143 was deleted because it was too similar to various European gestures of political loyalty (‘he shot his arm forward and upward thrice in sa‐ lute’), or because it is similar to a Yoruba gesture signifying ‘power’. A major structural change is the treatment of Ugoye’s tale of the man with two wives, which is reduced from four‐and‐a‐half pages to six lines (XVI, 235‐9, 190‐1). The general effect of such deletions is to speed up and concentrate the narrative, making the story more nov‐ elistic and less an anthropological record. This is especially useful as the story moves towards its dramatic conclusion. The use of italics in the second edition, instead of single quo‐ tation marks, for interior monologue, prayer and some public speeches, and for speeches that are reported by characters, both clears up various ambiguities about who is speaking and contributes to the refocusing of the novel’s perspective more on the psychology of the characters that on a record of communal life. Compare the effect of: Will he say to the guns and the arrows and the machets: Hold! I want to return quickly to my medicine‐hut and stir the pot and find out what has gone wrong; perhaps someone in my household―a child, maybe―has unwittingly violated my medicine’s taboo? No. with Will he say to the guns and the arrows and the machets: Hold! I want to return quickly to my medicine‐hut and stir the pot and find out what has gone wrong; perhaps someone in my household―a child, maybe―has unwittingly violated my medicine’s taboo? No. (XIX, 285‐6, 228).



144 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Several other kinds of revision should be noticed. There are changes that contribute to the dignity of characterization, event and diction: he had not asked his son he had not asked his to do too much son for more than was justly due (XIX, 271, 217) There are revisions that subtly contribute towards character‐ ization and psychology. Goodcountry’s brand of Christian missionary spirit is better conveyed: received this year from God. And not only yams, any crop whatsoever or livestock or livestock or money (XVII, 270, 216)

received this year Almighty God. And not only yams, any crop whatsoever or livestock or money. Anything.

Some changes significantly develop the themes and their so‐ cial background. For example, Winterbottom’s reflections on the Brit‐ ish creation of local chiefs: Chief Ikedi was still corrupt and high‐handed but he had become even more clever than before. … This among a people who never had kings before! (V, 70, 58)

chief Ikedi was still corrupt and high‐ handed only cleverer than ever before… This among a people Who abominated kings!

While, in a sense, this is an editorial insertion by Achebe, it is one of several instances where he had revised or added to the thoughts of Europeans to bring out their character further, as in

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 145 Wright’s new comment about ‘in this god‐forsaken place’ (X, 129, 104). Whereas Winterbottom in the first edition speaks of ‘Defender of faith’, his scholarly side is shown in the second edition’s ‘Fidei De‐ fensor’ (X, 133, 107). Such touches contribute towards a fuller reali‐ zation of character in a second addition. Three revisions from the final paragraph of the novel will in‐ dicate how the tone of the 1974 version has moved from an external to internal perspective: If this was so then Ulu had chosen a dangerous time to uphold this wisdom. In destroying his priest he had also brought disaster on himself, like the lizard in the fable.

If this was so then Ulu had chosen a dangerous time to uphold that truth for in destroying his priest he had also disaster on himself, like the lizard in the fable.

For a deity who chose a time such as this to destroy his priest or abandon him to his enemies was inciting people to take liberties.

For a deity who chose a moment such as this to chastise his priest or abandon him before his enemies was inciting people to take liberties.

Thereafter any yam that was harvest in the man’s fields was harvest in the name of the son. (XIX, 287, 230).

Thereafter any yam harvested in his field was harvested in the name of the son.

It will be obvious from the revisions that I have selected that the first Arrow of God is somewhat different from the revised edition.

146 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE While the themes, characterization and narrative form have not changed, the second edition is better written, technically more satis‐ factory and focuses more on the drama of individual emotions than on reporting community life. The critic or lecturer will need to state which edition he or she is using and will need to be careful to distin‐ guish between the effect of the two versions. The author of the first version is somewhat less secure in his craft and less consistent in his reshaping of the English language to a Nigerian context, the various explanations show the authors relationship to foreign readers; the ex‐ cessive anthropological material reflects a decade when the portrayal of traditional culture was a nationalistic assertion. The author of the revised edition is a more mature craftsman, less concerned with ex‐ plaining local culture to Europeans; he has a more secure control of English and, relatively, is more interested in the drama and role of his main character within a period of cultural transition. As Achebe was always a conscious craftsman of the novel, the difference between the two editions is a matter of emphasis. The first edition is somewhat more external and explanatory; its tempo often slows to allow a portrayal of traditional culture. It is still influenced by the methods used in Things Fall Apart, where there is often a double perspective shared between focus on the hero’s tragic hubris and the recording of the life of the community. In the revised Arrow of God the greater detail, the suppression of explanation and the deletion of some anthropological material result in a more unified perspective as events are seen more from within the vision or thought of the charac‐ ters. The pace is quicker and the emphasis is somewhat more on psy‐ chology that on narration. The use of italics instead of quotation marks and the transformation of speeches into indirect reports of what characters say or feel make the novel more dramatic. Instead of being told and offered illustrations, the reader is placed more with the feelings and vision of the characters. The first edition still has many characteristics of a story teller; the second edition is more novelistic.



Chapter 11 Wole Soyinka and the Nobel Prize for Literature The cultural map of the world is changing radically, and recognition of Soyinka’s writings constitutes part of our increased awareness of modern Africa, including its popular music, its contem‐ porary art, and the impressive body of literature that the continent is now producing in response to rapid political, social, and economic changes. One of the best dramatists of our time, Wole Soyinka blends African with European cultural traditions, the high seriousness of modernist elite literature, and the topicality of African popular thea‐ ter. He is a modern who writes from an African‐centered world view without nostalgia for an idealized past, and his attitude is sophisti‐ cated, cosmopolitan, and international in awareness, reference, and relevance. Rather than protesting against the continuing effects of co‐ lonialism, he has tried to overcome fragmented, secularized Western thought with an integrated vision of life derived from his own Yoruba culture. Unlike European writers who, claiming a dissociation of sen‐ sibility in the modern world, turn towards various forms of authority, Soyinka is actively committed to social justice and the preservation of individual freedom, in defiance of the various repressive regimes, black and white, that Africa has produced. Despite the complexity of his writing he has a popular following in Nigeria as a dramatist and an outspoken, daring public figure, deeply engaged in the main political issues of his country and Africa. His periods of imprisonment, espe‐ cially the long detention during the Nigerian Civil War, make him a symbol for humane values throughout the continent. Soyinka’s writing is probing and energetic; he moves easily between European and Yoruba culture. Although set in such modern Nigerian cities as Lagos and Ibadan, the scenes and situations in his plays and novels seem familiar since they are often influenced by, are adapted from, or imitate well‐known works of European literature. Shaped by myth and imagery, the narrative moves back and forth in time. Events are powerful; the language is filled with puns and witty 147

148 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE wordplay, references, and allusions. Soyinka has an excellent sense of dramatic rhythm and visual theater. Although he is a poet who creates rich layers of images and symbols, his plays resemble those of Ben Jonson and Bertolt Brecht in their energy, knock‐about humor, satire, sharply outlined characters, sense of society, unexpected develop‐ ment, and use of popular culture. Besides Yoruba expressions, songs, and myth, he uses a Yorubaized English in his poetry, which, while creating a strange syntax and artificial diction, is in expression highly metaphoric, allusive, and economical. Soyinka was originally part of a group associated with the University of Ibadan, then the Mbari club, and Black Orpheus magazine that included the novelist Chinua Achebe and the poet Christopher Okigbo. In the early 1960s these writers made Nigeria the successor to the Harlem Renaissance and the francophonic negritude movement as a torchbearer of a Renaissance of black culture. Blending traditional African arts with those of modern Europe, they shaped contemporary African culture. Soyinka is the only one of the main Mbari group who has continued to develop after the Nigerian Civil War. Christopher Okigbo died for Biafra. Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart (1950) and Arrow of God (1964), has written little since the war; nor have the poets Gabriel Okara and J.P. Clark. Although imprisoned by the federal military government in conditions meant to lead to his death, Soyinka continued to write; denied writing paper he managed to use scraps of cigarette and toilet paper to smuggle out Poems from Prison (1969). His powerful prison diary, The Man Died (1972) and other prison poems, Shuttle in the Crypt (1972), were published after his release from prison in 1969. The prison writings are quietly angry, brooding, detailing in observation of his cell and guards, satirical and personal in their sense of confrontation with the head of the govern‐ ment and yet metaphysical as Soyinka tested his ideas by the reality he faced. The more introspective imaginative Gulliver found himself imprisoned by the Lilliputians. Soyinka’s energy and his will to survive reflect a cosmology that he developed early that is central to his writing, often providing



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 149 an underlying mythical and psychological structure. He uses mythol‐ ogy from his Yoruba culture the way James Joyce and T.S. Eliot use classical and Christian material to bind together writing that other‐ wise seems fragmented or discontinuous. His novel about alienation of the young university‐educated intellectuals from the older cor‐ ruptible politicians, The Interpreters (1965), one of the best novels to come from English‐speaking Africa, has no central narrator, narrative or plot; Soyinka jumps without warning between various scenes and times for the consciousness of different individuals. It is organized by recurring images, symbols and analogy to Yoruba mythology. The events occurring toward the conclusion of his powerful play Kongi’s Harvest (1967), a satire on the tyrannies and ideologies of postcolo‐ nial Africa, are confusing, and perhaps can be best explained by the harvest and Ogun myths they embody. Organization by analogy to myths and by recurring images has similarities to the dramatic struc‐ ture Soyinka studied in Yoruba ritual in which, instead of narrative, the underlying story is represented by significant contrast in parallels. At the heart of the vision, used in Soyinka’s epic poem Idanre (1967) and explained in his difficult Myth, Literature and the African World (1976), is Ogun, God of iron, roads, creativity, and destruction. After the division of an original unity and the creation of the world, man was separated from the gods. Ogun then undertook an epic voy‐ age through the void of unformed matter (like Satan’s first journey from hell to earth in Paradise Lost) to reach man, thus bridging the gods and man, and the living and the dead. Because of this dangerous voyage Ogun became a leader of the Yoruba and settled among them, enjoying palm wine and women until one day, drunk in battle, he sav‐ agely destroyed both the enemy and his followers and in remorse withdrew to live by himself. Most of Soyinka’s writings bear some analogy to part of the story. The significance of Ogun is personal and psychological as well as communal and religious. The writer, the pris‐ oner, the actor, the hero must survive the equivalent to Ogun’s dan‐ gerous journey through the void as part of the process of creation.



150 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE The Ogun myth (together with its complementary legend of Shango, the Yoruba king who became god of lightning) enables Soy‐ inka to establish a coherent African cosmology to replace European mythology and Christianity. Such a decentering of an alien vision in‐ volves a necessary part of authentic modernization for a third world writer. Soyinka does not reject foreign culture, as have some African nationalists; nor, as was common in the colonial period, does he judge the validity of African beliefs by their similarities to Western and Christian ideas. Instead he places his Yoruba world at the center, see‐ ing European and Indian myths as analogous to African beliefs. The claim that Yoruba tragedy developed out of the Ogun ritual and mas‐ querade is similar to claims that Greek tragedy evolved from funeral rites and that medieval and Renaissance drama grew out of the Cath‐ olic mass. Hindu notions of reincarnation illustrate Soyinka’s concept of history as recurring cycles from which it is difficult to escape. The African agrarian view of life as a seasonal harvest rebirth cycle also provides the basis of his “Abiku” poem, which refers the Yoruba belief that when a mother often loses her children it is the same child dying and being reborn again and again. Even as a student Soyinka showed great talent. While at the University of Leeds, he wrote the witty, humorous verse drama The Lion and the Jewel (1957). Based on the false eunuch theme of Ter‐ ence, Volpone, and The Country Wife, The Lion and the Jewel is one of the more charming works of early modern Nigerian literature. Its clas‐ sical motif of deception in the game of sexual warfare and conquest is ingeniously transposed into a metaphor for the continued relation‐ ship of old Africa to new Africa. The wily old chief who wins the vain maiden from the young, priggish, Western‐educated suitor has the en‐ ergy and cunning of those who succeed, but he is also like the “rust” of Soyinka’s poem “Season,” the rich autumnal maturity that must infuse the new in the cycle of birth, death, and renewal. On his return to Nigeria, Soyinka’s playfulness and sense of humor increasingly were overshadowed by pessimism. In the elabo‐ rately symbolic Dance of the Forests, performed to celebrate Nigeria's independence in 1960, he mocks negritude claims of an ideal Africa

II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 151 before the coming of the Europeans. He recalls that slavery existed be‐ fore colonialism and warns that the rulers of the new nation will re‐ peat the past in oppressing and exploiting the people. Soyinka already was integrating music and dance into his plays to make them more Nigerian, closer to Yoruba popular theater. He shifted the action back‐ ward and forward through time, creating a puzzling, highly theatrical dramatic form. Such plays embody unexpected revelations that deepen the significance of the events. Soyinka often includes in his writings an African separatist preacher, since he is fascinated by the power they wield in his com‐ munity, by their often comic corruption, and by their attempts like his own to syncretize African and Western thought. The Road (1955), per‐ haps one of the great plays of our age, portrays a preacher who searches for the meaning of existence, not realizing that it cannot be put into words, whether English or Yoruba. The truth is already expe‐ rienced by a masquerader in the play who, having been hit by a truck while possessed during the Egungun ceremony, is permanently em‐ bodied in a moment of ritualistic immersion in Ogun’s transitional voyage. The play is rich in language, humor, social observation, themes, visual symbols, and spectacle. The quest for life’s metaphysi‐ cal significance is dramatized within a context of political violence, po‐ lice corruption, dangerous roads, and syncretic and chaotic cultural values revealed in varied kinds of English. The mythic structure and even the coherence of the plot are probably overlooked by many read‐ ers, but Soyinka’s sense of theater holds audiences through the rhythm of events. The Western Region Crisis (1965) in Nigeria developed from an attempt by the ruling conservative northerners to split the Yoruba tribe and impose a minority government. As violence became wide‐ spread, Soyinka held up a radio station to call on the government to resign; he was imprisoned, tried, and then freed on a technicality. Within two years he was arrested once more, this time for attempting to create a third force that might prevent the start of the Civil War be‐ tween the federal government and Biafran secessionists. After twenty‐seven months in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, he

152 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE was freed; still opposing the military government, he went into exile for five years, 1970‐75. After his release he published the bitter, gro‐ tesque play Madmen and Specialists (1971), in which war and the use of power are forms of cannibalism and Season of Anomy (1973), an allegorical novel about the Nigerian civil war in which an Orpheus de‐ scends into the hell of northern Nigeria (where Soyinka was impris‐ oned) to bring back his Eurydice and start the process of renewal. Alt‐ hough indicating how an African democratic socialism might be born from the example of one Yoruba village, the novel seems facile and lacks the imaginative depth of Soyinka’s best writing. He has long been interested in the Bacchae of Euripides. The version (1973) that he wrote for the National Theatre in London combines a Marxist and a ritualistic interpretation of the theme and treats Dionysius as similar to Ogun. Since 1977 most of his plays have been political satires, aimed at corrupt politicians, tyrannical governments, and South Afri‐ can racism; they include Opera Wonyosi (1977), and a Nigerian adap‐ tion of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera. A major work is Aké (1981), the story of his childhood, with its rich characterizations and observant portraits of the vigorous, varied life of a Yoruba community, in which Christianity and animism are near neighbors, often in the same family. Death and the King’s Horseman (1976), which Soyinka di‐ rected in New York in 1987, is based on events in Yorubaland during the 1940s when an English district commissioner tried by imprison‐ ment to prevent an Oba from performing a ritualistic suicide which had been required of the chief’s horseman by tradition. Humiliated by his father’s dishonor, the Oba’s son commits suicide instead; the fa‐ ther then kills himself in the presence of the district officer. Although based on history, the circumstances have been altered by Soyinka; the events occur during the Second World War, an English Prince visits during the play’s action, and the horseman’s son is a Western‐edu‐ cated student of medicine. These and other changes create parallels and contrasts between European and Yoruba notions of personal honor, of self‐sacrifice for communal purposes, and of the need to face death.



II. AFRICAN LITERATURE 153 Soyinka affirms what may have been by the 1940s a dying tra‐ dition of ritualistic self‐sacrifice because it exemplifies the central themes of his own vision, a vision which he claims is based on the Af‐ rican sense of communal well‐being. In traditional Yoruba society the preservation of the community is the central concern. Gods are cre‐ ated by the community to be worshipped for the protection and wel‐ fare they give in return. There is continuity, based on reciprocality, between the living and their ancestors, the human and divine, man and nature, sky and earth. If the horseman does not perform his duty as sacrificial messenger to the god, the community is put at risk. There is a double focus in the play, almost as if the world of British skepticism and power only superficially impinged on the real world of the Yoruba community. The play is constructed so that the focus moves from themes of cultural conflict to a revelation of the horseman’s weakness when he is faced by death. The horseman, de‐ spite his imprisonment, can kill himself if he wants. He is reluctant to abandon the fruits of life, the pleasure represented by the young bride he acquires the night he is to die. If he does not die, if his son dies first, the cycle of life, of generations, of seasonal harvest, planting, rebirth, is ruptured. The richness of the play results from this poetic vision, expressed through image, symbol, and allusion, of an organic process threatened by an act of human weakness, which is contrasted to the blindness of the British district officer, who sees only a clash of cul‐ tures. The symbols are those of Yoruba mythology; the infusing of the old into the new is like lightning because it is the god Shango’s light‐ ning entering the receiving earth. While Soyinka’s play resembles Yo‐ ruba ritual in the way that Murder in the Cathedral is analogous to the Catholic mass that it reenacts, the king’s horseman is less a victim than someone guilty of lack of will. The real action involves the psycholog‐ ical struggle of the main character with his beliefs, not the constraints imposed on him. Having suffered from a weakness of will, he sees him‐ self forever shamed and he wonders if the gods have fated him to be the one whose dereliction will destroy society. Death, as an act of will, affirms his identity and destiny.



154 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Will is at the heart of Soyinka’s vision. Tragedy results from will, the will of the hero to challenge the world, to cross the transition between life and death, to be sacrificial messenger, to enter the de‐ structive abyss known by the masquerader and Ogun. Such determi‐ nation marks Soyinka’s his own life―his risks in defying governments, his survival after two years in solitary confinement, his political in‐ volvement, and his continuing creativity. Soyinka’s work and life cel‐ ebrate the human spirit. In this affirmation he resembles writers from Eastern Europe who have been awarded Nobel prizes. As a novelist, poet, dramatist, director, theorist, intellectual, and citizen, he shows a unified personality may still be possible in our time. To see Soyinka’s assertion of a Yoruba cosmology as a later, more sophisticated response to colonialism than the negritude ideali‐ zation of Africa does not limit the achievement to a specific historical moment. Such mythmaking should also be seen within the context of claims that a dissociation of sensibility occurred in Western Europe during the late Renaissance. The rich layers of imagery, the grounding of myth and ritual and harvest cycles, the creative imitation of literary classics, the organizing of the discontinuous by analogy to myth, and the creation of a private cosmology are all familiar from Eliot to Joyce. Behind the assumption of a crisis in modern culture is a desire to re‐ turn to a unity of personality in which art, religion, and society are not separate realms. Soyinka is one of the great mythmakers of our time; like Yeats, Eliot, Graves, Lawrence, and others he has created a total vision. A problem with such mythologies is that they are anti‐science and therefore essentially romantic and conservative. Soyinka, how‐ ever, has made full use of African adaptability: Ogun becomes the god of roads, iron and of telephone wires and carries the electricity of Shango. Instead of a backward‐looking return to the Middle Ages or to pre‐rational bloodthought, Soyinka’s mythology is part of an active, dynamic, liberating African cultural and political session. The award of the Nobel Prize for literature to Soyinka also shows that Africa and the Third World will increasingly have a place in international modern culture.



III. New English Literatures







Chapter 12 Nationalism, Internationalism, Periodization, and Commonwealth Literature The treatment of Commonwealth writing as consisting of dis‐ crete national literatures will become increasingly common as the lit‐ eratures evolve with the appearance of more texts, major authors to form a national canon, research into neglected areas of earlier culture, and the growth of university courses and criticism devoted to partic‐ ular literatures. Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and Indian litera‐ tures have gone beyond the take‐off point, where they can be studied as equivalent independent fields to British or American literature, while African, West Indian and Pacific Island writing is still mostly viewed in a regional context. The emphasis on national literatures is to be expected; in a post‐colonial era what, we might ask, do the liter‐ atures of the former British colonies have in common except a past of colonialism, former desires for independence, and some remaining cultural, political and economic links? But while one line of reasoning tells us that the history of Commonwealth writing will soon consist of discretely individual post‐ colonial literatures, our experience tells us that such reasoning is lim‐ ited and false. The literatures are not only linked together by language, but the post‐colonial world is remarkable for its internationalism. There are, of course, regional and national differences, but communi‐ cations, travel, industrialization and urbanization result in the Com‐ monwealth nations participating in world‐wide English‐speaking cul‐ ture. Modern technology, international communications, mass travel, large cosmopolitan cities and the expectations they create are now our dominant culture. A writer or spiritual leader may appeal to sup‐ posedly older, more authentic or more national values, but we have learned to recognize such calls for authenticity as reactions to and as a consequence of rapid modernization. The relationship between national and international culture is not solely a result of the changes that have taken place since the 157

158 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Second World War and the independence of various former British colonies and dominions. The expansion of the British presence abroad, the creation of colonies and dominions, the rise of independ‐ ence movements, the granting of independence and the problems of new independent states, including the American influence, occurred at approximately the same times throughout what is now the Com‐ monwealth; there have been parallel social, economic, educational and political developments since at least the late nineteenth century. As social changes are reflected in culture, the various literatures of the Commonwealth can be compared for what is similar to a particular tradition of writing. While Commonwealth Literature can be usefully discussed in relation to the major nineteenth‐ and twentieth‐century period styles of English literature, there are certain problems. The first problem is the late emergence of some, noticeably African and Pacific Island, lit‐ eratures. We can compare colonial literature, finding common themes and problems, but such writing is often a pre‐history which occurred at different times in different places―a sub‐literature that occurred before local writing could stand comparison with what was being written in metropolitan centers. The second problem is implied by the word “metropolitan.” Modern international literary movements usually begin in large cos‐ mopolitan cities and then spread to the provinces. Such movements begin by reflecting the values and tensions of the cities. From the standpoint of literary history the Commonwealth nations have been provinces in which modern literary fashions appear later than in Lon‐ don, New York or Dublin. Although with increased communication af‐ ter the Second World War cultural sensibilities change more rapidly than in the past, there is still likely to be a time lag, one result of which is that aspects of earlier literary movements will be taken up later in the Commonwealth and used in ways in which, if they are not just im‐ itations of metropolitan fashions, are more significant locally. A third problem in treating Commonwealth literature in terms of periods of international English literature is the complex relationship of national



III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 159 to international. As nations emerge from colonialism and become in‐ creasingly separate from the colonizer, they also become increasingly part of an international community; foreign economic and cultural in‐ fluences may even become stronger than during earlier times when a colony was comparatively isolated. This curious situation of becoming independent but more integrated into the economic, political and cul‐ tural sphere of larger nations is parallel to the paradox of nationalist movements. Such movements desire both a modern state and an au‐ thentic local culture. Since a viable independent state requires an in‐ crease of specialized labor, education, industry and cultural produc‐ tion, it is bound to weaken what remains of authentic local, pre‐indus‐ trialized culture, and it is also likely to imitate and become influenced by the more economically developed and politically powerful nations, thus falling into neocolonialism. This paradox is translated into the cultural and artistic by the contradictory pull of local and international, so that writers within a period may seem to represent opposing cultural directions when in fact they represent different aspects of the paradox of nationalism. Although realism has usually been associated with national‐ ism and experimentalism with internationalism, a more sophisticated criticism would recall that realism itself has changed over the decades and sometimes been avant‐garde, while experimentalism has also been associated with nationalism, especially with protest. Some ex‐ amples might be useful. The naturalism of F.P. Grove and Katherine S. Prichard in Canada and Australia is part of an older avant‐garde in which the peasant and farm laborer are typical, representative, and thus a symbol of the authentic nation. While Sargeson’s early short stories are a New Zealand variant of the proletarian literature of the Depression, they are a later form of realism than the earlier Natural‐ ism and have been strongly influenced by techniques of modernist prose fiction. The poetry of Brathwaite in the West Indies shows how avant‐garde verse can be used to express neo‐nationalist protest against supposed neo‐colonialism. These examples suggest, that while we may speak of a Commonwealth literature and style of the 1890s, 1920s, 1930s, or 1960s, with strong analogies to literature of England

160 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE and America, the significance of a literary style may be different in each Commonwealth nation. Looking across Commonwealth Literature we find, however, unexpected similarities which show that local literatures are part of larger cultural movements. The Australian literary ballads are, for ex‐ ample, paralleled by the dialect poems (1912) of Claude McKay in the West Indies. They are local expressions of the same sensibility that produced Yeats's early Celtic twilight verse in Ireland and Paul Law‐ rence Dunbar’s black dialect poems in the United States. The same re‐ forming impulse that led to the didactic plays and novels of ideas by Shaw and Wells resulted in Edith Searle Grossmann’s feminist novels in Australia and New Zealand and Casely Hayford’s Ethiopia Unbound (1911) in West Africa. Edith Searle Grossmann is an example of the complex rela‐ tionship between nationalism and internationalism, between local and metropolitan culture, and between literary periods. Grossmann first published in Christchurch in 1890 a small, curious novel in which a sensitive young girl’s mystical conversion to the Salvation Army re‐ sults in her being a social outcast in her small town. She is sent by the Salvation Army to work in Australia where because of her Christ‐like purity and humility she is murdered. Angela shows the alienating pressures felt by the sensitive and unconventional in colonial society where difference is not allowed. Stories of small towns and their lack of understanding of the sensitive are especially common around the turn‐of‐the‐century as proportionally more people lived in rural com‐ munities before the large migration to the cities which began with the First World War. Grossmann next wrote two linked long novels, In Revolt (1893) and A Knight of the Holy Ghost (1907), published in London, concerning an Australian woman who marries a coarse, heavy drink‐ ing, self‐made farmer who treats her as a servant, beats her and is re‐ sponsible for the death of her eldest child. She escapes to Europe where she attracts many noblemen, refuses to live with them, be‐ comes a famous actress and eventually discovers feminism. After she



III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 161 forms a feminist society and becomes internationally famous, she re‐ turns to Australia to establish a local branch. There she is discovered and claimed by her husband who, using the courts and local senti‐ ment, destroys her feminist convent and forces her to return to his station where she commits suicide. Curious examples of the mixture of women’s liberation, social reform and strange mystical yearnings sometimes found at the turn‐ of‐the‐century, these two novels offer strong arguments against colo‐ nial society and values. Australia is seen to consist largely of crude, drunken men whose insensitivity and cruelty towards their wives and servants are protected by public opinion and unjust laws. The good characters are English and Europeans. On the basis of her first three books Grossmann would appear to be one of those writers who see the colonies as backward and barbaric in contrast to the tolerance, op‐ portunities and civilization of Europe and America. But her fourth novel, The Heart of the Bush (1910), published in London, is a roman‐ tic portrayal of New Zealand outdoor life. The heroine, after returning from being educated in England, at first attempts to live by English manners in the colony. But eventually she rejects a very good mar‐ riage with a wealthy English gentleman to live happily ever after with a local farmer. While The Heart of the Bush might be regarded as na‐ tionalist literature, the only consistency of attitude in the novel is in the rejection of what might be loosely described as middle‐class colo‐ nial values. Whether Grossmann’s heroine adopts the Salvation Army religious mysticism, feminism, or marries a local farmer, she has exer‐ cised unconventional social attitudes. In The Heart of the Bush the her‐ oine’s husband almost destroyed her love by trying to become a wealthy farmer and businessman who will be able to give her the co‐ lonial equivalent of the British comfort she has given up for him. He abandons his ambitions so that his marriage may continue happily. I have purposely chosen a minor author of the past to illus‐ trate the difficulty of separating national and international tendencies in literature; the present age offers us similar problems in separating national from international tendencies and theme, style and form. Ed‐ ward Brathwaite’s Arrivants trilogy attempts to give expression to the

162 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE folk consciousness of the black West Indian but its form, style and no‐ tion of the purpose of poetry―using moments of inspiration to escape the chaotic present into an imaginative oneness with a cultural vi‐ sion―is indebted to T.S. Eliot, especially the Eliot of Four Quartets, and to Aimé Césaire who similarly used the techniques and modes of Eu‐ ropean avant‐garde literature to create verse which is local in refer‐ ence and consciousness while being part of French modern poetry. If Brathwaite cannot be defined primarily in terms of national or inter‐ national, what are we to say of the novels of Wilson Harris? I have implied that there are two histories to each national literature―a national chronology set in a local cultural context and an international, comparative history in which a local English literature is seen as part of international English‐speaking culture. From a pan‐ oramic view most significant Commonwealth authors fit into conven‐ tional British or American literary periods. The Australian Christo‐ pher Brennan is as much a product of late nineteenth‐century symbol‐ ism as the ballads and short stories of the Bulletin are of the century’s regional realism. Imagist and Georgian poetry was represented in New Zealand by Mary Ursula Bethell and R.A.K Mason. That Morley Callaghan and Jean Rhys were part of the Left Bank of the 1920s is reflected in their flat, economical, objective prose style. The New Zea‐ land equivalent of the proletarian fiction of the 1930s includes Frank Sargeson’s early stories and John Mulgan’s Man Alone (1939), both in‐ fluenced by Hemingway’s colloquial manner, while India produced Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable (1935) and Coolie (1936). If the 1920s were a time of expatriation, the 1930s saw a refocusing of literature on the nation which the worker or peasant became a typical repre‐ sentative. Such writing evolved into the nationalist literature of the war years and post‐war period until the 1960s when, as a result of post‐Second World War American political and economic influence, American cultural and literary influence became strong in the Com‐ monwealth. Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders seemed to discover, within a decade of each other, the alternative American modern poetic tradition of William Carlos Williams and Robert



III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 163 Creeley, mostly from Evergreen Review and other Grove Press publi‐ cations. The continuing result of the discovery of modern American literature can be seen in Thomas Shapcott’s anthology of recent Aus‐ tralian and American verse, in Ian Wedde’s poetry, and in the stories of Frank Moorhouse. There are at least two basic directions that can be seen in nineteenth‐ and twentieth‐century literature: realism and aestheti‐ cism. Within Commonwealth literature, the realists have usually been identified with the local, regional or national values while a concern with art, taste or formal experiment has been associated with an in‐ ternational perspective. Often realism seems an expression of the community or representative groups whereas the aesthetic has impli‐ cations of individual sensibility or superior, and thus alien, cultural attitudes. It is true that many realists, including Lawson, Sargeson, Ekwensi and Keneally, have identified themselves with the social un‐ derdog as representative of the true nation. But if there were any basis to the charge that a concern with artistic form and experimentation is somehow alien, what about Wil‐ son Harris, Randolph Stow, Edward Brathwaite or Frank Moorhouse? They are experimentalist yet distinctly national writers. Within any literature there are realist and formalist currents existing side by side, and neither mode is necessarily more nationalist than the other alt‐ hough the realistic writer is more likely to be popular and to use sub‐ ject matter with national associations. Seen from an historical per‐ spective the realist tradition has always needed refurbishing from more modern currents (in the way Twain, Joyce, Hemingway or Pinter can be said to have revitalized realism). The relationship of formalists to the new literature is more interesting. I cannot think of any major Commonwealth writer who has proclaimed some version of “art for art’s sake” or argued for some subjective, idealistic, solipsistic vision of reality. There is no Commonwealth Wordsworth or Wallace Ste‐ vens. Most Commonwealth writers are concerned with community, national culture and political social themes.



164 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE If the alienation of the metropolitan writer has been caused by his displacement from centers of power during the eighteenth cen‐ tury, the Commonwealth writer has so far been, or felt, closer to those who hold power and, at times has influenced politics and society. At‐ wood, Wright, Soyinka, Achebe, Anand and Gordimer feel national change is possible and attempt to bring it about through their writ‐ ings, a possibility that few British or American writers can still imag‐ ine. Literary genre also complicates the problem of assigning re‐ alism and aestheticism to opposing polarities of national and interna‐ tional. Realism has been a basic method of fiction since the eighteenth century and has been useful to dramatists; but there is no significant modern realistic poetry, unless we consider the line which evolved from the Imagists through Williams and the Black Mountain Poets as a kind of realism. Poetry written in dialect about representative types has usually been superficial. Most poets have had first to learn an up‐ to‐date international style which they subsequently adapted to local speech, symbols, myth and other nationalist characteristics. Do the preceding remarks mean that there are no national lit‐ erary histories, only local chronologies of some branch of Western lit‐ erature which individually are on a somewhat different time scale and which evolve from an early colonial sub‐literature? Not exactly. There is a variety of differences in language, adaptation of genre, and sociol‐ ogy which would at first seem evidence for the distinctness of each national literature. One history of the literature is its use of English. Dialect, the made‐up language styles of Things Fall Apart and New Day, and Walcott’s variety of registers are stages in a continuing story as writers try to find their own voice and representative voices. But as writers have freed themselves from standard British usage, the lan‐ guage has changed and contemporary vernacular speech within the Commonwealth is influenced by the language of British and American television, movies and popular records. The history of literary genre in the Commonwealth is more complicated. Basically a writer may adapt some European literary mode to local material and purposes or be influenced by some non‐

III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 165 Western feature of local culture. Thus nationalist or leftist writers are likely to create some communal form of the novel or drama whereas the poet may be influenced by tribal song and ritual in nations where there are oral traditions. The period when a literature begins to take shape often influences subsequent themes and treatment of genre. Australian literature began to take on an identity towards the end of the nineteenth‐century; its prose from Furphy and Lawson through Richardson to Keneally has a strong naturalist influence. Even Pat‐ rick’s White symbolism, myths and celebration of will are set within a technique which might be described as nineteenth century European naturalist irony. There is a continuing influence of the ballad, folk tale, ritual, or some favored older literary mode on national literatures. The sophisticated writer will find new, experimental ways to make such forms part of contemporary literature. Thus the strong oral in‐ fluence on Okigbo’s late poems, the influence of Ghanaian dirges on the novels of Awoonor and Armah, or myth in Albert Wendt’s novels. The sociology of national literatures includes the record of so‐ ciety and social change found in many novels, the projection of the present on the past (so that historical novels of an Achebe or a Ke‐ neally are thematically relevant to the present), and the often unacknowledged class values behind writing, as when Martin Boyd mocks the crudity of Australian literature, when African intellectuals satirise the ruling politicians and army, or when a member of the local middle class, reacting against his background, attempts to identify with metropolitan culture or with the lives below him in his own so‐ ciety. There are social and racial tensions which may explain Naipaul’s view of the black Third World, and which are reflected in Walcott’s early poetry exploring his divided heritage, and in his later poetry where he is a West Indian “redman” fleeing the demagogy committed in the name of the black majority. If the language, aesthetics and sociology of literature are as‐ pects of local history, they are also part of the international English‐ speaking world, reflecting period changes in culture, politics and eco‐ nomics. Dialect at the turn of the century and the writing of the 1930s were part of the literary realism of the time, reflections of wide‐spread

166 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE democratic or left protest movements. The writers between 1910 and 1930 concerned with a clean, sharp, objective style and economy of form tended to be apolitical. The post‐Second World War has seen the influence of American speech patterns and an American casualness towards correct usage. American literature since Twain and Whitman has often provided a model of seemingly spontaneous, vernacular nar‐ rative voice. This aesthetics of national literatures can also be seen within an international context. Even if we ignore such obvious examples as the proletarian Depression novel, the use of communal forms of nar‐ rative by Third World novelists, or the confessional poetry by Kamala Das and Derek Walcott after Robert Lowell’s Life Studies (1959), there are more interesting comparisons such as the emergence of a mod‐ ernist‐influenced poetry in the period 1945‐60 in the hands of P. Lal, J.P. Clark, Christopher Okigbo and Wilson Harris, and in the early po‐ ems of Derek Walcott and Edward Brathwaite. A.D. Hope seems part of the Auden‐Graves generation, the poets who began writing after the Second World War took their models from the modernist movement, probably because 1945–60 was a time when the American New Critics and British Scrutiny critics, who championed Eliot, Pound and Hop‐ kins, had their maximum influence. It was also the period of Dylan Thomas and the late works of Stevens, Faulkner and Eliot. Although the British Movement poets around 1955–65 influenced some Aus‐ tralian and West Indian poets, American literary models became in‐ creasingly significant from about 1960 until the present. In the sociology of literature there are other international parallels besides the effects of the Depression. The two world wars brought about a loss of confidence in British power, created increased urbanization and industrialization throughout the Empire, and re‐ sulted in the formation of nationalist movements. The dominions and colonies became independent between 1945 and 1965 and subse‐ quently came under increased American influence until at least the Vi‐ etnamese war. Their literatures show these social changes in such as‐ sertions of cultural nationalism as MacLennan’s Barometer Rising (1941) and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958), or the quest for cultural

III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 167 identity in McLennan’s Two Solitudes (1945), Wright’s The Moving Im‐ age (1946), Selvon’s A Brighter Sun (1952), Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin (1953) or Rao’s The Serpent and the Rope (1960). The same international political events which caused socio‐cultural changes in the now independent Commonwealth nations were also reflected in metropolitan literature. The Second World War and British with‐ drawal from the Empire resulted in the Little England of the Angry Young Men and Movement poets of the 1950s and a glut of British novels in which sensitive young men examine divided class and cul‐ tural loyalties. I have suggested that national literatures are related to inter‐ national developments and that they have many of the characteristics found in metropolitan literature of their period. The relationships be‐ tween the various Commonwealth literatures are a complex subject that unfortunately will continue to be discussed in vague generalities until we have detailed comparative period studies. Once we have drawn up a chronological history of a national literature and set it in its local social‐political context, our understanding of its period and evolution will remain limited until we can place it within an interna‐ tional context. We are, I further suggest, at the beginning of a new pe‐ riod during which the Commonwealth literatures are beginning to in‐ fluence each other. With the growth of the Commonwealth literary market, university courses, conferences, attractive national journals which pay writers fees and increased communication and contact be‐ tween parts of the English‐speaking world, it is probable that the Com‐ monwealth itself will begin to have kind of literary influence which radiates from London and New York and Paris.





Chapter 13 Protest, Alienation and Modernism in the New Literatures The decolonization that followed the Second World War is re‐ flected in the rapid evolution of literature in both the Third World and the former white dominions as an expression of new local realities and the new international political order. Many of the best writers of these nations are highly conscious of the rapidly changing post‐colo‐ nial world and their work reflects its problems; by comparison con‐ temporary British and even American writing now seems somewhat provincial and self‐enclosed. Although they may disguise their origins, the new literatures are a response to conflict, discrimination and awareness of differences. Being born out of the nationalism of the 1930s and 40s into the decolonizing 50s and the radicalized 60s has guaranteed that the new literatures, at least in the near future, will carry heightened, even radical kinds of consciousness whether or not the particular author is revolutionary, conservative or distrustful of politics and society. In this sense these literatures not only reflect changes in international political relations but challenge existing lit‐ erary canons. English departments and literary histories will need to make place for such writers as V. S. Naipaul, Patrick White, R.K. Nara‐ yan, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Derek Walcott, Athol Fugard, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and Nadine Gordimer, and they will need to explain where those writers came from, who preceded them and to what they are responding. Third World, Commonwealth, New English Literatures, New Literature, Post‐Colonial―the names proliferate because there is a basic problem in drawing the boundaries. When the British Empire was replaced by the Commonwealth, this new political association was recognized by the still disputed but now long established term Commonwealth Literature, which is taken to include English writing from the Republic of South Africa but not from Ireland. Common‐

169

170 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE wealth Literature sounds too “British”, with the result that New Eng‐ lish Literature became the preferred title. But if the rationale is new as contrasted to older, established literature, why should they be lim‐ ited to English? Many African intellectuals think in continental terms and regard national boundaries and European languages as an unfor‐ tunate reminder of colonialism. The most recent terms have been New Literatures and Post‐Colonial Literatures; they represent a more com‐ mitted point of view than such titles as Contemporary Literature which have no context beyond the premise that a work of art can be studied on its own without reference to a society and culture or other influences on its production. The new literatures are, however, prod‐ ucts of colonial and post‐colonial societies, of nationalism and mod‐ ernization. A dual process of modernization and creating national culture has been in evolution since the start of colonialism. It first became no‐ ticeable in the late nineteenth century and has quickened in our time. Already by the 1890s many British colonies, including India, had pro‐ duced some literary communities and writers of stature still worth reading. Although a few writers were symbolists, most were local re‐ alists aligned in politics to the Fabians, Labour movement and other progressive causes. As societies evolved from frontiers to colonies to provinces literary production increased although often the writer had to go into exile to find a publisher in a society interested in the arts. By the third decade of our century, the Empire had produced many well‐known authors including Olive Schreiner in South Africa, Kathe‐ rine Mansfield from New Zealand, Henry Handel Richardson and Christina Stead from Australia, Morley Callaghan and Stephen Leacock in Canada, John Rhys and Claude McKay from the West Indies and Raja Rao and R.K. Narayan in India. As the creation of a national culture from local society is in‐ fluenced by international events and is part of them, colonial cultural and political associations, pre‐independence cultural movements and demands for independence tend to occur within a decade of each other in many nations. During the crucial 1930s there were nationalist movements in most of the colonies. The radicalization of politics

III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 171 found expression in novels where the peasant or worker is repre‐ sentative of the people. In India Mulk Raj Anand’s protest novels Un‐ touchable and Coolie reflected the same wave of social discontent as did the giving of Sanskritic epic authenticity to the Gandhian struggle against imperialism, caste and the status quo in Raja Rao’s Kantha‐ pura. If the West Indian counterpart to such protest iction―Alfred Mendes’ Pitch Lake, C.L.R. James’ Minty Alley or Claude McKay's Ba‐ nana Bottom―is of comparatively less literary interest, it is of parallel historical significance of the evolution of English‐language Caribbean writing. The Second World War weakened British prestige within the Empire, while new American money and influence contributed to the demands for total independence. The creation of local industries was paralleled by the establishment of publishing houses and journals, with the result that by the 1940s there were vigorous local literatures in most of the Empire, although the West Indies was perhaps a decade behind and African writing in English did not flourish until the 1960s. It was perhaps only in the 1960s and 1970s that a major body of worthwhile literature existed requiring serious critical attention. The first new national literary history was New Zealand Literature: A Sur‐ vey (1959) followed by Indian Writing in English (1962), A History of Australian Literature (1962), and The Literary History of Canada (1961). Each of the four histories reflected a new national conscious‐ ness and their aim was rather the demonstration of a continuing cul‐ tural history than critical evaluation. The job at hand was rather to formulate a usable past than to argue a canon of superior texts upon which to base an elite culture. Although there are a few earlier exceptions, such as Patrick White, it was not until the 1960s that it was possible for a serious writer from the new nations to stay at home and share in the interna‐ tional cultural and literary market. A literary career only became pos‐ sible after the establishment of university courses, academic journals, anthologies, books of criticism and professorships gave the national literatures elite cultural status and enlarged the reading public. An in‐ ternational new literatures market‐place has developed in recent

172 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE years; the many Commonwealth and new literatures journals can es‐ tablish reputations without publication in New York or London. Courses in the new literatures, international conferences, visiting pro‐ fessorships and international writing fellowships are other means by which a post‐colonial culture has been created. That novels by Afri‐ cans and West Indians are taught in high schools in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Denmark recognizes and helps promote the modern cultural importance of the new nations. Although a high proportion of the white writers of the early period were women, the full extent was not apparent until recently Virago and other presses began through republication to show the im‐ portance of women writers in our culture. This has also contributed to the growing awareness of the literature of former colonies and new nations. The women share with male writers the problem of accom‐ modation to what were often aggressively practical, hard‐boiled colo‐ nial societies, with little respect for culture except for out‐of‐date styles and objects imported from abroad. Whereas male writers turned towards dialect, realism, the frontier, the down‐and‐out or the tribe as nationalist protest against what they saw as imitative provincialism, such outdoor roles tend to be masculine and only in a few cases could be directly adopted by women whose usual adaptation was some form of environmentalism and a mystical view of nature, a tradition which runs from Schreiner through such New Zealanders as Blanche Baughan and Edith Searle Grossmann to our contemporaries the Australian poet Judith Wright and the Canadian Margaret Atwood. My impression is that future studies will show a direct, unbroken lineage from the colonial New Women and suffragettes of the turn‐of‐the‐century to the feminists in the new nations today. Often, as illustrated by Schreiner, Doris Lessing and Nadine Gordimer, the tradition of women’s writing has tended to‐ wards heightened cultural and political awareness. Because con‐ sciousness and protest are near neighbors, not surprisingly both fem‐ inism and nationalism appear in the work of Margaret Atwood and Ju‐ dith Wright and cannot at times be separated.



III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 173 It would, however, be incorrect to assume such an overlap‐ ping of interest is natural. Many critics would not accept Richardson or Christina Stead as major Australian writers, partly because of their expatriation, but mainly because they do not conform to the national‐ ist ideal which opposed the suburban middle‐class by an outdoor matesmanship. Only after discussion of Australian society became more sophisticated and matesmanship began to be suspect were the women writers given their place in the national canon. Today many Indian and black African women writers are crit‐ icized as westernized because they attack the secondary roles to which an earlier generation of nationalists assigned females in a sup‐ posedly traditional society. Because of the explosive nature of this is‐ sue and because it calls into question the social myths and existing or‐ der constructed by nationalists, the conflict between racial and female dignity is likely to become a central topic of Third World literature in the near future. Indeed third world woman’s writing is a new tradition establishing itself before our eyes. If women writers from the new nations often, as can be seen from the work of the New Zealand novelist Janet Frame, reveal a deep alienation from local society, a similar alienation can be found in the work of many male writers. The new literatures mirror the modern condition because they are literatures of exile, of isolation, of conflict and change, with the writer at ease neither in his own land nor in the Europe from which his language, literature and part of his culture de‐ rives. In the case of V. S. Naipaul there is a triple alienation since the author is dispossessed from several cultures and possible homes. Having rejected his Brahmin past, the small decaying world of Indian Trinidad, the lack of sophistication of Creole Trinidad, the provincial‐ ity of the West Indian middle classes, Naipaul was unable to find in either England or India the high, purposeful culture he desired. Sub‐ sequently he has become the voice of the modern expatriate and of our time in feeling unattached, unillusioned, without purpose, an ob‐ server of the world’s follies, especially those problems resulting from the end of empire and the withdrawal of European rule from the Third World. Naipaul’s work appeals to those who have felt the effects of

174 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE rapid secularization, mobility and social change: the resulting world is large, overcrowded and yet an empty space. While Naipaul is alienated from Trinidad, England and India, the South African Nadine Gordimer’s problem is more complex. Her world is fragmented into a mosaic that probably never can be fitted together. Her writing reveals a somewhat divided European cultural inheritance ‐ British liberal humanism and the Jewish Central Euro‐ pean Enlightenment. The former emphasizes personal relationships and sympathy; the latter produces clarity of thought, analysis, skepti‐ cism and a self‐questioning awareness. While Gordimer shares with Doris Lessing the older liberal tradition in which the British are seen as the imperialists of the Boer wars, her greatest concern is with black Africans whom the Afrikaners oppress. Alienated from the English‐ speaking community by her awareness, and unable to be part of either the white Afrikaner or the black African culture, Gordimer is also con‐ scious of feminist issues. A feminist perspective, however, often runs contrary to the organic family community Gordimer and liberals ad‐ mire among the Afrikaners, and feminism is also seen divisive to the cause of black liberation. As shown in Gordimer’s novel Burger’s Daughter, expatriation to Europe is a solution made impossible by emotions rooted in South Africa and its problems. By contrast Europe seems pleasure‐seeking, trivial, unaware; and the liberty it offers is therefore more cramped, smaller than imprisonment in Africa for op‐ position to the regime. Or at least that is one way reading a complex novel with its ambiguous conclusion in which Rosa Burger’s return to her homeland may be less a conscious choice than result of guilt and self‐sacrificing idealism inherited from her father. Gordimer’s liberal and progressive characters hope that that by being on the side of the Revolution the white African will earn a right to a place in some future multi‐racial, predominantly black nation; but Gordimer is aware that the liberation struggle may eventually reduce the question to which race will rule. And she is conscious that newly independent black African nations face too many problems, including the need to reward followers and



III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 175 to create a black governing elite, to find a place for white sympathiz‐ ers. Gordimer deserves particular attention; she is an unusually intelligent novelist who knows exactly what she is doing. Viewing the novel genre as a reflection of the crisis of conscience of the liberal bourgeoisie, Gordimer explores the alienation and anxieties of her characters, allowing them an articulate awareness, and she uses a va‐ riety of styles through which to suggest the often ironic relationships between the self and other, the individual and society. Where incon‐ gruity is used by most contemporary writers to suggest the absurd, the lack of meaningful relationship between our selves and our world, Gordimer’s plurality of voices and styles has the opposite function in showing that consciousness develops within a context that shapes the individual and which is the situation in which choices must be made. While Gordimer is an example of the importance of middle European intellectuals who created the modern South African culture she shares the Afrikaners’ romantic nostalgia for the land and its sup‐ posedly uncomplicated, unselfconscious rural communities. The de‐ sire to opt out, to forget political and social problems is voiced by many of her characters including Rosa Burger and is reflected in in‐ tense lyric descriptions of the landscape and the seasons. Among the varied strands in her writing there is a consciousness that such ro‐ mantic nationalism will have no place in the modern black Africa that justice and history require. In July’s People the traditional black Afri‐ can society to which July returns during a revolution is, along with white rule, threatened by the urban modern black nationalist libera‐ tion movement. But, of course, traditional Africa is not a paradise; July left for employment in the cities. In the novel the relationships of mas‐ ter‐servant, white‐black are gradually shown to be those of power, based on the possession of property, and these become reversed in the countryside. While this appears to open the possibility of a new relationship between the white woman and her black servant, the white woman is not accepted by the tribe and she is unlikely to accept the subservient role of women in the African community. When at the



176 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE novel’s end she flees, it is unclear whether it is for the comforts of white society or for her own freedom as a woman. Writers in the new nations often feel like outsiders. V. S. Nai‐ paul, for example, refers to the problem of explaining to others that he is an East Indian from the West Indies. Wilson Harris has rejected be‐ ing described as a black writer as his own stock is mixed and as such racial identification is exactly the contrary of the purpose of his work in forging a new, ever‐changing West Indian personality without the burdens of the past. It would appear that the outsider, the Marginal Man of the sociologists, is often a leader in the creation of a new cul‐ ture. The small number of Jews in the Commonwealth have had a sur‐ prising role. Modern Indian poetry in English begins with Nissim Eze‐ kiel, one of the two Indian poets who wrote disciplined verse in a con‐ temporary style in the 1950s. Significantly the other poet, Dom Moraes, is also marginal, being a Christian. Whereas Moraes became an expatriate for many years, Ezekiel returned to India from England and consciously set about promoting the arts and younger poets, ed‐ iting journals and creating a modern Indian culture. That many of the better contemporary poets are Christian, Christian‐educated, Parsis or raised multi‐culturally is evidence of the role of outsiders among the educated elite in the new literatures. Feelings of being different are also noticeable in such Cana‐ dian Jewish writers of Montreal as Mordecai Richler and A.M. Klein, who are outsiders to the English culture for which they write and to the French community in which they live. Another example of multiple alienation is the West Indian poet and dramatist Derek Walcott. Brown, protestant, English‐speaking and raised in a cultured family, he feels distant from both the small white British elite and from the poor, Black, Catholic, French‐speaking majority of his native island, St. Lucia. Walcott’s awareness of his divided heritage has often left him in opposition to the various nationalist and radical movements within the Caribbean. Marginality, alienation and related crimes of difference are inherent to nationalism. Nationalism is a modernizing movement by



III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 177 part of a community which in seeking to replace those in power cre‐ ates its own mythology of historical, folk and cultural values. The na‐ tionalist writer modernizes local literature while contributing to the society’s awareness of its past and cultural difference. Nationalist writers are themselves double exiles, from both the colonizer and from the rising culture of their native land. Often the nationalist writer has gone abroad to university in search of high culture and employ‐ ment, but, while living in a foreign land, discovered the differences be‐ tween the ideal and the reality, especially for a foreigner. Cultural shock, loneliness, discrimination and lack of acceptance lead to the discovery of difference and the supposed recognition of one’s own identity in national or racial characteristics. The society to which the writer returns will not however, have the same consciousness or val‐ ues. Charles Brasch was from one of the very few long settled New Zealand Jewish families. After many years of expatration in England and travel in the Near East he returned to New Zealand where he founded and edited Landfall, an influential journal in the creation of elite nationalist culture. Brasch’s poetry reads like a cross between T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens as he meditates upon the landscape try‐ ing by an effort of imagination to create a sense of place and tradition where none previously existed. In contrast to New Zealand beer‐ drinking egalitarianism or private school Toryism, Brasch helped cre‐ ate a high culture. The novels which first made Patrick White’s repu‐ tation―The Aunt’s Story (1948) and The Tree of Man (1955), Voss (1957)―are more subtle, complex examples of the creation of myths which was usual to the nationalist movements of the 1940s and 1960s. Whereas most nationalists thought they had to locate their cul‐ ture in the outdoorsmen of the past, White provided Australian with an up‐to‐date literature which used experimental techniques to treat local history and character types with the same intensity, irony and questioning as that of the high culture of Europe. As their own identi‐ fication with the people committed them to a popular or folk culture, many Australian nationalists at first rejected this version of high cul‐ ture.

178 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE The well‐known pattern of exile and return and projection of oneself upon the new nation is illustrated by a number of literary works recounting periods of disillusionment abroad, discovery of identity and a decision to return home. Two major contemporary poems on the subject are Rough Passage by the Indian poet R. Parthasarathy and The Arrivants trilogy by the West Indian poet Edward Kamau Brathwaite. Parthasarathy’s sequence of related lyrics make use of his period as a student in England and his return to India as a metaphor of the ten‐ sions of biculturalism at the source of his writing. It is typical of the modernizing role of the nationalist that Parthsarathy should edit Ten Twentieth‐Century Indian Poets, a much imitated anthology which has been taken as raising the flag of modernist Indian poetry in English since 1960 as well as establishing the canon of its major authors. Brathwaite’s long three‐volume sequence of poems differs from Parthasarathy’s in that the black writer, having become disillu‐ sioned with England and Europe, first turned to Africa as a home. There he found the organic community and sense of the sacred that he desired but to which he as an outsider cannot belong. He returns to the West Indies in search of the remnants of tribal Africa upon which to build a new Creole community. As with many other black writers, Brathwaite is conscious of his role as a public voice; although many of the poems are personal and private they also aim to raise black con‐ sciousness. It is typical of a nationalist writer that he should be influ‐ enced by two other difficult and obscure writers, T.S. Eliot and Aimé Césaire. Both are New World poets who needed to invent a poetic. It is this radical modernism to which Brathwaite is heir. His own contri‐ bution includes the use of dialect and black speech as the diction for his own modernist poetry. The invention of new literary forms and post‐colonial litera‐ tures can also be seen in the development of the novel. The Common‐ wealth novel grew out of the nineteenth‐century British novel; but while the British novelist assumes a relationship between manners and morals the Commonwealth novel has never been comfortable with such assumptions. H.G. De Lisser’s Jane’s Career (1914), one of



III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 179 the first Jamaican novels, is an example of multiple, contradictory at‐ titudes. The story of a young black women’s progress from the country to the city, it illustrates a major social problem of the Third World. The farm is no longer suitable for women with some education, but as she has a few skills that will make her competitive in the city, Jane takes poorly paid jobs and finds her economic salvation through men. De Lisser, who was then young, Fabian and nationalist, treats seriously in most of the novel Jane’s economic problems and awakening sexuality, but the book is flawed by its crude, unblended mixture of sympathetic sociological reporting and British social comedy. The novel begins by satirizing the poor, rural blacks and it ends by mocking Jane’s mimicry of a “brown” lower‐middle‐class marriage that De Lisser treats as hy‐ pocrisy and social climbing. Many Commonwealth novels are similarly unlikely mixtures: this is perhaps only to be expected since they describe societies for which the conventions and assumption of the European novel may be inappropriate. V. S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas appears to derive from the late nineteenth‐century family saga of several generations and from British novels such as Mansfield Park, in which possession or inheritance of the house is a sign of moral authority. But in Nai‐ paul’s story there is at the start no house to inherit, only a mud hut; most of the houses in the story are newly made, badly built and sym‐ bolic of a new, crude, impoverished society. A lovely French house suggestive of the graces of an older colonial order is quickly plundered by Biswas relatives in their passage from the plantation life of inden‐ tured Indian laborers in the country to the modern city where various ethnic groups will meet in the new nation. To examine the difference between Naipaul’s novel and its various models would be revealing. Just as the society is in Naipaul’s view chaotic and only partly formed, so inherited European literary models do not fit. It is where the European model does not fit the new literature that the vitality of the new can be seen. The Nigerian Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is an example of consciously reshaping the conven‐ tions of the European novel as an African counterstatement. If the Western novel assumes the primacy of the individual, Achebe makes

180 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE the novel representative of the community and the tribe. His hero falls by an excess of individualism which threatens the safety of the clan; but such individualism is itself a reflection of social fragmentation which followed Africa’s first contacts with its European colonizers. To create a communal point of view Achebe begins his narration as if it were an oral tale; he mixes in anthropological material and creates a style based on the transliteration of Igbo expressions. Achebe’s Afri‐ canization of the novel is parallel to techniques used by many nation‐ alist writers. In the 1980s Australians trying to create their own liter‐ ature also used dialect, imitated the ballad and took as their model the oral tale. Many contemporary African writers have attempted to in‐ corporate techniques of oral literature into their novels, while the Ni‐ gerian Wole Soyinka writes plays and novels based on Yoruba mythol‐ ogy. The communal, in contrast to the individual, point of view is com‐ mon to third world literature and reflects older forms of family, social and political organization which nationalists assert in contrast to Eu‐ ropean culture. In a writer such as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s fiction we can see the tribal communal perspective evolve into a Kenyan national communal point of view. Since the new literatures have a built‐in poetic of opposition, they modify existing models for their own purpose. As the literatures evolve from colonial to nationalist to post‐independence they move increasingly further from inherited British models and toward their own version of whatever is contemporary in Western culture, while searching their own past for what may be adopted to the present. Alt‐ hough the rapid transmission of modern communications of new ideas, new fashions, new modifications and sensibility means that the former colonies are no longer backward cultural provinces, the signif‐ icance of a style may change as it is modified by a new literature with the result that modernism often has a protest or mythmaking function in the new nations rather than being an assertion of the primacy of art or of the individual sensibility. This can be seen in the work of such diverse writers as Senghor, Césaire, Rao, Brathwaite and Atwood. Alt‐ hough the new literatures began with a bias towards realism, as their first function was to record local society and give it form, they are

III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 181 likely in the future to be highly experimental. Their modernism will be an expression of the protest tradition, of their heightened conscious‐ ness, of the continuing alienation of the writer and of the rapid mod‐ ernization of post‐colonial societies. This process can be seen increas‐ ing freedom of form in the novels of Naipaul, Gordimer and Wilson Harris, the recent poetry of Derek Walcott and exciting new poetry being written in India. Modernism, protest and alienation may, curiously, contribute to a tradition by disruption, making it new. As art builds on art the new literatures often respond to, or modify the models and values of the past. Swift, Defoe, Conrad, Graham Greene and Joyce Cary are writ‐ ers who seem to require answers or rewriting. Achebe’s second novel, No Longer at Ease, is his reply to Graham Greene’s vision of corrupting Africa in The Heart of the Matter, while Achebe’s third novel, Arrow of God, answers Joyce Cary’s Mr. Johnson, with its patronizing view of Af‐ ricans, its sympathetic white colonial officer and the assumption that the building of a road will bring progress and civilization to Nigerians. Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a text that authors from the new nations have often revised as its relationships seem to justify colonialism and cultural imperialism. Aimé Césaire’s own dramatic version of The Tempest and George Lamming’s West Indian novel Water with Berries are two revisions. There is a well‐known essay, “The Legacy of Cali‐ ban,” by the Nigerian poet J.P. Clark, in which Caliban’s claim that he will use his master’s language to curse him becomes both a defense of English language writing in Africa and defensive of imagistic, symbolic modern poetry. Clark’s essay is an example of a nationalist choosing modernization, an international language and elite, rather than folk, culture. July’s People might be considered Gordimer’s South African version of The Tempest in which Caliban and Prospero exchange roles while Miranda flees from both. Such writing of our cultural myths to fit the political and social changes of our time is another significance of the new literatures.





Chapter 14 The Commonwealth Writer in Exile I begin with three suggestions. The first is the obvious one that Commonwealth and other post‐colonial literatures are the result of European expansion overseas and the meeting and conflict of two or more cultures. The second suggestion is that what we call the post‐ modern is an expression of the dislocations and decentering brought about by intensive social and cultural changes, especially those caused by rapid communication, ease of international transportation, infor‐ mation networks and multinational organizations. With such a con‐ stant flow of facts, ideas and people any notion of a tradition or center will seem arbitrary. My third suggestion is that the expatriate Com‐ monwealth writer, whether realist or metafictionalist, is likely to be most sensitive to and representative of the contemporary post‐mod‐ ern condition, as such a writer will be aware of the arbitrariness of local social forms and language and emotionally live simultaneously in a multiplicity of competing cultures. My paper will be concerned with this condition. Increasing numbers of writers exist someplace between the new national literatures and the new immigrant communities and their literatures. They are related to those literatures yet outside of them, as they also participate in the literature of England or the United States. I have in mind such writers as Buchi Emecheta, Timothy Mo, V. S. and Shiva Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Zulfikar Ghose, Randolph Stow, Meena Alexander and A.K. Ramanujan. Most are expatriates; Mo is British of mixed parentage, Alexander an Indian raised in Africa and now married to an American. I call these writers exiles because alien‐ ated from their place of origin, from the lands in which they live, and from the immigrant communities. Although they have adopted di‐ verse strategies of survival, they are the successors of James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus in The Portrait of the Artist, with his silence, exile and cunning. But we live in a time when the new nations and multicultur‐

183

184 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE alism have become important; consequently the writer in exile has be‐ come the intermediary, the interpreter, of the new nation to the for‐ mer colonial powers. The self‐exiled have become the new men and women of letters, both producing as creative writers and functioning as commentators, reporters and translators of the new nations to the metropolitan centers. V. S. Naipaul first rediscovered and reinvented the role of the nineteenth‐century observer of foreign lands, but with the significant difference that he speaks as someone associated with the West Indies and with the Indian diaspora in the Third World. Mo, Rushdie, Emecheta and others also write about their place of origin or other foreign cultures from the double perspective of a native and of the First World. While such a strategy may seem obvious for someone from the Third World, it is significant that Stow’s last three novels also reflect the difficulty of assimilation. That these writers, whether from white or third world nations, share similar psychology, as shown by the way Stow’s The Girl Green as Elderflower is like Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival. Both are semi‐autobiographical novels in which the difficulties of taking root in England are transcended by writing about it. Both end by a celebration not of assimilation but of self‐creation through writing. This, then, is another major theme of such writers, their own condition of alienation and exile and how through writing they have given order to life. Significantly, the two novels also end with a celebration of family ties, not with actual integration into Brit‐ ish society as a whole. The disrupted continuity of childhood into a wider mature adult life is, as in the poetry of Meena Alexander and A.K. Ramanujan, salvaged by creating an inner space of self in relation to family. While such writers are aware of themselves as part of a broader picture, ex‐colonial in Stow’s case, part of the Indian diaspora in the case of Naipaul, their emotional world is enclosed, that of the exile, and not integrated into that of society. While Stow and Naipaul conclude by writing about the novel they are writing, their books are not so much about the artist as a young man, but rather about the mature uprooted artist trying to find a place in the world after a breakdown, a collapse caused in part by

III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 185 the difficulties of homelessness, of trying to survive in an alien world. Having lost their home they have found no other except through the self‐creative process of writing. Naipaul’s often repeated remark, that he might have commit‐ ted suicide if he had not succeeded as a writer, seems relevant; such writers are unlikely to be part of any society. Alienated early in life, they have remained unclubbable. Salvation comes through writing, but to be a serious writer is also to be different; the attraction of Eng‐ lish literature is itself likely to be a form of alienation. The writer in a new nation overcomes the condition by protesting against what is seen as subservience or ignorance and in the process helps make a new culture which is both modern and focused on the native. The exile may, like Stow, Selvon, Naipaul or Ramanujan, at first participate in such cultural renewal, but because of personal circumstances or a basic sense of difference, reintegration can only be through success in the metropolitan centers as a writer rather than as part of the national culture. Whereas Charles Brasch, Nissim Ezekiel, A.D. Hope, Mordecai Richler, or Wole Soyinka return home and reintegrate as leaders of dissenting cultures which eventually become new establishments, the writers in exile need to find other strategies, especially as they are in‐ creasingly cut off from developing post‐colonial societies. While each writer’s strategy for coping with this situation will be unique, there are noticeable patterns. Contemporary exiles, unlike earlier ones, are not nostalgic for any idealized traditional culture or childhood disrupted by colonial‐ ism or expatriation. The rapidity and ease of modern international travel prevents such idealization. A trip or two home is enough to con‐ vince a Naipaul, Rushdie or Emecheta that you cannot go home again; society has moved on and you have also changed. Moreover, the orig‐ inal attraction to what was felt to be a wider, more significant world continues even beyond the disappointments of assimilation. The writ‐ ers in exile, because of education or because of an initial anglophilia, are part of an elite, highly acculturated to their new land and metro‐ politan English‐language culture. They either went abroad seeking a

186 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE cultural home or had the important years of their education abroad. Their assumptions include those of London and New York. While they may be compassionately involved in the Third World, they approach it with an irritability towards its provinciality, complacency, lack of modernity, and the rhetoric and mystique of nationalism, race or other means by which new nations assert their cultural difference. This does not mean they are totally cut off from their origins. Rather the contrary. Lacking deep roots in their new society, they of‐ ten adopt some strategy of redefining themselves in relation to their land of origin. Rushdie and Naipaul, for example, have become writers of the Third World. Emecheta has adapted the Nigerian novel of cul‐ tural assertion to a feminism learned in England. Essentially she writes a critique of the Nigerian novel from inside the genre, using its themes and conventions. Ghose has translated into metafictional, magic‐realist novels about Brazil his own sense of how colonialism brought alienating modern thought to Pakistan and himself. Mo’s nov‐ els treat of the incompatibility and untranslatability between Euro‐ pean and Chinese society, culture and language. V. S. Naipaul is con‐ cerned with the failure of the Third World to remake itself when pre‐ sented with the challenge of freedom and the need to modernize. There is also the constant concern with the fate of the Indian diaspora caught between black third world nationalism and the need to adapt to survive. What I’m suggesting is that with such writers nostalgia has been transformed into other concerns, other ways of expressing na‐ tional, cultural or racial identification, rather than something which relates directly to a homeland. This form of self‐creation and of affinities is both through and within literature. Such writers have often claimed a national literary tradition as in Emecheta’s relationship to Nigerian writing. V. S. Nai‐ paul has tried to establish a tradition based on his father’s writing, and at various times tried to differentiate it from both the protest writing of the black Third World and Indian philosophical spiritualism. Rama‐ nujan has tried to express his own condition of being a modern man of the world who has his psychological roots in Indian culture by ad‐



III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 187 aptation of Indian literary, philosophical and linguistic forms to mod‐ ern English‐language poetry. Rushdie imitates the written and oral lit‐ erary forms of India and the Islamic world and acknowledges a fore‐ runner in G.V. Desani’s All About H Hatterr. Mo indicates that the ful‐ some comprehensiveness of An Insular Possession has similarities to the conventions of the Chinese novel. If the writers do not go home again, they do seek some native literary tradition of which they are part, although looked at from the outside, such a sense of tradition may seem individualistic, arbitrary and assertive. Because a product of the post‐colonial world, with its rapid social and political changes, new cultural networks and rapid flow of information, the exile is conscious of the arbitrariness and provision‐ ality of culture, social forms, language and the way reality is perceived. A product of the interfacing of more than one culture, unrooted in all, the exile is postmodern in being forced to find continuities where they have been badly disrupted and the fragments incongruously mixed to‐ gether. Living between cultures, exiles are aware that they are repre‐ sentative of our times, when the margins have invaded and unsettled what was thought to be the center. Naipaul has said he is part of what he is fleeing. The literature of exile is concerned with rapid social change. Learning to live in a world of seeming chaos and flux is a cen‐ tral theme in such writers as Mo, Naipaul, Rushdie, Ramanujan and Stow. Uprooted, unsettled, they are the voices of the instability of the modern world. They are deconstructionists, not out of the logic that led oth‐ ers from structuralism to post‐structuralism, but from the experience of divided, uprooted, unassimilated lives; but they are also recon‐ structionalists in that for those generally threatened by chaos the logic of survival requires some new order, even if only provisional. This is Naipaul’s point in his later writing. After moving beyond writing as memory to research and observation, he now holds a view of narra‐ tives that, while based on the notion of the Western novel as the story of individual will, sees story making as a way of imposing a usable or‐ der on the disorderliness of the changing world. Such narrative is ten‐



188 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE tative yet an analysis of social change and a celebration of accomplish‐ ment. While Naipaul claims that only through narrative can we make sense of the world, there’s the recognition that the stories we tell are provisional, not the whole truth, and must be continually rewritten. If Naipaul appears a realist he knows that reality is constructed by each person and society to explain and celebrate itself. Ghose is more pessimistic. His own sense of displacement, of living between cultures, has been channeled through the thought of later Wittgenstein and that philosopher’s awareness of the arbitrary relationship between language and things. Ghose sees all narrative as a lie, a falsification; the only true narratives are those which make us aware of their falsity and the deceitfulness of fictions. Rushdie, from Grimus on, has been concerned with ways to give literary shape to the clashes and contradictions between various cultures and mentalities and to the exile’s sense of living simultaneously on multiple levels of reality. His word play, love of sounds, imitations and parodies of liter‐ ary forms, experiments with science fiction and general extravagance and playfulness are ways of creating a Joycean world of words in exile and cunning. Unlike Joyce there is no silence; his novels challenge ex‐ isting forms of power. Each of his novels treats of arbitrary systems of values and power that are supported by such words as ‘shame’ or those of the prophet Mohammed. When Rushdie brought the methods of the South American magical realists over into English he showed that there need not be a contradiction between self‐conscious meta‐ fiction and political commitment. While like the other writers in exile he is often autobiographical, his use of satire permits a political em‐ phasis. A writer’s commitment, however, is to language. The commit‐ ment to English has made the writer an exile and it is in language that the exile finds a home to replace society. Living on the boundaries be‐ tween cultures, each exiled writer has an unusual sensitivity towards language, along with awareness of the provisionality of words. Nai‐ paul’s stylized Trinidadian dialect in his early books is balanced by an unusual precision in the use of generalized terms. He regards impre‐



III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 189 cise speech as confused thought. His prose is flat and logical, yet con‐ tinuity is provided by repetition of words, sounds and syntactical pat‐ terns, as if only tight weaving could prevent chaos. The repetitions which hold the words together are the inverse of the threatening chaos outside the rhythmic movement and order of the prose. In Rushdie’s writing the meeting of East and West and living simultane‐ ously in a multidimensional experience is expressed through multilin‐ gual puns and allusions, the presence of many voices, accents, dialects, languages and kinds of speech. Ghose distrusts words as misleading, an alienation from experience. Stow’s novels are filled with the nota‐ tion of class speech, dialect, idioms, slang, native usages, and other signs of an outsider observing foreign societies. Ramanujan creates continuity by incorporating an Indian dimension into English words. Emecheta begins by mixing Nigerian with very British idioms, then later begins using idioms in a personal way as if she were re‐creating the language. Such writers share an alien’s awareness of the way language has local forms and meanings, and of its provisionality. English has come loose from the moorings and needs to be fitted to new experi‐ ences. The dynamic which powers the exile’s writing is being highly acculturated yet not fully assimilated into a new society.





Chapter 15 Ethnicity as Response: Richler, Achebe and Naipaul We tend to think of the ethnic as stable, a traditional commu‐ nity with inherited rituals, values and ways. But, of course, it is not. Any ethnic community changes and is changed by contact with others; its notion of its self, its very ethnicity, is created by contact with oth‐ ers. Perhaps it is created, in the sense of being brought to self‐con‐ sciousness and its sense of what is distinctive about itself, by the chal‐ lenge of others. In most of the world at present ethnicity is a form of cultural assertion that reflects conflict. This may be a form of raised community consciousness as part of a struggle for power; but it re‐ sults also from fear of domination by others, a fear both brought about by social and political change and the fear of extinction through accul‐ turation and assimilation. Ethnicity is thus created by a perceived sense of opposition which is expressed culturally but which is likely to be founded on the political and economic. In the modern state the other is seldom one group, although one group is likely to be singled out as a threat; rather there is a range of other ethnicities which stand in varying degrees of otherness, threat or alliance to the community or self. The effects of cultural pluralism are likely to be especially strong on the ethnic writer who, by the nature of the craft, is likely to be highly acculturated, through language, to an outside group, and therefore in rebellion against his or her own group while at the same time creating its self‐portrait and place on the cultural map by writing about it. The writer is by the nature of being a writer likely to tend towards modern and cosmopolitan tastes―someone with frayed, troubled roots, whose potential market is some dominant group out‐ side the ethnicity. The writer, who in modern culture tends to be mar‐ ginal to any community, is thus multiply marginalized by being highly acculturated to a host language and culture, and therefore in rebellion to the ethnic community, yet for psychological, social, racial, economic or other reasons unassimilated to the wider society. 191

192 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE There are various strategies the writer uses to handle such tensions. These range from protest, the child of two worlds theme, his‐ torical investigation of the past (thus asserting a cultural history and identity through the creation of narrative order) to symbolic portray‐ als of assimilation through friendship, marriage, political union and the birth of children through mixed marriages. But it needs to be noted that it is the writer, the most individualistic, insecure through multiple marginalization, and the closest to assimilation, who appears the voice of an ethnic community to the dominant literary world while be‐ coming increasingly cut off from the vitality of the actual ethnic com‐ munity, a community which the writer may hope to transcend. Thus any writer who moves beyond sentimentality, nostalgia or protest, and whose own conflicts find literary expression, is likely to be ac‐ cused of such sins as looking backward, of being unrepresentative, of elitism, of interiorizing the views of some dominant group or of ethnic self hatred. Just as opposition creates ethnicity so perceived criticism of the group by its representative is likely to be met with cries of be‐ trayal.

Jewish American Writers I will give some examples of how this works. The outburst of Jewish‐American writing during the 1950s reflected both the increas‐ ing acculturation of American Jewry into mainstream America through higher education and the removal of obvious barriers that still existed in the early 1940s―such as the refusal of many hotels, clubs and landlords to accept Jews―and a continued awareness of not being assimilated. Thus the restrictions that had lasted into the war years against Jews in housing, hotels, colleges, and, yes, university English departments, had been lifted, Jews were being more WASP‐ like in cultural manners; but they still remained excluded from many clubs, college fraternities and the highest political positions. We can see this progressive incorporation within the cultural and social main‐ stream first in the intellectuals around Partisan Review, especially as represented by Lionel Trilling, and then by such novelists as Philip



III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 193 Roth. But as acculturation and partial assimilation increased there was a threat to a sense of identity through fragmentation, intermar‐ riage and assimilation and an awareness of continued rejection and difference. The threat of loss of cultural identity, and rejection, led to a reawakened affirmation of a cultural tradition. The creation of communal identity by opposition to the chal‐ lenge or threat of an Other is similar structurally to earlier problems of immigrant identity with its cruder conflict between generations, problems of adaptation and acculturation. However, in the later form of ethnic awareness the threat is both of assimilation and continued awareness of failure to assimilate. It is this latter pattern I find more common in writers of our time where there is a search for a renewed sense of origins either by some failed version of a return to the origi‐ nal homeland, whether it be Africa, India or Jerusalem, or by writing a history of the group as can be seen in V. S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas and The Enigma of Arrival.

Mordecai Richler The Montreal Jewish writers show the conflicts of ethnicity even more clearly. In Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz there is the older generational conflict of immigrant and the acculturating young and a more interesting new consciousness of eth‐ nicity when the younger acculturated Jews feel caught between the opposing, threatening French majority and the rejecting dominant An‐ glo‐Saxon elite while identifying with American culture and with the comparatively more successfully integrated American Jewry. Like many ethnic works the novel constructs a history, a narrative, repre‐ sentative of the ethnic group, yet critical of it. The book is another study in what makes Sammy run; the main character’s fight for a place in the world is shown to be ruthless, amoral and exploitative, espe‐ cially of those French Canadians who accept and love him. And like Naipaul’s Trinidadian and other ethnic novels it is historically repre‐ sentative and based on the real lives of people the author knew. Ethnic novels tend to be the fictionalization of the factual. That Richler for



194 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE many years lived as an exile in London, mocking Canadian identity, is similar to the multiple marginality of many ethnic writers who have sought to resolve their problems of identification and readership through cosmopolitan success within a neutral, or less emotionally charged, larger space, where success would mean a kind of acceptance and possible genuine assimilation through recognition of talent. But significantly Richler’s narrators or central characters have usually been Jews and the London novels make a point of mocking WASP Ca‐ nadians. In other words the tensions are not really resolved but con‐ tinue to find expression, although in other ways.

Chinua Achebe In offering these suggestions towards a theory of ethnicity I am aware that there are other situations, other solutions. Still there does seem to be enough universal applicability to assume it has some truth. Consider, as another example, the novels of Chinua Achebe, their relation to the Igbos as an ethnic group and the relation of the Igbos to Nigeria. While we think of Achebe as a Nigerian novelist, the first four novels are about Igbos and directly or indirectly concerned with the problems of being an Igbo in a multi‐tribal Nigeria, created as a result of colonialism, when clan customs are threatened by con‐ tact with other cultures and societies, whether of Europe or other tribes, and the moral chaos of a nation with few shared values. In a sense the clan is seen degenerating into just another ethnic group out to get what it can by any means and led by the unscrupulous. At first the coherence of a group of villages is threatened from the outside by other Igbos, from different villages, in alliance with the Europeans. It is in particular the Igbo interpreters, Igbo policeman and Igbo mis‐ sionaries―the latter from coastal communities long converted to Christianity―who are seen as forerunners of a new order in which a diversity of people will be brought together without respect for a shared past and its values. While I would say that such a past is likely to be a fiction, a selection of values as part of the usable past needed



III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 195 for cultural assertion, Achebe is troubled by the well known corrup‐ tion of Nigerian life at all levels and he attempts to locate the original fall from wholeness back at the start of colonialism when the coming of the Europeans brought about a new powerful class of Africans freed from the communal censure and laws of the villages. This is a theme of his third and fourth novels, Arrow of God and A Man of the People, where he attempts to trace the origins and evolution of national cor‐ ruption. But these two novels need to be seen as further commen‐ taries on his second novel, No Longer at Ease. In No Longer at Ease the young university educated Igbo finds himself in a conflict of values over moral issues. He is pressured by the elders of his tribe to be corrupt so that he can repay them for his edu‐ cation and further their progress in the national society, and he is aware of the white man’s scorn of Africans as corrupt. Here we have the same generational conflict found in ethnic fiction of the old versus the younger acculturating generation in which the young are neither here nor there. All the key elements of ethnic fiction can be found in this Nigerian novel. The young man has a different perspective from the old because of education and command of the language of the Other. The values of the Other are not necessarily wrong; the young man loves a girl whom he is forbidden to marry by the rules of his clan as she is descended from a group of outcastes or slaves. Significantly he works for a national organization in the national capital and the villagers who pressure him are organized into a group in the capital to fight for their share of the national cake against competing village and tribal groups. Here once more are the same structural elements as in Rich‐ ler’s novel―the British colonizer to whose values the young are accul‐ turated through education but with whom they cannot assimilate, the conflict of young and old, the awareness of obligation to the old, the presence of competing ethnic groups within the nation and how that sharpens the ethnic sense which in turn makes it more difficult for the educated young to be willing to identify with his or her own ethnic group.



196 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE The creation of a post‐colonial nation is a threat to the tribal ethnicity celebrated in Things Fall Apart. But such ethnicity is itself created as a response to the threat of others. And such ethnic assertion is itself a problem; Achebe and Soyinka objected to the older, less ac‐ culturated generation and its corrupt ways as much as they did to the Nigerians who mimicked British manners and tastes. Achebe’s first four novels could be regarded as an attempt to explain this contradic‐ tion by examining Igbo history, locating the beginning of a fall from wholeness in which a new class of corrupt cultural mulattoes were formed who neither accepted the traditional principles and group val‐ ues of the village and nor were assimilated Europeans. In a sense, the first African interpreters between the villagers and Europeans were the first Nigerians, and they have an ambivalent relationship to the writer. They are the new society he sees as corrupt, yet also the mod‐ ern society with which he identifies and which he promotes, especially as he is aware that many traditions of the past, such as outcasts, ritual killing of twins and inherited slavery, were horrors which Christianity rightly condemned. Yet the threat to Igbo tradition by the modern state makes him assert an identity as Igbo just as colonialism makes him into an African. I suggested the threat to a group which leads to the assertion of ethnicity is often directly related to politics and eco‐ nomics and is not solely cultural or the result of an increase in assim‐ ilation. The tensions which led to the Biafra‐Nigeria Civil War are ob‐ vious in Achebe’s novels; and they can be profitably read in that man‐ ner as studies of colonialism and the disillusionments of independ‐ ence.

V. S. Naipaul I want to devote the remainder of my paper to an examination of V. S. Naipaul in the context of East Indian Trinidadian society and how this influences his writing. It is not usual to regard Naipaul in the context of ethnicity and there are many who argue that he is a cosmo‐ politan who has interiorized metropolitan British values. This is a common misapprehension about many of the best ethnic writers who



III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 197 feel themselves trapped within a disintegrating, fossilized past, which has no place for a modern writer who uses the language of the national community but who is unable or unwilling to assimilate into that com‐ munity. Such a situation produces the self‐exiled writer who comes to terms with the past through writing while in exile. That is, of course, a variation on the Joycean strategy. A little reflection will show that Naipaul has almost always written about the problems of the Indian diaspora whether his subject is Trinidad, London, East Africa or India. He has sometimes been un‐ sympathetic to the ways a culture changes while preserving former traditions; such cultural or ethnic assertion is part of coming to terms with the challenge of other cultures, new contexts, and alien technol‐ ogies. But at other times, for example while in India, Naipaul speaks highly of the West Indian Indians as people who have adapted to and been energized by their new world. Such apparent contradictions re‐ flect a conflict within himself between his sense of Indian‐ness and being from Trinidad and his own need to find an identity both as nov‐ elist and as someone who can neither be British nor Indian and who is unwilling to be Trinidadian with the various limitations and fears that would bring, ranging from the lack of opportunities for a novelist to needing to find a place within the ethnic structure of white, brown, black and Indian. Naipaul’s situation is not unlike that of the immigrant in America who finds the seeming hide‐bound, alien culture of his par‐ ents an embarrassment, a hindrance to assimilation, but who, if be‐ longing to a minority, cannot (or may not wish to) assimilate into mainstream, dominant, society. The situation is complicated further for Naipaul by the nature of Trinidadian society in which the most highly regarded culture has been British while the politically domi‐ nant and most culturally assertive group during his lifetime has been black. Remember it was the indentured Indians who replaced the freed slaves as laborers on the sugar plantations and while saving the economy prevented the wages of freed blacks from increasing. More‐ over the Indians were from a foreign land, were of a different color,

198 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE spoke a different language, had a different religion and for many years had no opportunity for education in English―an education they in any case distrusted as likely to lead to conversion to Christianity. Indians were until recently at the bottom of the Trinidadian social, economic and political ladder, mostly rural farmers and laborers; even Hindu marriages were not recognized by law. It was only in the 1940s, as a result of the effects of the war economy and the American base, that Indians began moving into the cities, attending English language schools in large numbers and mov‐ ing into the professions. The black population looked down on the In‐ dian, regarded Indian separateness as racial prejudice, while the In‐ dian instinct for family, group and caste cultural survival was re‐ garded as opposing black nationalism. Just as African political inde‐ pendence energized Caribbean interest in Africa and demands for de‐ colonization of the West Indies, so a decade earlier Indian national in‐ dependence led to the promotion of cultural contacts between India and Caribbean Indians, the teaching of Hindi to a new generation and Hindu cultural assertion. Two ethnic groups were in conflict and the more black nation‐ alists pushed for independence, organized themselves for political ac‐ tion, demanded blacks be placed in jobs, the more the Indians felt threatened and began to organize themselves or often, if middle class, flee to Canada or England. During the elections leading to Trindadian independence the Indian political leaders often spoke of partition of Trinidad as necessary to avoid black domination. After independence the ruling national party, the government, the judiciary and the police were black and elections were fought essentially on racial lines be‐ tween the governing black nationalist party and an opposing predom‐ inantly Hindu Indian party. This party for a time was led by one of Nai‐ paul’s relatives, a character who is approximated in both A House for Mr Biswas and The Mimic Men. To complicate the situation further the black majority is itself strongly divided between brown (usually mid‐ dle class) and black with the result that brown rule is threatened by demands for increased black consciousness, affirmative action for the poorer blacks and so on.

III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 199 All of this is threatening if you are Indian and even more threatening if as an individual you have tried to dissociate yourself from a politically powerful orthodox Hindu family while the dominant outside society consists of what appear to be aggressive black nation‐ alists who themselves seem threatened by revolutionary black radi‐ cals. The novels of V. S. Naipaul, Shiva Naipaul and more recently Neil Bisoondath are partial reflections of this situation. A further context to their novels is Trinidad’s Caribbean neighbor Guyana where the Asian Indians formed a majority but where after a civil war the Social‐ ist Indian led government was first deposed by the British and later by the CIA; long afterwards Guyana was governed by tyrannical black nationalists. Naipaul’s writing often refers to his Brahmin background, knowledge of rituals and a retention of Indian ways of regarding life. He felt such customs were often absurd in Trinidad and he was aware that the enclosed Indian way of living which they assumed was in the process of breaking up as the Indians left the farms for the cities, but there is seldom idealization of whites, who if present at all in his nov‐ els tend to be eccentrics and failures. He has often mentioned that the uncreative, colonial white society of Trinidad was a prime instance of how a people decay if isolated from the challenges and energy of a larger nation and culture. The later novels often portray second‐rate European expatriates and idealists in the former colonies; these are the post‐colonial colonialists, who because of lack of talent or person‐ ality problems could not survive in their own homeland. Naipaul’s early novels mostly locate blacks at the edges of the story as unimportant, unthreatening, amusing characters. He ap‐ peared unwilling to comment directly on the problems of In‐ dian―black con lict and because of his own personal sense of insecu‐ rity tried to avoid being associated with blacks due to fear of sharing their problems. But Naipaul had, like many black West Indians, stud‐ ied and lived in England, married an English woman yet found himself still outside the dominant society. Like most writers he began by using his own background; later novels reflect his early experiences in more complex ways in new, foreign contexts. His first three books of fiction

200 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE were based on memories of events and people in Trinidad, the incon‐ gruities of ethnic politics, the absurdities in the rise of a rural Indian to an elected member of the government and eventual knighthood, the wasted lives of those he had admired when he was young. A House for Mr Biswas attempts to make sense of this past by tracing its origins and history by fictionalizing what he had learned about the life of his own father in the context of Indians in Trinidad. An Area of Darkness tells of Naipaul’s failed attempt to return to the India of his family or‐ igins and his own earlier imaginings; it might be seen as analogous to black West Indian attempts to return to Africa. Like the black West Indians in Africa, Naipaul learns that he is detribalized, a man of the new world with its ways of thought, expectations, impatience, skepti‐ cism, energy and individualism. The India of rituals, inefficiency, re‐ gionalism, mass poverty and fatalism makes him hysterical. Yet he is shocked when Indians modernize the ancient rituals he learned in Trinidad, using, for example, electric lights for oil lamps in ceremo‐ nies. The Mimic Men reflects the racial and political tensions of post‐independence Guyana and Trinidad. His later novels project the anxieties of the Indo‐Trinidadians onto the wider world, especially the problems of the Indian immigrant to America and London in In a Free State or the threatened Indian community in East and Central Africa in In a Free State and A Bend in the River. Guerrillas has as its context the attempted Black Power revolution in Trinidad in 1970 which was seen by the Indians as a threat. In An Area of Darkness and India: A Wounded Civilization there is anger at India’s failure to modernize, its inability to defend itself against the Chinese invasion and its lack of importance in the modern world. Naipaul’s criticisms often assume the world is more rational than it is, ignore the difficulties of changing well established interests, and fail to accept the social disintegration, and political need for cul‐ tural assertion that follows the creation of new nations. While he warns that other lands will fall into tyranny and chaos after independ‐ ence because they do not have homogeneous societies and lack re‐ sources he seems to assume that India should be different and often

III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 201 refers to its past as if it were continuous with the present. India re‐ mains for him the idealized home of his imagination; his criticisms of India seem like the anger of someone disappointed in his parents for not being more successful. These are part of contradictory feelings about being Indian and continue his earlier anxieties about being an East Indian Trinidadian, a group that felt threatened by extinction and powerless in a predominantly black Creole society abandoned by the British. Despite an obvious impatience with African inefficiency, cor‐ ruption and inflated political rhetoric, Naipaul is certainly not a racist. For every example that can be offered it is possible to give contrary examples of him finding black people attractive, of liking black West Indians, of disliking the United States because of its treatment of blacks, of finding in the Ivory Coast a successful black African nation. It is true that he sometimes appears to regard blacks as an unknowa‐ ble Other, an Other who regards his own group as a victim while vic‐ timizing Indians. But the characters treated most critically in such novels as In a Free State, Guerrillas and A Bend in the River are whites who have come to former colonies in search of better jobs, excitement, liberal causes. Although his novels are increasingly set in a black world the central characters are white, Indians or some type of inter‐ racial or inter‐ethnic mixture. The latter particularly interest him and have his sympathy as representative of unprotected humanity, the marginalized citizens of the new state left by colonialism. The criti‐ cisms Naipaul has made of Africa, the West Indies and India are no different than those made by the political left and cultural nationalists. Naipaul, however, does not see any solution possible to many prob‐ lems faced by small independent nations and he is irritable towards the rhetoric that often accompanies nationalist, radical and ethnic movements, especially black and Indian rhetoric. Although it is often assumed that Naipaul’s politics are con‐ servative this is unlikely as he has indicated support for the Indian led radical socialists in Guyana and for Mrs. Gandhi during the Emer‐ gency. His distanced, cool, rational manner, and his habitual skepti‐ cism and irony towards the rhetorical, can be misleading about his

202 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE sympathies, concern with social justice and improving the lives of the poor. Because of his emphasis on utility he could as easily be a radical Tory or a Leninist. His books deflate rhetoric and illusions; he sees the world as a continuing struggle between individuals and peoples through the ages. There will always be conquerors and the conquered. Self‐help, planning, cunning and achievement are far more useful than blame. He has even praised a section of a radical right Hindu group in Bombay when it brought together disorganized slum dwellers into a community to improve their conditions. As far as it is possible to de‐ fine his politics they appear to be a radical utilitarianism based on no‐ tions of a social contract viewed in opposition to the natural jungle‐ like warfare of life with its tendency towards chaos and disorder. Moreover there is an underlying, if disillusioned, nationalism, espe‐ cially for Indian causes. The harsh, disorderly, unloving family life portrayed in A House for Mr Biswas, his father’s mental collapse, his own struggle to survive in England, the hard work in living solely by his pen, has left him feeling unprotected and with little tolerance for the sentimental, incompetent, irrational and confused. The self‐made millionaire is his model for the individual, peoples and nations. As an Indian, he has no involvement in or sympathy for the complex relationship of prejudice and guilt that has developed between white and black; it is clear from his writings that he feels Trinidadian and African blacks discriminate against Indians. Blacks are probably right to notice at times an aggressive edge to Naipaul’s irony. This is West Indian picong, a kind of aggres‐ sive humor often on the border of insult. It is similar to taking “mickey” out of someone, having them on, seeing if they will bite. The way black characters in The Mimic Men refer to community gossip as a “niggergram” or make mocking references to the smell of their fol‐ lowers is realistic of the way members of an ethnic group speak among themselves―they are not objectionable in a Calypso by Mighty Sparrow; when spoken by black characters in a novel written by an



III. NEW ENGLISH LITERATURES 203 Indian such words and comments are infuriating. Such picong increas‐ ingly used against whites in Africa and the West Indies is often clothed in dry irony and understatement. This has sharpened over the years.

Conclusion I will conclude by noting some of the ways ethnicity has changed in the post‐colonial world: 1) The newer ethnic groups of America, England, Canada and Australia are usually from the so called Third World rather than Europe. 2) They are likely to be directly in conflict with other ethnic groups, each asserting its identity, within newly independent states. 3) There is now a well established interna‐ tional literary market for writers from these new ethnic groups. 4) By the nature of the art, the psychology of the artist and the literary mar‐ ket, the writer is likely to be a rebel against his or her own ethnic group while being acculturated to but not assimilated into the cultur‐ ally dominant community. 5) In newly independent states the writer often belongs to a group threatened by those who dominate politically after independence. 6) In an era of rapid inexpensive travel the writer in self‐exile is seldom likely to be nostalgic or idealistic about a lost homeland. 7) Trips home are likely to leave writers angry at the fail‐ ure of the idealized homeland to measure up to European or American standards and to leave the writer feeling a homeless cosmopolitan part of a diaspora with which he or she now identifies. 8) Accultura‐ tion and the treat of assimilation creates ethnicity. But the kind of eth‐ nicity may be as much a creation of social and economic politics as of any distinctive heritage. Ethnicity depends on what you feel, or are seen as, ethnic in opposition to. Perhaps only in America, Canada or England can you be an Indian, West Indian or even African rather than a Punjabi, Tamil, Trinidad East Indian or Igbo.







IV. Australia, Canada, New Zealand





Chapter 16 The Role of American Literature in Colonial and PostColonial Cultures Not long ago many English departments of the Common‐ wealth nations that earlier composed the British Empire were trans‐ mitters and defenders of what they understood to be British culture. In practice this often meant the assertion of certain class and ethical values, and it also led to the neglect of English literature originating outside the British Isles. A few Americans, such as Henry James and T.S. Eliot, who had taken up residence in London, were regarded as part of elite British culture, whereas Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner apparently had little to do with English literature. This neglect of American literature often went hand in hand with dis‐ dain for the literatures of the colonies and dominions. If the center of culture is in London, then a cultural object produced in New York, Auckland or Sydney must be inferior. There is a curious slip by T. Inglis Moore that is worth quot‐ ing. Professor Moore was one of the founders of the academic study of Australian literature and having for a time lived and taught in the United States he was conscious of how much the example of American literature might be useful to Australian writers who needed alterna‐ tive models. Yet in trying to distinguish between Carl Sandburg on the one hand and on the other Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, Moore speaks of Sandburg’s “American realism” and “the English intellectual realism of Pound and Eliot.” The passage I have in mind is: Frank Wilmot (“Furnley Maurice”) protested against such tepid verse, and tried to gain fresh vigor by ex‐ perimenting with the techniques of the American realistic poets. This could have been stimulating and fruitful if it had been followed up, for Australian poetry at this stage badly needed the kind of vitality found, say, in Carl Sandburg’s

207

208 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE “Smoke and Steel.” Unfortunately Wilmot’s Melbourne Odes (1934) were only successful in passages. Wilmot lacked the sense of form and the original craftsmanship in which Slessor excelled. Thus he became a pioneer without follow‐ ers, and his example of American realism remained singular, whereas Slessor, by introducing the English intellectual re‐ alism of Pound and Eliot, joined with FitzGerald in his realis‐ tic reflections to shape our modern poetry.1 That Moore in the early 1970s, in referring to three American poets, can unconsciously slip into associating America with energetic vigor and England with an intellectual tradition is revealing of the prejudices that until recently shaped English studies. Such assump‐ tions are, however, one of the reasons why American literature and culture, from the late nineteenth century until the present, have had an influence on the literatures of the British colonies, Empire and the independent nations that followed. American literature was often per‐ ceived as opening windows and doors, allowing new kinds of energy and ideas to enter what many writers and intellectuals thought of as their own staid, conservative, colonial societies. If British manners, taste and speech were superior and of high cultural and social stand‐ ing, they were also felt to be restrictive, inhibiting and belonging to the past. Perhaps more important they were seen as inauthentic to the colonies and newer nations where survival was of more immediacy than a classical education, where riches could be made quickly, where the government was often seen as a foreign ruling establishment, and where society in general was mobile and not deeply rooted. In contrast to British gentility and superiority, American cul‐ ture has for many appeared as a model of vitality, equality, social mo‐ bility and modernization. If the British literary tradition, as taught in colonial schools, seemed to local writers conservative, out of date or inappropriate to local conditions, American literature has provided 1

T. Inglis Moore, Social Patterns in Australian Literature (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1971), pp. 132‐33.



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 209 two radically different models which England appeared not to have. To simplify we can call one American example “colloquial realism” and the other “international modernism.” These are perhaps the two tra‐ ditions Professor Moore had in mind, although he confused the issue by calling one “English.” Both have had important roles in the devel‐ opment of the new literatures. While colloquial realism has used dia‐ lect, local color and peasant or lower‐class heroes as part of a nation‐ alist rejection of a supposedly alien cultural and social establishment, modernism has been associated with approval of rapid social changes, the avant garde in culture being seen as parallel to political and social progress. Both literary styles reject colonial provincialism and middle class conformity. In the new nations colloquial realism and modernism are re‐ ally opposite sides of the same coin, representing both the nationalist search for authenticity and the modernizing aspects of the nationalist movement. While it is true that there is nothing especially American about either colloquial realism or international modernism, and that both are well‐known European ways of writing, British literature is not characterized by either whereas American literature along with a few Irish writers can be said to have introduced both modes to the English‐speaking literary community. The tradition I have called colloquial realism is one of the products of nineteenth‐century realism and naturalism, and some of its main American authors include Bret Harte, Mark Twain, and later Ernest Hemingway. Basically this tradition is marked by the use of lo‐ cal speech, by an understated toughness and by an indication that the main character or the author is alone, either isolated from society or an outsider to established society. At the same time he seems repre‐ sentative of the folk or of those socially below the middle classes. It is noticeably a masculine literature expressive of an unsettled society or of its traditions. It may be an idealization of the frontier in a now rooted society. Such writing often makes use of local color. In the nine‐ teenth century colloquial realism was the method of those who wrote short stories in dialect about gold mines, the frontier and the outback, and those who wrote dialect ballads. Marcus Clarke begins his review

210 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE of Bert Harte’s The Luck of Roaring Camp: “we have always urged upon Australian writers of fiction the importance of delineating the Austral‐ ian manners which they see around them everyday.”2 In the 1930s col‐ loquial realism was revitalized by being merged with the American urban realism of Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair and Carl Sandburg to pro‐ duce the social documentary literature of the down‐and‐outs, the pro‐ letariat and social minorities. Such New Zealand writers as John Lee and Frank Sargeson found Twain, Anderson, Hemingway, and O.Henry to be useful models. Indeed although Sargeson’s I Saw in My Dream (1943) has often been compared with Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, it could equally well be seen as a New Zealand Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The mention of Joyce and Hemingway suggests, however, an‐ other area where Commonwealth writers have looked for models other than documentary and colloquial realism. Whereas British prose and poetry have not been central to the literary avant garde of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, American writing has been more sympathetic to such movements; it is often said that New York is closer than London to the European literary scene. The modernist tradition in English has not been British; Joyce, Yeats and Beckett are Irish; Eliot, Pound, Stevens, Williams and Faulkner are American. It is significant that Lawrence, the only major avant garde twentieth‐cen‐ tury British writer, felt close to American writing and at first modeled his free verse on Walt Whitman. Just as Twain, Harte and Hemingway influenced many of the Commonwealth writers, so Whitman, then W.C. Williams and Wallace Stevens, and later Robert Lowell, have been models for some poets of the colonies and new nations. Whitman offered a way to escape the restraints of traditional formal verse, including the iambic pentame‐ ter, rhyme and regular stanzaic shapes. He taught how to make poetry of local speech, local matters, local scenery, the personal voice and the individual self, without its cultured persona. In a sense Whitman was

2

Rev. of The Luck of Roaring Camp by Bret Harte, in Marcus Clarke, ed. Mi‐ chael Wilding (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1976), p. 637.



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 211 the radical innovator of nineteenth‐century poetry in English. His in‐ fluence early in the century can be seen in such New Zealand poets as Blanche Baughan and Ursula Bethell, and in Australia in the work of Christopher Brennan and Bernard O’Dowd. Whitman, like Twain and Hemingway, was both a radically modern writer in his time and a particularly local writer. Such Ameri‐ can poets as Sandburg, Williams, Ginsberg or Lowell have usually pro‐ vided both a more modern style than that of contemporary British lit‐ erature and also a manner which appears local and personal in speech and reference. Thus it is not surprising that Alan Curnow should be influenced by Wallace Stevens, or Kendrick Smithyman by Allen Tate and the Agrarians, or Ian Wedde by William Carlos Williams. In each case the New Zealander has found in the American poet a modern, in‐ ternational, avant garde style which is also concretely local in refer‐ ence and personal in voice. To quote the title of Elizabeth Smither’s 1978 book of poems, which also contains a poem written to Jack Ke‐ rouac, You’re Very Seductive, William Carlos Williams. It is surprising how little study has been done of the American influence on Commonwealth literatures. Joseph Jones and Alan McLeod have shown the influence of Whitman and Thoreau on Aus‐ tralian and New Zealand radicalism, a few articles compare or con‐ trast American and Canadian themes and social mythologies as found in literature, but to my knowledge the only significant contribution to the subject is a series of lectures by poets, edited by Joan Kirkby, on the ways American poetry has influenced contemporary Australian poets.3 The American Model provides insights into specific influences

3

Joseph Jones, Radical Cousins (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1976); Alan L. McLeod, Walt Whitman in Australia and New Zealand (Syd‐ ney: Wentworth Press, 1964); see articles on Thoreau in India and Aus‐ tralia by Sujit Mukherjee (pp. 153‐63) and Joseph Jones (pp. 183‐207) in Thoreau Abroad, ed. Eugene F. Timpe (Hamden, Conn: Shoe String Press, Archon Books, 1971); see the issue of Essays on Canadian Writing (No.22, 1981) devoted to “Canadian‐American Literary Relations”; Joan Kirkby, ed.; The American Model: Influence and Independence in Australian Poetry (Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1982).



212 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE and into differences between the two literatures and might be a start‐ ing point for future research and critical discussion. In her introduction to the collection, Kirkby, summarizing the contributions, says that American poetry tends towards the idiom and rhythms of physical life and its location in the personal sense percep‐ tions of the writer. Since Whitman, American poetry has been con‐ cerned with the self on earth and in the body; this is reflected in the naturalness of American literary speech, its ease of movement and its emphasis on perception and sensation. American poetry charges the ordinary with excitement, showing that poetry can exist in our own lives. It tends toward subjectivity, fullness of experience, vulnerability acceptance of the narcissistic self; its language has a visceral vulnera‐ bility, and acceptance of what is really there, and a fresh tone of voice, although it tends towards garrulity. It is poetry of exploration, atten‐ tive to the inner life. A number of the writers comment on the urban qualities or awareness of city life in American verse. Whereas the British tradition has been of plain good sense, American verse can be exotic, mandarin, although the self is seen as an archetype of feelings not articulated by others. Often, again in contrast to the British tradition, it is experi‐ mental, radical, regional, energetic and enjoys self‐revelation. The poet is a professional with a vocation; the poet is also an innovator rather than taking a place in a tradition. In general the contributors claim the discovery of American poetry more as a liberating example, in contrast to enfeebled British and colonial Australian verse, then a direct influence. In a review of Kirkby’s book entitled “U.S. Influences Came Sooner than Our Poets Think,” Douglas Stewart remarks that The Aus‐ tralian Bush balladists “got some of their impetus from Bret Harte.”4 William Baylebridge may have been influenced by Whitman; Mary Gil‐ more’s poem on Henry Parkes was based on Vachel Lindsay’s “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven”; Lindsay also influenced Furnley

4

Sydney Morning Herald, 1 May 1982, p. 44.



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 213 Maurice’s Melbourne Odes; Shaw Neilson was influenced by Emily Dickinson; and David Campbell was influenced by Robert Frost. It would be possible to add more details, such as noting the way Robert Lowell’s Life Studies shifted even the most formal Com‐ monwealth poets towards a more personal, subjective, open mode, or the way the American Jewish novel was taken over and modified for Canadian purposes by Mordecai Richler (whereas early Robertson Davies uses the British novel of manners and social comedy), or the long continuing links between black American writing and that of the West Indies and Africa. The Barbadian Jamaican poet Edward Brathwaite and the two Ghanaian novelists Ayi Kwei Armah and Kofi Awoonor were influenced by 1960s American black power ideology and by aspects of the black American literary tradition. Each additional instance of influence or modification of mod‐ els simply adds weight and detail to my claim that American literature has been throughout the years of the empire, Commonwealth and new nations, the main alternative to the British literary addition. The American tradition has shown writers how the local, the ordinary, the subjective and the urban can be the basis of literature. It has wel‐ comed the modern, the experimental and the mandarin while at the same time keeping in touch with popular mass culture, the spontane‐ ous and those areas of culture change where chaos, conflict and diver‐ gence somehow become the needs of the future. Some brief observations about periodization might be useful. American influence on colonial and Commonwealth literature is roughly approximate to our usual periodization of British, American and European literature. I say roughly because of the cultural lag; in the past literary movements often have their impact on the colonies a decade or more after they did in metropolitan centers. As cultural lag reflected the slowness of communication, the steamship and later ra‐ dio and movies speeded up the flow of ideas and styles. Television, the longplaying record, the cassette, videocassette and satellite relay sta‐ tion have further narrowed the gap; now cultural lag is more matter of a conservatism and smallness of size than a lack of acquaintance with new ideas.

214 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE While Emerson influenced Charles Harpur, and Longfellow influenced some Canadian poets, the first major period of American influence on Commonwealth literature is the late nineteenth century. Harte, Twain and Whitman were the models. Although Whitman in‐ fluenced a kind of vatic religious poetry, the common denominators are local color, dialect, realism and a strong democratic emphasis. Such apparent literary egalitarianism parallels the American influ‐ ence on labor unions and feminism during the late nineteenth century. This was the time when Henry George could be welcomed as a savior in New Zealand and Australia and when the radical temperance move‐ ment was largely American based and another name for women’s rights. In Edith Searle Grossmann's feminist novels the heroine has great success and finds a spiritual home in the United States before returning to Australia. If Henry James appears to have had little influ‐ ence on the colonies, perhaps he seemed too British. It is perhaps not to be expected that American writers of the 1910s and 1920s would have an immediate influence on the British colonies, since many of the best Australian, West Indian and Canadian authors were themselves in London or Europe. By the early 1920s, however, such Australian writers as Frank Wilmot, Kenneth Slessor and Louis Esson were interested in such American imagists and mod‐ ernists as Amy Lowell, Conrad Aiken, Carl Sandburg and Marianne Moore as well as Eliot and Pound. It is noticeable that the nationalists were especially interested. As early as 1918 Frank Wilmot lectured in Melbourne on Pound; the attraction of American writing as an alter‐ native to an out‐of‐date colonial literary culture, and the use of Amer‐ ican literature for a nationalist writer are shown by Wilmot’s 1922 es‐ say, “National Poetry”: There is something baffling about modern American poetry, but there is no mystery about the poetry that is printed in Australia today. It is the last word in conventional English verse production. It is done to worn‐out patterns discarded in the land of their origin. It is more conventional



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 215 in form and matter than any verse now published in England by English poets.5 The objective, understated and colloquial prose in the 1910s and 1920s became more influential during the 1930s and 1940s when the realism of Damon Runyon, Sherwood Anderson and Hemingway was used to create a style sympathetic to the down‐and‐out poor. At the same time the avant‐garde poetics of Eliot and Pound were, in New Zealand at least, turned by Rex Fairburn into a protest poetry. While Sargeson created an authentic New Zealand idiom from American models, more often throughout the 1930s and early 1940s the local proletariat in the literature of the Empire speak in an American influ‐ enced dialect. The novels of Roger Mais provide a Jamaican example. (A little later the heroes of John Hearne’s novels would imitate Hem‐ ingway’s stoical heroism.) How much of the internationalization of American supposed lower‐class and tough guy speech is rather a cin‐ ema than literary influence might be questioned, but it is interesting that as early as 1920 Louis Esson warns about a production of his play The Drovers that he wants the actors to “avoid American ‘suppressed emotion’, ‘strong silent man’ and atmosphere.”6 The great impact of the United States on the Commonwealth occurs during and after World War II. America became first a protec‐ tor of the British colonies and dominions and, later, a leader of the West, the new imperial power. American literary and cultural influ‐ ence evolved, while working‐class and middle‐class behavior increas‐ ingly became American rather than British. Geoffrey Moore’s Penguin Book of Modern American Verse (1953) is representative of this period when the British were beginning to discover American literature, es‐ pecially such poets as Dickinson, Stevens, Tate and Jarrell. In most of

5 6

Quoted from The Oxford History of Australian Literature, ed. Leonie Kra‐ mer (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 350. Quoted in Vance Palmer, Louis Esson and the Australian Theatre (Mel‐ bourne: Georgian House, 1948), p. 34.



216 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE the Commonwealth the post‐World War II American influence in‐ cluded the discovery and teaching of American literature, the creation of American Studies departments at universities, the sending of grad‐ uates for further training at North American universities and the New Criticism, with its line by line close reading of texts and its own elite version of modern literature. Frances Webb and Vincent Buckley are examples and some influences include Hart Crane, Allen Tate, and early Robert Lowell. While Lowell’s influence lasted into the 1960s, especially on personal, confessional verse, the next wave of Americanization coin‐ cided with the counterculture of the 1960s, itself partly created by and a response to the affluence brought about American political actions and economic expansion. The Commonwealth now discovered the al‐ ternative line of modern American verse which runs from William Carlos Williams to the Beats, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan and the Black Mountain Poets. Just as Whitman, Twain, Bret Harte and Hem‐ ingway had earlier provided models for colonial writers who wanted to break away from what they considered British literature, so this modern Whitmanesque verse showed how a contemporary poetry could be made from vernacular speech, a personal voice and local life. The Black Mountain school seem to provide a means of articulating the kinds of contemporary experiences that were becoming common in affluent, mobile, educated societies. The Evergreen Review, City Lights books and similar publica‐ tions popularized the work of Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, Allen Ginsberg and Vladimir Nabokov. They made various periods and reg‐ isters of modern culture appear a united front against a middle‐class conformity. Much of what is considered post‐colonial literature within the Commonwealth, especially the more developed nations, resulted from this international popularization of modernism in the 1960s transmitted by Americans. With affluence and increased communica‐ tion the Commonwealth was approaching something like McLuhan’s global village and the readership for modern literature was greater. In contrast to the small minority that earlier in the century saw its values expressed in the work of Eliot, Pound and Joyce, the young in the late

IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 217 1960s and early 1970s identified with the counter‐culture which, like the Beats and the Black Mountain Poets, appeared to be simultane‐ ously an expression of international and of local values. The protest against the war in Vietnam, of course, marked the next phase of American influence on international English‐speaking culture. The reaction against what was felt to be American imperial‐ ism followed and there were new nationalist movements throughout the Commonwealth that corresponded with American sit‐ins, days of rage and Black Power protests. The Black Power riots in Trinidad dur‐ ing 1968 to 1970, which are the background of V. S. Naipaul’s Guerril‐ las (1975), were ironically directed against a black government. Cana‐ dian protest and neo‐nationalism includes David Godfrey’s Death Goes Better with Coca‐Cola (1968) and Read Canadian (1972) and Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing (1972). New Zealand produced C.K. Stead’s Smith’s Dream (1971). The recognition of American cultural influence in Australia can be seen in Frank Moorhouse’s The Americans, Baby (1972) and the reaction against it in Thomas Keneally’s The Cut‐Rate Kingdom (1981). Significantly Moorhouse’s stories are written in what might described as a kind of modernist‐influenced realism which was in the late 1960s becoming fashionable in better American popular magazines (such as Playboy and Esquire), while Keneally’s novel is written in an Australian style so dense that I find it difficult to read in places. If American culture has often seemed liberating, it has also been threatening to the nations of the Commonwealth as American power has been linked to a new imperialism, international capitalism, multinational corporations, involvement with foreign wars and other disagreeable aspects of the modern world. The literature of the Com‐ monwealth, however, is more American, modern and international than ever. Thomas Keneally writes about the American Civil War, V. S. Naipaul writes for the New York Review of Books, the New Zealander Janet Frame is published first in the United States; most writers have at least a share in the latest version of American international modernism known as post‐modernism.



218 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Many Commonwealth writers today in Canada, Australia and New Zealand are the second or third generation offspring of Evergreen Review and City Lights books. Thomas Shapcott’s anthology, Contem‐ porary American and Australian Poetry (1976), and in New Zealand C.K. Stead’s essay “From Wystan to Carlos” (1979) gave formal recog‐ nition to this heritage.7 Although Pound and Williams are the masters, it was probably Donald M. Allen's anthology, The New American Poets (1960), which began the current American influence on poetry throughout the Commonwealth. Although American literature is now more widely read and studied and has become part of the critical or‐ thodoxy, there is a sense in which little has changed since the nine‐ teenth century when Harte, Twain and Whitman provided revitalizing alternative models to a rather conservative British colonial literary tradition. Many of the Australian, Canadian and New Zealand writers who have been influenced by later versions of realism and the Whit‐ man tradition are literary and often political new nationalists who re‐ ject what they consider the high metropolitan culture of previous gen‐ erations. The way younger writers criticized the recent Oxford History of Australian Literature could be seen as an example of just such a gen‐ erational conflict. At least until the 1960s what we think of as the tra‐ ditions of Australian, New Zealand, Indian or Canadian literature still tended to be conservative while American literature offered up‐to‐ date techniques and styles with which to write about local society, es‐ pecially to those affected by modernization and rapid social changes. Curiously, as American literature is part of the American expansion‐ ism and yet is part of the modernizing influence, it has been acceptable to nationalists who wish to energize society, get beyond provincialism and give their country a place in the world community. American lit‐ erature has paradoxically been a part of new imperialism and yet, as it challenges the world order, a model for those seeking to write about 7

Thomas Shapcott, ed., Contemporary American and Australian Poetry (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1976), and C.K. Stead, “Wystan to Carlos: Modern and Moderinsm in Recent New Zealand Poetry,” Islands, 7 (1979), 467‐86.



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 219 their actual lives and for those wanting to participate in the main cul‐ tural events of our age. As we are still part of that change in sensibility which began in the 1960s it is too early to say whether American lit‐ erature will continue to offer the latest radically new models, but I suspect it probably will.





Chapter 17 Canadian and New Zealand Jewish Writers: A Contrast Between Mordecai Richler and Charles Brasch I will attempt to make some comparisons between New Zea‐ land and Canadian cultures by contrasting Jewish writers in the two countries. The Canadian literary scene has a significantly large portion of Jewish writers such as Eli Mandel, A.M. Klein, Irving Layton, Leon‐ ard Cohen, Mordecai Richler, etc., who appear conscious of belonging to a distinct cultural heritage. Critics, correctly or incorrectly, some‐ times distinguish such writers from other Canadian writers by saying that they bring their European cultural tradition with them. By con‐ trast, Jewish writers have not been prominent in New Zealand nor has their ethnic background been obvious. The creative writing of Morde‐ cai Richler and Charles Brasch will be contrasted to illustrate these differences that reflect two contrasting colonial pasts. Whereas Can‐ ada has been a mosaic of ethnic groups, living separately from each other without any government pressure to assimilate (in contrast to the American melting pot), New Zealand has been, at least as far as its European settlers go, a mostly homogenous society of English and Scottish origins with no larger ethnic communities. Instead of ethnic distinctiveness, the New Zealand tendency is conformity. Although the Canadian novelist Mordecai Richler (b. 1931) and the New Zealand poet, editor and patron of the arts Charles Brasch (1905–73) are of Jewish ancestry, they are divergent in terms of the role Jewishness plays in their writing, and this reflects the dif‐ ferent patterns of settlement in the two nations. The significant, tightly knit Jewish community in Montreal provides Richler’s writing with its ethnic and religious identity, whereas Brasch, brought up in a predominantly English class society of pre‐World War II New Zealand, would appear to have no particular ethnic identity in his poetry, which tends towards metaphysical and nationalist concerns. I will suggest,

221

222 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE however, that Brasch’s alienation from the mainstream of New Zea‐ land society is heightened by his family’s European Jewish cultural in‐ heritance. While it can be questioned whether the comparison of one writer with another can be more than impressionistic and suggestive, the contrast between Richler and Brasch seems representative. Brasch is the one New Zealand Jewish writer of any stature, while Richler’s family, upbringing and concerns are similar to those of other Montreal Jewish writers.1 Richler's grandfather came to Canada in 1904, becoming one “of the old Jewish ghetto of Montreal, the narrow homeland of the children of those who fled the great Russian pogroms that preceded Hitler”(Woodcock, 1971:5). Richler’s parents and grandparents were Jewish and included a rabbi and a well‐known Yid‐ dish writer. Richler attended a state school where the student body was overwhelmingly Jewish, and a rabbinical night school. He be‐ longed to a Labor Zionist Youth Movement. In 1936, his maternal grandfather bought land in Jerusalem intending that the family would immigrate. Richler’s school marks were not good enough for entrance

1



The other best‐known Canadian Jewish writers are three Montreal poets: A.M. Klein, Irving Layton and Leonard Cohen. A.M. Klein (b.1901) also is from a poor but orthodox family of Eastern European heritage. He was educated at state and Jewish parochial schools in Montreal, hoped to be‐ come a rabbi, participated in the Zionist movement and in his writing is often preoccupied with his background, the Montreal ghetto, and the French Canadians. The background of Leonard Cohen (b.1934) includes a founder of Canadian Zionism, a Montreal rabbi and a Hebrew scholar. His early poetry was influenced by A.M. Klein. Irving Layton (b.1916) was brought to Canada from Rumania when he was one year old; the poem ‘For my brother Jesus’ indicates his early life: My father had terrible words for you ‐ whoreson, bastard, meshumad; and my mother loosed Yiddish curses on your name and the devil’s spawn on their way to church that scraped the frosted horsebuns from the wintry Montreal Street to fling clattering into our passageway.



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 223 into McGill; instead he attended the then much less prestigious Sir George Williams University. In Richler’s Montreal novels, the focus is on the life of the im‐ migrant ghetto and the conflict between generations in various ethnic groups. Richler shows the moral and psychological ambiguities of the climb from poverty to the middle class and the ambivalent feelings to‐ wards the denial of the past that is necessary for a role in a larger so‐ ciety. In such novels as Son of a Smaller Hero, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and St. Urbain’s Horseman, and the short stories and ar‐ ticles in The Street and Shoveling Trouble, there is an enclosed com‐ munity in which the family remains central and which mostly extends through the neighborhood of five streets of Montreal surrounded by two larger communities, the French and English Canadians. It is a self‐ contained Jewish community; except for business, there’s minimal contact with Gentiles. Richler’s Montreal novels treat of three generations of an im‐ migrant Jewish family which fled Poland and Russia for the New World at the turn of the century and whose community within the Montreal ghetto apparently remained impoverished longer than those who went to the United States. In the late 1940s, there were still racial quotas at the universities and racial restrictions on hotels and beaches; it was not until World War II that most of the community earned a good income and it was not until 1948 that the move to the suburbs began. In his essays, Richler often writes of non‐Jewish Canadians as “the French” or “the English” and he has said that it was not until the Jewish refugees from Hitler arrived, with their superior education and often superior knowledge of the English language, that he and his friends started to regard themselves as Canadians. Although raised on American books, radio programs and movies and influenced by Amer‐ ican novelists, Richler has said that being born, raised and educated in Montreal, what else can he be but, alas, a Canadian. “I’m a Canadian; there’s nothing to be done about it.” In a sense, Richler’s Canada is part of America, distinguished by the French and by its British loyalties. While his novels have mostly

224 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE been concerned with Jewish Montreal and with Canadian expatriates in Europe, his writings are also concerned with Canada’s various com‐ munities and their relationship to each other. There is the attraction of the French Canadians, whom Richler appears to regard as similar to the Jews of his youth, largely a working class excluded from power and status. Emotionally, Richler seems to feel the French, rather than the Indians, are the natives. The moral center of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is a French Canadian woman who, while being Duddy’s lover and helper in acquiring land, is not corrupted by the desire for wealth, status and power. Unlike Duddy, she does not betray herself and others. Besides Richler’s essentially sympathetic, though external, view of the French Canadians, there are also in his writings references to and occasional portraits of the Greeks, Poles and other ethnic groups who are seen as replacing the Jews at the bottom of the social ladder and who will start to make the climb through education and commerce out of their own ghetto. Richler’s writing reflects Canada’s problems of national iden‐ tity (Sheps, 1971; Golden, 1981). In the United States, in principle if not always in practice, there has been the belief in the melting pot; education has been directed, some would say sacrificed, to such an ideal. In Canada, there has never been an attempt or even an ideal of blending the distinctive cultures and societies of the two founding na‐ tions. Such separatism was national policy and felt to be praiseworthy. The British ideal in most colonies with varied cultures and races was for separate development and non‐assimilation. The assumption was that members of any race or group would be happiest with their own kind. Needless to say, such exclusiveness in practice was a means of retaining social and economic privileges. So, in Canada, as shown in The Vertical Mosaic (Porter, 1975; Rosenburg, 1971), the policy of non‐integration essentially resulted in the perpetuation of privilege, social and economic status for those of British descent. Although the Jews are the one immigrant group disproportionately over‐repre‐ sented in education and the professions, they are outside the inter‐ locking network of elites based largely on banking, industry and polit‐



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 225 ical leadership, and surprisingly are not part of the educational estab‐ lishment. Porter says the Jewish financiers and businessmen are a mi‐ nor elite, outside the power establishment. Richler’s writing reflects a Canada that, at least until recently, has been largely fragmented between languages, regions and varied ethnic groups, with no overriding ideas of integration and apparently lacking opportunity for social mobility and assimilation. The Jews of Montreal, an English‐speaking minority within a French Catholic ma‐ jority, but cut off from the English Protestant elite, can be said to typify the problems of Canadian society. Richler’s writing is focused on the moment just before the Montreal Jews moved from their working‐class ghettos into the afflu‐ ent suburbs. Richler is nostalgic for the rabbinical learning, com‐ munist members of Parliament, street gangs, candy stores and pool parlors of the ghetto, but from about 1948 onwards that particular sub‐culture has itself dispersed. Instead of restrictive signs on beaches, the children of those in the novels now have swimming pools and worry about Quebec nationalism. It is the marginality of the Jewish sub‐culture to Canada that has led to its creativity and subsequently to Jewish writers like Richler becoming, for some critics, representative of Canadian culture as a whole. In a fragmented nation, itself caught between British, French and American ties, an outside group in the process of acculturation and assimilation, while remaining for historical or local reasons alien‐ ated, is likely to articulate most clearly the various conflicts felt by the founding nations: If the Main was a poor man’s street, it was also a di‐ viding line. Below, the French Canadians. Above, some dis‐ tance above, the dreaded WASPS. On the Main itself there were some Italians, Yugoslavs and Ukrainians, but they did not count as true Gentiles. Even the French Canadians, who were our enemies, were not entirely unloved. Like us, they were poor and coarse with large families and spoke English badly.

226 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Looking back, it’s easy to see that the real trouble was there was no dialogue between us and the French Cana‐ dians, each elbowing the other, striving for WASP ac‐ ceptance (Richler, 1968: 55‐6). Richler has written of the Canadian Jews as British subjects, governed by Ottawa, but whose true capital was New York and who turned to the Jewish American culture of Danny Kaye, Catskill hotels, Florida and Jewish soap operas. In America, there was a Jew in the Su‐ preme Court. The often bewildering mixture of satire, caricature, nostalgia, documentary, impressionism, compassion and moral concern in Rich‐ ler’s novels is a reflection of his situation and context. Alienated from French, English, American, traditional Jewish and modern assimila‐ tionist Jewish society, Richler is the outsider who is representative of Canada. A professional writer who has constantly mocked the avant garde as pretentious, his skepticism and alienation result in highly stylized works in which realism and documentary are interrupted by fantasy, parody and satire. The effect of discontinuity is to make Rich‐ ler, probably despite himself, a modern writer. While there were a few early New Zealand Jewish novelists such as Benjamin Leopold Farjeon and Julius Vogel, the only signifi‐ cant writer is Charles Brasch, a poet, patron of the arts and founder and for twenty years (1947‐66) editor of Landfall, perhaps the most influential journal in the development of New Zealand literature and culture. The lack of New Zealand Jewish writers is a reflection of long‐ standing national policy towards immigration. The largest proportion of Jews in New Zealand occurred in the 1860s when the increase in population and opportunities created by the gold rush attracted Jew‐ ish merchants and traders from Germany, England and Australia. That was the period in which such men as Farjeon and Vogel played an im‐ portant role in journalism and politics and was the foundation of the older Jewish‐New Zealand families, including the Hallensteins, to which Brasch is related. Since then, elaborate efforts have been made

IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 227 to prevent immigration of Jewish refugees, first from Russian perse‐ cution and then from Nazi Germany and from post‐World War II Eu‐ rope. Even Jews of British origin were refused entry (Goldman, 1958; Collins, 1971). One consequence of the small number of Jewish immi‐ grants is that there is no specific community of Jewish settlers. Jews have rapidly acculturated to the dominant British values of New Zea‐ land and assimilated through intermarriage. This reflects the basic homogeneity of New Zealand society with its self‐consciously British origins. Unlike Australia, there is in New Zealand no large Irish Catholic community, opposed to the Eng‐ lish, nor any long‐standing radical nationalist movement tracing its roots to transported convicts or a strong labor movement. Only since the Maoris have started moving to the cities in recent decades, has there been any articulate ethnic awareness. Brasch, born in Dunedin, is representative of the New Zealand patterns of Anglicanization and assimilation. The Hallenstein family left Germany for England, the United States and then, in the 1850s, for Australia, where Brasch’s grandfather married an English woman and moved to New Zealand as a merchant during the gold rush. By 1905, the family had stopped going to synagogue; although both of Brasch’s parents were of Jewish descent, they practiced no faith. Rather than in an immigrant ghetto, Brasch was raised in a rich, comfortable, culti‐ vated family and was first educated at Anglican and Presbyterian schools before being sent to the prestigious Waitaki Boys’ High School, the ‘Rugby of the South Seas’, and then Oxford (Bertram, 1976; Brasch, 1980). The New Zealand equivalent of the Australian radical nation‐ alists is perhaps represented by the group of writers associated with the short‐lived but highly influential journal Phoenix, published in Auckland in 1932. Brasch’s poetry appeared in Phoenix along with that of Allen Curnow and R.A.K. Mason, and was later included in Allen Curnow’s influential A Book of New Zealand Verse 1932‐1945.2

2

For commentary on Brasch’s poetry, see James Bertram, Charles Brasch, New Zealand Writers and Their Work, Wellington: Oxford University



228 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Whereas many colonial writers had gone to England seeking the roots of their culture and then, after discovering they were not British, re‐ turned home soon to become nationalists, Brasch seemed to take root in England and Europe. A countryman remembers him in 1937 as “Charles of the super‐culture, an educated sensitive sold on the idea of art … sewn up by colonial rectitude and the ideas of liberal culture of Oxford in the 20s” (Crockett, 1973:242). Whereas Richler has rec‐ orded that sipping sherry with E.M. Forster at Cambridge left him with an intensified sense of being an American writer, Brasch’s introduc‐ tion to Oxford was under the guidance of his cousin and friend, the famous scholar Esmond de Beer. Except for short trips to New Zea‐ land, he remained in Europe from 1927 until 1945, when he returned to found Landfall in 1947. Its policy might be described as national‐ istic but elite. It was, under Brasch’s editorship, characterized by dis‐ criminating taste, support of the arts in New Zealand and the inclusion of essays on local and social matters. While living in England, Brasch had begun to identify with New Zealand. His first book of poems, The Land and the People, was published in Christchurch and the four title poems treat, as Vincent O’Sullivan has said, of an uneasy people on a strange coast: “What have any of us learned / Of the place except its obvious look?”(Brasch, 1939:13). Raised without any sense of faith or community, Brasch’s instincts were to identify with family, friends and places. From his mother’s side of the family, he retained an interest in modern Jewish thought as represented by Martin Buber and Simone Weil; but this is reflected in a very few of his poems, such as ‘Bred in the Bone’, where he writes of his ancestors’ knowledge of God “Not by choice but by inheritance.” By contrast he is free, “Living as if you did not exist”, “I Press, 1976; Joost Daalder, “ ‘Disputed Ground” in the Poetry of Charles Brasch, Landfall 103 (September 1972), 247‐54; Vincent O’Sullivan, “ ‘Brief Permitted Morning”―Notes on the Poetry of Charles Brasch’, Land‐ fall 92 (December 1969), 338‐53; Ian Wedde, ‘Captivating Invitation: Get‐ ting on to Charles Brasch’s “Home Ground”’, Islands 13 (Spring 1975), 315‐27;C.K. Stead, ‘Charles Brasch: A Lack of Umbrells’, In the Glass Case, Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1981, 184‐8.



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 229 pretend to no creed or party”. In the third part of the poem, he writes, “The Songs of Zion are sung on every coast … These are the Songs of Zion / Sung in every estranged land” (1964: 45‐7). His sense of es‐ trangement from religion and New Zealand merges with philosophical ideas. Like many other writers of our age of non‐belief, he tried to find comfort in establishing a relationship between himself and the processes of the natural world. Although it was no longer possible to believe in God, “the powers we worshipped under his name remain and are as potent as always” (1939:13) Feeling life as dark, void, soli‐ tary, he desired unity: Only in the wash of time Identifying, as the sea Isolates, can earth and man Into understanding grow And to common instinct come. (1939:23) Brasch meditated on nature, hoping somehow to become one with the organic but changing processes of the physical world. He pro‐ jected his anxieties upon New Zealand’s landscape, seeking in it a world of which he was symbolically part, in contrast to the national society which he found, generally speaking, raw, uncultured, ignorant, without any sense of the past, future, or purpose. He could be said to be one of those who created a New Zealand cultural identity by ques‐ tioning it and in the process raising consciousness: “Waiting for our songs, the woods are still, / The stones are bare for us to write upon” (1948:14). Nationalism, metaphysical concerns and perhaps the iso‐ lation of a cultured, Anglicised, European consciousness come to‐ gether in his poetry which treats, as M.H Holcroft (1943) said, of “the need to make a home for the mind as well as for the body in a land which so far has failed to advance beyond the status of a spiritual col‐ ony.” Brasch’s achievement, like Richler’s, reflects his marginality. Rejecting his father’s commercial and social interests and life in New



230 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Zealand, his life until his late thirties reveals no sense of direction be‐ yond a general interest in culture, from his mother’s side of the family which had retained its European ties and involvement with the arts and scholarship. Widely read in foreign literatures, he still remained within the British poetic tradition. While he was one of those who brought New Zealand poetry up‐to‐date, purging it of its sentimental‐ ities, simple affirmations and Victorian colonial clichés, he made it contemporary in style and manner rather than radically modern. It would, however, be too easy to dismiss Brasch as a New Zealand ver‐ sion of the English man of letters, patron, editor, and acceptable if un‐ exciting poet. Bertram (in Brasch, 1980:xiii) claims that Brasch prob‐ ably made a greater contribution than any other single man to New Zealand’s flourishing period of activity in the arts. Brasch’s involve‐ ment with Phoenix and his desire to use Landfall as a means to sup‐ port, and even create, a New Zealand culture, suggest his elite, cul‐ tured version of nationalism gave him a sense of purpose, a sense which brought him more into the national life and helped somewhat overcome his sense of isolation. Often in his verse the personal, na‐ tional and metaphysical appear to merge: It is time to replant the seed of life At this rich boundary where it first sprang, For you are water and earth, Creatures of the shore, disputed ground (1948: 55). Brasch attempted to turn the process of living, creating and experiencing into an art of consolation: “Shaping … an order sought by the imagination, / A precinct of green and calm” (1957:10). Richler and Brasch offer a representative contrast between Canadian and New Zealand writers and the place of ethnic groups in the two nations. Richler’s subject matter is urban and ethnic and his writings, whether fictional or essays, are densely populated with a va‐ riety of strongly profiled characters. Brasch’s subject matter tends to‐ wards the abstractly metaphysical, is often set in a rural landscape and appears isolated, populated at most by a few friends. Although

IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 231 Richler works within traditional forms, he breaks novelistic conven‐ tion through allusions, parody, farce and exaggeration, with the result that his fiction hovers between realism, comedy, satire and fantasy. By contrast, Brasch was influenced by international modernism, but his verse is within a conservative British tradition. Richler uses English as spoken language, moving rapidly between various registers, mixing Yiddish and French words with American slang and broken immigrant English. His diction is concrete. Brasch’s diction is abstract, latinate, generalized. He writes English precisely, economically, almost grudg‐ ingly, with an unfortunate reliance on ready‐made summarizing phrases. His style reflects being an editor and perhaps his years as a British bureaucrat. Sociologically, Richler reflects an immigrant community that has just broken out of its ghetto and which looks back on the recent past with pride and shame, but which is also aware that it is not within the mainstream of the society. It still views itself as part of a larger English‐speaking Jewish community that was to a large extent created by the mass movements of population when Jews fled the pogroms in Eastern Europe at the turn of the century. In contrast to Canada, the United States and even England, New Zealand resisted taking in such immigrants. Brasch’s family was part of the mid‐nineteenth century movement of Jews from Germany that accompanied the German Jew‐ ish Enlightenment, with its rationalism, modernization and assimila‐ tion. While Brasch’s sense of alienation may be variously explained, it was probably intensified by the difference between the rich European Jewish culture of his mother’s family and the New Zealand ideals of sports and clubmanship to which his father aspired. Psychologically, Brasch felt foreign to the culture of New Zealand, tried to settle in Eng‐ land, and only in early middle age returned to play a significant role in the development of the arts in New Zealand. He attempted to create a culture to which he could belong. His creative work, however, still ap‐ pears distant, alienated, a record of a struggle to make contact. Rich‐ ler, by contrast, whether living in London or Canada, remains wise‐ cracking, cynical, skeptical, alienated and very much part of Canada.



232 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE References Bertram, James 1976 Charles Brasch, New Zealand Writers and Their Work, Welling‐ ton: Oxford University Press. Brasch, Charles 1939 The Land and the People, Christchurch: Caxton Press. 1948 Disputed Ground, poems 1939‐45, Christchurch: Caxton Press. 1957 The Estate and other poems, Christchurch: Caxton Press. 1964 Ambulando, Christchurch: Caxton Press. 1969 Not Far Off, Christchurch: Caxton Press. 1973 ‘One January’, Islands, Vol.2 (Spring): 256. 1974 Home Ground, Christchurch: Caxton Press. 1980 Indirections: A Memoir 1909‐1947, Wellington: Oxford Univer‐ sity Press. Collins, Patricia R. 1971 The Jewish Community in New Zealand. Palmerston North: Mas‐ sey University Geography MA thesis. Crockett, John 1973 ‘Charles Brasch’, Islands, Vol. 2 (Spring): 242. Golden, Daniel 1981 ‘Mystical Musings and Comic Confrontations: The fiction of Saul Bellow and Mordecai Richler’, Essays on Canadian Fiction, No. 22 (Summer): 62‐85. Goldman, Lazarus Morris 1958 The History of the Jews in New Zealand, Wellington: A.H. and A.W. Reed.



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 233 Holcroft, M.H. 1943 The Waiting Hills, Wellington: The Progressive Publishing Soci‐ ety. Porter, John 1965 The Vertical Mosaic: An Analysis of Social Class and Power in Can‐ ada, Toronto. Richler, Mordecai 1954 The Acrobats, London: Andre Deutsch. 1955 Son of a Smaller Hero, London: Andre Deutsch. 1957 A Choice of Enemies, London: Andre Deutsch. 1959 The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, London and Toronto: An‐ dre Deutsch. 1963 The Incomparable Atuk, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. 1968 Cocksure, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. 1968 Hunting Tigers Under Glass, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. 1969 The Street, Washington DC: New Republic Book Company. 1971 St. Urbain’s Horseman, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. 1971 Shoveling Trouble, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. Rosenburg, Rabbi Stuart 1971 The Jewish Community in Canada, Toronto: McClelland and Stew‐ art, 2 vols. Sheps, G. David (ed.) 1971 Mordecai Richler: Critical Views on Canadian Writers, Toronto: Ryerson Press. Woodcock, George 1971 Mordecai Richler, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.





Chapter 18 A.D. Hope and Australian Poetry At a bookshop famous for poetry readings and support of con‐ temporary literature I recently inquired what Australian poetry was in stock. The reply, “Is there any?”, might have been justified in the past; now it is provincial. While it is doubtful whether any Australian poets before the 1940s are of more than national interest, recent Aus‐ tralian poetry includes some of the most readable verse of the past decades and, in A.D. Hope and Judith Wright, two authors of interna‐ tional stature. If this fact has not been widely recognized it is because the development is comparatively new and the reputations of poets do not easily cross national boundaries. I believe Hope to be a major poet, perhaps the best writing in English during the third quarter of this century. Although Australia was settled only after the American War Of Independence, by the mid‐nineteenth century it had its share of late Augustan and romantic imitators, the latter of whom initiated the long process of accommodating English verse to the un‐European flora and fauna of the continent. Towards the end of the nineteenth century Australia became the Promised Land of the English working class and its literary expression was the ballad, proclaiming mateship. Although folk‐art poetry was part of an international fashion of the time, its democratic sentiments and form became established for many read‐ ers as the quintessence of Australianism in contrast to English social distinctions, snobbery, formality, and high culture. While the urban la‐ bor movement was balladizing the frontiers and deserts as the land of mateship, Australia found itself with Christopher Brennan (1870‐ 1932), a poet of decidedly European genius whom until recently it did its best to ignore. But even if Brennan had not run against the national grain it would have been difficult for most English‐speaking societies to have known what to do with him. A skilled linguist in classical and many modern languages, a correspondent of Mallarmé, Brennan tried to write a long hermetical symbolist masterpiece on a scale and of an 235

236 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE orphic nature uncommon in the Anglo‐Saxon world. He almost suc‐ ceeded: he had the learning, the poetic theory, the familiarity with the relevant tradition, and possibly even the authentic vision. But he failed because his verse is clumsy and his diction archaic, an artificial con‐ struct lacking the ease of a national speech or the accuracy and refine‐ ment which result from polishing an existing or developing literary style. Influenced by French and German symbolist language, he mis‐ judged the idiom of visionary poetry in English. Brennan is representative of problems that can still be seen in Australian poetry. European avant‐garde movements simplified in the English colonies as theory became divorced from expression. The best Australian poetry has been conservative in form and language, achieving an up‐to‐date middle‐of‐the‐roadness, while supposedly ex‐ perimental verse has usually been provincial, imitative, and behind the times. Where the vernacular has populist, even comic associations, and where British English seems schooled, foreign, and fancy, the poet has difficulty creating a new diction and probably does best to take the middle path. Brennan’s contemporary John Shaw Neilson (1872‐1942), an uneducated casual laborer, supposedly read little but somehow ab‐ sorbed enough acquaintance with poetry to write some good verse. The oral songlike quality is shown in the delicate rhythms and sur‐ prising line lengths that are particular to the best poems. There is little explicit thought, and in their elliptical abruptness the songs have the best qualities of Irish and English symbolist lyrics, although their dic‐ tion and images are rather those of earlier folk poetry than those of decadence. Hugh McCrae (1876–1958), with his trellises, columbines, harlequins, Daphnes, centaurs, and satyrs, tried to bring a bacchana‐ lian freedom to Australian verse. The poems are a mixture of late Par‐ nassian and Georgian attitudes, but McCrae’s delight in rhymes and other sound effects contributed to the growing mood of liberation and hedonism which, in reaction to the ballad, was a necessary stage to‐ wards becoming modern.



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 237 Australia soon showed signs of producing poets of more than national interest. Kenneth Slessor began in the hedonism and disillu‐ sionment of the 1920s. His ironic sense of humor brought an urban critical attitude to Australian myths. “Five Visions of Captain Cook” (1929) influenced later historical narrative with its shift in perspec‐ tive and wry relationship to the ballad tradition. Slessor is not exactly a modern poet: as with many other twentieth‐century Australians he has more in common with Browning than with Eliot or Auden. And often there is a playfulness which shows he began in the same artistic circles as McCrae. In contrast to such buffoonery are the impressive opening stanzas of “Five Bells” (1939): Time that is moved by little fidget wheels Is not my Time, the flood that does not flow. Between the double and the single bell Of a ship’s hour, between a round of bells From the dark warship riding there below, I have lived many lives, and this one life Of Joe, long dead, who lives between five bells. Deep and dissolving verticals of light Ferry the falls of moonshine down. Five bells Coldly run out in a machine’s voice. Night and water Pour to one rip of darkness, the Harbor floats In air, the Cross hangs upside‐down in water. This is good but as the poem continues the staginess, ballad tags, and reliance on melodrama leave one wishing for something purer and more modern. It is impossible to imagine a tradition build‐ ing upon such a model. A contemporary of Slessor, Robert FitzGerald, who began publishing the 1920s, does not readily fit into any sum‐ mary. A writer of close‐knit, philosophical, ungainly verse, he has a high Victorian sobriety in which song is neglected for thought. Para‐ doxically there is an anti‐intellectual belief in action that surprisingly turns up in other writers as a result of the pioneer tradition from the

238 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE continuing influence of Nietzsche on Australian thought. As in Brown‐ ing, the meaning sometimes is obscure, but it results in striking im‐ ages. Opinion of FitzGerald varies from his being no poet to his being a major writer. I prefer some of the later angular, worried lyrics, such as “Edge”: Knife’s edge, moon’s edge, water’s edge, graze the throat of the formed shaped that sense fills where shape vanishes: air at the ground limit of steel, the thin disc in the moon’s curve, Land gliding out of no land. Such was the state of poetry going into the 1940s when A.D. Hope, James McAuley, and a few others began a conscious reform of Australian verse, attempting to cure it of provincialism, nationalism, and petty bohemianism. Whereas others sought Australianism in landscape or mateship or by foreign words and myths from the abo‐ rigines, Hope and McAuley insisted on reintegration of the cultural im‐ agination to European intellectual tradition. Their prescription was largely neoclassical: the study of literature, and awareness of tradi‐ tion, imitation, the mastery of genres, stanzaic forms, rhyme, and me‐ ter. Equally important was the achievement of an intelligent, edu‐ cated, active personal voice that had the weight of the European tra‐ dition behind it. Auden, Rilke, Dryden, and Samuel Johnson were among the models. The style was new: it brought contemporary intel‐ lectual energies to Australian poetry, soon was labeled academic be‐ cause Hope and McAuley taught literature, and increasingly set stand‐ ards of craft and accomplishment that others had to meet. Their neoformalism, respect for classic literary genres, and distrust of mod‐ ern mass society resulted in what has increasingly come to seem an Australian style, conservative on the surface, romantic underneath, nostalgic, discursive, yet in many poets tending towards mysticism or a private vision.



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 239 The characteristics of Hope’s style developed early: many po‐ ems speak of sexual obsessions and anxieties through nightmarish surrealistic descriptions expressed in precise, highly formalized verse. What begins as ironical mocking narrative shifts to a libido’s‐ eye view of reality, suddenly distanced and analyzed by the alert con‐ sciousness of a narrator. While the poems celebrate energy, desire, and the uncompromised, the concluding note is often dramatic laugh‐ ter towards those who have created their own hell. If the absurd re‐ flects the lack of relationship between kinds of experience, these early poems, despite their highly formalized structure and tone, appear ex‐ amples of the absurd. Strong, passionate, undisciplined feelings are observed by a skeptical intelligence also scornful of social fears and adjustment: “The little brick cottage, the ration of lawn in front.” While Hope at times sounds similar to Auden, viewing the world as a parody of the city of God corrupted equally by sentiment, lust, pride, conformity, and ideals, many poems are more violent, en‐ ergetic, and unwilling to imply revolutions: “Make no mistake; there will be no forgiveness; / No voice can harm you and no hand will save.” Contemporary ideas are ruthlessly mocked by an intelligence shaped by such ideas. Hope appears part of what he scorns. In “The Return from the Freudian Islands” the contrasts between the rational narra‐ tor’s satiric voice, his overabundant intellectual energy, its hallucina‐ tory wit, and his fantasy are disconcerting; the opposition between authority and chaos seems unreal when the mind and imagination are engaged so intensely: Till some discovered that stripped to the buff Only exposed the symbol of The Hide: Its sinister pun unmasked, it must come off, The saint must preach The visible Inside! The saint, though somewhat startled at this view,



240 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Trapped by the logic of his gospel, spent Some time in prayer, and in a week or two, To demonstrate the new experiment, Breastless and bald, with ribbed arms, lashless eyes, In intricate bandages of human meat, With delicate ripple and bulge of muscled thighs, The first skinned girl walked primly down the street. The greatness of the early poems results from the mental vigor, satiric invention, mastery of the colloquial, compact expression of ideas, range of illusion, and precision of language: “A common skin disease they had called love”; “Full loaded with its contraceptive hate”; “Detachment’s abstract rose.” Even lines of plain statement sing: the natural syntax, variations on ready‐made phrases, and ease of direct formal address create verse which is functional while being melodic. There is a facility in constructing phrases that comes from mastering the iambic pentameter, and which is less easily available to those who practice irregular styles. Many poems are examples of virtuoso wit. Ovid is one of Hope’s models. In “The Elegy”, humorous imitation of Donne’s Ovidianism, erotic activity take second place to desire for nourishment after the exhaustion of extended amorous play. Hope is also excellent in imagining concrete situations that act as metaphors for the intellectual and emotional: drama and event develop the comparison which has both a narrative and argumenta‐ tive structure. In “The Wandering Islands,” the title poem of his first volume, the opening analogy is logically developed as an extended al‐ legory until the concluding events round off the logical structure: You cannot build bridges between the wandering is‐ lands; The Mind has no neighbours, and the unteachable heart Announces its armistice time after time, but spends Its love to draw them closer and closer apart …

IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 241 And then, in the crash of ruined cliffs, the smother And swirl of foam, the wandering islands part. But all that one mind ever knows of another, Or breaks the long isolation of the heart, Was in that instant. The shipwrecked sailor senses His own despair in a retreating face. Around him he hears in the huge monotonous voices Of wave and wind: “The Rescue will not take place.” There is no marriage of true minds, only wandering, un‐ bridgeable islands, isolated, driven by desire, guilty of sin, without means of salvation. Hope’s imagination is passionate, yet complicated by a wry mixture of skepticism, guilt and content. This can produce the sensuality, mockery, and terror of “Imperial Adam”: The pawpaw drooped its golden breasts above Less generous than the honey of her flesh; The innocent sunlight showed the place of love; The dew on its dark hairs winked crisp and fresh. This plump gourd severed from his virile root, She promised on the turf of Paradise Delicious pulp of the forbidden fruit; Sly as the snake she loosed her sinuous thighs, … Then from the spurt of seed within her broke Her terrible and triumphant female cry, Split upward by the sexual lightning stroke. It was the beasts now who stood watching by … And saw its water break, and saw, in fear, Its quaking muscles in the act of birth, Between her legs a pigmy face appear, And the first murderer lay upon the earth.

242 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Of the early poems “Australia” is best known. While its quick quickly shifting ironies are typical, it is not representative of Hope’s cruel vision of sexual obsession, which originally gave him the repu‐ tation of being lost in a Freudian underworld and which delayed pub‐ lication of his first book. “Australia,” despite its many ironies, could be seen as boasting the national image and indeed first appeared in one of the many literary journals of the time which intended to promote local culture. Hope inverts stereotypes: “They call her a young coun‐ try, but they lie: / she is the last of lands, the emptiest.” He then turns to the cities “where second‐hand Europeans pullulate/Timidly on the edge of alien shores.” The final reversal, with its ironic echo of Yeats’s “Second Coming”, suddenly lashes out at the spiritual confusion of Eu‐ rope, finding in the barrenness of Australia possibilities that have been lost by the sophisticated: Yet there are some like me turn gladly home From the lush jungle of modern thought, to find The Arabian desert of the human mind, Hoping, if still from the deserts the prophets come, Such savage and scarlet as no green hills dare Springs in that waste, some spirit which escapes The learned doubt, the chatter of cultured apes Which is called civilization over there. While the Dionysian is the source of creativity and achieve‐ ment, the problem is how to integrate passion, destructive of commu‐ nity, with some larger purpose or order. The sense of absurdity no‐ ticeable in the earliest poems exists alongside an evolving complex vi‐ sion of interrelationships among imagination, will, passion, history, legend, and the natural world. “Standardization,” often regarded as a satire on modern clichés, is an early statement of the organic process upon which Hope will build a mythology. The Earth



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 243 cannot recall how long ago she chose The streamlined hulls of fish, the snail’s long eyes, Love, which still pours into its ancient mould The lashing seed that grows to a man again, From whom by the same processes unfold Unending generations of living men. Many of his poems assume that the artist must re‐create man’s consciousness of the natural order embodied in myth but lost to modern culture. “An Epistle from Holofernes,” despite the use of a persona, is one of the few works in which Hope explicitly shows the relationship of myth to the artist and lover as heroes of the modern world. While myth was the basis of ritual in the past, it can no longer free us from fear; but those who live intensely will re‐integrate man to tradition and the universe: Yet myth has other uses: it confirms The heart’s conjectures and approves its terms Against the servile speech of compromise, Habit which blinds, custom which overlies And masks us from ourself―the myths de ine Our figure and motion in the Great Design, Cancel the accidents of name and place, Set the fact naked against naked space, And speak to us the truth of what we are… Yet the myths will not fit us ready made. It is the meaning of the poet’s trade To re‐create the fables and revive In men the energies by which they live, To reap the ancient harvests, plant again And gather in the visionary grain, And to transform the same unchanging seed Into the gospel‐bread on which they feed…

244 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Our wills must re‐imagine what they act And in ourselves find what the fable lacked. The myths indeed the Logos may impart, But verbum caro factum is our part. I think Hope’s early work is that of a major poet who in a more influential literary society would have shaped the sensibility of the pe‐ riod. The need to express and control feelings of isolation and chaos resulted in a powerful style marked by fertility of imagination. Some of the long later poems are more impressive works of art in their de‐ sign and finish and are probably his greatest achievements, but the early tension has been resolved and at times replaced with declama‐ tion. There is also a change in the idea of poetry from the voice of the rebel to that of a public figure: the narrative tends towards the di‐ dactic, and there is less selection and economy. But if the art has be‐ come conservative, the values are more radical. The hero, earlier the subject of irony, participates in a cosmic process by defying social compromises and asserting his will and passion. In “Paradise Saved” (another version of the Fall) Adam refuses the Apple and “lived on im‐ mortal, young, with virtue crowned, / Sterile and impotent and justi‐ fied.” Hope can still be disturbing and witty, as in “Agony Column”: Sir George and Lady Cepheus of Upper Slaughter Desire to announce to family and friends That the death has been arranged of their only daughter Andromeda, aged twenty―Sir George intends To avoid undesirable pomp and ostentation … As the victim is to be chained wearing only her skin, The volunteer armorers will be blinded at once. On the following morning her lovers and next‐of‐kin May assist in gathering any remaining bones.



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 245 But fewer poems have the frenzied imaginings, controlled by contrasting intellect and will, found in the earlier works. “A Letter from Rome,” written in 1958, appears a turning point. The mockery is comfortable; conservation and environment have become the equivalent of the Great Tradition: Italia, O Italia, still in fetters, Though risen at last, restored, united, free I too shall bring you from the world of letters One more lament, though it is not for me Perhaps to try to emulate my betters. The tragic theme, the bough of prophecy I leave to Dante, Ariosto, Byron Whose ages range from gold to brass to iron. But mine’s the age of plastics and alloys Which bring combustion engines in their train To fill with hideous and inhuman noise All your once pleasant cities of the plain. It is the curse of Hell that it destroys Good of the intellect; the heat, the pain, The darkness and the terror and the thirst, Are damnable, but not damnation’s worst. While the slackness can be explained by convention, another explanation would be the replacing of the psychological lyric with public address. As many poets have recently wished for a return to narrative, responsibility, and a public voice, as a means of reintegrat‐ ing the fragmented society from which the symbolist lyric developed, it is instructive to look at Hope's problems in this mode. “Moschus Moschiferus: A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day” does not praise music or St. Cecilia, but tells of the misuse of music in Tibet to capture deer.



246 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE A hundred thousand or so are killed each year; Cause and effect are very simply linked: Rich scents demand the musk, and so the deer, Its source, must soon, they say, become extinct. Many of the later poems are similar in their conventional pro‐ test. Without an accepted cosmic hierarchy linking myth to society, public address and narrative linearity are likely to result in less pro‐ fanity and imagination than the lyric which treats of private emotions. By contrast “Soledades of the Sun and the Moon,” dedicated to the fine Canadian poet P.K. Page, has the strong beauty of deeply imagined fig‐ urative verse; it is an elaborate and convincing display of thinking through mythic symbols. Combining the qualities of Robert Graves’ best poems with the subtleties of the ode, its eleven‐line stanzas are controlled in form while appearing free. Even its discursive conclud‐ ing stanzas are richly figured: Accept the incantation of this verse; Read its plain words; divine the secret message By which the dance itself reveals a notion That moves our universe. In the star rising or the lost leaf falling The life of poetry, this enchanted motion, Perpetually recurs. In “Advice to a Poet” Hope prescribes showing “the images common sense denied”: “let them see/…/Man in freefall…/But never forget the garden.” If I understand correctly it is also a Fortunate Fall, Original Sin being the creative principle. Hope’s radically agnostic Protestant mind imagines a Supreme Fiction from tradition, joy, and guilt. The late poems increasingly draw upon the Renaissance for ideas to assert an organic order of which our passions are images. In the tour de force imitation of seventeenth‐century metaphysical verse, “An Epistle: Edward Sackville to Venetia Digby”:

IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 247 The heart resolves its chaos then, the soul Lucidly contemplates the whole Just order of the random world; and through That dance she moves, and dances too. Of the longer late poems “Vivaldi, Bird and Angel” is perhaps best. The telling of a novel in verse works here because the narrative is compressed and full. As in the best of Browning, the verse is packed with interesting details, psychology, events, thought, and characters. The rhymed couplet contributes towards economy of statement and provides a formal lift to the narrative, while the continual variation of phrase and syntax, enjambment and closure, in relation to the verse line, creates musicality and continuity. The theme, the role of music within the universal harmony, is a reinterpretation of Renaissance be‐ lief and is consistent with Hope’s desire to create images of a vision lost to the modern world―the “great polyphony” of love. The analo‐ gies between love, creativity, art, and divine order are convincing be‐ cause human experience is treated as distinctive yet representative within the Great Chain of Being. Although there are many fine details, “Vivaldi, Bird and An‐ gel” is most impressive in its larger effects. Intensely imagined details suggest fragmentation; subordination of the part to the whole is ap‐ propriate to a vision of universal harmony. While remaining stylisti‐ cally consistent each section of the poem, as for example the humor‐ ous monologue of the bird concerning mankind, has its particularities of tone and rhythm: So clumsy, so gross, so awkward and so slow, For hours they lurch and straddle to and fro, For hours they grunt and splutter, I watch them there Dull grovelers at the bottom of the air; Yet, pointless, aimless creatures though they seem, They live, they may be happy; perhaps they dream And the dream helps them live, however absurd, A swift, bright, effortless dream of being a bird!

248 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE A Late Picking consists of poems written by Hope between 1965 and 1974. The range of themes, the rapidly shifting decorums, the ability to speak precisely, powerfully, but with ease, are impres‐ sive; there are few, if any, poets now writing with such mastery that formal techniques appear a direct expression of personality. Polysyl‐ labic words, unexpected rhythms, and striking phrases seem integral to the forward movement of the lines. But perhaps there is so much mastery that the performances often appear more striking than the content. Many of the poems, especially those fusing recent scientific concepts with older metaphysical ideas, give the impression of play‐ fulness and lack of seriousness. Delight in the unexpected behavior of subatomic particles is a new accretion to Hope’s mythology. It is sig‐ nificant that the showpiece, “The Countess of Pembroke's Dream”, which has some great stanzas, returns to the ambiguities of the human condition found in Hope’s earlier works: Each in the other searching for response, Each in the other’s joy finding its clue, Each in its rising ecstasy at once Finding the answer of what next to do. And each in love and gratitude conspires To mount the other’s ladder of desires.

All questions there are answered without speech; New questions smile, assured of their reply, As pace for pace they move, and mount, and reach The pause, the threshold of the ecstasy. But there each finds himself, herself, alone, A silent moment on the silent throne.

And each perceives the last, the bare surprise: A human mask, a face not seen before; A stranger’s blank stare from a stranger’s eyes, The impersonal, timeless creature at the core Of every nature, a secret spirit within Looks out as the great throbbing waves begin.



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 249 The claim at the poem’s conclusion that such emotions are part of a universal process, and the foundations of mythology, is less convincing. As with Dryden, a writer whom Hope resembles, skeptical intelligence and nostalgia for tradition produce greater art than the assertion of harmony and purpose. There is an essay on the Anne Kil‐ ligrew ode in The Cave and the Spring that I consider among the best studies of Dryden. Hope comments on the modulations of tone in the ode, which invites skepticism toward the subject of the poem while invoking cultural ideals. There is a similar range of voices in his own work that at its best fuses realistic judgment with the celebration of a higher order. Although Native Companions includes excellent essays on Neilson, Brennan, McAuley, and several important Australian novel‐ ists―including Henry Handel Richardson and Martin Boyd, two re‐ markable writers who should be better known―the main interest is less in evaluation and interpretation than in Hope’s sensitivity to‐ wards the problem of creativity in a colony and new nation. I will men‐ tion one idea that challenges the conventional view that new national literatures will develop distinct identities and traditions. Hope sug‐ gests that a colonial literature has three stages. At first the writers feel an exiled part of the mother culture; this is followed by a provincial‐ ism that includes both nationalistic affirmations and pathetic at‐ tempts to keep up with the avant‐garde. The third stage occurs when writers of ability reintegrate the national literature into the culture of the English‐speaking world. As with most good literary criticism this contains a mixture of insight and polemic. It could be said that Hope’s writing is an attempt to overcome isolation through “reintegration,” personally, mythically, and culturally. Perhaps the best introduction to James McAuley’s Collected Poems: 1936–1970 is a commentary on himself and contemporaries in his A Map of Australian Poetry, an extremely useful critical introduc‐ tion and historical anthology to which I am often indebted. McAuley’s earliest concern was with historical and cultural crisis: the poems in Under Aldebaran (1947) are traditional in verse form but filled with modern tension, wit, unusual imagery, and dissatisfaction. Despite the

250 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE modernity of mood there is a conservative nostalgia; many problems show a civilization that has lost its coherence, order, and justice. By the time of A Vision of Ceremony (1956) the writing has a Christian basis and the poems are more serene, resolved, clarified. In The End of Modernity (1959) McAuley argues that the ideas of traditional religion are fundamental for great art and literature. They nourish the culture. Subtlety, complexity, and balance are on the side of tradition which allows an interplay between metrical expectation and actual sound, whereas free verse sacrifices all advantages. An interest in narrative and the early explorers, stimulated by Patrick White’s novel Voss, resulted in Captain Quiros (1964), a poem for reading aloud written defiantly in opposition to the modernist im‐ agist lyric. The vision is, like the classical and Renaissance epics, na‐ tionalistic, prophetic, and sacramental. Captain Quiros’s quest is reli‐ gious; although a failure, he prophesies the future discovery and set‐ tlement of Australia by the English and Dutch. The concluding apoca‐ lyptic vision of a world without faith or tradition ruled by Anti‐Christ is a disturbing fulfillment of the secular: “the rain of innocence, which everywhere/shall be installed with him for me and blood.” But it is also implied that Australia might be the new Jerusalem. McAuley’s Or‐ thodox Christian poems, filled with divine light, are disturbing. De‐ spite their humility and quiet assurance they leave an impression of the poet’s being dissatisfied with the world and with human nature. The verses which appeared in Surprises of the Sun (1969) and under the title of “The Hazard and the Gift” toward the end of his Collected Poems move in another direction, this time away from affirmation of Roman Catholic orthodoxy to, unexpectedly, autobiographical poems about youth. McAuley’s early masterpiece is “The Blue Horses,” based on Franz Marc’s paintings. The longings, energy, and tight sound patterns of the lines convincingly contrast the artist’s shaping imagination to “this slum culture”:



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 251 The silver trumpets strike the moon! O grasp the mane with virgin hand: Beneath the knocking of the magic hoof New spaces open and expand. For in the world are spaces infinite And each point is a mighty room… But the Blue Horses scream aloud: a sudden movement shakes the crowd Stampeded on the hooves of fate. Many of the Audenesque ballads and parodies, such as “Dia‐ logue,” could grace any anthology: And when I woke up in the cold dawn, mother, The rats had come and eaten my face away. Never mind, my son, you’ll get another, Your father he had several in his day. The narratives, religious lyrics, and satires are less successful. Indeed the humble piety of McAuley’s middle period can be, as in “In a Late Hour,” disastrous: Though all men should desert you My faith shall not grow less, But keep that single virtue Of simple thankfulness. The complexities of George Herbert would be welcome. Cap‐ tain Quiros suffers from flatness and monotony: unlike traditional ep‐ ics it lacks dramatic interest and realistic conflict. Although the form is modeled on the epic, the method is close to the dramatic mono‐ logue; narration is intermingled with characters who, commenting on

252 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE events, express their psychology and beliefs. The later autobiograph‐ ical lyrics have a feeling of life that is noticeably lacking in the middle period. Although the form remains conservative, the focus on experi‐ ence results in the articulation of what previously had been hidden, or repressed. “20th June 1942,” a poem recalling his wedding day, con‐ cludes: We had a mattress on the floor, Painted butterboxes for shelves, A gramophone, some kitchen things, Vast wealth of inexperience, And a new life for ourselves: New life―but only a beginning, Simply time and space to grow. I was still in love’s first reader, Learning rudiments, and guessing Things I would need to know. Judith Wright, who also began publishing during the 1940s, modified the previous assertive cultural nationalism by a mystical nostalgia for the past and identification with the landscape, both of which are, however, treated without idealization. Even her Preoccu‐ pations in Australian Poetry is in part a history of how writers learn to portray the local landscape and make use of the national heritage. Many of the best poems in Collected Poems: 1942–1970 are early and were published in The Moving Image (1946), Woman to Man (1949), and The Two Fires (1955). “Bora Ring” laments of a world lost to the European settlers: “the ritual useless, and the tribal story/lost in an alien tail.” Identification with the natural world, symbolic of the poet, is the subject of “Trapped Dingo”:



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 253 So here, twisted in steel, and spoiled with red your sunlight hide, smelling of death and fear, they crushed out of your throat the terrible song you sang in the dark ranges. With what crying you mourned him! the drinker of blood, the swift death‐bringer who ran away with you many a night; and the night was long. Other early poems tell of outcasts, failures, idlers, or the loss of pioneer Australia. The desolate and barren is felt as native in con‐ trast to the spread of cities across the landscape. “The Hawthorn Hedge” sensitively conveys a sense of the private self rooted in the land and nature: Her hands were strong in the earth, her glance on the sky, her song was sweet on the wind. The hawthorn hedge took root, grew wild and high to hide behind. As in many Australian poems the landscape is a starting point for personal reflections, but Wright’s mysticism tends toward collaps‐ ing the distance between observer and scene; the past speaks diffusely but directly to the present in “Niggers Leap, New England”: Did we not know their blood channeled our rivers, and the black dust our crops ate was their dust? O all men are one man at last. We should have known the night had tided up the cliffs and hid them had the same question on its tongue for us. And there they lie that were ourselves writ strange.



254 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE “Bullocky” describes the “mad apocalyptic” dreams of the pi‐ oneers. The “wagon‐tracks” are now covered with grass and vine‐ yards: O vine, grow close upon that bone and hold it with your rooted hand. The prophet Moses feeds the grape, And fruitful is the Promised Land. The link with the past through the natural world, the acceptance of a nationalistic vision, the imaginative involvement with others, the mix‐ ture of realism, biblical allusions, and lyricism are typical of early Wright. Later poems unfortunately become more sibylline and oracu‐ lar. Each volume of her work focuses upon a distinct subject or emphasizes a new area of feeling which is also the theme of the title poem. Images and words quietly recur. Woman to Man, with its bibli‐ cal imagery and Lawrentian symbolism, has many moments of decla‐ mation masking as passion and instances of coy sensitivity, but in‐ clude such poems as “The Old Prison”: They did not breed nor love. Each in his cell alone cried as the wind now cries through this flute of stone. The Gateway (1953) is a mystical journey towards the past, the sources of life, and renewal. At times too Blakean, too quick to use ready‐made phrases or dependent upon strange patterns of speech for the revelation of truth, she seems self‐indulgent; but the effect, as in “Full Moon Rhyme,” is stronger than a disciplined critic might like to admit:



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 255 There’s a hare on the moon tonight, crouching alone in the bright buttercup field of the moon; and all the dogs in the world howl at the hare in the moon. Wright the mystic is similar to Vaughan and Traherne in cre‐ ating great phrases or stanzas while being unable to sustain poems of such intensity. There is more consistency in The Two Fires with its Heraclean philosophy of eternal process. The quirky small voice and varying line lengths shaped by syntax appear homemade but are within the English mythical tradition: Little nightmare flying‐fox trapped on the cruel barbs of day has no weapon but a wing and a tiny scream. Here’s a patch of night, a thing that looks by daylight like a hoax. In the later poems there is a distance between subject and expression as if Wright were watching herself; this becomes explicit in The Other Half (1966) and Shadow (1970): World’s image grows, and chaos is mastered and lies still in the resolving sentence that’s spoken once and for all. Now I accept you, shadow, I change you; we are one. I must enclose a darkness since I contain the Sun.



256 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE The main tendency in Australian poetry in the late 1950s and early 60s was toward poetry rooted in society. Vincent Buckley's verse fuses a sense of the sacred with specific situations in which re‐ sponsibility, judgment, and honesty are felt values. The colloquial tone and immediacy contribute toward capturing the texture of actual life. Buckley’s recent poetry is more visionary, experimental, and depend‐ ent upon the association of images. Peter Porter, who has lived in Lon‐ don since 1951, wittily builds upon fashionable phrases and attitudes; he enlarges contemporary clichés into fantasy before concluding with sophisticated deflation. Vigorous, idiomatic, civilized, and amusing, Porter’s poetry records the confusions and ironies of our age. The be‐ ginnings of what became a trend toward less formal verse can be seen in the talkative, direct, often humorous, sometimes sentimental po‐ etry of Bruce Dawe; other interesting writers are Gwen Harwood and Bruce Beaver. An unusual voice of the period is that of Randolph Stow, now primarily known as a novelist but also the writer of strange sur‐ real, mystical verses. The vision is private, unexpected, unassertive, and hallucinatory: In the morning, waking, one is most in love. It is then that the cool convection of song and echo wells in the clearings, and all is possible. It is then you are not there. We meet after noon. In the wrack of the crow. In a desert of broken quartz. Contemporary American and Australian Poetry, edited by Thomas Shapcott, is a sign of the times: supposedly the first trans‐Pa‐ cific anthology, it might in the future be examined as evidence of the political and cultural influences of our day. The United States has taken on England's imperial rule, and contemporary often means Cal‐ ifornia and the lower East side of New York. With some seventy poets and almost 300 poems, the anthology lacks discrimination; it includes pages of slack free‐verse, typographical oddities, and the self‐con‐ scious neosurrealism that each generation produces. As the American

IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 257 tradition of the new is more established, it is not surprising that many younger Australians appear tentative, imitative, self‐conscious, or produce fragments. The American poems are usually more confident and achieved in their broad gestures, flamboyance, defiance, and spo‐ ken rhythms. The Australian poets who best use the new freedom are those who have already published more traditional verse; impressive are Chris Wallace‐Crabbe’s “Star Quality” sequence and his prose poem “Going to Cythera,” Bruce Beaver’s “Lauds and Plaints”, Geoffrey Lehmann’s more conservative “Roses.” Les Murray, the most promising of the new poets, moves freely between a range of styles and modes: there is a mystical feeling for the land, an active intelligence, and a broad, skeptical sense of hu‐ mor. A garrulous writer who has already published several volumes, he blends the rural, historical, nostalgic tradition of Australian verse with the formalism of the 1950s and the experimentalism of recent years. Subjects range from the Australian farms, now more notable for commercial industrial sprays and horses, to the myths of India. There is more strength than discrimination, but the physical descriptions, recall of specific events, control of speech rhythms, and narrative voice are convincing. Murray’s talent is large, and it will be interesting to see how he develops.



258 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE References Some of the books that have been particularly useful in the writing of this essay are A.D. Hope’s Native Companions: Essays and Comments on Australian Literature 1936‐1966 and his Col‐ lected Poems: 1930‐1970 and A Late Picking: Poems 1965‐ 1974, James McAuley’s Collected Poems: 1936‐1970, Judith Wright’s Collected Poems: 1942‐1970, all published by Angus and Robertson (Sydney); James McAuley’s A Map of Austral‐ ian Verse (Oxford University Press); and Thomas Shapcott’s collection Contemporary American and Australian Poetry (University of Queensland Press).―B.K. The reader may also consult Australian Poems in Perspective: A Col‐ lection of Poems and Critical Commentaries, edited by P.L. Elkin (University of Queensland Press), which was published too late to be considered here.―Ed [George Core]



Chapter 19 Randolph Stow’s Novels of Exile The recent American publication of the major novels of Ran‐ dolph Stow allows us to see his fiction outside the context of Austral‐ ian literary and cultural history, where his early novels, To the Islands (1958), Tourmaline (1963) and The Merry‐Go‐Round in the Sea (1965), were regarded, along with the work of Patrick White, as a shift from the then mandatory local and social realism to the modernist novel. After the myth‐making, symbolism, ironies, feelings of alienation and seeing the local in terms of the timeless in Voss, The Aunt’s Story, To the Islands and Tourmaline, the Australian novel had joined the mod‐ ern world of Joyce, Faulkner, Lowry. Stow has now, however, lived for many years in England and his subject matter is no longer Australia but rather personal and spiritual exile. Of course, the latter has always been his main concern. While Stow’s early novels have as their subject matter such national themes as early Australian history, relations between the Eu‐ ropean settlers and the Aboriginals, the imposition of Christianity on the local people, the alienation and lack of cultural roots felt by intel‐ lectuals and writers in the Antipodes, and the need for the white man to adapt to an alien environment, they are also concerned with lack of religious faith, despair, the dangers of quietism or the negative way, the need to believe and to accept death. Stow’s novels are like Patrick White’s in that the narrative involves the spiritual set in a highly real‐ ized local physical or social world. One way to regard these intro‐ verted, introspective novels is to see them as probably reflecting as‐ pects of Stow’s own life, especially stages of his psychological and re‐ ligious development. Another way to approach them is as post‐Beck‐ ett fictions, the high self‐referentiality a part of a world view in which life no longer has divine purpose. The openness of Stow’s writings, the way the themes are layered on top of each other and seldom move toward closure through the narrative, makes the novels rich in signif‐

259

260 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE icance, poetic―and puzzling. Although Stow is not consciously mod‐ ern, critics have felt that he is a major international novelist, more original, complex and experimental in technique than most of his con‐ temporaries. Stow’s recent novels have made possible a perspective on his work that was harder to see before Visitants (1979) and its concern with the destructive effects of the West upon Pacific native culture and its mythology. While The Girl Green as Elderflower (1980) appears a celebration of a white ex‐colonial finding his ancestral roots in the so‐ ciety and folklore of England, its themes of crisis, collapse, search for purpose and revelation bring to the foreground motifs of the Austral‐ ian novels that were embedded within such nationalist concerns as rootlessness, community and racial relations. Stow has been more concerned with the spiritual than the so‐ cial. His central characters are isolated while pursuing their vision of truth. Like White, Stow invested his heroes with possible grandeur only to question it as delusion; unlike White he did not deflate through tonal images, authorial interventions, or manipulation of plot. A writer of sensitive description with an extremely good ear for idio‐ matic speech, Stow explores what happens to a community when faced by unexpected challenges and how apparent social solidarity is a habit of perception that ignores the isolation of individuals and masks repressed personal conflicts. Confronted by the threat of some disturbing presence, a climate of natural suspicion and hostility quickly emerges and brings to the forefront repressed tensions. This is clear in The Suburbs of Hell (1984). Set in a small, di‐ lapidated port in Suffolk (which for all its Britishness resembles the small coastal towns of Northwest Australia in the early novels), the novel uses the conventions of the murder mystery to explore the na‐ ture of evil and the way people respond to threats to their routine lives. Stow economically creates a full sense of a community that de‐ spite its long history has deteriorated into a modern hell of lonely in‐ dividuals, awaiting their last judgment, coming together irritably at the pub, rooted to their television sets, or companionable only to their pets. The presence of death produces a mass psychology of suspicion;

IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 261 it also brings, in some cases, love of others through the realization that “No Man is an Island.” Unlike recent metafictions, this novel plays with narrative conventions to explore the human spirit rather than the na‐ ture of fiction. While it is easy to note the influences of Eliot and the modern‐ ists on Stow―his use of quotations from Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, construction by juxtaposition, feelings of sin and guilt, prefer‐ ence for polished craft over directness and immediacy―his sensibility is as close to the “greening” of the mid‐1960s as to the elite high cul‐ ture of the 1940s. Such a sensibility is part of an Australian environ‐ mentalist‐nationalist tradition as can be seen in the poetry of Judith Wright. Stow’s prose is attentive to light, color, sound, smell, the spe‐ cific shade of the sky, changes in the tonality of water, differences in the sounds of footsteps, the specific names of plants, flowers, herbs. Mark Twain criticized James Fenimore Cooper’s lack of such realism, his lack of attention to precise details; by such standards Stow is an extreme realist, whose novels are filled with a variety of landscapes, as if an impressionist painter were carefully noting the changing ap‐ pearance of the actual and immediate from different perspectives at various times. Although these landscape portraits are most obvious in the earlier novels, the urban landscape of an English port is as exactly rendered in The Suburbs of Hell. In the latter, however, as is fitting to its subject, instead of specific plants and animals, we are aware of an abstract, yet expressionist, film noir geometry of black and grey walls, claustrophobic, enclosed back yards, corridors, relieved by small pockets of light, through which the characters negotiate in their un‐ satisfied search for community only to return to isolated homes. These realistic landscapes are often a psychological projection, sym‐ bolic of the moods of the main characters; the atmosphere and land‐ scape rapidly change according to the characters’ emotions. Besides accurate descriptions of nature and the reflection of feelings in descriptions of the natural world, in Stow’s fiction the main characters have a strong sensitivity towards smell. This is especially true of Rob in The Merry‐Go‐Round in the Sea, where his direct sensual

262 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE apprehension of nature is animal‐like, prelapsarian, similar to the happy golden age of oneness with the created world that such poets as Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne and Dylan Thomas remember as part of childhood, and which Augustine claims is part of our memory―although Augustine implies such recollections are of Eden and childhood. In Merry‐Go‐Round Stow recreates a world perceived through the senses, to show that innocence is animalistic, part of a wholeness, a unity, that is lost with leaving the family, with the adult fight for individual survival, and with the development of such moral and spiritual notions of guilt, evil, innocence, repentance, confession. There are two related concerns central to the novels, espe‐ cially the early ones. One derives from a child’s sense of belonging, be‐ ing cared for and being at the center of the world; this sense of security is lost in growing up and is often replaced by loneliness, solitude, al‐ ienation, withdrawal and boredom. Attempts to overcome alienation include marriage (which never works in a Stow novel), friendships (which are often central to his stories), communities (Tourmaline), the mission in To the Islands, pubs (The Girl Green as Elderflower, The Sub‐ urbs of Hell), church (Tourmaline, Visitants). Attempts to give up per‐ sonal freedom for solidarity fail or, as in Tourmaline, create worse sit‐ uations than the alienation of individuality. There is seldom love in such adult attempts at creating community, and too often there is dominance, hate, violence toward those who are different. The Law in Tourmaline says: “There is no sin but cruelty. Only one. And that orig‐ inal sin, that began when a man first cried to another, in his matted hair: Take charge of my life, I am so close to breaking” (221). The natural bonds of childhood are seldom found in the adult world of Stow’s novels, and where they are they result from tradi‐ tional organic communities, such as among the Australian Aborigines, the South Pacific islanders, or an English rural village where people have been settled for many generations. Clare in The Girl Green as Elderflower, who has suffered a breakdown while a colonial officer among the natives on a South Pacific island, can only regain psychic health by regrafting his roots on a branch of his family tree in England, in a community in which his family has lived for centuries.

IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 263 The desire for unity, roots, family, community, solidarity and love is connected with Stow’s desire for permanence when faced by a fallen, mutable, changing world. Rob in The Merry‐Go‐Round in the Sea insists that his world cannot be allowed to change and awaits Rick’s return from the war; but when Rick comes back he cannot adjust and needs to leave Western Australia for Europe, where, he believes, life is more vital, richer and more exciting than in Australia. The latter theme is an Australian version of the Jamesian complaint about the lack of old, dark corners, evil traditions and complex social textures in the democratic, utilitarian, innocent, affluent America. It is a curious complaint in The Merry‐Go‐Ground in the Sea, as Stow seems to go out of the way in the novel to show that Australia in fact has a rich Aborig‐ inal and colonial history, although it is strongly suggested that the in‐ teresting period of the nation’s past (including for Rob the long, gray monotony of Western Australia throughout the years of the depres‐ sion and the Second World War), has been overtaken by a crude, ugly, leveling, conformist suburbia after the war. Usually Stow’s characters fear that there is no god and that the heavens are empty. They try to learn to be like animals to accept impermanence and death and become unthinking parts of nature. The consciousness of smell, the sensitivity to sound, light, motion, is an an‐ imalistic attentiveness. But it is also passive, not active. The bad or evil characters, like both the false diviner Michael and Kestrel in Tourma‐ line, are those with strong wills who impose themselves on nature and others. The approved characters wait, observe, sniff, and often, like the Speeds in Tourmaline, withdraw into silence: “ ‘Then what’s your belief’ asked the diviner, blind to the rest of us. ‘I’m still waiting,’ Tom said. ‘Who’d dare say before the end of the road?’ ”(46). The influence of Taoism on Stow is now well known as a re‐ sult of articles by A.D. Hope and Helen Tiffin. Its quietism contrasts to what Stow sees as the active instrumentalism of organized Christian‐ ity. Heriot’s original sin in To the Islands is the white men’s use of whips to convert the natives, a sin which continues in his hatred of those who do not live as he wishes and whom he blames and does vi‐ olence against for the damage done to those he loves. A different

264 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE world view is put forward by Tom Speed who claims one must be part of the flux of nature, and accept the world as it is: He unveiled his God to me, and his God had names like the nameless, the sum of all, the ground of being. He spoke of the unity of opposites, and of the overwhelming power of inaction. He talked of becoming a stream, to carve out canyons without ceasing always to yield; of being a tree to grow without thinking; of being a rock to be shaped by winds and tides. He said I must become empty in order to be filled, must unlearn everything, must accept the role of fool. (186‐7) As the passage continues its Taoism merges with the Christian quiet‐ ism of the negative way. Passive acceptance, however, is apparently tested and found wanting in Visitants, where Cawdor loses his wife, refuses to take his anti‐malarials, has no friends, and eventually cracks and commits su‐ icide. Significantly he wants to believe that we are not alone in the uni‐ verse and that there is life on other planets. Like many of Stow’s other main characters, he is terrified by the notion that man is alone in an empty, purposeless universe. He has Heriot’s despair when faced by a Pascalian choice. Viewed chronologically, Stow’s novels move to‐ wards the affirmation of faith made by Jacques in The Girl Green as Elderflower. Withdrawal into silence and the self could be said to have failed for Cawdor. Just as the islander’s desire for Western goods turns foolishly into a cargo‐cult religion according to which the starships or UFOs will bring a wealth of manufacture to replace what they destroy (and what they are unable to produce), Cawdor hopes that the star‐ ships will end his extreme loneliness and isolation. Organized religious community is found to be a form of vio‐ lence against self and others in Tourmaline, Visitants and To the Is‐ lands, while withdrawal into passive quietism, silence and an animal‐ like union with nature proves self‐destructive. As the recent novels move toward religious faith and acceptance of death, it might be felt

IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 265 that there has been a subtle change in belief through redefinition of the Christian, Taoist and “pagan” elements: or perhaps the underlying vision was there all along and its various aspects tested and found wanting in the earlier novels until a recovery of faith brings ac‐ ceptance of death. Several religious preoccupations recur throughout Stow’s novels and are part of what might be described as his world‐view. There is the obvious attraction to, or nostalgia for, an Anglican Chris‐ tianity, perhaps a carry over from his days as a student at Guildford Church of England Grammar School, Perth, perhaps as part of the cul‐ tural and literary tastes he inherited from T.S. Eliot and the late Anglo‐ Catholic phase of British and American modernism. Stow worked for a time during 1957 at an Anglican mission in Northwest Australia, and To the Islands originally included a defense of such missions. Its main character, Heriot, who heads a mission, is in a state of despair, lacking faith; the story concerns his quest towards spiritual renewal and re‐ demption by an arduous journeying towards the “islands” where the Aborigines believe the dead go. His physical sufferings are part of a spiritual journey, a pilgrimage, through life toward death and judg‐ ment, like Everyman in the medieval morality play, as well as an at‐ tempt to accept the Aboriginal world. Christianity, which is foreign to the South Pacific, needs to adapt to its environment, and expiate crimes perpetuated on the natives. Similar themes of despair, expia‐ tion, confession, repentance and adaption can be found in Tourmaline and the strange cargo cult of Visitants, where a crashed Second World War Spitfire becomes a symbol of the natives’ desire for dominance over the white man. If the Speeds in Tourmaline articulate as much as is revealed about the silence, passivity and non‐violence of Taoism and Christian quietism, which attract Stow, such views are treated more critically in Visitants. Cawdor in a square veranda surrounded by semi‐circles of natives and houses is a Taoist symbol: The rest house stood on stilts at an equal distance from two seas. On the right the water was dark and swelling,

266 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE on the left flat and green. The open veranda of the resthouse was square, and was covered exactly with matting. At the center of the matting Misa Kodo sat, crosslegged in white clothes, looking out. I thought: Yes, that is what a king would look like. Not like Mak. Not like Dipap, even. But remote like that. Alien like that. Now he looks like he must feel. (137) While this shows Cawdor’s silent authority it is undermined by his progressive withdrawal into a breakdown and suicide. Stow’s novels are also concerned with native, pagan, pre‐ Christian gods. Although this may be explained by Stow’s conscious‐ ness that European settlement, culture and Christianity in the South Pacific is an alien imposition, it may also be seen as similar to the way T.S. Eliot and others educated on Frazer and the anthropologists of the early part of the last century sought a universal mythology in a pattern of communal magic, in which could be found the basis of most of the world’s religious ritual, including Christianity. While Heriot seeks the native gods as part of his expiation of the sins committed by Western‐ Christian dominance over the Aborigines, Clare in The Girl Green as Elderflower rediscovers the old pagan gods of Europe along with the quietism of Julian of Norwich. He must accept both the Green Man and faith in the Christian god of love. This is a paradox since the Green Man, at least in some versions of the legend, is violent and sexual, as can be seen in Kingsley Amis’s novel The Green Man (1970), where the old pagan god is the amoral violent destructiveness of nature held in check by the repressions of civilized conventions. In Stow’s works the greenness of nature offers an amused, benign love in contrast to civi‐ lized man who is violently destructive, and aggressively sexual. The missionaries and older white men in To the Islands use whips on the natives, Tourmaline is controlled by those with the most strength and will, the Green Merman of The Girl Green as Elderflower is jailed and tortured without reason, the killings in The Suburbs of Hell are apparently unmotivated and purposeless, yet analogous to the

IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 267 brutalities, domination of others, murdering of reputations and simi‐ lar aggressions found in most aspects of social life. The relationship between social repressions and aggressions is brought out in Visitants by the orgy of sex and destruction led by the older people, those who teach the taboos: “It was precisely the people who had taught them the taboos who were seen that night to be publicly breaking them” (160). The South Pacific never really was an Eden; from the first set‐ tlement it was a paradise lost built on injustice: But more must have called and passed on, and spread the news of Kailuana. So settlers then, with wives, food‐plants, livestock. Making their gardens and burying their dead. Simple people, the first ones, but the next wave more sophisticated. They took the fruit‐trees and pigs of the earlier people, declared themselves an aristocracy, made the others stoop. Because they said, the world is divided into four clans, and we are the top people. (31) There is the vegetarian paradox here. All life in the food chain exists by eating other life; there is no way to live and be free of this original sin, this violence against some Other. Stow’s heroes do not eat much, indeed reject food, seeing eating as a form of cannibalism and violence. This process of physical self‐destruction in the hope of spir‐ itual purification starts as early as Heriot in To the Islands who wants to be left without food, unable to survive, in his journey toward the islands and death. Cawdor is the extreme example and death can only come of it. The two recent books, The Girl Green as Elderflower, and The Suburbs of Hell, are part of a coming to terms with the realities of life. The green boy and girl nearly die because at first they will only eat green stalks but later they learn to accept other foods. There is a parallel to the example of Clare who will overcome his block and re‐ gain his health by writing his stories about those who are lonely, iso‐ lated, and victimized. As in The Suburbs of Hell, we must accept that life is change, flux, predatory, violent and a journey toward death.



268 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE If life seems without purpose, all we can do is learn to accept it, have faith that it is for the good and that there is some divine pur‐ pose. Significantly in The Suburbs of Hell Death, which describes itself as a judgment, “a correction, a chastising,” comes to those who have given up the will to live. If in this recent novel we are back to a version of the Everyman theme of To the Islands, the theme has been enriched by a dialectical criticism of the Taoist acceptance of change in Tour‐ maline. Although Death’s words have a Christian context, they are most applicable to the Speeds’ version of Taoist acceptance of change. Death says: “But I am the end of all potential. Where change is finished, there I am inside. By me these shifting shapes are fixed. After me, they may be judged at last” (164). If flesh is a disguise, the spiritual is important in contrast to the pettiness of the world of change. We might try to explain this as a memento mori, a way of reminding us of the vanity of human wishes; and the emblem of death at the conclusion of The Suburbs of Hell sug‐ gest some older, death‐oriented, medieval version of Christianity. There has always been a distrust in Stow’s novels of time, flux, change, the new. Rob wants the depressed Western Australia of his childhood to continue. In Tourmaline the Law is not replaced by a New Testa‐ ment, but rather recounts the failure of the new diviner or savior of the future. To the Islands is partly a justification and celebration of the mission past; the order which replaces it is treated unfavorably and we are told in Stow’s preface to the revised edition that indeed mat‐ ters have become worse for the Aborigines since the mission station days. Stow’s dislike of the new, his search for old gods have analo‐ gies to his expatriation to Europe, which he apparently regards as a return to his ancestral home. His characters are obsessed by “home,” by the loss of stable relations, by crises of identity, by loneliness, iso‐ lation, alienation, difference; they want family, but are born outsiders, those who will always be exiled. They want love but at best find sex. There are no happy marriages in these novels, no convincing scenes involving exchanges of affection between men and women; compan‐ ions are usually male, and even those of women are strained. There

IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 269 are no memories of loving mothers―of women as nurture; usually the main parent is a missing father whom the character never knew. If the desire to return “home” is a recurring theme of the novels, such a home can only be a spiritual one or death; despite the attempt of new characters to build nests for themselves, there is no secure home in the novels. Even the murders in The Suburbs of Hell take place in the homes of the characters; there is a moral to be found in this. But be‐ hind any interpretation in Stow’s novels of childhood, family, Western Australia, or England as home is the obvious Christian meaning of “home” and “love.” Truly there is in the world nothing so strange, so fathomless as love. Our home is not here, it is in Heaven; our time is not now, it is eternity; we are here as shipwrecked mariners on an island, moving among strangers, darkly. Why should we love these shadows, which will be gone at the first light? It is because in exile we grieve for one another, it is because we remember the same home, it is because we re‐ member the same father, that there is love in our island. (Girl Green as Elderflower, 135) Each novel is concerned with such a quest for home and love. A Stow novel is Conradian, concerned with the moral, ethical spiritual choices and the paradoxes of life, especially for the outsider or visitor, rather than what is usually considered Austenite: prudence, caution and consciousness of wealth, position, possession. His novels are Kafkaesque, about outsiders both unable to get in, and not liking what they see within, rather than insiders trying to rearrange the cards in the deck of life. Stow seems habitually an outsider, an exile, a visitant, despite his early concern with problems of personal, regional and national identity, and despite his desire to find roots, community and family. It is noticeable that despite his will for unity there are sel‐ dom examples of solidarity in his writings, no politics (beyond those of anti‐colonialism and a generally progressive attitude toward those discriminated against by whites), few positive, favorable scenes of

270 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE brotherhood. When people meet, whether in church or pub, they are usually portrayed as vicious, dangerous, with the language of social gossip and community used to destroy the reputations of others, to challenge others, to fight. Pub life resembles the arm‐wrestling in Tourmaline, more an assertion of competitive will and dominance than playful participation in a community. Stow’s personal mixture of Christianity with a “green” my‐ thology of nature is typical of his imagination; he seems to be someone between two eras, two generations. He is a late high modernist seek‐ ing a Christian European tradition, an elitist who sees the raw, new mass culture of Australia as trivial in comparison to the timeless, richer culture represented by the many quotations he uses. He is a new romantic, who regards Western culture as colonial violence on the South Pacific native, and who himself wished to be part of a non‐ violent, green, natural world and part of an unselfconscious social unity. He is even a fifth‐generation Australian, representing a long set‐ tled, educated, eccentric family to whom the mass culture of recent national mythology is grotesque. His carefully constructed novels are not so much arguments as, like the Taoism of the Speeds, made from oppositions, contrasts, juxtapositions, montage, dialectical movements. Ideas and themes are layered and usually left unresolved despite some appearance of for‐ mal novelistic closure (such as Jacques’s recitation of a prayer of faith toward the end of The Girl Green as Elderflower). Characters are often created in pairs (“he was almost the double of Byrne, and in his first days at Tourmaline, they were often confused”) contrasted (X goes up, Y goes down), opposites (A is will, B is passive) and set within a small but diversified community (a church mission, the pub of an English village, a few villages in Papua New Guinea, a British harbor city) with the result that there is a rich, varied social community of types, ideas, characters, habits, personalities, beliefs, rather than a community of classes and nuanced class manners. Stow’s concern with the art and form of the novel can be seen in the elaborate formal structure of The Merry‐Go‐Round in the Sea, in



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 271 which the four years of Rich’s going away to military service and im‐ prisonment by the Japanese are described in the same number of chapters as the subsequent four years of his return from service and decision to leave his family and Australia. Theme, form, structure, characters are carefully balanced, contrasted, reversed in ways which would please the most dedicated structuralist. In Stow’s stories there is often a double plot, with the series of external events echoing or mirroring the psychology or emotions of a major character. In Visi‐ tants the natives’ fanatical eruption of faith in the starships and the frenzy which follows are partly set in motion by Cawdor mentioning his belief in the UFOs to the natives; their destruction of their crops is paralleled by his ghastly self‐mutilation and suicide. While art is based on repetition, such highly formalized structures usually reflect anxi‐ ety, fear of chaos, the need to compensate for the death of god and lack of divine purpose. Although some of the early novels, such as To the Islands, suf‐ fer from wooden attempts to portray relations between males and fe‐ males, from rather sentimentalized, spiritualized wonder, and from the narrator’s attempt to explain what the main character feels or is thinking, Stow’s usual method is juxtaposition and montage of short scenes with different perspectives, various speakers, even different times, so that a narrative moves forward, but not in a necessarily lin‐ ear manner; a rich texture is created by changes, contrasts and inter‐ play of focus, consciousness, language, point of view, mentality, world view, levels of reality and artifice. Many of the techniques come from cinema. It is difficult to imagine such a work as Visitants before cinema (and Faulkner) trained readers in accepting fluid narratives in which the chronological time of the story is treated as mere convention to be speeded up, delayed, repeated almost at will as the perspective or nar‐ rator changes. These books are visually realized and constructed so effectively that before long they are bound to be discovered by film directors and made into movies. Stow’s use of time, point of view, montage and juxtaposition is similar to the way a camera creates by seeing selected portions of reality. The later novels, The Girl Green as Elderflower, Visitants, The Suburbs of Hell, have all the complexity and

272 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE self‐awareness of post‐modernist metafictions but with the high seri‐ ousness of James, Conrad, Forster, and the early moderns. As with the work of many outsiders, art, parody and language take on importance, become realities, at times are the actual world. Each of Stow’s novels is in some way self‐referential in being con‐ cerned about the art of the novel. Each book has a writer, a memorial‐ ist, a record keeper, a potential narrator, like the Law of Tourmaline, like the legal dispositions in Visitants, or like Clare in The Girl Green as Elderflower, but the implied narrator is never in a position to tell the whole story, the book that is being told and read: therefore each novel defies, parodies or challenges the traditional conventions of its fic‐ tional sub‐genre. As the past events narrated by the Law are supposed to have occurred in our future, what is the historical past of those events? Like Moses he cannot have written what he is said to have written. Except for references to an earlier period of gold mining, there is little that links Tourmaline to a datable real world. Visitants is impossible to rearrange into a natural, chronological narrative. In The Suburbs of Hell we do not know at the conclusion the identity of the murderer(s?), and several times the novel alludes to the reader’s ghoulish interest in murder stories or an expectation of logical expla‐ nations and closure, expectations that the book consciously frustrates. The Suburbs of Hell uses conventions to frustrate them, providing at once a detective story, a parody, a deconstruction, and a commentary; the book brings in various analogues, including newspaper stories, medieval emblem books, Jacobean tragedy, Beowulf. As in Stow’s other novels, there are stories and tales within the main story. But un‐ like most self‐conscious modernist fiction, the emphasis is not on the self‐referentiality and artifice of the novel, but on suspense and the possible moral or message about life and death. All of Stow’s books, especially the later works, are characteristically parodies of the mode or sub‐genre they employ. The Girl Green as Elderflower mostly con‐ sists of The Lord Abbot’s Tales, Clare’s parody of medieval folk legends. Visitants is, arguably, a revision of The Heart of Darkness written in the age of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Vincent Eri’s The Crocodile, science fiction, Malinowski, and linguistics.

IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 273 Stow’s major achievement as a writer is the language of his novels―the descriptions, the slang, the Australian English, the idioms, the varieties of English dialect and class speech, the nativized forms of English used by the Aborigines and islanders, the many registers, kinds and national languages in which the characters speak to each other. A writer’s business is the art of language and Stow is unusually sensitive to the nuances of the word, the strange arbitrariness of idi‐ oms and sayings, the way the structures of language are in themselves part of mentalities and therefore of thought, the ways in which slight differences of language usage can be alienating, dominating, aggres‐ sive or humiliating. Each novel has its own texture and recurring imagery and symbolism. In Tourmaline such terms as water, home, memories, law, time, ruin, hope, create a feeling of links between Western Australia and the Old and New Testament, Augustinian memory, and Eden. If Stow’s novels lack the finely nuanced social levels of the classic Eng‐ lish novel, they have instead a subtle, defined world of discriminations of attitude, character, and culture economically realized through speech. Notes Stow’s novels are The Merry‐Go‐Round in the Sea, 1965; A Haunted Land, 1956; The Bystander, 1957; To the Islands, 1958, rev.1982; *Tourmaline, 1963; *Visitants, 1979; *The Girl Green as Elderflower, 1980; *Suburbs of Hell, 1985. Those with stars have been published in the United States by Taplinger. There are two books on Stow’s work: Ray Willibanks, Randolph Stow (Boston: Twayne, 1978); Anthony J. Hassall, Strange Country: A Study of Randolph Stow (New York: University of Queens‐ land Press, 1986).





Chapter 20 Frank Moorhouse, Grand Days (1994) There was a time when American and British novelists used life abroad to explore moral and psychological frontiers. In such sto‐ ries love and sex are the crucibles of possible transformation while offering the threat of demoralization and degeneracy. That the Aus‐ tralians, Indians, and Canadians have now taken over the interna‐ tional novel suggests that, despite all our talk about globalization and relativism, a new cultural isolationism has become a feature of Amer‐ ican life. In England the change from the possibilities of the self to the resentments of class was announced when Kingsley Amis demanded that no more novels be written about life abroad. In the U.S. we still have Paul Theroux’s novels and Roth’s comedies about American Jews abroad, but the national literary imagination now usually stops at the country’s borders. This provincialism of the imagination has been re‐ inforced by a puritanical fear of orientalism and a preoccupation with internal social problems. Frank Moorhouse is the leader of a generation of Australian writers, including Peter Carey, who rejected social realism and high modernism for a more contemporary idiom. In The Americans, Baby (1972), he wryly portrays the Americanization of Sydney by the coun‐ ter‐culture of the 1960s. Engaging and ironic, it is a period classic that has traveled widely; I first read it in Nigeria. Since then Moorhouse has quietly built a solid reputation in Australia, England, and France as a literary craftsman, social satirist, and unpredictable comic moral‐ ist. Grand Days is his first novel published in the United States. Set at the League of Nations in Geneva during the late 1920s, Grand Days offers an international cast of characters, international politics, and various cultures, manners, mores, and sexual practices. As befits a novel of the period, the dialogue is sprinkled with bits of many lan‐ guages. An amusing self‐conscious re‐creation, Grand Days plays to 275

276 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE our nostalgia for what now appears a golden age of innocence, explo‐ ration, and discovery; for recognizable character types; and for the ex‐ citement of going beyond or beneath fixed social identities. It is a tour of Europe, with nights of dancing, to the playing of black American jazz musicians, in clubs where everything is permitted and encouraged. This is a time of crusading Americans noisily promoting good causes as if they were circuses, Rotarian optimism, fittings for “dutch caps,” the creation of new cocktails. The novel also includes drunken talk in brasseries illustrated with caricatures on the walls, meals and sex at grand hotels, characters who continue the affectations of Oscar Wilde and Ronald Firbank, and the hopes of ending war through the League of Nations. Although Moorhouse’s touch is light and his detail selective, he treats the period on a large scale. The immediate future is sug‐ gested through mass political demonstrations, gambling on the stock market, Mussolini’s Italy, instability in Germany and the presence of a young Swiss working class fascist. Such grand days will soon be over. Edith Campbell Berry, a twenty‐six‐year‐old Australian em‐ ployed by the League’s secretariat, is one of the more memorable characters of recent fiction. Brought up as a rationalist and utilitarian, Edith is an “internationalist,” the first Australian hired by the League. Dedicated to the League’s ideals, she is eager for the larger life offered by Europe and soon becomes the companion of a bisexual Englishman who introduces her to “greek love,” transvestites, charming exiles, and disorder. Attracted to new experiences, especially when, as often, she has had too much to drink, Edith at first refuses to judge the ways of others; whether satisfied or humiliated, she regards each incident as an experiment. Her emotions are contradictory: at times she plans to marry her bisexual Englishman; at times she absurdly yearns for a marriage proposal coming from the most eligible young man from her school in Australia. Gaining knowledge and confidence, she finds that she is stronger and more responsible than her lover. Just as her former impatience with bureaucracy and diplomacy was naively wrong, so the sexual underworld leads to disorder and possible ruin.



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 277 Edith represents political idealism as it comes to terms with reality and the period’s exploration of new sensations; she can ap‐ prove the League of Nations’ plans to stamp out prostitution while feeling it might be nice to be taken by a man who paid for her services. She tries to find her way through conflicting emotions, shift through life’s disorder, and move toward a livable morality. She forges the sec‐ retary general’s signature to letters for what she considers a good cause, bravely stands up to fascist thugs, and provides evidence against her lover when she finds he is spying on the League. There are no satisfactory new rules of life. At the conclusion Edith remains trou‐ bled by conflicting desires for a career, marriage, and children; con‐ tinuing with the League of Nations; and returning to Australia. Grand Days is a lively, amusing, carefully constructed blend of historical facts, actual people, imagined figures, and even a few char‐ acters from Moorhouse’s previous books. In its sympathies, speed, lightness of touch, openness of texture, and use of parody, it is very much a novel of today. Moorhouse has included passages from Alice Ritchie’s The Peacemakers (Hogarth Press, 1928). It is more arch, wordy, and self‐ consciously dramatizing, instinctively drawing upon shared stand‐ ards. Another model is Middlemarch, which has been drolly trans‐ formed into a provincial Australian’s search for moral goodness in Ge‐ neva and Paris of the 1920s through her relationship to two con‐ trasting men. While Moorhouse writes scenes and quotable sentences reminiscent of Wilde, Firbank, and Waugh, his main influence is Jane Austen’s novels, in which sense and sensibility, prudence and feeling, compete for a young woman’s emotional, moral, and economic sur‐ vival. Concerned with manners and morals during a time when both were changing and needed to be reconstituted on other founda‐ tions than in the past, Grand Days is at once a delightful postmodernist exercise in pastiche, and an allegory about the present.





Chapter 21 Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing Surfacing is Margaret Atwood’s best book to date, and per‐ haps an enduring achievement. The portrait in depth of the main char‐ acter, the thick texture of the narrative, and the richness of the setting are so fully realized that the novel is likely to last beyond the topicality of its themes. I say so because its themes are such that the book would be a Canadian and a ‘counter‐culture’ classic, even if its portrayal of emotions were less concretely present within the novel and its themes treated less subtly and complexly. Although Margaret Atwood has published one previous novel, she is usually thought of as a poet. Her first book of poetry, The Circle Game, won the Governor‐General’s Award in 1966; she has sub‐ sequently published four more volumes of verse. Her poetry hovers around those inner cores of emotion from which true art springs. She approaches feelings with intelligence, conscious of their quality and their implications; she has an amazing ability to move into others. Alt‐ hough she is well aware of the problems that face the contemporary artist in giving feelings and insight relevant form, I find her poetry more interesting for its power and promise than for actually recreat‐ ing emotion through texture, plot, or character. The world of her po‐ etry seems intense yet paradoxically shallow, as if the experience has not been understood fully and distinguished from its more obvious associations. There is, consequently, a tendency towards cliché, espe‐ cially stereotyped emotions, situations and phrases. In The Journals of Susanna Moodie, Atwood’s most sustained earlier work, the total im‐ pression of the poetic sequence is weighty and offers a sense of history accumulated, but the individual lyrics lack texture and depth. The Ed‐ ible Woman, her first novel (a study of the battle between the sexes from the modern woman’s perspective) does not escape from the rigid social role playing which it cleverly and humorously satirizes. One feels that the irrational moments of behavior displayed by its heroine and hero, Marian and Duncan, are potentially more interesting than 279

280 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE the concepts which they represent―woman’s need to be free from dominance, and the corresponding attractiveness of a passive, unag‐ gressive male. Peter, the domineering male, is such a wooden estab‐ lishment type that it is unlikely that he could threaten the freedom of any bright, educated young lady. I therefore came to Atwood’s latest novel, Surfacing, expecting a good, still promising writer; I was sur‐ prised when I began responding to it as fully and deeply as I would to any major novel. Surfacing is about, and told by, a woman in her late twenties who returns from Toronto to northern Quebec where she lived as a child, in search of her father who has mysteriously vanished. She is accompanied by Joe, the man she is living with, and a young couple of about her age who are her best friends. She does not, however, appear to know them well. It is part of the power of the novel that the descrip‐ tions and the events immediately take on significance in the reader’s mind. The lack of close relationship that the narrator feels towards her friends becomes suggestive of the lack of deep feelings and the rootless qualities in urban life, especially among the young. The return to rural Canada, however, does not offer an easily found security. The narrator left there too long ago; besides, northern Quebec has changed from the land she once knew. It is not an idealized Canadian past that she finds; the trees are dying, the mines are closing. The roads, food and buildings are different. While the shopkeepers now speak English for the benefit of American tourists, the failure of bicul‐ turalism is symbolized by a bullet‐ridden Bienvenu sign. The narrator and her friends go to an isolated island where her father lived in seclusion. There they unintentionally parody the counter‐culture’s return to nature. Bored, unable to watch television, they eat tinned food and a few vegetables left in the garden, talk revo‐ lution, play bridge, fish, and make love. ‘It’s old and shoddy but I laugh anyway. A little beer, a little pot, some jokes, a little political chitchat, the golden mean; we’re the new bourgeoisie, this might as well be a



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 281 Rec Room.’1 Through a series of flashbacks and asides we learn the narrator is an illustrator of children’s books, has been married, di‐ vorced, and left her only child with her ex‐husband. When the narrator finds drawings of men minus hands and feet with antlers on their heads, she decides that her father has not died, that, living in isolation, he became crazy and might still be roam‐ ing the island. While the flat style of the book makes us aware of the narrator’s lack of involvement with others, the second part of the book opens with her suddenly conscious of a great distance between herself and her companions. She begins seeing them as enemies. Her emo‐ tions are extreme, obsessed. She is especially afraid that Joe will want her to declare her love for him; when he does they quarrel. She has not had any feelings for a long time, distrusts love as a form of mascu‐ line possessiveness and feels cut in two by civilization. ‘The other half, the one locked away, was the only one that could live; I was the wrong half, detached, terminal. I was nothing but a head, or no, something minor like a severed thumb; numb.’ (p. 124) She looks at her father’s drawings again; an enclosed note shows that they were tracings of In‐ dian symbols. She decides her father was not mad and that some marks on a map were left purposely to show her where the symbols could be found. Following the map she goes to another island where she dives into the lake’s water seeking the Indian symbols. ‘It was there but it wasn’t a painting, it wasn’t on the rock. It was below me, drifting towards me from the furthest level where there was no life, a dark oval trailing limbs. It was blurred but it had eyes, they were open, it was something I knew about, a death thing, it was dead.’ (p. 162) The dive under water takes on a symbolic quality, perhaps similar to a revelation from the repressed subconscious part of the mind; the narrator surfaces with a changed vision of her life. She now confesses that she was never married and that she had an abortion. The dark oval she saw under water brought to mind the baby she

1

Margaret Atwood, Surfacing, McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1972, p. 43; all subsequent references to this edition are given in parentheses in the body of the article.



282 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE might have had. Even a story she previously told about her drowned brother was false. She now sees salvation in ‘these gods, here on the shore or in the water unacknowledged, or forgotten.’ The Indians and her father had known about them. The way out of her problems and the problem of modern life is a return to the prehistoric, pre‐logical mind of early man, the animals, and the mysteries of nature. Her vision becomes increasingly that of an animal or of some savage. A foreigner to the rational modern world, she feels she has a secret power, hates human beings, and sees them as enemies. When her father’s drowned body is found, she thinks others are lying about it. In her state of in‐ sanity she makes love, hoping to regain her aborted child, and flees to the woods where she feels herself changing into a ‘plant‐animal’. When her friends leave she returns to the cabin and smashes every‐ thing: ‘ Everything from history must be eliminated.’ She lives on wild plants and clothes herself in a blanket while waiting for her fur to grow. Everywhere around her seems magical, filled with gods, gov‐ erned by rules and rituals which she mysteriously learns. When her friends return in search of her she observes them at a distance as evolving ‘halfway to machine’. She has a vision of her father in which he realizes that he was an intruder upon nature. The cabin, the fences, the paths were violations of nature; she wants them ended. She is ‘part of the landscape’ and ‘could be anything, a tree, a deer skeleton, a rock’. A few days later she begins to change again, to feel that the old gods are as questionable ‘as Jesus’. ‘Withdrawing is no longer pos‐ sible’, and she re‐enters ‘my own time’, hoping the child within her will be ‘the first true human’. The novel ends with her thinking of re‐ turning to Joe, while knowing that love for him is useless and that mar‐ riage will probably fail; nature has neither asked nor given anything. Surfacing is representative of the modern search for authen‐ ticity and wholeness through rediscovery of the past, including the primitive. The search for roots in the past and some better life in con‐ trast to modern urban civilization is widespread at present and the novel may be said to record an extreme representation of the new ro‐ manticism and a critique of it. The narrator’s alienation from society,

IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 283 her friends, and her past is representative, as is her feeling of only be‐ ing half alive. The dualism of mind and body which she perceives, while a basic theme of Western civilization, is a subject of which we have become particularly aware at present; most readers will share her feeling that our culture has sacrificed the life of the body for that of the mind. This dualism is sometimes claimed to be particularly strong in both English and French Canadian culture. The narrator’s distrust of love, marriage, and familial ties as kinds of bondage, slav‐ ery, and dominance is a feeling with which we have become well ac‐ quainted from the writings of the women’s liberation movement. If Surfacing gives literary form to the contemporary desire for some primitive tribal wholeness, it is also a radically Canadian world that is shown and a Canadian past which is sought. Throughout we are aware of the damage done to the Canadian landscape and past by modern technology and business. The forests had been destroyed, the lakes flooded, the countryside spoiled, the hills leveled for purposes of economic progress. Food is no longer grown in rural towns; it is imported from the cities. This destruction of the nation is specifically identified with American power, which takes such varied forms as international busi‐ nesses, the economic effects of tourism, the senseless slaughter of game by sportsmen, the spread of Coca‐Cola and baseball. The narra‐ tor’s companions talk vapidly of throwing out ‘the fascist pig Yanks and the capitalists’, while complaining they cannot get the latest base‐ ball scores on the radio. Their conduct, speech, and values are indis‐ tinguishable from those of the American counter‐culture. One of the more significant ironies of the book occurs when the narrator and her companions find that the American fishermen whom they have ob‐ served with hatred are in fact Canadians. Both the fishermen and Da‐ vid, one of the narrator’s friends, are Mets fans. American culture is associated with the machine and stands in the narrator’s mind for the growing dehumanization of mankind. As she begins to surface from her insanity, she realizes that she must soon go back to the city and ‘the pervasive menace, the Americans’. Joe seems to represent the possibilities of Canada: ‘But he isn’t an American, I can see that now;

284 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE he isn’t anything, he is only half‐formed, and for that reason I can trust him.’ (p. 223) The narrator’s search for her vanished father is symbolic of a quest for a Canadian identity in the past that will replace the rootless, mechanized culture of urban North America. The novel moves from Toronto to a small town to an isolated cottage; we are made conscious of rural Canada, the north, the French, the company towns, the forests, the lakes and the isolated communities of the nineteenth century. The narrator becomes an explorer, then a primitive being, and eventually takes on the vision of some kind of plant‐animal. No form of the prim‐ itive or past satisfies; the novel ends with her return to the present. While she is still symbolically on the road, in a world without any spir‐ itual harmony, the emotional journey into the past has been therapeu‐ tic. The dive in the water under the cliff in search of the Indian drawings epitomizes the direction of the novel, which is a dive into the unknown depths and a surfacing into the present with a clearer vision of reality. Just as diving for Indian symbols cures her of her amnesia about her personal past, so her insane period of assuming a pre‐logi‐ cal, animistic vision causes her to realize that the past can no longer be restored as a means of salvation. The past is dead and cannot sup‐ port life. It is necessary to trust, ‘to let go’, to ‘tense forward, towards the demands and questions’. It is perhaps not accidental that ‘tense forward’ brings to mind the well known passage from the Bhagavad‐ Gita, often alluded to by T.S. Eliot, where a questioning warrior is told that he must go forward to fulfill the duties which are expected of him in this world. The narrator’s father’s house itself is symbolic. It is isolated and has a garden running to bush that was unnaturally created out of inhospitable soil. It reminds me of the poem entitled ‘Dream 1: The Bush Garden’ in Atwood’s Journals of Susanna Moodie:



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 285 I stood once more in that garden sold, deserted and gone to seed …. When I bent to pick, my hands Came away red and wet In the dream I said I should have known anything planted here would come up blood2 The narrator’s father was as romantic as she is: ‘He admired what he called the eighteenth century rationalists: he thought of them as men who had avoided the corruptions of the Industrial Revolution and learned the secret of the golden mean, the balanced life, he was sure they all practiced organic farming.’ Seeking solitude and freedom from any kind of interference, her father lived on the island, ‘a place where he could recreate not the settled farm life of his own father but that of the earliest ones who arrived when there was nothing but for‐ est’. Even her period of insane, pre‐logical, primitive apprehension is paralleled by her father’s interest in Indian cave drawing and symbols. Presumably the contemporary quest for a Canadian identity and past re‐explores earlier dreams in which the national imagination has sought an authentic cultural myth. Margaret Atwood has made her narrator’s sensibility express many of the well known topics of Canadian literary criticism: a land of solitude, the lost garden, the sacrificial figure and even what Atwood once described as a tendency towards ‘paranoid schizophrenia’. The novel is a representation of such themes and an attempt to go further. It brings them together, gives them full recognition and implies the need to go beyond nostalgia and mythology. Yet even the conclusion 2

Margaret Atwood, The Journals of Susanna Moodie, O.U.P., Toronto, 1970, p. 34.



286 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE with the narrator presumably ready to take up life again is an illustra‐ tion of a well‐known Canadian literary theme, the loser who has sur‐ vived; the note of hope at the end is cautious. There has been no great success, no great tragedy. The road to salvation remains fogged and uncertain. I have the distinct impression that the narrator’s imaginative journey into the past has been consciously planned to illustrate what Margaret Atwood takes to be the mythology of Canadian literature. In‐ deed the novel is closely related to her Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature. Many of the same subjects or topics can be found in both books: the harshness of nature, the victimization of animals, the symbolic role of Indians, exploration, the settlers, even the bear which is frightened off by the mother of the narrator of Surfacing has its parallel in Survival. I suppose both the narrator and her father might be included under the category of Futile Heroes and Unconvinc‐ ing Martyrs. Joe speaks of himself as a loser. The narrator is certainly a Paralyzed Artist and her abortion and fear of love point to the Absent Venus theme which Atwood finds in Canadian literature. The title, Sur‐ facing, is like the title of Survival in pointing to Atwood’s central vision of the Canadian imagination: But the main idea is the first one: hanging on, stay‐ ing alive. Canadians are forever taking the national pulse like doctors at a sickbed: the aim is not to see whether the patient will live well but simply whether he will live at all … The sur‐ vivor has no triumph or victory but the fact of his survival; he has little after his ordeal that he did not have before, ex‐ cept gratitude for having escaped with his life. A preoccupation with one’s survival is necessarily also a preoccupation with the obstacles to that survival. In earlier writers these obstacles are external―the land, the cli‐ mate, and so forth. In later writers the obstacles tend to be‐ come both harder to identify and more internal; they are no longer obstacles to physical survival but obstacles to what

IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 287 we may call spiritual survival, to life as anything more than a minimally human being.3 Even the symbolism of the dive into the lake can be found in Survival: The Canadian author’s two favourite ‘natural’ meth‐ ods for dispatching his victims are drowning and freezing, drowning being preferred by poets―probably because it can be used as a metaphor for a descent into the unconscious.4 I have suggested that this conscious use of symbolism reflects a tendency in Canadian literary criticism, which often approaches the problem of a national cultural identity through the discovery in varied writers of characteristic themes and myths. Northrop Frye has been particularly acute in showing how Canadian history and environment have caused different attitudes and subjects to develop from those found in American literature. The highly poetic quality of Atwood’s prose may derive indirectly from Frye’s influence on the literary cul‐ ture. Whereas the excitement in relating literature to myth has largely passed in England and the United States, Frye has taken further than previous critics, and has more profoundly shown, the uses of myth in the study of the literary and cultural imaginations. Although Surfacing can be read as psychological or sociological novel, it seems to me that Atwood is attempting to approach the level of myth both in the sym‐ bolic organization of the story and in its exploration of the prehistoric imagination. Somewhere behind Surfacing is also the example of Mal‐ colm Lowry’s Under the Volcano, with its ordering of the narrator’s as‐ sociations through patterns of symbol and myth. I am suggesting that Surfacing is consciously meant as part of a national literary tradition.

3 4

Margaret Atwood, Survival, Anansi, Toronto, 1972, p. 33. ibid., p. 55.



288 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE It is a novel well put together and largely a pleasure to read, one of the few recent books that can be said to have a genuine organic texture and development. Within the first paragraphs we feel that the narrator is alienated from her companions, that her journey is a quest for the past, that the rural communities have changed, and that the natural world is being contaminated and spoiled. Scenes, especially memories of the past, are forcefully and economically presented. The flatness of tone in the early part of the book catches part of the narra‐ tor’s distance from her own feelings and prepares for the increasingly poetic style which gradually emerges as she becomes more involved in the quest for her father. The flat, almost objective voice of the nar‐ rator reporting conversations is especially useful in the last third of the book where the vision becomes pre‐logical and deranged. We may feel that the speaker is mad, but so much reporting and common sense are mixed with irrational thoughts that we never totally lose confi‐ dence in what is being said and continue to share the narrator’s per‐ spective. Atwood is particularly cunning in deploying information throughout the book so that she can both build our confidence in the narrator and raise doubts about whether it is justified. For example, even before the narrator has dived under the cliff and emerged to tell us that her brother did not drown, she mentions in passing that her mother saved her brother from drowning and that he lives in Aus‐ tralia. That we should be aware of such inconsistencies and be suspi‐ cious of the narrator’s story is also brought to our attention when the narrator continues to speak of Canadian fisherman on the lake as Americans. Some of the descriptions deftly give the lie to her narra‐ tion. Her recollection of her wedding includes scenic details borrowed from the description of a company town in the first chapter. The best parts of the book, I feel, are the final chapters re‐cre‐ ating the primitive imagination. Here the flat declarative style and the attention given to detail is set against the mysterious spiritual pres‐ ence which the narrator feels; we feel the natural world as sacramen‐ tal:



IV. AUSTRALIA, CANADA, NEW ZEALAND 289 But there must be something else I can eat, some‐ thing that is not forbidden. I think of what I might catch, cray‐ fish, leeches, no not yet. Along the trail edible plants, the mushrooms, I know the poisonous kinds and the ones we used to collect, some of them can be eaten raw. There are raspberries on the canes, shriveled and not many but they are red. I suck those, their sweetness, sourness, piercing in my mouth, teeth crackling on the seeds. Into the trail, tunnel, cool of the trees, as I walk I search the ground for shapes I can eat, anything. Provisions, they will provide, they have always favoured survival. I find the six‐leaved plants again, two of them, and dig up the crisp white roots and chew them, not waiting to take them back to the lake to wash them. Earth caked be‐ neath my jagged nails. (p. 209) This is an expansion on, and a finer realization of, the sensitiv‐ ity towards the natural world found in ‘Dream 1: The Bush Garden’: In the dream I could see down through the earth, could see the potatoes curled like pale grubs in the soil the radishes thrusting down their fleshy snouts, the beets pulsing like slow amphibian hearts Around my feet the strawberries were surging, huge and shining5

5

The Journals of Susanna Moodie, p. 34.



290 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE With Surfacing Margaret Atwood has advanced from a prom‐ ising writer to larger possibilities. Her capabilities deserve, however, better recognition than mere praise. I hope that along with explication and praise Surfacing will also be examined for those flaws of style and sensitivity that sometimes weaken her work. A particular weakness is that when we see other people through the narrator’s eyes, we see them as flat, grotesque, wooden clichés. Her companions, her boy‐ friend, the Americans, and many of the villagers are seen crudely. Da‐ vid, for example, speaks of his wife as ‘a pair of boobs’, wiggles his moustache and gives a ‘Woody Woodpecker laugh’. He is often char‐ acterized grotesquely. The hope at the end of the book, of somehow reversing the despoliation and mechanization of the world, is also treated in banal generalities. The final description of Joe as offering a half‐formed hope may be meaningful to the narrator but it is senti‐ mental and rings false. Joe may be meant to represent an inarticulate, unheroic Canada that in the machine age is the hope of the future, but he is not interesting enough to carry such symbolic weight. No doubt it should be said that these objections pertain to the narrator’s vision and not Atwood’s. It is a neurotic and perhaps insane narrator who has a poetic perception of nature and a newspaper head‐ line vision of man and his problems. That Atwood was aware of the technical problems caused by her narrator is shown at several points in the novel. The final description of Joe, for example, is kept very short, as if the author were trying to avoid sentimentality. Several times in the course of the novel we are warned that the narrator is not reliable. David says that she lives in a never‐never land. While it is true that the author does not share the limited vision of the narrator, and indeed may be using it as a comment on her, I still find myself troubled by the cartoon‐strip characters and by the sentimentality with which some ideas are treated. I find similar tendencies in Atwood’s previous books. Both Peter and the women who work in Marian’s office in The Edible Woman are just stereotypes. Atwood’s lyric poetry sometimes falls into just such simple views of the social roles, personalities, and emotions of other people. It is unfortunate that these lapses continue in Surfacing; they mar a serious, profound, and beautifully written novel.



V. West Indies





Chapter 22 Anand’s Recherche du Temps Perdu A main theme of A House For Mr Biswas is chaos and order. Having been born into a world where he is not needed or wanted, Biswas is faced by disorder, the disorder caused by those who steal his father’s hidden wealth, his own lack of a home and family, the lack of means to create a place for himself in society. The Tulsis provide order but the price of such security is the stifling of identity and am‐ bition for mere subsistence in a large, fortress‐like, communal house‐ hold that by the novel’s end proves no longer secure. Trapped by cir‐ cumstances Biswas is without any permanent residence or family un‐ til after great cost he acquires a house. But while the house provides a place for the family, what kind of order has been achieved when the house remains mortgaged, Mr Biswas loses his job and two of his chil‐ dren go abroad, one of whom, apparently the narrator, writes gloomy, self‐pitying, hysterical letters? The order in the novel is not what Mr Biswas creates but is rather the order the narrator and literary work impress on the events. A House for Mr Biswas is not merely organized chronologically; it is, despite its realistic appearance, a highly structured book. Its form and organization are a reflection of the concern with order. While the novel is not as formally patterned as, for example the works of Eliot or Joyce, Naipaul’s concern to find or impose order on disorder is re‐ flected in various parallels, reversals, inversions, recapitulations, dou‐ blings and echoes. A House for Mr Biswas may be a different, more complex novel than at first appears. Kenneth Ramchand’s claim that “A House for Mr Biswas is essentially, and in surprising ways, a novel about the rela‐ tionship between father and son”1 rather limits the multiple interests of the novel, but it correctly emphasizes the importance of Anand’s 1

In An Introduction to the Study of West Indian Literature, Th. Nelson, (Kingston, Jamaica, 1976).

293

294 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE relationship to his father and his father’s past. I will, begin my study of the novel with a discussion of the narrator and such matters as the kinds of satire he employs and how his narrative is a different, more original literary kind than the title indicates. Even the normal deter‐ ministic implications of beginning the novel with Mr Biswas’s death are modified by the variety of emphases in the narrative. I will offer evidence to suggest that such originality expresses Naipaul’s con‐ scious attempt to create a serious literature based on the history of a society that previously had no fixed patterns and no appropriate liter‐ ary tradition. The second part of my essay will discuss some of the formal ordering techniques Naipaul uses. In Part III I will offer a read‐ ing based on the structure of the novel.

Part I The Narrator The interests of A House for Mr Biswas are oddly propor‐ tioned. Anand is treated with more care than any other character ex‐ cept Biswas and is the second most important person in the novel. He is never mocked, satirized or shown as coarse. Although his birth at Hanuman House is hardly noticed by his father, once he has chosen to stay at Green Vale he increasingly becomes his father’s companion, the person to whom Biswas can speak about his concerns. Large por‐ tions of the second half of the novel are narrated from Anand’s point of view or are focused on him. In the second half of the novel his rela‐ tionship with his father deepens until with Biswas’s heart attack it is made explicit: “And now Mr Biswas needed his son’s interest and an‐ ger. In all the world there was no one else to whom he could com‐ plain”2. A House for Mr Biswas is Anand’s memories, a coherent order‐ ing of the past. Anand explains how he learnt of his father’s past: “It was now that he began to speak to his children of his childhood” (p. 438). In other places we are shown Anand accidentally discovering 2

p. 588. Page numbers refer to the 1977 Penguin edition.



V. WEST INDIES 295 bits of his parents’ history. Even the reason why the father is de‐ scribed as “Mr Biswas” is carefully indicated: “Father and son, each saw the other as weak and vulnerable, and each felt a responsibility for the other, a responsibility which, in times of particular pain, was disguised by exaggerated authority on the one side, exaggerated re‐ spect on the other” (p. 374). The house on Sikkim Street, the height of Biswas’s achieve‐ ment, which gives him an identity, place, status and space to enjoy his family, is equally important to his children. Anand as narrator says of them “from now their lives would be ordered, their memories coher‐ ent”, and of himself: “So later, and very slowly, in securer times of dif‐ ferent stresses, when the memories had lost the power to hurt, with pain or joy, they would fall into place and give back the past” (p. 581). So viewed, the novel is related to James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in which the relationship of narrator to charac‐ ter is identified but distanced. A House for Mr Biswas is the narrator’s patterned, distanced recreation of his past in which the father is both model and anti‐model, the person who taught him to write and see the world, but whose character, hopelessness and circumstances the nar‐ rator has escaped through what Joyce called silence, exile and cun‐ ning.3

Satire The narration appears objective and distanced, but it often shifts surprisingly to a specific attitude towards character and event, especially taking the satiric or judgmental views of Biswas and Anand towards others. While A House for Mr Biswas may superficially seem a nineteenth century British social comedy of manners, its humour is a curious blend of satire aimed at those who harm Mr Biswas and vari‐ ous kinds of protective ironies erected around his pathetic, hopeless

3

The relationship of the characters to Naipaul’s family is discussed in Landeg White, V. S. Naipaul: A Critical Introduction, Macmillan (London, 1975).



296 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE struggle to assert his identity, for which he lacks the means of a com‐ forting environment. Mr Biswas may be treated as a caricature but he, unlike the Tulsis, is the object of the narrator’s interest and affection. One theme of the novel is Anand’s developing satiric sense which “kept him aloof”, made him aware and lonely, but also made him strong and “unassailable” (pp. 412‐414). Presumably this also ap‐ plies to Anand’s book of memories.

Generic Relationships Like many third world novels, perhaps like most interesting works of literature, A House for Mr Biswas plays havoc with our no‐ tions of generic form as it draws upon several traditional kinds of nov‐ els, while being itself unique. Naipaul’s title may suggest a British novel about who will in‐ herit the estate (such as Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park or E.M. Forster’s Howards End) or nostalgia for some past order (such as Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited) but the story is not about a fixed soci‐ ety; rather it is about the difficulty of acquiring such a house with its associations of an ordered, purposeful life, by those born “unneces‐ sary and unaccommodated” in the colonies, in particular the descend‐ ants of those indentured Indians who were imported to replace the labor of the black slaves after emancipation. The traditional symbol‐ ism of the possession or acquisition of a house or some piece of land as a social and cultural order involving distinctions of morals and manners may seem odd in an immigrant novel of the New World, but a well‐known example is Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, where the cost of immigrant success is judged critically by moral standards. In Naipaul’s novel, however, the judgment is more of personal, practical and psychological than of moral costs. The complaint is more with circumstances than character. Several other sub‐genres are relevant. A House for Mr Biswas is a novel about the movement of the rural poor into the city and as‐ similation into national society, a type of West Indian novel which goes back at least to H. de Lisser’s Jane’s Career (1914). It is also re‐ lated to the multi‐volumed colonial saga in which several generations

V. WEST INDIES 297 of a family are recorded. There is a relationship to the classic nine‐ teenth century bourgeois novel, as practiced by Balzac, in which the orphan or young man of obscure origin moves to the city to make his career; but the ending of Naipaul’s novel is ambiguous, with any cele‐ bration of triumph modified by the immense cost of such a small vic‐ tory. Common novelistic structures are significantly modified in A House for Mr Biswas; instead of triumph, reconciliation and social as‐ similation, the novel ends with Anand abroad and psychologically hurt, the Tulsi family in chaos and Biswas’s house (symbol of his tri‐ umph) mortgaged and empty. As a symbol for Indian assimilation within Trinidad and for bourgeois success, it is disillusioning. Argua‐ bly the mixture is a colonial mutant, the proper form for recording an unstable, impoverished society “that had no rules and patterns” (p. 510), and that, for its Indian inhabitants at least, had little previous usable history beyond that alluded to by the novel itself. While A House for Mr Biswas is related to two other kinds of novels (repre‐ sented by A La Recherche du Temps Perdu and A Portrait of the Artist), it is Anand rather than Biswas who will become the artist.

Determinism By placing the announcement of Mr Biswas’s death at the be‐ ginning of the novel so that the events of his life follow, Naipaul has used a deterministic structure in which (as in Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing) there is little real freedom of character; biography is shaped by social conditions. We are made aware of the Indian immi‐ grants, their lack of New World opportunities in Trinidad, their isola‐ tion from India and from other races of the island during the first third of this century. Until the war and the coming of Americans, bringing new money and social change, Mr Biswas is trapped and has no means of escape. But the literary effects of such determination, that might have formed the basis for a protest novel, is lightened by an emphasis on character, personal relations, manners, social comedy. The inter‐ est, even the achievement, of A House for Mr Biswas is in its mixture of



298 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE modes. It is an alive rather than dead novel precisely because the ma‐ terials for various interpretations are present and in conflict, hence the various controversies over whether it is satiric, celebratory or cynical.

A Self-Conscious Fiction As the novel is partly the memories of a young artist, it is not surprisingly a self‐conscious work of fiction. Throughout there are al‐ lusions to writing, reading, literature, various styles of reporting, lead‐ ing up to the passage I have quoted concerning memories having “lost the power to hurt” so that they “would fall into place and give back the past”. This remembrance of things past is partly about becoming a writer, especially a writer in colonies where survival can in itself be difficult, where there is no literary society, where the books and liter‐ ature taught in school and other available models are often inappro‐ priate. The various literary works mentioned range from colonial ro‐ mances and sociological tracts of model communities to such moderns as Lorca and Eliot. Anand must learn to write about the actual life he knows, as when he writes truly of nearly drowning in the sea4 and give reality pattern and permanent existence in literary form. Of the many writers mentioned perhaps Dickens seems most appropriate and in seeking to explain Naipaul’s art we should remember Dickens’s mix‐ ture of social criticism, comedy and the grotesque, and his many highly profiled characters within a broad canvas. Dickens also pro‐ vides a similar tragicomedy which ends ambiguously with the cele‐ bration of success masking a dark despair. The stories within the novel are part of a series of references having to do with Biswas’s interest in the arts, art in a colonial society, bad art (which falsifies) and the ability of art to give pattern to the past and what otherwise would be chaotic and meaningless. References to the arts include architecture, photography, the romance novels of Hall Caine and Marie Corelli (p. 78). Even “framing a picture was like writ‐ ing a sign: it required neatness and precision” (p. 460); and there is 4

See pp. 354‐355.



V. WEST INDIES 299 the “meeting of the literary group” (pp. 478‐479) and Biswas’s poem (p. 484). A House for Mr Biswas notes in passing the evolution of a lit‐ erature in Trinidad5. Naipaul’s blend of documentary, comedy and a creative fictional reworking of family and personal history into the distanced ironic mode seems to be a corrective of the inappropriate literary models, at least for the West Indies, which the novel mentions.

Part II Formal Order The novel has fifteen main sections consisting of (a) a pro‐ logue and epilogue which frame and enclose the chronological narra‐ tive, (b) two parts of equal length, the first of which is in six chapters and concerns rural life, while the second part is divided into seven chapters and concerns life in the city. Some other formal characteris‐ tics should be noticed. Part 1.6, the seventh section, the center of the novel by length, is very short, like the prologue and epilogue, and func‐ tions as a pivot between the previous rural and the forthcoming urban scenes. After his failure to build a house in the country, find employ‐ ment and create his own family, Biswas leaves the Tulsis to go to Port of Spain where he will succeed. Part 2.7 is also short and parallels 1.6 both in position (as the end of a part) and by thematic inversion: 1.6 is of failure, loss of house, family separation and departure; 2.7 is of success, gaining a house and family closeness.

Symmetry and Parallels Order and coherence are reflected not only in such obvious formal structures as the division of the contents of the book into two equal halves, flanked by prologue and epilogue, but also in numerous 5

Alluding to those associated with such journals as The Beacon, Trinidad and Papa Bois, information about which can be found in Reinhard Sander’s article “The Thirties and the Forties” in B. King, ed., West Indian Literature, Macmillan, (London, 1979).



300 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE parallels and reversals between the parts and chapters. A few exam‐ ples: the father’s funeral and Biswas’s expulsion from his home in 1.1 the first chapter, is balanced by Mr Biswas’s obtaining a house in 2.7, the last chapter, and his funeral in the epilogue. The breakup of Biswas’s family at the conclusion of 1.1 is reversed in 2.7 with the ob‐ taining of the house for his family. The Tulsi family (1.2) becomes dis‐ organized in part II and splits apart towards the end of the book (2.6). At the end of Part I (1.6) Biswas has had a nervous breakdown, but leaves for Port of Spain; at the end of Part II, in the epilogue, Biswas has had a stroke, his two children go abroad on scholarships and there are implications that his son Anand is undergoing mental distress. Anand writes letters “gloomy, self‐pitying; then they were tinged with hysteria which Mr Biswas immediately understood” (p. 586). When Mr Biswas goes to school and is given a birth certificate “he entered a new world” (p. 44). When he leaves the Tulsis for Port of Spain after his collapse “he was still beginning” (p. 305). “The world had been restored to him” (p. 305). The nightly terrorizing of the fam‐ ily in 1.1 after the father’s funeral by those digging for hidden money is paralleled by those who apparently are going to revenge themselves on Biswas and say “We digging for treasure” (p. 283). The scene of Owad’s departure for England (p. 311) is paralleled by his return (p. 538); the former leads to the beginning of chaos within the Tulsi household, the latter for a time restores order, although this is a tem‐ porary illusion as Owad soon goes his own way. Govind’s beating up of Biswas (p. 135) for offending Owad is paralleled by Owad’s slap‐ ping of Anand (p. 550) and reversed by Govind’s reconciliation with Biswas in a scene written so as to recall the earlier incident (“Govind came into the room, his trousers unbelted, his shirt unbuttoned” [p. 557].) While providing formal order such parallels and reversals highlight the emotional and social relationships. In 2.6 Anand is being humiliated and tried by the Tulsis in the same way that Mr Biswas was previously, but instead of the same power relationships continuing on to the second generation, Biswas as an older, more confident, some‐ what more financially secure parent can now rebel and decide to pur‐ chase a house rather than merely complain. Similarly the weakening

V. WEST INDIES 301 Tulsi power and the increasing individualism of those in the family are shown by Govind’s expressing friendship for Mr Biswas whereas in the past, financially dependent on the Tulsis, Govind would have un‐ thinkingly defended them in any family controversy. Another purpose of the many parallels drawn between Mr Biswas’s increased job opportunities, earning power, purchase of a suit and buying a house and those of other members of the family is to show that his history is representative of change throughout Trini‐ dadian society with the Second World War, American money, elec‐ tions and post‐war development. The parallels in such cases can be said to make the individual typical.6

Organization Within Chapters Each chapter of Parts I and II is made up of various short sto‐ ries or sketches. Usually Naipaul’s approach is oblique and although the theme is often clearly stated at the start of the opening paragraph of that story, the relevance or point of the incident may be unclear un‐ til the conclusion when the focus will suddenly shift to or narrow in on Mr Biswas or an illustration of the theme of that episode. These episodes are noticeably separated from each other by extra line spaces between paragraphs. Naipaul’s art in this book is still rooted in the short stories and sketches practiced by his father and found in his own Miguel Street and Flag on the Island7.

Repetition as Organization Often relationships between stories and paragraphs are rhe‐ torical with a repeated phrase, word or foregrounded sound knitting together the prose into a larger unit than it would otherwise have. Nai‐ paul even uses repeating sounds and words as a means of organizing.

6 7

See John La Guerre, ed., Calcutta to Caroni, Longman, (London, 1978). See Seepersad Naipaul, Gurudeva and Other Indian Tales, Trinidad Publi‐ cation (1943). Reprinted with an introduction by V. S. Naipaul, The Ad‐ ventures of Gurudeva and Other Stories, A. Deutsch, (London, 1976).



302 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE The first paragraph (p. 8) concludes “his own house”. The second par‐ agraph begins “He thought of the house as his own”. The third para‐ graph begins, “the house”. In paragraph two “house” occurs nine times; “his” occurs nine times; “own” occurs six times and “his own” occurs six times. The sense of possession is shown by “his own front gate”, “his doors and windows” … in contrast to “their husbands, their children”. To give a random example of the same technique, used in a less concentrated manner: “Mr Biswas didn’t know that Savi had be‐ gun to go to school… And he had known nothing… If your shoelaces come loose again today, you think you would be able to tie them back?... Let me see you tie them… You know I can’t tie them … I can’t tie them… I will tie them for you… She must learn to tie her laces… and beat her until she can tie them… As yet no one was paying attention. But when Shama started to hunt for one… It was not going to be… She knew she was…” (p. 197). The pages which follow repeat “tie”, “defy”, “No one”, “cried”, “dry”, “pride”.

Articulation as Control Just as Naipaul will link paragraphs by repetition of words which focus on their essential subject matter so he will bind episodes and chapters to each other with the repetition of a word or phrase or, a slightly different technique, by pointing to the subject matter. The prologue concludes “as one had been born, unnecessary and unac‐ commodated” (p. 4). 1.1 begins “Shortly before he was born”; 1.1 ends with Mr Biswas’s expulsion from his father’s hut and land and the breakup of the family, and the final words are “he was really quite alone”, a theme which will be repeated throughout the novel. 1.2 be‐ gins with Mr Biswas later unable to say where the hut had been. 1.2 concludes “he went to Hanuman House at Arwacas and saw Shama” (p. 80). 1.3 begins “Among the tumbledown timber‐and‐corrugated‐ iron buildings in the High Street at Arwacas, Hanuman House stood like an alien white fortress”. Although the novel is large, well populated, filled with a vari‐ ety of events, Naipaul keeps it under formal control. The setting of

V. WEST INDIES 303 each chapter is usually made explicit in the opening sentence. Naipaul directs the reader to a clear view of where events take place and what is central to each chapter and links his episodes and chapters by such rhetorical means as repeated words and phrases.

Parallels Between the Prologue and Epilogue Parallels between the prologue and epilogue illustrate the care that has gone into shaping the chronological narrative into a for‐ mal structure. Some parallels between the prologue and the epilogue are: before Biswas dies, and Biswas’s death (p. 159); owning a house (p. 589); the Sentinel (p. 589); the interest on the house (p. 585); be‐ ing sacked from his job (p. 588); money (p. 585); talks about selling the car (p. 585); mention of Biswas’s children (p. 586); two children are abroad (p. 586); Biswas’s debt (p. 586); Shama’s judgment (p. 585); the doors of the house (p. 589); the American Army bases (p. 585); having the walls distempered (p. 587); Biswas’s return from the hospital (p. 587). Parallels are also suggested between Mr Biswas and the solicitor’s clerk’s mother: both have bad hearts and cannot climb stairs (p. 587). There are also, however, reversals between the prologue and the epilogue. In the prologue, the period when Biswas hopes to become rich by writing is described (p. 13); in the epilogue, he is worn out and has no more ambition (p. 587). In the prologue Mr Biswas is described as “unaccommodated” (p. 14); in the epilogue his house is empty (p. 590). While the initial impression given by such parallels is to make the narrator appear precisely in control of his fictional world, the un‐ intended response may be that such elaborate patterning attempts to give shape to the accidental, externally determined lives of the main characters.

Organization of the Novel A House for Mr Biswas is organized around recurring topics, themes, symbols and images. Most chapters mention the house where Mr Biswas lives, some contrasting houses, a new job or a career Mr Biswas attempts, the state of his clothing and possessions including

304 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE new acquisitions, his salary, any money he has saved towards a house, some references to education and to literature and Mr Biswas’s rela‐ tionship at the time to his immediate family. There is often a scene of humiliation, a reference to Christmas, a mention of a garden, some ri‐ valry (as with Govind) and reference to the Tulsi sisters. The strongest pattern of imagery is of light and dark. Biswas wants light, whiteness, clarity, but he lives in a world of darkness. Houses in the story usually are associated, at least externally, with light and whiteness. Significantly the interiors of the houses are usu‐ ally darker, dimmer than the first impression the house offers from the outside. Another recurring pattern of imagery is of snakes: the bush around houses is cleared for snakes, melting pitch is described as snakes, and characters have nightmares of snakes.

Part III Structural Reading 1.1 In Part I (thirty‐one years in the countryside) Chap‐ ter 1 is focused on his father’s hut in Parrot Trace (p. 34), a south Trin‐ idadian village in the swamplands where Biswas lived for six years. There is also Bipti’s father’s crumbling mud hut (p. 15). Biswas’s job is “taking water to the calf” (p. 24) which, ironically, leads to the death of both his own father and of the calf. The owner of the calf digs up the garden looking for buried money and soon afterwards the family will split up for good (p. 34). The splitting up of the family is not only the exile of Mr Biswas from the security of a stable culture and society, but also the marker for what caused the chaos of Anand’s own childhood which deter‐ mines his view of Trinidad. But it is suggested that the Hindu world of Biswas’s father could no longer have provided security. The evening of the funeral Tara says: “ ‘Fashions are changing all the time these days. I am just old‐fashioned, that is all’ She stroked her gold‐nose flower. ‘It is expensive to be old‐fashioned.’ “ (p. 35). Although Tara’s husband is “one of the first in Trinidad to buy a motorcar” (p. 32), Tara is transitional between the Hindu society of the past and the urban society of the racially mixed, English‐speaking photographer (p. 33).



V. WEST INDIES 305 The horoscope, representing an ordering, fated way of life, predicts what happens. In later chapters Biswas will mock the predictions of lechery and being a spendthrift (p. 16); such predictions do not apply outside the enclosed world of this chapter. Naipaul offers us a self‐enclosed world with its own perspec‐ tive but his own point of view is that of an outsider; the pastoral world is ironic and feels distanced. The precise tone of the narrator’s irony is somewhat difficult to describe. Naipaul the artist distances and or‐ ders through comedy, satire and irony any personal emotions in his treatment of humiliation and pain. 1.2 The change in scene from the no longer existing vil‐ lage of the sugar estate to Pagotes (1.2) where Biswas will live for eleven years is representative of the progress of the Indian from in‐ dentured laborer whose vision is governed by “fate” to a more modern way of life. The difficulties of the transition are suggested by the con‐ trast between Tara’s house and Biswas’s various living quarters, in‐ cluding one room of a mud hut in which his mother lives and pundit Jairam’s (which is contrasted to the Canadian Mission School) and the room in a rum shop―itself a reminder of the earliest venture of Tara’s husband in freeing himself from the bondage of the land. But in such an unprotected world the weak are humiliated by the strong; drunken Bhandat beats Biswas with a belt, drawing blood. Although Biswas says “I am going to get a job of my own. I am going to get my own house too” (p. 67) he lives in a colony where such apparently normal activi‐ ties are beyond the ambitions of the weak. The romances and Samuel Smiles books that he reads are inappropriate to his circumstances. He trains to be a pundit (although the inappropriateness of traditional Hindu customs in Trinidad is suggested by the centrality of Christmas in each chapter), works in a rum shop for his room and board and be‐ comes a sign painter. His first possession is a copy of Bell’s Standard Elocutionist (p. 50). Biswas’s sister Dehuti runs away and marries a low‐caste In‐ dian, Ramchand. Ramchand ignores Hinduism and earns twelve dol‐ lars a week at a time when Biswas is working for Tara’s family in a



306 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE rum shop at two dollars a month. Ramchand’s hut has various refine‐ ments. He has “modern ambitions” and will have rooms in Port of Spain to which Biswas escapes at the beginning of Part II. 1.3 The marriage to Shama traps Biswas as sign painting does not pay enough for two, let alone a larger family. His futile oppo‐ sition to the Tulsis upon whom he is dependent is symbolized by his move into their Arwacas house. There he is humiliated and told to apologize (p. 111) and violently beaten by Govind. Like so much of the Trinidad of the book the reality is dark and unpleasing. The store “was disappointing … there were no win‐ dows … Light came only from the two narrow doors” (p. 82). when Biswas goes from the store into the Tulsi house it is partly like return‐ ing to the village of his father, “the kitchen had mud walls … without light” (p. 87). The description of Biswas’s first attraction towards Shama is weighted by the author’s irony at the discrepancy between Biswas’s horoscope and the reality of his “lechery”. The excitement, interest, attraction of something new ends in disillusionment, usually shortly after some foolish act or commitment that will influence Biswas’s fu‐ ture. Shama having accidentally but stupidly insulted a black cus‐ tomer in the Tulsi store is insulted by Mrs Tulsi, but not before Biswas has impulsively written the love note to her. The importance of this episode in Biswas’s life is shown by its length, the section in fact is printed continuously from the beginning of the chapter on page 80 to page 95 without a break and could be published as a short story in itself. The punch line―“And Mr Biswas found that he had agreed” (p. 95)―is preceded by the description of the Tulsi store as “dark and warm and protected” (p. 86) and Seth’s command, “the old lady want to see you before you go”. Such com‐ mands to appear before a Tulsi trial recur elsewhere in the novel8. 1.4 Unwilling to work on the Tulsi estates in return for room and board and having caused tension in Hanuman House, Biswas is offered a chance to be a shopkeeper in the Chase where he 8 See p. 107: “Uncle want to see you.”



V. WEST INDIES 307 will live for six years of boredom and futility in the back rooms of the Tulsi shop. Although he acquires a few possessions, including a bed and a kitchen table (p. 187), his first three children are born at Hanu‐ man House and named by Seth and Hari. Believing his stay at the Chase temporary Biswas plants no trees (p. 186). In contrast to the futility and boredom of The Chase, Hanu‐ man house now appears orderly rather than chaotic (p. 188), and for Biswas becomes a “sanctuary” (p. 188) from the “darkness”, “the fear about the future” (p. 190), he feels at The Chase by himself. Although there are previous indications in the book that Biswas suffers from depressions, fears, anxieties (Christmas is for Biswas “a day of tedious depression”, [p. 191]) this is an early warning of his nervous break‐ down in 1.6. The last part of 1.4 is largely concerned with Biswas’s resig‐ nation to his failure at The Chase (p. 196) and his consequent surren‐ der to the Tulsis. 1.5 Having failed to become independent by shopkeep‐ ing at The Chase, Biswas is sent by the Tulsis to Green Vale as sub‐ overseer of the estate. He first lives in a room in a barracks and then uses his small savings to build a pitiful house in which he and Anand live and which is partly destroyed by a terrible storm. The symbolism of the house is particularly significant in this chapter as Biswas feels he must now or never build for his family; but in the circumstances and with such small savings a house is impossi‐ ble for him. Besides the contrast between his residences and Tara’s and Hanuman House, there is also the doll’s house which Biswas buys for his daughter for Christmas and which Shama is pressured into de‐ molishing (perhaps the major humiliation of the chapter) as it flaunts the Hanuman House convention of identical Christmas presents for each of the children. Neither Biswas, Shama nor any of the children can assert individuality in what is essentially a rigidly structured com‐ munity organized for the collective good of the family and relatives. Anand, whose birth was hardly noticed, becomes significant. His point of view briefly appears at the first of two Christmases in the chapter (“Anand had a moment of alarm when he got up” [p. 214]). He

308 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE is in many ways like his father. Even his dirtying his pants at mission school is similar to Biswas’s “misadventure” at Pundit Jairam’s (p. 236). He too is fragile, wears ragged clothes and has an aesthetic sense as is shown by their objections to the cheap galvanized roofing Seth offers. Seth describes him as “another little paddler” (p. 259). Anand chooses to stay with his father when the rest of the family re‐ turns to Hanuman House. He is “affected by his father’s fear” (p. 281) and is with him the night of the storm when after his collapse the per‐ spective becomes Anand’s. Both Chapter 1.4 and 1.5 are like returning to the village of Biswas’s childhood. He fears being “left alone” (p. 283), the disgrun‐ tled laborers tell Anand “we digging for treasure” (p. 283), while the drowning of the calf in 1.1 is recalled by Ramkhilawan’s “Oh, my poor little calf.” (p. 293). The storm and destruction of the house is a return to “chaos” after Biswas’s futile attempts at creating order. It occurs at the center of the book. I.6 The short 1.6 chapter is pivotal. During the storm at Green Vale Biswas has a nervous breakdown, and, symbolically, is car‐ ried by Govind to the security of Hanuman House. Biswas’s life has gone full circle and is at a dead end. Even his relationship to his chil‐ dren is fruitless: “If he left he would not be missed. He had not claimed his children; they avoided him and were embarrassed when they met him” (p. 304). His furniture is brought from Green Vale to Hanuman House and scattered (p. 298). As he recovers we realize that he has survived a terrible experience that has changed him, leaving him hardened and more independent. Jobless he leaves and starts his life afresh as it was before he married Shama and became entangled with supporting a family in conditions that bound him to the Tulsis. As if to enclose Part I as a formal unit, the last page of the chapter echoes Biswas’s attempt to find a job in I.2, before he was sidetracked by mar‐ riage; even the village trees “looked like the legs of Pratap and Prasad when, as boys, they returned from the buffalo‐pond” (p. 305) in I.1.



V. WEST INDIES 309

Part Two The second half of the novel is, except for 2.3 and short trips, set in Port of Spain and covers the last fifteen years of Mr Biswas’s life. It coincides with the rapid social changes caused by increased wealth brought about by the American presence on the island and by plan‐ ning for post‐war development and the proposed West Indian Feder‐ ation. 2.4 Chapter 2.4 is rich in incident and social history. Life outside Port of Spain is no longer possible for those who have tasted urban entertainments and whose future depends on education. Biswas puts his Shorthills house up for sale and moves back with his family into two rooms in Mrs Tulsi’s Port of Spain house where he is increasingly crowded by the many children of the Tulsi family who have also come to the city for education “the only protection” (p. 436) in this new world. Although Biswas is made an investigator of the De‐ serving Destitutes and given a by‐line again by the Sentinel he feels his career is blocked, and is frustrated at his inability to make use of the new opportunities and ambitions raised in the island. Govind drives taxis for the Americans and has new suits; W.C. Tuttle hires his lorries to Americans; there are new cars and new buildings. Biswas’s only possession is a dining table (p. 444). He writes unfinished escape sto‐ ries (p. 453), barely disguised, about himself. His sense of achieve‐ ment is now dependent on the future of his children; he worries “what awaited Anand? A job in the customs, a clerkship in the civil service: intrigue, humiliation, dependence” (pp. 439‐440). “You are a funny sort of family” Ajodha said. “Father collecting money for destitutes. You collecting for Polish refugees. Who collecting for you?” (p. 457). The point of view is often Anand’s: “a simpering lip‐licking Vidiadhar” (p. 471). Rivalry between the Tulsis has replaced conformity and Biswas is now the rival of W.C. Tuttle. The Tulsi sisters who formerly were so intimidating at Hanuman House are increasingly pathetic and hopeless in this new world. Everything they touch fails. By contrast some of Biswas’s relatives are now among the richest people on the island.

310 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE 2.5 Biswas is offered a job as community welfare officer that leads to a holiday trip to Sans Souci and the purchase of a car. Thinking his career closed and losing hope of owning his own house after moving back with Mrs Tulsi, Biswas is revivified by his new job which makes him part of the new era (p. 496). He acquires new suits (p. 508), fancy cigarettes (p. 511), reads books on folk dancing and psychology (pp. 497‐498) as well as Dickens and discovers Shama has her own opinions which he never suspected (p. 504). Tuttle buys a house (p. 516) but Biswas is still dependent on Mrs Tulsi who moves from her Port of Spain house to a tenement while the house is redec‐ orated and then allows him to return to one room at the back. Humil‐ iated, “he was in her power, as he had been ever since he had gone to Tulsi Store and seen Shama behind the counter” (p. 528). Looking over his past Biswas feels he has “missed” the childhoods of his chil‐ dren (p. 533). 2.6 Owad’s return from England briefly restores in Mrs Tulsi’s Port of Spain house the old order of Hanuman House (which existed before, p. 311). It soon fails. Anand copies Owad even to the point of saying he loathes T.S. Eliot, but he is humiliated and slapped by Owad; even the apology Shama forces him to make (p. 551) is re‐ jected. This contributes to the quarrel between Mrs Tulsi and Biswas that makes him see the necessity of now possessing his own house. Significantly the narrative perspective is often Anand’s: “Anand felt his ears burning. He looked hard at the cards” (p. 549). With the new turn of events Govind and Biswas are reconciled (contrast p. 135 with p. 557), while the Tulsi family finally breaks up; Owad mixes with his medical colleagues, plays tennis at the Indian Club and joins the new professional class (p. 572). Parallels between I.6 and 2.6 are signifi‐ cant to the structure of the novel. In I.6 Biswas departs from Hanuman House for Port of Spain; in 2.6 Biswas sees he must depart from the Tulsi Port of Spain house. I.6 shows the necessity of the Tulsis to Biswas who does not have the resources to create his own family life in the country; 2.6 shows the fragmentation and decay of the Tulsis. 2.7 Structurally 2.7 inverts and concludes I.1 where Biswas leaves “the only house to which he had some right” (p. 40).

V. WEST INDIES 311 While the flawed house on Sikkim Street is contrasted to a solid, well‐ made house (p. 578) and a new neat bungalow (p. 579) the visit of the admiring Tuttles confirms Biswas’s success, despite the radio being resented. From now on the lives and memories of his children will be ordered. It is implied that the novel consists of the future memories of Anand living in a northern land.

Epilogue Because of post‐war prosperity Biswas loses his position as a welfare officer and returns to the Sentinel from which he is subse‐ quently sacked after he suffers a heart attack. Savi and Anand are abroad on scholarships and cannot help repay the mortgage on the house. Thrown back to the depressing insecurity of the past Biswas is now comforted by his wife who “said she was not worried” and soon Savi returns to a job at a bigger salary than Mr Biswas could ever have got. The funeral of Mr Biswas (which parallels his father’s funeral in I.1) is attended by the Tulsi sisters who now have their own homes. With the first local general elections an era has ended and the poverty of the first generations of Indians in Trinidad is now a memory of the past; but it appears that the cost will still be paid by Anand who will need to exorcise the pains of family history by giving them literary form.





Chapter 23 Who Has Written Better? The award of the Nobel Prize for literature to Sir Vidia Suraj‐ prasad Naipaul was long delayed. He has been the greatest novelist in English for the past forty years, the only serious candidate for great‐ ness since William Faulkner and Samuel Beckett. Although Naipaul has always disdained talk of style, his prose has become a model in the way that Hemingway, Orwell, and Beckett have influenced anyone concerned with clarity, economy, rhythm and harmony. The way the past offered such models as Dryden, Swift, and Samuel Johnson, it is now difficult to write prose without Naipaul in mind. His novels are original and daring in organization, much more so than the self‐conscious displays of technique characteristic of most recent avant gardes including Magical Realism. Naipaul’s most surprising quality is the compassion with which he approaches his characters and their problems―surprising because that is not Naipaul’s reputation and surprising because that is not Naipaul’s personality in public appearances, interviews, or even in his journalism. But compare the way he treats his grotesques in the Trinidadian fiction with those hollow men and women who inhabit most Magic Realism. Whereas the latter are caricatures, gross satirical figures, Naipaul’s characters are real people whose flaws in their so‐ cial situations result in errors, comedy, ironies, tragedy, and triumphs and teach readers the wisdom of experience. Even to speak of his char‐ acters and the societies in which they move indicates how Naipaul has revivified an older, great tradition of realistic fiction that had become anaemic in our time. In Naipaul’s later novels the comically grotesque is uncommon, while the fidelity to complexity of characterization is so fine that it is difficult to reduce the perspective to the kind of simplic‐ ities in which many literary critics and teachers trade. He is a true cosmopolitan both in subject matter and in the many kinds of literature from which he has learned. His tradition in‐ cludes R.K. Narayan, Balzac and Proust as well as Dickens and Conrad. 313

314 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Reading through the fiction, one hears echoes of the great poets, great philosphers, great religious writers, and great historians. There are Indian as well as European echoes. His is not a textual enriching of an otherwise unresonant prose; rather Naipaul is usually concerned with similar universal issues, testing the specific problems about which he is writing within larger perspectives. He is an extremely realistic, even materialistic writer who keeps his eye on his subject, but there are other imaginative dimensions of the spiritual, history, Indian culture, and the vision acquired through his reading of great books, not far in the background. Naipaul’s main questions have been “What is the world” and “How are we to live in it?” His view is that we make ourselves within the situations we inhabit. It could be a Marxist vision, but he is im‐ mune to the fantasies of utopianism. His concerns have found their specific subject matter in observing the effects of colonialism and the withdrawal of empires on the world and how people live within colo‐ nized and post‐colonial societies. Naipaul is a major historian of our age, one of the few creative writers to stride across the globe examin‐ ing various societies with a comparative perspective. He can do this because he carries with him the awareness of the complexities of hurts, desires, and racial, religious, and class tensions, and ways of survival of his life in Trinidad. His wisdom includes the cunning, en‐ ergy, toughness, and will of a survivor. It is easy to laugh at his snob‐ beries, competitiveness, and rapdly assumed outrage, but they are part of the human heart he brings to his characters. Those who criticize Naipaul as being insufficiently an author of whatever is currently politically correct might ask themselves why they so consistently criticize the winners of the Nobel Prize and other literary awards. Few would admit it, but Naipaul has often been right. Even if the complaints were correct, it would do little to take away from Naipaul’s accomplishments. Who has written better?



Chapter 24 Garth St. Omer: From Disorder to Order Normally the publication of four books of a West Indian au‐ thor by such a reputable house as Faber and Faber would bring critical attention; in the case of Garth St. Omer only two critical articles have appeared.1 The only other comments I have found on him, beyond short reviews, are Gerald Moore’s remarks in Contemporary Novelists. From his descriptions of the novels it would seem that Moore is un‐ certain of what exactly takes place and in what sequence. He notes that St. Omer’s prose style is both simple and evocative, that the four books treat the same material, and concludes that St. Omer needs to develop new subject matter if he is to improve. Perhaps Moore is cor‐ rect, but since reading the books they have stayed in my mind, leaving me feeling that St. Omer is an unusual talent who, regardless whether he develops into a major novelist, deserves attention. St. Omer comes from St. Lucia, one of the small Windward Is‐ lands. St. Lucia was French and remains partly French in culture; French patois still is in common usage. The population is divided be‐ tween Catholics and Protestants. The island is economically stag‐ nant―even sugar is no longer raised―bananas are the only major crop. It is too small to be viable and is still under British domination. The basic division of the island is not white and black or Catholic and black; rather it is Creole and black, middle class and poor. Until the 1950s the island had no intellectual life; then suddenly a small group of artists and writers, including Derek Walcott, Roderick Walcott, and St. Omer, appeared. The conservatism of the island can be seen from 1

The two critical essays are Jacqueline Kay, “Anonymity and Subjectivism in the Novels of Garth St.Omer”, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 10: 1 (August 1975), 45‐52; John Thieme, “Double Identity in the Novels of Garth St. Omer”, ARIEL (Canada), 8:3 (July 1977), 81‐97. Two useful book reviews are: Edward Baugh, review of Nor Any Country, Bim, Number. 50 (January‐June 1970), 128‐130; Gordon Rohlehr, “Small Island Blues,” Voices (Trinidad), 2:1 (September‐December 1969), 22‐28.

315

316 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE the fact that the Catholic Church prevented Roderick Walcott’s play, The Banjo Man, from being presented at the 1958 West Indian Arts Festival. The vicar general felt the play was immoral. St. Omer published five stories and “extracts” in the BIM in the 1950s; his first publication outside the West Indies was a novella Sy‐ rop, published in the Faber anthology, Introduction 2 (1964). This was followed by four short books, A Room on the Hill (1968), two short narratives published under the collective title Shades of Gray (1968), Nor Any Country (1969) and J‐, Black Bam and the Masqueraders (1972). St.Omer has also written an article on Derek Walcott entitled “Dream But Not, Please, on Monkey Mountain” (Voice of St. Lucia, 2 November, 1968), and a PhD dissertation for Princeton University on the colonial novel. Authors discussed include Naipaul, Camus and Car‐ pentier.

Style and Form Each of the narratives is longer and more varied in character and incident than a short story, but because of its intense concentra‐ tion on a few emotions and its lack of plot development it cannot properly be termed a novel; novella, which in English suggests a half‐ way stage between short story and novel which has usually implied stories of sensibility rather than events, might be the best description. The structure of the novellas is largely fragmentary, consist‐ ing of incidents, memories, flashbacks of time, letters, dialogue, pre‐ sent and past thoughts, and similar devices that create rather mood and reflection than sequential, linear plot development. The general style is of concise economy, understatement, and episodes related ra‐ ther by association than cause and effect. The focus of the narrative is more on the inner consciousness and observing sensibility of the in‐ dividual than on externalities. There is little action, few events; the fo‐ cus rarely shifts from from the consciousness of the characters, whose memories make up most of the narrative. Even dialogue seems ob‐ served rather than in itself dramatic. It is difficult to piece events to‐ gether into a chronological sequence. Individual chapters begin with



V. WEST INDIES 317 imprecise emotions, the object of which is not clear until later when some previous event is mentioned. There is disillusionment, despair, introspection and haunting immobility; often the main characters are unlikable, being in them‐ selves both victims and exploiters. The effect is rather of carefully con‐ structed, sensitive, artfully shaped brooding over memories than story. This characteristic of guilty meditation is strengthened by the various characters and stories being analogous so that parts of the no‐ vellas could be moved to another book without seeming out of place.

The Stories Before discussing such matters as theme and purpose, it will be useful to indicate briefly the subject matter of each book. A Room on the Hill tells of the death of John Lestrade’s mother, the long estrangement between mother and father, the death of a beautiful young woman, and the insanity of the local priest who has returned to the island. The central events are the suicide of Stephen, John’s best friend, whose money to escape from the island was wasted by a callous father, and the rejection of John by Stephen’s girlfriend. It is a record of isolation, drifting, lives without purpose, young dying in accidents, heavy drinking, and premature aging. The book is prefaced by Derek Walcott’s lines: “Only the gulls, hunting the water’s edge/ Wheel like our lives, seeking something worth pity.” The Lights on the Hill, the first of the two narratives in Shades of Gray, concerns Stephenson, twenty‐eight‐year‐old drifter, who, ironically, because the favoritism given those from the smaller, back‐ ward islands, finds himself on a scholarship at the then University Col‐ lege of the West Indies. Despite his escape from the small island, Ste‐ phenson’s life seems a continuation of John Lestrade’s brooding aim‐ lessness. The central event of the novella is the death of Eddie, by light‐ ening, an incident which in its effect parallels the suicide of Stephen in the previous novel. Stephenson had envied Eddie as someone who, unlike himself, can achieve, but the arbitrariness of death makes him



318 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE realize that achievement in itself cannot be a goal: “human effort, in the end, if it did not benefit others, was futile.” This realization de‐ presses him further. He feels he has no special talents and is really a spectator. Another Place Another Time, the second story in Shades of Gray, is somewhat more sociological in purpose. Derek (the name is also that of one of John’s friends in A Room on the Hill), is another emo‐ tional cripple produced by history. Although the island is chang‐ ing―elections, black faces replacing mulattoes and whites at the col‐ lege―his family is too poor to enjoy the bene its. Education is his only means upward in society. His mother, with whom he no longer can speak, works endlessly to pay for schooling as it is the “only thing to save us poor people”. He feels that he should work to relieve her suf‐ ferings and he’s guilty of losing contact with his childhood friends, but he must continue his education if his mother’s efforts are not to be wasted. Although he does not want it and has no personal ambition, he must leave the island for further schooling. After winning the island scholarship to study abroad, he refuses to accept the teaching position at the local school, despite the headmaster’s claim that Derek could help others of his race, as this would end his advancement. St. Omer’s third book, Nor Any Country (1969), describes a successful young West Indian who after being educated abroad re‐ turns to his island feeling uprooted and alienated. He can no longer speak with his family; beyond exchanging memories they have noth‐ ing in common. His father feels threatened both by Peter’s achieve‐ ment and by his brother’s failure to succeed at a career. We learn that Peter has been trapped into a loveless marriage eight years before. If the marriage allowed his wife to escape from her family―she was an illegitimate child―Europe was Peter’s escape from her. (Throughout the novels the loose sexual behavior of the islanders lead to unwanted children, early marriage and wasted lives.) The repetitive nature of the situation is shown when Peter makes his unloving wife pregnant again and, trying to be responsible, reluctantly takes her with him to his new teaching job at the university on a different island.



V. WEST INDIES 319 The fourth book, J‐, Black Bam and the Masqueraders (1972), is a further development and a commentary on Nor Any Country. Here we see Peter’s souring life as a lecturer at the University and his brother Paul’s comments on his own, and implicitly Peter’s, experi‐ ence. The two lives, although apparently so different, are similar prod‐ ucts of the same culture. Peter’s story is what we might expect. At the university he has an affair with Jeannine, a French lecturer, and treats his wife cruelly. He lives comfortably and sneers at the independence movement as a form of mimicry and fantasy. “We are so busy imitating others that we have no time to do anything of our own.” As Peter becomes aware of his mimicry, he loses his ability to adapt to his new life. His studies and teaching increasingly seem irrelevant. He attempts to turn toward his wife, but she cannot understand his dissatisfaction. Lacking edu‐ cation and travel, she is proud of his position in society. Even her Eng‐ lish is “little more than transliteration of words and phrases from pat‐ ois”. (Part of St. Omer’s achievement is in portraying less educated speakers through transliterations.) Despite this she takes pride in her English name and light skin. He cannot help but compare her to the women, white and black, he knew in England. Soon she begins follow‐ ing him to his mistress’s house, pounding on the door. One night he beats her and she takes vengeance by waylaying Jeannine and badly assaulting her with a stick. The effect of these stories is of greyness, of lives wasted, of individuals without will, of a society without purpose, of a small, con‐ fined world lacking drama, excitement, ideals and style. The charac‐ ters drift, lack objectives, and feel trapped. Education is important in each of the stories since education is the means on the island of raising oneself above poverty and squalor. Those who escaped through edu‐ cation feel that they have betrayed their family and friends; education rather alienates from than facilitates one’s adjustment to society.



320 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE

Themes St. Omer's novellas have the usual subject matter and themes of West Indian writing: the mimicry of white, typically British styles of living; the contrast between the hopeless poor and the lifeless mid‐ dle class; the economic poverty of the islands; the lack of any sustain‐ ing culture or vitality; dreams of escape abroad; class and color con‐ flict; generational conflict; the decay of what former style existed among the older families; and the lack of family life or any sense of community. Just as V. S. Naipaul often uses the image of shipwreck as met‐ aphor for the West Indian sense of being trapped on small islands without any viable history or sense of community, so St. Omer uses images of following the tide and foating to express aimless drift. When in The Lights on the Hill, Stephenson first attends the University and thinks of other students: He imagined the sense they must have of the begin‐ ning of something important in their lives… But for Stephen‐ son it had merely been a change in the direction of the tide he was floating on. Stephenson has an affair with Moira, who had to leave school when she was sixteen. With no purpose in life she drifts without emotion from one bed to the next: It had not taken long to realize that her life, like his was uncluttered by any hope or fear for the future, that whatever she was reacting to had found its anesthesia in this lamb‐like acceptance, this disability that opposed neither the anger of her parents nor the indifference of friends. Moira was, in fact, what he might have become if he had been forced to remain on his own island and had found a job.



V. WEST INDIES 321 Having been born into a family and society without ideals or purpose, Stephenson feels adrift, a spectator on life: You did not choose the circumstances of your birth, to be born, your parents or their condition. And yet nothing in your entire life could be more important. He was, could only have been, a spectator, sup‐ ported by no weight of tradition or lineage. The last quotation is one key to St. Omer's writing. Those without lineage and tradition can only drift; freedom is insignificant without a useful history or community. This is the classical West In‐ dian theme found in Naipaul’s novels and which Wilson Harris and Brathwaite have in different ways tried to modify by creating a new mythology from a chaotic past. St. Omer, although black, reveals the same feeling of having been abandoned by history that Naipaul, an In‐ dian feels. Indeed the lack of significance found in St. Omer’s charac‐ ters’ small island is projected onto the universe, the many deaths in the books are felt to be the evidence of a meaningless world in which any form of belief or action is at best arbitrary. Personal achievement at first seems a way out of confine‐ ments on the islands. John Lestrade wishes to achieve, but not “achievement as they know it here”. At the English cemetery he broods: Their predecessors, having killed off the original in‐ habitants, had fought men from other countries for his black ancestors and for the island. Their followers were to unite not once but several times with men from those same coun‐ tries to fight against others. Expediency utility and, ulti‐ mately, self‐interest national or individual, was the only cri‐ terion. He learnt to distrust group endeavor of any kind and to pay no attention to the slogans they threw ahead of them.

322 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Nationalism and the then proposed West Indian Federation offer no solution. At a party John listens to a Jew who escaped from Poland: He was, he said, although he was a Jew, perhaps be‐ cause he was a Jew, worried about the current talk in the West Indies about nationalism. He distrusted it. The sick‐ ness, he said, would begin with John’s politicians and will eat through like a cancer. It would thrive on the ignorance of the electorate, on the disinterring of what had been forgotten and were now insults. And the writers, the ones who were not careful, would speak of evolution and progress, like the politicians. It was a mess, but that was where it would end, as it always did. Plans for a new federated nation mean nothing to Stephenson, they are “another form of partisanship… Another reason for tolerance and bigotry”. Achievement can only be personal. History has made grand gestures futile. When Derek, in Another Place, wins the island scholar‐ ship to study abroad, the Irish headmaster of the college offers to save him a place as a teacher: “you have a chance… To come back and help your people”. Derek sees himself as a necessarily selfish product of a race evolving out of slavery toward self‐identity: “I have more im‐ portant things to do now, brother. I have to make a name… To estab‐ lish a presence”: He would help to continue that upward line that one of them had begun, long ago now, after emancipation or be‐ fore it, and which had stopped with his grandfather’s tools beneath the wardrobe. He would continue it as high as he could, knowing it was the only thing to do, aware that, for him and for others like him, nothing about this driving force



V. WEST INDIES 323 towards personal satisfaction and achievement could matter now, nor would matter for a very long time to come. Derek “had no cause nor any country now other than himself”: He was going to get out of the anonymity his for‐ bears, very gradually, had been emerging from, that black mass that swarmed after emancipation, dressed in the dis‐ carded suits of their former owners, speaking the ill‐assimi‐ lated language of those they had been forced to serve, prac‐ ticing the ill‐assimilated trades they had not been taught, di‐ rectionless, unstable, unguided, feeling their way, like snails, without the benefit either of past experience or any vision of future achievement. But he had that vision clearly now. Derek's thoughts often reveal an unexpected quality of St. Omer's imagination. There is an awareness of the inner core of self‐ hood that exists at a much deeper level of character and personality or social identity. Although such character has been shaped by society, it is outside of that. Derek’s affirmation of the need to assert himself, and his claim to be part of a historical force, is one instance of the in‐ dividual defining himself in opposition to acceptable, but limiting, so‐ cial demands. As we read St. Omer’s novels we are aware of this fun‐ damental bedrock of character being explored, often revealing unat‐ tractive desires. The depth of these stories is partly the consciousness that what gives life to the self is often trapped by social and moral de‐ mands. Achievement and an awareness of selfhood, however, do not eradicate the past. They are products of and only made possible by what Naipaul terms mimicry. Peter, in Nor Any Country, returning from study abroad learns that despite the apparent social changes on the island, the class and racial barriers of the past still hold, although more subtly. The white and the well‐to‐do live separately and do not socialize with the scholarship boys and the Black civil servants. In the

324 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE hope of climbing upward the blacks have imitated their masters. Colin went to university in England, has an English wife, speaks and dresses like an Englishman. Peter thinks: a process of copying and imitation, begun on the is‐ land’s sugar plantations, continued still. The barely under‐ standable language of the first slave cunning enough (dressed in his master’s discarded coat and using sounds and gestures he had imperfectly imitated) to interpret his master’s orders to the rest of the assembled slaves, had been replaced by the island’s dialects and, for a few islanders, by language acquired over years of study in Europe and, in some cases and absurdly, over months alone. These were the new interpreters, direct descendants of that first expedi‐ ently opportunistic slave, admired and feared, like him, by those whom they interpreted, and, not infrequently, a source of amusement to those for whom they did. Colin says “we are our own past”. If the islander who goes abroad becomes a “black English‐ man”, cut off from his people, those who stay at home can only find freedom from a hopeless responsibility by adopting a mask of eccen‐ tricity. Paul, Peter’s brother, pretends to be insane. He lost his job as a teacher when the mother of a girl he made pregnant complained to the headmaster of the school. Refusing to marry the girl Paul cannot obtain another job. To avoid the pressure of the community he in‐ creasingly acts eccentric, while resenting all those who have made successes of themselves. Unable to have a career, unable to escape abroad, he is lonely and bitter. His life is, in a sense, the reverse image of Peter’s. To escape to England Peter married a girl he made preg‐ nant. His education finished, he now returns to the island and must struggle to make something of the marriage. Paul asserted his dignity



V. WEST INDIES 325 by defying the system and is broken: the only freedom left is an ex‐ treme eccentricity. But both brothers have lost; neither compliance or self‐assertion can destroy the effect of the island’s history on the lives of its young. Even Peter’s father had become eccentric trying to imitate a stern, authoritarian, rich white man. In J‐, Paul says: Your father, our father had to make his own rules, out of his confusion, and to hope that they should become meaningful to him, and to the equally confused whom he sought to impress and whom he despised. The loneliness of their childhood resulted from their father’s attempt to copy what he did not understand: Perhaps that is why he left us so much alone as we grew older. His notions of success and failure could only be based on standards that were not his own. There are two descriptions which symbolize the mimicry of those who lack their own culture and traditions. Paul writes of a mas‐ querade he saw where some men acted foolish to entertain others and earn money, but as soon as a policeman appeared the crowd dis‐ persed. The entertainers openly show contempt of those for whom they performed. Paul claims that they understood how to survive: They say I’m mad. I know it’s only that I’ve chosen a way to live with my confusion and with the pain that results from my inability to resolve it. On the final page of J‐, Peter compares an opera performed by a local company to “slaves celebrating their independence, dressed up in the



326 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE clothes of those that enslaved him and who soberly watched them cel‐ ebrate”. He begins laughing at himself and then sees his wife. “He had forgotten her”. Nor Any Country begins with a prologue showing Peter in Eng‐ land where he had love affairs with several women, including Anna, a black West Indian who broke off their relationship when she found out about the wife he left behind. The purpose of the prologue and his memories of England is to show other possibilities, other, more vital styles of life unlike those of the island. But Peter is not free to give himself to such a new life because of commitments, especially his mar‐ riage, made in the past. It might be felt that St. Omer is being irresponsible and sug‐ gesting that the woman on the island use sex as a means of trapping men into marriage. He devotes, however, part of each book to showing that the women are as badly trapped by society as are the men. Pov‐ erty, ignorance, isolation, horrid family life, and the lack of opportuni‐ ties for jobs force women into marriage. They have only two choices; the women either sink through poverty into a hopeless condition or attempt to escape into loveless marriages.

Some Influences To notice possible influences on the writer may seem an aca‐ demic exercise best limited to established, preferably dead authors. In the case of St. Omer, however, the study of influences reveals some‐ thing of their seriousness and purpose. I will not discuss here the pos‐ sible influence of Hemingway, Camus, V. S. Naipaul, or Derek Walcott on St. Omer’s prose style and attitude toward the West Indies. More important, it seems to me, is the influence of the major “Modernists”, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence and possibly, William Faulkner. St. Omer’s is similar to Walcott’s or Wilson Harris’s in that it has evolved from the modernist traition both in matters of style and form and in its high seriousness. We can see the influence of Joyce’s Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist on the prose style and the conceptualization of St. Omer’s



V. WEST INDIES 327 first two books. As evidenced by Joyce’s influence there is Derek’s re‐ jection in Another Place of the headmaster’s offer of a teaching posi‐ tion. The scene is similar to Stephen’s rejection of priesthood in Por‐ trait of the Artist. More significant are the short flat sentences in A Room on the Hill that, by repetition of structure and mood, achieve an introspective yet distanced poetic mood. The style is that of The Dead. As in early Joyce, a scrupulous prose style is wedded to fragmentary, brooding, yet observant narrative in which seeming and slight occur‐ rences take on symbolic quality. Autobiography, or the experience of friends, takes on larger meaning representative of the spiritual paral‐ ysis of society: Once more he began to think of going away. Where to he did not know. What to do he did not know either. But he was beginning to feel that he had absolutely to go away. His position was worse than it had ever been. He was older, disillusioned, no longer enthusiastic. More than ever he felt like a piece of wood on that wide sea. To believe. In anything. Even those things he had come to discredit after Stephen had died. He could not. Nor would he believe in any God who had treated his mother as her God had done. The wheel of his life had come full circle. He had resumed his somnambulistic existence; only there was nothing at the end of it he wanted to awake to. He wished he could lose himself in something. Anything, pro‐ vided it was big enough or intense enough to occupy him so fully that he would not have time to look at it. The effect of the style and form is to create an artistic distance which removes the work from the mode of realism to the universal. As in Joyce the structural dislocation of time, space and linear develop‐ ment has the effect of generalizing. That West Indian social conditions and history are brought into the stories and neutralized by form and

328 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE style is an indication of St. Omer’s unusual talents. There is a serious intelligence at work attempting to define the West Indian experience and shape it into art just as Joyce tried to create the consciousness of his own race. I previously mentioned the way in which St. Omer’s stories reveal a level of character that exists underneath social relationships. Such characterization is closer to the irrational truths of D.H. Law‐ rence and the usual insights of novels treating of adolescents and growing up. Indeed the allusion to Sons and Lovers in Another Place suggests that St. Omer learned how to tap such sources from Law‐ rence: He felt, as he had felt with his mother, responsible. Only more so. He had merely inherited, grown suddenly into an awareness of the responsibility and gratitude that chained him now, and would perhaps forever chain him, to his mother. He could only regret that she should have in‐ flicted this upon him. But his responsibility for Berthe had been inflicted by himself. He not only regretted. He blamed. And it was himself he blamed. There were times when he did blame her; when, thinking of Berthe and his mother, and im‐ patient with the burden they imposed, he told himself that no person has the right to lose himself so completely in or for another, whether that other be son or lover. But he could not fool himself for so long. He had bothered and pestered Berthe, broken her, finally, like a dog, turned her look into himself alone. And he had done so, pushed by a desire for revenge, despising himself, and despising her even more for submitting herself so easily to him. Although the influence of Joyce and Lawerence seems clear, if I had to single out one writer St. Omer reminds me of, it would be Wil‐ liam Faulkner. There’s a similar brooding on the self as a product of history; the self as weak, guilty and doomed; a similar fictional laby‐ rinth of time and space in which events take on the quality of clues

V. WEST INDIES 329 towards unraveling a larger, still unrecognized pattern; a similar dis‐ location of order to create a poetic myth in which the individual mo‐ ment is representative of community history. And there is a similar Gothic quality; St. Omer’s novellas are filled with suicides, early death, betrayals, quarrels, abortion, rapes and violence, although often such events are rather part of the background, creating a representative at‐ mosphere, than central to the characters’ problems.

Development While the four books have similarities of theme and charac‐ ter, there is a development from the highly poetic, brooding con‐ sciousness of A Room on the Hill to the more objective awareness of historical and social causes in Nor Any Country. The difference in em‐ phasis is reflected in the later narratives through less oblique plots and a more open texture. The concentrated focus on perception in the first book was expressed in the densely worked prose; in Nor Any Country there is an understanding of what creates the islands’ condi‐ tions and a less rich mosaic of words. From an aesthetic standpoint the gain in clarity is balanced by loss of chiaroscuro. This was only to be expected; no writer could continue in the style of the first novella. Nor would it be desirable to do so. The greater clarity of the later no‐ vellas has the effect, when the four books are taken together, of bring‐ ing to the surface what wasn’t implicit before. One way to describe the change is to think of several transparencies superimposed upon each other; as the top layers are removed the underlying design emerges. It is difficult not to feel that the opening of J‐ refers to St. Omer’s purpose. Paul is alone in his room writing about his life. He dreads “the times when everything seems to rush out of my memory. I am unable to cope with the outpouring”. At other times, when what I write is less memory than examination and evaluation, there is an orderliness and a sequential lack of haste that suits me. I sit then and write



330 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE for hours, forgetting myself, pleased with the feeling of con‐ trol over what I write about events which once overwhelmed me. The orderly pace of my reflections and of my thoughts reassure me. The two descriptions seem to me the difference between St. Omer’s early and later works. The later ones are “examination and evaluation” which orders experience. The sociological insights are not in themselves meant as an analysis of society―their purpose is more like the pacification or ordering of memories; this is unlike the study of society as an act of engagement often found in West Indian writing. It is necessary to keep this distinction in mind: otherwise the charac‐ tersistic quality of St. Omer’s writing can be lost by attempting to put the books into more easily stated political and social messages. Their literary interest is the tension between disorder, memory, examina‐ tion, evaluation, and order. That St. Omer seems to be conscious of the direction of his work is implied by allusions within his books to his previous writing. Thus the title Another Place Another Time is picked up and implicitly, commenteed upon by the title Nor Any Country. The same characters or similar events occur in each book. Several of the narratives con‐ tinue the life histories found in previous stories. I prefer to see St. Omer’s books as a continuing reworking of the same material, rather than as distinctively separate works. There are some writers that worry away at the same preoccupations, regardless of the ostensibly different subject matter in each book, trying to bring shape and coher‐ ence to a central experience. Such writers, of whom Faulkner is per‐ haps the best example, do not produce self‐contained works; rather, like a medieval Bible with its accompanying commentry, the experi‐ ence is in the accumulation rather than the individual parts. It is be‐ cause St. Omer is such a writer that his four thin books have a cumu‐ lative weight of achievement.



V. WEST INDIES 331

Conclusion The claim that the West Indies lacks a culture (“tradition and lineage”), that its behavior is mimicry of England and compensatory fantasy, is not new. It is often expressed by V. S. Naipaul. Naipaul seems early to have understood the problem, sought substitute tradi‐ tions in India and England, and when they failed tried to define himself as a rootless cosmopolitan―rational, skeptical, compassionate but un‐ touched, a modern wandering Jew. The exactness of his achievement in each novel re lects his lucidity. One response―superficial but widely held―is that Naipaul has distanced himself from, and held him‐ self superior to, immediate problems of the islands. St. Omer’s vision is similar to Naipaul’s, but instead of distance and superiority there is involvement, guilt, despair and commitment. It is however, not the commitment of rhetorical slogans; it is rather the commitment of memory, examination, evaluation, and giving order. It is a fascinating attempt at the perhaps impossible. Wilson Harris has also attempted something similar, but Harris distances through myth, through the use of history, through a doctrine of creative, imaginative power. St. Omer’s attempt is more personal, more honest, more hopeless. Peter may mock himself, but his wife, holding his child, will follow him. His‐ tory, personal and regional, is inescapable. Whether St. Omer will pro‐ duce a major novel on the scale and with the affirmativeness of A House for Mr Biswas remains to be seen. But the four books he has published deserve more attention than they have received so far.







Chapter 25 West Indian Drama and the Rockefeller Foundation, 1957-70: Derek Walcott, The Little Carib and The University of the West Indies Modern West Indian culture was built slowly block by block. Often the local materials at first had foreign origins and the foreign materials may have had West Indian origins. Such continual back‐and‐ forth movement between peoples, across national boundaries and what are thought of as distinctive cultures, is normal to all culture and art. It is easy to see this in music when a Ghanaian High Life melody is traced to the early decades of the century and found to have existed then in both Ghana and New Orleans. In which direction did sailors bring it? And does that matter as much as the fact that it could be transplanted to either continent shows the two musical traditions al‐ ready interacting, influencing each other, preparing the ground for further interactions? In the following pages I want to trace the relationship be‐ tween the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) and the start of modern West‐ ern Indian theater during the 1950s and 60s. The Rockefeller Founda‐ tion archives in Tarrytown contain a rich deposit of materials con‐ cerning the Arts and Humanities in the United States and other coun‐ tries since the 1930s. The RF files include information about many of the great writers of our age; the files are especially rich in the areas of drama groups and dramatists because the RF had a continuing inter‐ est in theater, which it thought of as bringing arts to the community. This interest coincided with, and perhaps influenced, the feeling among prominent West Indians from the 1940s onward that theater and performing arts were the cement needed to bring the various peo‐ ple and places of the region together into a shared culture. Such an aim was behind the decision to establish an Extramural Department as one of the first units of the University College of the West Indies

333

334 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE (UCWI) and to make its first two appointments in Drama. The drama‐ tist Errol Hill was one of the tutors. Derek Walcott, already a promis‐ ing playwright was among the first groups of Arts students accepted in 1950. After World War II’s end the Rockefeller Foundation was seeking a new mission or direction. For decades it had successfully funded many areas of medicine, science and population studies. The “Red Scare” of the McCarthy period made foundations cautious about continuing to fund large‐scale studies of international policy, how‐ ever. There was talk of improving America’s image overseas by sup‐ porting tours of American artists. The RF was nervous about involve‐ ment in the Arts but began making fellowships and small research grants available to support institutes of African or Islamic studies. Some grants in the Arts were for visiting professors or technicians to provide training for a year or so. Others financed training abroad of promising young research students and artists. Assistance was for a limited period and with the understanding that the local community, government or university would afterwards take over full responsi‐ bility for the project. Usually such grants and fellowships for training were made at the request of university authorities, but as the Rockefeller Foun‐ dation director in charge of the area became involved and familiar with local personalities and groups the initiative fell to him. A writer or theater group would seem promising and grants would be initiated which at first might be justified by supporting the new university or continuing RF’s interest in local theater but soon took the RF director beyond established policies. Inter‐office memos asked if exceptions could be made, battles were sometimes waged for exceptions or to end exceptions, and annual reports to the trustees had to be prepared offering new interpretations of past policy guidelines as the rationale for what were personal decisions to support a seemingly worthwhile artist or project. No doubt the Cold War influenced the RF’s perspec‐ tive and made it possible during a few years to fund the Arts in small ways without objections being made by trustees.



V. WEST INDIES 335 Support of the theater in the West Indies ranged from helping the new University of the West Indies (UWI) to funding a project to create a national West Indian theater company for the region. Almost from the start the Rockefeller Foundation directors discovered that Derek Walcott was central to the new West Indian theater movement and was regarded as the best of the dramatists. While long‐term pro‐ jects and plans produced disappointing results, Walcott on his own seemed able to carry on the initial aims of creating a national theater and dance company of international standards and providing profes‐ sional training, as well as becoming a major dramatist. Having tar‐ geted American minorities for support by the late 1960s, for a time it was still possible for the foundation to defend assisting Derek Walcott as a Black dramatist and poet, albeit a foreign one. By 1970 exceptions were no longer made and funds for Walcott and the Trinidad Theater Workshop came to an end.

II Examination of the Rockefeller Foundation's involvement with West Indian drama reveals Walcott’s aims when he joined forces with Beryl McBurnie to create a theater workshop within the Little Carib Theater (LCT), his continuing argument for and involvement with organizations sponsoring the exchange of artists, training and productions between the West Indies and North America, and his abil‐ ity to remain a productive writer, dramatist and theater director in the West Indies during a time when most other serious artists left to further their careers. The blending of Caribbean folk dance with modern dance that was characteristic of McBurnie and other Trinidadian dancers was analogous to Walcott’s own aims in poetry and drama. Walcott held the view that the world’s classics provide the forms and local society the context, feelings and style for West Indian art. The West Indian artist brings local arts to international standard by studying the best foreign works while using local materials. To create a West Indian act‐ ing style you need to make actors aware of their body movements, use



336 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE the example of West Indian dance as a model, and learn from foreign professionals how to make the most effective use onstage of your local materials. Both McBurnie and Walcott understood that Caribbean arts had to keep up with the latest developments in acting and the theater elsewhere. By the late 1960s the RF was justifying its support of Wal‐ cott and the Trinidad Theater Workshop as a better model for the avant‐garde than much American experimental theater of the time. The RF first became involved with West Indian theater by way of Tom Patterson of the Stratford Ontario Shakespeare Festival. Patterson contacted John Harrison of the RF (November 29, 1956) to discuss the letter he received from the University College of the West Indies and the College’s plans for drama and theater. Patterson thought that the amateur theater he had seen in the West Indies was too “arty” and likely to become worse, not better, as each isolated group went its own way. It needed contact with professionals. What might help was a large annual regional festival, a tourist attraction, with a professional outlook, where the actors would perform before the outside world and learn standards that they could take back to their own group. Such a festival was being scheduled for September 1957 in Jamaica, which Harrison thought was a poor time to attract tourists as it is likely to be hot, muggy and hurricane‐prone. Patterson was excited by the idea nonetheless and proposed inviting Tyrone Guthrie to produce a festival in 1958. Someone like Guthrie was needed to attract tourists, set professional standards and bring the various amateur groups together. Patterson again contacted John Harrison on April 17, 1957 to discuss what was still being thought of as a festival in Jamaica. Guthrie was interested in directing and had been talking to Duke Ellington. The idea was to perform, using local talent, a musical play Ellington had written, then move it to Broadway. Guthrie may appear an odd choice, but he seemed the right choice at the time. He had given up stardom in London to move to Canada where his name and contacts instantly transformed the Stratford, Ontario, Shakespeare Festival from a local into an internationally known event that was rapidly



V. WEST INDIES 337 growing in size and fame. It was the first successful project in the col‐ onies and dominions. It became a model for the many new theaters built in the 1950s in Canada, Australia and other parts of the Empire. Harrison met with Patterson (August 22, 1957) to discuss the developing situation in the West Indies. Harrison did not expect the festival to be a great success and worried about its effect on the devel‐ opment of West Indian drama and of the Federation itself. He wanted Patterson to investigate the situation at firsthand to recommend the best ways West Indian drama could be developed. Eventually it was decided that Noel Vaz and Errol Hill were to be responsible for the production of a dramatic project that Walcott was commissioned to write. Hill, Vaz and Walcott would be funded to go to Stratford, On‐ tario, during September 1957 to consult with Guthrie and others about the proposed festival. On the way back to the West Indies they would stop in New York to discuss their ideas with the RF. The trip proved unexpectedly productive to Walcott. Besides Guthrie’s advice on the pageant (Walcott’s Drums and Colours) Walcott met Siobhan McKenna with whom he discussed the Abbey Theatre and W.B. Yeats. In New York, feeling lost and frightened to leave his hotel, he rapidly in three days wrote Ti‐Jean, the only play to come to him in one go without endless drafts. What had begun as support for the University College’s Extra‐ mural Department and a vague general wish to help develop the arts in the West Indies now was focusing on the hope that the various groups planning the Federation Arts Festival could be the basis of a national theatre. RF support of the Extra‐Mural Department would continue, but, following the tradition of helping community theater develop to a high standard, the foundation’s main interest was in the creation of a national, Federation‐based theatre company. The vision of theater bringing together the various peoples and cultures of the region became an accepted aim of the arts festi‐ val. Patrick Solomon, Acting Chief Minister of Trinidad, wrote in the festival’s attractive program “for the first time in the history of man‐ kind, the arts are being used for the political purpose of bringing



338 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE people together.” While the festival included other plays, Louise Ben‐ nett, Geoffrey Holder’s dancing, Ivy Baxter’s dance group, Jamaica’s famous pantomime Busha Bluebeard, and some music, its main at‐ tractions were Walcott’s play and Beryl McBurnie’s Little Carib dance company. The Arts Guild was to represent St. Lucia but with‐ drew after the Catholic Church objected to Roderick Walcott’s Banjo Man. Walcott’s Drums and Colours (published in the Caribbean Quarterly Vol.7, nos.1‐2, March–June 1961) was staged five times be‐ tween April 2–May 1 at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Port of Spain. The director was Vaz with Errol Hill as “guest producer.” The cast in‐ cluded many who would continue to have significant roles in the for‐ mation of West Indian theater during the following years―Errol Jones, Roderick Walcott, Errol Hill and Peter Minshall. Colin Laird was part of the stage design and construction team; George Williams was a lighting assistant; Margaret Maillard, who in 1960 became the second Mrs Derek Walcott, was part of the sound crew. In the program the UCWI thanked the RF for technical assistance. In October 1958 on the strength of his plays festival produc‐ tion, Walcott left for New York on a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to study theater directing with José Quintero at the Circle in the Square Theater, attended rehearsals at the Phoenix Theater and Lester Polakov’s classes on scenic design. Walcott soon gave up on Po‐ lakov, who aimed at large expensive productions unsuitable for the West Indies. Although Walcott, lonely and wanting to be active again in the West Indies, left at the end of June before his grant period fin‐ ished, the months in New York were influential. He attended produc‐ tions as they were put together from the initial readings, the rehears‐ als and blocking, the striking of sets. Quintero’s three‐dimensional ap‐ proach interested him, and he began revising his own plays to make them more stageable. Whatever he saw he sketched, to learn about scenic design. He went to plays, dance and opera on and off Broadway (usually sketching the scenes), viewed Kurosawa’s film Rashomon (model of Walcott’s own Malcochon), which impressed with the pos‐ sibilities of a stylized acting and a highly conventionalized theater,

V. WEST INDIES 339 which he hoped to blend with the West Indian body movements that McBurnie’s dancers had developed. It would be necessary to return to the West Indies to create his own company with its own style, as in United States he was a “Negro” writer and would be expected to write protest plays about the color problem and racial discrimination. The RF now hoped to support the establishment of a profes‐ sional theater in Trinidad and believed that Beryl McBurnie’s Little Carib Theater was the only likely group. Walcott joined the Little Carib after his return home from New York in June, 1959, and the next month formed a Little Carib Theater Workshop. This was essentially an inter‐racial Actors Studio for training and study rather than mount‐ ing productions. Emphasis was on the Americanized Stanislavski method, using improvisations and sensory exercises, rather than the British RADA approach, common to the white amateur groups in Trin‐ idad. While Walcott had in mind the eventual creation of a company with its own distinctive style to perform his plays, those of other West Indians, and of the world theater―something like Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble, that was not the initial declared objective of the Theatre Workshop and would have been premature at the time. Years would be needed to raise local standards of acting, to make local actors aware of contemporary methods of developing their skills and to cre‐ ate a style. Walcott had no intention of beginning with productions and, even after a group of actors had been trained and the basis of the companies existed, he resisted his actors’ wish to perform publicly. At first local actors were invited to workshops each Friday afternoon to improve themselves and were supposed to take their training back to their own theater groups. On December 11, 1959, Walcott and the Little Carib Theater Workshop gave a private performance before a small invited audience to show what his workshop was doing. There were six scenes from four plays, ranging from Shaw’s Saint Joan and Arthur Miller’s The Cru‐ cible to Errol John’s Moon on the Rainbow Shawl and an adaption of a Samuel Selvon story. Most of the people involved were part of the local amateur theater scene at the time and would soon return to their com‐



340 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE panies, leave theater for their careers or return to England. A few, Er‐ rol Jones, Joel St. Helene and Margaret Maillard, stayed on with Wal‐ cott through the Little Carib period to the Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW). The RF kept its eye on how the Little Carib was developing. During September 1960 Patterson reported (September 8, 1960) to Harrison that the Little Carib dancer Jeff Henry, after a year studying dance in England, was coming to Stratford, Ontario, on a Canada Coun‐ cil fellowship to study theater management, which the Little Carib badly needed. A few months later Patterson and Harrison again spoke (December 7, 1960) about the Little Carib. Patterson thought the qual‐ ity of the Little Carib dancers and performances was superior to the national African dance companies that were then touring abroad, but it lacked responsible management and organization. A colonial society is usually one in which there are few pro‐ fessionals or specialists and in which amateurs are required to be jacks of all trades. As Walcott and others tried to move the performing arts in a more professional direction there was a continuing problem of who could teach the skills needed for further development. The task of developing an actors’ studio and drama group within the Little Carib took much of Walcott’s time and meant that he was responsible for the kinds of technical training with which he himself was unfamil‐ iar. The proposed linkage between the Little Carib and the University of the West Indies was rapidly moving towards plans for a summer school of performing arts in which McBurnie and Walcott would be tutors. Walcott wrote to Harrison (Jan 11, 1962) saying that he wanted a director who could analyze the scripts, teach acting and pro‐ duce a play during the six‐weeks’ course. He needed someone who was a producer, stage manager and administrator who could also teach everything about mounting productions. There was also a need for teachers of speech and voice and of movement, especially of mime, who could also teach dancers. McBurnie was less clear what she wanted, although her demands were greater. Walcott suggested that what she really needed was a choreography teacher. Both the acting

V. WEST INDIES 341 and production/stage management classes would be of benefit to the dancers who had by then started to attend his drama workshop. While Walcott was certain that at least thirty of his workshop members would attend, he wanted the summer‐school courses open to other theater and dance companies in the hope that in the future students would be attracted from other islands, especially from the St. Lucia Arts Guild (which he had co‐founded in 1950 and which was now led by his twin brother Roderick). Before 1962 was over the RF granted George Williams a fel‐ lowship to study theater lighting at Yale and to Errol Jones (who was already recognized as one of Trinidad’s best actors) to study acting in New York. Besides the grants to those associated with the Little Carib, the RF approved a grant for Vaz to tour the United States to become acquainted with teaching and theater production at American univer‐ sities. Jones studied with Herbert Berghoff and Gene Frankel and was given observer status at Actors Studio. After his return to Trinidad he became a leader of the Theater Workshop’s acting sessions. Now Jones is considered one of the West Indies’ most accomplished actors and often works in Barbados and Jamaica as well as Trinidad. Williams had come to theater lighting by an unusual route. Af‐ ter earning a local certificate enabling him to be employed as an ap‐ prentice electrician, he was sent by the Port Services to arrange the lighting for some amateur theater group. Before long he became the Trinidadian lighting expert and although self‐taught, had become re‐ sponsible for the lighting at the Little Carib and design and lighting of the Carnival stage and was teaching John Andrews (then a dancer, who later became the TTW lighting designer). The only other person with knowledge of stage lighting was an Englishman who returned to England in 1963. Williams studied at Yale with George Izenour and visited American theaters, lighting factories and a conference on light‐ ing for Architects. He asked the RF for funds to purchase lighting equipment for the Little Carib, but was refused as the Little Carib was not meeting promises it had made. After his return to Trinidad Wil‐ liams began regularly giving courses in theater lighting. He still does at the UWI summer school. His lighting for Carnival has earned him

342 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE international attention and others have come to study it. He is some‐ times said to have taught or influenced everyone who does lighting in the West Indies. Williams meticulously kept detailed plans of all pro‐ ductions he has worked with and his files could provide the materials for a book on Trinidad Carnival staging. Among his files I found copies of Batai, a Walcott carnival play that had been thought lost. During May 1962 Walcott, under pressure from his actors who were impatient to use their talents, agreed to a production. The Little Carib Theater Workshop gave its first public performances at the Little Carib Theatre. The program was Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape and Dennis Scott’s The Caged. Slade Hopkinson, a brilliant actor who had studied at the UWI with Walcott, acted in Krapp’s Last Tape. Hop‐ kinson was considered by many to be the only person with the educa‐ tion, brilliance, background, contacts, talents and energy to provide an alternative to Walcott’s leadership to West Indian Theater. He was an inspiring schoolteacher, a dramatist, poet, and intellectual, and along with Hill and Walcott a founder of small theater groups of the 1950s. Many thought of him as Walcott’s possible successor if Walcott ever left the Theater Workshop. Although everyone praised Hopkinson’s acting (Walcott claimed that Hopkinson gave two of the best perfor‐ mances ever seen in the West Indies), his subsequent theater groups had a sporadic existence, his finished plays were few and productions often never reached the stage or were poorly rehearsed. He lacked Walcott’s intense drive for professional standards and a desire to cre‐ ate a career as a writer and director. As I read through RF files and other letters of this period my feeling is that while the RF usually responded to the request of Pro‐ cope as an active, responsible community leader, Walcott’s more real‐ istic assessment of the local scene and its needs were sought. While it is difficult to know how much of the RF’s declared objectives were shaped by Walcott, how much Walcott was influenced by the ideas in the air at the time coming from various sources (such as McBurnie, Sherlock, Hill and Harrison), it is noticeable that gradually the objec‐ tives came to resemble the vision with which Walcott returned to the West Indies after his RF Grant in 1958. The RF was now committed to

V. WEST INDIES 343 supporting the development of a national professional theater of in‐ ternational class with its own distinctive West Indian style of dance and acting that would make use of all the cultural influences of the re‐ gion. What began as a RF effort to help develop a West Indian equiva‐ lent of a thriving, community supported Little Theater by 1962 now aimed at helping to create a distinctive performance style for the Car‐ ibbean, one of Walcott’s main aims with his theater workshop. If we put to the side the various useful but inessential grants and influential but non‐productive people involved, the picture of West Indian theater that I see is of McBurnie basking in well‐deserved glory but unable to formulate what needed to be done and Derek Wal‐ cott pushing on with a long‐term vision, using what was available, but knowing precisely what he wanted to accomplish. The only other peo‐ ple with long‐term vision were Roderick Walcott in St. Lucia, but his St. Lucia Arts Guild does not come into the story, and Errol Hill. Hill, however, was too involved in the complexities of an academic career, teaching on various islands, pursuing degrees in United States, teach‐ ing in Nigeria, frustrated in obtaining the directorship of Creative Arts at UWI, to impose his vision on events over a sustained period. In the long run Walcott was to prove right and to be the one to carry‐on, through the TTW, the creation of a semi‐professional the‐ ater in Trinidad. There was, however, a basic conflict between the RF aims, to support well‐managed, properly constituted, institutional‐ ized, theater, whose future existence would be supported by commu‐ nity leaders, and Walcott’s day by day needs as a dramatist, producer, and teacher, for a salary, help in training his actors, help in designing sets for tours, subsidies to make the most opportunities, and other practical matters. While a new Little Carib was eventually built, the 1961–62 ef‐ fort came to naught, and what was built was unsatisfactory and often mismanaged. McBurnie remained a legend but her career went into a tailspin. Walcott’s TTW, formed in 1966, was to replace McBurnie’s Little Carib as focus of artistic vitality in the region, eventually bring together drama, dance and music in such plays as Ti‐Jean, The Joker of Seville and O Babylon. But the RF was also right. The TTW under Wal‐ cott’s leadership, except for 18 months in the Little Carib Theater,

344 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE lacked a home, struggled to find spaces in which to train, rehearse and perform, and never had the resources, support or will to build a thea‐ ter. Every year Walcott and others would write newspaper articles la‐ menting the need of a local little theater built along the lines of and concept of the new Little Carib, but neither the Trinidad government nor local businesses were interested. Meanwhile the West Indian Federation came to an end in 1962 and was replaced by various micro‐nationalist governments. The Trinidad government after 1962, held a 1930s view of culture, which was also meant to win political supporters. Culture was folk cul‐ ture and money should be used at the village level to promote folk arts and competitions. This was the opposite of international, professional standards that were the original aim of Walcott and other artists. In‐ stead of bringing talented West Indian artists home, the government’s policy was likely to drive them abroad. Without government support of the aims of the TTW it was unlikely that large foreign businesses would become patrons of theater and dance. Just as earlier it was be‐ lieved that the performing arts would hold the region together, so Walcott came, during the various tyrannical regimes of the 1970s, to feel that theater was the only truly revolutionary activity in the region. Many newspapers both on the political right and left agreed with him. That, however, is also another story.

III In 1964 Walcott’s plan to build a theater company with its own West Indian style, capable of performing European and Caribbean drama, was nevertheless starting to be more than a dream. Five years of hard work in the form of weekly, then twice weekly, workshops re‐ sulted in a core of actors and a few stage technicians whom Walcott was now willing to show publicly. His company now consisted mostly of blacks with a few whites in supporting roles. Occasionally someone of Asian Indian descent would belong for a time. A twin bill of



V. WEST INDIES 345 Ionesco’s The Lesson and Walcott’s Malcochon was performed at the Little Carib, the UWI and in San Fernando at the new Naparima Bowl. Walcott’s break in 1965 with Beryl McBurnie’s Little Carib Theater and his founding of his Little Basement Theater in the base‐ ment of the Hotel Bretton Hall began a new phase of the TTW and its relationship with the RF. After being locked out of the Little Carib, Walcott had no place for his theater workshop and lost many of its members, until October when he and others started reconverting a hotel basement into a small theater. The Theater Workshop began re‐ building; by 1966, it had 15 members, by the end of the year it had 26, then 35 members. During January 7–12 they opened with the double bill of Walcott’s Sea at Dauphin and Edward Albee’s Zoo Story. This was the first production of the TTW and was the beginning of over a decade of the most exciting theater the West Indies has seen. Begin‐ ning October 5 the TVW had its first repertory season of 26 nights of performances, acting Jean Genet’s The Blacks, E.M. Roach’s Belle Fanto and Wole Soyinka’s The Road. As the company moved from a workshop to repertory, Wal‐ cott became aware of his limitations. The TTW needed further tech‐ nical training. It needed someone besides Walcott to direct some pro‐ ductions. It needed scene and costume designers. Walcott felt that he had taken the TTW as far as it could go from a technical standpoint. Someone else was needed who knew what was happening in professional theater. In April 1968 André Gregory, now probably best known for his film My Dinner with Andre (it is believed that the Grotowski poor theater tale in the film is actu‐ ally based on Walcott), came to the TTW under RF sponsorship. Greg‐ ory and Walcott got along well; Gregory worked with the actors for three nights and was surprised that they had learned the techniques of mime acting and were superior to American repertory companies. Gregory reported that the TTW was, in terms of talent, one of the world’s great theater companies, comparable to the Brecht Ber‐ liner Ensemble, although less professional. It needed further training by fully professional directors and specialist teachers to bring it to its



346 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE full potential, in which case it could become a model for the West In‐ dies. Gregory was willing to return to help and felt that others would need to teach the TTW more about costumes, voice, set design, and how to build a traveling theater for touring. The logical step after that would be to put some of the core actors on a salary so they could quit their jobs and devote all their time to the theater. The Rockefeller Foundation was willing to consider Gregory’s proposals and sounded out (May 23, 1968) RF directors about an exceptional grant of under $25,000, exceptional because it would be for assisting theater outside the continental limits. Although there was sympathy with the pro‐ posal―one memo (May 26, 1968) suggests a limit of $15,000―there were also objections. Meanwhile, as was to happen often during the next year, the main object of further training for the TTW was being overtaken by events. John Hearne invited the TTW to come to Jamaica and there was hope to extend the tour to San Juan. The problem was who was to pay for the travel costs. Hearne turned to the RF. Walcott also wanted (May 20, 1968) some immediate help with his next season in the form of two visiting designers, funds to purchase materials and for a book‐ let to publicize the company abroad. The RF declined. During 1969 a new RF director, Gerald Freund (GF), sug‐ gested to George White (GW), President of the Eugene O’Neill Foun‐ dation, that while he was in the West Indies he should see the TTW. Dream on Monkey Mountain was acted for him. White was impressed and invited Walcott to bring Dream and thirteen members of the TTW to the O’Neill Foundations five‐week Playwright’s Conference, in Wa‐ terford, Connecticut, starting July 6, during which they would perform Dream from August 1–9 and study and workshop with many of the best American actors and directors. Five other directors would be there. This seemed to Walcott an excellent temporary solution to his need to get his company more professional training with other teach‐ ers and directors. Walcott wrote (May 7, 1969) to Freund that it would put them in a professional environment and give them professional criticism. With any profits made from performing Dream they might be able to bring a director and designer to Trinidad during the six

V. WEST INDIES 347 months next year when Walcott would be a fellow of Commonwealth Literature at Leeds University, England. Gregory supported the idea and said that he would go to Wa‐ terford to help Walcott. White asked (GW to GF April 23, 1969) for $10,000 to bring Walcott, but the RF was unable to justify by its pre‐ sent rules bringing foreign actors to the USA (GF to DW May 28, 1969). Eventually, Dale Wasserman, author of the hit play Man of La Mancha, paid their traveling expenses. The TTW created an excellent impres‐ sion in Connecticut and was reviewed widely. White recommended Dream to NBC, which eventually commissioned an hour version of the play. Walcott was offered a production of Dream at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 1970 and a $3,500 grant from the Audrey Wood Foundation. (This was Tennessee William’s foundation and Williams planned to come to Trinidad to help Walcott produce Camino Real). Several of the actors and dancers were offered scholarships or residency in the USA for the coming year. Because of the O’Neill con‐ ference the TTW and Walcott were getting recognition outside Trini‐ dad and for the next seven years were often hopeful of bringing their productions to the United States and becoming part of the modern theater map. Walcott thought that Jones, Laveau and others were ac‐ tors of international abilities and wanted them to become profession‐ als. Each time, however, they ran against insurmountable barriers, such as union rules, work permits and the cost of moving productions from Trinidad to the United States. After the O’Neil foundation playwriting conference Freund spoke in August, 1969, to other directors about the future of the TTW. Walcott was a genius, Dream an extraordinary play, and the company talented, but they were without funds or even a theatre. As they were not Americans how could they be helped? Could the foundation chan‐ nel a grant through the O’Neill Memorial Foundation, which would ad‐ minister it? A small portable theatre could be constructed for $2,500. Lighting would cost another $2,500. Tools to enable building scenery would cost $1,000. Walcott wanted two visiting directors, Jay Ranelli and Gregory, and the set designer Robert Steinberg. Their combined cost would be $4,500. John Andrews, who was doing TTW lighting and

348 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE some management, should be sent to Yale Drama School to learn from Izenour. The total cost would be $12,000. The proposal, circulated within the foundation, ran afoul of current policies that limited fund‐ ing to the United States. Thus 1970 marked the end of American at‐ tempts to build a Caribbean national theatre or support Walcott’s The‐ ater Workshop.

IV The Rockefeller Foundation President’s Review for 1953 had spoken of the need for the United States to move beyond isolation to involvement with the outside world and how this required the foun‐ dation’s moving into new, difficult‐to‐define programs. It also men‐ tioned that the foundation’s interests rested on the intellectual, aes‐ thetic and moral ways people give meaning to their environment and create tolerable social and political relations. The aim was to support programs likely to have long‐range rather than immediate results (pp. 48‐50). These general aims translated into the grants to the UCWI, the Little Carib, Walcott, Hill and others. Although the amounts of the grants were small, the RF played an important role in the development of modern West Indian theater. It provided a financial source of training, overseas visits, and patron‐ age that was not available locally. It encouraged the artists and helped them to make international contacts. Even when it did not provide funds, it put artists in contact with those who could help and who were helpful in the future. Ideologically and aesthetically the foundation could be said to continue the vision that Walcott and others had of a New World theatre with exchanges between the USA and the Carib‐ bean as a means of encouraging talented West Indian artists to return home and raise the local arts to an international standard. If this vision could not finally overcome the personal rivalries and organizational malaise that mirrored the political breakdown of the West Indies Fed‐ eration, or the shifting internal priorities of the Rockefeller Founda‐ tion itself, it can be said without exaggeration that West Indian theater flowered into the period of the Rockefeller Foundation’s support and that Caribbean culture is the richer for that flowering.

Chapter 26 A Witness to Culture What the Twilight Says: Essays by Derek Walcott (1998) Writing about Robert Lowell, Derek Walcott warns against the way biography imposes plot, incident, symmetry, on inarticulate feelings and gestures, losing the reality. “On Robert Lowell” (1984) of‐ fers remembrances of Lowell as a mentor, fellow poet, and friend in contrast to the biographer’s reduction of Lowell to a story of failed marriages and times of madness. Yet, in selecting certain moments, ranging from his first meeting with Lowell in Trinidad to telling of Lowell’s death in a taxi when returning to New York, Walcott is him‐ self constructing a history, although of the kind found in Pasternak’s autobiography, moments of memory presented nonchronologically. This is the method of a modernist poet writing prose. It is best to read this book of republished essays on the model of the Lowell es‐ say, a crafted prose poem in which the parts imply more than they say. The ordering of essays in the book is similar to Walcott’s methods of building a sequence of poems or his assembling a new volume of po‐ etry; the sections are arranged subtly to pick up echoes and distant harmonies of their motifs. The movement back and forth, tensions be‐ tween, and simultaneous presence of a modernist aestheticism and is‐ sues of decolonization propel the book. The presentation, title, and arrangement of contents of a Wal‐ cott book have by now become conventional. The painting reproduced here on the cover belongs to his Boston period and ironically contrasts the tropically colored jackets of a row of books inside his study with the snow outside the window. The contrast is unfortunately less strik‐ ing than intended because of the brown paper used for the dust jacket. “What the Twilight Says,” the first essay in this book, was originally the introduction to Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays (1970) in which the twilight signifies the sun going down on the Brit‐

349

350 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE ish Empire, the end of an era. Here it has an additional elegiac signifi‐ cance―a record of the concerns, friendship, and major positions taken during the era when Walcott and Caribbean literature established a place on the world’s cultural map. “What the Twilight Says” belongs to a time when Walcott was trying to establish a world‐class theater company in Trinidad, a direc‐ tor’s theater, a Port of Spain version of Brecht’s Berlin Ensemble. Wal‐ cott was director, playwright, and scenic designer, and he expected improbably that he and others would live on the profits. “Twilight” is beautifully written poetic prose, continually changing time and place circling around various themes, obscurely personal, even opaque, the opposite of V. S. Naipaul’s transparency and directness. Walcott’s es‐ say is a reply to what Naipaul had been saying about the West In‐ dies―that nothing of value was created or was likely to be created. It concerns Walcott’s own attempt to create something of value, but tells it in such a way that most readers will have little idea that Walcott is alluding to twenty years of building drama companies on three is‐ lands, and that the essay was written during a time when he had an‐ grily resigned from his Trinidad Theater Workshop yet was leading it on a tour to several islands. On St. Lucia he returned to places im‐ portant to his youth, mentioned in the essay and in his magnificent autobiographical poem Another Life, on which he was working at the time. What the Twilight Says begins with three discussions of Car‐ ibbean culture and art, followed by the second part which is com‐ prised of essays on individual writers and by a third part consisting of a short story, the only one Walcott has published. “The Muse of His‐ tory” (1974) asserts a Whitmanesque Adamic new start to replace the burden of history, especially dreams of avenging slavery and return‐ ing to Africa. The Caribbean sea ever changes and brings the world’s culture together to a region where all races are castaways needing to start again. In the Nobel‐prize lecture, The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory (1993), itself a small book of epiphanies, Walcott looks back with pride on such a vision and acknowledges what it missed―the cul‐ ture of the Asian Indians. It concludes with Walcott’s Wordsworthian

V. WEST INDIES 351 “joy when a writer finds himself a witness to the early morning of a culture” and memories of himself as a child writing, in an exercise book, “framed stanzas that might contain the light of the hills on an island blest by obscurity, cherishing our insignificance.” These essays are meant to be read as autobiography. They are related to his poems and plays and are concerned with some of Wal‐ cott’s influences (Hemingway), friendships (Lowell, Brodsky), his goals and themes, and obsessions (Naipaul). The essays on Philip Lar‐ kin, Ted Hughes, Les Murray, and Robert Frost are notable for Wal‐ cott’s concern with the significance of craft in the development of each poet. They can seem obvious, even inflated, but come powerfully alive when Walcott discusses the poetic line, use of compound words, tone, pitch, diction, pronunciation, and caesura. Consider some examples: 1) Of Frost’s “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” Walcott pro‐ claims: “That rapid elision or slur of the second half of the line is as monumental a breakthrough for American verse as any experiment by Williams or Cummings. It dislocates the pivot of traditional scansion.” 2) “Larkin continued to rely on the given beat of the pentametrical line throughout his career. He shadowed it with hesitations, coarsened it with casual expletives, and compacted it with hyphens … to the point where a hyphenated image, with its aural‐visual fusion was powerful enough to contain a minipoem in itself.” 3) “The hyphenated image is not colloquial but Larkin’s achievement is to make it sound as if it were, as if such phrasing could slip into talk.” Such poet talk may seem far from West Indian concerns, but it was such mastery and innovation that Walcott needed before he could find his own voice as a Caribbean poet. In “A Letter to Chamoi‐ seau,” a review of Texaco, Walcott is divided between his admiration for the novel and his distrust of the Parisian rhetoric and theories be‐ hind it. French Caribbean patois is different, difficult for him to speak correctly. This leads to “Café Martinique: A Story” in which a St. Lucian author argues with his Martinican double, a fit conclusion for a poet’s book with its densely packed expressions, subtle associations and winding structure.





Chapter 27 Derek Walcott’s The Bounty (1998) In recent volumes of Derek Walcott’s poetry “light” is an en‐ compassing term for the light of the creation, the light that illuminates the world, the light that illuminates art (especially painting), and the inner light of the divine in the artist and all humans. Here the “bounty” includes all gifts from God: daybreak, each day, light, the natural world and its creatures, the beauty of St. Lucia and Trinidad, being a writer, the gift of poetry, even Walcott’s having been taught to work to use it. The bounty is the gift of life in its varied aspects, including the ship The Bounty that brought the breadfruit from the Pacific to the Carib‐ bean; the breadfruit itself becomes a surprising analogy to the tree of life. These poems are filled with unexpected analogies, the making of analogies being part of the bounty as all creation is linked, as can be seen by the ant that will eventually help turn the dead into bread. Wal‐ cott’s vision here is at times Jacobean in that the ingenuity of analogy can, as in his early master Andrew Marvell, be sardonic. There are ech‐ oes of Marvell among others, but the acknowledged model is John Clare, the supposedly mad Clare whose poetry, like Adam, names the natural world as good unto itself. Walcott has found in Clare a prede‐ cessor to his own attempt to praise by describing. Walcott, however, is not simply Clare; the effect is often different. His painter’s eye for the exact color of a detail can result, like a brush stroke, in patches of abstraction. The volume begins with “Between the vision of the Tourist Board and the true / Paradise.” Which suggests a this‐worldly realism. But the vision Walcott offers is of his mother, Alix, buried near the beach in St. Lucia, a rose in the desert, on analogy to Dante’s vision that concludes the Paradiso. There is complexity and density, even hermeticism, in The Bounty. The contrasting pulls of clarity and of re‐ garding poetry as the making of metaphors, of a religious vision and of wanting each thing to shine forth with its own inner essence, have 353

354 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE always been there in Walcott’s writing, but seldom as fully. Here there is insistent pressure through the volume: each of its parts seems al‐ most of equal weight. It is easy to lose sight of themes and even the subject in a poem when each long line may have several shifts in focus. Although very different from those Dylan Thomasish poems of Wal‐ cott’s early volumes, the new ones also expand the range of material and allusion by a rapid accumulation of analogies. “The Bounty” is also a sequence of seven poems, an elegy commemorating Alix Walcott, which comprises the first part of the volume. It is followed by a second part divided into thirty‐seven po‐ ems, several of which are numbered sequences of poems. Each poem is twenty‐one to twenty‐five lines, often closely rhymed, of variable line length, usually hexameters of six metric feet. The volume covers the years after the publication of Omeros (1990), during which time Walcott made trips to Spain and Italy as well as moving between Bos‐ ton, Trinidad, and St. Lucia. Many of the poems have a twilight feel, as if he were awaiting death. There are elegies to Joseph Brodsky and other recently dead friends. The Bounty must be praised because it is necessary to be thankful, even to confess. At times Walcott seems in Purgatory, life in Boston being exiled from the Paradise of St. Lucia, where he now has built a home. His odyssey has concluded after years of wandering, but there are also confessions of continuing restlessness and desire. He is Oedipus at Colonus, Lear and Yeats in old age. These are not welcom‐ ing or always accessible poems; their complicated numbering and un‐ titled presentation are confusing. The volume is, however, a major col‐ lection by one of the best writers of our age, who has a right to expect the reader’s attention.



Chapter 28 Religion and Education in Derek Walcott’s St Lucia I am tired of the generalizations and polarities of contempo‐ rary postcolonial Theory with its simplified version of dialectics and its polarized contrasts between white and black, dominant and domi‐ nated, alien and native. Such ways of thinking lack nuance and mis‐ represent the actual social and political complexities of the world. All cultures and people change, are changing, are hybrid, the result of cross‐breeding, foreign influences, trade, communications, the move‐ ments of people. This is especially true in such areas as the Caribbean where almost all the population is ‘new,’ whether immigrant or origi‐ nally brought as slave, and where many cultures and ethnicities exist side‐by‐side and bleed into each other producing new formations. Rather than positing a guilty and rage filled world of masters and slaves, whites and blacks, Western and the Other, we need micro‐ histories examining in detail how local cultures have been produced, what they have made, their chronologies, their real stories. Even those who recognize hybridity and change and understand the role of ap‐ propriation usually speak of opposition to the colonizer or the West as if older local cultures could not themselves be feudal, tyrannical, backward. We have tied the flag of postcolonialism to anti‐moderni‐ zation, to a nativized authenticity, or to a continuous historical role as a response of an imagined center. As history it will not do. It is too abstract to get at the truth, to tell us what happened and why, and it is structurally reactionary and emotionally naïve and fundamentalist. We need the opposite of such theories, we need micro‐histo‐ ries. We need to do a similar job to those Victorian historians who could tell you what happened each day concerning the subjects of their study. I do not want the Empire Writing Back, I want recognition that each place has its own complex individuality, so that, say, Jamaica is not thought of as the same as St. Lucia, and both are seen as distinct from Nigeria or Canada.

355

356 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Being aware of local history is especially important in matters of the relationship of religion and education to the new national liter‐ atures. If we were to believe the kind of simplicities that are regularly made on the E‐mail Postcolonial List, simplicities based on Edward Saidian assumptions, then all forms of Western education, culture, and Christianity would be seen as imperialism, and having said that there would be little more to say than deplore Christians and those schooled in colonies as imperialists or complicit with imperialism in contrast to some presumed native purity. A much more interesting and useful social and cultural history emerges when we examine in detail a movement such as Methodism in St. Lucia or examine the role of Methodists and education in the West Indies during the colonial pe‐ riod. The following remarks are based on research for my biog‐ raphy of Walcott,1 although here I discuss several matters only al‐ luded to in the biography. I hope this will contribute towards an un‐ derstanding of the culture of St. Lucia that produced Derek and Roder‐ ick Walcott, and even towards an understanding of the brown elite that has ruled St. Lucia and played an important role in West Indian culture and politics. Rather than assuming some dramatic uprising of the oppressed we should instead be concerned with how a new soci‐ ety and culture is formed in actual historical situations and the roles played by Western religions and the educational system that could vary from radical and progressive to conservative and reactionary. The dynamics of the relations between brown‐black, Anglophone‐ Francophone, Creole‐French, Protestant‐Roman Catholic, and within the various church schools is too interesting and complicated to be treated in the terms Theory offers us. St. Lucia was ruled for many centuries by the French. When settlement began in the eighteenth‐century, there was a mixture of French and African cultures―the African coming from other French speaking islands―and this produced a French Creole language and culture. French Creole culture developed its own traditions, with 1

Bruce King, Derek Walcott: A Caribbean Life (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000)



V. WEST INDIES 357 those of African descent divided into two African clans; there were two competing flower societies, and so on. It is an interesting culture that seems to have taken a range of entertainments from African drumming to eighteenth‐century French court dances. On top of this French Creole culture there was an official French culture of a few schools and the Roman Catholic Church. The start of British rule in the early nineteenth century changed little, as there were hardly any Brit‐ ish settlers and the British were mostly interested in St. Lucia for its harbor. The St. Lucia of Walcott’s youth was basically a Catholic coun‐ try with a Protestant minority centered in the capital Castries. The St. Lucia of the first half of the century might be thought feudal, a bit like Ireland, but with a more interesting social composition. At the top was an extremely tiny white elite of French and English families that owned large estates and perhaps two‐thirds of the land. There was a thin layer of British government officials and a small urban Anglo‐ phone Protestant mulatto middle class to which the Walcotts be‐ longed. Underneath there was a large Roman Catholic French Creole speaking black peasantry. Except for matters of foreign policy, St. Lu‐ cia was largely ruled by a white French clergy led by the Archbishop of Trinidad. Catholic Church holidays were celebrated with feasts, processions with banners, and all the ceremony and display found in a Catholic country at the time such as Spain. There was an Adminis‐ trator (rather than a Governor) on St. Lucia, and no visible independ‐ ence movement of the kind found on Jamaica or Trinidad. Catholic domination began to be challenged during the Sec‐ ond World War when the British increasingly turned colonial admin‐ istration over to local people and started the process towards decolo‐ nization. While the Administrator and his appointments continued to listen to the Archbishop, committees were Anglophone Protestants and especially Methodists. The dominance of the Church was being challenged by a secular culture in which education, morals, and the arts were areas of conflict. The Catholic Church fought against a com‐ mon state approved syllabus, against hiring non‐Catholic teachers, against teaching heretical poets.

358 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE One area of conflict was French Creole culture and language. This might have been expected to be a Catholic preserve as the priests were from France, but the Church had been trying to suppress what it saw as an immoral African‐influenced pagan way of life in which chil‐ dren were usually born outside of wedlock. Marriage was always an important issue in St. Lucia. At St. Joseph’s Convent girls born out of wedlock had to wear different school uniforms than those born of le‐ gal unions. The Methodists, while refusing the use of Creole in their schools, were sympathetic to the traditions of Creole culture, its festi‐ vals and its customs. Derek’s mother was one of the founders of mod‐ ern Carnival in St. Lucia. Harry Simmons, from a leading Methodist family, was a student of local cultural traditions such as the Rose Fes‐ tival and the history of the Creole language. Derek Walcott wrote some poems in Creole, while Derek and Roderick Walcott would use Creole words and stories in their plays. The renewal of Creole in St. Lucia might be said to have its origins in the Methodists, who brought an outsider’s interest to what had been a dying folk culture. Creole cul‐ ture and language were taken on as part of a usable past, a national history that the Methodist minority, otherwise outsiders, usually re‐ cent brown immigrants from the Anglophone islands, could otherwise be said to lack. Although French Creole was spoken by almost everyone, its culture was increasingly that of rural black St. Lucia as, during the twentieth century, English became the language of Castries (the only large town on the island), the civil service, the courts, and govern‐ ment. Those wanting to leave the farms and plantations and hoping that their children would go to school and eventually have a govern‐ ment job with a pension would need to learn English and become part of a minority English‐speaking secular world. It was widely agreed in St. Lucia that the best way to do this for both boys and girls was by attending first the Methodist Infant School and then the Methodist Pri‐ mary School. Afterwards a lucky few would attend St. Joseph’s Con‐ vent school for girls, or St. Mary’s College, the only secondary schools on the island.



V. WEST INDIES 359 The role of the Methodists in the region was important from the days of slavery; whereas the Anglican church of Barbados denied Christianity to the black slaves as a way of enforcing authority and denying consideration, other denominations, such as the Quakers and Moravians, encouraged slaves to join. The Methodists were especially active and were viewed as anti‐slavery agitators. Attempts were made to outlaw Methodism and in 1823 the Methodist Chapel in Bridgetown was destroyed by a mob. The Methodists were often preacher educa‐ tors bringing schooling to the ex‐slaves. When you talk to older people in the Arts in the West Indies, it is amazing how often their parents were Methodist preachers. Unless you could somehow get higher qualifications, your choice of a non‐laboring career was largely limited to teaching and preaching. As late as the 1950s most of the West In‐ dian poets were teachers. While there was some schooling in French in the eighteenth century, education in St. Lucia is usually said to begin with the Mico Schools, based on an endowment from Lady Mico, established to re‐ deem Christian slaves from “Barbary.” There were soon Mico Teach‐ ers’ Colleges in Antigua and Jamaica. A small brown Protestant elite with an enormous role in modern St. Lucia history derives from the first Mico Trust School to be established there, in 1838. Such schools existed until 1891, when they became Government schools. They soon were passed on to the churches or sold. At the end of the century St. Lucian schools were denominationally Catholic (19), East Indian Mis‐ sion (16), Methodist (2), and Anglican (2). The East Indian Mission schools were eventually closed, except for a few which became Meth‐ odist. Education was still rare; perhaps only 13 percent of the popula‐ tion was enrolled in primary school, and average attendance was un‐ der 7 percent. As education became important in Castries society the Methodists, although a minority within the Protestant English‐speak‐ ing minority, had a major role in the cultural politics of the island. The history of the Methodists in St. Lucia also begins with the Mico schools. During the 1880s, T.D. Gordon, a Congregationalist from Jamaica took charge of the Mico school in St. Lucia and brought to‐



360 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE gether Free Church people including some Methodists from St. Maar‐ ten. One result was the appointment of the first Methodist Missionary in 1888. When the Methodist Church took over one of the schools re‐ linquished by the Mico charity in 1891, T.D. Gordon became headmas‐ ter of a mixed‐age school of 170 pupils ranging from 4 to 16 years. At first Methodist services were limited to Mico School, but after the ap‐ pointment of a minister they purchased a site on Chisel Street where in 1903 a school‐chapel was erected―the building is still used for the Methodist Infant School. In 1910 the building stopped being used as a church and a partition began to separate Primary from the Infant School around the time Alix Walcott, Derek’s mother, joined the school. She became its first Head Teacher and Principal. The Walcotts were brown Anglophone Protestant immi‐ grants on a black Francophone island where the Roman Catholics formed well over 90 percent of the population. Derek’s grandfathers were white, his grandmothers were shades of brown. Derek’s paternal grandfather Charles was a white from Barbados. Derek’s father War‐ wick Walcott was born in St. Lucia but raised as a Bajan, an imitation Englishman, and was an Anglican. Derek’s maternal grandfather was of Dutch origin, from St. Maarten, where Derek’s light‐brown mother, Alix, was born. The St. Maarten van Romondts were Methodists who argued for the Bible to be taught to slaves; after the first St. Maarten van Romondt became Governor in 1820 the local white elite began joining the Methodist church, which until then had been regarded as a church for slaves. Alix Walcott was brought as a child to St. Lucia to finish her education at the new Methodist school, taken there by a Dutch Methodist trader who was part of a small St. Maarten commu‐ nity in St. Lucia. Her mother also moved to St. Lucia, where she mar‐ ried a St. Lucian. As soon as Alix finished primary school she began teaching Infant School in the same building. There are obvious ways in which the St. Lucian Methodists were like Jews or Chinese minorities, an energetic, talented, immi‐ grant community with a belief in education and work. However, they were likely to be illegitimate, the result in the recent past of the union



V. WEST INDIES 361 of white males and female black servants or brown women who occu‐ pied an in‐between position in society. Education and mastery of white culture was a way to move up the social ladder. The Methodist community was small, in Walcott’s youth probably no more than 200 in Castries, and the families all knew each other. Even the Anglicans numbered only about 500. The importance of studying at the Methodist school can be seen from the scholarship examinations for secondary schools in 1944. Students from Castries Methodist School won five of six schol‐ arships awarded including the two better paying Government schol‐ arships. Others attending secondary school had to pay fees. By 1947 there were over 450 boys and girls in Methodist Infant School and Pri‐ mary Schools in comparison to 1100 pupils in the Roman Catholic Boys and Girls infant and Primary schools. The Methodist two percent of the population was educating and influencing nearly half the num‐ ber of students the Catholic schools were. Although St. Lucia did not have firm color lines, it should be mentioned that the local Methodists were racially mixed. Although mostly brown or mulattoes they included whites and blacks and Asian Indians. Whereas in Trinidad the Indian community either converted to Presbyterianism in mission schools or remained in Hindu or Mus‐ lim communities, in St. Lucia the Presbyterian schools and congrega‐ tions were taken over by the Methodists. The Methodists were evan‐ gelical. Their school was at first used for a chapel and, as Catholics could be excommunicated for attending the Methodist church, the chapel was open on one side so that Catholics could listen to sermons without actually attending. Wealthy Catholic parents tried to avoid trouble with priests by sending their children to Catholic schools while paying for English lessons with the Methodist teachers. Before the late 1950s, the only secondary schools were St. Jo‐ seph’s Convent school for girls and St. Mary’s college. In 1890 St. Mary’s College for boys had been opened by Father Tapon. Whereas the Catholic clergy in St. Lucia would long remain French, Tapon de‐ cided to follow the model of a British public school. He went to Eng‐ land for a year to improve his English and learn how English schools

362 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE were run. In 1903 St. Mary’s College’s grant from the government was doubled, provided that 10 scholarships be awarded each year on the basis of a competitive examination. The first scholarships to primary school were in 1906. Warwick Walcott, Derek’s father, earned one. In 1918 Island Scholarships were introduced. At the age of eleven, Derek Walcott won one of the two St. Lucia government scholarships to St. Mary’s College, 1941‐47. Most students attended St. Mary’s for six years, from the age of 11 until 16, then a few, such as Derek, stayed on an extra two years to prepare for the advanced examinations which might gain them entry to British universities. There was a hierarchy including head master, assistant head master, prefect and monitor. The courses were French, Latin, English Literature, English Language, History, Geography, Religion, Arithmetic, Geometry and Algebra. The students sat Cambridge Examinations, London Matriculation, and other British‐devised, administered and graded competitive tests used throughout the Empire. Patrick Leigh Fermor, in The Traveller’s Tree, reports a visit on Speech day at St. Mary’s “a school justly famous throughout the An‐ tilles.” He saw a completely English atmosphere […] The Inter‐ House trophies came next: Rodney had won the cricket and football, Abercromby the aquatics […] the island fashions had remained faithful to Oxford bags. Those obsolete trou‐ sers were especially noticeable […] When the last of the col‐ ors and prizes had been carried away, the curtain came down and after a minute or two, rose again on the Forum scene in Julius Caesar […] A loudspeaker announced His Honor the Administrator, and Mr. Stow, an elegantly dinner‐ jacketed figure in the blinding spotlight, rose, and made an excellent speech, which was answered by the Head Prefect in words […] far better than any head prefect’s speech I had ever heard at school.



V. WEST INDIES 363 Walcott was a Prefect and would a few years later be a Junior Master and direct scenes from Macbeth. St. Mary’s took in about sixteen new students a year and was divided into four houses. Derek was in Abercromby House. St. Mary’s produced the national elite. George Odlum (later a representative to the UN) and Vincent Flossic (Chief Justice of the OECS) were both in Abercromby. From an early age Derek had participated in some Meth‐ odist shows, including a pantomime when he was eleven, and he con‐ tinued acting and then writing scripts at St. Mary’s for the weekly col‐ lege speech night from which his early plays evolved. Derek edited the first Wall magazine, on which poems and other writings were exhib‐ ited and which was collected into an annual printed magazine. In 1946 St. Mary’s College was handed over to the (Irish) Presentation Broth‐ ers who told Walcott about Abbey Theater, James Joyce, and the lead‐ ing role of culture in nationalism. Walcott began to see himself as a young Joyce or Stephen Dedalus, a rebel against the Church, someone who would in exile create the consciousness of his race. There is a widely propagated romantic myth about schools al‐ ienating the young native from his or her society. The myth is at the heart of postcolonial theory. There might have been times and places where that is true, some original fall into cultural conflict, but it is es‐ sentially a romantic complaint about education, about being in the school room rather than outside in nature. Walcott loved St. Mary’s, found it interesting, was encouraged by his teachers, and has spent his life teaching others whether as a Junior Master at St. Mary’s or now as a Professor of Poetry and Drama at Boston University. Elites are formed in secondary schools not universities. St. Mary’s made Walcott part of an elite, an elite that until recently has governed St. Lucia. Wal‐ cott still often attends events at St. Mary’s. When Walcott went on to the University College of the West Indies in Jamaica he hated it. Ja‐ maica was an alien island and culture; he already had his education at St. Mary’s. I do not want to offer an idealized view of St. Mary’s. Walcott was always aware that it was a Roman Catholic school. At times his classmates treated him as a heretic, shunned or made comments

364 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE about him and his religion and told him that as a non‐Catholic he was doomed to Limbo or Hell, and that he could not understand religious matters. He always felt that he had no future as a teacher at St. Mary’s and would need to leave St. Lucia for advancement. There were a num‐ ber of incidents that reminded him that he was part of a religious and cultural minority. An early episode of this kind occurred when Derek, at the age of fourteen, published his first poem in the local newspaper. It was publicly criticized by a local priest, who saw it as pantheistic and against revealed religion and church authority. By contrast, the literary world into which Walcott moved might be thought in part a secularized Protestant, often Methodist cul‐ ture. The main local newspaper, the Voice of St. Lucia, which published Walcott’s first poems during his teens and which would give publicity to his achievements, was started and owned by the same Gordon fam‐ ily that had started the Methodist school. Harry Simmons was for a time the editor. Simmons, who taught Walcott painting and did so much to promote the Creole language and culture, was part of an im‐ portant Methodist family that included Ira Simmons, the first black governor. Harry Simmons might be said to have taught Derek the beauty of the local landscape and of black people in contrast to the subject matter of white European art. Simmons started an arts and crafts guild to encourage people to use local materials and subjects. Women should sew quilts decorated with local flowers and birds. Six years later Derek co‐founded the St. Lucia Arts Guild which was at first regarded as a continuation of the Junior Wesley Guild, members of which would meet on the veranda of Walcott’s house to read the scripts of his plays. It was strengthened by other young people Wal‐ cott met at St. Mary’s, but its leadership was Methodist. It was co‐ founded by Maurice Mason, another Methodist, Maurice Mason’s brother Lucius became Head of the Methodist school and David Mason became a Methodist minister. When Derek left for Jamaica his leader‐ ship of the St. Lucia Arts Guild was taken on by his twin brother Ro‐ derick. The leading personality in setting up the new University Col‐ lege of the West Indies was the poet Philip Sherlock, whose father was

V. WEST INDIES 365 a famous Methodist preacher in Jamaica. When Walcott would move to Trinidad his way would be eased by two generations of Woodings, the elder of whom was a Queen’s Counsel, and part of the regional Methodist Synod. Walcott would have sung to him in 1946 as part of the Methodist choir. The younger Wooding, also a QC, became one of Derek’s close friends in Trinidad. From about 1940 and for two decades thereafter the Method‐ ists occupied an unusually significant place in the process of West In‐ dian modernization and regional decolonization. They were in the vanguard of brown culture until it was overtaken by Black National‐ ism. Ask an older West Indian about the Methodists and you will prob‐ ably draw a blank and be told such things do not matter; ask about the family religion of the Prime Minister and you might well be told, well yes, now that you mention it, he is Methodist but you would not know it. The Methodists had stopped being evangelical and had become part of the West Indian brown professional elite. (A Methodist is the cur‐ rent head of government in St. Lucia.) In St. Lucia, however, for dec‐ ades a battle was waged between the Roman Catholic Church and the Methodists for control of the schools, the syllabus, appointment of teachers, and the culture and morals of the people. For the 1958 West Indian Arts Festival, the St. Lucian Arts Guild planned to perform two one‐act plays, Derek Walcott’s The Sea at Dauphin and Roderick Walcott’s The Banjo Man. To us, The Sea at Dauphin is an early nationalist‐modernist play that uses some Creole words; its portrayal of the peasantry is modeled on Synge’s peasant plays. Derek’s play was, however, denounced by the local priests as blasphemous, fatalistic and casting a bad light on the clergy. Roder‐ ick’s Banjo Man concerns the celebration of local Creole culture as pa‐ gan, amoral and creative in contrast to the narrow rigid confines of marriage, especially for women. The hero, the Banjo Man is a wander‐ ing folk artist, a Don Juan, sowing his seed among otherwise mis‐ treated woman. In a country where legitimate birth was still not the rule, The Banjo Man could be seen as challenging the Church’s moral authority and was so understood by the clergy, who told Catholics not to act in the play and avoid the Guild.

366 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE As a consequence, the guild had to withdraw its representa‐ tion from the Festival and an argument raged for several months in the Voice of St. Lucia in which Roderick Walcott and other members of the Arts Guild argued for the independence of art from religion and conventional morality. Part of the debate was over the value of French Creole language, which the largely Methodist St. Lucia Arts Guild pro‐ moted as a form of nationalism; it was partly about what we might call the modernization of society, the right of education, the arts, and cul‐ ture to be outside religion. To show the role of Methodism in the modernization of St. Lu‐ cia and the creation of a cultural nationalism and to indicate Derek Walcott’s formation, I have, as do so many arguments and intellectual histories, created my own dialectic of brown‐black, Anglophone– Francophone, Methodist–Roman Catholic. Reality is more nuanced. Not all Roman Catholics were reactionary Francophones. While St. Jo‐ seph’s Convent and St. Mary’s College were both Roman Catholic schools, they were part of Anglophone education (indeed, the only secondary education) in St. Lucia and were often sympathetic to Derek Walcott, the St. Lucia Arts Guild, and such attempts as the crea‐ tion of a local theater and local art. The most reactionary of the Cath‐ olic priests, and a leader of the church against secular art and educa‐ tion, was a converted English Anglican intellectual, a Father Jesse, who himself had an interest in discovering the St. Lucian past, made ar‐ chaeological discoveries and wrote a standard history―still used―of St. Lucia. The Methodist pastor at least once banned an Arts Guild play that was instead performed in a Roman Catholic school, and, as I indi‐ cated, Walcott learned from the new Irish priests in 1946 about the Irish nationalist movement and arts at the turn of the century. Social and cultural reality is a complex affair, wherever we go. We need de‐ tailed micro histories of the Caribbean and other formerly colonized areas if we are to have a true foundation to discuss postcolonialism.



V. WEST INDIES 367 Works Cited Anon. “Arts and Crafts Society Inaugurated,” The Voice of St. Lucia (Fri‐ day, 27 April 1945): 1‐4 [Probably Harold Simmons]

“Arts Guild Formed,” The Voice of St. Lucia (Saturday, 11 March 1950):8.



“Arts’ Guild Withdraws Plays,” The Voice of St. Lucia (Satur‐ day, 15 March 1958):1.



“Methodist School Honors Ex‐Principal,” The Voice of St. Lucia (19 April 1952): 1‐2.



“Patois Phrases in Walcott’s Sea at Dauphin,” The Voice of St. Lucia (Wednesday, 15 December 1954):1.



“Statement by His Lordship the Bishop of Castries on the In‐ cident of the ‘Banjo Man’ etc.,” The Voice of St. Lucia (Saturday, 22 March 1958): 8.

Easter, H. “Banjo Man,” The Voice of St. Lucia (22 March 1958):4,7. Fermor, Patrick Leigh. The Traveller’s Free: A Journey through the Caribbean Islands (London: John Murray, 1950): 202‐03. Gray, Irvin. “Il Faut Paller,” The Voice of St. Lucia (8 March 1958): 7 (creole poem praising Walcott). Jesse, Charles, Father, F.M.I “The Agreed Syllabus,” The Voice of St. Lu‐ cia (Saturday, 2 September 1944).

“Catholicus Says―‘Plays Profane,’” The Voice of St. Lucia (Sat‐ urday 22 March 1958): 4.B.



“Catholicus [C. Jesse]. “The Message of ‘The Sea at Dauphin’: a message of Morbid fatalism,” The Voice of St. Lucia (22 Decem‐ ber 1954):4.



Outlines of St. Lucia’s History, The St. Lucia Archaelogical and Historical Society (1956; fifth edition 1994).



368 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE

“Reflections on Reading the Poem ‘1944’,” The Voice of St. Lu‐ cia (5 August 1944).

Lewis, Gordon. “The West Indies Middle Class & The Future,” The Voice of St. Lucia (6 September 1958) Montplaisir, Kenneth. “The Arts Guild and Its Struggle,” The Voice of St. Lucia (Saturday, 22 March 1958): 4, 7. Seeker, A. “The Offending Poem,” in The Voice of St. Lucia (9 August 1944):3. Simmons, Harold. “The Flower Festivals of St. Lucia,” The Voice of St. Lucia (Thursday, 27 August 1953):2.

“The Need for an Arts and Crafts Society,” The Voice of St. Lu‐ cia (Saturday, 21 April 1945): 3‐4.



“‘Spotlight’ On the Dungeon of Culture: The Banjo Man,” The Voice of St. Lucia (Saturday 15 March 1958):4.



“Suggestions for an English‐Based Orthography for Creole,” The Voice of St. Lucia (19 April 1958):6.

Walcott, Derek. “Ballades Creole pour Harry Simmons par Derek Wal‐ cott,” The Voice of St. Lucia (Saturday, 8 February 1958):2.

“Inside the Cathedral” (29 pages, 1987, unpublished type‐ script, Walcott Collection, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad).



“1944,” The Voice of St. Lucia (2 August 1944): 3.



The Sea at Dauphin (Port‐of‐Spain: Extra‐Mural Department, 1954).

Walcott, Roderick, “The Candle in the Bushel/ Of Art and Immorality,” The Voice of St. Lucia (Saturday 29 March 1958): 4‐5.



Chapter 29 Contextualizing Walcott Walcott was born in 1930, a year which is a cultural marker of those who became major writers of the new nations which followed the end of the European empires. Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, V. S. Naipaul, Edward Kamau Brathwaite, were born in 1930 or a few years to either side of it. Such writers inherited the lan‐ guage, culture, and literature of the British that conflicted with the cul‐ tural assertion that was part of the anticolonial politics of the time. Their work can be located at a specific point in history. As the result of the collapse of Europe after World War II, the long struggle against European empires had been largely won or was being won, and many new nations were in the process of formation. Much of the work of these writers is concerned with the problems of cultural and political formation in the late colonial and early independence period. As part of anticolonial cultural assertion, they make use of local forms of speech and local mythology, and introduce peasants in their work as examples of the folk. They were concerned with revising history so that it had a local rather than imperial focus. While critical of colonial rule, the writers born around 1930 had already witnessed the new po‐ litical leaders and political parties of the late colonial period. They would be critical of the corruption and politics of the new elites who inherited power from the Europeans. As the new nations were dragged into the Cold War between the West and Communists, the writers and intellectuals chose sides. Raised during the Great Depression during a time when Marx‐ ism was intellectually fashionable, the writers would identify with so‐ cialism in some way, although this could range from the pro‐Soviet stance of Ngugi to the vague African socialism of Soyinka. Even Nai‐ paul in the early phase of his career spoke of himself as a kind of So‐ cialist, a kind he did not define. In general the writers were not part of what might described as the postcolonial phase of liberation which

369

370 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE followed; the rights of gays, women, transsexuals, animals, and the en‐ vironment have not figured predominantly in their work. That many of the writers now teach at American universities shows how the United States with its free market liberalism replaced the closed mar‐ ket economies of European imperialism as the dominant power in the World during the second half of the past century. The writers were part of a generation being prepared to in‐ herit the colonies of the European empire. They were educated at elite British style private schools, attended the new universities being formed locally, or went to England on scholarships. Many would teach at the new universities. Some of the writers, such as Soyinka, were from local elite families; Walcott and Naipaul are from poorer branches of such families. At school and university, they met and knew those who would form the new governing elites. While they would criticize the new political leadership, the writers were themselves close enough to power that their opposition made them both danger‐ ous and allowed them to survive. Because of the period in which they were raised, these writ‐ ers have shared themes and obsessions. There is the basic conflict be‐ tween Europe and the local in regard to politics and culture, especially noticeable in the treatment of history, language, society, landscape, mythology, religion, and sometimes literary form. Another central topic is race, the rejection of the white supremacist justification for ruling other peoples, and the centrality, for black people in the Amer‐ icas, of the history of displacement from Africa, enslavement, trans‐ portation to the new world, the brutality of plantation life, and the poverty and humiliations which followed emancipation. There are dif‐ ferent versions of this according to region of the empires and races involved, but the stories are largely similar as seen from the Asian In‐ dians who as indentured laborers replaced Africans after emancipa‐ tion. The often antagonistic relationships between various tribes, eth‐ nicities, religions, and races form a part of the new literatures of Af‐ rica, the Caribbean and Pacific.



V. WEST INDIES 371 Education and contemporary tastes meant that the writers shared familiarity with the Greek and Roman classics and British lit‐ erature. The modernism of W.B Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce carried prestige at the time and remained challenging. That almost all the artists of this generation either at first imitated or later developed from modernism marks a boundary between their work and the earlier amateur out of date belles lettres and social real‐ ism of the colonial period. The Irish Renaissance was an example of how the new nation‐ alist cultural assertion with its revival of folk traditions could be housed within modernism. American literature was more immediate, more part of modernism, and more likely to treat of problems of iden‐ tity and the existential than recent British literature that remained concerned with social issues and manners. Some recent European, es‐ pecially French, writers were also influential. Walcott, Naipaul, Soy‐ inka refer to existentialist themes in their work. Such influences, rang‐ ing from the European classics and Existentialism to local speech and folk customs, came together in the new literatures and gave them part of their character as they began to celebrate, discuss, or criticize local society, politics, and culture. The intellectual circles in which the writers moved had a sense of being part of a cultural and political change. Walcott read in French or in translation such French Caribbean writers as Aimé Césaire, Franz Fanon; he knew the writers who had already started to be published such as Mittelholzer, George Lamming, and most im‐ portant, Frank Colleymore who edited the influential Bim from Barba‐ dos, in which Walcott published poetry and in which his early self‐ published works were reviewed. Later Walcott in West Indian news‐ papers wrote book reviews of Naipaul, Wilson Harris, and others; he was invited to various Commonwealth and black literature confer‐ ences and often wrote newspaper articles about them. His early work in turn was reviewed by other Caribbean writers. There was a similar excitement in the other arts. As modern dancers turned away from classical ballet they looked for sources in folk dancing, African dance, and the African‐influenced dances of the

372 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Caribbean. Painters and sculptors brought modernist techniques to African and Caribbean subject matter. A modern African and West In‐ dian theatre began from such sources as the revival of the verse play, the example of John M. Synge, Yeats and other dramatists of the Irish renaissance, and the Little Theatre Movement. Soyinka and J.P. Clark in Nigeria, and Walcott in the Caribbean had major roles in developing this new regional theater. The Rockefeller Foundation, recognizing the importance of the new nations during the Cold War, extended to African and the Caribbean the assistance it was already giving to the Little Theater Movement in the USA and Canada. That the new literature developed alongside other regional modern arts meant that a small number of people often did many tasks that elsewhere would be in the hands of specialists. Walcott, for example, is a poet, playwright, theater director, scenic designer, painter, and has had troupes of dancers in his theater company. Be‐ sides being writers, Soyinka and Clark are also theatre directors who use dance in their plays. One consequence of needing to be an all‐arounder is that the many arts, genres, and kinds in which Walcott works influence and bleed into each other. Walcott the painter influences Walcott the poet, dramatist, set designer and theatre director. Examples vary from landscapes and still lifes in verse to poems about a painter and paint‐ ing, such as Tiepolo’s Hound (2000), about Camille Pissarro, which is published with the reproductions of Walcott’s paintings. Such influ‐ ences from one art form to another work both ways. While Walcott’s painterly vision shapes his plays, his being a poet means he often writes plays with beautiful verse and weak plots; his experience work‐ ing with actors in the theater contributes to the pauses and pitches in the poems. As the new literatures became part of contemporary culture, they went through many of the same fashions as art elsewhere, but often with different subject matter and themes. The writers were not only writing back to Europe in its own artistic genres and kinds, they were also reshaping the European tradition for their own purposes.



V. WEST INDIES 373 I want next to mention less general, more specific contexts such as Walcott’s family and St. Lucia. He often refers to his four grandparents and to the fact that two were white and two descended from slaves. His origins include two important families in the West In‐ dies, as well as women descended from slaves. This makes his social position complicated. Many of his works concern the position of the mulatto in revolutionary black societies. His mother and father were part of a small minority of cul‐ tured English speakers in an otherwise black, French and Creole speaking island dominated by a Roman Catholic Church although a British colony. Walcott was brought up hearing Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter and also the imagery and rhythms of the Bible and Meth‐ odist hymns alongside the spoken French creole of the streets. During the 1930s and ‘40s intellectuals were interested in folk cultures: Wal‐ cott and his friends wanted to preserve local customs and creole speech. In St. Lucia the Catholic Church regarded the Methodists as heretics encouraging deviations from Catholic practice as well as the use of English. Walcott knew he would need to seek his livelihood abroad. He could not support himself in St. Lucia as a painter, nor would he be given a permanent position at the one, Catholic‐ruled col‐ lege. He became James Joyce’s artist in exile. Walcott was in the first Arts intake at the newly formed Uni‐ versity of West Indies in Jamaica. They were a small, specially selected group of students who would soon become political and cultural lead‐ ers of the region. He was already famous as a poet and dramatist be‐ cause of his early publications and regarded by many as a genius. It was felt that the formation of West Indian theatre groups would some‐ how culturally and socially create links between the many peoples, re‐ ligions, and societies of the proposed West Indian Federation, and Walcott soon became central to such plans. He followed his friends and classmates to Trinidad where from 1958‐62 the new West Indian Federation had its capital and where he hoped to create a world‐class theatre company. Trinidad became his second home, and he lived there for over twenty years. This was the period of attempted black power and Marxist revolutions, and of local tyrants wanting to prove

374 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE they were blacker than black that, as can be seen from ‘The Schooner Flight’’ contributed to Walcott’s leaving for the USA, where since 1980 he has been a university professor. Although the Federation lasted only four years, it influenced his sense of the region as a nation with a spectrum of cultures and races. His American context is New York, or the New York‐Boston connection, a connection built around publishing houses, major uni‐ versities, overlapping literary and intellectual circles and such publi‐ cations as the New Yorker, Partisan Review and the New York Review of Books and non‐profit organizations, such as the Rockefeller Foun‐ dation. The New York Jewish‐Boston Brahmin connection came about during the Cold War when many American intellectuals broke with Communism. Walcott moved in a circle of other poets and intellectu‐ als, including Joseph Brodsky, Susan Sontag, and Mark Strand. It made him an international writer with a wider range of interests, as can be seen in ‘Forest of Europe’. His publisher, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, was the most important publishing house for poetry in the USA and a ma‐ jor influence on American intellectual life, especially as it had a talent for spotting European and other writers who would become famous. It is said to have published more winners of the Nobel Prize in litera‐ ture than any other publisher in the world. Living in the USA, Walcott became more conscious of its legacy of racism towards American In‐ dians as well as African‐Americans. Whereas in the Caribbean Walcott would be regarded as mulatto, in the USA he is thought black. Starting in 1983, he began returning regularly to St. Lucia, which once more became subject matter for his poetry. His style was now more varied in registers, dictions, metaphor, allusion, and rhythm. He built metaphor on metaphor on metaphor in a unique manner. It is as if by leaving the West Indies Walcott found his own distinctive voice heard in such poems as ‘Cul de Sac Valley’ with its St. Lucian names of trees, the powerful blending of European and Calyp‐ sonian satire in ‘Spoiler’s Return’, or the vision of divine love in ‘The Season of Phantasmal Peace.’ Many of the poems are concerned with his divorce, children, loves, exile, and nostalgia for a receding past as he became aware of aging.

V. WEST INDIES 375 Walcott’s central story is about himself as a mixed‐race prod‐ igy who early on swears to devote himself as painter or poet to giving classical stature to St. Lucia, but his talent misleads him abroad and to another life and fame; eventually he will return to his island paradise but he is fallen, perhaps alienated, sees filth and slums where he once saw beauty, recalls friends now dead, recognizes that he will also die and that his other home is heaven. The man who leaves home, becomes a wanderer, who re‐ members and wants to return to his first love but in the process is himself changed by needing to survive in the world, is both a version of Ulysses and a secularization of the Christian notion of a fall from paradise in which life is a journey through temptations towards res‐ toration. There are many allusions in Walcott’s writing and interviews to the notion of life as a process of fallen mankind working for salva‐ tion. It is a mistake to see Walcott only in terms of decolonization, the Caribbean, or his being a wanderer. Another context is survival and the guilt that follows.





Chapter 30 White Egrets, Derek Walcott (2010) Each of Derek Walcott’s volumes of poetry has recurring themes and a distinctive form and style, usually telling some version of his autobiography and proclaiming an aesthetic in which he is a damaged hero whose story is memorialized by his art that celebrates the Americas, especially the Caribbean. In this latest book the theme is introduced with a three‐part untitled sequence of poems (each of 16 lines) in which chess pieces are compared to the famous life‐sized Chinese terra‐cotta warriors who supposedly took an oath to die for their Emperor. This is another book about Walcott’s life, celebrating the New World where the local subject matter, whether his cats, the egrets, or the sea, is cause for dedication―still another homecoming to St. Lucia, a return to a natural paradise―and commemorating new friendships since his 1992 Nobel Prize for literature. The egrets of the next sequence of 8 lyrics are similar to the breakers of the sea, a changing beautiful reality that the artist needs for his peace of mind and for his creativity. Those who remember Yeats's wild swans may feel that Walcott’s white egrets have a tradition behind them that in‐ cludes Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Walcott’s personae have barely disguised their author who is now coughing, wheel‐chaired, aware of the approach of death and once more making his farewell. Whereas The Prodigal (2004) was weak, a seemingly fatigued exit, Walcott’s new poems are packed with energy and more aggressive than elegiac. Women are courted as muses, even if his flesh is no longer willing. Poem 46 intensifies his disagreement with V. S. Naipaul: Here’s what that bastard calls “the emptiness” – That blue‐green ridge with plunging slopes, the blossoms Like drooping chalices, of the African tulip, the noise Of a smoking torrent ‐‐‐ [80]

377

378 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Those who want a nationalist and postcolonial Walcott will find their bard here; but many of the better poems he has written in the past are more complex in their views. The strengths of such volumes as The Castaway (1965), Another Life (1973), and The Star‐Apple Kingdom (1979) include their sarcasm, satire, irony, parody, anger and aliena‐ tion. Walcott was praising places and the folk where he also often de‐ tested the society and its politicians, including its black power politi‐ cians. After his move to the USA (with its more simple black‐white so‐ cial and cultural divisions) in the 1980s that dimension was lacking. This volume often alludes to earlier poems, especially An‐ other Life. Walcott once more meets his first love, but now she is un‐ attractive and he is in a wheel chair. Friends from the Trinidad Thea‐ tre Workshop are mentioned but they are now deceased. Nostalgia, aging, the approach of death, and the fear of artistic impotency are re‐ curring topics along with celebration of a full life. This is Walcott’s ver‐ sion of Prospero’s farewell, a selective retrospect of his life and achievement in one volume: as a cloud slowly cover the page an it goes white again and the book comes to a close. [89] Even the short passages I have quoted show that Walcott re‐ mains a master of sound, harmony, description, and rhymes. The fore‐ grounding of rhyme, especially internal rhyme, is characteristic of this volume and the extended metaphors and similes often lead to new topics and themes rather than being comparisons. The attractions of the world remain; the art of describing them has not gone limp.



VI. Internationalizing British Literature







Chapter 31 Who Wrote The Satanic Verses? (1988) As The Satanic Verses1 has caused a continuing international furor, has been condemned unread by many Muslims as blasphemous and obscene, may cost the author his life, has brought European and Islamic cultural assumptions into conflict, and possibly could bring about a major war, I am no doubt foolish to expect anyone to be still interested in it primarily as creative literature; but the fact that many people cannot easily obtain the book requires that I begin by observ‐ ing that Salman Rushdie’s latest novel is amusing, witty, malicious, daring, technically interesting, and very readable. It is filled with puns, allusions, multilingual jokes, literary parodies, wild situations, and se‐ rious themes. It enables one to see clearly that a main characteristic of his work beginning with his first novel, Grimus, has been the explo‐ ration of multiculturalism figured through multidimensionality.2 The Satanic Verses tells the intertwined story of two con‐ trasting Indian actors: the Anglophile Saladin Chamcha, who marries an English woman, becomes a British citizen, and distances himself from his countrymen; and Gibreel Farishta, a larger‐than‐life Bombay movie star famous for playing the part of gods in those popular Indian films known as “theologicals.” As they progress through this highly self‐conscious, self‐reflective, fantastic, part‐dream, part‐realist novel, the two actors assume many roles. Saladin, the well‐behaved imitation Englishman, turns into a large, satanic, fire‐spouting goat, is rejected by his English wife, who takes another lover, is imagined (by Gibreel) as a scribe to whom a former businessman now turned prophet, Ma‐ hound, dictates the Qu’ran, becomes an evil Iago who revenges him‐ self for a past hurt by destroying the highly emotional Gibreel through

1 2

Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, New York, Viking, 1989 (© 1988). On Rushdie’s earlier works, see Syed Amanuddin, “The novels of Salman Rushdie: Mediated Reality as Fantasy,” WLT 63:1 (Winter 1989), pp. 42‐ 45.

381

382 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE making him murderously jealous; finally Saladin is reconciled with his Indian father and his own Indianness. Gibreel, who, like Saladin, is supposed to have recovered miraculously from an immense fall from an airplane explosion caused by a fanatically dedicated female terror‐ ist, becomes, to Saladin’s envy, a popular hero in England, falls deeply in love, and fails at an attempt to popularize a new subgenre of skep‐ tical theological films. It is the psychotic, drug‐filled Gibreel who be‐ comes an Angel Gabriel, fantasizing tales which transform reality, es‐ pecially details from the lives of Gibreel, Saladin, and their women, into parodies of well‐known literary and religious texts. Richly imaginative, organized by recurring motifs, events, and metamorphosed characters, filled with literary allusions, The Satanic Verses is, like Rushdie’s other novels, topical and politically conscious. It impartially satirizes East and West. Unfortunately for Rushdie and his publishers, several of the tales have strongly offended some Mus‐ lims as they imply the Qu’ran might not be God’s own words and as they appear to mock Mohammed’s wives (who, usually regarded as models for womanly virtue, become subjects for sexual fantasy in a brothel scene). One of the questions raised by the novel is the relativ‐ ity of good and evil in historical movements; another question is the source of the literary imagination. Just the way the novel questions whether God was the direct source of the Qu’ran, so it keeps asking who is the author of the events in the novel. Who is the narrator? Rushdie? Gibreel? Saladin? (They seem contrasting aspects of their author.) God? Satan? History? Literature? The international controversy over the novel soon after the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to the Nigerian Wole Soyinka justifies those who have been arguing that writing from the Third World and the Commonwealth, and their related immigrant branches in England, Canada, and the United States, should be recognized as the most important literary movement of recent decades. Indeed it is as if within the world of culture a Galilean revolution has taken place. Im‐ portant works of literature and major writers often signal their pres‐ ence by being the occasion of controversy, lawsuits, claims of obscen‐



VI. INTERNATIONALIZING BRITISH LITERATURE 383 ity or blasphemy. Madame Bovary, A Doll’s House, Ghosts, Ulysses, Lo‐ lita, and Doctor Zhivago are interesting as literature using new con‐ cepts of form, style, narrative, or characterization while challenging the political, moral, or sexual standards of their time. Each repre‐ sented the future that they helped make by being the center of contro‐ versy. The marginalization and alienation of the Western intelligent‐ sia from the dominant business, industrial, and military class has meant that much recent writing has been about subjective discontents and sexual liberation rather than such public topics as politics or reli‐ gion. In the Third World and even within the “white” new nations it has been otherwise, as the writers are more likely to be part of an elite close to those in power; the means of communication are more lim‐ ited, and therefore the pen remains a powerful weapon to influence opinion; power is less securely founded on a social‐cultural homoge‐ neity and is more threatened by challenges, while the direction of so‐ ciety is still subject to possible change. There are at least two reasons why The Satanic Verses has be‐ come a major book of our time: it represents the now‐common condi‐ tion of the immigrant situated between two or more cultures and at home in none; and it challenges Islamic fundamentalism by bringing a skeptical Western rationalist perspective to matters of faith during a time when Islam, like most of the Third World, is attempting to re‐ cover from the psychological humiliations of centuries of Western dominance and when many political regimes base their power and rhetoric on a return to some national, cultural, racial, or religious ideal. Moreover, Rushdie was born into the tradition and has both his own view of it and his own version of the future. His credentials as a radical, a near Marxist, someone actively involved with the Third World and the immigrant population of England mean that he cannot be dismissed as uncritical of the West. Rushdie, though born a Muslim, has criticized the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan as a separate state. In affirming that the real tradition of Indian Muslim culture is alongside the Hindus and other religions of India, he denies the vision of a unified world Islamic culture in which the faith is kept pure by political dominance and enforced submission. Rejecting the

384 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE recent political history of India and the Islamic world, he challenges it from the standpoint of the secular Muslim Left and with a vision of a continuing India‐Pakistan‐Bangladesh despite their present rulers. Rushdie seems like Doctor Adam Aziz of Midnight’s Children, “resolved never again to kiss earth for any god or man”; the Western‐ educated doctor was “unable to worship a God in whose existence he could not wholly disbelieve.” This state of uncertainty partly accounts for the myth of History as a struggle between good and evil, found in each of Rushdie’s four novels, in which it is never clear who is good and who evil. Indeed, they are so mixed up that Satan and God appear one, two parts of each other, just as in The Satanic Verses the lives of Gibreel and Saladin are linked but the relationship is ever changing. In The Satanic Verses Rushdie looks at the world he knows and from it explores the mixture of good and evil in history. The great movements, those which having lasted we decided must be good, are accompanied by tyranny, terrorism, credulousness, manipulation, deceit. The terrorist who blows up the airliner at the start of the novel, the many comments on Thatcher’s restructuring of the British economy and society, the exile and return of the “Imam,” and the various stories within stories in the novel (especially the chapters about Mahound and Ayesha which offend Muslims) are ex‐ amples of how the entry of a new movement in History is not purely good. Mahound (which means “devil” was long ago applied to Moham‐ med by Christians) may be inventing the Qu’ran rather than receiving it from God and at one point is tempted to insert three verses accepta‐ ble to local powers. He wisely rejects such a compromise. Wholeness of belief to the extent of fanaticism is seen as a necessary part of coming to power. In this book about the psychology of political power, the psychology of leadership, movement, and win‐ ning, Mahound’s new religion, Ayesha’s impossible pilgrimage, the woman who leads the terrorists, the Imam, and Thatcher share a sim‐ ilar wholeness of purpose and willingness to use any means to win. It is difficult not to feel that the PLO and contemporary Nicaragua, about which Rushdie has written in The Jaguar Smile, are also on Rushdie’s mind.

VI. INTERNATIONALIZING BRITISH LITERATURE 385 Having challenged the right of Pakistan to exist (in Midnight’s Children and Shame),3 Rushdie has now questioned the basis of faith that has driven Islamic expansion through the centuries. By literally translating Islam into English as “the new religion… Submission,” he reminds the reader that the message of Islam is not love and charity toward others. In criticizing the governments of India, Pakistan, and parts of the Islamic world as feudalistic and reactionary, he has ques‐ tioned the legitimacy of many postcolonial regimes of the Third World by testing them against Western standards of justice, free speech, and what American fundamentalists like to call secular humanism. He has done this while, in The Satanic Verses, satirizing England as a land of racial prejudice and social injustice. If revolutions require breaking eggs, this is a book meditating on the issues raised by such a truth, satirizing many of the omelets that have been made and basically trou‐ bled by this insight. Such skepticism is characteristic of those who know or live in more than one culture. It is part of the condition of the immigrant as contrasted to the Imam of the novel, who, exiled in Lon‐ don, is unwilling to see the “foreign” land from which he fears pollu‐ tion. The immigrant is the outsider, the one who lives in fear, the one who does not believe. It is an educated Persian called Salman who becomes Mohammed’s scribe and, skeptical of the divine origins of the Qu’ran, begins inserting his own words into the text until caught out by Mohammed, who then seeks his death. The book is almost a self‐ fulfilling prophecy of the relationship of the secular Muslim writer to militant fundamentalism. However, the same novel shows the brutal‐ ism of the British immigration authorities and police toward “blacks.” It is not a book that chooses sides in a simplistic “We are good, they are evil” fashion. There is nostalgia for India and particularly for Bom‐ bay, where Rushdie lived before he left for England (and his parents for Pakistan). The India into which he was born was, as allegorized in Midnight’s Children, breaking up at the time of his birth; the partition

3

For reviews of Midnight’s Children (1980) and Shame (1983), see respec‐ tively WLT 56:1 (Winter 1982), p. 181, and 58:2 (Spring 1984), p. 328.



386 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE (which was followed by the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan) was the end of the long, close relationship between a Muslim elite and Hindu India. Significantly, The Satanic Verses ends in the reconcilia‐ tion of Saladin (who in many ways resembles Rushdie) with his father. The book is symbolically a return to Bombay and India. That this at‐ tempted reconciliation should have created such estrangement from the Islamic world is the greatest irony of the situation. Even without Rushdie’s instinct for combat, satire, parody, saying the unsayable, some writer was bound to start a crisis by bring‐ ing Western skeptical attitudes to the Third World’s reassertion of its traditions. This was bound to happen because the reassertion of the past is not mere nostalgia but is the very essence of present‐day na‐ tionalist ideology binding nations or people into a cause; it is the ma‐ terial of political power. During the colonial period and the early days of independence, third world writers expressed their protest against the alien power through cultural assertion; but after independence the postcolonial writer is likely to become a critic of those who have gained power and who rule. Traditionalism is now likely to be used to repress the cosmopolitan, freethinking, intellectual, modernizing tendencies that are inherent to writing in a modern European lan‐ guage. The poet Alamgir Hashmi’s Commonwealth Literature: An Es‐ say Towards the Redefinition of Popular/Counter Culture (1983)4 sees the Westernized elite of the Third World as a liberal, modernizing counterculture to a reactionary fundamentalism appealing to those with no knowledge of the outside world. Hashmi regards Pakistani English literature as having an Arnoldian function as a criticism of life. Whereas many radicals in the West would object to a term such as Commonwealth as neocolonialist, Hashmi consciously uses it to repre‐

4

Alamgir Hashmi, Commonwealth Literature: An Essay Towards the Re‐def‐ inition of a Popular/Counter Culture, Lahore, Vision, 1983. For a review, see WLT 58:2 (Spring 1984), p. 333.



VI. INTERNATIONALIZING BRITISH LITERATURE 387 sent the way those with knowledge of European languages and cul‐ tures have a window to the world beyond the confines of their own society. In the past the exile was likely to return home from the me‐ tropolis disillusioned, the victim of prejudices, and as a result would become a leading nationalist proclaiming native values; but the con‐ sciousness produced by immigration in the postcolonial world creates a double vision. Rushdie looks critically at both East and West, but the moral values are those of the individualistic, freethinking West. Even the London immigrant “black” culture with which he identifies is seen from a distance. Rushdie, does not, like Samuel Selvon, write amus‐ ingly as “one of the boys.” There is a combative intelligence here which, although politically committed, is, as a writer, independent, skeptical, undeceived by clichés, and which allows the text to imagine and write itself. Seeing the international results, Rushdie might well ask who the devil did write The Satanic Verses?





Chapter 32 David Dabydeen’s A Harlot’s Progress (2000) Dabydeen’s puckish sense of humor blends with his genera‐ tion’s concern with the political origins and social consequences of representation at the start of A Harlot’s Progress. It is the late 1760s when Mr. Pringle of the Committee for the Abolition of Slavery has tracked down ‘Mungo,’ supposedly the oldest Negro in London. Three decades earlier famous in William Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress prints as a whore’s servant and her accomplice, Mungo was part of the crea‐ tion of the black as devil, as thief, as forbidden dangerous sexuality. This is the other side of Sir Joshua Reynold’s inclusion of the dignified, trusted, obedient, black family servant in his painting of the Cardews. Now the Abolitionists are remaking the Negro as a victim of slavery saved by Christianity, and Pringle needs a Mungo to provide personal details to a nine‐chapter story already outlined, beginning with mem‐ ories of Africa, the slave ship, labor on a West Indian plantation, being taken to England, servant to a Lord, purchased by a Jew, servant to a prostitute, and ‘redemption’ by the Abolitionists. Pringle’s fiction is to be treated as Mungo’s autobiography, the abolition narrative struc‐ ture hidden behind such chapter titles as ‘The Beloved Homeland of My Birth: Africa’ and ‘Paradise Lost: The Terrors of my Expulsion to the Americas in the Bowels of a Slaveship’. Mungo’s resentment shows he and representations of his life are being used as part of a cultural war among whites, but he needs the money that Pringle pays in small miserly sums for those bits of story of which he approves. Rather than a slave on plantations, Mungo has become a slave of commerce, of the white man’s economics and of a puritanical sense of guilt that is associated in the novel with perverse sexuality, figuratively and often literally buggering the Negro due to attraction, the desire to dominate, and the excitement of guilt. Need‐ less to say that this historical tale has relevance for today. The setting provides a basis for large parts of the novel which are Mungo’s attempts to free himself from such demands by imagining 389

390 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE other histories, other stories and explanations, often of a fantastic kind. There are many competing histories vying for attention, offering rival versions of the truth. Although these tales fit into Pringle’s nine chapters, they are a parody history of Otherness, Africa, the slave trade, salvation, comprising desire, the grotesque, the fantastic, irony, the sardonic, literary allusion, and include some of the best prose I have read in decades. Dabydeen has at times seemed a natural poet and scholar whose imagination led him towards fiction, but who lacked the story‐ telling instinct of a novelist. Many chapters here, however, have pages of the kind of writing that make your eyeballs leap out, a grotesque poetic prose itself parodying the conventions of eighteenth century fiction and art: When the ship pitched in a sudden rough sea, the chains tightened and cracked their ankles, spines and elbow joints. Sometimes arms and legs and heads were wrenched clean off, and their torsos rolled freely about the ship. … Apart from the stench which induced nausea and loss of con‐ centration, it was difficult to count accurately, for there were hands sans arms wedged in the iron restraints, feet sans legs, stumps of necks. It was like a resurrection gone gruesomely wrong, for they were without benefit of the sacramental. One woman, torn from her chains, sans head and feet, rolled end‐ lessly about according to the rhythm of the waves battering the ship. Eventually when the ship lurched massively she was flung to the far end of the hold. She landed alongside her son and he recognized her even in her acephalous and frac‐ tured state. He yanked at his chains in a bid to embrace her. It was in such a bizarre manner that families were separated, then united, on board the slaveship. (pp. 48‐49) One of Dabydeen’s strengths has been the use of the amusing, irony, and self‐conscious literary art along with the topics and conven‐



VI. INTERNATIONALIZING BRITISH LITERATURE 391 tions of post‐colonial literature. Slave Song was both West Indian dia‐ lect poetry and a parody of medieval lyrics. The interplay between the two conventions, while fun for the learned, brought out similarities; the desires, complaints, and fears, of both the West Indian and English peasant being not only part of a shared humanity, but also a result of repressive social structures and the power of injustice over time in both societies. One of the first incidents in the present novel is Mungo’s making a zombie‐like slave of a friend in Africa through vio‐ lence and psychology. The process will be repeated by a slaver on Mungo. This shows how people are made obedient through hurt, fear, dependency, and, yes, the need for love, and is also illustrative of a fic‐ tional technique explained elsewhere as the personal being under‐ stood to represent a larger public event or theme. It is a method famil‐ iar from the novels of Günter Grass and García Márquez, Dabydeen flaunts it a bit tongue‐in‐cheekedly. A Harlot’s Progress is not solely a book about slavery and blacks, it is also about power, economics, social class, and human na‐ ture. While contributing to the current rescue of black eighteenth‐cen‐ tury England from the formerly neglected margins of social and cul‐ tural history, Dabydeen is also concerned with the poor, the servants, the whore, the Jew, and the relationships between them and how so‐ ciety treats them. He does not necessarily make minorities or the poor better in the sense of more moral or attractive than their stereotypical representations, but he gives them more complex characters and lives, and sees them also, like the black, as having to survive in ways that make them targets of social satire and prudish judgments. Daby‐ deen’s imagination does not judge, it creates, amuses, accepts―here is humanity being itself and doing what it can do in the circumstances. One circumstance is how life is influenced by sexual desire and attraction. As befits the title, A Harlot’s Progress, this is a book about sexuality in its many forms, whether Mungo’s memories of his mother’s breasts―his only true memories of Africa―his fantasized ta‐ les of African orgies, the sailors on the slave ships using the chained blacks, the captain seasoning Mungo’s bottom, and Lady Montague’s taking on as lovers both her black servant and a Jewish doctor.

392 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Whether beaten, sodomized, washed, clothed, bought, sold, evange‐ lized, nursed, or fantasized, there is always desire, fear, attraction, love, sensuality, passion, even if perverted. That is life. And imagining it is also the life of a writer wanting to sell his novel, Dabydeen as author being, it is implied, another Mungo. And that too is both a problem and amusing as the characters Mungo cre‐ ates want to be treated in an idealized fashion, seen as better than they are, which, while funny and very human, I understand as the compet‐ ing demands made for a politically correct version of class, sex, and race, on an author’s imagining of individual lives and specific situa‐ tions, a task he hopes will bring him wealth and fame. Although filled with details of eighteenth‐century England, they are based on literary and pictorial sources; this is not a realistic novel or a novel with much individual psychology. Mungo is a name given to blacks in England, like Sambo. At other times he is renamed Noah, Perseus or Percy (a bit like being called ‘Willie’). Dabydeen’s point is that foreigners and the marginalized are treated as types. Ho‐ garth has a Jew, a harlot, not individualized characters. Dabydeen is making another point as well, one that Derek Walcott has also made. Once taken from Africa, the African has lost his original name and cul‐ tural memories. He becomes a new man, a New Worlder, a mixture of picardo and existentialist. Do not endlessly lament social victims or the oppressed, instead celebrate a rather paradoxical and ironic liber‐ ation which results from the slave trade in the creation of a diaspora consisting of interesting and exciting lives in other lands. This is a book claiming England’s place in the Black Atlantic. For Dabydeen eighteenth‐century England is the start, or a representative start, of this new history. As seen from such works as Caryl Phillip’s recent anthology Extravagant Strangers, multicultural and black England are now often regarded as starting with the eight‐ eenth‐century. Derek Walcott’s denial of the burden of history has now reached the Old World and England; like Mungo’s ever‐changing story, history must continually be rewritten. Walcott is often an influ‐ ence on Dabydeen’s writing, even in the way the narrator finds life a



VI. INTERNATIONALIZING BRITISH LITERATURE 393 ‘bounty’, although the word, like much of Dabydeen’s writing, seems many‐edged. There is, for me at least, the irony that Dabydeen, a West In‐ dian of Asian Indian descent, has become a leading ‘black’ author and a major scholar in the recovery of England’s African literary and cul‐ tural history since the Guyana of his parents has been for decades torn apart by Indian‐black antagonism. Only in England does Dabydeen be‐ come ‘black’, and even that as an all‐encompassing term for people of color belongs to the vocabulary and politics of a few decades ago. Alt‐ hough West Indian rather than Indian, Dabydeen is more attuned to the history of indenture than the middle passage. Mungo’s apparently made‐up African language is a version of Hindi―the probable reason why images of Christ are described as a blue god is that Dabydeen has Shiva in mind. Might those mysterious Greek ancestors that Mungo claims be Alexander’s soldiers bringing Greek culture to North India? A Harlot’s Progress is often an impish joke, good‐natured mischievous‐ ness, but, as often with humor, has multiple significances. Mungo, Noah, Perseus, are products both of history and creatures of free will, they share a common humanity in desire, in ‘percy’. There are going to be simplistic reviews and interpretations of this novel as post‐modern, post‐colonial, magic realism, but it is more interesting than that. Indeed that is part of what it parodies. Dabydeen alludes to many now popular stylistic conventions, but A Harlot’s Progress is more like one of those Russian eggs that as you open it has another and another within. It is probably impossible to follow its complexities on a first reading; once you finish it you need to start again. There is much here to enjoy as well as puzzles for arti‐ cles and seminars to explicate. Towards the end a narrative emerges according to which Mungo, now Perseus, has done many of the deeds, including crimes, he imputed to others, but why believe him or this version of history? He is old and his memory is failing. Why does he at one moment tell jokes in Latin and the next speak broken English? And what about all those allegories and patterns of symbolism, from Genesis to Revelations, of Mungo as Christ, the Greek myths, even the creation and destruction of the world as seen by Hindus?

394 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE The real ancestor of this book is Wilson Harris, the Harris of Guyanese Quartet, with those returning, role changing, ever renewing spirits of the past revisioning history. Somewhere, however, they dis‐ covered their sexuality and that life can be fun. A Harlot’s Progress is perhaps too richly textured in its variety of styles, literary imitations, and range of vocabularies, to be always a page‐turner. The narrative in places stops for poetry and fantasies within fantasies, but this novel should be a serious contender for the Booker or another big prize.



Chapter 33 Abdulrazak Gurnah and Hanif Kureishi: Failed Revolutions As the term ‘postcolonialism’ changed from its original mean‐ ing, from an historical period (used to avoid the misleading ‘colonial’, ‘independence’, ‘post‐independence’ chronology) it took on various cultural and political significances, most of which are concerned with the continuing effects of Western imperialism on Others, and with cul‐ tural resistance to those who hold power in the West. As the term has become fashionable it has been applied to all ‘minority’ struggles against a dominant order, and even to all post‐invasion periods of his‐ tory. It is not uncommon to hear of classical or medieval postcolonial studies. Like most once cutting edge ideas that have been around too long, ‘postcolonialism’ has become a cliché, a ‘received idea’ enshrined in the cultural vocabulary. It is unlikely that any student of literature can avoid some version of ‘postcolonialism’ or ‘postcolonial resistance theory’. I want to look at two writers to show how misleading it can be to apply such generalizing terms as Third World, Black, postcolo‐ nial or Muslim, to most others and to the complexities of art. Indeed, literature often seems to be written against such simple think. The two writers I have in mind are Abdulrazak Gurnah (b.1948) and Hanif Kureishi (b. 1954), and my title comes from two different revolutions that have been part of their background and shape their subject mat‐ ter and themes. One revolution might be thought ‘postcolonial’, but the actuality is different from what is usually claimed for such political changes. The other is the counter‐culture of the 1960s and 1970s. My reason for including the two writers in the same essay is that they both have been slotted into such categories as ‘Muslim’, ‘Black British’, ‘immigrant’ or ‘postcolonial’, whereas their novels show the particu‐ larities of history and how individual lives differ. For centuries Zanzibar was controlled by descendants of the Sultan of Omar who interbred with local Africans. Gurnah, originally 395

396 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE from Zanzibar, is from part of the Arabised elite that dominated Zan‐ zibar for centuries until independence and a revolution brought Black Africans to power. Zanzibar subsequently became part of Tanzania. Critical studies of Commonwealth, Postcolonial and New English Lit‐ eratures are generally concerned with European imperialism and its aftermath, whereas most of the world has a history involving many people and cultures. Paradise (1994) portrays the complexities of East African societies on the eve of the First World War. There are Arab traders backed by Indian financiers who dominate the region and deal in cloth, hides, manufactured goods and slaves. The latter are Swahili‐ speaking Africans, themselves divided into many tribes. The Germans claim the area but they are seldom present, nor are their enemy, the British. The story is seen through the eyes of Yufu who at the age of twelve becomes a slave of a trader after his merchant father cannot pay off his debts. Besides its portrait of an area of Africa dominated by Arab expansionism which was being challenged by European imperi‐ alism, and the portrayal of continuing Arab involvement long after slave trading was banned elsewhere, the novel is also about alienation and freedom. Yufu and others are uprooted as slaves and must learn to adjust to another society. The paradise of the title refers to the trader’s garden which Yufu enjoys but which turns into a personal hell as he attracts the attention of the trader’s first wife and he falls in love with the trader’s second wife; with his loss of innocence, his life as a slave becomes dangerous and he flees the garden. Home, however, de‐ pends on memories; Yufu can no longer remember the past. His par‐ ents dead, he joins the soldiers the Germans recruit to fight the British. Life is a journey; there is no paradise to which we can return, only dangers, trades, changes in status. Rather than creating polarities between native and alien cul‐ ture, Gurnah claims that African writers naturalise international influ‐ ences.1 His novels show that Africans have always been part of the

1

Essays on African Writing Volume 1: a Re‐evaluation, ed. Abdulrazak Gur‐ nah (Oxford: Heinemann, 1993), p. ix.



VI. INTERNATIONALIZING BRITISH LITERATURE 397 larger, changing world. Paradise is related to Conrad’s Heart of Dark‐ ness in the Arab trader’s journey to the interior of Africa, and to Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in offering a view of the last moments of a part of Africa before it underwent European colonization. Like Achebe’s novel it offers an alternative history of Africa to that of West‐ ern imperialists. It is, however, not a pre‐colonial paradise. In explain‐ ing the orgins of the town where he lives the trader claims: “You’ll be thinking: how did so many of these Arabs come to be here in such a short time? When they started to come here, buying slaves from these parts was like picking fruit off a tree. They didn’t even have to capture their victims themselves, although some of them did so for the pleasure of it. There were enough people eager to sell their cousins and neighbors for trinkets.”2 Gurnah’s fiction is rich in ironies, parallels, historical detail and allusions to other works of literature. The writing has a powerful intensity and complex vision. The style is in places imitative of Arabic and Swahili, although not to the degree of Achebe’s Igboized English in Things Fall Apart. One of Gurnah’s themes is the need to have ambi‐ tions to define oneself. Ambition caused people to explore their world, journey outwards and many ended in a failure, but those who lack am‐ bition become victims of family, friends, those in power and their own depression. He writes about individuals who are uprooted, alienated, unwanted and therefore are, or feel, resentful victims, yet their condi‐ tion offers possibilities unlike those who do not attempt to change their lives. Although the effectiveness of the novels is that their focus is on outsiders, and that the narration remains within or near their consciousness, the stories are set within a history of empire and racial discriminations, including modern Zanzibar in which feudal elites af‐ ter national independence were replaced by revolutionary thugs. Postcolonial liberation may be the replacement of one unjust local or‐ der by another.

2

Paradise (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1994), p. 131. All quotations are from this edition; page numbers are given in the text.



398 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Memory of Departure (1987) tells of a young man, Hassam Omar, of a part Arab African family which is headed by a brutal, often drunken father, who beats his eldest son to death, and who earlier in life sold young men to Arabs for sexual purposes. There is now a rev‐ olutionary Black Socialist dictatorship in Zanzibar and anyone with Arab blood is treated as a public enemy. Hassam passes his examina‐ tions but cannot afford to go to university, which could be his way out of the slums in which his family now lives. At the conclusion Hassam is a sailor on a ship transporting poor migrants between countries as he tries to find a means to reach a part of the world where he might make something of himself. Memory of Departure examines the prob‐ lem of being ‘unhoused’; houses owned by others are unsafe from their whims and desires. Ambitions to improve one’s life are frus‐ trated by lack of means and opportunities. Gurnah shows a world in which various individuals and groups are in competition and in which achievements easily crumble without support. Besides treating of migration and journeys, Gurnah’s novels examine the relationship of memory to identity; his stories are of ex‐ iles and immigrants caught between memories of the past and their present life. Memory of Departure was the first of several novels that seem based on autobiography. Gurnah came to England in 1968 and worked as a hospital orderly in Canterbury from 1970 to 1973, then qualified for a certificate of education (1975) and a BEd (1976) from the University of London, before teaching at a secondary school in Do‐ ver, Kent, 1976‐78. He later earned a doctorate and taught at univer‐ sities. Pilgrim’s Way (1988) tells of a Black former student who works as a hospital orderly in what appears to be Canterbury, faces various indignities and recalls his past. He was part of the local elite in Zanzi‐ bar and fled after the Black revolution against the Arabs. He came to England with his father’s savings, which were not enough, and he failed his examinations. He is stranded in England, encounters racial prejudice and is several times threatened by hoodlums. He is bitter, isolates himself from others and feels humiliated by his work, while being unwilling to admit to those at home what his life has become. This is Gurnah’s version of Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground with

VI. INTERNATIONALIZING BRITISH LITERATURE 399 a bitter, resentful character at a low point in his life. The thwarting of the African’s ambitions makes him resentful of others and turns him towards living alone in a rotting, filthy house. Admiring Silence (1996) could be Pilgrim’s Way two decades later. It consists of the dispiriting memories of a forty‐two‐year‐old unnamed African of part‐Arab descent. Since he moved to England in the late 1960s he has taken up with and is losing interest in an English woman who is the mother of his teenage daughter. Feeling discon‐ tented, alienated, surrounded by racial prejudice, he invents his past, the past of his family and that of Zanzibar. Trying to keep his worlds apart he never tells his family about Emma, his English woman. After twenty years of being away he returns on a visit to Zanzibar; it is a disillusioning society symbolized by overflowing, broken, stinking, filthy toilets. His supposed memories were lies meant to comfort him in exile. Zanzibar is an impoverished place of inter‐racial quarrels ruled by those who seek revenge on the formerly ruling Arabs. The narrator returns to England, but Emma has found someone else and he is at home in neither place. The title of By the Sea (2001) refers to the coast of Tanzania and to the British seaside town where one of the two narrators of the novel now lives as a political refugee. As the novel opens he is being interrogated at immigration and pretends not to speak English. The organization and sentences of the opening paragraph do not read like normal English prose and often in the following pages the narrator will make minor mistakes in usage and think in Swahili or Arabic. By the end of the novel the narrator has met, learned that he is distantly related to and formed a relationship with another exile who regarded him as an enemy. We learn the complicated family histories of both men, the pettiness, treacheries and hatreds of the formerly dominant part‐Arab community, and how the subsequent Black power revolu‐ tion in Zanzibar punished those with Arab blood while destroying the economy and imposing a tyrannical, corrupt, single‐party state. Being part of a diaspora recounting its past allows the men to understand what made them.



400 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Dottie (1990) shows the dangers of obsession with past hurts. Dottie’s mother, a Black prostitute, died when the girl was in her teens. After her mother’s death Dottie, with a crazed dedication, tries to keep her younger brother and younger sister away from what she feels is a white world intent on humiliating them. Often what she does is wrong and self‐defeating. While the story of Dottie might be seen as a criticism of Black British separatism, it portrays a side of Black Eng‐ land that has mostly been ignored. The novel shows that British ‘Blacks’ have complex family histories that need to be traced and told. Dottie’s grandfather was a Pathan who ran away from his tyrannical brother and in helping the British during their empire building ended up in Cardiff where he married a Somali woman. This is part of Eng‐ land’s history, which includes Africans, Indians, West Indians and other people of color who in various ways came to England and formed part of an unnoticed, unrepresented underclass. In contrast to Gurnah’s concern with Zanzibar, exile, memo‐ ries and racial resentments, Kureishi’s plays and screen plays of the 1980s were part of an angry response by writers to Thatcher’s gov‐ ernment and its dismantling of the Welfare State. They were also among the first works to look at how British life was changing with the presence of large numbers of Asian immigrants, the class distinc‐ tions among the immigrants, and how the children of immigrants were becoming part of English society. Of mixed race, with a Pakistani father and a white British mother, raised in Bromley, Kent, Kureishi was not concerned with matters of decolonization, migration, exile and cultural conflict. His subject matter was life in England, including how to leave the dreary suburbs for London, where he hoped still to find the lingering joys of the 1960s counter‐culture. Although his early plays were intended as criticisms of Thatcher’s effect on society, Ku‐ reishi felt the excesses of the Left and the Welfare State were partly responsible for England’s problems. Like such theorists as Paul Gilroy, he saw that, by contrast, popular music represented the liberating en‐ ergies of a cultural revolution, a form of protest that gave the working class a chance to become rich and famous, helped integrate racial and



VI. INTERNATIONALIZING BRITISH LITERATURE 401 sexual minorities, and changed notions of Englishness.3 The counter‐ culture of the 1960s is the ideal of many of Kureishi’s characters. His semi‐autobiographical novel, The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) opens with a clarion call to a new era. It is one of those grand beginnings (with echoes of Melville’s Ishmael, Bellow’s Auggie March, even Mark Twain’s Huck Finn), filled with energy and introducing a major author and a new voice embodying the personal with genera‐ tional and national themes: “My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost. I am often considered to be a funny kind of Englishman, a new breed as it were, having emerged from two old histories. But I don’t care―Englishman I am (though not proud of it), from the South London suburbs and going somewhere. Perhaps it is the odd mixture of conti‐ nents and blood, or here and there, of belonging and not, that makes me restless and easily bored. Or perhaps it was being brought up in the suburbs that did it. Anyway, why search the inner room when it’s enough to say that I was looking for trouble, any kind of movement, action and sexual interest I could find, because things were so gloomy, so slow and heavy, in our family, I don’t know why. Quite frankly, it was all getting me down and I was ready for anything.”4 Karim is not a product of cultural conflict like his father, who came to England from India in 1950, twenty years previously. Karim, 3



4

Dreaming and Scheming: Reflections on Writing and Politics (London: Fa‐ ber and Faber, 2002); see, in particular, ‘Eight Arms to Hold You’, pp. 105‐ 20. Paul Gilroy has argued that ‘popular culture has formed spaces in which the politics of “race” could be lived out and transcended in the name of youth’ (There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack [London: Hutchinson, 1987], p. 167). The Buddha of Suburbia (London: Faber, 1990), p. 3. All quotations are from this edition; page numbers are given in the text.



402 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE at seventeen, is a product of the cultural revolution of the 1960s of pop music, instant fame, sexual freedom, drugs, multiracialism, multi‐ culturalism. The Buddha of Suburbia is not primarily about identity, but about desire and liberation and their costs, especially the wound‐ ing effect of change on family and those with whom one has emotional ties. Buddha offers several contrasting portraits of desire and lib‐ eration and their effects. There is Karim’s father, Haroon, who like Ku‐ reishi’s own father, is from a well‐off Bombay Muslim family, came to England as a student, married a white working‐class woman, and set‐ tled into a dull, secure job at a time when most of the family moved from India to Pakistan. Now a father of two grown children, Haroon is bored, disappointed and turns to Oriental philosophy with its message of conquering cravings by wishing nothing, especially not divorce: “In the suburbs people rarely dreamed of striking out for happiness. It was all familiarity and endurance: security and safety were the re‐ ward of dullness” (p. 8). In one of the many whimsical ironies that make the novel amusing, Haroon’s platitudinising appeals to the age‐ ing hippiedom of the suburbs where, under the guidance of a tempt‐ ing, ambitious Eva, he becomes famous as a guru whose vaporizing people pay to hear. Soon the father is intertwined with Eva, divorces his wife, who collapses but eventually remarries, while bisexual Karim finds mutual satisfaction with Charlie, Eva’s son. Charlie, in his clothes, hair style, speech and music, keeps up with the changing fashion from David Bowie‐glitter to Johnny Rotten‐punk, and becomes famous. Karim follows Eva and Haroon to their new flat in West Ken‐ sington where Eva and Karim begin their advancement through the opportunities London offers. Eva contacts a former lover, a theatre di‐ rector, invites the famous, and soon has a career as an interior deco‐ rator, while Karim, now the focus of the novel, becomes a brown sex object in the theatre director’s awful play from which he moves on to a major role in a play by a famous avant‐garde theatre director (for whom he is also a brown sex object, as he is for the director’s wife). This takes him to New York where Charlie has become a jaded rock star of world‐wide tours; eventually Karim achieves his own national

VI. INTERNATIONALIZING BRITISH LITERATURE 403 fame as an actor in (anti‐climax) a soap opera. The Buddha of Suburbia is a version of the Balzacian novel about the provincial who comes to the metropolis and the ways and costs of making it. Rather than an orphan without a past, Karim is the new breed produced by divorces and a multiracial England. The novel renews modern literature’s celebration of the rebellion of desire against its socially and morally imposed limits―as represented by youth versus age, the bohemian against the bourgeoisie, the gay and bisexual rather than the heterosexual, the orgy in contrast to marriage. It treats such themes as part of the aftermath of the great counterculture revolution that began in the 1960s with its sexual and narcotic revolutions, the breakdown of the nuclear family and the racial reshaping of cities. While the novel’s amusing ironies are indebted to British so‐ cial comedy, they show how people change. It is absurd to expect con‐ sistency of behavior. Anwar, Haroon’s best friend who followed him to London, becomes a hen‐pecked grocer, goes on a Hindu hunger strike to assert his authority as a Muslim patriarch, and forces Jamila, his feminist Marxist daughter, into an arranged marriage. She is sent from Bombay a deformed, useless, ambitionless husband who regards the marriage as a way to support his reading of middle‐brow fic‐ tion―Changez demands the complete works of Conan Doyle as part of his dowry. Jamila refuses to have sex with Changez, who makes use of a Japanese prostitute instead. Jamila has sex with Karim, then be‐ comes a lesbian, joins a commune where she has a child who is parented by her doting, continually cuckolded husband. So the love‐ less arranged marriage does result in affection and an heir, although in untraditional ways. The situation, even the tenderness, is amusingly absurd, as there is a tension in Kureishi’s work between the enterpris‐ ing individual’s desires and the comforts and security of family and the communal. Although Karim is not a product of cultural conflict, he is a product of the British class system. The famous rock musicians he ad‐ mires have emerged from working‐class or middle‐class suburban families like his own. Karim has also been affected by racism in British



404 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE schools: “I was sick too of being affectionately called Shitface and Cur‐ ryface” (p. 63). He regards his father’s belief in the superiority of Eng‐ land and its way as a colonial mentality. Racism, however, is seen by Kureishi as white working‐class resentment at immigrant competi‐ tion and achievement, while professional class liberals are often pat‐ ronizing. The Black Album (1995), Kureishi’s portrait of post‐swinging London, is set in 1989, the year of publication of Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. The liberation of the 1960s, the ideologies of the 1970s, mas‐ sive immigration and Thatcherite economics have resulted in acid raves, slavish followers of anything anti‐Western, universities in which no one reads, sex without love, disappointed feminists, increas‐ ing unemployment, angry minorities, angry white men and the col‐ lapse of liberal culture. Things have fallen apart, the best lack convic‐ tion, there is social, emotional and intellectual anarchy, while fanatics demanding unthinking obedience gain followers among the angry and disillusioned. Shahid’s father rejected Asia and Islam, but a boom‐bust‐eve‐ ryone‐for‐himself economy, working‐class resentment, postcolonial theorists and the expedient multiculturalism of some Labor Party pol‐ iticians have destroyed the national consensus. Shahid is thought Pa‐ kistani by skinheads and Muslims. Shahid attends a college staffed by poorly qualified teachers, disillusioned 1960s radicals, for whom their brighter students write about the cultural significance of Prince re‐ cordings while the others take drugs or burn books. Shahid is caught between the fading but well‐practised attractions of Deedee Os‐ good―a college lecturer who teaches him many new pleasures, rang‐ ing from designer drugs to masturbation and voyeurism while cross dressing―and Riaz, a leader of a group of Islamic fundamentalist toughs who claim that any free thought or individuality leads to West‐ ern decadence, inaction, lack of respect for and betrayal of the Third World, especially Islam. Deedee is an example of why the Muslim stu‐ dents turn towards fundamentalism from liberalism. In an analogy to Satanic Verses, Shahid rewrites some of Riaz’s poems and is forced to flee for his life with Deedee who, having tried

VI. INTERNATIONALIZING BRITISH LITERATURE 405 to discuss Rushdie’s book in her class, is hiding fom Riaz’s gang. But Kureishi is too much a fan of popular culture, and knows contempo‐ rary British taste too well, to have an unhappy ending. A now televised Riaz moves from book‐burning and violence towards mainstream eth‐ nic politics, while Deedee and Shahid are invited to a private party af‐ ter a Prince concert. As in much recent British fiction the period is illed in by alluding to its fashions―Fred Perry and Paul Smith shirts, Chrissie Hynde singing ‘Stop Your Sobbing’. If the tone and structure of the novel feel mishandled and unfixed that results from the rapidly shifting Ecstasy‐influenced high speed hallucinatory style which the novel imitates. The Black Album is a plea for real literature, skepticism, and yes, even England, in contrast to those who regard them with scorn as the products of elitism, liberal decadence, and racist imperi‐ alism. After 1995 Kureishi’s fiction turned away from large portraits of the nation and ethnic themes. His later books are about self‐doubt, the onset of middle age, and the breakdown of long‐term relations and moral rule. Such fiction concerns the loss of youthful excitement, dreams and love as one ages, becomes experienced, and finds the once open world closing. Instead of the liberated, hedonistic, subversive 1960s, and the opportunities it offered, his characters grow older and are faced with the responsibilities and boredom of settled lives. As de‐ sires for change and renewal are expressed through sexual relation‐ ships and where one lives, such topics as race, social justice and per‐ sonal advancement are replaced by stories of couples uncoupling, moving, and the costs. Kureishi had become someone asking where have the youth‐ ful excitements of the 1960s and 1970s gone? His lament for the pass‐ ing of unrestricted pleasure was mixed with asking how people lived together, how it was possible to restrict desire, how love could last without betraying the soul of a now ageing rebel. If the desire for fame, variety and renewal are causes of change, the main stimulus is sexual excitement. Intimacy (1998) is a complaint at being locked into a love‐ less, sexless, unaffectionate relationship. It is about the desire for rea‐



406 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE wakened excitement and the pains of breaking up. The reader’s em‐ pathy with the male narrator, however, is undermined by the novel’s many ironies. The left woman, although sharp‐tongued, is not what the narrator claims; he turns down her offers of sex, affection, con‐ cern. He has been consistently unfaithful, keeps her awake by scratch‐ ing his bottom in bed throughout the night, and he likes comfort and order but refuses to help around the house. Another irony is the lack of attractiveness beyond youth and sexual excitement of the object of desire. An uneducated suburban runaway with no mind or interests beyond playing in a rock band, she sleeps around, drifts through life, moving from place to place. The prose of Intimacy approaches the aphoristic and epi‐ grammatical, with short lyrical outbursts, while following the shifts in mood and focus of the narrator’s mind. The registers and tones vary from the intellectual and moralistic to the erotic and obscene, but there is always control, precision, economy and rhythm as the novel records the nuances, politics and ethics of personal crisis. Larger emo‐ tions sit alongside such realities as cleaning the children’s bottoms when they dirty themselves. This is a story about growing up and the conflict between desire and responsibility. The narrator’s drugtaking and wish to return to the purple haze of the early 1970s seem pathetic. He has never married the mother of his children, feels no responsibil‐ ity towards her, and appears to lose little beyond a place to hang his fashionable clothes. This is not a novel about conflicts of ethnic iden‐ tity; when the parents of the narrator enter the picture it is as the voice of a rejected world of responsibility. Except for their names we would not even think of them as part of different cultural past. Gabriel’s Gift (2001) treats a similar situation from a child’s perspective and is one of the few places in Kureishi’s fiction which concludes with reconciliation rather than everyone going in their own direction. An ageing rock musician, Rex, wastes his time at the pub with other has‐beens until his woman, Christine, kicks him out. She becomes a waitress to support herself while he lives in a seedy bed‐ sitter. Gabriel is hurt by the situation, cannot understand why his par‐



VI. INTERNATIONALIZING BRITISH LITERATURE 407 ents cannot get along, and eventually brings them together in mar‐ riage. The father learns that the excitements of youth cannot be re‐ gained, and that loneliness is worse than being bored by a partner. This is also a book about art. Gabriel has learned about art from his father, has visions and becomes a painter. There is a possible allegory in the names of the characters and in Gabriel’s function as an artist (his nickname is Angel) who imitates reality and, through various iro‐ nies, it is his art which brings his parents together. Romance is coun‐ terpointed by such ironies as Christine thinking Rex is searching for something on the floor when he kneels to propose to her. In his early works Kureishi encapsulated much of what peo‐ ple felt and did in the 1970s and 1980s. In the later works he became a voice of a generation as it moved into middle age. His writing changed from political and cultural themes to the personal, especially the isolated life of an artist. He became concerned with how people live together. If pop culture provided a model for limitless rebellion, Gabriel’s art of drawing brings about the need to accept life and ag‐ ing―not exactly ‘postcolonial resistance’. Indeed, it is difficult to un‐ derstand why postcolonialism should be applied to both the novels of someone writing about self‐exile from Zanzibar and the novels of a British writer of part Pakistani (actually Indian) descent who writes about life in England and the difficulties of accepting life’s limitations.





Chapter 34 Mike Phillips and the Making of Black British Literature Perhaps it is because he works in such popular literary forms as the detective story and the thriller that Mike Phillips is neglected by academic critics? Yet the way Phillips has extended the range of such forms has made him a major novelist. He uses popular literature to treat serious subjects in new ways. He has done this consciously in writing about the black British experience. My claims are that Phillips has an important role in the creation of Black British literature, that his use of popular fictional forms is appropriate to his world view, and that he is a writer whose work needs serious study and analysis. During 1982 he published an article in Community Work and Racism that argued on a pragmatic basis for black separatist organiza‐ tions. In a white‐dominated England a black minority needs to organ‐ ize its own views and politics without interference since, for example, the views of West Indian immigrants about education are unlike those of the white British. The West Indians moved to England to get ahead and move up the social and educational ladder. Many were middle class or had such aspirations, but in England they could only get work‐ ing‐class jobs. They expect their children to get the schooling and qualifications for better jobs. Black children with working‐class par‐ ents, however, are told to lower their sights, not to take academic courses. The schools and the Labor Party treat them as part of the working class, but the parents want their children to take academic courses, be given more homework, and challenged. To make their views heard West Indian immigrants must have their own social and political organizations. And they have their own traditions of organiz‐ ing, such as through churches, unlike British traditions. Besides they are often made to feel unwelcome in British churches.1 1

Mike Phillips, “Separatism or black control?,” in Community Work and Racism, ed. Ashok Ohri, Basil Manning and Pau Curno (London: Routledge

409

410 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Such pragmatism is unlike American Black Nationalist sepa‐ ratism. Phillips is not interested in a universal black brotherhood, nos‐ talgia for a lost Africa and remembrance of the slave trade. His main concern is with the transformation of the West Indian immigrant into black British and the practical politics involved. The process was pain‐ ful to both the immigrants and the whites, but now something new has resulted. Notting Hill in the Sixties (1991) is a photographic record of a time when black England started to become part of British con‐ sciousness.2 It was a frontier period, brutal, now romanticized, but formative in the continuing mistrust between the police and the black community. The Mike and Trevor Phillip’s Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi‐Racial Britain (1992) told through interviews the history of the West Indian immigrants since the landing of the SS Windrush in 1948.3 It reveals how a people came to England, their struggle to sur‐ vive, and how they became part of society, changing it in the process. The West Indian experience is central to a multiracial England. Phillip’s writing is part of a larger movement to revise British history to include blacks and other minorities. Most writers, such as S.I. Martin, David Dabydeen, or Caryl Phillips, have looked back on the slave trade, the eighteenth century, perhaps Shakespeare’s Othello. The eighteenth century is especially useful as a time of origins; there is a written literature, known writers, and blacks in works of art. How‐ ever, look at David Dabydeen’s A Harlot’s Progress: its story of eight‐ eenth‐century black England is still set within a larger narrative of Af‐ rica, the slave trade, the abolitionist movement.4 The main character is more to have done to than a doer.

2 3 4

& Kegan Paul in association with the ACW Community Work Seven, 1982): 103‐120. Mike Phillips & Charlie Phillips, Notting Hill in the Sixties (London: Law‐ rence & Wishart, 1997). Mike Phillips & Trevor Phillips, Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi‐ Racial Britain (London: HarperCollins, 1998). David Dabydeen, A Harlot’s Progress (London: Jonathan Cape, 1999).



VI. INTERNATIONALIZING BRITISH LITERATURE 411 With Mike Phillips that history does not exist; he is writing about West Indians not Africans, about people who have come to Eng‐ land from the Caribbean not from Africa, and whose significant history in England begins mostly in the mid‐twentieth century. They are ac‐ tive ones, the doers, can now look back on the past as amusing stories. But there is also the irony that Notting Hill has changed from one of the worst slums in England to the height of fashion. It is this kind of historical awareness, an awareness set in specific contexts, that is a feature of Mike Phillips’s novels, especially the four Sam Dean detec‐ tive novels.5 Sam often mentions the changes in the recent history of a part of London in which he is travelling and comments on the in‐ creasing social stratifications among blacks. Phillips’s themes, how‐ ever, go beyond race to such matters as how people are formed by their experience, how history creates stereotypical representations, and how the world always changes. The novels offer more than soci‐ ology; they are complex, ambiguous, and formally interesting. They are serious writing in the guise of popular fiction. Phillips had to think through what he would write about and how. In 1987 he published his first book of fiction. Smell of the Coast consisted of short stories mostly set abroad in which black Britons learn that they were not Africans, African‐Americans, or even any longer West Indians.6 Other countries have other cultures, other lan‐ guage, and different morals. A criticism of the sentimental black brother approach to race, with its assumptions of racial essentialism and shared victimhood, the volume was part of a larger movement in which West Indians in England stopped seeing themselves as mi‐ grants poised to return home (whether to the Caribbean or to Africa) or to move on (to the USA or Canada) and began staking a claim to being British. James Berry had already written poetry and manifes‐ toes about being West Indian British; Linton Kwesi Johnson also spoke of a black Britain. But their poetry with its heavy reliance on Jamaican 5

6

Mike Phillips, Blood Rights (London: Michael Joseph, 1989), The Late Can‐ didate (London: Michael Joseph, 1991), Point of Darkness (London: Mi‐ chael Joseph, 1994), An Image to Die For (London: HarperCollins, 1995). Mike Phillips, Smell of the Coast and Other Stories (London: Akira, 1987).



412 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE speech and culture, and in Johnson’s case West Indian music, suggest something unassimilated, a protesting minority on the social fringes adopted by the counter‐culture of the young. Too often limited in form and by lack of nuance such poetry has remained in a niche, seen as oral or performance poetry. Even when popular, it is viewed as out‐ side the mainstream. Phillips understood that writing about black England re‐ quired a different approach. He adopted the conventions of popular fiction, especially the detective story and thriller in his four Sam Dean and subsequent novels. This is not the place to discuss the novels in detail but a few remarks might be useful. There is first the subject mat‐ ter. Blood Rights (1989) concerns the natural son of a leading Tory MP, conceived with a black woman during his younger days in Manches‐ ter. After the MP marries a rich white woman he disowns his mulatto son who grows up angry and demands recognition. The son creates a scene with the MP, is jailed, and becomes involved with another black youth, a dangerous drug dealer who threatens the MP’s white daugh‐ ter. The son helps Sam rescue the girl and as a result earns his father’s recognition and financial aid in gaining a university education and a future beyond the destructive possibilities of the inner city. Simplified like this the novel can be understood as an allegory about the relation‐ ship of white and black England, both the rites of passage of youth and the inheritance rights by blood of a black England that is in fact largely mulatto, mixed blood. Class is important. A male is unlikely to get out of the black ghetto and will turn to crime to survive or from rage. Phil‐ lips’s novels are very sympathetic to other dominated groups, such as working‐class women, but there is often anger at rich and upper‐mid‐ dle‐class women who use their position in the social hierarchy. Here the Tory’s rich white wife is the cause of his denial of his black son, and at the novel’s end she seduces and murders her daughter’s captor, accusing him of rape, thus playing on the stereotype of the black man as sexually dangerous. The Late Candidate (1991) explores the tensions within soci‐ ety, and especially politics, as such newly significant groups as blacks, Asians, and lesbians, challenge the dominance of the older working

VI. INTERNATIONALIZING BRITISH LITERATURE 413 class, especially the Irish, in the Labor Party and local government. Again representation is a theme. Faced by two murders of black men who were potential candidates for election to Parliament, the police assume that the killers are blacks, one who had an affair with the dead man’s wife, the other a petty drug dealer, and refuse to suspect others, although the obvious candidate for murderer would be one of the Irish whose control of the local council’s contracts for construction was be‐ ing uncovered by the blacks. Sam eventually learns that the killer is indeed Irish, but not anyone he expected. The murderer is a drunk and a failure, a hanger on, who is regularly cuckolded. In other words ra‐ cial violence is often the rage of those who fail or are falling, a way of asserting masculinity when in other ways deballed. At this point in his career, a time when Phillips gave up his Senior Lectureship in Media Studies to become a full‐time writer, he wrote the novelization of the black Hollywood film Boyz ‘N the Hood (1991).7 Besides the greater seriousness of Phillips’s version and the insertion of such usual Phillips messages as making the reader aware that the characters are having safe sex, there is a theme found in many of Phillips’s novels: the role of the father in teaching the son how to survive. Without a father the young male becomes either foolishly in‐ nocent or foolishly dangerous. If brought up by a financially secure woman he is unlikely to learn how to survive outside a protected so‐ ciety. The poor black child without a father present is likely to be un‐ disciplined, violent, get into touble, become trapped in the underclass, perhaps turn to crime. Point of Darkness (1994) is concerned with life in the United States, which may seem like a paradise for black people with its black millionaire sportsmen and entertainers, with its famous universities seeking black students and hiring black professors, and with its large communities of people of color where it is possible never to come into contact with whites and their attitudes. Black Americans are however

7

Mike Phillips, Boyz ‘N the Hood, based on the motion picture written and directed by John Singleton (London: Pan Books, 1991).



414 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE products of American Capitalism with its dog‐eat‐dog attitude, ex‐ treme individualism, and desire for getting ahead at any cost. It is a violent society with little sense of community or family. For a time Dean is infected by the American way. He distrusts his Argentine girl friend, commits incest with his female cousin, and finds that the black man who helped him against some Italian mafia is using him to get an important document that will advance his place in the criminal world, like a businessman moving up the corporation ladder. Dean is happy to return to a less violent, more racially assimilating, more socially co‐ hesive England. The document involved an exiled corrupt former Nigerian politician and diplomat, a character who reappers in The Dancing Face (1997) where he has financed Gus’s theft of a famous work of African art to bargain with the equally corrupt Nigerian government for his return to a position of influence.8 Gus is a brown Englishman with a white British mother; his West Indian father taught him that all blacks are Africans. Gus steals the ancient mask to dramatize the moral right of Africa to reparations. Osman, the son of a former minor chief, has served in the Nigerian army and seen opponents of the government massacred; he knows it is time to forget dreams of an ideal Africa as home. At the novel’s conclusion he destroys the great work of African art for which so many people have been killed and says “I turned my back on history. After that it was easy.”9 Better to begin anew and cre‐ ate than seek lost origins, revenge, or forgiveness. One theme of the novel is the contrast between European art, which is distinct from actual life, and African art, which is part of a social reality. Phillips’s novels cannot have the same social and reli‐ gious function as a traditional African mask, but he does capture in his stories many of the concerns of Black England, especially the different perspectives of Africans, West Indians, African‐Americans, and those born or raised in England.

8 9

Mike Phillips, The Dancing Face (London: HarperCollins, 1997). Mike Phillips, The Dancing Face, 251.



VI. INTERNATIONALIZING BRITISH LITERATURE 415 Phillips reverses the liberal each‐man‐for‐himself existential universe of most crime fiction; instead what begins as a quixotic search through a labyrinth of false clues, dead ends, and wrong solu‐ tions, shows that people are part of a community―no matter how cha‐ otic society may seem life depends on others, even if the others are unreliable and change. People have histories, contexts, and ways of working together. They are products of a time and place, which gives them their consciousness. Phillips is a pragmatist who often mocks the clichés of the Left, but underlying his fiction is a more nuanced, ironic, and skeptical vision of social reality as a product of times and places. People are not just black, white, African, or any one type of per‐ son. They are not conflicted by or products of, say, two contrasting cultures. Instead of the clichés of census forms and ethnic politics, people have complex identities of which various aspects come into play in different situations. Sam Dean is divorced from his white wife, has a son who is out of touch with the black experience in England, has an Argentine girl friend who is part black, and in each of his cases is usually helped by others, perhaps someone he knew from the past, perhaps by the son of a friend. The characters and relationships de‐ velop and change from novel to novel. The girl friend appears to have taken an Argentine lover, has a lesbian affair, experiments with dress‐ ing as a Muslim woman; the son feels humiliated by the racial clichés of white liberals who only see him as a victim and he thinks he should move to America. Usually there is some relationship or parallel be‐ tween such behavior and the themes of the novel. In recent novels Phillips has continued to extend popular gen‐ res bringing in a wider range of nationalities and types, shifting the narrator and narrative focus between the characters, while moving, rapidly backwards and forwards in time and between places. The basic structure of his novels has usually been that the central charac‐ ter is invited into some situation. He becomes curious and decides to follow it up although it leads far beyond anything he was first told about. There is always a point in which the character announces his choice of entering the labyrinth. One false clue leads to another, and at the conclusion the solution is unexpected, and the mystery different

416 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE than it first appeared. We have an instinct to face new challenges, to migrate, to be surprised, to find new loves. Phillips’s stories are about moving on, marriages changing, neighborhoods changing, and his plots and the structure of his novels are themselves designed to create excitement and surprise. There is moral judgement alongside an ac‐ ceptance that the first rule of life is survival. In his latest novel, A Shadow of Myself (2000) the scene is Cen‐ tral and Eastern Europe as well as England. The novel opens in Ham‐ burg September 1998 with an image of Africans, gypsies, Turks, Uz‐ becks, a young German and others drumming, playing musical instru‐ ments, hustling, begging, selling lottery tickets, perhaps picking pock‐ ets―a small international crowd outside the train station being watched by curious blonde girls probably from Denmark and by George Coker, an East German born to a Russian mother and a father from Ghana.10 The opening image is one of many pictorial scenes used to communicate themes, emotions, psychology, or history in an ellip‐ tical, laconic, swiftly moving thriller. Image, plot, thoughts, literary al‐ lusion, dialogue and parallels offer ironic contrasts and provide alter‐ native perspectives. For example it is often said within the novel that European society is white. But what about those Turks and gypsies who keep recurring in menial or illegal jobs? They are shadows. The complexity of the novel partly results from such echoing harmoniza‐ tions, whether the similarities between members of families, similar‐ ities between the lives of blacks in Russia, Germany and England, or between various other minority social groups. Besides embedding quotations from well‐known literary classics in this text, Phillips has learned the Shakespearean technique of offering many echoes and parallels and perspectives without choosing between them. The story is told through the perspective of five main charac‐ ters. It rapidly fills in George Coker’s painful youth both as a Russian and a black, a double alien outsider, in East Germany. Informed on as a petty criminal he became an informer for the Stasi, even reporting on his Prague‐born wife. The story then moves to Prague where we 10

Mike Phillips, A Shadow of Myself (London: Harper Collins, 2000).



VI. INTERNATIONALIZING BRITISH LITERATURE 417 see events from inside the consciousness of Joseph Coker, George’s half‐brother, a British independent film director visiting Prague to show his documentary about blacks in England during the 1940s. We later learn that those interviewed faked most of it to please Kofi Coker, Joseph’s father. Joseph’s innocence results from a protected English childhood where he was raised by a financialy secure white mother. Kofi Coker first came to England from Ghana as a young sea‐ man. He was at the famous 1945 Manchester conference attended by George Padmore, Kenyatta and Nkrumah. While recalling a central event in the history of black liberation, the conference had its ironies. The blacks were accompanied by white women, mostly blondes. Kofi’s father is proud of his job as a merchant seaman and of having got his son such a job, but he is told that he will be liberated from such menial work. By contrast, Kofi’s introduction to liberation politics occurs when Nkrumah needs someone to “run errands.” This is his main preparation to be sent to Russia from which he is expelled and to be‐ come a diplomat until Nkrumah falls and Kofi takes refuge in England. We learn what it was like to be an African student in a racially preju‐ diced Russia during the 1950s, how Kofi was expelled to destroy his relationship to the daughter of a high Communist party official, how she had to manoeuvre to survive, the birth of their son of which Kofi knows nothing until George finds Joseph, her continuing love for Kofi, George’s life as a black in Eastern Europe, how people had to get by under Communism, and the violent crime in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is a complicated novel interweaving an ac‐ tion‐filled plot with the remembrance of many things by many people. Villains are often only people trying to survive who will help others in other circumstances. No one is really secure. The world changes and so do people. Phillips has been working his way towards a larger vision in which the West Indian turned black Briton is representative of the ways, people and societies change. England for all its faults is a place of comparative innocence from the great violence of most of the world. Many of the characters in A Shadow of Myself end up taking ref‐



418 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE uge in England. While the desire for excitement leads people to migra‐ tion, inter‐racial love, and attempts to solve mysteries, survival is the name of the game. I have tried to show that rather than looking down on detec‐ tive stories and thrillers as somehow inferior to other literary genres we should see that they can be used for serious writing and that there is a unity to Mike Phillips’s fictional technique, world view, and mes‐ sage.



VII. Indian Literature







Chapter 35 Modern Indian and American Poetry: Some Contacts and Relations Indo‐American literary relations are part of a long, still un‐ written story of cultural, political, economic and personal contacts be‐ tween the United States and the Commonwealth of Nations which for‐ merly made up the British Empire. Although American models were usually different from the British, no research has yet been done any place within the Commonwealth on American literary contacts or in‐ fluences. The first public acknowledgment of the topic was a recent series of lectures by Australian poets on their reaction to, or the ways they have been influenced by, such American writers as Walt Whit‐ man, William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens and by Donald Hall’s Contemporary American Poetry anthology. The American Model: Influence and Independence in Australian Poetry (edited by Joan Kirkby, Hale and Irewood, Sydney) should be read by anyone in Amer‐ ican or Commonwealth studies. Unfortunately there is not a similar work for India. With this in mind I have put together a few, mostly bibliographical, notes on contacts between the American and the In‐ dian poetry scenes since the late 1950s. They are a by‐product of some work I have been doing on post‐independence poetry in English and are limited to what has come my way in studying the large, still mostly unexplored, field of post‐independence Indian poetry in English. Since each of the points of contact between American and Indian poetry cir‐ cles will need to be researched more fully by others and put into the larger context of Indo‐American cultural relations, a few introductory generalizations may be useful. My impression is that throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there were several kinds of influence or contact between India and North America. The Romantic movement’s discov‐ ery of Indian spiritualism was passed on from Germany to the Ameri‐ can Transcendentalists, and can be seen in the allusions to Hinduism, India and Indian literature by Emerson, Whitman, Emily Dickinson 421

422 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE and other Transcendentalists and those influenced by them. (A useful survey of the influence of India on the Transcendentalists can be found in M.V. Kamath’s The United States and India, 1776‐1976, printed by the Times of India for the Embassy of India, Washington, D.C., 1976.) Such concepts as the Oversoul and the divinity of the self have various sources but Hinduism was often cited as evidence of their truth or to provide analogies. This was a period when American intellectual circles were becoming aware of Asia and the Pacific. Such interests were, of course, furthered by the popularity of Tagore at the turn of our century, a fashion that was still shown in the 1940s and 1950s in the first American university courses in Commonwealth lit‐ erature―then offered by such titles as the literature of the British col‐ onies and dominions―where Tagore was often a set text along with novels of R.K. Narayan and Raja Rao. During the early twentieth cen‐ tury, many intellectuals were attracted to the radical democratic ide‐ als of American writers, especially the way their egalitarianism was given a spiritual dimension. The influence of Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman upon social reformers throughout the Empire can still be seen as late as Gandhi and is one of the few themes of Commonwealth and Indo‐American cultural relations that have been a subject of re‐ search. While some Australian and New Zealand poets were influ‐ enced by Whitman, especially in writing long, free‐verse, vatic poetry, the impact, if any, of his example on Indian verse is a topic that needs to be explored. In general Indian English poetry was until recently co‐ lonial; it had not been revitalized by the realistic and experimental American verse that helped some Australian and New Zealand writers to break with an older British tradition, adopt a colloquial voice and treat local subject‐matter. During the Second World War America contributed to the de‐ fense of many parts of the Empire and brought new wealth, contacts and ideas. The publication first of Geoffrey Moore’s The Penguin Book of Modern American Verse (1954) and later of Donald Hall’s Contem‐ porary American Poetry (1962) made available writers and texts for‐ merly unknown in the Commonwealth. The American role after the



VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 423 war as leader of the West led to a further expansion of cultural influ‐ ence in the form of American libraries, donations of books, Fulbright lecturers and scholarships, and the creation of American research centers, which soon led to the founding of university courses in the study of American literature and the creation of professorships of American literature. Kavita, the poetry journal edited by Buddhadeva Bose from Calcutta, brought out in December 1950 (Vol. 16, No.1) a special bilingual issue entitled “In America” with poems by Cummings, Eberhart, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, and Bengali translations of Pound, Stevens, l.c. Cummings and Williams. Osmania University began teaching American literature in 1957; The Literary Criterion (Mysore) published a special number on American literature (Vol. 5, No. 3, Winter 1962); The American Studies Research Center at Osmania University opened in 1964. The drive to counter Russian Communist influence among in‐ tellectuals led to indirect financial support, often through the (Paris‐ based, partly CIA‐financed) Congress for Cultural Freedom, for liter‐ ary and cultural journals such as Encounter, Black Orpheus and Quest, which published some of the new poetry that began to appear in the now independent countries of the former British Empire. Several Indian intellectuals of the late 1940s and early 1950s, who later played a part in the creation of a new poetry in English, were formerly connected with this anti‐Communist left. Nissim Ezekiel and Keshav Malik were members of the Radical Humanist movement who followed M.R. Roy’s break with Stalinism into pro‐Western, pro‐dem‐ ocratic politics. Ezekiel, who had shared in the British discovery of American literature during his London years―reading Randall Jarrell, Richard Eberhart, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost and Theo‐ dore Roethke among others―was irst editor of Quest (1955) and founded Poetry India (1966). Subsequently Ezekiel became Reader (1972) and Professor of American literature at the University of Bom‐ bay. Malik attended the inaugural Berlin session in 1950 of the Con‐ gress for Cultural Freedom, participated in the Salzburg seminars for American studies (1951) and when in New York (1952) met the edi‐ tors of Partisan Review, published in their journal and was encouraged

424 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE by them to write poetry. Malik, who recently retired as editor of Indian Verse, helped edit Thought (1948) and has been active both as a poet and as an editor of Indian poetry. There has often been a close relationship between a sympa‐ thy for American literature and culture and the development of a new national literature in the Commonwealth. The discovery of American literature and the creation of a new national literature have been part of a process of modernization, the creation of a post‐colonial culture in which America has opened horizons and provided alternative mod‐ els. The importance of Quest and Thought can be seen by the fact that along with The Illustrated Weekly they were the major vehicles for the publication of English‐Language poetry in India during the 1950s. Ezekiel, Malik and P.Lal wrote for and at various times were involved with them as editors and reviewers. P.Lal wrote a column for Thought and reviewed Ezekiel’s first book of poems there (June 28, 1952). Af‐ ter his return from England, Ezekiel was Associate Editor of The Illus‐ trated Weekly for several years, during which time promising poets were asked to discuss their work with him. In a sense it was the circle of those with American, pro‐Western sympathies and contacts that helped lay the foundation for contemporary Indian poetry in English. Quest’s special issue in 1972 on Contemporary Poetry in English: An Assessment and Selection was, before the publication of Parthasara‐ thy’s 1977 Oxford University Press selection, the most influential an‐ thology and is still used widely in colleges and universities. It was pub‐ lished by Macmillan in 1972 and republished in 1977. Its editor, the poet Saleem Peeradina, was then studying at Wake Forest University in the United States. Copyright is held by the International Association for Cultural Freedom. Perhaps the next significant event after the opening of The Il‐ lustrated Weekly and Quest to Indian poetry in English was the foun‐ dation of the Writers Workshop in 1958 and its many publications in‐ cluding the journal, Miscellany (1960). Although P.Lal’s subsequent American contacts as lecturer and promoter of the Writers Workshop books in America are well known, less well publicized is the fact that



VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 425 the Writers Workshop had among its original members several Amer‐ icans then residents in Calcutta. These included Robert Perlongo, whose The Lamp is Low (1959) was the first Writers Workshop publi‐ cation, and William Hull, who beginning with 10 Poems (1962), has published twelve volumes with the Writers Workshop. Through Hull in 1962 the first American visiting professorship of P.Lal was ar‐ ranged by Hofstra College in New York. P.Lal’s The Parrot’s Death (1960) was the second Writers Workshop book; Nissim Ezekiel’s The Unfinished Man (1960) was the third. Malik’s Poems were published by the Writers Workshop in 1971. One of the founders of the Writers Workshop, a signatory to its constitution, Deb Kumar Das, whose Night Before Us was published with a preface by P.Lal (1960), took up residence in the United States after doing his doctorate there. At least two more poets who have at times been associated with the Writers Workshop are American wives of Indians―Mary Ann Dasgupta and Lila Ray. Another of the first modern Indian poets writing in English is Srinivas Rayaprol, who studied engineering at Stanford University (1948‐51). In California he met Kenneth Rexroth, Henry Miller and Muriel Rukeyser, and through Yvor Winters’ poetry course became friends with William Carlos Williams, who introduced him to l.c. Cum‐ mings. Returning to India, Rayaprol started East and West (1956‐60), a literary journal that included translations from the Indian languages that Rayaprol wanted to introduce to the West. Americans who pub‐ lished in it include James Purdy and William Carlos Williams. When Rayaprol’s Bones and Distances was published by the Writers Work‐ shop (1968, reprinted 1975), it carried an “Afterword” saying that most of the poems were written during his stay in the United States. After a British Indian education he thought of America as “a strange barbaric country.” But in America “he indulged in literature and the arts … And I wrote and practiced poetry!” The book of poems is dedi‐ cated to “the Americans” including William Carlos Williams, Henry Miller and James Laughlin. Besides poems dedicated to Americans and poems with American subject matter (“The Widow in Washington



426 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Square”) several poems seem to me American‐influenced. For exam‐ ple “Married Love” in Rayaprol’s Married Love and Other Poems (1972) has the colloquial, highly personal, “let it all hang out” manner of American verse. An early contact between Indian and American poets was James Laughlin, the poet and owner of New Directions. In 1954 Laugh‐ lin met Dom Moraes, whom he published in the New Directions annual, and visited P.Lal in connection with Lal’s translation of Sanskrit plays, which were later published by New Directions. During the 1950s Lal helped edit Orient Review and Literary Digest (1955‐59?) from Cal‐ cutta, with the American Alfred Schenkman. As Lal’s American links developed further, visitors to the Writers Workshop including Allen Ginsberg, and Paul Engle of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop (where many Indian poets became writers‐in‐residence for short pe‐ riods). Karl Shapiro also visited India in 1953‐1954 to prepare a spe‐ cial issue of Poetry (Chicago). He met Lal, Ramanujan, and Moraes. The tour of India in 1962 by Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and other American poets needs more research, both in recording the ex‐ act dates and in tracing the publication of Indian poets in the many obscure and ephemeral American “Beat” journals of the 1960s. Many of these were stenciled and are now difficult to locate. One clear influ‐ ence was on the “Hungries.” A group of Bengali poets and intellectuals who wrote in both Bengali and English and on the model of the Beats, established their own ephemeral but highly profiled journals and presses. They are mentioned in City Lights Journal, 1 (1963), and in a November 1964 issue of Time magazine. Although they apparently were avoided by such early Indian modernist poets as P. Lal and Eze‐ kiel, the “Hungries” often had links and overlapped in publishing with a new generation of modernists represented by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and such “counter” publications as damn you, ezra and Bom‐ bay Duck. Foreign publications were more easily available then than at present and Mehrotra and perhaps others became aware of the Cal‐ cutta “Hungries” through American periodicals. The apparent skepticism of the Beats by the first Indian mod‐ ernists is, however, misleading. When editing Quest between 1955

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 427 and 1957 Ezekiel received a copy of Howl from Ginsberg. R. Parthasa‐ rathy records in “Meeting Allen Ginsberg” in Miscellany 11 (1962) a meeting in Bombay that Ezekiel, Parthasarthy and others attended. Ginsberg, Orlovsky and other Indian poets read their verse. Orlovsky’s comment that if the Americans were gangster poets they would shoot the Indians was a criticism of the Bombay poets as still old‐fashioned, uncolloquial and within the British tradition; this brought to the writ‐ ers a sense that they still had to work for a more authentic Indian ap‐ proach and voice in poetry. That Ginsberg lectured in India on William Carlos Williams can be seen as part of the American demand that po‐ etry be contemporary, immediate in reference, open in form and in a native, rather than British, voice and rhythm. Ezekiel’s poem on William Carlos Williams, in which he says he liked but cannot write such poetry might be taken as one common response during the 1960s when the Whitman, Williams, Ginsberg, New American poetry line of American verse was being discovered by Commonwealth writers. This alternative American tradition, with its immediacy and its democratic, outgoing, spontaneous, antinomian cultural assumptions, was beginning to supplant the earlier influence of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, which Ezekiel, P.Lal and others regarded rather as modernism than as specifically American when they were reforming Indian English verse from its more romantic British colo‐ nial models. If the more elite American writing was seen, along with the poetry of Yeats and Auden, as the modern tradition, the modern‐ ism of Indian verse at first was rather in its rejection of an old‐fash‐ ioned romanticism and in its doing away with the assumption that sentiments made a poem rather than in experimentation. Such verse was better crafted, more precise in imagery and diction, more logical and empirical than previous writing. But such poets as Ezekiel, Dom Moraes and P. Lal continued to write closed formal poems with theme, argument and moral conclusion. The second wave of modernism in the mid‐1960s involved a more radical set of cultural attitudes and ideas towards what constitutes a poem.



428 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Pritish Nandy’s writings and his various Dialogue Calcutta publications (1969‐75) reflect some of the ways Beat attitudes to‐ wards poetry and life were evolving into the hippie, counter culture and protest movements of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Nandy read Ginsberg and the Beats in the early ‘60s along with avant‐garde and political Latin American and European poets. He began as an experi‐ mentalist poet interested in visual form and moved through flower power, protest and pop phases. It is perhaps symbolic that his From the Other Bank of Brahmaputra (1970) was published by New Rivers, an avant‐garde press in New York, the same year Allen Ginsberg’s In‐ dian Journals were published by City Lights. Nandy was published in America and Europe by counter culture magazines, and his own verse, in style and attitude, in part reflected their cultural assumptions. While I have not traced the bibliographical details, I notice that Pritish Nandy’s early volumes acknowledge a number of often obscure Amer‐ ican periodicals including Trace (Hollywood), The Lace Review (New‐ ark), The Tulsa Poetry Quarterly, South West, Salon des Refuses (Santa Monica), Accent (San Francisco), Abyss (New York), Goliards (San Francisco) and the Something Else Press, New York. Nandy appears to have seen himself as part of the underground, counter culture and protest movements of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. His first works, like Mehrotra’s show his relationship to the “concrete” and visual poetry of the mid‐‘60s. Although it is impossible to draw the line between American Beat and international counter culture influences (including the Beat‐ les, Rolling Stones and Leonard Cohen), much of the counter culture was initially of American origin; the international modernism of the late ‘60s was spread by such American publications as Evergreen Re‐ view and City Lights books, along with American‐influenced publica‐ tions in other countries. As can be seen from such publications as damn you and ezra, along with Nandy’s Dialogue, an experimental, open‐form poetic modernism often went hand in hand with a strong awarenss of what was happening in American culture at the time. Alt‐ hough such bilingual writers as Dilip Chitre and Arun Kolatkar had al‐



VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 429 ready been using surrealist and other avant‐garde techniques in Ma‐ rathi poetry, the current experimentalism in Indian English poetry might be said to have started in the mid‐1960s when the counter cu‐ ture began to make its impact on India. One of the more interesting chapters of Indo‐American rela‐ tions began when the Hindi writer Vijay Chauhan, on a Fulbright at Columbia University, sent to his nephews Amit and Alok Rai copies of some Greenwich Village publications. Included among them was the notorious Fuck You, a magazine of the arts, which managed to combine the Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Black Mountain school of American poetry with the post‐Beat, hippie, counter culture of the 1960s. Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, then a teenager in Allahabad, lived near the Rais. According to Mehrotra “it blew our minds” as he and his friends began an extremely productive if at times somewhat bizarre association with American little magazine circles. It is perhaps indic‐ ative of what they found in American poetry that Mehrotra and other Indian poets have often been identified with Beat, San Francisco or “new” American writing! After Mehrotra’s introduction to Fuck You he purchased in 1965 the Penguin Modern Poetry 5 (published 1963), which included work by Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Corso. Mehrotra’s own stenciled publication, damn you/a magazine of the arts (Bombay and Allahabad) came out for six undated issues between 1965 and 1968, and was fol‐ lowed by and contemporary with Mehrotra’s also stenciled Ezra‐Fakir pamphlets and ezra (five issues, 1967‐1971). His strongly Howl‐influ‐ enced bharatamata a prayer was first published by his Ezra‐Fakir press (1966) in two hundred stenciled copies and subsequently re‐ printed in Poetry India and then by Poetry India’s printer as a pam‐ phlet, and by Intrepid and other publications. The five issues of ezra an imagiste magazine began with an editorial manifesto that “4 letter words and 1 letter words will be treated equally” and a policy of pre‐ ferring “tiny,” “long” and “extremist” poems in opposition to the “phil‐ osophical” and “those in very correct English.” The second issue of ezra included poetry by the obscure Phoebe Coan and James Thomas Coan of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, along with ads for such American

430 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE little magazines as dustbooks and Manhattan Review. What Bombay and Allahabad thought of the poetry of Phoebe Coan and James Thomas Coan is not known, but ezra 3, besides including the American Howard McCord (of Pullman Washington and City Lights and Kayak books), carried a quotation from The Century saying that after damn you and ezra “The Illustrated Ezekiel‐Lal axis if they are not already aware, ought to be aware.” Ezra 4 (1967) included work by Malay Roy Choudhury and the “Hungry” poets, along with Pavan Kumar Jain, who edited Torrado. Ezra 5, the last, included a long letter from Tom McNamara from New York. Damn you 2 announced on its cover “for reasons other than copyright this edition is not for sale in the U.S.A or Canada. It may, however be smuggled in.” Damn you 4 included Phoebe Coan, and the New Yorker George Kimball, former editor of Grist and contributor to such American little magazines as gone. Damn you 5 was an interest‐ ing mixture of work by the three editors (Mehrotra, Alok Rai and Amit Rai), Dilip Chitre, the West Coast American Howard McCord and Doug‐ las Blazek (editor of OLE and owner of Open Skull Press of San Fran‐ cisco). Also included was George Dowden, who lived in London but was widely published in the United States, and who was working on a bibliography of Ginsberg. Damn you 6 begins by mentioning that the journal is now listed in the Directory of Little Magazines as “”the first and only international avant‐garde mag out from India,” and notes that while the editor of the Manhattan Review finds the title damn you “too damn british,” the editor of breakthru says the magazine is “Yan‐ kee oriented.” The contents consisted of the first publication of Arun Kolatkar’s “The Boat Ride” (now included in R. Parthasarathy’s Oxford University Press collection of Ten Twentieth Century Indian Poets) and a note that “DY exchanges” with “such mags and presses” as Trace, University of Tampa Poetry, Wormwood Review, dustbooks, Manhattan Review, Open Skull, Beloit Poetry Journal, South Florida Poetry Journal, Klactoveedsedsteen, etc. Alas damn you stopped publishing with issue six, leaving the Indian poetry scene somewhat poorer and less amus‐ ing.



VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 431 Tornado, which published six issues between 1967 and 1970, was a stenciled publication ranging from 50 to 1,000 copies. Pavan Kumar Jain, who had earlier read the Beats and was influenced by American and experimentalist literature, was a fellow student of Mehrotra’s at Bombay University and is now his brother‐in‐law. Through Mehrotra he published a few poems in such San Francisco journals as Black Graphics International and Intrepid, and exchanged Tornado for American little little mags. Although there was nothing American about the contents of Tornado, except perhaps the attitudes and the presentation, which included reproductions of comic strips, issue four included a poem by Lillian Morrison, an American photog‐ rapher visiting India at the time. Tornado also published translations of Marathi and Gujarati poets who, following on from the “Hungries,” had in the 1960s started avant‐garde journals to publish the Marathi and Gujarati Panthers. The Ahmedabad Gujarati monthly, Kruti (1967‐ 68?) published some American poets along with Amit Rai, Dilip Chitre and Mehrotra of the damn you circle. Kruti 9 (March 1968) has a col‐ lage cover which includes “Expression John Coltrane,” “All Writing is Rubbish” and, in Gujarati, “Yankee Go Home.” Two other journals of this period need to be mentioned. Con‐ tra 66, published in New Delhi at the time Octavio Paz was Mexican ambassador to India, had American connections, although as part of a general worldwide interest in the avant‐garde. The third issue in‐ cluded work by John Cage. Vrishchik, from Baroda, which also pub‐ lished poems by Mehrotra, Kolatkar, Patel and Jussawalla (what be‐ came the Clearing House group), devoted the double issue 5‐6 in 1970 to an article from the American journal The Progressive. The relationship that had developed between the Beats and the new Indian poets of the ‘60s is shown by the special issue of In‐ trepid (No.10, Spring 1968) from Buffalo, New York. Subtitled “New Poetry and Prose from India plus Manifestoes,” it was guest‐edited by Carl Weissner of the German publication Klactoveedsedsteen, included a front cover by the famous Beat Brion Gysin (a Calcutta road map meant “to show where it’s at”) and a back cover of photos by Dilip Chi‐



432 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE tre, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and “Pritish Nandi.” Weissner’s intro‐ duction mentions that the Calcutta “Hungry generation” poets were already presented to America by Allen Ginsberg in City Lights Journal, and by Dick Bakken in a special issue of Salted Feathers, speaks of the influence of Henry Miller, William Burroughs and Ginsberg on the “Hungries,” and mentions special forthcoming issues of The San Fran‐ cisco Earth Quake (editor Jacob Herman, c/o City Lights), which will include the “Hungries,” and a tape by English and bilingual Bengali po‐ ets available through Pacnic Press, New York. After the introduction, the contents are divided into four parts. The first part consists of such “Hungry generation” poets as Malay Roy Choudhury, Debi Ray and Submial Basak. The notes that conclude the section on the “Hungry” poets say that Malay Roy Choudhury (b. 1939) has been reprinted in the USA by Kulchur (Number 15 published a “Hungry” Manifesto), Ev‐ ergreen Review, Imago and City Lights Journal (Number 3, 1966 in‐ cluded Howard McCord’s “Note on the Hungry Generation,” Maya Roy Choudhury’s Stark Electric Jesus and Debi Ray’s “Hungry Generation”); his Stark Electric Jesus was republished in three ditto editions from Howard McCord’s Tribal Press (Pullman, Washington 1965‐66). The second part of the special issue of Intrepid consists of a long selection from Allen Ginsberg’s 1962 Calcutta Journal, part of which had been first published in Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Kritibash ma‐ gainze in 1963, and later in Indian Journals (1970). The third section includes translations of four Kritibash poets, Shanak Chattopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Tarapada Ray and Shakti Chattopadhyay. Sec‐ tion four reprints Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s bharatmata, poems by Pavan Kumar Jain, Ashok Chopra (also published by Mehrotra’s Ezra‐ Fakir press), Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre, Kamala Das, Pritish Nandy and others. Even poets who are not experimentalists but who began to sound a fresh voice in the mid‐60s often were American‐influenced. For example, Keki Daruwalla told me that he was especially interested in American poetry, read Poetry (Chicago) from 1964 to 1966, and liked Galway Kinnell and Robert Frost. It was at this period he began



VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 433 to publish in journals. Shiv Kumar has also spoken to me of the Amer‐ ican influence on his poetry, citing such confessional poets as Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath and Donald Hall as models when he began publishing in 1970. Kumar claims that Kamala Das was simi‐ larly influenced by Plath. Although each Indian poet learned some‐ thing different and individual from contemporary American poetry during the 1960s―Arvind Mehrotra for example, has spoken of the way Americans invested the local landscape with signi icance―a pat‐ tern can be found in such terms as colloquial, new, confessional, local, open, immediate, viogorous. Whether confessional, narrative or ex‐ perimental in mode, American poetry seemed more immediate and concerned with life as it actually felt than did the tradition India had inherited from England, where poetry tends towards the reflective, ethical, social, ironic, and therefore is more guarded, distanced and formal. The way Mehrotra uses local references and personal memo‐ ries from his childhood in Allahabad in such poems as “Continuities.” “The Principal Character,” “On the Death of a Sunday Painter” and “The Roys” is directly American‐influenced; in these poems the im‐ portance American writers give to details of personal and local life has provided Mehrotra with an alternative to the formalism of the surre‐ alistic and typographical techniques which shape his earlier verse. By the late 1960s, under the influence of the counter culture and the war in Vietnam, America had begun to be seen in India, and in most of the Commonwealth, as the new imperial power that had re‐ placed the British. In the Beat‐influenced, Ginsbergian, Howl‐like ‘I am India’ and a few other Poems (probably translated by the poet from the Marathi, 1972?), Prakash Bandekar jibes at those who “Speak ‘Good Heavens’ in American accent,” refers to the dead in Vietnam, “Uncle Toms and white bigots,” as well as making the usual allusion to “Pa‐ navision screen.” When a woman says, “get the hell outta here, your ass/is black,” he wonders if he is “in a place/like the United States.” Adil Jussawalla is perhaps representative of the changing attitude to‐ wards American poetry. He has told me that in the 1950s and early 1960s he was interested in American poetry, which he felt was more stimulating than British. The Beats particularly seemed to have stirred

434 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE up Calcutta. But now he is concerned with the Third World and cannot relate to American poetry. As instance of Indo‐American cultural relations, it is useful to look at the publishing history of some poets. (This is not always easy as few Indian poets keep a bibliography of their works.) The first post‐ independence Indian English‐language poets published primarily in India or England. Ezekiel, Moraes, Ramanujan published their first books in England and had poems in Encounter. By the late 1960s that was changing. While Mehrotra is not representative of the majority of Indian poets, his publishing career indicates what will become a more common direction of seeking publication and foreign approval rather from the United States than England. After having appeared in the Al‐ lahabad University magazine in 1965, Mehrotra’s first publication was the “San Francisco Poets, 66” (!) issue of Manhattan Review (Vol.1, No.2 , 1966), along with Gil Orlovitz, Larry Rubin and Ed Bullins, fol‐ lowed in 1967 to 1969 by poetry in The San Francisco Keeper’s Voice, Outcast, The University of Tampa Poetry Review, The Wormwood Re‐ view, Mahattan Review, Maelstrom, Open Skull, Camels Coming, In‐ trepid, Pyramid, Trace and The Only Journal of the Tibetan Kite Society. Although many of these publications are obscure, now de‐ funct, fringe “little mags,” by the 1970s Mehrotra was appearing in such mainstream American literary and intellectual journals as The Nation, The Greenfield Review, American Review, Chelsea, Tri Quarterly, The American Poetry Review, Kavak, Poetry and The Denver Quarterly. Often he was treated as part of “contemporary American poetry”―the title of the special spring 1974 issue of New Letters in which he pub‐ lished two poems. Similarly he appeared in American Review 16 (1973) along with such established writers as Ralph Ellison, Carolyn Kizer, Adrienne Rich, Allen Ginsberg, John Hawkes, Donald Justice and Larry Rubin. The next year saw publication in Modern Occasion 2, an annual anthology edited by Philip Rahv of writers formerly associated with Partisan Review. Mehrotra’s American stable mates here in‐ cluded Saul Bellow, A.R. Ammons, Theodore Weiss and John Gardner. And in 1975 he was included in George Quash’s An Active Anthology (Freemont, Michigan: Sumac Press).

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 435 A slightly different although equally significant pattern can be found in Jayanta Mahapatra’s publications. Although he did not begin by thinking of himself as part of the American literary scene, many of his major poems and books have been published in the United States. Indeed his present high reputation in India was given a boost by his American publications and awards. Having published his third poem in South and West (Fall, 1968), a journal for which he would later edit a special Indian issue, Mahapatra appeared in such journals as Bitter‐ root (Winter 1971) and Quetzal (Summer 1971) and the better‐ known Chicago Review (Autumn 1971). His bibliography for the early 1970s includes Southern Poetry Review, Nimrod, Mississippi Review, North Stone Review and, a sign of having been accepted, eleven poems in Poetry (Chicago, December 1974 and September 1975). In 1975 he won Poetry’s Jacob Glatstein Memorial Award. The next year the Univesity of Georgia Press brought out a volume of his poems, A Rain of Rites, which in quality as well as reputation is superior to his A Fa‐ ther’s House, published in Calcutta also in 1976. Seven more poems were printed in Poetry in 1976, and Mahapatra made the first of many appearances in Sewanee Review, the new editor of which had recently transferred from the University of Georgia Press. “Moon Moments” was republished from Poetry in Best Poems of 1975: Borestone Moun‐ tain Poetry Award (Pacific Books, Palo Alto, 1976). The gain in coher‐ ence between Mahapatra’s earliest experimental verse and the ex‐ tremely successful poetry of the mid‐1970s shows his reading of such “open field” poets as Robert Bly and James Wright, who provided him with model structures for poetry treating of obscure, subliminal and often imprecise or hard to define emotions. Although his work is dif‐ ferent in style and meaning, his poems often have the opening lazy gesture, puzzlement, detailed eye for landscape and sudden unex‐ pected conclusion found in the work of Bly and Wright. Besides continuing appearances in Poetry, Sewanee, Hudson Review and Kenyon Review, Mahapatra’s significant American publica‐ tions include representation in Greenfield Review’s Aftermath (1977), in Houghton Mifflin’s 1978 The Poetry Anthology 1912‐1977 (edited



436 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE by Daryl Hine and Joseph Parisi) and his book Relationship by Green‐ field Press in 1980. While Relationship won the Sahitya Akademi Award for English writing in 1981, the first important reviews of his earlier books appeared in American journals. While it might appear significant that the first issue of Maha‐ patra’s journal Chandrabhaga (1979) contained an essay on Wallace Stevens by V.Y. Kantak and one on Robert Lowell and Gary Snyder by Frank Allen, subsequent issues have focused primarily on Indian po‐ etry and subjects. Chandrabhaga, however, has had a few American contributions of poems and articles, as well as often providing a place of publication for Indian poets living in the United States. Chan‐ drabhaga 8 (Winter 1982), for example, included an article on Anglo‐ Indian fiction by an Indian who lives and teaches in Washington D.C., a translation of a Gujarati poet living in the United States, poems by Darius Cooper, an Indian studying in California, poems by three Amer‐ icans, “a scenario” by an American and “An Out‐Side‐Look on Indo‐ English for Poetry” also by an American. Besides Indians from India, Indians in America, and Americans, the issue includes a Canadian‐ based Guyanese writer. If it is often said to be the best contemporary Indian literary journal, its reputation for quality and interest is sup‐ ported by its international, somewhat American perspective. Alt‐ hough Mahapatra is perhaps more influenced by European and Latin American poets than American, they have often reached him through Bly and other American translators. The publication of Indian poets in the United States and the publication of Americans and expatriate Indians in Chandrabhaga is a sign of a larger economic‐cultural shift. America only began to have a presence in India with the Second World War and American literary culture (as contrasted to movies and mass culture) was slow to have an impression before the 1960s; by the early 1970s, however, such poets as Pritish Nandy, Mehrotra and Mahapatra were regularly pub‐ lishing in the United States, and some Americans were becoming in‐ terested in Indian writing. The influential but short‐lived Poetry India (1966‐67) included among its poets and reviewers Linda Hess, an American Fulbright scholar who had stayed on to lecture in Bombay.

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 437 The first issue included Hess’s poems, the second issue included an‐ other American, Daisy Aldan, a review by S. Nagarajan, Professor of English at the University of Poona who had obtained his Ph.D. from Harvard, and a review by V.K. Chari, who had written a book on Walt Whitman and had been a Fulbright Fellow to the United States in 1960‐61. Volume One, Number Four of Poetry India (October 1966) in‐ cluded poetry by the American Barbara Solomon (then living in Madras), and an announcement that Poetry East West would begin in 1967 and be edited by Syed Amanuddin (who later was to publish from South Carolina). Howard McCord of Washington State University advertised asking for contributors to an anthology of Indian poetry. The last issue of Poetry India (II, 2, April 1967) included an American, John Theobold and, another sign of the times, advertisements for Klac‐ toveedsteen (the English‐language, Americanized Beat publication published in Germany by Carl Weissner), for New Directions books, and for Mehrotra’s damn you. Mehrotra’s bharatmata was also repub‐ lished in this issue. The new American presence on the Indian literary scene as revealed in the six issues of Poetry India might be contrasted to Chan‐ drabhaga, which reflects the fact that since the mid‐‘70s an increasing number of Indians live and work in the United States and publish in‐ ternationally. Deba Patnaik, for example, returned to Ravenshaw Col‐ lege, Cuttack from the United States in 1972, taught his MA Students the poetry of Berryman, Gary Snyder and William Carlos Williams, helped found Gray book, (a forerunner of Chandrabghaga) with Maha‐ patra, and after five years moved permanently to the United States. Whereas earlier generations of Indians lived for a time in England be‐ fore, like Nissim Ezekiel and Adil Jussawalla, becoming disenchanted and returning to India, by the 1980s a significant number of Indians had settled or were more or less continuously working in the United States. Indian poets presently in the United States include: Shiv Ku‐ mar, Meena Alexander, Deba Patnaik, A.K. Ramanujan, Darius Cooper, R. Parthasarathy, G.S. Sharat Chandra and Agha Shahid Ali.



438 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Indian poetry has come a long way since the early 1950s when publication in British journals helped establish reputations. It could be argued that it was a sign of changing imperialisms or a new colonialism that publication in America helped establish later reputa‐ tions. No doubt the increased American political and economic pres‐ ence after the Second World War contributed to American cultural prestige and influence while making Americans more aware of the new nations of what was once the British Empire. But America also gave and continues to give Indian poets publishing outlets not availa‐ ble in India and certainly not available in England (where there are far fewer poetry and creative literary journals than in the United States and where publication is perhaps more difficult). The special Indian issues of American journals are significant both of American interest and of Indians having a chance of establishing themselves through publication in the United States in contrast to England where, to my knowledge, there have been no special Indian or even Commonwealth issues of established literary journals. Special issues of American journals can be said to have started with the Atlantic Monthly Perspective India supplement (Oc‐ tober 1953). The poetry section printed eleven poets including B. Ra‐ jan, P. Lal, and Rayaprol. This was followed by Poetry (Chicago, Janu‐ ary 1959), edited by Henry Mayo and T. Tambimuttu, which included P. Lal, Dom Moraes, B. Rajan and Rayaprol. By 1968 there was the spe‐ cial issue of Intrepid (10, Spring 1968) and Trace 67 in which there was an Indian section of poetry by Pritish Nandy, Mehotra and Keki Daruwalla. Daisy Aldan’s collection of Poems from India (1969, Thomas Y. Crowell, New York) was followed by the special Indian is‐ sue of Books Abroad (Vol.43, No.4), with poems by Deba Patnaik, K.D. Katrak, Kamala Das, P. Lal, Deb Kumar Das, Nissim Ezekiel and others. Howard McCord’s Tribal Press in 1972 brought out in Meas‐ ure 3 “Young Poets of India,” with an introduction by Arvind Mehrotra and including Malay Roy Choudhury, Debi Ray, Saleem Peeradina, Pritish Nandy, Nissim Ezekiel, Kamala Das, Keki Daruwalla, Adil Jussawalla, Monika Varma and several of the young poets associated with damn you. Jayanta Mahapatra edited a special Indian issue of

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 439 South and West: An International Literary Quarterly (Vol. Eleven, No. 4, Spring 1973). Included were Ezekiel, Parthasarathy, Daruwalla, Gieve Patel, K.D. Katrak, Adil Jussawalla, Mehrotra, Kamala Das, Nandy, Gauri Deshpande and Soubhagya Misra (translated by Maha‐ patra from Oriya). The Modern Asian Literature issue of TriQuarterly, 1974, from Northwestern University, included Mehrotra and Da‐ ruwalla. It appears that by the early 1970s a distinct body of contem‐ porary Indian poets in English had emerged and, as is shown by the special Nissim Ezekiel issue of The Journal of South Asian Literature (1976), American publication was part of the legitimization of the movement. Significantly such poets as Chitre, Mehrotra, Jussawalla and Mahapatra were fellows at the International Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa during this period. The first section of Dilip Chi‐ tre’s Travelling in a Cage (1980) appears to have been written during 1975‐76 when he was at Iowa. Poem “3” refers to “North Dubuque Street” in Iowa City, while other poems such as “Evenings in Iowa City, Iowa,” “Pinball concerto” and “Poem in Self‐Exile” seem to be from this period. Two further collections should be mentioned. Greenfield Re‐ view is concerned with Third World and black literature, and its press published Aftermath (1977), edited by Roger Weaver and Joseph Bruchac, a chapbook of poetry from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. The section on Asia, introduced by G.S. Sharat Chandra includes po‐ ems by Jussawalla, Kolatkar, Shiv Kumar, Mahapatra, Patel, Ramanu‐ jan, and Sharat Chandra. David Ray’s special Indian issue of New Let‐ ters (Vol.48, No. 3‐4, 1982) is probably the most inclusive and impres‐ sive collection of Indian poetry to date. Although the information I have provided is miscellaneous and unsystematic, it is possible to draw some conlcusions. Except for the Transcendentalists and some Beats, influence has mostly been one‐sided with American poets influencing Indians rather than the other way around. The first generation of post‐independence modern Indian poets writing in English such as Ezkiel, Lal and Rayaprol, were partly influenced by the examples of Eliot, Pound and other ‘elite’

440 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE American modern poets in revitalizing and reforming Indian English verse from its older colonial and spiritualistic models. Through con‐ tact with the Beats and the counter culture of the 1960s Indian verse underwent a second revolution and, as shown by Pritish Nandy and Arvind Mehrora, became more experimental, open in form and part of the international contemporary world in attitude. Both revolutions in focusing on the contemporary, immediate and new urban life styles, can be said to have helped make Indian po‐ etry more authentically Indian in the sense that it reflected the actual modern culture of those who are educated in and habitually use the English language in contrast to the rural, peasant and spiritualistic fo‐ cus of writers of the pre‐independence and nationalist generations. A colonial culture is an out‐of‐date culture cut off from the vitality of modern life. American poetry helped modernize Indian poetry making it both more part of the contemporary world and more capable of ex‐ pressing the Indian experience (in contrast to ideas about traditional ideals). Americans have at various times been connected with signifi‐ cant Indian publication circles (Writers Workshop, Quest, Poetry In‐ dia) and American literary journals have provided places for Indian writers to publish, while special Indian issues of American journals have helped formulate current notions of who are the significant po‐ ets. Publication in America has contributed to the reputations of poets and helped validate the growing consensus that Indian poetry in Eng‐ lish is of significant cultural status. Although the precise nature of American influence on the sen‐ sibility of individual poets needs to be examined (and may prove su‐ perficial), American poetry has contributed to opening the possibility of a wider range of attitudes towards life and art than were previously current in Indian verse. Even the teaching of American literature in universities can be said to have broken down the notion of English lit‐ erature as a British tradition from Chaucer to Auden and opened up the canon subsequently to the teaching of Commonwealth, Third World and Indian writing in English. That some of the first teachers of American literature, C.D. Narasimhaiah and Nissim Ezekiel, were also among those who had a role in establishing Commonwealth literature

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 441 and Indian poetry in Indian literary and academic journals suggest the role American literature had in transforming cultural and literary at‐ titudes. The contemporary presence of many Indian poets in America suggests that such cultural contacts will increase and that as Indian poetry takes its place alongside other English‐language poetries there will be more cross‐cultural fertilizations and more defensive ques‐ tioning of who is an Indian poet and what is the nature of such poetry. This in turn is a reflection of modern India and the many changes that have occurred since independence. My impression, however, is that for the present Indian excite‐ ment with American poetry had somewhat died down. By the early 1970s Latin American and Central European poetry has been discov‐ ered, while in recent years there have been several young Indian poets consciously re‐exploring the virtues of the British verse tradition for its emphasis on control, form, reason, social context, reflectiveness, understatement and self‐conscious ironies.





Chapter 36 Keki Daruwalla: Outsider, Skeptic and Poet The tension of a cynical, skeptical modern outlook given shape through a tightly controlled, somewhat conservative technique makes Daruwalla’s verse unique, like a compact but open metal sculp‐ ture, held together by its bolts and joints, filled with stresses waiting to explode. If the effect is the opposite of modern expressionism, there the feeling that the surface tension reflects similar highly charged emotions kept under tight control through narrative, rhyme, allusion, metre, word play, irony and other traditional techniques of poetry along with such modes as the satiric, the sarcastic and the self‐deflat‐ ing. This is a savage poetry, tough, ready to strike, often a record of violence in the self and in society; but it is an adult poetry of someone who has disciplined himself to the moral ambiguities and unresolva‐ ble conflicts of the human condition. In trying to describe the inner core of Daruwalla’s psycholog‐ ical vision, I will cite some of the short stories in his collection Sword and Abyss (Tarang Paperbacks, Vikas, 1979, 1982). Although the prose is less good than the poetry, it clarifies his attitudes. There is a pattern of those who have left hopeless villages, returning alienated to be trapped or treated as outsiders and as scapegoats. Often the central character is a lone male who must act on his own in a hostile or cor‐ rupt environment. While the only source of comfort is in a woman’s love, this is another trap. Many of the stories use comic reversals in which the unscrupulous and corrupt win because their opponents are worse specimens of humanity; shrewdness and being alive to com‐ plexities are virtues in such a world. In ‘The Healing Touch’, a low‐ caste Indian psychiatrist is unable to persuade his new bride to go to America where he has a successful practice; he asks an upper‐caste acquaintance to make her see reason, which his friend does by ruining her reputation. Dishonored, she cannot wait to leave for America. Sim‐ ilar cunning is the point of ‘The Idol‐Thief’ where the caught thief

443

444 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE frames a young, innocent priest as having sold the idols. Our sympa‐ thies here go with the thief as the locals are simpletons who take no care of the idols. Perhaps more revealing is Irfan in ‘Sword and Abyss’, who ‘had stirred out of the village for destinations other than Mecca, had forgot a war, had made love to women. His name was anathema to his people. In turn, he considered his village a denial of everything that mattered in life.’ Yet, ironically he finds himself alone responsible for the safety of the village, which is unable to defend itself against its original inhabitants. Although Irfan adequately performs his hopeless task, the villagers blame him when attacked. Their decision is based on his having had women and having displayed insufficient emotion at a burial of the dead. The villagers bind him and leave him across the river, claiming that the raiders will free him as one of their one. In‐ stead, he is eaten by hyenas. Realizing their mistake, the villagers now indulge themselves in a rapture of tears: ‘There has never been weep‐ ing such as this since the first lament for Karbala. This is khumar. This is ecstacy!’ In these stories, which range from tragic portraits of a man alone, alienated from any community, to social comedies in which cor‐ ruption and ignorance prevail and rogues somehow come out victori‐ ous, the dominant attitudes are of skepticism and cynicism. Fate is a joke, religion and tradition are life‐denying, social behavior masks vi‐ olence and oppression is often a bad joke. In ‘The Mixed Metaphor’, a brothel keeper is honored for having helped an artist whom she in fact hated. The supposed treasured reminders of his past are actually his belongings which she confiscated as he did not pay his bills. The many ironies of ‘Martyrdom and Mukti’ are too complex to describe here be‐ yond indicating that in a society in which everyone is hypocritical or corrupt it is the worst who come out best. This cynicism and skepticism is a common perspective of the human condition at present and often takes such literary modes as ab‐ surd, black humor, or some other illustration of the existential di‐ lemma where moral values and purpose need to be found in an other‐ wise incoherent, purposeless universe. But whereas others have pro‐



VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 445 jected their feelings of alienation through the generalities of lyric po‐ etry, the theatre of the absurd or philosophical essays, Daruwalla is one of the few significant writers to give concrete form to such a sen‐ sibility through narrative poetry treating of particular situations, and to use closed rather than open formal structures. The rhymes, stanzaic forms, mixture of traditional with free metres, patterns of repeated words and use, at the end of a poem, of repetition and refrains as a device of closure suggest an attempt to order more than philosophical anxieties, anxieties which I have indicated are present in his themes of alienation from society and the importance of a woman’s love as a means of seeking wholeness if only temporary. That Daruwalla’s poems are concrete, precise and well crafted, while revealing so much tension and violence, might be ex‐ plained in terms of his life and position in India. If marginality and be‐ ing an outside‐insider often is a source of conflict, tension and creativ‐ ity, Daruwalla represents extreme marginality. One of the small Parsi community which has produced many of India’s English‐language writers, Daruwalla was born in Muslim Lahore and educated in many schools and five languages, as his father, an impractical English pro‐ fessor, moved from job to job. Unrooted, unhappy, an early rebel, Da‐ ruwalla sought independence by taking, against his father’s wishes, the examination to join the police force at twenty; the examination was open to candidates a year younger than for civil services. For someone whose father was a professor of English literature and who himself had started writing romantic poetry in college to spend six‐ teen years in the police service is unlikely; his poetry, not unexpect‐ edly, is filled with the tensions and ironies that result when someone of sensibility and more awareness has to act brutally often to contain the violence of others. Thus the young alienated rebel, the unrooted Parsi, English‐speaking outsider, ironically became the police officer, the symbol of social control whose violence and brutality are permit‐ ted in sitatuions where those in power find it necessary. One can only speculate on the loneliness, the ambiguities, ambivalence, paradoxes, anxieties that must accompany sensitivity when survival, independ‐ ence and duty require force and toughness, often at the service of the

446 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE corrupt unethical and ruthless, and when the social order itself is threatened by criminality and mob violence. If the police officer is a Parsi in northern India, the conflict is likely to be even stronger. Such tensions perhaps explain Daruwalla’s themes of vio‐ lence, brutality, dominance, alienation, death and duty, and the unre‐ solved complexities of attitudes found even in his shorter poems. Con‐ sider ‘Routine’ (the title itself is ironic), which begins with the absurd‐ ities of the soldier’s uniform: The putties were left behind by the Raj a strip of fire round the legs in June. Within the burning crash‐helmet the brain is a fire pulp. Although forming a solid front against the crowd of tramcar‐burning rebels, the platoon is conscious of being outnumbered and only pro‐ tected from those of their own race by their cold‐blooded routine: We march to the street‐crossing where young blood fulfills itself by burning tramcars. Beneath our khaki we are a roasted brown but unconvinced, they wish to burn our khaki skins. We are a platoon against a thousand. It’s all well rehearsed; a few words of warning― a chill formality lost in fiery slogans! But the solidarity of being part of a platoon is broken by the need to kill one of the mob to break up the riot: ‘I alone point/ my barrel into them as I squeeze the trigger’. A distasteful task accomplished, tension is released, followed by depression and weariness, as they ‘march back’ while a ‘leader’ will claim on the radio ‘We are marching for‐ ward’. As often in Daruwalla’s poetry, parallelism and repetition con‐ trast the private self with the public voice of society.



VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 447 What is the author’s position? There is the absurdity of the police uniform left over from colonialism, suggesting a continuation of conflict and social disorder regardless of the ‘brownness’ of both rioters and police; both are ‘khaki’. Despite the insults of the crowd, ranging from ‘”Mother‐“’ to “‘sister‐seducer”’, the armed police are conscious that the rioters could be their own family. ‘I have children older than them.’ But such compassion is held in check by the aware‐ ness that ‘young blood / fulfills itself by burning tramcars’. The dan‐ gers of being ‘a platoon against a thousand’ are set against the cold‐ blooded killing of someone to disperse the mob. In the concise form which Daruwalla uses for the satiric, another contrast is suggested in the Augustan balance and irony of ‘a chill formality lost in fiery slo‐ gans’. No one can hear the warning, but then no one will listen. In the last stanza, the dead body is ironically paralleled to the tramcar; the removals of both are treated without emotion as equal events. The irony of physically marching back to hear the slogan of ‘marching for‐ ward’ suggests a cynical hopelessness of changing or preventing such situations from recurring. Although more likely from the government the ‘leader’ could be from either side of the conflict. Many of Daruwalla’s poems satirize religion, society and pol‐ itics; there is an awareness that hypocrisy, greed and evil are part of the violence and bestiality at the heart of human nature. Violence itself is natural to the battle of survival. Many of Daruwalla’s best poems treat of such violence and the vain attempt to find refuge from it in sex and love. In ‘Death of a Bird’, there is no sentimentality about nature. ‘The monals mated, clawed and screamed’ in ‘fierce bird‐love’; ‘the male was king’. In this narrative poem in which the events of the story function as a moral allegory, the death of the bird serves as a modern equivalent to the killing of the albatross by Coleridge’s ancient mari‐ ner. Being modern, the poet does not sentimentalize nature or love of God’s creatures; the man and woman are threatened in the poem by jackals, wolves, a dog and bears; the journey is dangerous and re‐ quires human vigilance to survive. The result, however, is still guilt, guilt at having killed, guilt that will haunt dreams and that will im‐ pinge on sexuality, turning it from love into a kind of mutual violence:

448 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE And as we rose to the final kill – two electric saws meeting on a hill in the narrowing bones of a fractured tree – each of us thought the other was free of the pony’s scream and the mortal’s Wings and the prowling bears in the firelight ‐ Rim. Violence and the need to be violent result in anxiety, terror, more vio‐ lence and guilt: ‘… We are accursed!’ she said. ‘Just watch its eyes’ For though the bird was near dead its eyes flared terror like bits of dripping meat! Many have written poems in which a bird in flight is symbolic of the imagination and freedom. The wild fierceness of a hawk in par‐ ticular has been the subject of poetry representing the writer’s alien‐ ation from society. Daruwalla’s ‘Hawk’ is one of the best on the subject and contrasts the natural violence of the bird with the more terrible brutality of man. The hawk is not innocent, his violence is seen in hate, rape, parricide; but, man is trained to use violence as a conscious art within society. Such training and the repressions, ‘the thwarted vi‐ sion’, create a need for violence, a desire for apocalyptic killing and destruction. Since it is a sustained poem of seventy‐nine lines, consisting of four sections, eight stanzas and a concluding couplet, a lengthy com‐ ment will be necessary. The first section is divided into two stanzas. It begins by describing the wild hawk, ‘a frustrated parricide’ burning with hate, alone above the bare desert. In the second stanza, he is now hovering above groves populated with fowl, ‘And then he ran amok’,

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 449 skewering a pigeon with his talon while noting which other fowl ‘he would scoop up next’. The first nine‐line stanza uses three present participles, ‘riding’, ‘ascending’, ‘burning’; the ‘ing’ sound is echoed in ‘king’, ‘morning’, ‘nothing.’ The presence of four such words in the first two lines foregrounds the sound: I saw the wild hawk‐king this morning riding an ascending wind as he drilled the sky. As in most of his poetry, Daruwalla’s syntax is taut and eco‐ nomical; the sentence compresses more than one idea. The tauntness is furthered by the compound word and sequence of three stresses (‘wild hawk‐king’), the compressed metaphor (‘drilled’ for ‘drilling through’), the initial stress of line two (‘riding’), the repeated ‘ing’ sounds and the end‐of‐line stresses. The lines themselves conform to natural syntactical breaks. Closure is further created by the ‘I’―‘sky’ rhyme. The lengthening and shortening of the lines contribute to sug‐ gesting the hawk’s motion in flight. The rhymed couplet of lines 8‐9 fixes the ‘burning’ activity into a continuing activity generalized as ‘a frustrated parricide on the kill/ The fuse of his hate was burning, still’: The three ‘ed’ sounds (‘hovered’, ‘barbed’, ‘roosted’) of the second stanza are a moment of waiting before ‘he ran amok’. The end rhymes ‘by’―‘sky’, ‘pigeon’ –‘talon’, ‘fate –‘hate’ are varied in stanzaic position (lines 13‐15, 16‐19, 18‐20) to avoid the predictability of couplets while creating a sense of controlled finality to the narrative: He scanned the other birds, marking out their fate, the one he would scoop up next, those black dregs in the cup of his hate! The ‘I’―‘sky’ and the ‘fuse of his hate’ is reinforced by ‘the cup of his hate’. The hawk has been compared to a ‘parricide’ and a ‘rapist’!

450 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE The second section of the poem also consists of two stanzas in which man’s transformation of a captured hawk into a trained killer is described. The opening generalization, a one‐line sentence, has bal‐ ance and inality. The central break, parallelism of ‘tamed’―‘touched’, and ‘is worse’―‘is touched’ suggest a couplet: ‘The tamed one is worse, for he is touched by man’. The taming of the wild hawk is brutal; he is first psychologically broken through starvation and lack of vision, slowly made subservient to his masters. The painfulness of the expe‐ rience is conveyed by ‘snared’, ‘sewn with silk’, ‘broken’, ‘blinded’, ‘starved’, ‘sear’, ‘unblinded stitch by relenting stitch’. Schooling through extreme repression followed by rewards is implied in ‘Mor‐ sels of vision are fed to his eyes’, a significance made explicit in the concluding couplet of the next stanza where the hawk’s vision has re‐ turned and he is once more allowed to fly and kill. Although ‘Now the sky is his eyrie’: Hawking is turned to ritual, the predator’s passion honed to an art; as they feed the hawk by carving the breast of the quarry bird and gouging out his heart. Section three, a single stanza, shifts to a hare, brutally at‐ tacked by a pair of hawks. The hare suffers physical and mental pain as ‘He diminishes, one talon‐morself at a time’. The strained syntax of the opening sentence suggests violence: They have flushed him out of the tall Grasses, the hare, hunted now in pairs by mother hawk and son. The ‘they’ and ‘him’ of the ten‐syllable line 45 are at first unidentified, until the five‐syllable line 46 on the hare and the eight‐syllable line 47 on the hawks. The alliteration of ‘hare, haunted’ and ‘hawk’ and the

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 451 rhyme ‘hare’―‘pairs’ brutally joins the hunted with the hunter. Aware‐ ness of the torment of the victim is created by the repeated ‘he‐is’ sound pattern: ‘He diminishes’, ‘He is stunned’, ‘His heart is’, ‘His blood writes stories’, ‘His movements’; and by such comparisons as ‘burning stable’, ‘whinnying horses’, and ‘scribble on the page of death’. Such words as ‘talons’ and ‘talon‐morsel’ echo earlier lines, while ‘one fell swoop’ recalls ‘scoop up next’. The narrative of section three is somewhat oblique. Who is the ‘they’ who have flushed out the hare? Men or the hawks? Are the hawks tamed or wild? The pair ‘mother hawk and son’ suggests that families and society are more dangerous, savage, cruel hunters than the hawk alone. Families and societies teach cruelty and merciless vi‐ olence. As in Daruwalla’s other poems, the conclusion, section four, is worked out in explicit detail. A comparison is made between the tamed hawk and the speaker, the ‘I’ of the poem, who first saw the wild hawk. Although the theme concerns the way man’s natural vio‐ lence is made worse as a result of being tamed, additional signficances may include the effects of schooling, repression, and Daruwalla’s training as a police officer. The first stanza in section four parallels the second section of the poem, when the wild hawk was ‘snared’, blinded and thwarted. Images and words recur from previous stanzas: ‘eyrie’ (35, 39), ‘snared’, ‘ensnared’ (22, 28), the ‘world’ (29, 60), the ‘eyelids’ (21, 61), ‘burning, ‘burn’ (9, 61), etc. The ‘I is like the captive, blind, wild hawk being broken and tamed. The second stanza of section four is in theme and diction sim‐ ilar to the second stanza of section one and the second stanza of sec‐ tion two. The ‘I’ which begins the poem and which is the focus of sec‐ tion four is being schooled into thinking abstractly, being scientific and rational, instead of emotional and natural: ‘I can think of a patch of blue sky / when shown a blue side’. Like the hawk, ‘rapist in the harem of the sky’, and the ‘mother hawk and son,’ he is ready to attack:



452 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE But I am learning how to spot the ones Crying for the right to dream, the right to flesh The right to sleep with their own Wives― This last section of the poem picks up the ‘ing’ sounds promi‐ nent at its beginning: ‘I am learning’, ‘ I am sniffling … deciding’, ‘weav‐ ing’. The relationship of training and abstraction to sexual vio‐ lence and the association of the soft with those who are baby‐like, ‘cry‐ ing’ for their rights, are significant. The poem which contrasts the wild and the tame, the natural and the schooled, also suggests the tensions involved in the repression which goes with education, orderly thought and specialization. Such toughing breeds suppressed anger. This po‐ tential for legitimized violence will in future be directed at those who cry for the peaceful rights ‘to dream’, to be fed, and for the sanctity of marriage: ‘I have placed them. I am sniffing / the air currents, deciding when to pounce’. This is not the same trained violence shown in ‘Rou‐ tine’, but whereas ‘Routine’ ends in a depressed irony at the contrasts between slogans and reality, ‘Hawk’ sympathetically understands both the predator’s natural violence and the potential for calculated brutality created in those trained to kill. An example of how nature is violent but man is worse, the poem could be variously read as about the repressive effects of schooling, the psychological effects of Du‐ rawalla’s police work, a warning to society and especially the Third World (which is only now being trained regularly to see the ‘blue sky/ when shown a blue side’), and the dangers of its new, specially trained enforcers of law and order. Although it is possible to read the poem as an apocalyptical warning, its force is the repressed angry violence of the speaker wait‐ ing with hate for the time when



VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 453 I shall drive down with the compulsive thrust of gravity, trained for havoc my eyes focused on them like the sights of a gun. ‘I’ and ‘eye’ are again associated. The eye of the wild hawk scans the sky and marks out his victim, the eyes of the captive hawk are blinded and he is frustrated from his enjoyment of the sky until slowly he is educated into associating such pleasures with selective, purposeful killing. Like a trained hawk, like a police dog, ‘I am learning how to spot, I have placed them,’ ‘I am sniffing’. In the last stanza, before the final couplet, the ‘I’ is like the attacking hawk in stanzas two and four, but now he is ‘trained for havoc’, like the military and police, ‘like the sights of a gun’. Although the poem is concerned about the effects of such training on the self, it is difficult to read it without thinking of its wider social and political implications. Essentially another variation on the themes of the responsibilities of being a man, of doing one’s duty and of the resuling alienation, ‘Hawk’ shows the repressed violence of the civilizing process, a violence that has erupted in irrational hatred and brutality. ‘Hawk’ concludes with one of Daruwalla’s couplets that have the Augustan assurance and finality of a generalized statement, but which also have a modern colloquial vigor of idiom and in which the choice of imagery is sarcastic: During the big drought which is surely going to come the doves will look up for clouds, and it will rain hawks. The trained violence of those who have the guns will be the answer to the soft who cry for their peaceful rights. A chilling poem!

454 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE The potential multiplicity of significance of ‘Hawk’ and its el‐ liptical conciseness are in contrast to its explicit statements and de‐ scriptions. The ambiguities, ambivalences and conflicts that Da‐ ruwalla feels as part of our condition are also reflected in contrasting poetic modes; such multiplicity and elliptical allusiveness are part of the symbolist tradition, while concreteness and accuracy are an imag‐ ist, realist inheritance. The two modes can, of course, be found in the same poem, as is shown by the early work of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound; R. Parthasararthy has similarly used in Rough Passage compression, ellipticalness, fragmented narrative and chiseled statements to create a multiplicity of meanings. But while the mixing of symbolic allusive‐ ness with imagistic descriptions is not uncommon to modern verse, Daruwalla’s need to control, to make explicit, to generalize, to round off, to assume the position of central authoritative voice is surprising and reflects, I suggest the moral ambivalence common to his writing. My claim might be made clearer if ‘Hawk’ is compared to the Romantic ode from which its structure derives. In Keats’s odes and several of Yeats's best known poems, the speaker observes an object, usually part of the natural world in its unconscious activity. The exter‐ nal becomes a source of reflection as the mind wanders through var‐ ied associations. The ode structure usually concludes with some sig‐ nificant generalization unfavorably contrasting the viewer or the life of man to the seeming perfection, innocence or permanency of the ob‐ ject in the scene. Often the external is a symbol of a state which the poet hopes to achieve in the wisdom of old age, in death or in some transcendence to the eternal. ‘Hawk’ has such similar elements as the observation of the ex‐ ternal, natural world and its use as a symbol of the self. The natural or external is favorably contrasted with the human and there is a general conclusion. But there are striking differences from the traditional Ro‐ mantic ode. This is a hawk not a nightingale or swan. Nature is violent and is claimed by the poet to include ‘hate’. Often words such as ‘rap‐ ist’ also impute brutal will to the natural world and bring moral judg‐ ment to bear. Nature is harsh and the strong predator triumphs over the small and weak. Such ‘natural’ violence appears to be celebrated

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 455 and its naturalness could (as in some poems of Ted Hughes and Thom Gunn) be the point. But Daruwalla, unlike the Romantics and symbol‐ ists, does not let the poem drift into reflection and association; his mind is in control. The images of violence are compressed into a dom‐ inant syntax that is used to support an argument. Man is worse than animal; the captive and trained is worse than the natural violence of the wild. The description of such training corresponds positionally to the linked, dream‐like, associative thought which usually occupies the central portions of the Romantic ode. Instead of the mind wandering in pleasures, fancies and nostalgia, there is bitterness conveyed in the precision of description and diction. While, as in the ode, associations build up creating a dimension of significance, here the training of the hawk and its violence represent the scientist, the teacher, the soldier, the police, the intelligence officer. And while they are seen as terrible, they are superior to the soft dreamers and those who expect rights. A pressure of argument pushes the poem forward to its firm concluding generalization. Daruwalla has used the Romantic ode for argumenta‐ tive purposes and its assumptions of innocence and its dreams of rights and comforts have been subverted by the argument. In the poem ‘Collage―II’, the mother crawling ‘towards Benares / to die’ is ‘one vast, sprawling defeat’. If, like the Romantics, Daruwalla com‐ plains of the effects of civilization, repression intensifies and makes worse our natural violence with the result that romantic sentimental‐ ity and idealism seem foolish dreaming deserving of its likely fate. Such anti‐romanticisim gives Daruwalla’s poetry an air of the strong, tough American loner―the private eye, the cowboy, the Hem‐ ingway and Mailer hero setting out alone in a confused, corrupt world in which women can provide the only comfort. But American tough‐ ness is often soft at the centre. The hero wants to be good, takes on unrequired dangerous duties, needlessly risks his life as proof of his manliness, and, despite his supposed cynicism, is sentimentally at‐ tached to certain persons and values. In a poem entitled ‘The Hero’, Daruwalla mocks such attitudes:



456 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE I wail for this stupid romanticized non‐existent male. Daruwalla does not sentimentalize. The brutality is in himself as well as in others. Conscience has been hardened for survival and in ‘Hawk’ turned to hatred for the soft. Duties are disliked, not needlessly un‐ dertaken. Love does not redeem but, is found as wanting and transi‐ tory as the rest of life. Only the self, scarred, angry, potentially violent, alienated, confused in its sympathies, but hardened by the need to sur‐ vive, endures. Daruwalla’s feelings are a natural step in a series of transi‐ tions from a spiritualized to a materialistic view of the world. The Mid‐ dle Ages and the Renaissance in Europe held man’s reason and soul superior to that of the animal world. With the Romantic distrust of reason and a consequent admiration for the innocent, the natural was given a superiority over man. The natural world and man reunited, however, in the divine, containing traces of God within. The seculari‐ zation of our world‐view has left the Romantic vision of the instinctive natural world as superior to the rational, trained and civilized, and since Freud and Darwin, instinctive nature is no longer innocent. Na‐ ture is viewed as violent, predatory, a food chain in which the big eat the small; human activity, with reason at the service of repressed de‐ sires, is viewed as a more treacherous, perverse, often irrationally brutal version of animal violence. The notion that animal violence is superior to human behav‐ ior is not new. It was a common theme of late seventeenth and early eighteenth century literature in Europe. Both Rochester and Swift fa‐ vorably compared the instinctive nature of animals―who only kill for food and self‐protection―with human cunning and unmotivated cru‐ elty. There is no particular religious or lack of religious affiliation in such a view. Rochester was a skeptic or atheist, Swift an Anglican apol‐ ogist. Rochester, influenced by Thomas Hobbes’s materialism, saw life

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 457 as a brutal struggle for power, glorification, security and the fulfill‐ ment of desires. Swift saw fallen man as corrupt using reason for such perverse ends as cruelty, pride and the satisfaction of imaginary, illu‐ sionary desires. I do not know what spiritual beliefs Daruwalla holds, but his poems suggest a skepticism towards the spiritual and are closer in outlook to Rochester’s than to Swift’s. In The Waterfront sequence, the Hindu world‐view is not only foreign and decayed, but also grotesque: What plane of destiny have I arrived at where corpse‐fires and cooking‐fires burn side by side? Educated to Western modes of thought, Daruwalla in Varanasi is con‐ scious of the sewage emptying into the sacred river in which the be‐ lievers will bathe. The Ganga is ‘dark as gangrene’ and its banks pop‐ ulated by cripples, deformed beggars and lepers: The Ganga flows through the land, not to lighten the misery but to show it. If I understand it correctly, the final poem of the sequence, ‘River‐Silt’, while saying ‘the racial memory/ of a nation is preserved here’, speaks of it as preserving wishes rather than reality: a syllable‐seedling coated against death like mummy‐wheat. The early ‘The Ghaghra in Spate’ is revealing: ‘prayers are parabolic / will come down with a plop anyway’. As for the Christian god, the con‐ cluding section of Bombay Prayers says it all:



458 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE I wish I could say, Lord. I am full of you like‐a storm‐filled creek. But I can’t. Yet am I envious of those who can say it. Daruwalla might agree with his character in ‘Apothecary’: ‘What is paradise, but a promissory note/ found in the holy book it‐ self?’: What does it promise us except that flea‐ridden bags that we are we will end up as splendid corpses? Despite the Western secular outlook of his poetry and the ac‐ ceptance of violence as natural, Daruwalla seems haunted by con‐ science, guilt and anxieties. The feelings could be those of any moralist confronted by the complexities of modern life and, although most eas‐ ily identifiable with those or Protestantism, might perhaps be best traced to Daruwalla’s Parsi background. ‘The Parsi Hell’, another of his ironic religious poems, speaks of the guilts of the flesh: Standing at the dark heart of my dreams, the small change of guilt turning sweaty in my hands, I watch my slow surrender at the seams, the thread showing through frayed edges. Desires fester in the body’s abscessed tabernacles. Like a fire temple I hoard my inner fires,

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 459 hoard my semen, brown with in‐ breeding. Genetic rust? I carry within me the city of faith desiccated with the salts of lust. …… A Parsi carries his hell. If in an age of science the spiritual offers no true satisfactions, it is normal to turn towards society. But the cynical, satiric view of politics and communities in the short stories is also found in the po‐ ems. ‘The People’ begins: ‘Between their raillery and applause / I found no difference’; the poem concludes: ‘Between my pity and con‐ tempt/ I find no difference’. The collection entitled Winter Poems of‐ fers, as its name suggests, cold comfort from ordinary life. The Hunger 74 sequence records the dissatisfactions of life in India, the droughts, the hunger and starvation, the suffering, hoarding and food riots to which society can only reply with brutality: Cables are flashed from the outposts “Food riots! Send Rice‐Specials at once!” From the capital word bounces back “Silo‐owners have gone off for the night. Dispatching armed police instead.” The necessities of the time cause the worst side of human nature to be openly revealed: This is our mandate No food‐bandit must get near the freight‐cars. At wayside flagstations profiteers offer us

460 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE ten thousand per wagon. Waif‐women are offered One buck for a roll. The idealist might say do not obey society, follow your conscience; but, regardless of how much compassion you have, there are often no solutions, no sides to choose: …one side harangues “Democracy in danger! The men are corrupt! So forget your vocations Take a one‐year holiday and go for them hard.” and the others declaim “Democracy in danger! The plan is in danger! Foreign hand in all this! It’s despair that will kill you not a shortfall in vitamins. So look out for hope.” Daruwalla directs his strongest satire towards governments brutally surpressing dissent: At noon silence was taboo – you must be social, converse, smile, show that there is no terror around. At night speech was forbidden: you’ve no right to disturb others. Especially forbidden were noisy dreams. The Variations sequence concludes cynically at the injustice of govern‐ ment and its laws:

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 461 They shake their heads and say “we want evidence.” How can I explain that there cannot be any evidence. For when the state rapes the streets are empty. To distrust governments and to work for the police must cre‐ ate personal problems, especially if, like Daruwalla, you are concerned about individual liberties. In ‘a city falls’, presumably about a sup‐ pressed revolt in eastern Europe, he asks: Was it any use, this mass trantrum of defiance? this flicker of a spirit reaching for the stars, but denied oxygen? Do fires still burn today under those vast, black collieries of the heart? While many poems reveal a desire to find comfort in a woman’s love from the harsh unsatisfactoriness of the world, the result is disillu‐ sioning. ‘The Night of the Jackals’ records the progress of a love affair through initial passion, growth of tenderness and need for each other; but it concludes abruptly, satirically: Have I a touch of the acid‐god? One month with me, and she is already talking of dying! A profound record of the transitoriness of life and its changes is Crossing of Rivers, the sequence that contributes the title to Da‐ ruwalla’s first Oxford collection. The biblical injunction that every‐ thing has its season is referred to in the symbolism of the opening



462 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE lines: ‘In every season / comes a crossing of rivers.’ Exterior descrip‐ tion, as in the poetry of A.K Ramanujan, is representative of interior states of mind. The events like the descriptions are symbolic of typical, although offered in the form of particular, instances; while narrative is used to create an allegory of experience, of the changing seasons. Section 1 concerns youth …when young blood courses along the heart‐floor you take the plunge and are rescued from drowning by a girl who in Section 2 becomes an idol: ‘installing a mistress/ is like installing a deity in the house!’ The speaker learns her past, her wanderings and sexual experience in the third section, while the fourth records the day she disappears after fifteen years of their living together: ‘a sinking feeling dragged him to earth as if a bog had got him by the knees’. She is ‘approaching forty’ her season of change and of new dreams and desires. Ironically she has taken ‘the old slave‐route of Hindu psyche’ as a holy beggar; and he is left defeated, an outsider. As his ‘past’ flees ‘away’, he hears the muezzin call from the mosque and knows ‘It was not his future/ which was calling’. The narrative illustrated the various stages through which people pass, from the hot blood of youth to the dissatisfactions of middle age. The conclusion, which repeats the opening lines of the sequence, once again refers to the seasonal ‘crossing of the rivers’. While the comforts of love do not last, the desire continues. ‘The Unrest of Desire’ is the condition of life itself, no matter how de‐ sire is repressed, sublimated, masked or used for such socially ac‐ ceptable purposes as art. The poem concludes: You may etch the shadow on the cavern‐wall and turn your drives into aborigine art: bison and stag loping in charcoal lines.

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 463 You can’t erase the burn. It will char Your dreams however you bury the shadow in the heart. Desiring yet certain to be frustrated, life consists of disappointments, defeats, tragedies and fears of the future. Although there is violence and conscience, toughness and compassion, cynicism and concern in Daruwalla’s writing, his best po‐ ems do not choose one position, do not simplify, do not homogenize life, but leave the tensions, ambiguities and doubts unresolved, or only apparently resolved through humor as in ‘On the Contrariness of Dreams’ and ‘The Battle of Curses’ in the In the Shadow of the Imam‐ bara sequence. The best poems are often, like ‘Hawk’, highly crafted, compressed, almost anxious in their economy, understatement, preci‐ sion and muscular vigor, with the narrator firmly in control and yet the attitude undefined. What finally is Daruwalla’a attitude towards the hare and the hawk? Or in ‘Nasiruddin Rides a Tiger’? Nasiruddin chafed; his ambition was obvious like antennae, proboscis. Who knew when the arm of god, outstretched in blessing, withdrew; when his visions, an overhang of light, collapsed and when the brainfires would gutter? ‘Bring me a tiger!’ he cried, and through his mystic powers a tiger came. And he mounted it and said, ‘Come! Let’s go to the casbah!’



464 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE It is where the craftsman meets the skeptic and the cynic that Daruwalla’s best poetry can be found and where he reveals himself most fully and interestingly. In our time of child‐like simplicities in thought, feeling and expression, an adult complexity, with all the un‐ resolved tensions that it implies, is most welcome.



Chapter 37 That Preface, Nissim Ezekiel Remembered I wonder how many readers of the Second Edition of Nissim Ezekiel’s Collected Poems were irritated by Leela Gandhi’s ‘Preface’?1 It was tasteless after the death of a poet who devoted so much of his life to the establishment of Indian poetry in English to dig up the old controversy about the validity of such poetry. It was not only tasteless but Ezekiel, and those for whom he set an example, long ago showed the foolishness of such doubts. The international success of Vikram Seth and Agha Shahid Ali and the increasing importance of English in India make arguments against the worth and place of English‐lan‐ guage poetry by Indians seem silly. Of course journalists can always try to stir up some prejudices and ignorance by attacking Indian writ‐ ing in English but what was Gandhi, a serious theorist, doing? She was obviously raising the question to show it was in some way wrong, but putting up a scarecrow to argue it is not a real person is too easy for any academic to do and with such topics as nationalism, religion, or politics, the damned effigy will suddenly be found to tap irrational prejudices and be given vitality. Better to leave it alone. Gandhi’s first move towards her predictable conclusion is to separate English‐language poetry from prose. She notes that the prose writers who wrote in English were acceptable unlike the poets as the formers’ ‘realism’ was part of a nationalist ‘project’. I have several ob‐ jections, one of which is intrinsic to my feeling that Gandhi is taking the wrong giant steps. Can anyone really describe the artificialities of Raja Rao’s Kanthapura as realism and is that novel more realistic than Ezekiel’s poetry with the latter’s descriptions of and allusions to peo‐ ple and places in Bombay? Rao’s unreadable novel too often gets a ‘pass’ because of his unquestionable nationalist views in contrast to Ezekiel’s more sophisticated ambivalent relationship to Bombay. (It is 1

Leela Gandhi, ‘Preface’ in Nissim Ezekiel, Collected Poems 1952‐1988 (2nd ed, 2005).

465

466 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE this sophistication Gandhi will later defend and use to claim Ezekiel’s value.) I would argue that Rao was a typical product of his time when writers from the colonies who went abroad for their education or to see the world wrote nostalgically of their ‘native lands’, something im‐ migrants still do. I think Rao like Anand has been over‐praised be‐ cause of politics. And this brings me to my major objection: Gandhi as a post‐colonialist critic sees writing mostly in relationship to politics, not allowing it any independent existence. If you are religious every‐ thing is religious, if you are a psychoanalyst everything is psychologi‐ cal, why do academics in Arts subjects keep trying to be politicians who reduce everything to politics? Having decided prose’s realism was nationalist Gandhi turns to poetry to see how Indian English‐language poets handled the prob‐ lems raised by nationalism. And it is here that her analysis either shows the wrongness of her approach or her lack of knowledge of what she is discussing. I question why writing should have a relation‐ ship to nationalism. Certainly many writers have used nationalist themes, but is that mandatory? And those who treated such topics have often done so with skepticism, ambivalence, and irony. Why do academics keep seeking in art resistance to colonialism and the effects of colonial culture? Are people not interested in love, ethics, land‐ scape, religion, art, swimming, food, others? And indeed what should be resisted? The better writers resist demands that they use their art to proclaim simple nationalist or other political slogans. One of the aims of post‐colonialism was supposed to be its critique of such na‐ tionalism and reverse racism; the post‐colonial was supposed to show the diversity and multiplicity of a nation or a culture, but somehow it still seems mired in the thematics of nationalism while claiming to have gone beyond them. It is as if having begun with a nationalist dis‐ course post‐colonialists are unable to expand its boundaries. What a limitation for critics! Far better to begin by describing what is in front of you on a page. Gandhi’s claim that the history of Indian poetry in English consists of a few basic responses to nationalism seems wrong. The ge‐



VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 467 neology she claims from Toru Dutt to Arun Kolatkar of ‘aggressive In‐ dian thematization’ and ‘exhumation of Indian mythology’ misinter‐ prets Kolatkar who, whether writing in English or Marathi, insists on the vitality of life in opposition to the dead burden of tradition, an op‐ position shown most clearly in the use of ordinary in contrast to San‐ skritic language. Another theme of his work is the importance of art and seeing as part of renewal. This is a realism but not a nationalistic one. The continuities between Indian writing in regional languages and in English show that Indian poetry in English is not something strange that needs defending. And what are we to think of Gandhi’s claim that from Sri Au‐ robindo to Agha Shahid Ali some poets have been concerned with ‘in‐ digenization of poetic form’? Well yes, Shahid Ali has used the ghazal form, but so have many Canadians and Americans. (More interesting has been Shahid’s bringing of the cadences of Urdu into English. It is his extraordinary voice that can seem so Indian in contrast to others whether American or Indian.) But he has also written American road poems, sonnets, canzones, and, like most good poets, has mastered many forms and conventions. All good writers are cosmopolitans in their reading and influences and as globalization continues they live cosmopolitan lives, as Gandhi’s own tri‐continental career shows. Gandhi is therefore right when she speaks of Ezekiel’s cosmo‐ politanism (although I am not certain what she means by it; that he has written poems abroad, that he is skeptical, or that he is not a sim‐ ple nationalist). I think she perhaps misjudges his ‘modernism’. There are certainly echoes of T.S. Eliot in the early poems, and in comparison to Lal’s aestheticism Ezekiel is anti‐romantic, but looking back one now sees how much of his verse descends from Auden through the Movement; its main qualities, along with conciseness, are irony, hu‐ mor, common sense, speaking directly to the reader, and assuming the reader shares similar views. There is really little of Pound, Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Joyce or other moderns. He was modern in the sense of con‐ temporary, his sensibility and manner was similar to other poets of his time.



468 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE That Ezekiel returned from London and claimed to have a love‐hate relationship to India is attested to by many poems, but sim‐ ilar ambivalence can be found in other writers of the period such as A.D. Hope, Patrick White, Wole Soyinka, and Derek Walcott. The na‐ tionalist battle had been won and the new enemies were within often masquering in the rhetoric of nationalism and anti‐colonialism. While such themes are present in Ezekiel’s poetry they do not seem essential to what I and others enjoy. Recently an Indian poet complained to me about some other poets saying that there were no poems that one recalls, but after a moments’ reflection she said that one can recall many of Ezekiel’s. My own list would include ‘Robert’, ‘Advice’, ‘A Visitor’, ‘A Short Story’, ‘Enterprise’, ‘Marriage’, ‘Case Study’, ‘Philosophy’, ‘Night of the Scorpion’, ‘In India’, ‘Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher’, ‘Background, Casually’, ‘The Railway Clerk’, ‘The Truth about the Floods’, ‘Goodbye Party for Miss Pushpa, T.S.’, ‘London’, ‘The Neutral’, ‘The Egoists’s Prayers’, ‘Jewish Wedding in Bombay’, and ‘The Professor’. No doubt others have different choices, but such poems show that Ezekiel’s power comes from the conflict between ethical concerns and reality, a conflict revealed in speaking to the reader as equally ex‐ perienced and knowledgeable about the ways of the world whether in failures to keep resolutions, social disasters, incompetence, or sexual pursuits. As can be seen from the early poems about the ‘Way’ Eze‐ kiel’s is a fallen world, which we all share in making. Yet it is a world enlivened by the poet’s amusement, satire and irony and because it is predictably amusing, filled with ironies, and subject to satire. Sexual desire is one of Ezekiel’s central themes, but attraction, courtship, conquest, and sex itself are often found to be part of a ritualized game which requires lies for success and is found to be disillusioning, even disappointing. The basic situation is that while marriage is unsatisfac‐ tory so is the continual pursuit of sex outside marriage. As we live in a fallen world many of the later poems more than flirt with religion or at least the spiritual as a possible solution to human dissatisfaction.



VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 469 I could write of much else that I like about Ezekiel’s poetry, such as the feeling of honesty, the reserve within the seeming confes‐ sional, even his use of metre and rhyme. I like the way he created a place, Bombay, while avoiding excessive detail. I like the way he peo‐ ples it. I like the way he appeals to my intelligence and common sense. I feel I know him the way I feel I know John Dryden, Samuel Johnson, or W.H. Auden; the writer’s persona appears to fit the person while assuming we share a common culture, history, and humanity. Like such writers he often treats of types, individuals who are also carica‐ tures; he has the eyes and instincts of a satirist. His subject matter is neither too local nor too general. There are many lines of his poetry that I and others can quote. Little that interests me about Ezekiel’s poetry (unlike his life) has to do with nationalism even indirectly. I could find enough pas‐ sages in his verse to write about the Indianness of his poetry, but that would only be a minor aspect of his vision. So I do not know why Gan‐ dhi had to set Ezekiel within post‐colonial obsessions with national‐ ism, complicity, and resistance, except that her theories mislead her. She offers ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ generalizations. Whether poets write about India or about abroad they are, according to Gandhi, re‐ sponding to the problems poets have in being nationalistic. Curiously post‐colonialism, with its concern for the marginal and minorities, should have led her to Ezekiel’s continuing yet con‐ flicted relationship to Judaism and the Bene Israeli community. The cosmopolitanism and sophistication that she finds in Ezekiel and other Indian English‐language poets is often a product of difference and I think in Ezekiel’s case the long road from seeking the ‘Way’ in those early poems to the ‘Latter‐Day Psalms’. Even ‘The Second Can‐ dle’ has its obvious origins in modern Judaism’s relationship to the secular non‐Jewish world. I want to return to the problem of Ezekiel’s modernism. One characteristic of modern Western literature for more than two centu‐ ries is rebellion in the name of emotional and spiritual liberation against restricting, deadening social norms. To live more vitally is a theme shared by both the so‐called Romantics and Moderns. Ezekiel’s

470 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE early poems show something odd and unexpected. He echoes the lan‐ guage of ‘The Waste Land’, ‘The Hollow Men’, but his aim is balance or moderation between desire and convention. That is the subject of ‘A Time to Change’. Throughout his career as a writer, and life as a per‐ son, this central conflict remains a tension but is never resolved in fa‐ vor of rebellion. He never divorces, leaves his wife, starts a new life, leaves India. Even his experiments with LSD remained experiments. What we find in his poems are expressions of desire and exhortations to change but nothing much really changes except a few more affairs with women that come to seem like the same affair repeated. We keep assuming that the break and jerk mentioned in ‘Case Study’ will come but change never does. A similar stasis can be seen in Ezekiel’s rela‐ tionship to the Bene Israelis, to Bombay, to India. The moral and ethi‐ cal overwhelms the desire to live more fully. There is also a concern for others as can be seen obviously in his poems about the poor, such as ‘The Truth about the Floods’, but also in the compassion and empa‐ thy that many have noticed in his character portraits and even the po‐ ems in Very Indian English. Gandhi finds the later poems ‘harsh’, but that seems to me an incorrect description of the tone of ‘The Railway Clerk’ which depicts someone trapped in many overlapping problems, including his poor English, which he is unlikely to be able to solve. If the clerk’s excuse‐ making and resentments are subjects of satire, the basic experience of reading the poem is of compassion. Even as we laugh at the speakers of such poems and their amusing malapropisms in English, they ap‐ pear trapped in uncomfortable situations in which their notions of what they hope to say or achieve is undermined by what is possible for them. Rather than Ezekiel fleeing family, nation, blood, he seems too much part of his surroundings, too sympathetic to others, too unwill‐ ing to be a Modern rebel. He is a good but minor poet―in comparison to such giants as Yeats, Eliot, or Auden―partly because of his unwill‐ ingness to break the mould and make it new. The ethical, the concern for others, the attempt to find the ‘Way’, is, however, his characteristic, a character formed by India, Judaism, and much else, but is there from

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 471 the start, although it will find varied manner of expression over the decades. If it possibly hampered Ezekiel from being a great poet it con‐ tributed to his leadership of Indian poetry and its relationship to In‐ dia, and it resulted in a surprising number of poems that are likely to last even as critical tastes change. There is a consistency about his con‐ cerns which make the poems add up to an impressive body of work which should be read as whole besides for the enjoyment of individual poems. Which brings me back to that Preface. Despite her political correctness in calling the poems in Indian English harsh and the po‐ ems about sexual relationships ‘bitter masculine self‐regard’ (Gandhi might reread these poems without feminist blinders), Gandhi intuits the compassion and empathy in Ezekiel’s poetry. So why does she con‐ clude her preface by going on about Ezekiel’s best poems being all‐ encompassing, self‐expanding, closet Romanticism, and so on, when such terms are clearly wrong descriptions? I kept wondering whether, besides bringing the wrong assumptions, critical tools and vocabulary (‘his enterprise’) from post‐colonial theories, she was revealing anxi‐ ety about her own position as an Indian living in Australia writing po‐ etry in English. Then I read her Measures of Home which begins by re‐ calling angry conflcits with family about leaving India, disillusion‐ ments on returns, conflicts with lovers, and which continues by find‐ ing that ‘home’ is created through experience and poetry. Sounds more like the tradition of cosmopolitanism she is claiming for a cer‐ tain poet than he actually wrote?





Chapter 38 2004: Ezekiel, Moraes, Kolatkar For the national and international community of Indian poets who write in English, 2004 was a sad year; three major writers died―Nissim Ezekiel (b. 1924), Dom Moraes (b.1938) and Arun Kolat‐ kar (b. 1932). Each was an excellent poet, a well‐loved individual, and significant on the Indian cultural scene. Each was known abroad and has left work that will continue to be read and anthologized. If it were not for the deaths of the three writers, 2004 would have been a vin‐ tage year with the publication of Moraes’s Collected Poems 1954‐2004, Kolatkar’s two volumes―Sarpa Satra and Kala Ghoda Poems―and a new edition of Ezekiel’s Collected Poems at the printers. Both Moraes and Kolatkar knew they were dying; the former consciously wrote po‐ ems about the experience, the latter worked to have the two books in print before his death. Ezekiel was perhaps the central figure in the evolution of In‐ dian poetry in English to a more modern idiom than the amateurism and windy, shapeless, overblown spiritualist epics prevalent when he began to write. He made Indian poetry up to date. His poems were about urban life, economical, well crafted, often filled with ironies, and they communicated directly to the reader. Although recognizably by an Indian and about India, they were on the same wavelength as po‐ etry then being written on both sides of the Atlantic. An intellectual, his reading and interests ranged from the existentialists, W.C. Wil‐ liams and African art to the still lively factional disputes of Marxism and Socialism. While holding various full‐time jobs, Ezekiel was a leader of those writing poetry in English when politicians and most intellectu‐ als were trying to impose Hindi as a national language and when In‐ dian literature too often consisted of wrenching stories of peasant life, romanticized tales of nobility, the cultural conflicts of those returning from education abroad, and, best, quiet comedies of provincial society

473

474 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE in which tradition prevailed. In using his own disquiets as subject mat‐ ter, Ezekiel shifted the focus of Indian poetry to contemporary life in India, especially Bombay, the nation’s largest, liveliest and most cul‐ turally productive city. He remained a central figure in Bombay’s lit‐ erary community and he wrote and published throughout his life. He was born into the ancient Indian but then impoverished Bene Israel community of Jews, his parents were highly educated teachers: he was raised with a largely secular outlook and took an early interest in politics and ideas. By 1948 he joined the after‐the‐ war migration of former citizens of the British Empire to London where he shared a basement room, barely supported himself with odd jobs, attended lectures in philosophy, had poems in literary journals, and published his first book of poetry, A Time to Change (1952). The title refers to what was to be a theme of his early books, the need for moral decision when faced by opposing attractions, especially those of the body and a settled, productive life. This would take various di‐ rections, usually involving sexual desire or love in contrast to mar‐ riage, and was often resolved in poems about art giving form to the conflict. ‘London’ is about those formative years: Sometimes I think I’m still in that basement room, a permanent and proud metaphor of struggle for and against the same creative, self‐destructive self. After three and a half years of intellectual and sexual adventure, he worked his way back to Bombay scrubbing decks and shoveling coal on a steamer. He soon had a job on The Illustrated Weekly of India where his responsibilities included reading the manuscripts of and advising other Indian poets, such as the soon‐to‐be famous Dom Moraes.

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 475 Whereas most Indian poets in English were amateur versifiers, Eze‐ kiel, influenced by Rilke, insisted poetry was a career that a writer worked to master. He later quarreled with P. Lal (whose Writer’s Workshop was then the only significant publisher of Indian poetry in English) over what he felt was a lack of critical standards and he be‐ came the leader of those who were aiming to write as well as English‐ language poets abroad. His decision to return to India (he could have stayed in London or emigrated to Israel), his active involvement in In‐ dian literary and intellectual life, and his setting his poems in Bombay, made him India’s equivalent to New York’s Jewish cultural commu‐ nity, someone whose minority status made him especially conscious of the contradictions of modern life. Although his outlook was secular, he never severed his connections to the Bene Israelis and at times, such as when asking his mother to arrange his marriage, he unexpect‐ edly showed his need to be linked to a community. As the country’s cultural and financial energies shifted from Delhi and Calcutta to Bom‐ bay, India’s most cosmopolitan and modern city, Ezekiel became one of the nation’s more important cultural figures. He represented the opposite of the Hindiizing, peasant‐idealizing, Soviet‐sympathizing, nationalist cultural assertion of the government and many intellectu‐ als. He contributed to the intellectual life of India as a poet, liter‐ ary critic, art critic, editor of literary magazines, playwright, advisor to publishers, newspaper columnist, university professor, and in op‐ positional politics. He seemed to know everyone and be everywhere, shaping opinion as well as poetry. Besides becoming a university pro‐ fessor, he was an editor of PEN’s newsletter and his office at PEN was practically his home. Perhaps because after his stint on The Illustrated Weekly he had managed some businesses, and perhaps because he helped to edit political journals, he somehow managed to get money, at least for short periods, to support the publication of poets; the years during the mid‐1950s when he was editor of Quest, a general publica‐ tion of arts and ideas which was associated with the Congress for Cul‐ tural Freedom, encouraged a generation of poets. It was the Indian equivalent of the British Encounter. The six issues he edited of Poetry India (1966‐67) are still regarded as a high point for the translation of

476 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE excellent poetry from other Indian languages into English verse by bi‐ lingual writers. A social democrat and humanist who disliked the way India was leaning during the Cold War he was one of those who brought the study of American literature to Indian universities. When Mrs Gandhi proclaimed an Emergency, 1975‐77, and the nation’s po‐ litical journals shut down, he started and edited Freedom First. Many of the poets who are now thought of as the canon of modern Indian poetry in English were his friends, studied with him, were published by him, recommended to publishers by him, or were in luenced by him for a signi icant time―Dom Moraes, A.K. Ramanu‐ jan, Eunice de Souza, R. Parthasarathy, Adil Jussawalla, Saleem Peeradina, K.D. Katrak, Gieve Patel and Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. Arun Kolatkar’s poetry was first published by him. He is the subject of many poems by Indians, some seeing him as a model, some replying to his views, some, by women, mocking him as a famous poet‐seducer. While he was an example of a writer engaged in the world, Ezekiel remained primarily a poet who kept publishing verse of vari‐ able quality throughout his life. Many of his poems, such as ‘Enter‐ prise’, ‘Night of the Scorpion’, ‘Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher’, ‘Marriage’, ‘Philosophy’, ‘Background, Casually’, and ‘Goodbye Party for Miss Pushpa T.S.’, are often and rightly anthologized. While some of the bet‐ ter poems concern the conflict between desire and ethics, they take an amused look at situations when cultures and languages come into con‐ flict. He remains one of the few Indian poets (as contrasted to those who lived abroad, such as A.K. Ramanujan and Agha Shahid Ali) whose poems are known and taught in other countries. Ezekiel’s best‐known poem outside of India is probably ‘The Night of the Scorpion’, written when he was a visiting Professor at Leeds University, England, and meant to be read to Commonwealth Literature students. The poem tells of the reactions of two parents when their child is bitten by a scorpion, and humorously reveals a con‐ flict between the father’s education and his reversion in an emergency to peasant superstition. But even this poem consciously written for English students concludes with what might be described as a Jewish



VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 477 mother joke, the effect of which is to universalize the emotions, char‐ acters, and the conflict between cultural traditions and modern knowledge. Ezekiel’s well‐known ‘Background, Casually’, another ex‐ ample of his nationalism, was written for the 1964 Commonwealth Arts Festival: I have made my commitments now. This is one: to stay where I am, As others choose to give themselves In some remote and backward place. My backward place is where I am. Many years later in ‘The Egoist’s Prayers VII’ he wrote: Confiscate my passport, Lord, I don’t want to go abroad. Let me find my song where I belong. Ezekiel always had the desire to roam, whether sexually or to move on to another job, another place, another literary manner, and his best poetry contrasts such urges of renewal and creativity with his considered judgment that a settled, dedicated life is better. But the temptation was always there, and in ‘The Egoist’s Prayers III’ he asks god, ‘But do you really mind / half a bite of it?’ Although a father of modern Indian poetry in English, he was not a radically original poet. Rejecting the long‐winded spiritualism and twee aestheticism of much contemporary Indian poetry in Eng‐ lish, he began by writing formal, tightly rhymed verse in iambic pen‐ tameter in which he expressed his search for a balanced way to live. He increasingly became the poet of Bombay, using it as the backdrop for his poems, at times imitating its use of English, and making it a symbol of modern anxieties and confusions. In this he was a post‐co‐ lonial heir of such writers as Baudelaire and Eliot, although his actual

478 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE verse manner was somewhere beween post‐1939 Auden and the Movement. The Unfinished Man (1960) was an impressive, short, tightly‐ written volume in which the conflicting attractions of freedom and moral responsibility are crystalized in the libido and marriage, and set in a city, Bombay, which figures as both backdrop and projection of the self. He evolved as a poet with the times. In the late 1960s and 1970s he used LSD, and wrote poems to go with posters, increasingly used free verse, and turned to meditation to soothe his soul. As he be‐ came less critical his poetry sometimes became slack. While there are interesting poems among the later sequences, they seldom are as good as the ironic, wry, tight poems in which he created what has come to be thought of as the model for Bombay poets. Such Bombay poems are often short, ironic, witty monologues or conversations about an ethi‐ cal problem, or observation of and moral reflections on some emblem‐ atic character or situation. Whether it is a newspaper report, meeting a friend, a social event, or describing a scene, the context is clearly Bombay in its varied aspects, though the background is present more as an image or allusion than filled in. Ezekiel’s achievement as a poet was complete by the time of his Collected Poems, 1952‐1988 (1989), although he continued to con‐ tribute verse to literary journals. The new edition of his Collected Po‐ ems (2005) contains only one new poem. The last decade of his life was a terrible period. He was on his own and suffering from Alz‐ heimer’s disease. He did not wash, wore smelly clothes, lived among filth, and was frightened, under‐nourished, ashamed and unwilling to be helped. He feared returning to his house and begged to stay with friends; he gave what he and others had to beggars. The story of his early years, his continuing relationship to the Bene Israelites, why he never divorced and his wife’s revenge, and es‐ pecially his pitiable old age, can be followed in R. Raj Rao’s Nissim Eze‐ kiel: The Authorized Biography (2000), a useful although badly written and malicious book. Rao, a poet whom Ezekiel helped, and now a uni‐ versity professor, claims that his mentor did not sufficiently appreci‐ ate his poetry. Now that he has uncloseted himself, Rao wishes he had

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 479 spent ten years of his life collecting materials about a gay or lesbian poet rather than a womanizer. Although from another of India’s minorities, Dom Moraes was almost Ezekiel’s opposite. Born into a Roman Catholic family, his fa‐ ther, Frank Moraes, a famous newspaper editor of Goan origin, his mother a medical doctor, Moraes might be thought of as a product of the late colonial Anglophone elite. His father was one of those both promoted by the British as they prepared to leave India and one of those who challenged them, a friend of many of the nationalist leaders. When Dom was seven his mother began to go insane. She developed a religious mania, would scream, throw furniture from windows, lock Dom in a room, and burn him with cigarettes. For the remainder of her life she would be in and out of mental homes. At first her husband tried to ignore the problem. He went to his office and left Dom alone with her and the servants. Later he es‐ caped for some years as an editor in Sri Lanka and Australia, taking Dom with him, at times sending Dom back to India in the hope that somehow this would make his wife calmer. He would continue to think that, and plead with Dom to take care of his mother, even when Dom was an adult and had a career of his own abroad. Dom came to associate India with his mean, violent mother and hated it. After at‐ tending school in Bombay in 1954, he studied Latin in England as preparation for Oxford and travelled in Europe. He was already a writer, having published a book on cricket when he was thirteen; through his father he had met Stephen Spender and other visiting po‐ ets in India, and had been published in literary magazines in England and the USA. In London he soon became part of a then and still famous Soho bohemia; his circle of drinking friends and acquaintances in‐ cluded the painters Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, the poets George Barker, W.S. Graham, David Gascoyne, the publisher David Archer, and Henrietta (born Audrey Wendy Abbott), the beautiful, amoral, witty, foul‐mouthed, hard‐drinking, thieving, drug‐taking Queen of Soho. Archer’s famous Parton Press (Dylan Thomas’s publisher) would pub‐ lish his first book of poetry, A Beginning (1957), while Moraes was still

480 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE a student at Oxford (1956‐9). It won the Hawthornden Prize, the first time it had been given since the war, and Moraes remains the only In‐ dian as well as its youngest recipient. Henrietta, who had already been married and had children, seduced him when he was eighteen and be‐ came his first wife, living with him in Oxford, and in London in a house in Chelsea she had been given by a rich admirer. Moraes eventually left her, as he did his second British wife, and later his third, this time Indian, wife. For a decade he was very much in fashion, the lover of many beautiful women, a highly profiled poet, journalist and magazine edi‐ tor, and acquaintance of such famous poets as W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot and Allen Ginsberg. He was the author of Poems, which was a Poetry Society choice (1960), John Nobody (1965) and Beldam Etcetera (1966). Poems 1955‐65 was published in the USA by Macmillan. Gone Away (1960), the first of his three autobiographies (republished un‐ der the collective title A Variety of Absences (2003)), appeared when he was twenty‐two; the second, My Son’s Father (1968), when he was twenty‐eight. As a poet Moraes began as a dreamy romantic heir of the Brit‐ ish verse tradition. He was more likely to echo Spenser, the Cavalier poets, Keats, or early Yeats in contrast either to the Movement poets, the remaining Modernists or the Imagists. By the mid‐sixties he was clearly influenced by Auden, but he never was an experimenter, avant‐ gardist, or influenced by American verse although he knew many good American poets in England, including Allen Tate and Sylvia Plath. He was, like Derek Walcott, one of those writers from the former colonies who had a better ear for the harmonies of English verse than most British poets, but, unlike Walcott, he had nothing to say about coloni‐ alism, nationalism, racism, cultural conflict, the Cold War, existential‐ ism, or any of the major political and intellectual themes of the time. His apparent lack of engagement was not from lack of knowledge―as a reporter he covered the Eichmann trial in Israel and as a journalist wrote about the Congo, the brutal conditions under which Communist prisoners were held in Indonesia, and many of the world’s prob‐ lems―but such writing was in prose; his poetry was about himself, his

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 481 mother, his hurts, or used conventional love themes addressed to some woman with whom he was then involved. Allen Tate incorrectly told him that no twentieth‐century female could be seduced with such old‐fashioned poetry. Eventually his muse left him, he wrote no poetry for seven‐ teen years during which time he worked for the UN in New York and was, ironically, sent to India as a UN gift to Mrs. Gandhi, who claimed she needed him to write educational television scripts. Actually she had no use for him, although he was later to write her biography. Stranded in India he would learn that he had been away from London too long and from now on would need to support himself in Asia which, after a period in Singapore, concluded with him unhappily stuck in Bombay as the highest paid journalist in India, grinding out daily newspaper columns, writing coffee‐table books, and drinking far too much. Moraes at this point in his life was a formerly successful poet in England who was barely remembered there and, although he had been one of the first modern Indian poets, he had written no po‐ etry in India for decades. Then unexpectedly, but significantly during a time when he was out of work and no longer writing much prose, the muse made her appearance again. A privately printed volume, Absences (1983), showed him tentatively trying out new verse manners, a less orna‐ mental reporterish style as he attempted to write about his experi‐ ences abroad as a journalist. His Collected poems 1957‐1987 sold ex‐ tremely well in India, followed by Serendip (1990), both published by Penguin India. He was a poet once more. He remained haunted by his early success in England, and many of his later poems looked back on that time with nostalgia and a sense of loss. But other tones and themes were starting to appear, often with the use of masks especially of ancient warriors, or when addressing Leela, his third wife, a Swiss‐ born Indian who was previously a movie star and model, and who had walked out of a brutal marriage to a wealthy heir to a hotel chain. Some of these poems allude to a harsh godless world only made sig‐ nificant by activity, while the love poems are conscious that Dom and Leela are ageing, alone, have had disappointments in their lives, and

482 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE will eventually die. ‘Future Plans’ concludes with him and Leela ‘A lit‐ tle tired, but in the end, / Not unhappy to have lived.’ Moraes even points to the oddness of his poems in that they seem personal and confessional, but actually he is not there: there is always a distance, a reserve, a mask, between poet and reader, as if there were an emotional shell around the speaker―a habit, we know from the autobiographies, that he developed as a youth. ‘Babur’, one of his historical warrior figures, speaks of himself as ‘lonely in all lands’, claims ‘my books are where I bleed’: If you look for me, I am not here. My writings will tell you where I am. Tingribirdi, they point out my life like Lines drawn in the map of my palm. Soon after Moraes promised in verse to grow old and remain with Leela until death, he fell in love with someone else, a younger married woman with children who was separated from her husband. This led to emotional renewal, an intense period of writing, and some of his best poetry in years. In Cinnamon Shade (Carcanet Press, 2001) was the first volume of his poems published in England since 1966, and is modeled upon those Renaissance sequences in which poems of desire and complaint form an implied narrative about the problems faced by the two lovers, their psychology, their moods, their pains, their past, the poet’s love and the woman’s departures. In Cinnamon Shade begins with a cankered, snail‐infested gar‐ den, representing the poet’s past life, to which the concluding poem returns as the lady has left him: Because of the moon, you have left my side, for the moon made you different and afraid. But wherever you are, I imagine you still, Sedated into sleep, long eyelashes sealed, moist lips bereft. Rest in cinnamon shade.

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 483 Deep tides of darkness will cover the wound. But of two once made one, what will be left? Only footprints on water, handmarks on wind. The mixture of sensual longing, erotic, almost pornographic desire (‘moist lips bereft’), conveyed in such romantic poeticisms and for‐ malism, would be mockable if it were not so excellent. Indeed, many of the poems seem to be part of a canon of an invented former age of poetry that spoke differently than we do, although the emotions are recognizably universal and applicable to Moraes. ‘Alexander’ pro‐ claims: Write, scribe, I was my army. The world was mine. Exiled from two countries I hated and loved. At the end of the day I was my own enemy. But, scribe, write: at the end of it I had lived a life so crowded others envied it; also my path would not have been gladly chosen by most. Look at me. I am my own ghost. There are poeticisms, unnatural word order in places, but also a mas‐ tery of technique, literary echoes, phrasing and phrase making, tone and sound, drama, and contrast of form and breath groups. The his‐ tory of English poetry is behind and has made this stanza. In Typed with One Finger (2003), Moraes continued to write about the drama of his new woman, his renewed sense of self that came with being in love once more, and his pride in his past. He hoped that Carcanet would publish an updated version of his Collected Po‐ ems. But he was suffering from cancer, was operated upon, and, rather than change his ways and take treatment to prolong his life he decided to live as he had, although he knew this would soon lead to his death. The powerful new lyrics in Collected Poems 1954‐2004 were written with such a consciousness. The final sequence of twelve sonnets are magnificent in their range of emotions and memories, their variety of

484 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE dictions, their wit and puns, their literary echoes, their explicit refer‐ ence to events that had shaped his life, their lack of self‐pity, and their acceptance that life has no purpose except to be lived fully. These are remarkable poems that should be given detailed explication; they be‐ long to the classics of our time. Suddenly at the end of his life Moraes became a great poet. From the first of the sonnets: From a heavenly asylum, shriveled Mummy, glare down like a gargoyle at your only son, who now has white hair and can hardly walk. I am he who was not I. Moraes always had the useful ability to assume that his readers were interested in him, his pains, his past and his self‐pity. There were even a few poems in which he unexpectedly tapped into the world of night‐ mares and the horrific. But he never before expressed such a wide range of emotions or commanded so many different attitudes and dic‐ tions in one volume, let alone a single poem. While each of these final twelve sonnets is amazing, the other new poems in Collected Poems 1954‐2004 are also impressive. Those who do not already know Moraes’s poetry should begin by reading his later work. It is like dis‐ covering a Sylvia Plath, but one who could compress many poems into a sonnet. In the Times Literary Supplement ‘International Books of the Year’ for 2004, the well‐known novelist Pankaj Mishra claimed that ‘Indian poetry in English has a longer and more distinguished tradi‐ tion than Indian fiction in English, and may finally become better known in the West when Arun Kolatkar’s narrative poem, Jejuri (1976), is published by the New York Review of Books in 2005. Kolat‐ kar published two volumes of poetry, Kala Ghoda Poems and Sarpa Sa‐ tra (both by Pras Prakashan) before his untimely death this year. Mov‐ ing deftly from street life in Bombay to Hindu myths, these last poems confirm his cult reputation as the greatest Indian poet of his genera‐ tion.’ (TLS, 3 December 2004:10)

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 485 Kolatkar was that good a poet. Although his work was known only by those who sought it, he was a poet of world class with a very individual way of looking at the world. In his writing, every cliché is transformed into something new and unexpected, a transformation by imagination, language, and tone. If Moraes is a master of older verse idioms, Kolatkar’s realm is street talk, the colloquial, the poetry of the ordinary and anonymous. Take, for instance, ‘Pi‐Dog’, a nine‐part sequence that begins Kala Ghoda Poems (2004), a volume of thematic connected poetry. Here a mangy street dog rests on a traffic island thinking of its ances‐ tors and circumstances while Bombay sleeps. There is the quiet hu‐ mor, physical realism, colloquial speech, subtle contrasts of register and linguistic invention, and unobtrusive harmonies typical of Kolat‐ kar’s verse. It all seems so relaxed, the kind of seeming free verse to which prose aspired, yet behind the first five stanzas is familiarity with a great range of the world’s poetry, the kind of distant echoes, allusions, and structures that would make a scholar’s paradise. I find myself murmuring Horace, John Dryden, Thomas Gray, T.S. Eliot, W.C. Williams, knowing that any source or influence could be right or wrong as this is written by a poet who has absorbed such sources and influences to make them his own. The poem rapidly moves by way of whimsy to the history and mixed culture of the city. The dog claims his body looks like ‘a seventeenth‐century map of Bombay’ with its seven islands and black irregular spots ‘on a body the color of old parch‐ ment’. According to ‘a strong family tradition’ he is a descendent, ‘mat‐ rilineally / to the only bitch’ among thirty hounds which survived the sea voyage from England, imported By Sir Bartle Frere in eighteen hundred and sixty‐four with the crazy idea of introducing fox‐hunting to Bombay. Just the sort of thing, he felt the city badly needed.

486 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Kolatkar is a master of the incongruous and the absurd. Sir Bartle Frere actually existed. He was a British colonial administrator and fa‐ mous in his time; there are mountain peaks, fruits, and other memori‐ als in former British colonies. It is typical of Kolatkar to focus on the importation of hunting hounds to show both the British influence on Indian culture and some of its inappropriateness. The classical, Sanskritic, Hindu tradition was little better. On his paternal side, the pi‐dog claims descent from the dog in Mahabha‐ rata who remains with Yudhishthira long after such warriors as Draupadi, Sahadeva, Nakul, Arjuna, and Bhima ‘had fallen by the way‐ side’. The epic roll call contrasts with the physical description of the journey into the Himalayas (‘frostbitten and blinded with snow. / dizzy with hunger and gasping for air’) which itself jostles with the conclusion in which the epic ‘flying chariot’ appears in the same con‐ text as the colloquial ‘airlift’, ‘get on board’, and ‘made it to’: …help came in the shape of a flying chariot to airlift him to heaven. Yudhishthira, the noble prince, refused to get on board unless dogs were allowed. And my ancestor became the only dog to have made it to heaven in recorded history. In still another version of ‘man’s devotion to dog’, Harlan El‐ lison’s 1969 science fiction short story, ‘A Boy and his Dog’, which is described as ‘a cultbook among pi‐dogs everywhere’, the boy sacri‐ fices his love, and serves up his girlfriend as dogfood to save the life of his starving canine master.

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 487 The range of literary allusions continues with an explanation of the pi‐ dog’s name, ‘Ugh’, which is supposed to come from Sanskirt, ‘the U pronounced as in Upanishad’; Ugh is ‘short for Ughekalikadu, / Sid‐ dharayya’s / famous dog’. Such literary allusions are supposedly part of the dog’s thoughts as he meditates in the morning sun surrounded by the concrete highrises of Bombay knowing that soon the city will awake and he will ‘surrender the city / to its so called masters’. The choice of science fiction is not just for its story. Kolatkar suggests that the Sanskritic literature of ancient India, the literature which is allegorized, spiritualized, treated as moral and historical truth, and used as a foundation for Hindu nationalism, really is little different from present‐day science fiction, a collection of amusing, of‐ ten sophisticated invented tales, meant to entertain, amuse, shock, a world of fantasy. In doing so he is making a cultural statement that is also political; his is a poetry of reality, of pi‐dogs, of saying the world is as it is, a place of colloquial language and the present, in contrast to the idealization of the past, its literature, and ancient Indian lan‐ guages, symbols of both official Indian cultural nationalism and of the Hindu revivalist movement with its radical, often fanatic, politics. Ko‐ latkar is often thought an aesthete, someone detached from notions of literature as engagement, but throughout his career as a poet he was creating a body of work that in its unique way is a tribute to the skep‐ tical here and now as opposed to the dogmatic, idealizing and ideolog‐ ical. The long thirty‐one part ‘Breakfast Time at Kala Ghoda’, at the centre of the volume, mostly observes for an hour the various people, objects and actions around Flora Fountain in Bombay. Throughout the city people are eating but here the main attraction is an old lady sell‐ ing from ‘a jumbo aluminum box full of idlis’ with ‘a bucket full of sam‐ bar/ fit for fire‐eaters’. She is ‘Our Lady of Idlis’ and sits in on one of the many concrete blocks surround the traffic island, where the pi‐dog slept and meditated, around Flora Fountain. This is another version of or symbol of Bombay:



488 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Each and every hungry and homeless soul within a mile of the little island is soon gravitating towards it

to receive the sacrament of idli, to anoint palates with sambar

to celebrate anew, every morning, the seduction and death of the demon of hunger

(threatening the entire world) at the hands of Gauri in the form of a humble idli.

They come from all over; walking, running, dancing, limping, stumbling, rolling each at his own speed. Besides the many characters described (‘the laughing Bud‐ dha’, ‘the old pirate’, ‘the shoeshine boy’, ‘the old paralytic in a wheel‐ chair/made by cannibalizing two bicycles’, ‘the legless hunchback’, a ‘scruffy looking stranger’) there are also crows, dogs, and other spe‐ cies who join in the communal feast of idlis until the seller departs and the street drama, this urban, part‐comic, part‐realistic version of ro‐ mance, ends and all we are left with is an awareness of how art and imagination invest the ordinary with interest. The pop‐up cafeteria disappears like a castle in a children’s book

along with the king and the queen, the courtiers, the court jester and the banqueting hall,

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 489 the roast pheasants and the suckling pigs, as soon as the witch shuts the book on herself― and the island returns to its flat old boring self. Arun Kolatkar was born in Kolapur, Maharashtra, to Hindu, Marathi‐speaking parents. He was educated bilingually in Marathi and English, took a diploma in art in Bombay, and was one of India’s best‐ paid graphic designers. He pointedly had no portfolio and claimed that those who did not know his work could not afford him. He designed the cover and layout of his books, which are a treat, simple yet eye‐ catching works of visual art. When he wanted special effects he would write his poems in affective shapes. He was both an English and a Ma‐ rathi‐language poet, publishing in both languages, and is better known for his Marathi work. He was also something of an eccentric. He had once been a heavy drinker and as a consequence lost his first wife; he lived in a tiny apartment with his second wife, a place so small it was necessary to eat outside to sit at a table. The apartment was, however, filled with books, especially volumes of poetry from around the world. Kolatkar had no telephone: it was necessary to leave messages with an upstairs neighbor. If you wanted to see him he could always be found two days a week at Bombay’s Wayside Inn, a café near Flora Fountain, seem‐ ingly left over from the late colonial past. It served fish and chips, fried eggs and bacon, and tea, and Kolatkar always had a table reserved for lunch with a group of Marathi‐speaking friends, writers and intellec‐ tuals. He was at least as much immersed in Marathi as English and world culture. He spent a decade taping and trying to translate into English the world of a popular Marathi entertainer and storyteller. Nothing came of the project as Kolatkar with his sensitivity to language could not find an English literary genre suitable for his purpose.

490 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE Kolatkar’s poetry continued a Marathi modernist tradition best known for B.S. Mardheker (1909‐56), who had fused Surrealism, the Imagists, Eliot and and what is called Indian medieval or Saints’ poetry. (Saints’ poetry directly addresses the divine in a colloquial, of‐ ten erotic, language with similar kinds of paradox and wit to those found in European religious and metaphysical poetry. Such poetry, in India, was written for many centuries in regional languages by men and women long after and in contrast to the Sanskritic classics.) It is a lively regional modernism that has produced several good bilingual poets, including Kolatkar’s friend Dilip Chitre. Kolatkar early explored the possibilities of the highly imagistic and its opposite, the anti‐po‐ etic. His best‐known early poem is ‘Three Cups of Tea’, supposedly originally written in Bombay‐Hindi and translated into an amusing American tough guy realism that sounds like something written in the 1930s or 40s: i want my pay I said to the manager you’ll get paid said the manager but not before the first don’t you know the rules? While ‘Three Cups of Tea’ has attracted much attention in India be‐ cause it was in a very local form of Hindi before being translated by the author into a particular kind of American realism, I think it really shows Kolatkar’s love of parody, tone, postures, and language; this is a poet with a sense of humor and a delight in pastiche. Kolatkar’s ‘the boat ride’ tells of a tourist trip around Bombay harbor, as both incredibly dull and yet surreal, as the bored eye and imagination invests uninteresting material with the amazing.



VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 491 because a sailor waved back to a boy another boy waves to another sailor in the clarity of air the gesture withers for want of correspondence and the had that returns to him the hand his knee accepts as his own is the hand of an aged person a hand that must remain patient and give the boy it’s a part of time to catch up. A similar purposeful flatness, mixed with occasional free‐as‐ sociations and sudden intrusions of the author, can be found in Jejuri (which was awarded the Commonwealth Poetry prize), which re‐ counts a day trip to a famous ruined temple complex near Pune. The tone of the sequence of poems is argued over by Indian critics, proba‐ bly because there are many possible attitudes, as seen in ‘The Door‐ step’: That’s no doorstep. It’s a pillar on its side. Yes. That’s what it is The speaker has an eye for realistic detail and mentions seeing under‐ pants drying on a temple door, a calf in what might be a temple or cowshed,

492 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE what is god and what is stone the dividing line if it exists is very thin a Jejuri … there is no crop other than god and god is harvested here around the year. When an old woman wants to be paid for taking the tourist to a shrine, she says ‘What else can an old woman do / on hills as wretched as these?’ Jejuri offers more than a skeptical, bored, tourist’s perspec‐ tive. Three of the poems allude to Chaitanya, a Bengali saint who tried to reform Jejuri. he popped a stone in his mouth and spat out the gods. After Chaitanya left, the holy place returned to cow‐like mindless faith, ‘the herd of legends / returned to its grazing’. Contrasted to the lack of dynamism in the shrines, there is the life the poet sees around him in butterflies and in chickens dancing. (This is also visually a great poem. Kolatkar, a graphic designer, was an excellent ‘concrete’ poet.) When the poet tries to leave, he is faced by all the inefficiencies of In‐ dia. The train station indicator and clock do not work, no one answers his questions, there is no way of telling when the next train will come.



VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 493 ‘Jejuri’ is less a poem about loss of faith, than, indirectly, about a na‐ tional loss of the kinds of dynamism that produced the saints and their shrines, an energy found in nature (which some Hindus would claim is the actual source of religion.) As much as Kolatkar was interested in life’s dynamism, a characteristic he found in the streets of Bombay as well as in nature, he also carried on a running battle with the ways that India’s classical Sanskritic culture had been ossified by Brahmins and scholars or used as a basis for social injustice, Hindu extremism, and for an unintelligi‐ ble poetic diction that was meaningless to most people and resulted in bad art. Sarpa Satra, one of the two final volumes he published knowing he would soon die, retells from an alternative perspective the snake sacrifice performed by King Janamejaya in the Mahabharata (Book VI, 90, 1‐27). You should read it as it is great, a wild precursor of both Star Wars’ futuristic space battles and Uccello’s stylishly pat‐ terned manneristic scenes of warfare. The sacrifice is intended to an‐ nihilate the Nagas, or Snake People, and, like much of the Mahabha‐ rata, uses war between various groups to teach a spiritual message. Such wars and stories are usually allegorized as alluding to actual his‐ torical battles. Unfortunately, most translations of the Mahabharata are barely readable. Sarpa Satra modernizes and makes colloquial the of‐ ten incomprehensible language common to translations of Sanskrit into English: And I think it’s your job, Aastika. I mean who else is there to do it? Kolatkar’s version is also a story about ending revenge; revenge breeds further hatred, more battle, and continued death:



494 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE You belong to the human race. Don’t forget that, ever. And that’s the reason why you’ll have to stop this sacrifice. Not for Vasuki Mama’s sake, or mine. Not for anything else ‐ but to make sure that the last vestige of humanity you are heir to, your patrimony, yes, does not go up in smoke in this yajnya. Kolatkar does not need to make explicit the application of this story to contemporary India with its intense religious, caste and other com‐ munal conflicts. In modernizing the language and tones of the Maha‐ bharata he is also offering a liberal or common sense revisioning of what in India has become a text used to justify the violence of reac‐ tionary Hinduism. It is like putting the Bible into contemporary speech and retelling it to give emphasis to its message of Love. If Indian poets in English are less well known abroad than the novelists it is probably because their concerns are personal, local and yet universal; they do not write, at least not directly, about the nation‐ alist and postcolonial political and cultural themes that the West pat‐ ronizingly expects, even demands, from the formerly colonized. Sev‐ eral of the earlier novelists whose texts are sometimes used in univer‐ sity courses to illustrate the meeting of cultures, social injustice, or cultural assertion, are dull and obvious. It would be difficult to treat Ezekiel, Moraes, or Kolatkar, as exotics who need to be protected by cultural relativism, babble about different national poetics, or other

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 495 apologies for the second‐rate. Their work stands on its own as litera‐ ture, while contributing to and helping to shape the many strands and different views that comprise Indian culture. Although the best Indian poets can be read in terms of postcolonial critical theories, they are too good and too interesting for such a limited approach.





Chapter 39 A Personal Moon: Adil Jussawalla Maps for a Mortal Moon: Essays and Entertainments, Selected Prose by Adil Jussawalla, edited & Introduced by Jerry Pinto, 2014. Brought together by Jerry Pinto from decades of Jusswalla’s talks, book prefaces, and journalism these selections have an unex‐ pected consistency. Although the tone varies, often within a single piece, from differentially polite to accusatory, from apologetic mum‐ blings to the argumentative, there is a vision in which comedy and tragedy are often opposite sides of humanity’s self‐deceptions and in‐ ability to live by ideals. Even when amusing the author is conscious of guilt, man’s fallen state, the corruptions of hope and desire. If Jussawalla has not received the recognition he deserves it is as much because of his own failures as the faults of others. Significantly these “essays and entertainments” have been edited and introduced by someone else. As Jussawalla has recently brought out two volumes of poetry, Trying to Say Goodbye (2011) and The Right Kind of Dog (2013), he either is unwilling to examine his past or wrongly devalues his decades of journalism and other prose writings. His “Being There: Aspects of an Indian Crisis”, a brilliant but confused talk, reveals conflicting impulses. Lamenting alienation from the poor he retells a story he read in U.R. Ananthamurthy “The Search for Identity: A Kannada Writer’s Viewpoint”. A friend of Anan‐ thamurthy came across a hut decorated with a ritually painted stone that was taken outside the hut to be photographed. The peasant said it made no difference that the stone had been polluted as he could paint and anoint another. The visitor, Ananthamurthy, and Jussawalla see this as expressing the unity of the man’s inner and outer world, a model for living within a native language, culture, religion, something to be desired. The Jussawalla of this part of the lecture is an aspiring cultural nationalist, someone who feels that the writer should be an

497

498 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE agent for social change, destroy colonialism and help the impover‐ ished and disempowered. This is the Jussawalla who felt misplaced when he returned to India from England and who wrote the now clas‐ sic Missing Person (1976) sequence of poems. The focus, however, suddenly shifts to praising “the poems of Dilip Chitre, Keki Daruwalla, Kamala Das, Nissim Ezekiel, Jayanta Ma‐ haptra, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and Gieve Patel, which deal with his‐ torical events like the Bangladesh War, the Emergency or the Bhopal disaster, or deal with local and family history.” [265] Which is non‐ sense. There may be poems by English language writers of this period bearing witness to historical events, but none come immediately to mind; the power of these poets is their concentration on the personal, their desire to be free from the politics of public and cultural gestures, their ability to remain independent from social demands. They were not conflicted by modernity, they were it. His self‐conscious humor―(admitting despite desiring to be like a peasant he has lown to Singapore)―reveals con licts that ani‐ mate Jussawalla’s writings and life. There is the Jussawalla who in au‐ tobiographical and biographical articles grew up in a complicated Parsi family that once had been wealthy, but which struggled to sur‐ vive financially. There was a lack of love between his mother and fa‐ ther; they temporarily separated, she had admirers within the Tagore circle and it is likely that her family prevented marriage to a non‐Parsi. Jussawalla was unable to provide his mother the affection she needed; the young man in these novelistic memoirs was a shy outsider primar‐ ily concerned with literature. This translated into feeling unwelcome while living and teaching in England. Jussawalla returns to India―the poet of Land’s End (1962)―feeling guilty for not being that unques‐ tioning peasant with whom he desires a sense of community although that is a foolish illusion. He is aware of his absurdities; Maps for a Mortal Moon con‐ tains amusing examples of attempted social and intellectual slum‐ ming. “Conversation with an Invisible Man” (1972) tells of trying to make contact with workers, the “they who live in huts around the tall buildings of Cuffe Parade where his French wife and he live on the

VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 499 eighteenth floor.” Why he asks are the workers so patient, accepting their condition? He invites himself into a hut and is shocked by the lack of revolutionary organization or even open resentment. The poor are afraid of losing their jobs and know that there are others hoping to replace them. When Jussawalla questions what he can do, they ask for what he considers charity. He leaves unable to “remember their faces.” Jussawalla presents himself as an intellectual with no under‐ standing of the distance between his desire for social justice and the realities by which others survive. His attempt to make the “invisible” visible is doomed by his own assumptions. He cannot be that peasant, that impoverished worker: wanting political solutions he scorns char‐ ity. The interview is indirectly about his own lack of comprehension, his failures to see others as they really are. The interview is subtle comedy. Jussawalla claims a relationship between feelings of guilt and decades of losing himself in drink. “When The Earth Rose Up To Get Me” begins as a story about unexpectedly being attacked by a cow but turns into “having gone from bar to bar through the entrails of Colaba, having decided that was one way to escape the burden and boredom of responsibility.” (308) Drunk, he eats, vomits, falls, splits his lip, and is helped home by a waiter. “The earth, under your feet, under the pavement, has its claims and demands. It claims attention, it demands you be hurt and hurt again, if only to acknowledge how much you’ve been responsible for hurting others. If you ignore these claims and demands for too long a time, if your life’s just dreaming without responsibility, you may not stumble, may not fall, but be sure the earth will rise up and get you.” (307‐8) The associations of the story and imagery are more about life, death, failure, social injustice and, environmentalism, than the ex‐



500 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE cuses of a drunk. The prose rhythms with their regular but varied ca‐ dences, the recurring phrases, the harmonies of sound, is prose writ‐ ten by a poet―not poetical prose, but prose narrative with the imagi‐ native, symbolic, emotional and formal qualities of poetry. Talking about the limitations of humanism, of how supposed acts of kindness are often tinged with cruelty or have ugly results, he remarks “Most of us are not good enough to be good humanists, our morals are too good for us. Or we fail to realize the nature of what seems to be ineradica‐ ble―the evil in us.” (150) The pretences and failures of human nature can be seen in discussions of culture. He is conscious that lamenting the lack of a reading public for serious writing, especially for poetry, conflicts with social and economic equality. About mass culture: “It is easy to point to its debased elements and say that’s all there is to it. Much more dif‐ ficult is the task of reconciling our belief in the freedom of choice with our objection to what most people decide to choose.” (233) The free‐ dom struggle hampered the development of modern arts, which were regarded as colonial, but the continuation of linguistic and cultural na‐ tionalism became mental retardation, reactionary traditionalism. Although his reputation is as a poet and editor, he for decades wrote journalism characterized by well‐mannered ironic sophistica‐ tion; he wrote with a seemingly apologetic, differential persona while mocking himself and others. “Portrait of a Lady” is a character‐sketch of a reporter inverviewing a widow about her housing problems; she, however, is more concerned about a male acquaintance using her flat as a place for assignations with younger, more attractive girl friends. She claims that the “pig” hopes to get her apartment after her death; he asked Debonair to interview her concerning housing because she is about to become a feminist cause as an example of how women with‐ out means are mistreated by men. While listening to her litany of com‐ plaints the reporter becomes aware that the cake and drink she pre‐ pared for the “pig”―which the interviewer shared―are poisoned. If he will not describe her in his article as a “lady” she will not tell him of the antidote for the poison.



VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 501 “All right, promise to tell my story and I will tell you the name. Now promise me one more thing. Have respect for me when you write. Treat me like a lady. You swear? Swear on God. Fine. Now Sit down and wait. I will tell you the name of the poison.” Many of these republications recall such writers as Nissim Ezekiel, A.K. Ramanujan, Vilas Sarang, Daya Pawar, Arun Kolatkar and friends who created a modern urban culture at a time when national‐ ists seemed doomed to worrying such topics as imperialism, cultural conflict, spirituality, and authenticity. As editors, translators and in their own bilingual writings they were also a bridge between English and other Indian literatures. Maps for a Mortal Moon is welcome for its excellent writing, and as a reminder of Jussawalla’s place in the lit‐ erary scene.





Chapter 40 To Be Or Not To Be Diasporic In a globalized world of easy transportation and communica‐ tion and nations without high barriers to employment by foreigners, there should no longer be diasporas in the sense of those who look back with nostalgia on a place of origin. Such internationalism is an ideal, perhaps even a dream, but much of the world is moving in that direction. The underlying causes of social and culture change are usu‐ ally science, technology and economics. Politics and ideology may sup‐ port or more often attempt to retard change, but politics is superstruc‐ tural and has to do with persuasion, law, and control, whereas history is made by science and technology that eventually change societies and culture. Just as superior transportation, organization, and weap‐ ons led to colonization, so superior transportation, organization, and communications are leading to a global economy. In such a world we should become part of one liberal society. One person’s liberation, however, is another’s recolonization: social change causes pain and often the technology of moderniza‐ tion―the cassette, the video camera, the Internet, the mobile tele‐ phone, jet travel, foreign workers, lowered border controls―is used in creating opposition to further change. The more those on the fringes of the new culture are affected by it, the more likely they are to be frightened and fight for an idealized, imaginary version of their past. A Janus‐like looking forward and back is often true for writers because of the ambivalent relation of artists to the societies in which they live and because memories are material for creation. The writer, especially the prose writer, often draws on the past. For the writer even more than other people, childhood or youth may be the forma‐ tive time of one’s life and is the theme of many autobiographical and semi‐fictional works.1 1

See Richard Coe’s wide ranging study When the Grass Was Taller: Autobi‐ ography and the Experience of Childhood.

503

504 FROM NEW NATIONAL TO WORLD LITERATURE A writer often transforms bits and pieces of memory into a complete neo‐historical narrative and this links much recent litera‐ ture to nationalism and independence movemens. Raja Rao’s Kantha‐ pura (1938) was influenced by the Indian nationalist movement, while Ahmed Ali’s novels of Muslim India, Twilight in Delhi (1940) and Ocean of Night (1964), are the cultural side of the politics that led to the formation of Pakistan.2 Both the writer and nationalist politician seek a usable past; the former for material around which to make a story, the latter to inspire others to political action. At times the two may be intertwined. Common to writers and politicians may be the reinterpretation of history to avenge past wounds. The modern artist often feels oppositional or an outcast; even if there are no social and economic reasons for such alienation there is something basic about creating―the isolation, the need for fancy―which makes artists feel rejected. If the businessman relocates abroad, and workers migrate seeking a better life, the artist goes into exile. Exile is, however, a misleading term for expatriation in that liv‐ ing abroad is usually a choice rather than forced by oppressive gov‐ ernments. The writer may relocate for adventure, to secure employ‐ ment, better publishing opportunities, education, or to become part of an influential, respected circle of other writers. Writers feel that they are unrecognized until published in New York or London, even if their subject matter is home, whether home is the Caribbean or India. This conflict between globalization and identifying with the past drives the work of many writers. For those who leave home the experience of change differs, and the emotional consequences can de‐ pend on as much on age and luck as on success. This is a universal story of which W.H. Auden was its laureate, with his many poems and sequences of sonnets about wanderers, questing epic heroes, and those who leave home. Diaspora, like most words, has its own complications and meanings. In an earlier issue I discussed how Tabish Khair, a writer and scholar who teaches at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, 2

Ahmed Ali, Twilight in Delhi; Ocean of Night.



VII. INDIAN LITERATURE 505 treats mobility within India as a form of diaspora.3 Khair’s poetry has focused purposefully on provincial India where English is often stilted and clichéd as it is seldom used in conversation, unlike among the ur‐ ban elite. Khair’s Babu Fictions (2001) discusses the distance between diasporic India writers and the language and concerns of those among whom he was raised and has lived.4 His focus on differences within India can be seen in the idea and structure of The Bus Stopped (2004), a multivocal community novel.5 The book’s many scenes depict the lives of those riding on the bus or are somehow associated with it. Some stories develop over the course of the novel, others are told in only one scene. The variety shows that reality does not consist of neatly structured beginnings and conclusions within fixed periods. It happens and changes. Reality is unpredictable and ironic, as when a castrated transvestite raised in a Muslim culture finds his home has collapsed, and, by pretending to be a real female, is befriended on the bus by a wealthy Hindu nation‐ alist woman whose son he will eventually marry. Like that of the ben‐ efactor, his is an ironic story of changing homes, of social changes in‐ dicated in dress, voice, and especially nuances of language. Khair shows how diasporas are not only in lands overseas but also within nations. Significantly the 69 scenes of life on or viewed f