Travel Discourse in Caryl Phillips' "The Final Passage" and "A State of Independence"

By Goddard, Horace I. | Kola, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Travel Discourse in Caryl Phillips' "The Final Passage" and "A State of Independence"


Goddard, Horace I., Kola


Travel discourse in Anglophone West Indian postcolonial writing has its origin in British imperial literary traditions. The displacement of Blacks from Africa and their implantation in the Caribbean and Americas have left them in an ontological state of rootlessness and in a constant search for a place called 'home.' As a West Indian immigrant in Canada, I have an interest in how contemporary West Indian writers negotiate 'home' within the framework of race, space and time. Congruently, the exploration of the metaphorical immanence of travel as it relates to the marginalization of the individual, to conditions of connectedness or disconnectedness and rootedness within given geographical boundaries, requires a discourse that examines the psychological manifestations of the immigrant. In essence, travel ultimately deals with displacement, orientation, disorientation and re-orientation. Within these limits, there is the sense of loss which the traveller must deal. Alison Blunt posits that "travel attempts to mediate loss" and "involves the familiarization of the unfamiliar at the same time as the defamiliarization of the familiar domestic" (Blunt, 1994: p, 17).

Caryl Phillips was born in the small West Indian Island of St. Kitts. As a baby he travelled to England with his parents. This initial uprooting and re-adaptation to new space and later his studies at Oxford University, may be considered as the basis for his exploration of the journey in its many thematic strands in his novels. As a writer and as a lecturer in America, Phillips is constantly crisscrossing the Atlantic. His travels through America and Europe along with his training as a historian provide a framework within which he can discuss the historical, psychological and socioeconomic impact of travel on the inner cluster of selves in his characters. Phillips also uses the voyage as a means of re-ordering and interrogating imperial constructs such as 'mother country,' 'home' colonialism and neo-colonialism. This essay seeks to explore the complexities of travel within two of Caryl Phillips' novels, The Final Passage and A State of Independence relating travel to metaphor within postcolonial discourse. The terms voyage, travel and journey will be used interchangeably within this discourse which will focus first on the Final Passage and discuss how travel is used as a fictional convention. In presenting A State of Independence emphasis will be placed on the notion of home and space as they relate to Bertram's dilemma in England and his native country. Throughout the discussion reference will be made to Phillips' preoccupation with gender relationships in the two texts.

The voyage/journey/travel in Black West Indian writing has significant textual and contextual meaning and is linked to several dimensions within a discourse on travelling. The journey is physical, spiritual metaphorical and existential. It correlates contextually with the historical uprooting of the Black man from Africa. The transportation of Blacks

from Africa was an imperial act that traumatized them in the New World. For the White man, the perception of creating a new 'home' in a 'civilized' environment was essential to saving the soul of the 'noble savage.' The other historical dimension, however, was the tremendous misery, suffering and affliction visited upon those who were forced to work on the sugar and cotton plantations in the Americas and the West Indies. The resultant effect of this forced migration is the temporization of space for blacks in the Diaspora. The colonialists' and imperialists' practices of uprooting and resettlement gave rise paradoxically to what Blunt calls disorientation. It is not surprising therefore that writing which emerges from this fracture and dislocation addresses the nature of home. Homi Bhabba wrote about the 'unhomely' displacement of the modern world and discusses postcolonial attempts to position the world in the home and home in the world (Blunt: p, 18). …

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Travel Discourse in Caryl Phillips' "The Final Passage" and "A State of Independence"
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