Academic journal article ARIEL

Playing Home: The Boy in the Mirror as Sportswriter

Academic journal article ARIEL

Playing Home: The Boy in the Mirror as Sportswriter

Article excerpt

Abstract: Surprisingly few accounts have directly focused on the impact of sport on Caryl Phillips' work or even his own writings on the meanings of sport. In this essay I seek to rectify this imbalance. I examine Phillips' significant contributions to understanding sport, particularly his screenplay Playing Away and his essays on football, and trace the importance of sport to his own sense of belonging. I argue that, despite the neglect of his sports-writing by most critics, such excursions onto the playing fields are far from marginal to his intellectual and literary formation. I suggest that reclaiming Phillips as a "sportswriter" reveals how sport is central to his understandings of (national) belonging, (racial and class) identification, and (social) rejection and provides a useful analytical lens through which to better understand his reflections on diaspora and "home." In this regard, I draw out comparisons between Phillips and that other great Caribbean "man of letters," C. L. R. James for whom sport, and in particular cricket, provided a window onto the world. I conclude by arguing that Phillips be understood as a critical sportswriter who increases our understanding of the cultural politics of play and sport and thus expands and exceeds the genre of sports-writing.

Keywords: Caryl Phillips, sport, racism, sportswriter, belonging, home


The question. The problem question for those of us who have grown up in societies which define themselves by excluding others. Usually us. A coded question. Are you one of us? Are you one of ours? Where are you from? Where are you really from? And now, here on a plane flying to Africa, the same clumsy question. Does he mean, who am I? Does he mean, do I belong? Why does this man not understand the complexity of his question? I make the familiar flustered attempt to answer the question. He listens, and then spoils it all. 'So, my friend, you are going home to Africa. To Ghana.' I say nothing. No, I am not going home.

Caryl Phillips, The Atlantic Sound 98 (emphasis added)

It follows that the term 'post-colonial' is not merely descriptive of 'this' society rather than 'that', or of 'then' and 'now'. It rereads 'colonisation' as part of an essentially transnational and transcultural 'global' process--and it produces a decentred, diasporic or 'global' rewriting of earlier, nation-centred imperial grand narratives. Its theoretical value therefore lies precisely in its refusal of this 'here' and 'there', 'then' and 'now', 'home' and 'abroad' perspective.

Stuart Hall, "When Was the 'Post-colonial'? Thinking at the Limit" 247

So the West, however violently and neurotically it seeks to preserve its powers and position, its centrality, is paradoxically destined to be deluded by its apparent global presence. In travelling elsewhere its languages return in other forms, following other rhythms, bearing other desires. They cannot go home again. They are home.

Iain Chambers, Signs of Silence, Lines of Listening 57

I. Introduction

In November 2011, Caryl Phillips was interviewed by journalist Razia Iqbal for the BBC World News television program Talking Books. Speaking of his experiences growing up in Leeds and his deep attachment to the city, Phillips remarked:

I grew up in a town where one was aware of the fact you were different, that was obvious, you dealt with being called names at school. But I had a real sense of unity and bonding with that city which survives to this day. It was largely cultivated around a real passion for Leeds United and a sense that no matter what else was going wrong in your life there were forty-five thousand of you in that stadium and we always won and that was who we were. So I was able to overlook a lot of the difficulties that were to do with race. (Phillips, "Class Prejudice")

Much has been written on the significant periods that shaped Phillips' work, such as his migration to Britain in the late 1950s, his upbringing in a working-class area of Leeds and subsequent education at Oxford University, and his move to the United States. …

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