Writing in Limbo: Modernism and Caribbean Literature

By Simon Gikandi | Go to book overview

2 From Exile to Nationalism: The Early Novels of George Lamming

Writing cannot forget the misfortune from which its neces-
sity springs; nor can it count on tacit, rich, and fostering
"evidences" that can provide for an "agrarian" speaker his
intimacy with a mother tongue. Writing begins with an
exodus.

-- Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History

Caribbean festival arts still revolve around the aesthetic of
assemblage. The makers of festival arts attach items both
fabricated and found in the urban environment, and natural
vegetation and animal materials, to superstructure in layers,
resulting in a plethora of textures, colors, and collage-like
forms.

-- Judith Bettelheim et al., "Caribbean Festival Arts"

What I have identified as the essential feature of Caribbean modernism--the reversion of exile from a sense of loss into the necessity from which national consciousness springs--is limpidly presented in George Lamming 1983 introduction to his first novel, In the Castle of My Skin, a work published soon after his arrival in England in 1953. In this introduction, which can be read as a commentary on the conditions in which Caribbean literature was produced in the 1950s, Lamming makes a basic linkage between exile (as the misfortune of the colonized writer) and the narrative of national liberation which arises to counter loss and displacement. Instead of tracing the origins of

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