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The novel has had a peculiar function in the Caribbean. The writer’s preoccupation  has been mainly with the poor; and fiction has served as a way of restoring these lives - this world as men and women from down below - to a proper order of attention: to make their reality the su­preme concern of the total society. But along with this desire, there was also the writer’s recognition that this world, in spite of its long history of deprivation, represented the womb from which he himself had sprung, and the richest col­lective reservoir of experience on which the creative imagination could draw.


This world of men and women from down below is not simply poor. This world is black, and it has a long history at once vital and complex. It is vital because it constitutes the base of labor on which the entire Caribbean Society has rested; and it is complex because Plantation Slave Society (the point at which the modern Caribbean began) conspired to smash its ancestral African culture, and to bring about a total alienation of man from the source of labor, from man, the human person.


The result was a fractured conscious­ness, a deep split in the sensibility which now raises difficult problems of language and values; the whole issue of cultural allegiance between the imposed norms of White Power, represented by a small nu­merical minority, and the fragmented memory of the African masses between White instruction and Black imagina­tion. The totalitarian demands of White supremacy, in a British colony, the psy­chological injury inflicted by the sacred rule that all forms of social status would be determined by the degrees of skin complexion; the ambiguities among Blacks themselves about the credibility of their own spiritual history.


All this would have to be incorporated into any imaginative record of the total society. Could the outlines of a national consciousness be charted and affirmed out of all this disparateness? And if that consciousness could be affirmed, what were its true ancestral roots, its most authentic cultural base?


The numerical superiority of the black mass could forge a political authority of their own making, and provide an alter­native direction for the society. This was certainly possible. But this possibility was also the measure of its temporary failures.


I was among those writers who took flight from the failure. In the desolate, frozen heart of London, at the age of 23, I tried to reconstruct the world of my childhood and early adolescence. It was also the world of a whole Caribbean reality.

Migration was not a word I would have used to describe what I was doing when I sailed with other West Indians to England in 1950. We simply thought that we were going to an England which had been planted in our childhood consciousness as a heritage and a place of welcome. It is the measure of our innocence that neither the claim of heritage nor the expectation of welcome would have been seriously doubted. England was not for us a country with classes and conflicts of interest like the islands we had left. It was the name of a responsibility whose origin may have coincided with the beginning of time.

Today I shudder to think how a coun­try, so foreign to our own instincts, could have achieved the miracle of being called Mother. It had made us pupils to its language and its institutions; baptized us in the same religion; schooled boys in the same game of cricket with its elaborate and meticulous etiquette of rivalry. Em­pire was not a very dirty word, and seemed to bear little relation to those forms of domination we now call imperialist.


The English themselves were not aware of the role they had played in the forma­tion of these black strangers. The ruling class were serenely confident that any role of theirs must have been an act of supreme generosity. Like Prospero, they had given us language and a way of naming our own reality. The English working class were not aware they had played any role at all and deeply resented our arrival. It had come about without any warning. No one had consulted them. Occasionally I was asked: “Do you belong to us or to the French?” I had been dissolved in the common view of worker and aristocrat. English workers could also see themselves as architects of Empire. 


(Excerpt from, “Conversations -George Lamming. Essays, Addresses and Inter­views 1953 - 1990, Karia Press, U.K. 1992)


 Reproduced with the permission of the Caricom Secretariat from Caricom Perspective, January – June, 1993






THE NOVEL AND CULTURAL ALLEGIANCE


(Excerpt from, “Conversations -George Lamming. Essays,Addresses and Inter­views 1953 - 1990, Karia Press, U.K. 1992) 

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