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Documents of West Indian History: Telling a West Indian Story Author(s): Sandra Pouchet Paquet Reviewed work(s): Source:

Callaloo, Vol. 20, No. 4, Eric Williams and the Postcolonial Caribbean: A Special Issue (Autumn, 1997), pp. 764-776 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3299406 . Accessed: 21/09/2012 14:34
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by SandraPouchetPaquet

Documents of West Indian History (1963) is one of the more fascinating texts of the postcolonial Caribbean, especially if it is read as a precursorial text that anticipates distinctive features of recent historical fiction from the Caribbean. I have in mind George Lamming's Natives of My Person (1972), Antonio Benitez-Rojo's Sea of Lentils (1989), and V.S. Naipaul's A Way in the World(1992). If we take our cue from Kwame Anthony Appiah, these second-wave novels are not only postcolonial; they are postrealist and postnationalist as well.' Not only do they reject the legitimating narratives of imperial history, they also reject the neocolonialist nationalist project. This is not to deny the ability of these texts to function as signifiers of national identity, but the texts themselves reflect a transnational affiliation rather than a national solidarity. They tell a "West Indian" story. These texts are all deeply implicated in the postcolonial process of challenging any particular claim imperial history might have to unity, truth, and justice beyond the rationalizations of personal and national ambitions. They are multi-voiced, nonlinear, and dialogic in design and engage directly with documents of metropolitan history that illuminate West Indian "beginnings." In these respects, Documentsof West Indian History might be characterized as a prototype of recent historical fiction from the region. In its design, it could hardly be more different to the hierarchizing and exclusive strategies of Capitalismand Slavery (1944), for example. It is uncentered and dialogic, and makes no attempt to reconcile the contradictory ideologies that emerge from a plurality of voices. The systematization offered through the table of contents, chapter headings and subheadings, and the index, is inadequate to the range of experience evidenced in the selection of documents, letters, reports, journals, diaries, etc. This is historical discourse that unmasks the limitations of historical discourse as a unified, coherent, monologic fable. It is designed to reveal the impossibility of such a task, and demonstrates the many different angles of vision that vie for consideration, the manipulation of data that determines the product, the process of selection and exclusion that makes every statement a partial truth.2 Documents of West Indian History, in the manner of recent historical fiction by Lamming, Benitez-Rojo, and Naipaul, challenges the legitimating narratives of colonial history and the discourse of history. One might argue as Benitez-Rojo does for Fernando Ortiz's Cuban Counterpoint:Tobaccoand Sugar (1947), that, as a text, Documents of WestIndianHistory "does not seek its legitimation within the discourse of the social sciences, but rather within those of literature, of fiction."3 The literary project
Callaloo20.4 (1998) 764-776


is quite distinct. It is a collage of documents selected from those used in the author's personal research: " . . . the documents are divided up according to subject matter into distinct chapters. Each document, in addition, has been given a title which, it is hoped, will assist in the telling of the West Indian story-in pointing a moral as well as adorning the tale."4 Like the novelist, this historian stages events, weaving them together as "the West Indian story," and his point of departure is distinctly transnational in its scope and goal. Its scope is the entire West Indian area, including the Guianas-whether their connections have been or are British or French, Spanish or American, Dutch or Danish, or whether they have discarded or are about to discard the alien rule of previous centuries. Its goal is the cultural integration of the entire area, a synthesis of existing knowledge, as the essential foundation of the great need of our time, closer collaboration among the various countries of the Caribbean with their common heritage of subordination to and dictation by outside interests. (xxv) If this sounds like the rebirth of the self-justificatory, controlling master-narrative, it is not. "The West Indian story" is realized as a multi-voiced, heterogeneous, contradictory narrative of the modern Caribbean. Under the controlling hand of the author, different voices compete with each other in and out of sequence in any given chapter; each chapter restarts the narrative around a different subject: "The Discovery of the West Indies," "The Economic Organization of the Spanish Caribbean," "The White Population Problem," "The Problem of Aboriginal Indian Labour," and so on. The Caribbean as "a geographical expression" (xxv) takes shape as a shifting cultural dynamic through excerpts of documents, letters, journals, reports, edicts, that partially illuminate gaps left by imperial history. The trope of the backward glance figures prominently in the Lamming, Benitez-Rojo, and Naipaul texts under consideration.5 It is a dialogic encounter with the past that opens up the discourses of history to new revelations and perspectives, a refashioning of history determined by the author's own affiliation.6 The correspondences I would like to explore revolve around idiosyncrasies of form in these texts' use of metropolitan documents of West Indian history, and the strategies of mediation these texts employ to subvert the discernable aims of the metropolitan document to considerations that are specific to the intellectual history of the Caribbean. Documents of West Indian History is a collage of documents from a wide range of sources. The word Williams uses in his Introduction is "collation" but there is a willful disorderliness to the text that collation does not describe. The order implied is certainly there in his introduction to and organization of the text. He provides interpretive codes and maps the relationships among these codes quite explicitly. But his announced purpose is not simply to provide the information indicated in headings and subheadings, but to manipulate individual documents to his projection of their value "as the intellectual cement of the edifice of Caribbean collaboration" (xxvi). In keeping with the rules of historical discourse, he is scrupulous about identifying his 765



sources, but this does not belie the ideologically driven manipulation of those sources that prompts him to privilege Bartolome de las Casas "as the most important metropolitan figure who ever crossed the West Indian stage," and to celebrate "Columbus' lyrical descriptions of the West Indian islands and especially of Hispaniola, the land that he loved" (xxx). I find it illuminating to read this work of non-fiction in the mode of the postcolonial, postrealist, postnationalist discourse of the more recent historical fiction of Lamming, Benitez-Rojo, and Naipaul, despite its legitimacy as historical document. For Williams the mode is collage and for Lamming it is allegory. BenitezRojo chooses the postmodern investigator's narrative and Naipaul the travel narrative. Through all these idiosyncrasies of form, historical archives are brought under question and made to serve the intellectual needs of another historical epoch. In Natives of My Person, Lamming's allegorical representation of a European voyage to settle the Americas opens up new avenues for the deconstructive troping of the imperial myth of conquest and civilizing mission underlying Documentsof West IndianHistory. Set in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Natives ofMy Personreaches back through time to probe the genesis of the modern Caribbean in the first European voyages of migration and settlement. Its particular and fascinating joust with history and the historical voyage narrative both mystifies and illuminates the postColumbian quest for new beginnings in the Americas. In part, this is because it uses allegorical methods and structures to compress time and space and to expand meaning. Natives of My Person turns historical epoch into symbolic journey, where past, present, and future fuse in startling moments of recognition of who we are and might become. Lamming crafts a cautionary voyage back that is "a way of going forward by making a complete return to the beginnings" (Conversations104). Despite the elaborate use of historical allusions that refer to a specific epoch, Natives of My Persondoes not reconstruct an actual voyage. No such voyage is possible except in the imagination. Instead Lamming takes us on a voyage over, under, back, Discourse Glissant argues and through the ocean of our history as myth. In Caribbean that the project of history and literature first come together in Western thought in the realm of myth, "the first as a premonition of the past, and the second as memory of the future."7Myth is a measure of developing historical consciousness; it "is the first state of a still-naive historical consciousness, and the raw material for the project of literature" (71). In Natives of My Person the literary historical project refashions and rearranges imperial history as myth and in the process redefines and reorders the mythical dimensions of that history. The grand narratives of colonial history are again brought into question. The history of conquest and settlement is retold and reinterpreted as a 20th-century voyage narrative that uses old generic conventions to produce new ways of reading history. Lamming juxtaposes fragments of fictional 16th- and 17th-century voyage narratives with omniscient narrative. It is a strategy that preserves the literality of the voyage narratives that recorded and fueled European colonization of the Americas and opens up these "documents" of colonial history to ironic commentary as historical "fictions." The dynamics of the text are such that it provides an interpretive model for probing the problematics of literature and history within their representational structures. 766


The voyage narratives of the 16th and 17th centuries are represented as demonstrably unreliable in their representation of events, and their very unreliability becomes evidence of the contradictory values of a bygone age. They are an important reminder in the text of the centrality of such documents in the process of colonization and of the conditions of their production as documents of history. In the novel these documents are observably flawed, even as their creators are flawed and driven by the spiritual torments and contradictions of their situation. The language of these fragments recreates, in form and content, the style and scope of historical voyage narratives, while the omniscient narrative illuminates the context provided by omissions and misrepresentations and opens them up to multiple levels of interpretation. The formal difference in voice and perspective between individual narratives and omniscient narrative involves a switch in textual function from the putative testimony of a witness and participant to a speculative and deductive meditation on the centrality and complexity of the voyage narrative as a document of history. Natives of My Person is replete with historical and geographical allusions that establish an essential connection between the novel and historical personages and events, many of them previously identified in Documents of West Indian History. References to the Salamon,the sea hawk,8 Shepherd of the Guinea Coast, Master Cecil, the House of Trade and Justice, the Kingdom of Lime Stone, Pinteados, the Middle Passage, and even the whoredom of the Lady of the House are but a few of the allegorical signs that refer to a specific historical period. Other allegorical signs such as the slave trade, the Middle Passage, and San Cristobal are easily recognized historical markers. But these historical markers exist in an ideal time that collapses four hundred years of postColumbian history. The entire spatial and temporal world of Lamming's voyage narrative is allegorical. His organization of the ship's crew into a militant working class around democratic principles and the ensuing collapse of old hierarchies of power is an 18th-century phenomenon.9 Generally speaking, the emancipation of slaves is a 19th-century phenomenon, and the emancipation of women is a 20th-century one. All are interwoven in a narrative that assimilates essential features of postColumbian history. Lamming establishes a narrative sequence according to his own time scale. The vision of history underlying it all is the redemptive vision of a new world order that is redefined continually to meet the needs of the excluded and the oppressed. The point of growth and renewal is the enduring vision of a new and better world. For Stephen Slemon "the colonizers' ship and its crew are allegorically representative not only of the entire imperial endeavor but also of the post-colonial world and the economic and political relations that obtain within it-the world, ironically, that they are unable to reach in the narrative action of the text."10Actually, within the constraints of the novel some of them do, and others are about to. But the point is well taken: in Natives a ship is an island, a floating fragment. The earlier historical moment is represented in all its contradictory multiplicity as a model of society that is instantaneous with a struggle for liberation that continues in our time. This raises the specter of recurrence, a vision of men and women chained to their past, which Walcott roundly rejects in "The Muse of History."11But Lamming's vision of history is more complex than this. The system of allegorical signs that Lamming employs in reconsti767

tuting the void of temporal difference transforms the original historical moment into a model of society on the edge of creative breakthrough. Although the narrative privileges European expansion in the 16th century as a point in time that best represents the contradictory values and modes of existence in our world, it is interwoven with motifs of historical transformation that exist in tension with motifs of stasis. The earlier historical moment appears on the threshold of our own modernity as prelude to, and simultaneous with, the possibility of social transformation in and beyond our time. Historical contingency is defined in part by Lamming's use of the chronotope of threshold, "the chronotope of a crisis and break in a life," as a representational structure that alters the normal course of linear time.12 Metaphorically, threshold is associated with "the decision that changes a life" as well as with "the indecisiveness that fails to change a life, the fear to step over the threshold" (Bakhtin 248). In Natives of My Person the chronotope of threshold, with its multiple possible endings, becomes a vehicle for representing the contradictory impulses of history as an ongoing struggle between progressive and reactionary forces. Within the duration of the narrative the traditional hierarchies of social organization exist in tension with the expectation of new beginnings that permeates the aspirations of all who undertake the journey, men and women alike, regardless of their status in relation to the hierarchy of power. The creative possibilities of social and historical transformation are interwoven with the voyage as a chronotope of progressive cultural rupture. The voyage unfolds as the physical and psychic disassembly of existing hierarchies. It is a transition point from one world to another and from one epoch to another. The future is introduced as a destination in time and space at which the process of social reconstruction begins again in a new round of competing interests. Historical divisions and linkages are refashioned as interpretive, transtemporal, and hierarchized referents. Past, present, and future coexist in a voyage that charts, through the life and vision of its mastermind, Europe's bloody conquest of the Americas, its genocidal destruction of the region's inhabitants, the robbery and plunder of Africa and the Caribbean, the slave trade, colonial settlements, the abolition of slavery, wars of national liberation, and, finally, the liberation of women. The narrative falls out of the normal course of historical time as signal events in an epoch spanning hundreds of years are represented as events occurring within a single life span. Referents from clearly identifiable historical periods have a value of their own that is quite distinct from the value Lamming apportions them.13 Lamming's organizing emphasis on rupture and transformation makes a critical difference to the way imperial history is conceptualized as an arena for the exploration of pressing contemporary issues. Natives of My Person moves beyond the perceived problem of historylessness to probe the complexities of history as a creative force.14 History is given an emancipatory telos. The formal organization of the narrative into three distinct movements-departure, journey, and arrival-calls attention to the chronotope of the voyage as threshold and gateway to a new world of possibilities in which "the muse of history" is reconstituted, not in "imitation of the past-much as it is indebted to the past-but a new and daring creative conception of itself."15




In Natives of My Person, the voyage narrative creates multiple opportunities for revising and transforming oppressive social structures that exist in tension with an elaborately drawn hierarchy of power and authority. The voyage as threshold facilitates the dispersal of power from the center to the horizon in a recurring cycle of rupture and revision. Though the break is masterminded by one extraordinary man, his initiative becomes a conduit for the dispersal of power along an "historically productive horizontal, to be distributed not upward, but forward" (Bakhtin 157). The enterprise fails because the forward drive toward the horizon exceeds the capacity of its leadership. It is, however, a failure that permits others to go forward, as the revolutionary dream redefines itself among the crew and the women in a class- and gender-based opposition to a repressive order. From an ideologically explicit position in the present Lamming constructs lines of continuity and points of departure in the struggle for freedom from hierarchies of class and gender that shadow his New World immigrants from the 16th and 17th centuries to the present. Freed from the necessity of respecting historical chronology, Natives of My Person constructs an ideal of history that serves as a paradigm by which unity of meaning can be imposed on the contradictory values of colonial history. The allegorical voyage narrative generates a sustained critique of history as a patriarchal institution without rejecting the value of historical thought. Sea of Lentils is another voyage narrative inspired by historical archives. BenitezRojo fashions the 16th-century Caribbean as a maritime culture in the grip of European mercantilism. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Sea of Lentils, after reading Documents of West Indian History and Natives of My Person, is how much these texts have in common despite major differences in rhetorical modes. We encounter many of the same historical figures, among them, Lord Cecil, Hawkins, Columbus, Las Casas, Hakluyt, de Oviedo, retrace the voyages of discovery and settlement, the encomienda, the African slave trade, the plantation, European rivalries, religious persecution, and so on. Benitez-Rojo is meticulous in his identification of names, dates, places, and events. Historical allusions are so precise, so dense, and so readily verifiable that historical archive as legitimating authority and foundational text becomes central to any reading of the narrative. As in Natives, history becomes the raw material of fiction and is exposed as such, but to very different ends. Sea of Lentils challenges the assumption that either fiction or history can generate a stable, signifying discourse. The process of demystification extends from historical archive to the novelist, who is represented in the text as ideologically driven and as arbitrary in his methods as the historian. What is new in the way this novel approaches the idea of a comprehensive Caribbean is the way it draws the Spanish pacification of Florida into Caribbean discourse, and his persistent questioning of the role of the Jews, conversosand maranos, in the breaking up of the Spanish monopoly in the Caribbean. But the point of sharpest contrast with Documents and Natives, despite the correspondences alluded to, lies in the novel's unqualified rejection of legitimating narratives, whether history or fiction. This is achieved in part by reversing the liberating framework of Lamming's allegorical voyage narrative. The specifics of historical time matter in this novel; they retain


their documentary value even as they are manipulated to the author's ends, which takes us back to the historicity of Williams' Documents. Sea of Lentils is made up of several competing narratives within a clearly demarcated, historically verifiable time-space frame: the narrative of Philip II on his deathbed in Spain in 1598 as his life passes before him in an agony of self doubt; the second and third voyages of Columbus in 1493 and 1496; the murderous, hugely successful flotilla of Pedro Menendez de Aviles to fortify the Spanish territories and lay claim to Florida from 1562 to 1565;and the story of the Jewish merchant of Tenerife, Cristobal de Ponte, landowner and slave trader, who provides John Hawkins with Spain's secret routes to Africa and the Americas. The novel appears to move back and forth between these narratives quite arbitrarily, beginning with Philip II and ending with the pact between de Ponte and Hawkins that enables the Englishman to initiate the illicit smuggling of slaves into the Caribbean in 1561.16 Fiction and history are overlapping, complementary discourses in the novel's panoramic sweep of unbridled greed and corruption in the discovery and settlement of the Americas. In this self-conscious narrative of deligitimation, unity of meaning is an arbitrary process determined by the author's quest for authority and legitimacy and the author's "aboriginal concept and perception of wholes" (Brathwaite 1).17 There is no emancipatory telos here as the idiosyncrasies of the novel make clear. In Natives, the chronotope of threshold becomes a vehicle for representing the contradictory impulses of history as an ongoing struggle between progressive and reactionary forces. At the end of that novel, a new round of struggle begins in the ambitions of the women and the crew who must make their own way as the enterprise collapses under the weight of inadequate leadership. In Sea of Lentils, competing narratives deny the author even this much authority, for he is represented in the novel in the character of an investigator trapped by the epistemology of historical discourse. In Sea of Lentils, women in the Americas, whether European or Native American, are voiceless and subject to monstrous abuse. They are not represented as articulate about their circumstances, perhaps to make a point about how they are situated in historical documents of the time. There are recurring pockets of resistance in random and organized acts of violence against the Spaniards but there is no Native American, or Spaniard for that matter (not even las Casas), who is able to check the exploits of Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Pedro de Ponte, and John Hawkins within the time-space coordinates of the novel. The moderation of Williams in his sympathetic representations of Bartoleme de las Casas is altogether absent, and Lamming's faith in the ordinary man is reversed. In Natives, it is the powder maker Baptiste who provides leadership to the crew when the Commandant and officers are locked in conflict. In Sea of Lentils, Baptiste is refashioned as Babtista who is afforded no grace and dignity in the narrative; he lives like a pig and dies like one at the hand of his mestizo son at a watering hole in the jungle. His life is circumscribed by the contradictory values that sustain the greed and ambition of the hidalgo;he is as corrupt as the rest. The individual narratives, at times told from different perspectives, offer no closure; no one narrative holds ascendancy over the other. The author inserts himself into the narrative from time to time to question methods of historical research and mediation, but he is himself deeply engaged in the process as a private investigator 770

who is trying to solve the riddle of historical archives. Having rejected the epistemological language appropriate to historical knowledge on the one hand, and the monological fable on the other, Benitez-Rojo represents the author as befuddled as anyone else about how to manage bits and pieces of information assembled from a variety of sources. Talking directly to the reader, or perhaps to himself, this postcolonial post-nationalist investigator exposes the process of composition as arbritrary and without any particular claim to knowledge and truth beyond pure speculation and a good guess. Confronting unedited, unexplored historical archives (among them, council minutes, reports, trials, genealogies) for information about Pedro de Ponte, his interjections illuminate the process of legitimation and authentication: "we can easily suppose," or "it would be rash to try to establish a reason for this," or "but that hypothesis will not withstand sober analysis" (103, 104). Demystification extends beyond the historical archive to the author who finds himself trapped by the modernist mantle of legitimation and ideological one-up-manship. Sea of Lentils explicitly thematizes a maritime culture, a culture of travel, exploration, discovery, and quest. The novel registers arrivals, departures, routes taken, maps, explorers' journals, letters home, administrators' reports, all records of travel and, in our time, historical archives. It both uses and critiques the Williams model as ideologically orchestrated collage. In Naipaul's A Way in the World, however, the Caribbean as a culture of travel is a 20th-century phenomenon that registers lines of continuity and rupture both with its colonial past and neocolonial nationalism. By foregrounding travel as transnational cultural practice in A Wayin the World,Naipaul illuminates complex issues of discursive filiation and affiliation in the modern Caribbean. In A Wayin the World,travel is construed as a discourse, a genre, and a basis for comparing the different cultures that traverse and constitute the Caribbean. Native place is a site of arrivals and departures, of local/regional/global encounters involving dominations, resistances, commerce, intercultural penetrations, and ideological appropriations.18 The native traveler leaves home and returns in ongoing interaction with a variety of different cultures. He is both islander and exile, dweller and traveler; in him the cultural figure of the native and the intercultural figure of the traveler overlap and intertwine. His insularity is positively construed as exploration, research, and transforming encounter.19 Naipaul's organizing tropes are familiar to readers of Caribbean literature. The novel sequence begins with the overlapping tropes of return to one's native land and quest for an aboriginal landscape ("an aboriginal Indian place," "the aboriginal island," "the untouched aboriginal island," "a crowded aboriginal Indian island," "a fabulous aboriginal landscape") in a tropological refashioning of a Caribbean myth or desire for psychic integration.20 Given the proliferation of spatial references, the crossing and recrossing of physical and conceptual boundaries in A Way in the World, it comes as no surprise that the narrator's quest for aboriginal space penetrates the poetic space of El Dorado. The poetics of landscape merge with the poetics of El Dorado in an elaborate pattern of intratextual and intertextual parodic signification that assumes the form of a free ranging critical discourse on the limitations of travel literature as document of history.21 Naipaul's use of the tropes of return and quest is so pervasive, so self-referential and complex that they are repeated in every chapter 771



in a deepening pattern of repetition and revision, linking each to each, the beginning with the ending. The narrator returns to his quest and, at different points in the novel sequence, encounters Columbus, Raleigh, Miranda, Sorzano, and Blair doing the same. Every repetition entails a difference and repetition works against closure, even in the death of Blair whom Naipaul returns to Trinidad in a coffin. In "Home Again," the narrator writes an obituary on the occasion of Blair's death that might be the narrator's own, and is also a replay of Level's "little formal farewell speech to

By linking return and quest in this way, Naipaul signals a conceptual link with the quest for El Dorado as a mythical historical enterprise pervading a distinctly Caribbean cultural geography. Together these tropes articulate a cross-cultural poetics that resists a nationalist, ethnic, racialist quest for unique origins. Aboriginal space privileges precursors over ancestors, displacing ancestral desire for organic cultural differentiation with a cultural chronotope that privileges a poetics of landscape in a quest for "the beginning of things" (218), and a discourse of travel as a way of inscribing cultural flux as an identity marker.23The self-conscious and pervasive irony behind the postcolonial Caribbean quest for "the beginning of things" is that it reasserts the cultural authority of Europe over the discursive space of the Caribbean, even as it reveals the fraudulence of that authority. In A Wayin the World,the intertwining, overlapping tropes of return and quest are managed by a narrator who, as traveling native, is something of a shape-shifter, assuming a series of interrelated roles as the returning native, world traveler, native informant, writer inscriber, reader, researcher, quester, and native dweller. Driven by the narrative's interior logic, native space is multi-dimensional as a frame of reference for such a disconcertingly hybrid native traveler. It is identified as the island of Trinidad expanded to include its hinterland/heartland refashioned as Guyana, Venezuela, Brazil, and Columbia. The idea of national boundaries becomes meaningless as a way of mapping native space since this is actually determined by the narrator's conception of return and the nature of his quest for aboriginal space: "Over a number of journeys I began to think of Venezuela as a kind of restored homeland" (220). Given the narrator's level of sophistication in respect to the historical density of place, native space extends to the most widely separated transhistorical boundaries, even as they are sublimated in the transhistorical codes of Nature as aboriginal landscape. By focussing on hybrid cosmopolitan experiences that intersect with his own history of travel, displacement, and quest, the narrator creates a self-referential space for the portrayal and understanding of related concepts of spatial history. Naipaul's narrator returns to native space as one who has inscribed its particulars and his relationship to its various parts in any number of authored books of history, fiction, and travel. The territory he returns to was criss-crossed in previous journeys extensively inscribed in a series of widely read texts.24He returns to this space again, pen in hand, to retrace previous journeys and to reinscribe his relationship to native space from a different perspective. In lieu of the younger writer's linear, hierarchical vision of a single history in The Loss of El Dorado is the intricate performance of Naipaul reconstructing his public persona as traveling writer, splitting his public image into


"then" and "now" and seductively modeling for the reader the act of reading new meaning into antecedent texts, his own and others.25 The theoretical questions of intertextuality raised by what Appiah describes as the "persistent massaging of one text after another into the surface of its own body" (150), speaks to the tendency to self-parody that is everywhere in evidence in A Way in the World.Self-parody is so sustained as to make it an impossible exercise to name more than a few instances here without sacrificing analysis to annotation. Suffice it to say that the reader must supply the literary models or narrative elements of parody and hidden polemic will be obscure, for example: the culture shock the narrator experiences when he "was writing a book of history" in London and studying the historical documents of the region is clearly a reference to The Loss of El Dorado (213); or the account of his first visit to the Guiana highlands in January 1961 which can be read against an account of Naipaul's visit to British Guiana in TheMiddlePassage(1962). Selfparody is part of a sustained attempt to critique the discursive practices of native and non-native travelers through parody and pastiche. Historical narratives generated by Columbus, Raleigh, and Miranda, Picton, Hislop, and Level de Gorda are identified as literary historical markers that both obscure and illuminate the boundaries of native space. These markers are so compromised as historical documents that the narrator rewrites his prior use of them in three sections of the novel sequence that he designates an act of unwriting: "New Clothes: An Unwritten Story," "A Parcel of Papers, a Roll of Tobacco, a Tortoise: An Unwritten Story," and "In the Gulf of Desolation: An Unwritten Story." In these sections the narrator critiques travel as a discourse and a genre, and theorizes the limitations of the genre as he and others have practiced it. In "A Parcel of Papers, a Roll of Tobacco, a Tortoise," a case might be made that Naipaul is signifying upon Lamming's Natives of My Person in the extended dialogue between "the old man" and "surgeon" when their ship is becalmed in the Gulf. This "unwritten story" critiques Raleigh's "lies," his willful misrepresentation of what he saw and experienced and, by implication, Naipaul's use of Raleigh's narrative in the past. It doesn't take much to see that Naipaul is parodying intertextuality in the surgeon's extended cross-examination of Raleigh that recalls Benitez-Rojo ferreting out the uncanny in Sea of Lentils and in Las Casas's "Plague of the Ants" (Repeating85111 and also Williams, Documents 22-27). "In the Gulf of Desolation," self-parody doubles as an act of criticism and interpretation as the narrator mocks his own failure of vision by identifying Miranda quite explicitly as a mirror image of his immature self. Naipaul takes parody a step further by amplifying the foregrounding in tropological revisions of all three "unwritten" stories, decentering the revisionary transformative narrative of return and quest even further. At one time I thought I should try to do a play or a film-a film would have been better-about the Gulf. I saw it as a three-part work: Columbus in 1498, Raleigh in 1618, and Francisco Miranda, the Venezuelan revolutionary, in 1806: three obsessed men, well past their prime, each with his own vision of the New World, each at what should have been a moment of fulfilment, but really near the end of things, in the Gulf of Desolation.




Separate stories, different people, changing style of clothes, but the episodes would have developed one out of the other, as in a serial. (246) As Naipaul maneuvers his narrative with great deftness through shifting paradox and ongoing translation, it becomes clear that A Way in the Worldis also about writing itself, about the interdependence of history and fiction, its possibilities and its limitations. Travel and quest are explicit themes, a rhetorical strategy, literary history and historical discourse. The novels explored in this paper play out a string theory of the relativity of history and fiction in the time-space continuum of voyage and travel narratives. History becomes the raw material of fiction and is in turn exposed as a fiction. Historical events and historical narratives alike are represented as human activities and thus are subject to the imperatives of culture, politics, and economics as well as individual motives and limitations. In recognition of the fictionality of his own metaphorical structures, each author turns the text's scrutiny on itself in a final gesture of demystification. Each calls attention to the process by which different kinds of meaning are produced in a subjective enterprise. In the unfolding drama of "the West Indian story" fiction is an ideologically and culturally conditioned way of reading history, and history is exposed as an ideologically and culturally conditioned artifice. Williams, Lamming, Benitez-Rojo, and Naipaul write into the history of the modern Caribbean so many of the ambivalences, contradictions, tragedies, and ironies that attend that history, one cannot help but note the elision of the problem of gender. Of these writers, Lamming is the only one who undertakes a sustained critique of the paradigm of the traveler who crosses boundaries and penetrates spaces as exclusively male. In Williams and Benitez-Rojo, the queens Elizabeth and Isabella are confined by their historical roles. They are as homebound as Penelope, Homer's paradigmatic "weaver and teller of the story of male absence."26In Sea of Lentils, Benitez-Rojo projects Ines de Ponte of Tenerife as a Circean enchantress who seduces the English mercantilist adventurer John Hawkins. In A Way in the World,Naipaul's community of travelers and dwellers constitutes an all-male club that lends credence to the flight-from-women-as-motivating-force theory that Lamming fictionalizes in Natives of My Person. Lamming is the only writer in this study who theorizes a place for women as traveling subject, disturbing the male narrative of travel by providing "Penelope" with an itinerary of her own. Williams, Benitez-Rojo and Naipaul selfconsciously locate their narratives within the parameters of a male discursive tradition and, in the process, ratify the world of journey, travel, exploration, and conquest in the modern Caribbean as a gendered paradigm.

NOTES 1. "Far from being a celebration of the nation, then, the novels of the second stage-the postcolonial stage-are novels of delegitimation: rejecting the Western imperium, it is true; but also rejecting the nationalist project of the postcolonial national bourgeoisie" [Kwame Antho-




ny Appiah, In My Father's House:Africain the Philosophy of Culture(London: Methuen, 1992),

152]. 2. Brathwaite says it all in "Caribbean Man in Space and Time" [Savacou 11/12 (September 1975): 1-11]: "This is an exercise of enormous difficulty. Not because of the quantity of material involved (heavily financed directed research would take care of this), but because its success will be limited by the scholar's aboriginal concept and perception of wholes" (1).

3. Antonio Benitez-Rojo,TheRepeating Island:TheCaribbean and thePostmodern Perspective, trans.

James E. Maraniss (Durham: Duke University Press, 1992), 157.

4. EricWilliams, Documents of WestIndianHistoryVol.I, 1492-1655:Fromthe SpanishDiscoveryto the British Conquest of Jamaica (Trinidad: PNM Publishing Company, 1963), xxvi.
5. Hayden White illuminates the narrative possibilities of the backward glance: "Human beings can will backward as well as forward in time; willing backward occurs when we rearrange accounts of events in a given way, in order to endow them with a different meaning or to draw from the new emplotment reasons for acting differently in the future from the way we have been accustomed to acting in our present" [The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1987), 150]. 6. George Lamming makes the trope fundamental to the intellectual history of the region: "A part of our cleansing has to take the form of the backward glance, not in a state of complaint or in a state of rancor, but the backward glance as part of the need to understand" [Conversations:

and Interviews,1953-1990 (London: Karia, 1992), 254]. Essays,Addresses

7. Edouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays, trans. Michael Dash (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1989), 71-72. 8. See George Lamming's Natives of My Person (1972; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), 180, 34-52. 9. It becomes quite clear in analysis that Lamming is not only in dialogue with Williams, but also with C.L.R. James. I have in mind Mariners, Renegades and Castaways and The Black Jacobins. 10. Stephen Slemon, "Post-Colonial Allegory and the Transformation of History," Journal of

Literature Commonwealth 18 (1988):62.

11. Derek Walcott, "The Muse of History," Is Massa Day Dead?, ed. Orde Coombs (New York: Anchor, 1974), 2, 6. 12. Mikhail Bakhtin, "Discourse Typology in Prose," Readings in Russian Poetics: Formalist and Structuralist Views, ed. Ladislav Matejka and Krystyna Pomorska (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1971), 248. 13. As Paul de Man reminds us, this is a structure shared by both irony and allegory: "In both cases, the sign points to something that differs from its literal meaning and has for its function the

thematization of this difference" [Blindnessand Insight:Essaysin the Rhetoric of Contemporary

Criticism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 209]. 14. Barker, Hulme, and Iversen stress the importance of historical difference to the literary project: "If the early modern moment is on the threshold of our own modernity, then the understanding of its contingency can help not only to defamiliarise our own historical epoch by seeing how what appears natural to us was in fact constructed out of the struggles of the earlier moment, but also to glimpse alternatives to our own situation, not in the sense of the possibility of or desire for a nostalgic return to the feudal, but in the sense of grasping in the fullest possible way that historical contingency, that sense that history is something made not given, and therefore remakeable, capable of transformation, in our own moment" [Francis Barker, Peter Hulme, and Margaret Iversen, The Uses of History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991), 9]. 15. Wilson Harris, "History, Fable and Myth in the Caribbean and the Guianas," Caribbean Quarterly 16.2 (1970): 12. 16. Antonio Benitez-Rojo, Sea of Lentils, trans. James. E. Maraniss (1989; Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1991), 95. 17. In The Repeating Island, Benitez-Rojo has quite a lot to say about the limitations of the modern social text: "They try fruitlessly, like all modern texts, to quash the traces of their own arbitrariness with a noisy attempt at legitimation, . . . and they ignore the huge and necessarily promiscuous archive that has been manipulated and severely edited by the 'authors' of the narratives they have chosen to be their foundational texts. Furthermore, they construct themselves astutely within a 'coherent' and 'authentic' fable of legitimation which inserts them directly into the discourse of power, either to repeat its statements or to displace them" (156). 18. These are some of the preoccupations of ethnological crisscrossing that James Clifford addresses in "Traveling Cultures" [Cultural Studies, eds. Lawrence Grossberg, Gary Nelson, Paula Treichler (New York: Routledge, 1992), 100].




19. Both Benitez-Rojo and Glissant are defensive about the idea of insularity as a positive rather than a negative value, for example: "The Antilleans' insularity does not impel them toward isolation, but on the contrary, toward travel, toward exploration, toward the search for fluvial and marine routes" (Benitez-Rojo 25); "Ordinarily, insularity is treated as a form of isolation, a neurotic reaction to place. However, in the Caribbean each island embodies openness.... A Caribbean imagination liberates us from being smothered" (Glissant 139). 20. "The ordinary thing, the almost arithmetical constant in the Caribbean is never a matter of subtracting, but always of adding, for the Caribbean discourse carries, as I've said before, a myth or desire for social, cultural and psychic integration to compensate for the fragmentation and provisionality of the collective Being" (Benitez-Rojo, The Repeating Island 189). 21. "The poetics of landscape, which is the source of creative energy, is not to be directly confused with the physical nature of the country. Landscape retains the memory of time past. Its space is open or closed to its meaning" (Glissant 150). 22. V.S. Naipaul, A Way in the World (1994; New York: Vintage, 1995), 348. 23. Naipaul's quest for aboriginal space as cultural heartland has much in common conceptually with Glissant's reversion: "not a return to the longing for origins, to some immutable state of Being, but a return to the point of entanglement, from which we were forcefully turned away" (26). 24. A Way in the World is, among other things, a rereading of a range of earlier Naipaul texts, to name a few: In a Free State (London: Deutsch, 1971), The Loss of El Dorado (1969; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), The Middle Passage (1962; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975). But A Way in the World ranges widely across the entire body of his work. 25. Benitez-Rojo reminds us that "there are few things as exhibitionistic as a text. It should be remembered that what a performer writes . . . is not a text, but something previous and qualitatively different: a pre-text . . . the text is born when it is read by the Other: the reader. From this moment on text and reader connect with each other like a machine of reciprocal seductions" (23).

26. In Penelope Women andTravelin theBritishLiterary Tradition Voyages: (Ithaca:Cornell University

Press, 1994), Karen R. Lawrence theorizes the Penelope (home)/Circe (foreign) paradigm in relation to the phallocentric discourse framed around Hermes as paradigmatic traveler (x).