The international growth and influence of bioethics has led some to identify it as a decisive shift in the location and exercise of 'biopower'. This book provides an in-depth study of how philosophers, lawyers and other 'outsiders' came to play a major role in discussing and helping to regulate issues that used to be left to doctors and scientists. It discusses how club regulation stemmed not only from the professionalising tactics of doctors and scientists, but was compounded by the 'hands-off' approach of politicians and professionals in fields such as law, philosophy and theology. The book outlines how theologians such as Ian Ramsey argued that 'transdisciplinary groups' were needed to meet the challenges posed by secular and increasingly pluralistic societies. It also examines their links with influential figures in the early history of American bioethics. The book centres on the work of the academic lawyer Ian Kennedy, who was the most high-profile advocate of the approach he explicitly termed 'bioethics'. It shows how Mary Warnock echoed governmental calls for external oversight. Many clinicians and researchers supported her calls for a 'monitoring body' to scrutinise in vitro fertilisation and embryo research. The growth of bioethics in British universities occurred in the 1980s and 1990s with the emergence of dedicated centres for bioethics. The book details how some senior doctors and bioethicists led calls for a politically-funded national bioethics committee during the 1980s. It details how recent debates on assisted dying highlight the authority and influence of British bioethicists.
There exists a moving photographic record of West Indian emigrants arriving in British cities in the 1950s, first by steamship and steam train, then later, by the end of the decade and into the 1960s, by plane. We still see, in our own times, these images of men and women who, for all their apprehensions, were stepping across the threshold into new lives, bringing with them a certain presence. These are images which evoke a sense of hardships in the past overcome and hardships just around the corner yet to confront. They give form to the dreams which had compelled a generation of migrants to pack up and cross the seas. And they capture too a sensibility founded on the conviction that these dreams were rightfully theirs: a dream, in other words, of colonials who believed that the privileges of empire were their due.1
These photographic images, and those of the flickering, monochrome newsreels which accompany them, have now come to compose a social archive. They serve to fix the collective memory of the momentous transformation of postwar migration.
At the same time, however, their very familiarity works to conceal other angles of vision. We become so habituated to the logic of the camera-eye that we are led to forget that the vision we are bequeathed is uncompromisingly one-way. The images which fix this history as social memory are images of the West Indians. The camera is drawn to them. The moment they enter the field of vision, the focal point adjusted, they become fixed as something new: as immigrants. The camera, in other words, organises the collective vision not of the West Indians but of the native Britons. There are in the public domain no reverse-shots, in which – from gangplank or from railway station platform – we see, through the eyes of the emigrant, the huddles of journalists and onlookers, police and social workers, white faces all. Without this perspective it is difficult to grasp that white Britons – ordinary people, doing the shopping or waiting for the bus – were, whether conscious of it or not, part of this drama of migration. They too were actors in the larger history of empire from which the imperatives of migration to the mother country had arisen. To catch sight of the native population from the perspective of the disembarking migrant is to bring this deeper history into the light of day. Reverse-shots, or their historiographical equivalents, not only offer the virtues of an unfamiliar vantage; they may also provide a perspective which is more fully historical. After all, it was the migrants, especially, who carried with them the knowledge that: ‘We have met before’.2
These contacts between migrant and native Briton, on the home ground of the metropolis, offer more than just another chapter in the progressive rise of ‘multicultural Britain’. The emigrant experience cast a new way of seeing, in which consciousness both of the imperial past and of the inner forms of the imperial civilisation of the British assumed a new intensity. That this vision cohered is of the first importance, analytically, for the British themselves: it allowed the British to step outside themselves, or outside their own culture or habitus, and to see themselves afresh, through new eyes. What previously might have looked familiar, the natural way of doing things ordained by the peculiarly providential history of the old, ancestral nations, might, instead, come to look unfamiliar. From such dislocations new things might happen.
These analytical consequences of the encounter between West Indian and Briton form the conceptual core of our explorations in this volume. The figure who came closest to formulating our defining hypothesis was C. L. R. James.3 James believed that it was through the encounter with the formerly colonial peoples of the Caribbean that native white Britons were first able to see themselves in their true historical light: what previously had happened elsewhere was now happening here. There were many occasions when he hinted at this. It is one of the themes running through Beyond a Boundary.4 It is most explicitly stated in his eightieth birthday lectures, delivered in London in January 1981 on the eve of a momentous recasting of black life in Britain.5 Here James offered a characteristically Hegelian rendition, elegantly turned inside out, in which he imagined the slave finally settling accounts with the master. But this was a settling of accounts in which the slave, forced by a profane, unforgiving history to do what the master himself cannot do, creates a future in which both slave and master discover new freedoms. In its local, specific setting, when former-colonisers confronted former-colonised in the conflagrations on the streets of metropolitan cities (in Brixton, Toxteth, Bristol), these were powerful and unusual words.
No one who has lived through the subsequent years in Britain, and who now witnesses the unfinished, continuing emergence of new lives specifically styled as ‘black British’, can fail to be moved by James’s comments, for this process carries the promise of new possibilities for all: for former-colonisers and former-colonised alike. This is a project which still unfolds. There is today so much obeisance to the idea of multiculturalism that those domains in our lives which remain trenchantly untransformed, still subject to a racial or colonial logic, are too frequently forgotten, or lack the requisite vocabularies which make them speakable. In his own time James was not unaware of these tangled outcomes. One great virtue of his thought, however, is that it offers us historical depth of field. This, really, is critical. He reminds us (as did an entire generation of West Indians) that in these unfolding new lives, both black and white, the presence of the old empire is exactly that: a presence. He tells us that the history of empire is still of our time. Britain’s colonial possessions, of course, are long gone. But inherited collective instincts may possess a longer life. End of empire runs along many different historical times, not all of which have reached their due, punctual point of termination. This is a difficult problem to discuss, for it asks us to ponder phenomena which are not easily observable to the naked eye. It requires us to unravel the-past-in-the-present, to see and listen to those pasts in this present. It requires us (all of us) to confront our own memories and mentalities. In a word, it demands that we think historically.
Implicit in James’s thinking is the conviction that the West Indians of his generation played an active role not only in the decolonisation of their home territories in the Caribbean but also, through many displacements, in the rather less visible process of decolonising metropolitan Britain itself. This in turn (in James’s thought) raised a further question: what memories of the historical past were required in order to think through the destruction of the old colonial order?
From long before the arrival of Windrush in 1948, West Indian emigrants came from societies well advanced in the prerequisites of breaking from colonialism. They arrived with long memories, recalling events which, in the collective imagination of the British, had slipped into forgetfulness.6 The typewritten novels and poems in their suitcases, their mimeographed manifestos, their music: all were testament to the depth of emergent anti-colonial sensibilities. Formally or informally, explicitly or implicitly, the case for West Indian independence (and, indeed, for federation) registered in the public culture of the metropolis.7 As they unpacked their bags, hawked their manuscripts around the little magazines of the capital, went on the stump agitating against injustices in far-off islands, they were improvising new lives for themselves, creating new possibilities for those whom they encountered, and decolonising the world about them.
Perhaps the prototype for such determinedly modern figures as these was John Jacob Thomas, who arrived in London from Trinidad in 1889, and who ensconced himself in rooms close by the British Museum in order that he could engage with the intellectual culture which had formed him.8 His continuing renown derives from the fact that he took on the great imperial figure of J. A. Froude – disciple of Thomas Carlyle and regius professor of modern history at Oxford – and, with a relentless, lively irony, mashed him. In 1887 Froude had published The English in the West Indies. Thomas’s riposte, appearing two years later, took the memorable title Froudacity. West Indian fables by James Anthony Froude. This spirited rebuttal was the formative text of black West Indian intellectual self-determination. Its influence was profound. James, especially, loved the fact that Thomas, a barefoot, backwoods schoolteacher from his native Trinidad bettered his distinguished metropolitan opponent. It was exactly the kind of guerrilla movement, in the field of ideas, which was guaranteed to delight him.9 In 1968 it was a return to Thomas that prompted James’s own essay on ‘The West Indian intellectual’.
This work of John Jacob Thomas, the Trinidad schoolmaster, without European or university education of any kind, shows that the impact which the West Indian writers, our writers of fiction and the politicians and political writers of the day, have made upon the consciousness and civilisation of Western Europe and the United States, is the result not of the work of certain brilliant individual men, but is due in reality to our historical past, the situation in which our historical past has placed us. This historical situation has produced a particular type of social and intellectual activity which we can definitely call West Indian.10
James’s recourse to history is emphatic. Only by knowing themselves as historical individuals (he argued) could West Indians come to terms with their predicament; and, conversely, later generations can only appreciate the power of West Indian thought by appreciating the degree to which it embodied this deeper movement of history. The significance of Thomas is that he was the first (in James’s eyes) to personify and express this history. This too carries James’s Hegelian cast of mind.
I have long believed that there is something in the West Indian past, something in the West Indian environment, something in the West Indian historical development, which compels the West Indian intellectual, when he gets involved with subjects of the kind, to deal with them from a fundamental point of view, to place ourselves in history.11
James’s belief that West Indians ‘are a people more than any other people constructed by history’ may seem eccentric. But the premise on which it is based is not. Critically, for James, what made the Caribbean distinctive was not colonialism, but the fact that since the inauguration of the slave plantation West Indians were, above all else, a modern people. They lived in subjugation. But they experienced modernisation – in the Middle Passage and on the plantation – at its most dynamic, at its highest pitch and at its most brutal.12 This, according to James, instilled in Caribbean peoples a distinctive, immediate connection to the historical past.13
To be conscious of history in this way was to confront memories of slavery and the continuing imperatives of race. These were not matters which in Britain, in the first half of the twentieth century, were easily recognised or speakable in public. Even in the colonial Caribbean, affiliation to the protocols of Britain made racial difference – despite the ubiquity of its ritualised exclusions – awkward to articulate. Nonetheless, the West Indian presence, after Thomas, created new possibilities within the metropolitan culture for these issues to be spoken.
James himself had arrived in Britain from Trinidad in 1932. We are fortunate in that he has left a remarkable account of his first impressions, in which he contemplated the unanticipated strangeness of the imperial centre.14 In Trinidad he had already authored an attack on what he perceived to be the moral and civic lapses of the colonial authorities, as well as some short fiction.15 He brought with him a manuscript novel.16 He had too some draft material on cricket and, more particularly, on Learie Constantine, who had been influential in persuading James to make the journey to Britain.17 In 1933 Leonard and Virginia Woolf abridged some of his earlier writings on colonialism, republishing them as The Case for West Indian Self-Government.18 To hold together these commitments to anti-colonial politics, to sport and to literature was unusual. But as James himself later indicated, their common inspiration lay in an elevated aesthetic and moral sensibility whose origins lay precisely in the codes of England in which he had been formed. As he looked back on these early years he remembered his arriving in England ready to ‘enter the arena where I was to play the role for which I had prepared myself. The British intellectual was going to Britain’.19 Even at this early stage, though, this was an idea of Britishness riven by ambivalence, in which his critique of colonialism was animated by the language of the colonial civilisation he was attacking. James never lost his regard for the culture of those whom he always believed to be the imperial oppressors. But over the next few years he gravitated to a firebrand variant of marxism, to Pan-Africanism, and to a much deeper understanding of what was required to break the power of colonial authority. In part, this shift in allegiance was abetted by his reacquaintance with his old childhood friend, George Padmore, who was instrumental in piecing together a new conception of anti-colonialism, in which the historical resources of blackness – as an active agent in the making of the modern world – were to be given an insurrectionary twist.20 And in part as well, larger events in the colonial world took effect, heightening the tempo of anti-colonial sentiment, both in colony and metropolis.
The invasion of Abyssinia by Italy in October 1935 had an immediate, cataclysmic effect on black peoples throughout the Americas, and worked to reinspire and unify disparate strands of anti-colonialism, especially in the Caribbean. London, in its unofficial capacities, served as a principal source of communication for those in the West Indies eager to know, day by day and week by week, what was happening across the ocean. From their London base, James, Padmore and other West Indians of marxisant sympathies were tireless both in the cause of Abyssinia, and in imagining a revivified Pan-Africanism. Yet anger at the abandonment of Abyssinia by the democratic nations was not just the prerogative of militant marxists, however heterodox. It was above all a colonial issue – perhaps the colonial issue – and it entered the souls of all those who had been touched by colonial politics. Thus from a very different stance from James or Padmore, Una Marson – feminist, inheritor of a humanitarian ethics, committed to the founding principles of the League of Nations – gave herself unswervingly to the cause of Abyssinia.21 It ‘took over her life’, in the words of her biographer.22
Of yet greater significance were the riots and insurrections which swept through the Caribbean in 1937–38. In the recounting of the cumulative European catastrophe of these years, the devastation in the West Indies is sometimes accorded a footnote, or a sentence, in the established historiography. But this is to miss too much. The collapse of the Caribbean economies triggered an authentic imperial crisis. In the aftermath of the riots great volumes of official inquiry were produced. In page after page of steady prose the dead, wounded and indicted are calibrated; damage itemised (the number of shop-fronts smashed, of cars set ablaze in smart precincts, of potatoes pilfered from fields); and causes examined (Garveyism, gangster movies, Bolshevism, even chronic dispossession).23 Yet none of this dispassionate prose conveys the deeper sense that the colonial Caribbean had changed forever. Indeed the juridical or actuarial remit of the various commissions worked to conceal the greater truth: that the real casualty was not the consequence of this or that violation, but the edifice of empire itself. In this extraordinary drama, West Indian exiles in London once more played a decisive role. Through Padmore and his coterie information was co-ordinated and news circulated. Lobbying of sympathisers in Britain was incessant. New (if shaky) alliances were struck between seasoned agitators in London and an emergent new generation of labour leaders in the Caribbean. What drew them together was the crisis itself, in the common realisation that for too long Britain had abdicated its responsibilities in its West Indian colonies. New voices could be heard in the Caribbean, declaring that allegiance to the tenets of British civilisation could be maintained by West Indians without the services of the British themselves. From the late 1930s, the forces pressing for independence became a powerful, immovable political reality.
From our own vantage in time if we look again at the old images of West Indians arriving in Britain we can see many things. But insofar as the camera-eye saw only an immigrant, so the complex, embodied memories of these Caribbean pasts came to be effaced. Immigrants, it seemed, had no past, coming into life only at that moment when they entered the line of the vision of the native, ‘host’ population. And yet the great majority of those West Indians who arrived in Windrush and after would have witnessed, as adult or child, the crises of the 1930s, and experienced the aftermath. Many, indeed, made a conscious choice to escape from the situation of continuing economic collapse which the insurrections had done little to forestall. Few were intellectuals in the conventional sense, and fewer still thought in terms like Padmore, intent on breaking the power of empires. But this does not mean memories of these events, and of the longue durée of the Caribbean itself, were absent. The history which binds the insurrections of the 1930s to the emigrants of the 1940s or 1950s is a discontinuous history, not least due to the agency of those determined that they depart from their homeland. Even so, those who made this journey were not without history, nor ‘just’ immigrants. In their speech, in their dedication to a certain styling of the self, in their music – let alone in the more formal artefacts of their literary culture – they brought their history with them.24
This was a history composed not only by Pan-Africanism and by Abyssinia, and by the attendant politics. It carried much further, across many contrary dimensions of lived experience. Of all Britain’s non-white colonies, in terms of formal, official cultures the West Indian nations were closest to the mother country: in language, religion, schooling, literature, sport. Pride in these affinities to Britain ran deep, and affiliation to the British way of life, during the century from emancipation to the insurrections of the 1930s, was always of the first importance. But at every point these collective sentiments, for all their depth, vied with vernacular, blacker, more fluid cultures which constituted the traces – or more – of slavery, of other diasporas, and of a long history of racial mixing. (Or what Kamau Brathwaite, in Bakhtinian mode, designated ‘belly centred bawdy’.)25 The irresolvable, continuing and dynamic conflict between these symbolic and lived polarities lay close to the heart of the West Indian intellectual life for the entire period we discuss. As James remembered this: ‘We lived in two worlds. Inside the classrooms the heterogeneous jumble of Trinidad was battered and jostled and shaken down into some sort of order’.26 The force of these contradictions unsettled every aspect of ‘the British way’ in its Caribbean transplantations. The institutions of British culture, irredeemably syncretic, could never boast that taken-for-granted quality that they possessed on their home ground. Even when working to their fullest authority and effect, at any instant they could be experienced as second-hand or inauthentic. In one of his fictional voices, V. S. Naipaul gives this a practical, semiotic reading: ‘I was used to living in a world where the signs were without meaning, or without the meaning intended by their makers’.27 In the movement from metropolis to colony, these signs, and the ideas they represented, systematically acquired new and unpredictable meanings.
The complexities of this past made the reverse passage, from the Caribbean to Britain, a multi-layered phenomenon, which turned on the interplay between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the homely and the unhomely. The final reckoning between imperial Britain and its West Indian colonies can, in the field of culture, be properly understood as overdetermined. In part this was due to the fact that the last phase of the encounter between West Indian and Briton took place not only in the colonial territories but also in the metropolis itself. And in part it was due, precisely, to the proximity of the respective official cultures. For West Indians to ‘become’ postcolonial they were required to destroy the external authority of the British. But they also had to effect for themselves a separation from an interior culture constituted by the ideals of those whom they felt compelled to deem their enemies.
These instances of a decolonising impetus moving from the imperial margins to the imperial centre represent only the most concrete dimension of the passage of intellectual cultures which concerns us. Of equal significance, for our purpose, is the encounter itself. From the 1940s an accumulation of individual experiences was worked into a collective story of mythic properties, whose familiar forms and repetitions we can still hear today. This represented the moment when the emigrant came face to face with the lived realities of the civilisation in whose name he or she had been educated into adulthood, as distant subjects of the Crown. As the literature confirms, this transformation released a whole array of perplexed, painful musings on the unhomeliness of the imagined homeland. This is not a matter of ‘ideas’, narrowly understood. It is more an issue of the lived encounter between two conceptions of reality, each at odds with the other. Time and again we hear the home civilisation of the British described by West Indians as being ‘unreal’, the immediacy of the encounter redoubling the already existing, anxious sensation of strangeness characteristic of colonial life. To be an immigrant, in this context, was to live up against a discrepant reality, in which dislocation between expectation and experience was fierce. At the outset this was puzzling, thence – progressively – menacing.
Many aspects of this encounter proved difficult to comprehend. There was no language to hand in which this simultaneous sensation of homeliness and unhomeliness could be conveyed, or in which to articulate the experiences of a culture in which contrary perceptions of reality coexisted. This was not a metaphysical problem, dreamt up by the philosophers. It was a daily experience, at bus stops, in shops, at work. Much could not be spoken, or could only be perceived in terms of individual pathology. Race was particularly resistant in this respect. Unspeakability continued to shadow the life of the immigrant.28
And yet amongst the multitudes who made the journey to Britain there was a handful who had fled their home towns and villages with one driving purpose in mind: to become a writer. In the years after the second world war this seemingly personal, individual aspiration – to leave home and head for literary London – became a collective phenomenon. The emergence of the West Indian novel, as a form, coincides with the great migration of the 1940s and 1950s and, to a degree, was a consequence of it. The West Indian novel displayed a passionate concern for the West Indies – or more properly, perhaps, for the author’s respective island nation. Worrying away at the puzzle of Britain was something of an incidental theme: necessary, but not where the writers’ true energies lay. For our purposes, though, principally concerned as we are with Britain, this incidental theme offers a rich intellectual resource. The story of Caribbean peoples, as a modern people, has been one of movement. To narrate this story necessitates telling of many farflung destinations. Britain, in the postwar world, proved to be one such destination. A generation of writers faced the challenge of devising a language which could make sense of the dislocations and make speakable the unspeakable. Samuel Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners marks the comprehensive inauguration of this sub-genre of the West Indian novel, and in so doing, invented a new diasporic realism.29
‘Poetry’, according to George Lamming, ‘is a way of listening.’30 The West Indian emigrants who travelled to the metropole – familiar strangers, simultaneously located inside and outside the cultural field-force of the imperial civilisation – listened to Britain. We can see an early instance in Lamming’s own novel, The Emigrants, published shortly after his arrival in 1954. He describes an imagined encounter between Collis, a Trinidadian student, and the Pearsons, a white, married, native couple, comfortably off, and inhabiting – one assumes – an anonymous pocket of the English suburbs. Collis is invited to lunch, and receives fastidious attention from his hosts. But from the outset two realities collide.
The room seemed a persistent rebuke to the rudimentary shelter which Collis had found at the hostel. It was not only a habitation, remote and warm as the womb. It was an entire climate. The conveniences were natural elements by which the life of the Pearsons was nourished. Mr Pearson did not sit in the chair. He belonged to it. When he left it to serve sherry, it was not only unoccupied. It became incomplete.
In this habitus, communication between Collis and the Pearsons was perpetually on the verge of collapse, vulnerable (in Collis’s mind) to invisible fluctuations in the atmosphere of the living room which he could barely sense. The hospitality of the hosts is measured out in unconscious rituals, which to the visitor appear merely bizarre. (He wants to watch television, which he had never seen; Pearson believes a tour of the garden more appropriate.) Intervention from outside disturbs these domestic rites. The phone rings. There has been ‘trouble’ at Pearson’s factory, and the malefactors (it seems) are West Indians. The atmosphere turns chilly, though courtesies are maintained. Collis retreats to the lavatory, where he sits smoking, periodically flushing the toilet. On his return, although the polite rituals continue as before, an air of menace has descended. Pearson ‘moved about you like the weather which you might avoid, but which would not be altered by the devices you had invented to protect yourself against it’. At the heart of this comfortable English domestic interior lies an unspoken sense of lives interrupted, of a culture which – inexplicably – is losing its authority and, ultimately, an apprehension that violence lies close by.31
This represents a single, momentary micro-encounter, imagined by a writer of fiction. Its value as historical evidence needs to be seen within these limits. Yet even so, it’s clear that Lamming was attempting to find a way of putting these silences into words. Striking about these few pages is his reluctance to condemn outright the anxieties and prejudices of the English hosts. It’s not their opinions which are at issue, for these are only be surmised. It is rather the enclosed, unconscious apparatus in which their lives are set – the hospitality, the sherry, the garden, the naturalised assumption of rightful possession of the world about them – which constructs a sense of reality from which the unspeakabilities of race and apprehensions of violence ensue. This was not the sort of racism which stalked mean streets in the dead of night. It was, Lamming suggested, something more pervasive than that, operating deep in the collective imagination of the English.
Lamming’s reconstruction of this historic encounter between West Indian immigrant and indigenous whites was conducted in poetic vein. But it is plausible enough, and in its essentials can be confirmed by other kinds of contemporary testimony.32 For all its poetry, it’s also representative. If this is so, there are consequences which bear directly on the defining theme of our volume.
It’s evident that Lamming’s attention was drawn to politics in its broadest configurations. Committed to independence and to West Indian federation, he possessed as well an acute knowledge that independence demanded more than the transfer of political power from London to the respective island capitals. If West Indians were not merely to achieve self-government, but to create new societies free from the legacies of colonial mentalities, they needed to renovate the civilisation in which they themselves had been formed.
Given conventional views of the time, in which culture led an autonomous life free from the profane exigencies of political strife, thinking of this kind marked a significant shift. It’s too simple, fifty years on, to suppose that such insights have always been with us. In the epoch of decolonisation a generation of West Indians found themselves wrestling with the ‘deep’ – symbolic and cognitive – systems of England. This comprised coming to terms with the formal curriculum of the metropolitan culture, internalised through the institutions of colonial schooling, and manifest in Britain in a powerful national literary imagination, in an ever-present written and remembered historical record, and in an array of prestigious institutions of learning and letters. At the same time it also meant coming to terms with the lived, everyday culture of the metropolis, in its many variations, at street corners and in shops, in schools and sports grounds, in churches, or when invited for a glass of sherry and a stroll around an Englishman’s garden. It was as much in the social relations of this latter world (Lamming implies), even when at its most benign, that the silent authority of colonial mentalities continued to be reproduced.
The power of the Caribbean intellectuals of this generation lay in their collective capacities to connect these two domains: the arena of formal, or high, culture, and the unconscious practices of lived experience, on the ground. Evidence of this achievement can be found in two brilliant but representative volumes: Lamming’s Pleasures of Exile (published in 1960) and James’s Beyond a Boundary (1963).33 These are complex texts, which do many things. Each is exemplary in conceiving the work of decolonisation in the most profound manner. But more than that, in ruminating on the intellectual requirements for decolonising the Caribbean, they also reveal a different prospect, inviting us to consider what the metropolis itself might look like if it too were decolonised.
The Pleasures of Exile and Beyond a Boundary represent the theorisation of the migrant view of England. Lamming eventually chose to return to Barbados, while James – though locating himself for many years in Brixton, in south London – still at this stage had before him political campaigns to conduct in his native Trinidad. The figure who subsequently did most to carry this critique into the heartlands of England itself was the Jamaican, Stuart Hall.34 His early formation came precisely from the intellectual world of the migrant West Indians in Britain. His political commitments were to the cause of decolonisation, in the Caribbean, but in Africa too; the BBC’s Caribbean Voices and the influential literary magazine based in Barbados, Bim, were his natural arenas of cultural involvement. His distinctive conceptual grasp of the relations between the systematised artefacts of high culture, on the one hand and, on the other, the experiential domains of lived, vernacular cultures can be seen to have derived (in part) from the characteristic concerns of this West Indian moment of exile in the 1950s. Simultaneously, though, Hall became a significant thinker in the domestic New Left, which worked quite separately from the intellectual groupings of the West Indians – and from which, later, there emerged the intellectual project of cultural studies. In Stuart Hall these conflicting inheritances fused. The long-term impact on British intellectual life has been dramatic, testament over many years to the continuing power of this early, decolonising moment of West Indian thought.35
James, Lamming, Hall, like all the emigrants from the Caribbean, found themselves in a paradoxical situation. They had made the choice to leave their native lands in order to seek new lives. Yet living in Britain they discovered themselves to be perpetually up against the civilisation of their old colonisers, on the front line – in effect – of the unofficial work of decolonisation. To live as an immigrant, on the home ground of the imperial nation, required many mental transformations, all of which depended on the capacities to interpret the signs and symbols of their new environment. It required that West Indians quickly learned the dispositions of the unspoken, invisible world about them – that they became, essentially, practical readers of the culture of the British. Despite the occasional plea from C. L. R. James, we should not be led into supposing that the forms of knowledge which resulted were unique to West Indians, a function only of their particular historical past and thus unavailable to colonials from other parts of the empire. We know that this was not so. But nor should we underestimate what was specific to the West Indian situation. In part, this raises the question of the unusually deep penetration of the institutions of Victorian civic life into the cultural organisation of the colonial Caribbean. And in part it indicates that we also need to take into account the collective experiences of early, mass emigration, from 1948 and through the following decade. The consequences of this experience of emigration were not confined to formally accredited intellectuals, to the poets and novelists alone. Decoding British culture came to be the necessary pastime of all who journeyed across the seas.
The extent of the great postwar migration represented a true diaspora of Caribbean peoples. By the middle of the 1960s the anglophone West Indian population in Britain was greater than in any single Caribbean territory, barring only Jamaica and Trinidad. Those who journeyed from the Caribbean recall that they became West Indian (as opposed, say, to Antiguan or Guyanese or St Lucian) in London or Birmingham: indeed for many of them this was part and parcel of becoming black.36 In the 1950s, especially, West Indian was an identity in which the realities of the diasporic experience reverberated deeply – an identity, in fact, given special force by those who had departed their Caribbean homelands.37 Cultural institutions in the Caribbean, consciously seeking to fashion a new collective West Indian identity free from the trammels of colonialism, called upon West Indian writers wherever they were to be found. The journal Bim, which effectively functioned as the resource for the BBC’s Caribbean Voices from 1943 to 1958, drew its authors from metropolis or colony as the occasion demanded. Trinidad’s organ of the People’s National Movement, the Nation, under James’s editorship from 1958, did likewise. (What other revolutionary, anti-colonial newspaper would republish articles from The Times Literary Supplement?)38 The West Indian novel, the product of the Smollets and the Fieldings (as Lamming liked to think it) of the new Caribbean nations, was for a time at least an expatriate form. What happened with the literary magazines, with political newspapers, with the novel, was repeated across the culture as a whole. Many fissures opened up as a result, especially between those who remained in the Caribbean and those who had left. There occurred, additionally, fierce contention about who could be deemed a true West Indian. However, the forces pressing for decolonisation operated not only in the territorial colonies of the West Indies but also inside the metropolis as well.
At every point throughout the last century Caribbean lives were shaped by the collective experience of migration and diaspora. Migrants coming to Britain after the war brought with them not only memories of the West Indies: they brought, too, other stories, of other places. Above all, they embodied (to varying degrees) the complex histories of what retrospectively has been termed the black Atlantic.39 In the years which encompassed the decolonisation of the European empires, the civil rights and Black Power movements in the US, and the opening phase of popular mobilisation against the apartheid state in South Africa, the politics of the black Atlantic was at its most mobile.40 This marked a new historical conjuncture in which many distinct, local historical times converged. The global, or Atlantic, dimensions of black politics pressed in at every turn. Independent Ghana, especially, provided a second (or third) home to an entire generation of West Indian migrants, more proximate in mental maps to Notting Hill and Brixton than many a London suburb.41 As a consequence of the migration, native Britons were pulled into this field-force. Indeed, both in its British particulars and in the larger compass the role of West Indians in orchestrating the intellectual consequences of these evolving, transatlantic connections was striking.42
We can see, for example, something of this in the life of Claudia Jones, and something too of the impact on Britain. Claudia Jones was born in Port of Spain in 1915. Aged eight, she and her family travelled to New York, where they set up home in Harlem. As a young woman she became a tyro in the Young Communist League, and Harlem radicalism entered her being. Poor health and constant harassment from the authorities wore her down: she was repeatedly arraigned, suffered a stretch in prison, and faced the perpetual threat of deportation. In 1955 it was finally ruled that she be deported but, as the colonial government in Trinidad wanted nothing to do with her, she was shipped to Britain.
In December she was met off the boat-train in London by two West Indians active in socialist, anti-colonial politics, and who drove her off through the thick London fog on a motorbike barely capable of taking even one of them.43 Though it seems the welcome was warm enough, it hardly matched the scale of her send-off from the United States. Despite the fact that she carried with her a remarkable reputation as a Communist militant it is evident that the British party was unnerved by her. Harlem, even Communist Harlem, was a world apart from the CPGB of the 1950s. Until her death in London in 1964, relations between her and the British party were both distant and strained. Even so, her years in Britain were dominated by tireless political activity in which she demonstrated a gift for bringing together people, organisations and ideas which customarily remained disconnected. Crucially, she determined to animate the specifically West Indian culture of the emigrant, on the home ground of Britain itself.
In March 1958 she launched the West Indian Gazette or, to give it its full title, the West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News. Like many such ventures, this was the product of colossal human energy (hers mainly) and minimal material back-up. The paper functioned as an organiser for West Indians in the UK, but in addition addressed issues more strictly particular to the Caribbean. Into its orbit came almost the entire roster of West Indian intellectuals of the period: politicians in the Caribbean (Norman Manley, Cheddi Jagan and Phillys Allfrey);44 expatriate political workers (David Pitt and John La Rose);45 and the writers (Lamming, Selvon, Jan Carew and Andrew Salkey).46 Harlem connections were maintained, most of all through Paul Robeson and his wife, Eslanda, who were politically and personally close to Jones. Amy Ashwood Garvey, Marcus Garvey’s first wife and a long-term friend of Claudia Jones’s, was on the board of the Gazette and active across an entire spectrum of black politics in London.47 Jomo Kenyatta (an old ally of James’s and Padmore’s in London twenty years earlier) was interviewed. Links were established with the principal British anti-colonial organisation, Fenner Brockway’s Movement for Colonial Freedom. Through the auspices of the paper, Claudia Jones organised a hunger strike in solidarity with those indicted in the Rivonia trial in South Africa (amongst whom was Nelson Mandela), and a demonstration in London outside the US embassy to coincide with the historic march on Washington for civil rights in August 1963. She was active in attempting to counter the ferocious outbursts of race hatred, in Notting Hill in 1958 and again in Smethwick six years later. In sum, the Gazette and its public campaigning represented a new kind of politics in Britain, in which recognition of racial oppression was definitive – there simply was no comparable public voice at the time – and in which the diasporic or black Atlantic dimensions of being a West Indian registered as a critical resource from which Britain and its civilisation might be understood. The Gazette represented a project produced by West Indians, for West Indians. With the benefit of hindsight, however, we could also conclude that – had they chosen to read it – the paper would have offered metropolitan Britons the knowledge that decolonisation was not only something which happened ‘over there’, but operated closer to home. In a vernacular, journalistic and necessarily more impromptu voice it spoke from the same place, and to the same ends, as James and Lamming.
While Claudia Jones struggled to keep the Gazette alive she also poured her energies into a connected initiative – the recreation of carnival, in Britain, as a lifeline for West Indian emigrants and, simply, as an assertion of the human worth of West Indian peoples. In August and September 1958 white riots erupted in Notting Hill, during which migrant residents in the neighbourhood were threatened with lynchings, and many were beaten. To read the national press of the time one can see that, although public opinion was initially confused, over the days which followed opinion shifted. By the end of the episode ‘immigration’ had come to signify ‘too many’, while ‘the immigrant’ increasingly appeared as an object for police intervention. Faced with this situation, in which neither integration nor everyday coexistence seemed possible, thousands of West Indians returned home. Those who stayed realised that in order to build a life in Britain they could rely only on their own resources. From this realisation the idea of carnival was resurrected. Claudia Jones was in the forefront of those who believed that carnival might prove to be a means for creating a community out of a situation of fear and hatred, as it had in the past. London’s first carnival was held in the chilly, municipal environment of St Pancras Town Hall, in February 1959. (It was billed to coincide with carnival in the Caribbean, not with more appropriate climatic conditions in the UK.) From these inauspicious beginnings carnival and its allied occasions flourished. The BBC was persuaded to televise it. Mighty Sparrow travelled from Trinidad to sing.48 The carnival queen contest marked an explicit attempt to instil popular pride in being black. West Indians involved in the performing arts were called upon: Pearl Connor, Pearl Prescod and Corinne Skinner-Carter.49 Paul Robeson lent his talents and authority as (in differing contexts) did others amongst the Caribbean writers in London. White Britons were cajoled into participating, and little corners of British society found themselves to be undergoing incipient creolisation. (In 1962 the carnival queen judges included not only Earl Cameron, Althea McNish and Andrew Salkey, but the playwright John Osborne and theatre director Joan Littlewood.)50 ‘A pride in being West Indian’, Jones wrote in the 1959 souvenir programme, ‘is undoubtedly at the root of this unity: a pride that has its origin in the drama of nascent nationhood, and that pride encompasses not only the creativeness, uniqueness and originality of West Indian mime, song and dance – but is the genesis of the nation itself.’51
‘The drama of nascent nationhood’ was clearly active in Claudia Jones’s imagination. But her commitments to the West Indies were mediated through an almost lifelong absence. She had left Trinidad as a young girl and never again returned either to Trinidad or to the Caribbean; thereafter, the realities of Harlem constituted her immediate mental world. Hers was a commitment to West Indian identity in which the experience of diaspora was uppermost. To be West Indian, in this sense, was a strategy to live with the dislocations imposed by migration.
The intellectual world which Claudia Jones’s generation of West Indian emigrants brought to Britain was – for these reasons – much more extensive and multi-dimensional than the designation West Indian might at first imply. It provided one of the channels, for example, through which the innovatory jazz sounds of Greenwich Village and Harlem reached Britain. It offered an openness to the cultural forms of the United States which elsewhere in Britain in these years could barely be spotted, both in relation to the formal artefacts of high culture (the regard for Herman Melville, for example) or in the more complex arena of commodifed popular cultures.52 Every aspect of black America was seized upon: the West Indian Gazette’s enthusiasm for James Baldwin was symptomatic. Through the 1960s, West Indians in Britain were alive to the cultural developments in the newly independent countries of black Africa, and representatives of a new generation of black African novelists found in the Caribbean Artists Movement a welcoming home.53
Or in the more formal field of black politics the same was true. When Martin Luther King first travelled to London in March 1957, as an unknown representative of the southern black churches, it was C. L. R. James who acted as his unofficial host, introducing him to George Lamming and to David Pitt. On King’s subsequent trip at the end of 1964, when he stopped over on his way to Stockholm to collect his Nobel peace prize, Claudia Jones arranged a private meeting at her home, to which David Pitt and Pearl Connor were also invited. Andrew Salkey, who managed to arrange three separate BBC interviews with King, remembers being ‘galvanised’ by this second visit.54 Two months later Malcolm X returned to Britain, invited to speak on this occasion by the African Society of the London School of Economics. His guide and principal interlocutor turned out to be Jan Carew, who was so moved by the experience that many years later he wrote an entire book describing the meeting.55 In July 1967 Stokley Carmichael came to London to address the Dialectics of Liberation conference at the Round House, at Chalk Farm in London.56 He met with C. L. R. James for the first time; he spoke at public meetings in Brixton and Notting Hill; and John La Rose organised a smaller workshop discussion in Hackney. A short while after Brathwaite recalled the impact of Carmichael’s arrival. According to Brathwaite, he
enunciated a way of seeing the black West Indies that seemed to many to make sense of the entire history of slavery and colonial suppression, of the African diaspora in the New World … He produced images of shared communal values. A black International was possible. West Indians, denied heroes by their imposed education, responded.57
Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Stokley Carmichael: all, when they came to Britain, gravitated to the West Indians, who – in turn – ‘responded’.
Or we can pause on one final image, whose juxtapositions are revealing. Thanks to the services of one of our present contributors, Louis James, the inaugural meeting of the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) took place in Canterbury, at the University of Kent in that same summer of 1967. For those unfamiliar with the imaginative landscape of England it can be said that Canterbury does not conventionally register as a redoubt of postcolonial passions. In opening the formal proceedings Brathwaite suggested that CAM would come to equal in significance the illustrious Présence africaine congresses of Paris and Rome. Maybe there was a touch of hyperbole in this verdict. But the thought of the ghost of Présence africaine in Canterbury – that’s something!
This, then, is the hypothesis: that generations of West Indian migrants coming to Britain in the twentieth century brought with them the gift of a particular vantage from which to comprehend the civilisation of the mother country. This was a gift which derived not from the social marginality of the migrant, but rather – as I’ve emphasised – from the consequences of a specific history and from the experience of crossing the seas. The work of the accredited intellectuals (calypso singers as much as novelists) was to transform this collective experience into a public language which, in turn, could become the medium through which new lives could be imagined, after colonialism.
Basically, this hypothesis is a distillation of one part of C. L. R. James’s more general philosophy of history, although in its essentials it was an argument shared by many of his generation. The main modification attempted here has been to reposition these formulations in such a way that their specifically British concerns move from a secondary to a principal matter. This is an awkward and perhaps contentious manoeuvre, for it requires re-establishing (if only provisionally, or in new ways) the primacy of the relationship between metropolis and colony – which is, of course, exactly the predicament from which the West Indians were trying to free themselves. But the continuing incapacities in Britain to recall that these relations ever existed provide, we believe, appropriate justification.
The chapters which follow test this argument, empirically, in different domains and at different times. The contributors differ in their estimation of James. They differ too in their interpretation of the larger tradition of West Indian thought. How best to conceptualise the collective presence of West Indian intellectuals remains an open question. One purpose of our volume here is to heed (so far as we can) a plurality of voices: female as well as male; brown and white as well as black; religious as well as secular. This complicates the story, but it is a necessary complication. It requires a word.
It makes sense to establish a James, or a James-Lamming, or even a James-Lamming-Jones tradition of mid-century marxisant West Indian thought. But beyond that we have to be more circumspect. We can’t elevate all the particular, contrary figures we discuss into a single undifferentiated West Indian tradition, of collective scriptural authority. Indeed, part of our argument is that for all James’s insights it is the plurality and internal differentiation of this body of intellectual thought which best serve us, today.
In this, much turns on the notion of a tradition itself. In the abstract it can be put like this. Historians are now alert to the mystique which shadows the idea of traditions. They are taught to uncover the fact that traditions – even those to which they themselves are committed – don’t fall from the sky, but are produced in particular historical circumstances, for particular purposes. Traditions are the result of painstaking cultural work, deployed for conscious or unconscious political ends, and the more effective they become the more powerfully they organise structures of inclusion and exclusion. Historians are trained to root out the mendacious, the bogus and the merely wishful dimensions of tradition. And yet: in our private and collective lives we need traditions (or something like them), for traditions are a means for connecting the past to the present, and for enabling us to imagine the future. This, then, leaves us in a double-bind, both suspicious of tradition and yet requiring what it delivers.
This can be argued more concretely. James came to write about the West Indian intellectual, as a specific object of study, in 1968, at a time when insurrectionary politics took hold of public life across the globe and when, in the Caribbean, Black Power emerged as a new political force. It was in this context that James and those around him found it necessary to recover John Jacob Thomas and to inaugurate a tradition of West Indian intellectuals, so named. The making of the tradition was explicit. James identifies the four principal ‘descendants’ of Thomas, and names them: Marcus Garvey, Aimé Césaire, George Padmore and Frantz Fanon. We shouldn’t be surprised that James fashioned Thomas in his own image, emphasising his dispossession, rather than his social standing, in Trinidad. Nor that James turned him into something of a lone manful hero, in a characteristically Victorian manner (borrowing more than he cared to notice from Thomas Carlyle). Nor indeed that James should declare: ‘Today Thomas would be quite at home with the concept of Black Power’.58 Indebted though we are to James for his recuperation of Thomas, we can also appreciate that the historical circumstances in which this recovery took place imposed certain silences. It’s impossible to tell from James’s account, for example, the degree to which both Froude and Thomas (and thus James himself) shared certain defining assumptions about civilised values – a point to which Wilson Harris (from his own location) has drawn our attention.59 We can’t, in other words, take James’s tradition on trust.
James wasn’t unaware of the conceptual complexities of the task he was engaged in. With his usual sense of history he realised that, in this moment as much as in any other, he was responding to ‘the situation in which our historical past has placed us’.60 In that situation, in 1968, that tradition (Thomas, Garvey, Césaire, Padmore, Fanon) appeared the most urgent to hold to. But we, a generation after, have been placed by history in a different situation, and need to act accordingly. This doesn’t imply we jettison the Jamesian pantheon; but it calls for its rethinking and relocation.
A number of questions follow.
The starkness with which James (at this point in his life) imagined the tradition of his predecessors reveals too the force of its exclusions. Most striking of all, from a contemporary view, is the masculine imperative. It is still difficult to get past James, and past those formed in his image, to grasp the plurality of those who have contributed to the full complex of Caribbean thought. James’s figure of the West Indian intellectual was silently but powerfully male, reflecting his own subjective trajectory: his smart school, modelled on the lines of the English public school (Queen’s Royal College in Port of Spain), cricket, and his vocation to be a writer. To be a man of letters was to engineer an escape from the confines of colonial life; to aim to be a woman of letters, improvising on the way, was a more perilous – indeed, often unimaginable – option. Through much of the last century, conventional sexual divisions were reproduced in the various radical coteries of Caribbean intellectual life, with the women assisting, editing, organising – which, although activities of the intellect, were rarely accredited as such. Una Marson knew Padmore and James in London in the 1930s, and her views of them are recorded. But what of their views of her?
These social realities, and the inequalities they represented, are familiar – but no less important for that. These suppressed, submerged, fragmentary histories need to be revealed. But this will only take us so far. We also need to explore how specifically feminine perspectives reconstituted the given intellectual ground of the intellectuals, and the consequences of this on the British scene.
First, we might think about the persona of the intellectual, per se. There is an important literature on the role of boys’ schooling in the making of the intellectual culture of the colonial Caribbean.61 The profound consequence of this system of education cannot be overestimated. The elite institutions of this system were designed to produce intellectuals of a very traditional sort, modelled on the English pattern, with the masculine enclaves of the private schools and Oxford and Cambridge in command. How far this worked is a matter for debate. But something of the resultant social disconnection can be seen in the writings of the migrant intellectuals of the 1950s and 1960s – especially, for example, in the internal debates of the Caribbean Artists Movement.62
Second, we could consider the connection between a certain kind of feminist consciousness and broader conceptions of popular life. Claudia Jones, for example, arrived in Britain with an unparalleled understanding of the specific forms of exploitation of black working women.63 In terms of political practicalities this gave her an unusually sure sense of how to intervene in migrant popular life. The reasoning which led her to launch carnival is instructive, for it highlights the degree to which she could translate the popular aspirations of the intellectuals into the lived realities of daily experience. Even her championing of carnival queen competitions and her insistence that the West Indian Gazette carry beauty tips – although not exactly conforming to the desiderata of contemporary feminism – indicate her determination to win a specifically female audience to the goals of black self-realisation. Or we could recall again Una Marson who – like many West Indians of her and later generations – discovered herself as black in London, by imagining her own historical links to Africa. In so doing, she positioned herself in new and significant ways, as a West Indian. However, we can also detect in her thinking a subtle critique not only of colonialism overseas, but of proximate social authority closer to the mother country: forms of social authority more deeply implicated in the idea of England. This, in some respects, makes her a more contemporary and a more interesting figure than some of her male peers.
Third, we need to reflect on the particular forms of knowledge which were produced. Here, as an example, we can turn to Jean Rhys.64 Rhys does not sit comfortably in any given political tradition nor – given the fact that she was white – is she easily accommodated into any larger Caribbean collective. The degree to which her work can claim any West Indian identity has been, and perhaps continues to be, a matter of sharp controversy. Brathwaite has expressed his impatience with the attention given to Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, claiming that it interferes with a proper appreciation of the dynamics of racial exploitation. From a contrary position, Kenneth Ramchand believes her early novel, Voyage in the Dark, while only tangentially West Indian in content, represents the Caribbean’s ‘first Negritude novel’.65 Tactically, however (for our purposes), it may be possible to sidestep these disputes about race and ethnicity and to consider how her fiction works.
Rhys wrote in a recognisably modernist manner, in which the inner subjective life of her protagonists never seems to be reconciled with the diktats of the given social world. Much of her inventiveness as a writer derives from her capacities to craft a narrative which in itself dramatises and makes evident the workings of these discrepant realities – social and subjective – in all their textured, phenomenological everydayness. Generally this is organised in her fiction in terms of her female protagonists encountering the norms of a patriarchal world, in which the inner lives of her characters cumulatively assume a disturbing unreality. This is a narrative, in other words, which takes as its principal object the coexistence of discrepant realities. It’s not possible to divine the extent to which this derived from her memories of her West Indian childhood; but it is at least a parallel or homologous problem to that experienced by the non-white West Indians encountering the white norms of the metropolis, as I suggested earlier when I introduced the passage from Lamming’s The Emigrants. The knowledge her narratives produced can, minimally, function as a wider resource for understanding the characteristic experience of those who had crossed the seas, allowing us to reach the unreality not only of the new world they had encountered, but also of their own subjective sense of being.
These points are summarily stated. They suggest, only, that different conceptual or political starting points produce different sorts of tradition – or call into question those traditions which are bequeathed to us. The more different lived identities are respected, the harder it is to think in terms of a unitary tradition.
One final question, though, remains in the air. In a variety of ways most of those discussed here, with differing degrees of passion, would have thought of themselves as West Indians, and committed themselves in some way to a West Indian future. This is not true, though, of V. S. Naipaul. Of those we discuss, he remains the joker in the pack. What of him?
With perhaps no exceptions, Naipaul would regard the political philosophies of those represented in the chapters which follow as demonstrable vanities, harmful not only to their practitioners but to the world at large. He has neither sympathy nor interest in their preoccupations. The questions which prompted this book he would, we can be sure, deem irrelevant, signifying (in his mind) only a toxic combination of vulgarity and hubris. Locating Naipaul himself as a West Indian, emphasising the commonality of his history with those others we discuss, would be an undoubted source of vexation. But if for a moment we ignore the postures, we can see that – in formation – he is, as an intellectual, a kind of paradigmatic West Indian of his generation. Partly because of the calculated sourness of his public pronouncements, and partly because of the palpably autobiographical nature of much of his fiction, a deal of the comment on his writing dwells on his well-paraded psychological quirks and flaws. But to locate him in a larger body of West Indian writing offers a different viewpoint. As he relates on numerous occasions and in numerous forms, in 1938 he moved from his grandmother’s Hindu house in rural Trinidad, which was still close to the rituals and social ways of village life in India, to the urban, black world of Port of Spain; twelve years later, he made the journey to Britain and to Oxford University. This double migration haunts his memories so intensely that he repeatedly returns to it in his fiction, rewriting these journeys time and again, introducing different motifs but acting out in his imagination the same repetitions. We know from his stories that the psychic shocks of these journeys went as deep into his inner life as it did for others of his generation. As he understands well enough, this is a past which refuses to disappear – however much he wishes that it would. His hatreds of the indignities of colonial life are on record, as are his deep disappointments with England once he came to know it, including its normalised racial bigotry. The ‘schizophrenia’ which he identifies underpinning his own life represents only another way of describing the more familiar condition of living as a colonial, and migrating to the metropolis. While others expended much energy in working through these issues, recognising their collective properties, Naipaul chose to reconcile the dislocations he experienced by inventing his ‘other’ self, in breathtakingly traditional manner, as the writer, with all appropriate affectations properly in place.
Despite indications of an early regard, Naipaul’s contempt for C. L. R. James runs deep. The fact that – in the new century – he still feels moved to speak this contempt may itself be revealing, for James appears to represent (for Naipaul) a phantom of an unappeased West Indian past. If in their respective formations there are certain formal similarities, in the manner they chose to live out their histories they are each other’s contrary.
Naipaul remains in England. Nothing could possibly induce him to return to Trinidad. Many of those West Indians who felt obliged to come to Britain moved on – returning to the Caribbean when independence offered some space, or creating a location in North America, or living with the interruptions of a more peripatetic transatlantic life. We are now in a different historical situation, when sons and daughters, or grandsons and granddaughters, of those who made the crossing, but who themselves are British-born, carry these generational memories and use them to intervene in their own political times, as truly immigrated citizens of the British polity.66 This past is still with them – and, through the displacements which we hope this book reveals, also with those of us who have only heard the stories.
When the authors met to discuss their contributions it became increasingly apparent that our selection of individual intellectuals, and our selection of the wider spectrum of intellectual organisations which represented Caribbean thinking, was so partial it could be deemed idiosyncratic. Discussion impressed upon us the fact that it represented only a tiny sample from a rich and complex intellectual presence. The more we talked the more we realised there was to do. Furthermore it may seem strange that James – whose arguments first triggered the idea of producing such a volume – receives just a single chapter.67 But we were persuaded that other voices needed to be heard. We were also persuaded that to do justice to this collective presence would require more volumes than we could possibly contemplate.68