a canefield in the Caribbean
This blog was borne out of the gap on the internet of criticism on Caribbean drama.In the long term, this blogger aspires to service the Caribbean theatre as a voice on the internet which bears witness to the many productions and criticism produced by Caribbean people which often go unnoticed or are forgotten. The internet is a fantastic medium for the recording of such plays and criticism because it serves as memory where that of humans is imperfect. Everyone knows that once something is on the internet, it is there forever. So without further ado, let us begin.
A seminal text of Caribbean literature is of course, Derek Walcott’s, What the Twilight Says, and no respectful blog would be complete without mention of it. I intend to go a step further and give a summary and review of the introduction, as the blog is named after it. Before there was the Twilight franchise, there was another way people in the Caribbean associated the word Twilight, as the introduction to the eponymous work What the Twilight Says, which is a collection of essays on various writers. Such writers include names as diverse as C.L.R James and Tennyson.
The introductory essay “What the Twilight Says” is essentially the reflections of a life dedicated to the arts in the Caribbean. Derek Walcott calls upon his extensive knowledge as a man of theatre – the original meaning of playwright – as one who is a professional of his craft and who knows all there is to know about the theatre, and he is certainly one who knows of the difficulties of production in the Caribbean. In this essay he speaks of the need of the actor to first divest himself of all that he knows of the world so that he can understand.
The essay begins with the approaching dusk falling on a village setting in the Caribbean. The poverty of the village is made to seem lyrical. There is trepidation however as the impending darkness marks the “metaphor for the withdrawal of empire and the beginning of our doubt” (4). This is the meaning of twilight in this work: It is simply the turning of an epoch (119). Written in 1970, it referred to the receding British empire (by then almost non-existent. Some have noted the end of the empire took place as early as 1947 in the Partition of India) and the darkness was the uncertainty of the shift of powers from white colonial master to black national ruler.
Instead of focusing on black national leaders, Walcott privileges the Caribbean artist in the role of bringing to the surface the cultural consciousness of the country. He explains: “The future of West Indian militancy lies in art” (16). By this he means that the actors instinctively know there is a need for revolt even though they may not know the tools to use. He however explains that the man of the theatre has a desperate hunger for that which has been taken from him.
The sparse body of West Indian theatre still feeds on the subject of emaciation and what it produces … Hunger induces its delirium, and it is this fever for heroic examples that can produce the glorification of revenge (17-18).
Here Walcott is speaking about the desire to give the empire its just desserts and hold the empire accountable to the lack of origins and deracination it has suffered in that while it knows it is black, it has no roots to cling to. “The depth of being rooted is related to the shallowness of racial despair. The migratory West Indian feels rootless on his own earth, chafing at its breaches” (19).
This brings us to the central focus of Walcott’s introductory essay: the problem of identity. There are two conflicting systems, that of the African and the European, neither of which any longer belong to the West Indian. Therefore, Walcott suggests an assimilation, similar to the theory of creolite of Edouard Glissant. Walcott finds it ineffectual to dismiss either of the systems and shows particular disdain for the romanticist notions of Africa by Afrocentrists. He challenges these essentialist Afrocentrists by saying:
But we are all strangers here. The claim we put forward now as Africans is not our inheritance but a bequest, like that of other races, a bill for the condition of our arrival as slaves. Our own ancestors shared that complicity, and there is no one left on whom we can exact revenge. That is the laceration of our shame (10).
Though now in the uncetain period of twilight, Walcott suggests that it is not all doom and gloom because of the historylessness of the island inhabitants. He suggests that “If there was nothing, there was everything to be made. With this prodigious ambition one began” (4) and reminds us of the freedom of expression there is in the Caribbean as a tabula rasa of sorts. Till this day there is much space last on the slate for new ideologies, literary output, critiques etc to be added to the still sparse board.
Walcott, Derek. “What the Twilight Says.” What the Twilight Says: Essays. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1998. Print. 3-35.