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'"There are no paths in water": History, memory and narrative form in "Crossing the River" (1993) and "Foreigners: Three English Lives" (2007)'

'"There are no paths in water": History, memory and narrative form in "Crossing the River" (1993) and "Foreigners: Three English Lives" (2007)'

Baillie, Justine ORCID: 0000-0002-0056-9155 (2018) '"There are no paths in water": History, memory and narrative form in "Crossing the River" (1993) and "Foreigners: Three English Lives" (2007)'. In: Inhabiting the Voids of History: A Conference on Caryl Phillips, 23-24 May 2017, University of Caen, Normandy (ERIBIA - ERIAC).

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Caryl Phillips’s delineation of history in Crossing the River and Foreigners: Three English Lives is dependent on a narrative approach that is, as Phillips himself has said, polyphonic in its presentation of different voices and the expression of competing histories in a variety of narrative forms. Phillips’s narrative modes range from the biographical to the epistolary and, in Foreigners: Three English Lives, the juxtaposition of archival accounts of Leeds’s history against David’s fractured experience of dislocation in the city. In the presentation of voices of those both complicit in, and ensnared by, the vicissitudes and intersections of the histories of Europe, the Americas and Africa, Phillips presents opportunities for the reception of narrative rather than a didactic approach to the understanding of history. In Walter Benjamin’s terms, Phillips’s narrative methods and his approach to history are those of ‘literary montage’ as Phillips draws, in the opening of Crossing the River, on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in a narrative move that belies the continuities of the Enlightenment project and its civilizing proclamations. Here Phillips returns to, yet also inverts, Conradian modernism. Following Benjamin in The Arcades Project, Phillips ‘needn’t say anything. Merely show’. Rather than approach history in Enlightenment terms, as the continuation of a linked chain of progressive events, Phillips’s ellipses, disjointed and juxtapositional narratives show time and space as forming a ‘constellation’ of unfixed points, both vanishing and re-emergent. For Benjamin, ‘history is not simply a science, but also, and not least, a form of remembrance’. In Crossing the River this remembrance is communal and transcendant of time, space and history as the African farmer’s voice and memory of selling his children both opens and closes the novel and encompasses the voices and experiences of his three children across two hundred and fifty years and three continents. The farmer claims that ‘there are no paths in water’, echoing the fluidity and malleability of Phillips’s narrative form and of history itself.

Item Type: Conference or Conference Paper (Keynote)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Diaspora, Internationalism, Modernism, Postcolonial, The sea
Faculty / Department / Research Group: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > Department of Literature, Language & Theatre
Last Modified: 12 Aug 2020 10:47
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: None
Selected for GREAT 2018: None
Selected for GREAT 2019: None
Selected for REF2021: None

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