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‘There are no paths in water’: History, Memory and Narrative Form in Caryl Phillips's Crossing the River (1993) and Foreigners: Three English Lives (2007)

‘There are no paths in water’: History, Memory and Narrative Form in Caryl Phillips's Crossing the River (1993) and Foreigners: Three English Lives (2007)

Baillie, Justine ORCID: 0000-0002-0056-9155 (2017) ‘There are no paths in water’: History, Memory and Narrative Form in Caryl Phillips's Crossing the River (1993) and Foreigners: Three English Lives (2007). In: Kral, Françoise, (ed.) Sounding out History : Caryl Phillips's Crossing the River. Lectures du Monde Anglophone . Presses universitaires de Paris Ouest, Paris. ISBN 978-2840162827

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Abstract

Caryl Phillips’s delineation of history in Crossing the River (1993) and Foreigners: Three English Lives (2007) is dependent on a narrative approach that is 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 the history of Leeds against David Oluwale’s dislocation in the city and its institutions. In the presentation of voices belonging to 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 without recourse to a didactic approach for the understanding of history. In Walter Benjamin’s terms, the narrative technique employed is that 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. As with Benjamin’s intention in The Arcades Project, Phillips ‘needn’t say anything. Merely show’. Rather than approach history in Enlightenment terms, as progressive continuity, Phillips’s elliptical, disjointed and juxtapositional narratives illuminate time and space in ways that correspond with Benjamin’s ‘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 transcendent of time, space and history as the voice of the African farmer both opens and closes the novel and encompasses the 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 both Phillips’s narrative form and history itself.

Item Type: Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords: Walter Benjamin; History; Modernity; Modernism
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PE English
Faculty / Department / Research Group: Faculty of Architecture, Computing & Humanities
Faculty of Architecture, Computing & Humanities > Department of Literature, Language & Theatre
Last Modified: 11 Apr 2019 13:58
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: None
Selected for GREAT 2018: None
Selected for GREAT 2019: GREAT 1
URI: http://gala.gre.ac.uk/id/eprint/18499

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