No. 1 - Year 6 - 12/2015
Literature and Culture

Home Rhapsodies: Caryl Phillips and Cartography of Transgressivity

DOI: 10.15291/sic/


Transgressivity, in a broad sense, denotes a state of movement from one distinct position, mode, or territory to another, be it spatial, geographical, mental, spiritual, or even narrative. Transgression occurs when one crosses boundaries, in other words, limes of different entities. Geocritical transgressivity, which is a multifaceted concept, may lead to a variety of interpretations at many different strata. Transgressivity finds echoes in Caryl Phillips’s narratives, at times in geographical forms, where a deterritorialized character crosses borders without ever gaining reterritorialization, at other times, in his fragmented narration where the reader stands at a threshold. Our paper uses Phillips’s A New World Order (2001) in particular as a key text through this geocritical lens of transgressivity to see to what extent it functions as the author’s map legend that presents a cartographic pattern of his writing in general. Our discussion also focuses on Phillips’s distinct analyses in A New World Order to shed light on his other narratives in a geocritical context.

Key Words: Caryl Phillips, A New World Order, transgressivity, deterritorialization, reterritorialization, transcendental homelessness, rhapsody, Geocriticism

“I recognise the place, I feel at home here, but I don’t belong.
I am of, and not of, this place”
Caryl Phillips, A New World Order


Transgressivity, in a broad sense, denotes a state of movement from one distinct position, mode, or territory to another, be it spatial, geographical, mental, spiritual, or even narrative. Transgression occurs when one crosses boundaries, in other words, limes of different entities. Geocritical transgressivity, which is a multifaceted concept, may lead to a variety of interpretations at many different strata. In Westphal’s understanding, transgression is a way of seeing what lies beyond a threshold, and a threshold may restrict an individual, or offer him a challenge: a limes is “intended to make one stop,” and a limen “intended to be crossed” (42). Transgressivity produces such duality which also finds echoes in Caryl Phillips’s narratives, at times in geographical forms, where a deterritorialized character crosses borders without ever gaining reterritorialization, at other times, in his fragmented narration where the reader stands at a threshold. Our paper uses Phillips’s A New World Order (2001) in particular as a key text through this geocritical lens of transgressivity to see to what extent it functions as the author’s map legend that presents a cartographic pattern of his writing in general. Our discussion also focuses on Phillips’s distinct analyses in A New World Order to shed light on his other narratives in a geocritical context. Phillips’s narrative in A New World Order starts at an airport terminal, and follows a geographic pattern, an itinerary of the geographies which contribute to his own deterritorialization: the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, and Britain.

Transgressive Vision(s) of A New World Order

Caryl Phillips in A New World Order surveys the lives and achievements of various literary figures and artists from the United States, Britain, Africa, and the Caribbean in a cartographic pattern. A New World Order, in a way, provides an exploratory ground to see how these individuals’ ‘transgressive’ lives, thoughts, and achievements have influenced Phillips, and to what extent their styles carry echoes in his writing, and how perspectives and experiences of these figures also enable Phillips to explore newly-emerging trends of belonging, homelessness, and border-crossing movements of masses across the globe in the ever-present query of his own homelessness. A New World Order is a key text, and in cartographic terms, it appears to present a literary ‘map legend’ which may guide the reader through Phillips’s writings.

In A New World Order, Phillips declares that the “old static order” where one claims a superior position over the other is dead, and the “New World,” he suggests, is the one wherein the transgressive movements of “the migrant, the asylum seeker, or the refugee [will urge] one global conversation with limited participation to all, and full participation available to none” (5). As a writer of Caribbean origin, Caryl Phillips has a sense of multiple belonging originating from “a combination of different historical ancestries” and genealogies like African, European, Indian, and Jewish, as he affirms in an interview with Erika J. Waters (1995). In the same interview, he also verifies the nature of his fluid identity:

I partly think it comes out of the accident of birth in a very poor village in the north, the most removed village from the capital, in St. Kitts – it’s almost a colony within a colony; a very poor village – and the journey to the capital, the journey to England, from the north of England to Oxford, and the journey from there back to the Caribbean. I mean, all the way; all the way along the line, you're speaking different nuances of English, different voices. You're having to mix with a wide range of people.… But then of course, anybody from the Caribbean has a diverse background, historically, in their culture as well, a combination of the geographical movement that I've made in my life. (Waters 109)

It appears that Phillips himself has been traversing on such a vague and conflicting territory in the stratified nature of the “New World.” This new world is a transgressive one, where one may originate from a place, and may be born in another place, and may grow up in a totally different place, and, yet, may prefer to lead a displaced life in a fourth place (A New World Order 6). Phillips, like a rhapsode,[2] patches up such an array of multi-spatialities and temporalities into “one harmonious entity,” and he seems to find peace in such a transgressive existence, albeit ambiguous, where a “global conversation” prevails (6). In his spatiotemporal exploration, he discovers that what matters is ‘feeling at home,’ not belonging to a particular geography (6). Geocritically speaking, this ambiguous un/belonging finds resonance in Phillips’s narratives in many shapes, such as border-crossing movements and experiences, social transgressions, and fragmented styles and forms.

Phillips in A New World Order gives voice to various characters that transgress the troublesome borders of race and nation, and find self-defining components in motion and mobility across boundaries, and these characters stand at an indistinct threshold which renders ‘productive’ homelessness and displacement. Phillips as such a figure himself considers ‘his belonging’ an ambivalent territory wherein “[h]istory dealt [him] four cards” (4). In the indistinct geography of his un/belonging, one may see Africa where his ancestors came from, the United States where he lives now, St. Kitts in the Caribbean where he was born, and lastly, England where he grew up. As a result, what arises is a feeling of ambiguity connected with all these geographies: “I recognise the place, I feel at home here, but I don’t belong. I am of, and not of, this place” (1; 2; 3; 4).

In such a world vision, Phillips incessantly utilizes fragmented spatiotemporal vectors to pinpoint various territories of “transcendental homelessness” where an individual finds a voice, and defines himself/herself in the fluidity of such territories, and most importantly, the individual finds a vague self-recognition in transgressive mobility. In the theory of ‘transcendental homelessness,’ Georg Lukács in The Theory of the Novel suggests that one is an alien at the crossroads of heterogeneous reality on the way to coherent self-definition (80). Robert Tally in Spatiality relates transcendental homelessness to the notion of existential angst which is studied and popularized by many 20th century philosophers and thinkers like Heidegger, Sartre, and Kierkegaard (65-66). Drawing upon the conceptions of freedom, anxiety, fear and “not-being-at-home” scrutinized by these thinkers, Tally points to Lukács’s notion of “transcendental homelessness,” and defines it as the way “in which the anxiety-ridden person engages with the defamiliarized or uncanny space in which she finds herself” (66); Lukács also presents the fictional character in the novel “as the product of estrangement from the outside world” (66). Tally’s suggestion of “the defamiliarized or uncanny space” corresponds to Bertrand Westphal’s notion of heterogeneous space where transgression is inevitable due to the manifold nature of polychrony and polytopy; Westphal states that

the polytopic view of space reserves for an individual a zone of intimacy, guarded against external intrusions. This is a secret space, a space of hyperbaton, one where the individual deploys a supplemental personal truth, protected from the eyes of the world and from the prescriptions of the code. This tension between the desire for a normatively sanctioned unity and the need for freedom emerging at the margins of the law inscribes the individual in a society where different, more or less compatible but asynchronous, rhythms coexist. (43-44)

In such a heterogeneous space, deterritorialization and reterritorialization become inevitable, and a transgressive third space emerges from such an in-between experience. This space is recognized by Westphal to be “an area of paradoxical liminality [which] allows the minority speech to express itself alongside the dominant discourse, which has lost its privileges” (69). “Those who are not aligned with the dominant type,” adds Westphal, “be it ethnic, sexual, class, or gender – find a space of formation. It is sort of the center of the periphery, or more precisely, a contact zone between a center that dissipates and a periphery that affirms” (69).

We suggest that, like the various writers, thinkers, and artists he examines in his A New World Order, Phillips recognizes his own transcendental homelessness in the face of ‘asynchronous’ entities of heterogeneity; hence, his writing serves as ‘a zone of intimacy,’ ‘a space of hyperbaton,’ in other words, a third space. This ‘transgressive’ third space enables Phillips to achieve an ambivalent belonging. In The Theory of the Novel, Lukács suggests that “[t]he outward form of the novel is essentially biographical” (77), whereas, “[t]he inner form of the novel has been understood as the process of the problematic individual’s journeying towards himself, the road from dull captivity within a merely present reality – a reality that is heterogeneous in itself and meaningless to the individual – towards clear self-recognition” (80). This ‘transgressive’ third space, or his writing, becomes an inner journey towards a self-recognition for Phillips, and similarly, all characters in his novels also travel internally crossing the borders of their inner selves, while transcending the boundaries of different geographies. Hence, transgressivity has never been this meaningful in pinpointing the ambiguous abode of such a restless soul as Caryl Phillips’s in his self-defining quest. We also describe such an individual as Caryl Phillips as a ‘transcendental homeless,’ who is in search of the utopian abode of his soul, and who may also be studied through his transgressive mobility and quality. Each of Phillips’s narratives then turns into a travelogue wherein Phillips maps the geographical and spiritual journeys of each and every one of his characters, as well as his own.

Michel De Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life postulates that stories create “itineraries” and “spatial trajectories” (115). “Every story is a travel story – a spatial practice,” de Certeau continues (115). In de Certeau’s thought, a space is defined and generated through the junctions of various mobile vectors and operations “that orient it, situate it, temporalize it, and make it function in a polyvalent unity of conflictual programs or contractual proximities” (115-117). ‘Transcendental homelessness’ in this view is also the process of searching for, and/or creating ambiguous homes and partial belonging through ‘transgressive movements.’ Phillips’s characters yearn for this home and belonging zone by traversing through the trajectories of real-and-fictional geographies. Phillips makes his Othello-like character travel towards his inner self as he comes and explores Venice in The Nature of Blood (1997); Cambridge and Emily in Cambridge (1991) have to go through ‘middle passages’ in order to come to terms with their self-definitions; Nash’s passage to Liberia in Crossing the River (1993) is not only a geographical journey but it is also a self-exploring one. In “Heartland” in Higher Ground (1989), the unnamed linguist’s invisibility in an unnamed territory is indicative of his liminality between the space of his own people and that of the white men; thus, his existence is a transgressive one. In “Higher Ground” in Higher Ground (1989), Louis’s willingness to go back to the West Indies is an attempt to generate ‘a line of flight’[3] from the striations[4] of unbelonging in England, whereas Irene has no place to go back to, but painful memories of her past. In A Distant Shore (2003), Dorothy’s transgression into a new settlement is not a liberating movement; on the contrary, she imprisons herself in a self-cocoon, and similarly Gabriel’s passage from his African land to England turns him into another person, Solomon; this seemingly liberating course is not at all cathartic; quite the reverse, this journey further striates his existence and dooms him to his demise. Phillips deconstructs such spatial striations through transgressive passages, which also define these characters. Phillips recognizes this floating space which is liminal and transgressive simultaneously: “I recognise the place, I feel at home here, but I don’t belong. I am of, and not of, this place” (A New World Order 1; 2; 3; 4). Lukács’s theory of transcendental homelessness befits Phillips’s narrative quest for a geographical home, which also turns into a spiritual journey towards his soul; in Lukács’s words,

there is an essential aspiration of the soul which is concerned only with the essential, no matter where it comes from or where it leads; there is a nostalgia of the soul when the longing for home is so violent that the soul must, with blind impetuousness, take the first path that seems to lead there; and so powerful is this yearning that it can always pursue its road to the end. For such a soul, every road leads to the essence – leads home – for to this soul its selfhood is its home. (87)

Phillips’s essays in A New World Order mainly focus on this transcendental homeless who experiences deterritorialization and in-betweenness, and longs for home, and follows the road that leads home; for instance, the writer of Native Son, Richard Wright, who had a deep impact on Phillips, permanently crosses the borders of the United States into France in order to thrive as a writer, and provide better for his family by stepping “beyond the tempestuous racial climate of the United States” (A New World Order 21). James Baldwin, the author of Giovanni’s Room, Marvin Gaye, the musician, are other names from the States, who attempt to find a creative force in their transgressive movements. Phillips later exemplifies the liminal zone between belonging and unbelonging with the fictional character ‘Wangrin’ created by Malian writer Amadou Hampâté Bâ in The Fortunes of Wangrin, which “adroitly captures the farcical duplicity that ensnares the lives not only of the French colonial authorities but of the people over whom they rule” (95). Wangrin’s character is evidently used by Phillips as the intertextual representation of the nameless linguist in “Heartland.” Wangrin who “exist[s] in the twilight zone between two peoples” proves to be an excellent student from the very start of his colonial education, and later becomes an interpreter, and flourishes in his intermediary career between the white and the black (95-96). Caribbean poet Derek Walcott, who divides his time between Boston and Trinidad, and whose “poetic journey” carries “the qualities of a pilgrimage,” reflects the collisions of the metropolitan and the colony as his poetic premise (147-48).

Even though Phillips labels Nadine Gordimer’s None to Accompany Me as “broken-backed” since it gives one the sense of two books, he highlights the resemblance between Gordimer’s ‘transgressive narrative’ and South Africa’s changing political climate (99). As Schatteman points out, Phillips in his writings also tends to create stratified narratives that are frequently unconnected (13). Fragmentation creates ‘a transgressive narrative’ which places the reader at the threshold of two or more narrative bodies. In fragmentation, the storyline puzzles the reader, and it is disruptive as spatiotemporal shifts in the narration cause constant discontinuity, hence, a transgressive narrative trajectory.

Schatteman also notes that Phillips implements such fragmentation to represent the shattered lives of African diaspora as a result of slavery and mass migration (14). This is also reminiscent of his own fragmented experience which also places Phillips among those who are deterritorialized, thus, exposed to at least two cultures and people. Ledent in her analysis of Phillips’s ‘contexts and intertexts’ confirms, “Exile has also been the personal condition of Phillips…. His approach to literature is clearly therefore an attempt to come to terms with his own experience and use it as a catalyst for his imagination” (1). As Phillips utilizes his own exilic experience and displacement as a general literary motif, his later narratives, in Ledent’s statement, are suggestive of a “sense of ambiguous belonging … as a temporary conclusion to his ongoing exploration of the exilic issue” (1). All in all, the artists, writers and poets in Phillips’s essays in A New World Order seem to belong to a class of intellectuals whom Abdul R. JanMohamed classifies as “the specular border intellectual[s] [who] find themselves located between two (or more) groups or cultures, with which they are more or less familiar” (97). JanMohamed suggests that the specular border intellectual,

while perhaps equally familiar with two cultures, finds himself or herself unable or unwilling to be “at home” in these societies. Caught between several cultures or groups, none of which are deemed sufficiently enabling or productive, the specular intellectual subjects the cultures to analytic scrutiny rather than combining them; he or she utilizes his or her interstitial cultural space as a vantage point from which to define, implicitly or explicitly, other, utopian possibilities of group formation. Intellectuals like Edward W. Said, W. E. B. DuBois, Richard Wright, and Zora Neale Hurston occupy the specular site, each in a distinctive way. (97)

Caryl Phillips may also be categorized as ‘a specular border intellectual’ that is attached to multiple cultural and geographical territories. He applies such a ‘transgressive perspective’ to his characters and narrative settings, and as a literary cartographer, he also maps various zones of deterritorialization (and ‘vague’ reterritorialization),[5] and various deterritorialized figures in his narrative tapestry. These geographical oscillations in his writing merge with textual ones in fragmented forms. Transgressivity entails various spatial entities and deterritorialized bodies which, metaphorically speaking, appear in writing as colours, shades, dark and light patches, meridian and parallel lines in cartographic terms. Tally in Spatiality claims that a writer resembles a mapmaker in a certain way, and writing an act of mapmaking or a cartographic activity (45). Tally adds,

Like the mapmaker, the writer must survey territory, determining which features of a given landscape to include, to emphasize, or to diminish; for example, some shadings may need to be darker than others, some lines bolder, and so on. The writer must establish the scale and the shape, no less of the narrative than of places on it. The literary cartographer … must determine the degree to which a given representation of a place refers to any “real” place in the geographical world. (45)

Phillips’s fluid characters and narrative settings produce a distinct transgressive cartography. For instance, Leila in The Final Passage (1985) is a homeless wanderer in England, who suffers from ‘a double striation’ as a West Indian woman and an immigrant. In A State of Independence (1986), Bertram Francis is a returnee to his West Indian home after a twenty-year absence. Louis is another West Indian immigrant in England in “Higher Ground” in Higher Ground, who yearns for his return to his home, while Irene is a Jewish immigrant in England. In “Heartland” in Higher Ground, Phillips portrays English slavers and an African linguist working for them, who barely survive in a slave fort on an unnamed African coast. Emily in Cambridge is the daughter of a Caribbean plantation landlord and slave owner, who travels to her father’s estate on the Caribbean, and Cambridge is a freed black in England, who is enslaved anew on his way to a Christian mission in Africa. Nash in Crossing the River is also a black missionary who migrates to newly-established Liberia from the United States. In The Nature Blood, an African commandant not only narrates his geographical passage from Africa to Venice, but also his cultural transition from his own to an alien one, and Eva is a Jewish holocaust survivor, while Malka is a black Jew from Ethiopia, who lives though discrimination in Israel. In A Distant Shore, Dorothy is portrayed as a self-exiled Englishwoman and Solomon an African refugee in England; both characters find temporary solace in each other’s company in a new settlement called Stoneleigh. In The Nature of Blood, while intertextually making use of Shakespeare’s Othello character, Phillips mirrors this character’s displacement with his ‘transgressive passage’ into Venice, Venetian culture and language, as well as his marriage to a Venetian lady, presumably Desdemona. The narrative’s spatiotemporal diversity and fragmentation, and continuous shifts in the narration also create a ‘transgressive text,’ making a parallel with Gordimer’s use of textual transgression in None to Accompany Me, as scrutinized by Phillips in A New World Order. In “Heartland” and Cambridge Phillips utilizes geographical and social transgression as a narrative motif, whereas, in “Higher Ground” and A Distant Shore, Phillips merges geographical transgression with sociopolitical undertones of exile and displacement.

Another major literary figure Phillips studies in A New World Order is South African author J. M. Coetzee. Coetzee puts “[t]he vulnerable character in an unspecified landscape,” Phillips suggests, and continues, “Coetzee’s characters exist in imaginary ‘societies’ in which there is no shared culture and no shared understanding of what constitutes history. His characters struggle to survive alone; they did not make history, they merely endure it” (111). ‘An unforgiving setting’ where a fictional character strives to survive appears as a writing technique Phillips frequently uses in a similar way; for instance, in A Distant Shore, Gabriel’s passage into Solomon takes place in a society in which deterritorialized Gabriel is willing to assume a new identity. New Solomon who struggles hard to achieve a social reterritorialization falls victim to great antagonism in Weston; Solomon is first molested and then murdered. Dorothy’s dilemma in A Distant Shore, on the other hand, is self-alienating transgression into seclusion and eventual madness in ‘a stratified England;’ this also resembles Irene’s seclusion and psychosis in “Higher Ground.” Othello’s intertextual appearance in The Nature of Blood historically brings to mind European racism towards ‘the other.’ The striations of Europe’s racial atmosphere as fictionalized in “Higher Ground” and A Distant Shore, and as described in Phillips’s travelogue, The European Tribe (1987), can then be juxtaposed with those of the South African apartheid regime in Coetzee’s narrative, as indicated in Phillips’s analysis (A New World Order 111-12). According to geophilosophical ideas of Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, spatial and cultural striations are produced by the functions of the state apparatus,[6] which in turn may lead individuals to various deterritorializations (Bonta and Protevi 151). On the other hand, Phillips observes that, while Coetzee is not “a writer who used apartheid to hitch a literary ride,” he is

a trained linguist and theorist, a man who revels in what we might term ‘deconstruction.’ His later novels find him more interested in examining theoretical notions of authority – narrative and linguistic – than in drawing another non-specific landscape and peopling it with individuals who are powerless in the face of history’s malignity. (112-13; emphasis added)

Hence, as he confirms, Phillips avoids being “a protest writer, merely as an extension of the university sociology faculty,” and confining himself as a writer to a particular British issue (Birbalsingh 148-49; qtd. in Ledent 17-18). Instead, Phillips deconstructs various striations and control mechanisms of the state apparatus through exilic homelessness and transgressive mobility of his fictional characters as well as his own.

Transgressive Narrative Forms and Narrative Rhapsody

In A New World Order, Phillips identifies Trinidad-born writer Samuel Selvon as a person in-between, a person in a liminal territory; in Phillips’s description, his is not only a geographical in-betweenness, but also a psychological one. Phillips confirms and highlights this liminal territory which is also shared by him and many others: “I also recognised the contradictory tension engendered by Selvon’s attraction to and rejection by England. In Selvon’s fiction there was a sense of being both inside and outside Britain at the same time. The literature was shot through with the uncomfortable anxieties of belonging and not belonging” (234). Another significant quality in Selvon’s narratives, Phillips indicates, is his portrayal of “in between, ambivalent, and lonely” “people on the move” who migrate “from office to home, from desk to tube, from country to country” (235). This is also evocative of Phillips’s fictional characters who project the world through such dualities.

In A New World Order, Phillips recognizes Kincaid’s A Small Place as “an assault of great seava indignatio not only towards the English, who colonised Antigua, but also towards the local natives, who ‘liberated’ and now rule the small independent country” (144). Even though they fall into different forms of genre, Phillips’s A State of Independence (1986) and Kincaid’s A Small World follow a similar narrative trajectory, where the traveller’s ‘transgressive gaze’ is projected upon the Caribbean. Phillips also identifies Kincaid’s tension developed by the clashes of two different worlds, and points to the traces of disillusionment in Kincaid’s narrative: “As she castigates the English for their behaviour and attitudes in the ‘old’ Antigua, we are led to assume that the newly independent Antigua will be for her a place of spiritual rebirth. But when she returns to her island, she finds the place darker” (145). Phillips considers this peculiar pattern ‘an entrapment of disenchantment’ into which West Indian exile figures like Walcott or Naipaul fall. However, such a broad pessimism also dominates Phillips’s narratives in general, due to the fact that Phillips deconstructs but never really resolves the reterritorialization process in his narratives, as all his characters cross borders, yet never really achieve reterritorialization; they simply float in indistinctive zones.

In A State of Independence, Bertram Francis’s return to his West Indian home after twenty years evokes such sentiments as those of Kincaid’s. Bertram’s ‘transgressive gaze,’ to be more precise ‘returnee gaze,’ focuses on the liminal state of the West Indian island between colonialism and independence. This ‘transgressive gaze’ is a prevalent narrative method in Phillips’s other narratives. Transgressive gaze produces a dual understanding and an in-between experience; for instance, in Kincaid’s A Small Place, her ‘transgressive gaze’ creates a binary opposition formed between ‘a tourist’s gaze’ and ‘a local one.’ Kincaid contrasts beauties of Antigua seen above by a tourist in a plane with the realities of life only known to the local populace:

You disembark from your plane. You go through customs. Since you are a tourist, a North American or European – to be frank, white – and not an Antiguan black returning to Antigua from Europe or North America with cardboard boxes of much needed cheap clothes and food for relatives, you move through customs swiftly, you move through customs with ease. (4-5)

Emily in Cambridge describes the Caribbean through her ‘metropolitan gaze,’ which creates a narration between her class-conscious language and humanist approach. Emily’s transgressive gaze best exemplifies what Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism proposes as “imperialist philanthropy” in which the author can be both “anti-imperialist” and “imperialist,” “progressive” “reactionary” (xviii). Emily’s narration in Cambridge switches between such tones; from a distance, Emily views the Caribbean island initially as “a precious green gem … in the blue palm of the sea” (17), and then as “a dark tropical unknown” (22). Othello’s ‘expatriate gaze’ of Venice, Gabriel’s ‘exilic gaze’ of England, Malka’s ‘immigrant gaze’ of Israel can also be counted among Phillips’s ‘traveller characters’ and their ‘other’ perceptions of the alien space.

In A New World Order, Phillips’s ideas on the Caribbean literary canon emphasize the specificity of this geography in that the Caribbean carries idiosyncratic patterns and distinct forms. Phillips’s observation is indicative of the transgressive nature of the narrative by the Caribbean with its ‘restless’ form, ‘polyphony,’ and spatiotemporal convergence, together with ‘linguistic duality.’ Phillips asks,

Why this seemingly compulsive desire to migrate, to move, to contribute to other people’s literature and culture? Their blood seemed to be stirred by, and their craft fired in, the crucible of the Caribbean, and then they would depart, however temporary, to another place. (130-31)

Among the Caribbean, Phillips devotes a section in A New World Order for Trinidadian thinker and writer C.L.R. James, V.S. Naipaul, Martiniquan Patrick Chamoiseau, George Lamming from Barbados, Samuel Selvon, and Martiniquan Edouard Glissant. Phillips analyzes C.L.R. James’s pioneering body of work on literature, philosophy, history and politics; above all, however, Phillips underlines his mobility as the most powerful aspect of his life for James finds an ambiguous home-zone in his diasporan mobility: “After 1966 James continued to travel widely between Africa, the Caribbean and Europe, lecturing on politics, cricket, art and popular culture. He was now a truly diasporan man, at home in a Tanzanian village, on British television, or in a lecture hall at the University of the West Indies” (169). Phillips also remembers his meeting with C.L.R. James in his small room in Brixton, where he asks old James about his plan to teach in the States, who answers, “A young man must always go to where he can learn” (171).

In the light of Phillips’s close scrutiny of Naipaul’s writings, it may be assumed that a predisposition Phillips shares with Naipaul is his distancing himself from utter absorbance into a single literary point of view: “That he has never allowed himself to be absorbed fully into the English tradition is something many critics have misunderstood. Naipaul is best understood as an inquiline, as a man whom the English have tried to absorb, but a man who has clung to displacement like a floating buoy” (198; emphasis added).

After expressing his fascination with Martiniquan Patrick Chamoiseau, Phillips compares him with African storytellers. Phillips also highlights Chamoiseau’s Creole folk tales collection and three novels which address Africa and slavery as a continuation of the oral tradition of Africans. “He moves fluidly between both languages, within paragraphs, within sentences even, and thereby forges a new ‘French’ language out of the two, exploiting the space between the languages and developing illicit and unexpected fusions” explains Phillips (A New World Order 227; emphasis added). Chamoiseau’s usage of both French and Creole creates a ‘transgressive narrative mode’ at a different stratum. As Phillips suggests, this narrative mode surveys an in-between linguistic territory by switching betwixt languages. Phillips also adds that Chamoiseau follows Glissant’s theories of marronage, which casts “the runaway slave who opposes the system [as] the archetypal Caribbean folk hero” (226). In Phillips’s description, a maroon can never be fully independent as a runaway; “the only way effectively to resist and affirm identity is to work both with the system and against it at the same time, to undermine it from the inside and the outside” (226). Maroon is also a floating deterritorialized body who has transgressed the limes of captivity, and has not yet achieved reterritorialization. Phillips’s Cambridge can be studied alongside Chamoiseau’s writings; Cambridge in Cambridge also appears as a character who, on simple Christian morality, opposes the tyranny of slavery, yet, is marooned in the island by the same system. A transgressive narrative mode is also utilized in Cambridge, as well; for instance, Emily narrates the story of her maid, Stella, who fuses English with her Creole language:

Hers was the voice that first greeted me as I returned to consciousness. She whispered in hushed joy, ‘Me misses, me hope you live long, very long; me hope you live to bury all your pickaninnies.’… One of her favourite subjects is the retelling of the joys of her life, lest I should be in any confusion as to her desire to remain a slave upon this estate. ‘For yam [eatables], misses, me got rice, me got salt-fish and fresh meat – and misses, now and den, me get ripe plantain and banana … Misses, Buckra very good, plenty for yam [to eat], plenty for wear; Buckra-man rise early, but me no like de morning; and nigger no like cold.’ My veneration for this dusky maiden ever deepens, and by the day I grow increasingly respectful of her honesty with a frail visitor such as myself. (Cambridge 37; emphases added)

Phillips, in his essay “Edouard Glissant: Promiscuities” on Martiniquan Edouard Glissant, highlights his engagement in Martiniquan spatiotemporality in a non-linear writing technique in La Lézarde (1958), which initially confused his readers and critics. Phillips also identifies a quality which makes Glissant’s novels distinctive among their European counterparts: his technique of utilizing characters that appeared in La Lézarde and in his following novels as sequential continuations. “Glissant’s fictional remapping of the Antilles,” Phillips indicates, “involves not only the continuity of character across the boundaries of individual novels but also … his affirmation of his belief in the dialectical relationship between hill and plain, forest and ocean, so that nature becomes a central part of his vision” (A New World Order 173). In a similar vein, Phillips uses the dis/continuity of ‘social dramas’[7] as a narrative motif, and to achieve this effect, he often engages ‘intertextualized’ characters in the setting; the black commandant and Jews in The Nature of Blood appear as sequential continuations of certain canonized texts such as Othello and The Merchant of Venice. Eva in The Nature of Blood and Irina/Irene in “Higher Ground” symbolize victims of the holocaust as a continuation of Jewish experience of stratification. Stories of Emily and Cambridge in Cambridge are intertextually reminiscent of 19th century travel narratives and ex-slave writings. Additionally, as Glissant does in natural spaces, Phillips establishes a dialectical relationship between ‘striated and smooth spaces’ at all levels. Concepts of smooth and striated spaces are coined and used by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Smooth space, and smoothing, and striated space, and striating can be associated with the control mechanisms of the state apparatus; while the sea is a smooth space par excellence (479), the city stands out a striated space par excellence (481). Africa and the African, for instance, are always presented in ‘smoothing’ movements in Phillips’s writings, although not always in smooth forms, while Europe and the European offers striation at every turn. As ‘sea, water, river’ images indicate ‘smoothing’ movements and fluid identities in his writings, ‘bridge, city, canal, boat or ship’ motifs are indicative of striation, obstruction and fixity in his narratives. The assemblage of such opposing representations not only generates transgression in Phillips’s non-linear narrative technique, but also indicates geographical, psychological, spiritual spaces of narrative dialogues for “one global conversation with limited participation to all, and full participation available to none” as Phillips states in A New World Order (5).

As mentioned earlier, utilizing his own multi-dimensional background and interpretation as the basis of his writing projects, Phillips congests different spatial and temporal experiences into ‘a narrative dialogue.’ Such a transgressive technique in Caryl Phillips’s writing entails a ‘patchwork’ of spatiotemporally fragmented narrative, which we call ‘narrative rhapsody.’ This narrative rhapsody generates a common ground, and a curious model space, to intercommunicate for the marginalized. It seems that Caryl Phillips as a writer, weaving these ‘smooth and striated’ stories into a patchwork of ‘narrative rhapsody,’ acts much like the Greek rhapsode. Hargis describes the Greek rhapsodes as “singers of epic poetry [who were] attached to a royal court on traveling from court to court, either fabricated and recited their own poems or appropriated those composed by other minstrels” (388). Yet, the most important aspect of the rhapsode, Hargis also adds, is that they altered the content to attune to their own needs in a particular event (388).

Drawing upon François Hartog’s suggestion of the narrator as a surveyor, a rhapsode in The Mirror of Herodotus, Tally adds that rhapsode is “a term used in its technical or etymological sense of a ‘weaver,’ as one who thus weaves disparate parts into a whole;” and Tally further states that “[f]or Hartog, the narrator of these texts becomes, by turns but also simultaneously, a surveyor of spaces, a rhapsode who sews these spaces into a new unity, and a bard who ultimately ‘invents’ the world so surveyed and stitched together” (48).

Phillips’s rhapsody is spatially erected upon what Pratt suggests as “contact zones” wherein “disparate cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination – like colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out across the globe today” (4). For instance, the narrative rhapsody of A Distant Shore involves various ‘deviant’ characters, such as Solomon or Dorothy, and ‘heterotopian’ milieus, such as England or a settlement called “Stoneleigh” as an epitome ‘narrative contact zone’ where fictional actors clash, interact, or intercommunicate. Michel Foucault proposes the term ‘heterotopia’ in his famous lecture “Of Other Spaces.” Foucault identifies heterotopias as “a sort of counter-emplacements, a sort of effectively realized utopias in which the real emplacements, all the other real emplacements that can be found within culture, are simultaneously represented, contested and inverted; a kind of places that are outside all places, even though they are actually localizable” (17). Heterotopias of deviation, in Foucault’s description, are emplacements wherein those whose stands in society are deviant with regard to essential norms are placed, for instance, in rest homes, psychiatric hospitals, and prisons. Foucault underlines “retirement homes” as heterotopias between heterotopias of crisis and heterotopias of deviation “since, after all, old age is a crisis, but it is also a deviation since, in our society where leisure is the rule, idleness is a sort of deviation” (18).

In The Nature of Blood, ghettoized spaces, such as Venice, or Venetian ghetto offer a narrative contact zone for marginal characters like Othello, Desdemona, and Venetian Jews. In “Heartland,” for example, a fort, an outpost setting, emerges as an alternative heterotopia where ‘deviant’ white slavers meet ‘deviant’ African captives, and Phillips casts an in-between individual, the linguist in this contact zone, as well. Similarly, the hotel room, as a heterotopia in The Nature of Blood, poses as a contact zone for alienated Jewish character Stephan and Ethiopian black Jew, Malka, as an embodiment of deviation in present day Israel. In Cambridge, Phillips juxtaposes Emily’s character, as a representation of the white’s presence in a West Indian island, with Cambridge’s character on the spatial plane of a West Indian plantation, which is “a contact zone,” a space of “highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination” in its proper definition by Pratt (4).

Deleuze and Guattari also place ‘patchwork’ as a smooth space model in a specific order,[8] where it supersedes other forms in that the smooth space of a patchwork indicates that smooth spaces are not at all homogeneous, yet manifest a unity in fragmentation. Similarly, Phillips’s ‘narrative rhapsody’ as a patchwork of diverse spatialities and temporalities is reminiscent of this metaphor.


A New World Order compiles various literary and artistic figures from the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, and Britain, who made different transgressive passages and movements, not only in geographical forms, but also in their literary and artistic lives and styles. Caryl Phillips also highlights their works as his stimuli in the pursuit of his literary achievements and explorations. In other words, A New World Order with these figures and their achievements serves as a map legend in Phillips’s literary cartography of transgressivity. While Phillips reflects his in-betweenness in his writing by creating liminal characters, who are invisible and marginal in the society, he lyrically creates them in his ‘transgressive writing mode,’ which he has evolved from his literary and artistic icons and his own fragmented experience of liminality. We have also argued that, as he finds a self-defining voice in border-crossing mobility in all forms, Phillips, in his narrative cartography, explores and/or forms real-and-fictional milieus where real-and-fictional characters challenge striated worlds and social formations, in similar ways the real characters do in A New World Order.

Caryl Phillips, in his essay “Introduction: A Little Luggage” in A New World Order, draws attention to the post-war sociopolitical atmosphere of Britain in which West Indian migrants faced social stratification and hostility, and his upbringing in such an ambiance. Phillips also underlines a distinction between the first immigrant generation who dreamed of going back home, and could “turn the other cheek,” and their offsprings, the second generation immigrants, who grew up in the tensions of racial and social stratification, and had no place and intention to go, but “needed to tell British society this” (242). “It was into this climate of proprietorial paranoia that my parents had migrated” adds Phillips and continues,

I grew up in this claustrophobic environment, and fresh out of university I was now attempting to become a writer in a country that was suffering a profound identity crisis.… The Britain that I recognised practised discrimination in education, in housing, in employment, in all areas of social life. Us and them. Lines were not to be crossed. Those who transgressed were to be severely punished by social ostracisation and random acts of violence. (244)

It appears that such an ambivalent position together with “a will to penetrate” – in Westphal’s terms in Geocriticism (42) – can be observed in Phillips’s writings wherein one’s identity is fluid, and one is willing to go beyond the limes set for him, and one strives to transgress the borders and transcend beyond accepted norms; thus, the narrative topoi spatiotemporally fluctuate.

Works Cited

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Bonta, Mark, and John Protevi. Deleuze and Geophilosophy: A Guide and Glossary. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006. Print.

De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. Steven F. Rendall. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles, Guattari, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. and Fwd. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 2005. Print.

Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces.” Heterotopia and the City: Public Space in a Postcivil Society. Trans. Lieven De Cauter and Michiel Dehaene. Ed. Michiel Dehaene and Lieven De Cauter. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.

Hargis, Donald E. “The Rhapsode.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 56.4 (1970): 388–97. Taylor and Francis. Web. 21 March 2015.

JanMohamed, Abdul R. “Worldliness-Without-World, Homelessness-as-Home: Toward a Definition of the Specular Border Intellectual.” Edward Said: A Critical Reader. Ed. Michael Sprinker. Oxford and Cambridge: Blackwell, 1992. Print.

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Schatteman, Renee Therese. “Caryl Phillips, J. M. Coetzee, and Michael Ondaatje: Writing at the Intersection of the Postmodern and the Postcolonial.” Ph.D. University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2000. ProQuest. Web. 28 June 2012.

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Waters, Erika J. “An Interview with Caryl Phillips: I am What I am Because I was Born There.” The Caribbean Writer, Volume 9. (1995): 102-14. Print.

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Note About Contributor(s)

I. Murat Öner, International Burch University, Bosnia and Herzegovina


I. Murat ÖNER is currently an assistant professor at International Burch University. His research interests are geocriticism, spatial theories, spatial studies in literature, transgressive forms in literature, and Caryl Phillips’s writing. He has also introduced the burgeoning field of spatial studies and geocriticism as a graduate-level course at International Burch University.

Mustafa Bal, TOBB University of Economics and Technology, Turkey


Mustafa Bal is currently an assistant professor and the chairman of the department of English Language and Literature at the TOBB University of Economics and Technology, Ankara, Turkey. He specializes in contemporary British drama and drama/theatre theory. Comparative literary and cultural studies that cover subjects on British and Turkish literatures and cultures are among his academic interests. Dr. Bal is also the editor-in-chief of The Human journal. Apart from his poems, translations, papers, and essays that have appeared both in national and international journals, Dr. Bal is also the Turkish translator of J. Joyce’s Dubliners (as Dublinliler), N. Gogol’s The Overcoat (as Palto), and Daniela Sacerdoti’s best-seller Dreams (as Rüyalar).