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Caliban Inside and Out

Compare or contrast the ways in which roberto Fernandez Retamar and George Lamming construct national identity through the figure of Caliban. Use Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” In order to discuss the ways in which Retamar and Lamming have constructed a national identity through Caliban it is essential to discuss the cultural background of these writers. Retamar and Lamming are about as dissimilar as night and day, and this is evident in both the lives that they have led, as well as the essays that they have constructed.

Their differences have come from their experiences, and how they have ttempted to establish an identity for themselves and their people. It would be easy to label them the pessimist Retamar, and the optimist Lamming, or the Communist Retamar, and the Imperialist Lamming, yet this would oversimplify a definition that is in no way simple. Rather, I shall use the terms internal and external. For both of these men have traveled abroad in their studies, and in their solidifying of the concept of Caliban, each has chosen a separate point of view to attempt to identify the same ideal.

For Retamar his focus, as well as his point of view is wholly internal, while for Lamming he looks on from the outside, the external, and writes of what comes from Caliban, and how the world sees it. I shall begin with Retamar. Here is a man who had tried early in his life to give a face to Caliban. Retamar, a Marxist writer, described Caliban by first pointing out that his very name is Shakespeares anagram for cannibal. He is meant to be an Anthropophagus, a bestial eater of his own kind.

This was quite clearly an illustrious exaggeration on the part of Shakespeare, and yet in Shakespeares time there were certainly islands whose inhabitants would not hesitate to eat human flesh. But rather than dwell on the cannibalistic or monstrous aspects of Caliban, as that would surely not lend a helping hand toward the creation of a national identity, Retamar focuses, from the beginning, on the one single aspect of Caliban that has a meaning for him — rebellion.

Our symbol is not Ariel, as Rodo thought, he says, but rather Caliban. . . what is our history, what is our culture, if not the history and culture of Caliban? (Retamar-14). Retamar, as did Lamming, traveled in his youth, and taught school in the United States. He had a chance to be away from his third world oots, and yet at the first sign of rebellion in Cuba, at the first opportunity to be a part of the ongoing process of change, he left the U. S. He had to go back to the islands, to be a part of the internal struggle.

He tells of having written articles supporting the downfall of Batista, and as soon as he finds out that Batista has been ousted, and that Fidel Castro is the new ruler of Cuba he leaves the U. S. He leaves a prestigious teaching job at Columbia University in order to go back to Cuba where he teaches for more than 30 years. Why did he leave? Because to Retamar, being a escendant of Caliban means being a revolutionary. It means being someone who wants change, and who pushes for change.

Yet change, for him, can only come from within. He wants desperately to be a part of the creation of a culture that is unique. Not Latin-American, or Ibero-American, etc, but something that is new. Retamar even expresses a feeling akin to guilt at the proposal of the use of Caliban as the symbol of his people, In proposing Caliban as our symbol, I am aware that it is not entirely ours, that it is also an alien elaboration, although in this case based on our concrete realities. But how can this alien quality be entirely avoided? Retamar-16). Of course Retamar does manage to escape this guilt when he credits Lamming and Brathwaite with being the first writers to concretely connect the character, Caliban, to their respective countries which today make up the modern day Retamar lived long in the islands, and drank heavily from the chalice of Marxist rhetoric, this is evident in such passages of his as, Our culture is — and can only be — the child of revolution, of our multisecular rejection of all colonialisms. Retamar-38).

It is also interesting to compare the imilarities between Retamar and Shakespeares Caliban. While away from Prospero and gathering wood Caliban comes upon Stephano and Trinculo. He immediately begins to offer his obeisance to these two new men, whom he has never met before. He does this because, for him, this union must not only be better than his relationship with Prospero, but through this new allegiance he can have Prospero killed, and thus his immediate problem solved.

The similarity that I see here is that Retamar was willing to speak out against Batista, although terrified, so he used a pen-name. He finally ecame distraught with the knowledge that it was quite possible that Batista would reign in Cuba forever, so he leaves and goes out in to the U. S. (the woods). Yet when he hears of Castros success he quickly rushes back to offer his allegiance to his new master. Perhaps Retamar is more George Lamming is a completely different voice on the matter.

He is an exile by choice, and happy about it if one were to assume anything from the title of his book, The Pleasures of Exile. He sees Caliban as more of a condition than a cultural identity, yet unlike Retamar, he is looking from the utside, inward. Having exiled himself to London, he writes from the vantage point of a comfortable onlooker. He is not touched by the events that happen in the Caribbean anywhere near as much as is Retamar, and yet his thoughts seem to go much deeper and give a substantially greater volume to the definition of what it means to be Caliban.

Lamming writes from many different perspectives in his book, possibly in an internal attempt to identify that which is Caliban. He uses different identities, rhetorical conversations, even disguises. An example of his is found when he describes an hypothetical encounter, and subsequent conversation between an English woman, and three young Caribbean boys, Singh (who represents the Indian contingent of the Caribbean), Lee (who represents the Asian contingent), and Bob (who represents the African contingent).

His little African boy Bob never goes into detail about how he came by his name. Upon the woman asking about his name his reply is, Bob whatever you like (Lamming-18) This is a way of pointing out, early on, that some of the cultures that have flowed into the Caribbean are much ore dominant, as in Singh and Lee, and have retained some of their original identity, while others are submissive, a they have been since they were first brought forth from Africa into slavery, like Bob, or in Lammings case, George.

Neither of these are names that one would have found among an Ashanti native tribe in Africa at the time, but were most common in England, as well as the U. S. For all of the voices that Lamming uses, and all of the guises, he seems to be pointing to the fact that all of this variety has gone into what is now the Caribbean, and hence Caliban. The many have become one. Caliban cannot be revealed in any relation to himself; for he has no self which is not a reaction to circumstances imposed upon his life (Lamming-107).

Caliban is, as Jose Vasconcelos writes, a new and unique race, made with the treasure of all previous ones, the final race, the cosmic race. 1 Lamming reinforces this in the following, Caliban is the very climate in which men encounter the nature of ambiguities, and in which, according to his desire, each man attempts a resolution by trying to slay the past (Lamming-107). He describes Calibans history as turbulent, as well he should. There has been civil unrest and uprisings in that part of the world from the day that it was colonised, and henceforth enslaved, until the present day.

Lamming has left all of this behind to go into his self imposed exile in London, and yet he cannot leave the identity behind, for he is the very embodiment of the identity that he has tried so hard to define. To leave his homeland, and take his identity with him is not the real difficulty. The difficulty, he says, is to take from Caliban without suffering he pollution innate in his nature. To yield to Calibans natural generosity is to risk the deluge: for his assets — such as they are — are dangerous, since they are encrusted, buried deep in the dark.

It is not by accident that his skin is black; for black, too, is the colour of his loss; the absence of any Even though Lamming has chosen to live on the outside and write about the inside he has a good sense of the spirit of what is Caliban. Yet unlike Retamar, Lamming has another sense. He has a sense of the people around him, of the people in the Metropolis that is London. Where Retamar has made up his mind that Caliban is practically synonymous with revolution, Lamming sees Caliban as a potential for growth and change.

Retamars views are probably somewhat isolated after 30 years of writing and teaching within the Communist Castro regime, he lacks the ability, it would seem, to be able to see anything beyond the past. He carries the past with him. Yet Lamming looks to the future. He describes the points of view of three hypothetical children, of different origins in an attempt to get at the future. Perhaps the most optimistic view that he offers us omes from a discussion that he has with a young boy in London.

Lamming, after having grown excited that the boy didnt just accept his answer of having come from the West Indies at face value, but rather gets a map to look it up, says that though, That boy was no more than nine years old. If he can preserve that spirit of curiosity and concreteness, his generation will save West Indians and others the torture of adult indifference (Lamming-16). To Lamming, this boy represents the future, and the good that may still come out of that which is Caliban.

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