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«The Caribbean: Culture or Mimicry? Author(s): Derek Walcott Source: Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Feb., 1974), pp. ...»

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But more significant than this is the attitude to such a prolixity of creative will that is jeered at as the "Carnival mentality." The carnivalmentality seriously, solemnly dedicates itself to the concept of waste, of ephemera, of built-in obsolescence, but this is not the built-in obsolescence of manufacture but of art, because in Carnival the creative energy is strictly regulated to its own season. Last year's intricate sculptures are discarded as immediately valueless when it is midnight on Shrove Tuesday, last year's songs cannot be sung AFFAIRS AND WORLD STUDIES [10] JOURNAL INTERAMERICAN OF this year, nor last year's tunes, and so an entire population of craftsmen and spectators compel themselves to this regeneration of perpetually making it new, and by that rhythm create a backlog of music, design, song, popular poetry which is as strictly observed as the rhythm of cane harvest and caneburning, of both industry and religion. The energy alone is overwhelming, and best of all, on one stage, at any moment, the simultaneity of historical legends, epochs, characters, without historical sequence or propriety is accepted as a concept.

Mimicry is an act of imagination, and, in some animals and insects, endemic cunning. Lizards, chameleons, most butterflies, and certain insects adapt the immediate subtleties of color and even of texture both as defense and as lure. Camouflage, whether it is in the grass-blade stripes of the tiger or the eyed hide of the leopard, is mimicry, or more than that, it is design.

What if the man in the New World needs mimicry as design, both as defense and as lure. We take as long as other fellow creatures in the natural world to adapt and then blend into our habitats, whether we possess these environments by forced migration or by instinct. That is genetics. Culture must move faster, defensively. Everyone knows that there are differences between say plains cultures and sea cultures, or mountain cultures and jungle cultures, and if we see that in the Caribbean particularly, creatures from these different regions, forced into a common environment, still carry over their genetic coloring, their racial or tribal camouflage, the result, for a long time, can only be a bewildering variety that must race its differences rapidly into stasis, into recognition. The rapidity with which this is happening in the Caribbean looks like confusion.

But those who see only disorder, futility, and chaos must look for the patterns which they produce, and they will find in those patterns contradicting strains which often were not meant to adapt, far more survive. There were those who did not survive, not by weakness but by a process of imperialistic defoliation which blasted defiance; and this process, genocide, is what destroyed the original, destroyed the Aztec, and American Indian, and the Caribbean Indian. All right, let us say what these had was not a culture, not a civilization, but a way of life, Walcott/ CARIBBEAN CULTURE MIMICRY?

OR [11] then, a way with their own gods and language and domestic or marital customs. The point is that they broke, that they were resilient for awhile but were broken. These have gone. They left few ruins, since the ego was tribal, not individualistic, pagan if you want, not Christian. We can praise them for not imitating, but even imitation decimated them, or has humiliated them like the aborigine and the American Indian. What have we been offered here as an alternative but suicide. I do not know if apes commit suicide-their mimicry is not that far advanced-but men do, and it appears too, certain cultures.

That is the process by which we were Christianized. The imitation of Christ, the mimicry of God as a man. In that sense the first Christian is also not only the first man but the first ape, since before that everything was hearsay. The imitation of Christ must be carried into human life and social exchange, we are responsible for our brother, we are not responsible to ourselves but to God, and while this is admirable and true, how true is it that the imitation of God leads to human perfectibility, how necessary is it for us to mimic the supreme good, the perfect annihilation of present, past, and future since God is without them, so that a man who has achieved that spiritual mimicry immediately annihilates all sense of time. "Take no thought of the morrow" is the same as "history is bunk"; the first is from Christ, the second from Henry Ford. But Ford is the divine example of American materialist man. Ford is an inventor, Ford created cars, Edison created light, and so it goes.

What surrounds all of us as mimic men is that gratitude which acknowledges those achievements as creation. We are thus taught specific distances between the word invention and the word creation, between the inventor and the creator. We invent nothing, that is, no object. We do not have the resources, we can argue. Well, neither did Ford, neither did Edison. But electricity and light and even the idea of the car existed before they were discovered. They were not creations, they are also mimicry, originating from the existence and the accidents of natural elements. We continue far enough and we arrive at Voltaire confronting Nietzsche: "It is necessary to invent God,"

[12] JOURNAL OF INTERAMERICAN STUDIES AND WORLD AFFAIRS

and "God is dead." Join both, and that is our twentieth-century credo. "It is necessary to invent a God who is dead."

Where have cultures originated? By the force of natural surroundings. You build according to the topography of where you live. You are what you eat, and so on; you mystify what you see, you create what you need spiritually, a god for each need.

If religion is not a life, if it is not itself mere mimicry of some unappeasable fear, then is not the good man a man who needs nothing? And I do not mean a man who does not need a car, nor electricity, nor television or whatever else we have failed to invent in the Caribbean, but a man who does not need them in the religious sense, a man who is dependent on the elements, who inhabits them, and takes his life from them. Even further, the ideal man does not need literature, religion, art, or even another, for there is ideally only himself and God. What he needs he makes, and what he makes will become more subtle in its uses, dependent on the subtlety of his needs or the proliferation of his creature comforts. That pursuit takes him further away from his mystical relation to the universe, thins its mystery, distances the idea of prayer, awe, spiritual necessity, until he can ask, surrounded by his own creations, "who needs God?" No, cultures can only be created out of this knowledge of nothing, and in deeper than the superficial, existential sense, we in the Caribbeanknow all about nothing. We know that we owe Europe either revenge or nothing, and it is better to have nothing than revenge..We owe the past revenge or nothing, and revenge is uncreative. We may not even need literature, not that we are beyond it, but in the archipelago particularly, nature, the elements if you want, are so new, so overpowering in their presence that awe is deeper than articulation of awe. To name is to contradict. The awe of God or of the universe is the unnameable, and this has nothing to do with literacy. It is better for us to be a race of illiterates who retain this awe than to be godless, without mystery. A pygmy is better than an atheist. Sophistication is human wisdom and we who are the dregs of that old history, its victims, its transients, its Walcott / CARIBBEAN CULTURE OR MIMICRY? [13] dispossessed know what the old wisdom brought. What is called mimicry is the painful, new, laborious uttering that comes out of belief, not out of doubt. The votive man is silent, the cynical is articulate. Ask any poet which he would prefer, poetry or silence, poetry or wisdom, and he would answer wisdom. It is his journey to self-annihilation, to beginning again.

History, taught as morality, is religion. History, taught as action, is art. Those are the only uses to which we, mocked as a people without history, can put it. Because we have no choice but to view history as fiction or as religion, then our use of it will be idiosyncratic, personal, and therefore, creative. All of this is beyond the sociological, even beyond the "civilized" assessment of our endeavor, beyond mimicry. The stripped and naked man, however abused, however disabused of old beliefs, instinctually, even desperately begins again as craftsman. In the indication of the slightest necessary gesture of ordering the world around him, of losing his old name and rechristening himself, in the arduous enunciation of a dimmed alphabet, in the shaping of tools, pen or spade, is the whole, profound sigh of human optimism, of what we in the archipelago still believe in: work and hope. It is out of this that the New World, or the Third World, should begin.

Theoretical and idealistic though this sounds, it is our duty as poets to reiterate it. The embittered despair of a New World writer like Naipaul is also part of that impatience and irascibility at the mere repetition of human error which passes for history, and that irascibility is also a belief in possibility.

The New World originated in hypocrisy and genocide, so it is not a question for us, of returning to an Eden or of creating Utopia; out of the sordid and degrading beginning of the West Indies, we could only go further in decency and regret. Poets and satirists are afflicted with the superior stupidity which believes that societies can be renewed, and one of the most nourishing sites for such a renewal, however visionary it may

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