"The Answer is Blowing in the Wind": Emotion and the Rewriting of History in Caryl Phillips's Crossing the River

Nicole Terrien

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Abstract :
International audience
This paper focuses on some of the devices which tum Phillips's « emotional portrait » (Schatteman 180) into a moving representation of the past and a compelling new perspective on the present while incorporating the voices of those left out of the official historical discourse. Unlikely parallels with Bob Dylan or James Joyce may enlighten how Phillips endows Crossing the River with political power. The first paradox concems the « mise en intrigue » (Ricoeur) of history in a series of diachronie episodes: names and the thematic repetition of racial discrimination ensure fluidity in spite of the broken structure. This tension points to the micro seismic movements which serve both as announcements and replica of the major ruptures in the macrostructure of the nove!. The second paradox is that, beyond the carefully planned disrupting structure, the attention to detail in language allows a sense of fluidity while slowing down the reading process with a haunting sense of déjà-vu. Contamination between the language of the oppressor and the language of the oppressed forces the reader to feel for the frailty of human nature. Finally, the distance between past and present being erased by the force of emotion, the nove! as a work of art offers the endless possibility to rearrange the perception of the human psyche. Phillips's novel stands for one of the true representations of the reality of human emotions.
J'étais comme un vase brisé dont les morceaux ont été dispersés et dont on vient par miracle de retrouver quelques pièces, que l'on a rapidement recollées... le vase prend forme mais il manque l'essentiel, le contenu, ma vérité. Notre vérité. Et la vérité n'est vérité que lorsqu'elle est dite, en entier, sans fard ni détour. (Sansal 251-252) It's almost like I've crafted this wonderful ceramic fruit bowl, and I'm two pages from the end of the book just doing the final glazing, and I deliberately drop it, and it shatters, and then I have to start again. In some way, it's like I don't trust the linearity of time. (Iyer 43
Published : 2016
Document Type : Journal articles
Affiliation : Centre d'Etudes des Langues et Littératures Anciennes et Modernes (CELLAM) ; Université de Rennes 2 (UR2)


Nicole Terrien, « "The Answer is Blowing in the Wind": Emotion and the Rewriting of History in Caryl Phillips's Crossing the River », Cycnos, 2016. URL : https://hal.science/hal-03148675