Tracing iteration and Play in Caryl Phillips’ "The European Tribe"
Caryl Phillips’ The European Tribe
utilizes recurring iterations to trace the movement within his own multi-dimensionality positing the theoretical interplay of structure, content, performance, influence, theme, and methodology within these formal genres, and his social identity. Phillips’ insight 'I am of, and not of, this place' beholds the containment of dialectical undecidability
known to jazz mechanisms, namely syncopation and improvisation. The utilization of the deconstructionist device repetition with differance,
operates within Phillips’ text in the constructive modality. An unreconstruction,
wherein there is a consciousness of the current fundamental structures of socio-cultural dialect, and the transgression against them is creative. Termed in Shelley Wong’s Transgressions as Poesis in the Bluest Eye
, “… unreconstructed refuses the matter-of–factness with which the administered world fixes a permanent name to an object, choosing instead to remain plural and fissiparous, requiring constant naming and constant articulation.”
Wong later connects this term to jazz improvisation positing that “unreconstruction” is akin to improvisation it is a way of keeping the world open to its own potentiality
(475). Throughout Phillips’ episodic narrative, the phrase I found myself
begets recurrent articulation almost to an astonishing extent. The aspects: self-reflexivity, heterogeneity, linked under the specific transitive verb,found
reveal the ‘subject’ as an objet trouvé
. In this manner, the traveler becomes instanced, spontaneously realized, and never iconoclastic—continually articulated.
Consider the phrase’s original appearance: “He [Wilson] seemed more confident, to have a cogent, if somewhat aggressive, idea of who he was and, as he would put it, where he was coming from. I found myself
exhilarated by his company, but also panicking inside because I was so much less sure of myself” (4, emp. added). Phillip’s is enacted by Wilson, but also assumes agency (exhilaration) through him. This modulation presents to the reader, an aspect of subjugation, which Judith Butler intimates “As the appearance of power shifts from the condition of the of the subject to its effects, the conditions of power (prior and external) assume a present and futural form. But power assumes this present character through a reversal of its direction, one that performs a break with what has come before and dissimulates as a self-inaugurating agency (The Psychic Life of Power: Theories of Subjugation, Intro. 16). Thus, the original instance of ‘I found myself’ demarcates Phillip’s within a psycho-emotional ambivalence. Iterations of the
formalized phrase, “I found myself” continue, after his trip to America, whereupon Phillips’ is filled with malaise, “I found myself
sleeping during the summer-like days, and walking the streets during the winterish nights (8). Later, further displaced, “This alone [fact that it had taken America to make him conscious of his desire to write] seemed to condemn the European Academy which had raised, and educated me, and I found myself
tediously attempting to question everything that I had ever been taught (9). In the chapter entitled, Hollywood’s Casablanca
, “I found myself” is politically manifest, “Having finally talked my way into the country, I found myself
in the jurisdiction of a tall Moroccan soldier with clean, sharp eyes and a bright face” – this occurs after Kareem identifies him as a journalist ‘confusing matters’ at customs] (11). The gaze is reassumed by Phillips now positing another’s objectivity, “In the hotel restaurant I found myself
staring at large, fur-hatted Russian woman eating caviar. Outside, the bleak grey skyline of Poland’s most industrialized city turned black as night fell. I was disorientated and exhausted” (97). After spontaneity, in effect, improvisation appears on the scene of the narrative, Phillips’ engages in dialogue, “After the celebrations I found myself
sharing a table in an Oslo late bar with a drunk Norwegian” (105). In Venice, Phillips’ distinguishes himself from Othello, experiencing his own full-fleshed subject -“despite my education I found myself
then, and still now, unable to engage with a Eurocentric selfish history” (128). The disengament with Eurocentricity enables the creation of a new view of Venice, open to the potenitality of a different moment, one Phillips' constitutes.
In accordance to this reversibility of power, Phillips’ utilizes the construct 'behind’
as when: [Wilson introduces himself] “Later that same day I was walking down Oxford High street when I heard a voice behind me” (4). Distinguished relationally—by inference—Phillips’ virtual spatial occupation inferences a set of predetermined indexes. The technical (linear) and socio-historical (metaphorical) indexes the exchange from an auditory mode of subjugation to a visual apperception. An author’s corporality within each scene becomes proffered, moreover, relegated to the reader via instance of directional differentiation. Exampling for the reader the experience of what in “The Unkindness of Strangers” Mousavizadeh regards “This imposition of the dominant worldview on the European immigrant can be seen as a domestic imperialism of sorts. It is one applied to the Other within
the walls of the city, and therefore one even more fiercely insistent upon defining and stigmatizing the Other who has become so close, so ubiquitous, so threatening” (137). Phillips’ spatiotemporal positions are worked from the constructs of such proximities.
In Salt Lake City Phillips’, stupefied by an articulation of horrifying racism, and rightly so, is again rendered “The man proceeded to serve the woman behind me” (6). Again, moments later the relativity constructs, “Behind me
, a hunched-shouldered man of about sixty leant forward to address the man in front of me, whom he had clearly never met before…” “ ‘In my day,’ continued the man at my rear, ‘if we saw too many niggers in the streets we’d shoot ‘em” (7).
Continuing, in the chapter How much more of this will we take?
two smartly attired young men joined the line” (93). Perhaps, Phillip’s displacement can be looked at as a form of syncopation, which utilizes and transgresses against the listener’s expectation of the beat, the normative figuration of his subjugation are the means for creating new frontiers of identification. Jazz syncopation is referred to in Transgressions as Poesis in the Bluest Eye
“… not always a matter of being ahead of the beat; syncopation can always involve dragging the beat, resisting the received measure by deliberately working behind the beat” (474). The predicated position of the self continually presented, a moving subject displaces the figurative beat, and transgresses against the social-cultural expectations creating a new articulations of identity.