Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of George Lamming’s novel “In the Castle of My Skin” by Margaret D. Gill
I can take many angles to make a short assessment of the landmark novel by George Lamming, “In the Castle of My Skin“. Castle celebrates it 60th year of publication this year, and coincidentally, my own book which is a study of Castle has been published this year by the small but important Barbadian publishing House, Caribbean Chapters. My book is called, “Rich Man in His Castle, Poor Ones Take the Streets: Integrating a “Canonical” novel With Popular Culture“, so called because I believe that in addition to drawing on the British novelistic tradition to create Castle, Lamming drew on existing local narratives of carnival and other popular culture genres.
Importantly, Rich Man in His Castle, Poor Ones Take the Street includes an interview by the author with George Lamming where he reflects on many things about the novel and about Caribbean society in general. This includes drawing parallels between the Grenada situation in 1983 and what happened when the British suspended the Guyana constitution under Cheddi Jagan in 1962.
It has been popular among critics to see Castle as a straight satirical text where the poles of subject and object (colonizer- colonized respectively) are reversed but are necessarily still there. However, this perpetuates the problematic dualism that is at the heart of the mind/body split promoted by philosopher Renee Decartes. This split places mind/intellectual/spiritual in an hierarchy above body/ emotional/material. In my book I argue against use of this model to analyse Castle.
I suggest that the simple reversal of colonizer/colonised would indeed be simply cathartic in the sense of one view of carnival (the Aristotelian). Castle if so constructed and directed by Lamming, would merely supply a catharsis that would leave basic structures of colonial power and racism unchanged. Further I suggest in my book that if Lamming were indeed effecting merely this turn around in Castle, then this would indeed fail to adequately explain why this book is a classic and a watershed point in Caribbean letters.
Rather, I believe that like the West Indian novel as a genre, this novel is a new thing in the world of letters. Further that this text in particular undercuts accepted binaries as it brings correspondence between history and art, men and women, physiology and culture, and also between the inscribed text and popular performance arts. Castle explores/explains continuities of Barbadian and West Indian culture and itself starts a process that inaugurates change. I know this is a bold claim for a mere novel, but these features become clear once one sees the text through other than straight satirical eyes.
It may be thought regrettable that I turn to a European model, among others, to help unfold the carnival features mentioned above. However, that question only emerges if one sees European as one term of a dual system that places African at the other end and down. I do not hold such a position. While I can recognise and critique Eurocentric bias in a model, I also believe that models of analysis influence each other, particularly if we are talking of models created in this postcolonial world we all live in.
Perhaps we err in calling some theories European and then only finding the Europeans who advance those theories. There are always others making the same discoveries in the world of mind. The postcolonial is dialogic and its explorations, as Lamming shows in Castle, make sense only as dialogues. I therefore set Castle in dialogue with Bakhtin (and Brathwaite, and Burton, and Best, and least I forget, Jeanette Layne-Clarke and so on) to see what I could see.
My “Tuk” model, along the lines suggested by Curwen Best, is then used to assess tone, structure, generic status, themes, character, point of view and the many ways the form of the novel is made to produce meaning.
In the Castle of My Skin is worthy of it status as a landmark West Indian and Caribbean novel. Famous French existentialists, Simone DeBouvoir and John Paul Sartre thought so, and that is why they serialized and published it in their magazine so many years ago. Some people say it is a hard read. It really isn’t if you don’t try to read it like a British novel from front to back- beginning, middle and end. My book helps supply the popular culture tools to ease the journey and identify this 60 year old novel as a delightful and satisfying read. Still.
- Margaret D. Gill © 2013-12-11