Saturday, May 12, 2012

C.L.R. James, Beyond a Boundary: Chapter 3, "Old School-tie"

James recollects the Puritan ethic that imbued his West Indian upbringing with special reference to the virtues of restraint and loyalty. He identifies this ethic as an English import. He illustrates his experience of restraint largely through describing his youthful reading of Thackeray's novels, and particularly the pervasiveness of the internal, emotional inhibition found in them.  For the experience of loyalty, he turns to his experience of schoolboy games, and the fierce attachment to one's team that they instilled.  He describes how different he found the American attitudes he encountered decades later.  He found the American collegiate basketball cheating scandal -- and the lax attitude of his American colleagues to the betrayal of school and team it involved -- incomprehensible.

Through sport in particular, James sees the code as having shaped the inner, moral life of West Indian society.  He does not claim it had no competition, though.  He notes Spanish and French influences that competed with it -- although, curiously, not African or Indian ones.

Though the code came from Britain, his exposure to it did not make him a pro-British partisan -- far from it, for as a schoolboy he even searched history books for their losses and committed those to memory.

A few striking passages:

49: "I was an actor on a stage in which the parts were set in advance.  I not only took it to an extreme, I seemed to have been made by nature for nothing else.  There were others around me who did not go as far and as completely as I did.  There was another cultural current in the island, French and Spanish, which shaped other characters.  I have heard from acute observers that in Barbados, an island which has known no other strain but the British, the code was unadulterated and even more severe."

50: "What interests me, and is, I think, of general interest, is that as far back as I can trace my consciousness the original found itself and came to maturity within a system that was the result of centuries of development in another land, was transplanted as a hot-house flower is transplanted and bore some strange fruit."

54 (the concluding lines of the chapter): "But that there were people of my own way of thinking in the important things of my life who were utterly indifferent as to whether the boys in their old school or any other school sold games for money or not, that had never crossed my provincial mind.  Where, I asked myself, would they want to send their own children to school?  Where indeed? Not only they had to answer it.  I too had to give some answer."

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