Walcott's "The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory"
para. 1-6: Walcott begins by reflecting on the
experience of attending a Trinidad-Indian performance of the great Indian epic the Ramayana.
He reflects that he was mistaken to view their performance through his skepticism
rather than through their faith.
para. 7-11: He suggests that we make a mistake in
seeing Caribbean culture (such as the performance) as a sad echo of the past. It is
better to see it for what it is now. "The sigh of History" means nothing
there in the sense of seeing the present as but a tragic echo of a much greater, more
civilized past. Instead, we should see Antilles as a vase broken but restored and
more beautiful for it.
para. 12-15: This process is like that of
poetry--poetry, too, brings together a large collection of fragments, past and present, to
make a beautiful new whole. Rather than trying to return to some distant (pure)
original language, we work with the interesting mixture of culture we have been given.
para. 16-19: The Caribbean culture has to work against
others' expectations of what constitutes civilization, such as large metropolitan cities.
Viewed from this perspective, the Caribbean seems like disappointing tropical
para. 20-25: The powerful mixture of the Caribbean --
French, English, Spanish, African, Asian -- is itself a vibrant culture. Those who
point to a lack of books or institutions -- theatres, museums -- overlook the native
resources that a people depend upon. Such a culture is about survival in its
para. 26-29: Views of the Caribbean as unfinished,
unrealized cities lead to a disappointment in the very landscape as somehow corrupt or
para. 30-34 [not in your handout]
para. 35-38: Walcott has the benefit of being a poet of
this new and vibrant culture, which is fresh in its beginnings. For the poet, every
morning is a new morning.
para. 39-40 [not in your handout]
para. 41-46: Walcott condemns the way that tourism has
reduced most people's experience of Caribbean culture to a flat version that is easy to
package and sell. He fears how quickly this older culture could disappear.
para. 47-50: Walcott himself is that young boy who
"framed stanzas" that cherish "our insignificance."
A culture is significant more for its present than
its past. It is a mistake to see the Caribbean as a fragment of past great cultures.
It is equally a mistake to judge the Caribbean by the
standard of a civilization of large cities and institutions. Its vibrancy is in its
newness, in its cultural mixture.
This cultural mixture is like poetry in its ability
to make something beautiful from a collection of fragments.
The tourist trade produces a flat culture that robs
the Caribbean of its depth and complexity.