Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 32

Ariel's Ethos: On the Moral Economy of Caribbean Experience

Author(s): Holger Henke


Source: Cultural Critique, No. 56 (Winter, 2004), pp. 33-63
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1354716
Accessed: 21-04-2019 21:35 UTC

REFERENCES
Linked references are available on JSTOR for this article:
https://www.jstor.org/stable/1354716?seq=1&cid=pdf-reference#references_tab_contents
You may need to log in to JSTOR to access the linked references.

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide
range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and
facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at
https://about.jstor.org/terms

University of Minnesota Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend
access to Cultural Critique

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ARIEL'S ETHOS
ON THE MORAL ECONOMY OF CARIBBEAN EXPERIENCE

Holger Henke

Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever,
by any religion, by any sect. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned,
unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized;
nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people
along any particular path.

-Jiddu Krishnamurti

Few intellectuals and organic philosophers in the Caribbean


will doubt that the region is in a severe moral and ethical crisis at this
historical juncture. And yet, making this assertion presupposes the
existence of an indigenous moral and ethical matrix against which
such a judgment can be made. More often than not, however, pre-
cisely this existence is concealed from the discourse about society
and moral development in the region. The following essay pursues-
perhaps too ambitiously-a number of simultaneous objects. First, it
intends to highlight some of the elements of what could perhaps be
called the Caribbean ethic/ethos. In this effort, the initial guiding
questions are: What are the elements that circumscribe Caribbean
thought? What are the motives for action? And what are the ethics
of the people inhabiting the Caribbean? Later, I will read this (recon-
structed) ethos/ethic against Shakespeare's play The Tempest, in par-
ticular against the figures of Ariel and (to a lesser extent) Trinculo.
Both "texts," the Caribbean ethos and the Shakespearean figures,
may (and I choose this word carefully, as I am setting out to explore
subtle connections and discontinuities) put each other into perspec-
tive, withdraw each other's legitimacy or basic assumptions, or rein-
force common premises. Second, I will argue for a view of Ariel that
differs somewhat from the predominant interpretation by postcolonial

Cultural Critique 56-Winter 2004-Copyright 2004 Regents of the University of Minnesota

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
34 | HOLGER HENKE

writers. This view will direct the way in which the Shakespearean
figures are deployed as a lens through which I choose to consider
issues pertaining to the moral economy of the Caribbean. Third, the
essay is an attempt to utilize different-sometimes deliberately dis-
jointed-registers of writing with which to map the moral landscape
of Caribbean existence. Since Caribbean existence is circumscribed
by a multiplicity of different discourses, themes, and cultural trad
tions-rationalist-positivist, mythopoetic, Afrocentric, Marxist, and
so on (see, e.g., Trouillot 2002)-rather than to settle for any one of
them, I consider it to be methodologically more appropriate to mov
back and forth between the epistemological registers implied in thes
discourses.
The connection between ethos and ethics throughout this essay
not arbitrary, but reflects the need to consider Caribbean people a
moral persons.1 This is to say that their actions and parameters of
thought should be regarded as a collective attempt of structuring an
making sense of the world in a culturally specific way that facilitat
the emergence of a certain measure of order and predictability
Unlike the moral agent of Kantian and utilitarian theories, the Carib
bean person should be regarded as a culturally embedded individua
and not an abstract "ghost" acting in a cultural vacuum (Hinma
n.d., 1). I intend to advance themes that, for a long time, have lin
gered in the discussions about Caribbean culture and identity b
in the past have been centered on demonstrating the commonaliti
between African or Asian cultures and those of the Caribbean. Whil
I firmly believe that these were utterly necessary in light of the r
quired reconstruction of self- and peoplehood and the budding pro
cesses of nation building, I am equally convinced that we hav
reached a point where it is appropriate to expand the parameters o
these debates in order to arrive at a definition of the Caribbean per
sona sui generis, i.e., without constructing parallel universes. This
attempt is neither denying the persistent validity of cultural herita
nor does it intend at the other extreme to promote a genetic argu
ment.2 However, it is my persuasion that the history, ontological co
ditions, epistemologies, and cosmologies of Caribbean peoples, i
their process of mutual attraction, rejection, and mixing, have creat
a unique intellectual space that has come to inform their habitual
ways of living and moral motivation.

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ARIEL'S ETHOS i 35

When I speak of philosophical thought, I would therefore like


to emphasize that I primarily refer to the everyday being of the Carib-
bean "subaltern," as opposed to the more "educated" and literal-
scriptural discourses of outstanding Caribbean thinkers such as Aime
Cesaire, Frantz Fanon, C. L. R. James, and many others.3 As Paget
Henry (2000, 2) pointed out recently, much of what can be regarded
as philosophical statements in the Caribbean context are discursive
practices embedded in nonphilosophical discourses or texts. While,
like all intellectual work, this is work in progress, I was especially
encouraged by Henry's recent fascinating and important book Cal-
iban's Reason and his and Wilson Harris's plea for a mythopoetic logic
and the need for Caribbean writers to take greater account of this
logic, or as Henry calls them, "gateways" (2000, 106, 270). Although I
do not share with Harris the belief in the relative ontological irrele-
vance of everyday life, I believe that the call for mythopoetic dis-
courses is well placed when we consider the moral-ethical contours
of what I call "Caribbean existence." My exploration of the everyday
wells of Caribbean thought, therefore, stands somewhat in contrast to
Henry's groundbreaking book, which focuses on the literary, "high"
tradition of Caribbean thought. Thus, I do not regard everyday dis-
courses merely as context, but rather as the most profound space of
enacting what it means to be a Caribbean person.
Although I do not consider myself a "deconstructionist," I be-
lieve that this method has its merits, considering that one important
feature of Caribbean existence is the persistent presence of "differ-
ence" and alterity, which give its discourse(s) an epistemological
gravity that more often than not collapses them into each other (see,
e.g., Benitez-Rojo 1996, 1-29; Henke 1997, 43). We will return to this
aspect later, but suffice it to mention here that the intense competition
between different value systems in the region tends to simultane-
ously validate and devalue all of them. The nature of Caribbean
philosophical thought actually appears to demand that we approach
it as a complex of ideas challenging us persistently to pursue-to
borrow Gayatri Spivak's words-a "critique of what one cannot
not want" (Landry and MacLean 1996, 28). I will attempt to integrate
this approach into the very language of thought about the elements
of Caribbean moral existence, which may result in a play with words
and, indeed, in seemingly irrational or poetic conclusions about its

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
36 I HOLGER HENKE

discursive space and limits. Using pun, innuendo, double-edged


irony, and so on, are autochthonous modes of Caribbean everyday
discourse. By appropriating them as tools in the more highfalutin
rationalist and positivistic lingua of academic discourse, we hope to
contribute to a validation of Caribbean thought that will demonstrate
one possible way to more appropriately represent the people of the
region.4 In that, it entails an emancipation of those Caribbean intel-
lectual traditions that have in the past often stood outside of the soci-
etal discourse.5 It may then, indeed, become what Cesaire in his 1944
essay "Poetry and Cognition" called poetic knowledge-that is, knowl-
edge "in which man spatters the object with all of his mobilized
riches" (quoted in Kelley 2000, 18).6
Thus, Ariel is flying again. As a delimiting force acting in a dense
web of polycultural meanings and moral and intellectual codes, she
or he has proven to represent the elements of fluidity and centrifu-
gality in Caribbean existence. Ariel as a metatheoretical symbol for an
ongoing discourse about the nature of Caribbean existence shall in
the second half of this essay be the central "figure" through which I at-
tempt to read some of the characterizations developed in the first half.

THE CARIBBEAN AS AN ANTIESSENTIALIST SPACE

When conceptualizing and writing about the Caribbean, one has to


be acutely aware that the complex and violent history of the region
as well as the diverse peoples that have settled and labored in it
make it extremely difficult to arrive at unanimous and universally
valid conclusions and concepts about it. In this sense, the region is
indeed a land in which the truth is wandering off the usual trodden
paths and, to use Krishnamurti's statement in the epigraph, limitless
However, not only the great diversity of cultures and their modes of
thinking and discourse contribute to this opaqueness, but also the
fact that, in some of the original African, Indian, and Chinese cultures
themselves, binary oppositions and logocentric discourse, Western
notions of progress, the juxtaposition of wo/man and nature, and th
terminality of history-to mention only a few of the hegemonic mode
of thought in the region during the past four or five centuries-do
not constitute the traditional epistemology.

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ARIEL'S ETHOS | 37

The nature of Caribbean thought is therefore profoundly anti-


essentialist. This is to say that it tends to hold the view that nature
and objects are not necessarily what they seem, that they do not
readily reveal their true nature (essence), or at least that they may
represent different essences at different times. It tends to flatly re-
ject monadic constructions that view reality as indivisible. Caribbean
everyday discourse is engaged in an extensive use of multiple logics,
code-switching, and artistic and satiric solution of possibly not re-
soluble contradictions and paradoxes. To the extent that these shifts
and digressions are at the center of Caribbean existence, it is opposed
to the notion of an essence itself. Let us consider, for example,
Jamaican music icon Lee "Scratch" Perry's simultaneously idiosyn-
cratic and clarifying-and, in my mind, quintessentially Caribbean-
self-description:

I'm an artist, a musician, a magician, a writer, a singer; I'm everything.


My name is Lee from the African jungle, originally from West Africa.
I'm a man from somewhere else, but my origin is from Africa, straight
to Jamaica through reincarnation; reborn in Jamaica. ... I have been
programmed; many people who born again must come back to learn a
lesson.... [H]ave you heard of ET? I am ET, savvy? Savvy? (quoted in
Katz 2000, 1)

This cunning voice from a polyvalent, heteroclitic, hyperhybrid, Cha-


gallian Caribbean cosmological and epistemological heterotopia7
gives a good impression of the rhizomatic-as Glissant might put
it-discourse strategies in these parts.
Any conceptualization of Caribbean thought will consequently
have to take note of this antiessentialism and make it its fundamental
basis. However, the use of terms and concepts of ethics, essentialism
versus antiessentialism, and so on, may in itself very well already be
a (Western) imposition on this space that inherently rejects bipolar
modes of thought, while enabling polyvalent patterns of thought and
enacting multipolar patterns of action.8
Due to its history the region has a number of value systems oper-
ating at various levels of societal discourse.9 Historically, and in many
cases still today, the colonial values (i.e., the colonists' aesthetics,
their language, their beauty ideals, and so on) have constituted the
privileged discourse and defined who is "in" and who is "outside"

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
38 1 HOLGER HENKE

society. This situation has, for example, created a competing system


of social "respectability" clashing with a newer system of "reputa-
tion" (Wilson 1973). Increasingly, the colonial and neocolonial dis-
course has been pushed back, and a revalorization of primarily
African values has come to define both social reputation and, to a
lesser extent, respectability. As Rohlehr has put it in another con-
text, Caribbean self-perception "hovers between the alternatives of
adamic renewal or return, and existentialist sense of void" (1980, 14).
Within this mix, we also find social and philosophical traditions from
India and China.

BRIDGING THE CHASM: THE ROLE OF HUMOR


IN CARIBBEAN DISCOURSE

Whatever the particular mixture of these elements may be, it


apparent that the earlier described hybridity had one general co
quence, which is common to most of Caribbean everyday life. I
referring to the important function of humor (by innuendo) a
mechanism to straddle competing value systems. Humor is to C
bean everyday discourse what music is for Caribbean entertain-
ment.10 Ultimately, neither of the latter can do without the former.
The humor that is typical for the Caribbean is, however, not simply
an empty and vain vessel of communication. Quite to the contrary,
more often than not it embodies important lessons and truths. As a
source of folk wisdom and tradition it does not establish a set of

privileged and hegemonic moral rules, which may be enforced


any possible dissenters, but it strives-and usually succeeds-to
demonstrate its "truth" by enabling the listener or reader to tran-
scend his or her own frame of reference and values. It does not estab-
lish yet another center of discourse, but collapses the existing centers
(Europe, Africa, India, and China) into each other in a way that
allows all to recognize their humanity and-at the same time-to see
themselves from the outside. It makes the "normal" self strange to
itself, or rather it reminds the Caribbean self of its multiple identity
sources and thus fundamentally engenders discursive empathy. In
the process of laughing, the listener engages in a sort of secular tran-
scendental experience from which he or she emerges with a higher

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ARIEL'S ETHOS | 39

consciousness of him- or herself. It is the Caribbean subaltern's way


to speak and to speak back to the colonialists (and all that followed
them). Humor is the Caribbean's unobtrusive strategy to establish a
synthesis where only the opposition of thesis and antithesis seems to
be imaginable.11
Unlike for other humorous situations, humor in Caribbean
everyday discourse is a constant possibility. In his theory of humor
Veatch (1998) explained that for humor to "function" it requires thre
components: (1) an element of normality (N), (2) the perception of
subjective moral violation in a situation (V), and (3) both V and N
need to occur simultaneously. If V and N are understood as compet-
ing value systems, then it becomes immediately understandable that,
unlike in the theory, humor in the Caribbean is not deliberately con-
structed. Caribbean everyday discourse does not require the situa-
tional spark of a constructed moral violation of what is perceived
as normality in order to collapse or dissolve both elements in a
humorous way. By way of the constant presence, or at least potential
presence, of clashing value systems, the transcendent moment offers
itself to the witty comment at any given time. While the outside
observer often attributes this lifestyle to the easygoing nature of
Caribbean people, for the Caribbean psyche the humorous transgres-
sion means a devaluation of the moral absolutes contained in each
value system. In other words, what appears as carefree attitude in
reality carries much more fundamental connotations with it. It is a
relief from a persistently psychological tension that pervades man
Caribbean everyday situations and much of its discourse.
This situation has clear moral implications. Thus, as Veatch
(1998) points out, most individuals have a "subjective moral order"
vested in N. To the extent that this moral order is challenged, ques-
tioned, or humorously violated by V, N's validity is slightly reduced
or at least temporarily compromised. By invoking and humorously
straddling this ambivalence, however, humor becomes a bridge over
which the individual can traverse the chasm that opens between com-
peting moral systems. Thus, while Fanon (1986, 183) speaks about
a "manicheism delirium," and Cesaire laments about societies "in
whom fear has been cunningly instilled, who have been taught to
have an inferiority complex, to tremble, kneel, despair, and behave
like flunkeys" (2000, 43), we often see the Antillean laughingly shrug

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
40 | HOLGER HENKE

off the depth of the ontological abyss-the Valley of Non-being-she


or he is standing on top of, while wondering which side to turn to,
and whether to turn at all.

Now, this role of humor is particularly pervasive in those Carib-


bean countries that have strong competing value systems (e.g., in
Jamaica, Trinidad, or Guyana), while in more homogeneous Carib-
bean societies the prevailing traditional African concepts (e.g., in
Haiti) and creolizations thereof tend to reduce the moral tensions that
exist between such concepts by virtue of their ability to be sources of
order and communal peace. These concepts are both of and for the
community, which clearly points to their African origins (see Mbiti
1999, 200). Cultural production (including everyday discourse) in
these societies often tends to de-emphasize the humorous element
observed in the more diverse Caribbean societies, and focuses more
on spiritual, religious, and quasi-religious cultural grammar and
iconography.
One field in which the insurgent and transcendental power of
humor in the Caribbean has been mastered is the art of the kaiso.

Among many appropriate lyrics, we may take a closer look at th


Trinidadian calypsonian Mighty Sparrow's song "Obeah Wedding
which humorously contrasts two fundamentally different approac
at securing love.12 While the person, a woman named Melda, is tr
to attain Sparrow's love through the use of an Obeah spell (by vir
of Obeah's Akan and Igbo roots, representing the African value
system), Sparrow points out to her that she does not fulfill more con-
ventional criteria (presumably representing the European value sys-
tem, as well as more universal preconditions to physical attraction).
In the song Sparrow objects to her use of incense, garlic, and lard to
bewitch him, and to her lack of personal hygiene. His advice to her
is that if she will brush her teeth better and bathe herself regularly
with soap, she will likely find a hubby without having to resort to
love spells and incense-burning rituals.
Interestingly, while Sparrow appears prima facie to reject the
"African approach" (i.e., the Obeah witchcraft), he does not carry
this criticism all the way through the song. Thus, his suggestions for
a more successful approach might lead a cunumunu to become
Melda's lover.13 The possible West African root of the term is clearly

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ARIEL'S ETHOS | 41

an expression pointing to the creole nature of the society where the


obeah wedding is supposed to occur. By retaining this sympathy for
Africanness, the European value system is denied absolute hegemony.
Ultimately, the informed listener is laughing about the way the simul-
taneous presence and absence of both value systems converges in this
particular courtship situation. Both end up putting each other in per-
spective and coexist rather than compete with each other. Humor
transcends the moral divisions of everyday discourse.
Ambivalences in Caribbean discourse are embedded in language
itself, a language that in many instances has been pieced together on
the basis of some European language, but which carries significant
remnants of African, Indian, and other languages. The most preva-
lent forms of humor in Caribbean discourse therefore are pun and
innuendo, which are both based on linguistic ambiguity. Here humor
is both embodied in and serves as the instrument for the transcen-
dence of ambiguity and multiple codings.

TIME, COMMUNITY, COUNTERTIME

A deep understanding of Caribbean existence cannot escape the fact


that time is conceived differently in the region than in the industrial-
ized West. The well-known "soon come" and "any time is Trinidad
time" have actually become distinct selling features for travel agen-
cies offering Caribbean vacations to bag-eyed Americans, Britons, or
Germans. As will be demonstrated later ("soon come"), this seem-
ingly trivial observation also has moral implications. Again, it is
important to emphasize that there are various concepts of time com-
peting with each other, and the various ways in which time is con-
ceived or produced depend on the particular social and economic
circumstances of an individual or a community. Thus, the perception
of time stands in an intimate relation to the particular mode of pro-
duction it is engaged in.
However, before we go into this aspect, the role of origin(s) has to
be brought into the picture. Cosmologies and epistemologies pro-
foundly different from the European concepts were invisible travel-
ers of the Middle Passage. A linear concept of time such as in Western

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
42 I HOLGER HENKE

thought, with an indefinite past, present, and infinite future is dif-


ferently constructed in traditional African society. The traditional
African concept of time is mainly event-driven, concrete, and-un-
like modern European concepts-not measured in abstract intervals:

Time has to be experienced to make sense or to become real. A person


experiences time partly in his own individual life, and partly through
society which goes back many generations before his own birth. Since
what is the future has not been experienced, it does not make sense; it
cannot, therefore, constitute part of time, and people do not know how
to think about it-unless, of course, it is something which falls within
the rhythm of natural phenomena. (Mbiti 1999, 17)14

Without question, this concept of time is inextricably bound with a


cosmology and religion that values community and, thus, morality
as a social and public affair. Different concepts of time have clashed
in the region. As Birth (1999) has explained in great detail, the previ-
ously described prevalent African conception of time was forcibly
replaced by European clock time. The latter stood for the temporal
rigidities and, by implication, the racist hierarchies and ethnocentric
value systems introduced and perpetuated by the colonial plantation
system. But clock time also stood for a moral order that put a pre-
mium on the individual rather than on the community as a whole.
In fact, it actually stood for the imposition of temporal ownership
of a largely atomized expatriate group over other people's labor,
indeed, their bodies and therefore their existence. Of course, with the
persistence of capitalist working arrangements in largely urban envi-
ronments, technological time continues to be the defining concept
for the scheduling of many, if not most, significant daily activities
throughout the Caribbean.
In contrast, as Glissant (1989, 93) points out, the Caribbean per-
son intuitively and defiantly rejects any set notion of time, particu-
larly clock time. The ideal becomes a "non-defined understanding"
of time, a concept of time that does not measure in fixed divisions,
but rather according to what in a given context appears to be the nat-
ural dynamic or sequence of events. This natural, more fluid under-
standing of time is, for example, embodied in Trinidadian "liming."
Liming, a contradiction to clock time, is by definition a social affair.
An individual alone cannot lime (Eriksen 1990). It requires a group of

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ARIEL'S ETHOS | 43

like-minded companions-family, perhaps, or friends-who "hang


out" together and follow the flow of the group's collective will and
mood(s) in their activities. Clock time is the last thing on their minds.
Thus, while liming actively opposes exogenous ways of rigidly orga-
nizing labor and/or leisure, it posits an ethic of community against
the ascetic rationalism inherent in capitalism and Protestantism.15
In liming the primacy of community, understood as a natural and
largely voluntary system of rules, is resurrected or asserted through
the imposition-or rather lack-of (a sequence of) group action(s).16
It is rather a democratic enterprise than a hierarchically structured
process. Without doubt, liming as an activity ought to be considered
as a Caribbean form of resistance to an ethic for which "wasting time
is the first and in principle most serious of all sins":

Loss of time because of conviviality, luxury, even because of more than


the necessary and healthy amount of sleep-6 to 8 hours at most-is
morally absolutely detestable. (Weber 1973, 159; my translation)

It is important to note that while both ethics are essential concepts,


the Caribbean ethos is really the movement, the constant negotiation
between the poles defining the two extremes. Thus, as Birth (1999,
134-42) points out correctly, glosses such as "jus' now," "soon come,"
or "any time is Trinidad time" are widely used placeholders that
simultaneously demarcate the conflict of two or more different ethics
(here, temporal concepts) and help to defuse or negotiate this con-
flict. While they never really resolve the fundamental existing antag-
onism, they serve as markers that establish a common ground that
most parties to the conflict intuitively recognize as an inalienable
part of their (national) identity. Thus, these markers implicitly say,
"This is who we are as Trinidadians, Jamaicans, Caribbeans. They-the
conflict and the glosses-are what make us us." Thus, the Carib-
bean's unique moral condition oscillates between essentialist posi-
tions. In other words, the Caribbean persona tends to reject either/or
dichotomies and prefers to embrace explicitly contextualized and
synergetic concepts of moral valorization as part of its identity. This
impulse is strongest among the ethnic majority in the region, the peo-
ple of African origin, and it stands in constant contrast to the official
Eurocentric (political) system.

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
44 1 HOLGER HENKE

It should be obvious that in the earlier sketched Protestant-


capitalist (work) ethic, individualism is the basic organizing princip
The corollary of de-emphasizing community can be found in the
Western tendency to moral abstraction, such as described, for exa
ple, in Kant's hypothetical imperative. Without doubt, as form(ali
this ethos is also inscribed in the symbolic landscape (and the min
scape) inhabited by Caribbean people (cf. Abrahams 1983, 140). On
might even go so far as to suggest that liming is a distant echo of aris
tocratic European concepts of leisurely individualism. However, in
Afro-Caribbean tradition there is a greater emphasis on limiting in
vidualism by the demands of the community (see, e.g., Gbadeges
1998, 293). These traditions have survived in the Caribbean. Thus,
as Mintz and Trouillot point out, in Haitian vodou "the difference
between good and evil is realized in practice rather than through
some essential manicheism as in Christianity" (1998, 131). While the
imposed moral value system puts a premium on individualism and
egocentrism, the morality of Caribbean society is characterized by a
fundamental anthropocentrism.17 In this tradition, a person who sim-
ply watches while children fight or when conflict occurs between
adults is not a good person.18
The communal aspect of (several) Caribbean societies is, however,
not simply an African tradition, but also has deep roots in Hindu phi-
losophy and religion.19 Although there is a strong emphasis on com-
munity in this tradition, it is important to keep in mind that while
moral concepts such as justice are certainly a part of it, they are some-
what broken through the social divisions implemented through the
caste system. Although the caste system and its pertinent notions of
purity and pollution clearly stand in contrast to the theory of univer-
sal justice in European thought, they also show parallels to its class-
based praxis.20 There can be no doubt that the rigidity of the caste
system has become seriously undermined in the creolized/creolizing
societies of the Caribbean, but given the original epistemology and
cosmology of African and Hindu philosophy, it has to be noted that
both Africans and East Indians approached the dominant (i.e., Euro-
pean) power structures from a different epistemological basis. Thus,
while African moral concepts were diametrically opposed to Euro-
pean classist (and, of course, racist) rule and its adjacent notion of

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ARIEL'S ETHOS 1 45

individualism, East Indian ethics-while equally opposed to the abuses


and indignities of their indentureship-were at some level able to
accommodate the rigidities and rituals of a hierarchical social order.
In much of Caribbean and Latin American writing, the conflict
between European and creolized Afro-Asian moralities has been sym-
bolically expressed by the figures of Prospero and Caliban in Shake-
speare's play The Tempest and an entire body of both academic and
creative literature based on or inspired by it. I would like to cast my
following interpretation of the Caribbean moral landscape in this
tradition. However, it is my intention to rehabilitate the figure of
Ariel, who can be seen to negotiate between the usually more promi-
nently considered Caliban and Prospero.

ARIEL'S RETURN

Hegemonic discourse cannot simply confine itself to establishing a


taxonomy of civilization, i.e., defining the agents of civilization and
the subjects of subjugation. The social dynamics of oppressive rule
demand a more continuous production of stereotypical "civility"
and "barbarism" (Brown 1985, 58). Throughout the Caribbean, intel-
lectual discourse has in the last forty or so years used the Prospero-
Caliban antagonism as a metaphor to describe and analyze the colo-
nial and postcolonial relations between the discursive center and its
periphery.21 However, there is also a case to be made for Ariel, the
elusive, ghostlike, creative, spirit-force, who-albeit being his mas-
ter's instrument-nevertheless moves the unfolding plot of power,
subordination, and revelation by the way of his otherworldly and
intangible, invisible hand. As I will argue, Ariel appears to personify
the force of ideas that only slowly and incrementally move the course
of history, but, once recognized for what they are, become a resource
that cannot be resisted even by armies.
We recall that Shakespeare's Ariel had left the stage to live
"under the blossom that hangs on the bough" (5.1.94). But let us sup-
pose for a second that he has forgotten something and returns after
all others have left the stage; time may have passed, but as always, an
audience is there:

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
46 | HOLGER HENKE

ARIEL enters stage from the left, still. Looking around in wonderment, he doesn't
seem to find himself where he wanted to be. He leaves the stage to mingle with
the audience. Bob Marley's "Rastaman Chant" is playing from imaginative
loudspeakers between the reader's ears. While walking offstage, Ariel clears his
throat, then begins to speak: Anyone here named Pablo? Pablo Picasso? (No
reply from the audience.) Nobody? (Thinking) Well, anybody here who can
explain the origin of Cubism? (Pauses) Oh, perhaps it is too early to ask.
You're just enjoying 1611, 1838, 1933, 1989, or thereabout! (Loud, impa-
tient) Well, what are you staring at me for, then? Go home, people, the
show is over. Go back to Auschwitz, Bhopal, Chernobyl, Seveso, Soweto,
Gulag, Nagasaki, wherever you come from. (He disappears to the right,
now humming Marley's "Redemption Song.")

Is it possible that Ariel, or even Caliban of Shakespeare's The Tempest,


could have addressed the audience and in such an irreverent way?
Hardly. And yet, it is certainly imaginable that a new monologue
could be written in a similar way. But new questions need to be
asked: Who is the audience addressed in this manner? Why is Ariel
leaving them? What is the nature of the show that was being played
before this imaginary monologue? Such questions point to the fact
that parameters in the dialogue between hegemon and subaltern
have shifted and are subject to continuous paradigmatic shifts or-in
Sylvia Wynter's terminology-epistemic change. Thus, as for exam-
ple Stuart Hall has pointed out in his essay "New Ethnicities," there
can be "no simple 'return' or 'recovery' of the ancestral past which is
not re-experienced through the categories of the present" (2001, 448).
Or, as Scott argues more abstractly, Ariel's new monologue could be
understood as an invitation "to take up the more difficult task of
thinking fundamentally against the normalization of the epistemo-
logical and institutional forms of our political modernity" (1999, 20).
Few Caribbean writers have bothered much with Ariel. One of
them, Edward Kamau Brathwaite, the cornucopian wordsmith from
Barbados, has attempted to bring the ghost into the picture. In his
article "Caliban, Ariel, and Unprospero in the Conflict of Creoliza-
tion: A Study of the Slave Revolt in Jamaica in 1831-32," Brathwaite
interprets the creolization process by utilizing Shakespeare's protag-
onists as archetypical actors in the colonial drama. Although he is
aware of it, it would appear that his Ariel does not unfold the full
ambivalence Shakespeare had applied to his persona. In Brathwaite's

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ARIEL'S ETHOS | 47

interpretation, Ariel, "usually an educated slave or freedman open


to 'white' creolization and technology" (1977, 48), mainly acts as a
go-between, an intermediary, a Hermes, delivering signals and orders
from the colonial Fiihrerbunker to the front lines of colonial sugar
plantations in the Caribbean.22
In contrast to Brathwaite, I suggest that Ariel cannot be applied
as an archetype that denotes a particular personality on the colonial
stage. Rather, Ariel has to be "read" for what he really is, an ethereal
force permeating the sky just around the heads of the colonial in-
truder but operating well below the radar of his/her sight/con-
sciousness. I argue that Ariel is more appropriately understood as
a metaphor for a set of practices in Caribbean everyday life. Who
is Shakespeare's Ariel really? Isn't she or he a creature that has
promised temporary service, but really only exists for the single-
minded pursuit of his ultimate day of freedom?23 "Is there more toil?
Since thou dost give me pains, / Let me remember thee what thou
hast promis'd, / Which is not yet perform'd me" (1.2.242-44). There
is nothing ambiguous about this demand. But Ariel knows realpoli-
tik. Prospero is in possession of superior magic: "If thou murmur'st,
I will rend an oak, / And peg thee in his knotty entrails, till / Thou
hast howl'd away twelve winters" (1.2.294-96). The result follows a
clear cost-benefit analysis:

ARIEL: Pardon, master:


I will be correspondent to command,
And do my spiriting gently.
PROSPERO: Do so; and after two days
I will discharge thee.
ARIEL: That's my noble master!
What shall I do? say what; what shall I do? (1.2.297-300)

Ariel may be an ethereal force, but he is no dreamer. He is well aware


of his limits. He temporarily allies himself with his antithesis in pur-
suit of the promise and ultimate goal. Indeed, where Caliban is de-
ploring his fate, Ariel is taking action.
Rather than Brathwaite's Ariel, the Ariel envisioned in this essay
comes closer to Rodo's emphatic description written in 1900:

He is generous enthusiasm, elevated and unselfish motivation in all


actions, spirituality in culture, vivacity and grace in intelligence. Ariel is

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
48 | HOLGER HENKE

the ideal toward which human selection ascends, the force that wields
life's eternal chisel, effacing from aspiring mankind the clinging ves-
tiges of Caliban, the play's symbol of brutal sensuality. (1988, 31)

Thus, Rodo's Ariel is more an invisible hand or an (elusive?) goal to


be aspired to. While we acknowledge the positive spin given to Ariel
in Rodo's essay, we also need to be mindful of the limits that the
author imposed on this figure, which have been criticized by others
such as Carlos Fuentes (in the foreword to the 1988 edition) and
Roberto Fernandez Retamar (1988). His endorsement of European-
in particular French-culture and complete neglect of American
indigenous cultural contributions have to be noted as unfortunate
shortcomings, even if we-as Fuentes does-attempt to understand
it in the context of the essay's historical origins.
Similarly (and perhaps yet closer to the central argument pur-
sued here), as J. Michael Dash points out, a more positive reading
of Shakespeare's Ariel has also been suggested by Cesaire. "In the
voice of [Cesaire's] Ariel, the language of the land finds expression"
(1986, 57). In Dash's view, Cesaire's Ariel is directed toward the tran-
scendence of the revolt against Prospero:

His discourse is rooted in the belief that the imagination at its most
intensive strives beyond moral, political, and sexual divisions for an
androgynous wholeness. (56)

In Cesaire/Dash's interpretation, Ariel becomes a voice of (nonteleo-


logical) nature, of the landscape itself, which thus seems to become
an additional protagonist of the discourse. Ariel, then, is the voice of
a proto-ecological discourse.24 Yet, by virtue of his quasi-supernatu-
ralistic appearance, Ariel seems to point to a higher order. The notion
of ethereal force implies certain powers-powers that cannot be seen,
operating subtly yet with determination, transmitting waves through
the air that may on different occasions either gently direct or an-
nounce dread with a thunderous voice. Ariel, imprisoned by Sycorax
"into a cloven pine; within which rift, / Imprison'd thou didst pain-
fully remain," without doubt is a master of music in Shakespeare's
play (1.2.277-79). Does it take too much imagination to see him akin
to a skin stretched over a drum? Isn't his ghostly song really the trans-
posed voice of Africa, the voice of the African-Caribbean? Isn't there

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ARIEL'S ETHOS | 49

dreadful riddim in his song?: "Full fadom five thy father lies; / Of his
bones are coral made; / Those are pearls that were his eyes" (1.2.399-
400). There is even clearer evidence that Ariel has Maroon character:

... Then I beat my tabor;


At which, like unback'd colts, they prick'd their ears,
Advanc'd their eyelids, lifted up their noses,
As they smelt music: so I charm'd their ears,
That, calf-like, they my lowing follow'd ... (4.1.175-79)

If Ariel is not dubbing to a dub plate, his pied piper stage presence
still conjures up the cosmology of African peoples. He is clearly not of
the same flesh and blood as Prospero, Caliban, or Trinculo. Together
with Prospero he both invokes and revokes a different time experi-
ence: "My charms I'll break, their senses I'll restore, / And they shall
be themselves" (5.1.31-32; see also 3.3). As indicated above, Ariel's
ghostly appearance also carries a morality of its own:

You are three men of sin, whom Destiny,

Hath caus'd to belch up you; and on this island,


Where man doth not inhabit,-you 'mongst men
Being most unfit to live. I have made you mad. (3.3.53-58)

This morality is not only contained in Shakespeare's writing, but also


innate in the invocation of African cosmology as it appears through
the Ariel figure. Without doubt in the African cosmology and theolo-
gies, spirits and spiritual forces are in close contact with humans.
They occupy a somewhat intermediary position between the realm of
human existence and the Supreme Being. There is communication,
indeed interaction, and the well-being of humans depends on their
ability to please spiritual forces. As one prominent African theologian
and philosopher has put it:

Spirits as a group have more power than men, just as in a physical sense
the lions do. Yet, in some ways men are better off, and the right human
specialists can manipulate or control the spirits as they wish. Men para-
doxically may fear, or dread, the spirits and yet they can drive the same
spirits away or use them to human advantage. (Mbiti 1999, 78)

This relationship not only seems to describe the Ariel-Prospero

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
50 | HOLGER HENKE

relationship, but also connotes a moral dimension that is significantly


different from the Christian tradition where no intermediary forces
allow the active manipulation of social relationships or commu-
nal well-being. Where Europeans encountered Ariel's African spirit
world in the West Indies it may, indeed, have made them mad.

READING ARIEL BACKWARD

So far I have utilized the Shakespearean play in a rather convention


way, i.e., to help interpret and reinterpret the Prospero-Ari
dynamic, the colonial encounter, and power relationships between
Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. But more is possible-and
required-in order for us to make the fullest use of the Bard
ambiguous dialogues (see also Forbes 2001, 56). I shall therefore tu
around the mirror to see who indeed is the most beautiful around. I
is Ariel's time to laugh and lead the conversation.

ARIEL: Now, you're still here, bewitcher? Has'd somehow missed thy
last boat home? Backra no longer, much smaller thy frame look'd now.
The golden chain around your paunch is gone, can't stop my time no
more. How doest thou feel this day without thy horsemen, bible, can-
non, bare now and face to face with me alone?
PROSPERO: Oh Ariel, my good spirit. Thy tone speak'd of mistrust, dis-
content even. Thou didst not doubt my commitment ever, to you, the
fair isle we chose to share. Say I am right! Few moments in time I in-
tended just to borrow, to help you, even now, brighten your days, ours.
ARIEL: Hush up now, where is your style, the good taste you once pre-
tended? Like sugar it appears to have dissolved to nothing, sweet van-
ity, foaming on your somersaulting lips. (Frowns) Quite unappetizing!
Speaking of jumps and rolls; did mine eyes not glimpse last night one of
your European companions, jumping on his toes' tips, quite obviously
contrary to the drum 'n' bass's riddim? Quite a sight, I confess
to you. And thou should'st tell the fool that, for the most part, he and
his party have not gotten in their veins what some would call a poly-
rhythm. Not born to be a prodigy to music, the sweetest of all arts;
remember, the waves of air are my domain. Quite obviously, my clumsy
one, no Sly Dunbar, Max Roach, or Elvin Jones yet from your seed
sprang forth.

Thus, or similar, the Bard might have felt compelled to write, had he
been born in the West Indies-and black.

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ARIEL'S ETHOS | 51

But perhaps no one has expressed the need to write back and the
determination to reclaim the moral authority over the destiny of the
Caribbean and its peoples more eloquently and forcefully than Mon-
sieur Cesaire himself:

Therefore, comrade, you will hold as enemies-loftily, lucidly, consis-


tently-not only sadistic governors and greedy bankers, not only pre-
fects who torture and colonists who flog, not only corrupt, check-licking
politicians and subservient judges, but likewise and for the same rea-
son, venomous journalists, goitrous academics, wreathed in dollars and
stupidity, ethnographers who go in for metaphysics, presumptuous Bel-
gian theologians, chattering intellectuals born stinking out of the thigh
of Nietzsche, the patemalists, the embracers, the corrupters, the back-
slappers, the lovers of exoticism, the dividers, the agrarian sociologists,
the hoodwinkers, the hoaxers, the hot-air artists, the humbugs, and in
general, all those who, performing their functions in the sordid division
of labor for the defense of Western bourgeois society, try in diverse ways
and by infamous diversions to split up the forces of Progress-even if it
means denying the very possibility of Progress-all of them tools of
capitalism, all of them, open or secretly, supporters of plundering colo-
nialism, all of them responsible, all hateful, all slave-traders, all hence-
forth answerable for the violence of revolutionary action. (2000, 54-55)

As Lewis Gordon has pointed out, "thinking through the periphery,


the underside, the subaltern could as well be characterized as 'Cal-
iban studies,' if we will, where the focus is study through which Pros-
pero's language can be decentered" (2000, 3). And yet, writing back
to Shakespeare, or reading Ariel backward, remains in some ways too
much within the given confines of European discourse. The rhetorical
tropes and figures basically remain the same, if mirrored in a some-
what renegade style.25 Ariel remains mired in an Enlightenment
argument, which prima facie would appear to fit him well. However,
his adeptness to a polyrhythmic ontology is merely a gesture since it
stays tied to the logic and narrative flow of the colonizer. Although
this allows for considerable leverage, it also tries to fight the battle on
a turf that has already been occupied, defined, and therefore tainted.
Enlightenment morality was class- and race-based, i.e., dependent on
the existence/creation of an Other, and hence is unfit for application
to Caribbean contexts or for the purpose of comprehensive liberation.
However, let us not part with Ariel yet, for-as Henry has argued

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
52 I HOLGER HENKE

incisively-our engagement with the poeticist tradition in Caribbean


thought is a necessary corrective to the predominance of the histori-
cist school within it (2000, 257-60). Ariel now has to remove him-
self out of the bipolarity that has emerged, stand aside, and read the
voices of both protagonists from the side, that is, by applying a dif-
ferent angle. It is time to shatter, not just turn, the mirror.

READING ARIEL SIDEWAYS

If we can read Shakespeare backward, there must also be a way


read the text of The Tempest or some of the characters sideway
what can that possibly mean, and how can we read sideways? O
ously, "reading backward" implied a certain critique of the ori
text. However, by doing so, the backward-read text runs the ri
becoming a new orthodoxy. "Reading sideways" then must pre
ably provide us with an interpretation that does not easily run
risk of transforming itself into such a fixed positionality or h
monic interpretation. In fact, it has itself to exhibit transforming p
erties, i.e., it has to be open to interpretation while shedding lig
the existing text and countertext. Thus, it has to be a sort of gu
light without actually being a beacon.
In attempting to outline the contours of such a discourse, I
that my application of Shakespearean characters against thems
as well as against the ambiguous moral economy of Caribbean e
tence, may be a very modest attempt to contribute to Scott's
larger project of refusing "history its subjectivity, its constanc
eternity; to think it otherwise than as the past's hold over the prese
to interrupt its seemingly irrepressible succession, causality, it
ereign claim to determinacy" (1999, 105). For our effort of map
the moral economy of Caribbean existence, this refusal would
translate into a text that equally questions hegemonic and coun
hegemonic value-system discourses in the region. It would
to achieve this by steering clear of both universalism and cultur
ativism. The question is: Can it be done and has it been don
the region?
The second part of this question is easy to answer. There can be
no doubt that many aspects of the ongoing creolization experience(s)

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ARIEL'S ETHOS | 53

in the region show how the peoples of this region have both used and
refused elements of both their "autochthonous" value coordinates
and those imposed by the colonial project. If, as I believe it has, the
imposed colonial moral economy-perpetuated in numerous differ
ing ways in the postcolonial Caribbean-was a conscious attempt
to confuse and corrupt the moral stage on which the colonial and
postcolonial dramas were acted out, a reconfigured moral economy
cannot be gained by choosing between African, Anglo-European,
and-to a lesser extent-Indo-Asian values. Instead, the way forward
appears to be in attempts to "normalize" a deeply creolized economy
of emotions and values.26

In many instances the popular imagination in the region has


moved in this direction, especially in the realms of magico-religious
practices, for example, in Haitian vodou. Beauvoir-Dominique (1998),
among others, describes the early rise of Freemason societies and the
continuing widespread use of wizard spell books (grimoires) in Haiti.
These "underground realms of being," as she calls it, are to my mind
the most obvious attempts to create "order," a new order, out of
reconfigured elements inherited from ancestral and acquired occult
spaces of "we" (see also Hurbon 1995, 146-49):

Imagine fumes of sulfur, lashing of whips, echoing forth to present-day


Petwo ritual. Following centuries of bricolage, the Creoles needed direc-
tion and synthesis: a shredding down to impose order through hierar-
chy and command. Radically new ritual arrangement guided them
throughout their war, "under the obedience of Petwo" (sou lobedyans
Petwo). (Beauvoir-Dominique 1998,162)

And yes, there are definite attempts to unlearn the bi- and tripolari-
ties imposed on the people of the region. Some of these attempts
go beyond the "simple" use of language, text, and spoken word, and
make their statements in the realm of music and the creative arts
(see also Forbes 2001, 66). Others-important for a "social science"
analysis-stay dedicated to the use of words and language, but at the
same time attempt to transcend the inherited materials and re-create
an original language and discourse about Caribbean ethics/ethos.
Foremost, in my mind, is the poetic work of Brathwaite who has
developed, as Bobb puts it, "a style and form that transform the mar-
ginality of the past into a centralizing force" (1998, 46). The key word

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
54 | HOLGER HENKE

here is "transform." Brathwaite's writing style, indeed, has surpassed


many conventions, and with the materials offered by history and con-
temporary affairs, his entire oeuvre is a re-creation of an authentic
Caribbean voice, a re-indigenization and reoccupation of the moral
and ethical space held by Caribbean indigenous and African peo-
ples before the arrival of the colonialists. Thus, when he describes
the view from the location where he lived in Jamaica, overlooking
Kingston:

Kin

gston Harbour the sea fr-


om Old Harbour, Spanish
Town, Caymanas, right rou
nd to Bull Bay, Pharoah S
anders' sun-ship and vail
ey-mist, the huge huge a-
ll day sky and the distan
(t) sea-sky where Cuba an
(d) Hispaniola would be,

except that we are lookin


south tho feelin 'north' (Brathwaite 1999,124)

he does not simply depict a geographic, but attempts to characterize


also the torn and fragmented historicity of the intellectual space
inhabited by modem Caribbean woman/man.
In fact, however, the authentic, organic voice of the Caribbean is
evident in many different locations and efforts of artistic (re)creation.
Can this be done on a larger, and more sustained scale, one that
even infects the (academic) discourse about Caribbean existence? The
answer to this question will depend-among other things-on the
historical process and distribution of class power. The uneasy coexis-
tence of different registers of existence in the region allows us, how-
ever, to take the Shakespearean markers and emblems and reorder
them for the exploration of a mindscape that has dramatically altered
from the time when he fantasized about the New World. The raw
material is there. The seeds of a fundamental discursive displacement
in the Caribbean exist at the margins of (official) society and will
always represent a potential option indicating that the official moral
economy in the region could and ought to be stacked in ways that

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ARIEL'S ETHOS | 55

decenter legitimacy claims of universal, homogenous, privileged,


monadic, and positivist markers and signifiers. The result, however,
will not be another fixed point, a definite and defining narrative, but,
as Benitez-Rojo reminds us aptly, "the goal . . . lies always at an
unreachable point, at the edge of the infinite, there, in a space that
shifts continually from the possible to the impossible" (1996, 182):

ARIEL: So, could it be done?


PROSPERO: Why you always asking me? Haven't I given all the wrong
answers yet? Go find your own. Leave me out of this.
ARIEL: Well, I take your word. This is the last you see of me.
PROSPERO, now seemingly wrapped in deep thought: Yeah, yeah. That's fine.
I don't have all your answers, why are you even asking me? (Sucking his
teeth; then, as if suddenly reminding himself of something) I do share your ...
(Pauses) No, let's not start again.
TRINCULO: Are you ready to leave already? You can't quit now. (Both just
stare at him.) I mean, it's just not the time yet.
ARIEL: Why dat? Is yo mumma tell yuh? Or de nex' one. What 'im name
again? Aloysius Gossamer Longshoreman ... som't'ing som't'ing ...?
TRINCULO: Just wait. It's not the right time yet.
PROSPERO: I'm not going anywhere anyhow. I'm down with you.
TRINCULO: Well, as I say, this is not the right time yet. This is the age
where you go dot-com. But, you don't want to go down there, do you?
ARIEL: Why not, ah feel ready long time, man.
TRINCULO: Yeah, yeah, you feel ready long time and that old fart next to
you doesn't even remember what time is. So, what are you telling me
about long time? Time longer than rope. I say you have to wait. You
wait, it'll be here soon enough.
PROSPERO, protests: Hey, hey, hey; I remember why we're here. I brought
you here after all. (Falling back into thoughtfulness/forgetfulness) But wait,
isn't it all over now? What are we waiting for?
TRINCULO, with attitude: You didn't hear what I said, old man. I say you
have to stick around. You have to wait for 2Dog. He'll question your
answers, your doubts, and your questions.
ARIEL, imitating a British accent: Well, then, why don't we all enjoy a cup
of tea in the meantime? I have here the finest of the finest. A rather
exquisite mixture imported from Ceylon-pardon me, Sri Lanka.

If waiting for 2Dog, hybridity, ambivalence, code-switching, irony,


and moral dualities are a hallmark of Caribbean moral existence, the
socioeconomic everyday realities on the ground also force them-
selves back into the foreground to prevent a pure poetics of Caribbean

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
56 i HOLGER HENKE

existence. This shift in perspective seems to be implied, for example,


in George Lamming's work, particularly when he raises the issue of
a sovereignty beyond the narrowly conceived political sovereignty
of new Caribbean nations and invokes a notion of sovereignty con-
ceived as "the capacity you have for choosing and making and remak-
ing that self which you discover is you, is distinctly you" (2002, 147).
Due to the immense technological capabilities of our times and
because of the movement nature of Caribbean existence, our mytho-
poetic perspective of the Caribbean moral economy can and indeed
has to turn back to a more positivist evaluation. Thus, using Lam-
ming's shift as a starting point, the question may be posed where the
Caribbean stands in regard to the current transformation of the
humanist ethos.
Although ethic and moral philosophy have for some time lagged
behind the new developments in technology, we are currently in
a transition that at its end may-whether we like it or not-even
make the old humanistic moral economy obsolete.27 Since the dawn
of human consciousness and certainly since the European Enlighten-
ment, individuals could at best hope to be a sub-ject (i.e., attainment
of independence under a preexisting and encompassing conceptual
frame, such as God, human rights, and so on). Due to advances with
the Human Genome Project, advances in cloning, and stem cell tech-
nology, new horizons are looming under which humanity has the
possibility to move from being a subject to becoming a project.
As far as I can see, the debate about ethical and moral ques-
tions emerging from these possibilities has been considerably more
nuanced, philosophically rigorous, and intense in Europe than in the
more pragmatic U.S. public.28 In the Caribbean, however, I do not
yet see the emerging contours of the Caribbean perspective on these
issues. In the past we have witnessed concern about young black
girls in the region using skin bleaching substances, but what if U.S.
companies were to offer genetic manipulation that would promise
to achieve Michael Jackson-like or Jennifer Lopez-type features
without the use of a scalpel? What would be the social implications
for the region if there were doctors offering phenotypically black par-
ents an affordable option to have their child become a "browning"-
flowing hair, straight elongated nose, thin lips, and all?
Perhaps regional intellectuals and decision makers implicitly

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ARIEL'S ETHOS | 57

believe that these issues can be avoided, since they may be able to
code-switch through the new options that are evolving. And perhaps
that might even work. But, as mentioned before, something else is
also eroding; the (imperfect) fundamentals of humanism such as
human dignity, inviolability of life, the integrity of the person, and so
on are quite possibly fighting a lost battle against the overwhelming
"tyranny of the possible" implicit in these new life-changing tech-
nologies. Like it or not, these humanist fundamentals have affected
the Caribbean-a creation of European, African, and Asian cultures
-to a great extent. If we are indeed on the verge of becoming our
own project, how will the Caribbean elect to shape itself and its
future? How will its moral economy evolve if humanism's lure is
fading? If hitherto the Caribbean was a hybrid of Europe and Africa
(and, to a lesser extent, parts of Asia and the Near East), what will
be the long-term effects of the possible disappearance of the argu-
ably most substantial influence, the European humanistic system? In
whose image will the Caribbean create itself following these epochal
changes? Will we witness a showdown between-to analogize with
Aristotle's classification of knowledge-an Afro-/Indo-centric mythic
poiesis (as the basis of a new thrust of Caribbean nationalisms) and
a U.S.-inspired quick-buck praxis (i.e., globalization), while the Euro-
humanistic rationalist theoria falls by the wayside? Ariel will have to
be on the move again and can no longer afford the same degree of
"philosophical liming" as in the past.29

Notes

For their numerous comments that helped me to disentangle some of my ideas,


I am grateful to John Bewaji, J. A. George Irish, Karl-Heinz Magister, Trevor
Purcell, Jennifer Sparrow, Deborah Thomas, as well as two anonymous reviewers.
They, however, are not to be blamed for the remaining mess.

1. In an earlier article I attempted to discuss Caribbean existence outside


of the parameters of morality and without an involvement in the potentially
treacherous discussions about binaries such as right and wrong, good and evil
(Henke 1997). In Aristotle, ethos is the character produced by moral habits. Simi-
larly, both the words "conscience" and "consciousness" derive from the Latin
conscire (to know, be aware of; from con, with, together, plus scire, to know).
Because Caribbean moral space(s) involve constant shifts and trade-offs, the term
"economy" was introduced in this context.

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
58 | HOLGER HENKE

2. Important arguments along the same line have been suggested by


important Caribbean writers such as Wilson Harris, Edouard Glissant, Patrick
Chamoiseau, Derek Walcott, and others. In the following I will refer to some of
this work.

3. By using the term "subaltern" I do not wish to invoke Spivak's misin-


terpreted essay "Can the Subaltern Speak?" from which, in any case, she has
distanced herself (see, e.g., Landry and McLean 1996). Rather, it is used in the
Gramscian sense that Meeks (2000, 22-24) seems to propose.
4. This statement may be regarded as problematic and requiring some
explanation. In my view, there does already exist a Caribbean cultural discourse
that is largely embodied in the cultural practices, traditions, and everyday actions
of Caribbean peoples. To my mind, Caribbean scholars have not yet sufficiently
recognized and thematized these mostly performative and nonscriptural expres-
sions of Caribbean thought. It is hoped this modest attempt at integrating them
into scholarly work will achieve some of the still missing recognition.
5. Among the notable exceptions to this tendency are intellectuals such as
Rex Nettleford, George Lamming, and Antonio Benitez-Rojo.
6. And for a moment we will overlook Cesaire's gendered concept of the
rationalizing human being.
7. In his essay "Of Other Spaces," Foucault defines the term the following
way: "There are probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places-
places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society-which
are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the
real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simulta-
neously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all
places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality. Because
these places are absolutely different from all the sites that they reflect and speak
about, I shall call them by way of contrast to utopias, heterotopias" (1986, 27).
8. The situation here is similar to the dilemma of deconstructive thinking,
described by Gayatri Spivak: "Operating necessarily from the inside," she writes,
"borrowing all the strategic and economic resources of subversion from the old
structure, borrowing them structurally, that is to say, without being able to isolate
their elements and atoms, the enterprise of deconstruction always in a certain
way falls prey to its own work" (quoted in Landry and MacLean 1996, 7).
9. Thus, while in the Christian tradition current Jamaican moral values
certainly are perceived as being ordained by God, traditional Ashanti beliefs hold
that "God has no influence on people's moral values" (Mbiti 1999, 202). However,
Ashanti was one of the main ethnic groups from which people were brought as
slaves to Jamaica (Alleyne 1989, 44; Craton 1982, 125). The connection certainly
needs a more systematic exploration, but the question arises whether Jamaica's
current moral crisis does not also find an explanation in these competing percep-
tions of God's role in the determination of human moral values.
10. This is not to argue that rational thought does not play the same role
in Caribbean discourse as it does for any other culture. My argument is simply

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ARIEL'S ETHOS | 59

that Caribbean thought is at different times and for different groups influenced by
a variety of contending cosmologies, ontologies, and epistemologies. Any con-
structive in-depth and prolonged communication between these systems is likely
to encounter implicit or explicit definitional boundaries at which point the dis-
course inherently tends toward a resolution in irony and humor.
11. Yet another important, and often underappreciated, strategy in the
Caribbean context is the marginality suffered by nonconforming individualism
and eccentricity or the more or less real escape of (post)colonial "madness." See,
for example, Henke 1996, 69-71; and Price 1998, 157-217.
12. Despite several attempts to secure a copyright permission for the few
lines that the original version of this article intended to quote from his song, Spar-
row was not willing to produce this permission. The reader is therefore asked to
read the lyrics of the song on-line, where it can be found reproduced at a variety
of locations, e.g., at socanews.com/music/lyrics/melda(obeahwedding).shtml or
at arts.yorku.ca/english/creet/ lyrics.html.
13. Cunumunu is a Trinidadian term for a stupid person. The word is also
known in Jamaica (and possibly other Caribbean countries) and is therefore prob-
ably of West African origin. In Sparrow's song, the term is pronounced with an
"1" in place of the second "n" in cunumunu (koo-noo-mooloo).
14. Mbiti's claim that African society does not know "future" (1999, 16) has
been proven wrong by a number of authors and subsequently intense debates
have developed over the nature of the African concept of time. See, for example,
Beyaraza 2000.
15. The notion of ascetic rationalism was, of course, introduced by Weber
(1973, 380). Since Protestant asceticism is fundamentally opposed to the danger of
a free and hedonistic enjoyment of wealth, the subversive power of liming is eas-
ily discernible. Despite the impression given by Weber, however, we also have
to note that both privacy and the concomitant concept of individualism origi-
nated in the aristocratic classes of feudal Europe. Only gradually, and with the tri-
umph of capitalism, did these concepts become "public goods" in Europe.
16. Although Birth (1999, 130) mentions this aspect, his treatment of it does
not get adequate coverage and is not sufficiently emphasized.
17. Exceptions support this general rule; in the case of Nevis, Abrahams
(1968) mentions that "there is very little community activity or feeling."
18. Other important instances of Caribbean communalism are child shift-
ing, rotating savings and credit associations ("partner" or "susu"), family land,
day-for-day labor, conviviality, and so on.
19. While community plays a strong role in Hinduism, there seems to be a
stronger emphasis on individualism than in traditional African culture and phi-
losophy (see Khan 1996, 6). Community in Hinduism, moreover, seems to tran-
scend anthropocentrism and to suggest a communion with the universe, a less
concrete and more abstract or transcendental form of community.
20. For the aspects of universality and particularity in East Indian commu-
nities in Trinidad, see Schwartz 1964.

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
60 | HOLGER HENKE

21. See, for instance, Cesaire's A Tempest (1999), Retamar's Caliban y otros
ensayos (1979), Toumson's Trois Calibans (1981), or the creative oeuvre of George
Lamming, which centers on The Tempest.
22. It is important to note at this point that Brathwaite introduces what he
calls the "Aerial" persona. Aerial functions in his argument as a kind of prototype
Ariel, an Ariel who aspires to, but cannot achieve, becoming his full self. Only in
exceptional cases and for exceptional individuals (e.g., Jamaica's national hero
Sam Sharpe) was the successful entrance "into the Euro-creolizing or ac/cultura-
tive process" made possible (Brathwaite 1977, 59/60). Still, the relationship
Ariel/Aerial is not applied consistently throughout Brathwaite's text. In his Con-
versations with Nathaniel Mackey, Brathwaite describes Ariel as "Prospero's spying
eyes, his communication apparat, police and television aerials" (1999, 188). Ariel
has a similarly (potentially) reactionary role in Retamar's (1988) interpretation.
23. This seems also to be the way Cesaire reads Ariel (see 1999, 20-23).
24. Edouard Glissant has consciously and brilliantly incorporated this as-
pect into his oeuvre. Consider, for example, Glissant's thoughts about the land:
"I am struck by the fate of flowers. The shapeless yielding to the shapely. As if the
land had rejected its 'essence' to concentrate everything in appearance. It can be
seen but not smelt. Also these thoughts on flowers are not a matter of lamenting
a vanished idyll in the past. But it is true that the fragile and fragrant flower
demanded in the past daily care from the community that acted on its own. The
flower without fragrance endures today, is maintained in form only. Perhaps that
is the emblem of our wait? We dream of what we will cultivate in the future, and
we wonder vaguely what the new hybrid that is already being prepared for us
will look like, since in any case we will not rediscover them as they were, the
magnolias of former times" (1989,52). While in the context of the hybrid, ambigu-
ous moral situation of the Caribbean the dream for the flower's fragrance
becomes the dominant register of thought and action, the rampant materialism of
much of the rest of the world appears to rush in a pseudoteleological frenzy from
one invention to the next, from one record to the next, from growth to more
growth, with inner and external peace of woman/man with herself and between
woman/man and nature being as remote as ever before. While much of the
Caribbean is certainly infected by the same bug, it nevertheless seems to run
against its deep inner being. If Novalis's mythic Blue Flower was ever to be
found, it would grow somewhere in the rainforest or along the seashores of the
Caribbean islands.
25. This is also an obvious concern of Scott. See, for example, his introduc-
tion to Refashioning Futures (1999).
26. "Creole" and "creolization" are by no means clear and unambiguous
concepts. Space considerations prevent a problematization of these terms, and
I am using them here simply in order to point to the fundamentally hybrid, inter-
mediary, and multilayered nature of Caribbean social systems. For a more
comprehensive treatment, see Shepherd and Richards (2002), in particular the
excellent chapters by Nigel Bolland and Carolyn Allen.

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ARIEL'S ETHOS 1 61

27. The operative word here is "may." Obviously the debate about whether
what is technologically possible shall also be what is morally allowed is currently
in full swing.
28. I am thinking here in particular about a highly controversial speech in
1998 by the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk (his "Elmau Lecture"), replies by
Juiirgen Habermas, Robert Spaemann, and subsequent interventions by the Ger-
man chancellor and Bundesprasident, among others (see also Jongen 2001). As far
as I can see, the Sloterdijk lecture is not yet available in English, at least not on the
Internet; however, one source that includes debate about his ideas and more
recent texts can be found at http://www.goethe.de/uk/los/symp/enindex.htm.
29. I am well aware that there are exciting new developments under way
with regard to the development of a Caribbean philosophy, some of which were
alluded to in this text.

Works Cited

Abrahams, Roger D. "Public Drama and Common Values in Two Caribbean


Islands." Transaction (July-August 1968): 62-71.
. The Man-of- Words in the West Indies: Performance and the Emergence of Creole
Culture. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
Alleyne, Mervyn. Roots of Jamaican Culture. London: Pluto Press, 1989.
Beauvoir-Dominique, Rachel. "Underground Realms of Being: Vodoun Magic."
In Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou, ed. Donald J. Cosentino, 153-77. Los Angeles:
UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1998.
Benitez-Rojo, Antonio. The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Per-
spective. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996.
Beyaraza, Ernest. The African Concept of Time: A Comparative Study of Various Theo-
ries. Kampala, Uganda: Makerere University Press, 2000.
Birth, Kevin. "Any Time Is Trinidad Time": Social Meanings and Temporal Conscious-
ness. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999.
Bobb, June D. Beating a Restless Drum: The Poetics of Kamau Brathwaite and Derek
Walcott. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1998.
Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. "Caliban, Ariel, and Unprospero in the Conflict of
Creolization: A Study of the Slave Revolt in Jamaica in 1831-32." Annals of the
New York Academy of Sciences 292 (1977): 45-69.
Brathwaite, Kamau. Conversations with Nathaniel Mackey. Staten Island, N.Y.: We
Press and Xcp: Cross-Cultural Poetics, 1999.
Brown, Paul. "'This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine': The Tempest and the
Discourse of Colonialism." In Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural
Materialism, ed. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, 48-71. Ithaca, N.Y.:
Cornell University Press, 1985.
Cesaire, Aime. A Tempest. New York: Ubu Repertory Theater Publications, 1999.
. Discourse on Colonialism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000.

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
62 | HOLGER HENKE

Craton, Michael. Testing the Chains: Resistance to Slavery in the British West Indies.
Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1982.
Dash, J. Michael. "Ariel's Discourse: French Caribbean Writing after the Storm."
Journal of West Indian Literature 1, no. 1 (1986): 49-58.
Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. "Liming in Trinidad." Folk 32 (1990): 23-43.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks, London: Pluto Press, 1986.
Forbes, Curdella. "Shakespeare, Other Shakespeares, and West Indian Popular
Culture: A Reading of the Erotics of Errantry and Rebellion in Troilus and
Cressida." small axe 9 (March 2001): 44-69.
Foucault, Michel. "Of Other Spaces." Diacritics 16, no. 1 (spring 1986): 22-27.
Gbadegesin, Segun. "Individuality, Community, and the Moral Order." In The
African Philosophy Reader, ed. P. H. Coetzee and A. P. J. Roux, 292-305. Lon-
don: Routledge, 1998.
Glissant, Edouard. Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays. Charlottesville: University
Press of Virginia, 1989.
Gordon, Lewis R. Existentia Africana: Understanding Africana Existential Thought.
New York: Routledge, 2000.
Hall, Stuart. "New Ethnicities." In Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Stud-
ies, ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, 441-49. London and New York:
Routledge, 2001.
Henke, Holger. "Mapping the 'Inner Plantation': A Cultural Exploration of the
Origins of Caribbean Local Discourse." Social and Economic Studies 45, no. 4
(1996): 51-75.
. "Towards an Ontology of Caribbean Existence." Social Epistemology 11,
no. 1 (January-March 1997): 39-71.
Henry, Paget. Caliban's Reason: Introducing Afro-Caribbean Philosophy. New York
and London: Routledge, 2000.
Hinman, Lawrence M. "The Place of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture in Moral The-
ory." Unpublished paper, Values Institute, University of San Diego. http://
ethics.sandiego.edu/Applied/Race/index.html. Accessed November 2001.
Hurbon, Laennec. Voodoo: Search for the Spirit. New York: Abrams, 1995.
Jongen, Marc. "Der Mensch ist sein eigenes Experiment." Die Zeit, August 9,2001,31.
Katz, David. People Funny Boy. Edinburgh: Payback Press, 2000.
Kelley, Robin D. G. "A Poetics of Anticolonialism." Introduction to Discourse on
Colonialism, Aime Cesaire, 7-28. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000.
Khan, Abrahim H. Identity, Personhood, and Religion in Caribbean Context. Working
Paper No. 96/97-98. Cambridge: Harvard University, David Rockefeller
Center for Latin American Studies, 1996.
Lamming, George. "The Sovereignty of the Imagination: An Interview with
George Lamming." small axe 12 (September 2002): 72-200.
Landry, Donna, and Gerald MacLean, eds. The Spivak Reader. New York and Lon-
don: Routledge, 1996.
Mbiti, John S. African Religions and Philosophy. Oxford: Heinemann, 1999.

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ARIEL'S ETHOS | 63

Meeks, Brian. Narratives of Resistance: Jamaica, Trinidad, the Caribbean. Mona: Uni-
versity of the West Indies Press, 2000.
Mintz, Sidney, and Michel-Rolph Trouillot. "The Social History of Haitian Vodou."
In Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou, ed. Donald J. Cosentino, 123-47. Los Angeles:
UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1998.
Price, Richard. The Convict and the Colonel. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998.
Retamar, Roberto Femaindez. Kaliban: Essays zur Kultur Lateinamerikas. Munich and
Zurich: Piper, 1988. Originally published as Caliban y otros ensayos: Nuestra
America y el mundo (Havana: Editorial Arte y Literatura, 1979).
Rod6, Jose Enrique. Ariel. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988.
Rohlehr, Gordon. "Articulating a Caribbean Aesthetic: The Revolution of Self-
Perception." Caribe (Caribbean Expressions Festival I) (1980): 7-15.
Schwartz, Barton M. "Ritual Aspects of Class in Trinidad." Anthropological Quar-
terly 37 (1964): 1-15.
Scott, David. Refashioning Futures: Criticism after Postcoloniality. Princeton, N.J.:
Princeton University Press, 1999.
Shepherd, Verene A., and Glen L. Richards, eds. Questioning Creole: Creolisation
Discourses in Caribbean Culture. Kingston and Oxford: Ian Randle and James
Currey, 2002.
Toumson, Roger. Trois Calibans: Essai. Havana: Casa de Las Americas, 1981.
Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. "The Otherwise Modern: Caribbean Lessons from the
Savage Slot." In Critically Modern: Alternatives, Alterities, Anthropologies, ed.
Bruce M. Knauft, 220-40. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.
Veatch, Thomas C. "A Theory of Humor." Humor: The International Journal of
Humor Research, May 1998. http://www.tomveatch.com/else/humor/paper.
Weber, Max. Soziologie: Universalgeschichtliche Analysen. Politik. Stuttgart: Alfred
Kroner, 1973.
Wilson, Peter. Crab Antics. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1973.

This content downloaded from 163.178.101.95 on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 21:35:21 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms