Guide Postcolonial London: Rewriting the Metropolis

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Get to Know Us. Audible Download Audio Books. This is a superb study of the ways in which 'imperial centre' might be rewritten as postcolonial metropolis. It represents essential reading for those interested in British or postcolonial literature, or in theorisations of the city and metropolitan culture. Engaging with a range of writers from Sam Selvon and Doris Lessing to Hanif Kureishi and Fred D'Aguiar, John McLeod examines a cultural history of resistance to the prejudice and racism that have at least in part characterised the postcolonial city.

This resistance, he argues, bears witness to the determination, imagination and creativity of London's migrants and their descendants. McLeod's superb study is essential reading for those interested in British or postcolonial literature, or in theorisations of the city and metropolitan culture. He has written on postcolonial literature for a variety of publications, including Wasafiri, Interventions and Journal of Commonwealth Literature and is the author of Beginning Postcolonialism He remains stuck in the present, locked in a diabolical and arrested moment of time, dreaming of better days.

Like calypso, Galahad makes Moses move his feet. Although he will, like others, experience the loneliness and fear of the bitter city as we have seen, he is not as controlled or vanquished by it as seems Moses.

This is London, this is life oh lord, to walk like a king with money in your pocket, not a worry in the world. Is one of those summer evenings, when it look like night would never come, a magnificent evening, a powerful evening, rent finish paying, rations in the cupboard, twenty pounds in the bank, and a nice piece of skin waiting under the big clock in Piccadilly Tube Station.

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His view of London is marked and marred by his distinctly masculinist pursuit of heterosexual conquest. But there are important aspects in the passage which cannot be so readily dismissed. It bears happy witness to the determination and agency of the migrants who are depicted throughout the novel moving through London. The dream of London is, like the diamond-studded pavement of the Bayswater Road, a trick of the light and an error of vision.

There is, of course, an element of each character in the other: Moses indulges in some of the coasting and horseplay of Galahad and the other boys, and Galahad gradually develops a sense of realism about living in London. But they are yet to become like their namesakes in Eldorado West One, where Galahad has changed into an unsympathetic and exploitatative figure in league with a crooked white landlord, while Moses is little more than his obsession to return to Trinidad. At the fete there is discovered a different kind of motion linked to music and dancing which does not necessarily leave one standing in the same spot.

Held at St Pancras Hall and featuring a steel band playing calypsos in London, the fete is the only occasion where virtually all of the characters, male and female, are gathered together. It also welcomes white and black guests. In a similarly transcultural mood, the fete seems to beckon different times and places into the hall, making it a bouyant if fragile scene, the signature tune of which is calypso.

Selvon transforms St Pancras Hall into an inspirational source of spatial creolization which derives its vibrancy from the creative kinesis of music and dancing. Tanty is a figure of the dynamism of the Caribbean past in London, and at one level she functions as a familiar gendered trope of the ways and knowledge of the motherland. Although there is certainly a sexual charge to the dancing, in St Pancras Hall the relations between men and women seem different from the anonymous, objectifying relations hitherto depicted in the novel. It is as if the occasion to indulge in new cultural activities in London, dancing to calypso, becomes a way of envisaging just for a moment a new kind of socially inclusive space which emerges from the creolizing promise of the dance-floor: tolerant, racially inclusive, pleasurable, mobile, negotiating between rather than polarizing past and present, inside and outside, the Caribbean and London.

The dancing at St Pancras Hall can perhaps be read as the first tentative steps of a community composing itself — one which is inclusive of many different Londoners, not only Caribbean migrant men. The utopianism represented by the fete is the most important dream at the heart of The Lonely Londoners. The fete is, inevitably, a fragile and utopian space, where possibilities are glimpsed rather than new social relations cemented. The myth of London as a metropolitan El Dorado is certainly one of the illusions disassembled by the novel, but the calypsonian creativity Selvon salutes maintains to the end the claim to tenure in the city sung by Lord Kitchener from the gangway of the SS Empire Windrush.

This laughter seems to conjure both the satirical and sentimental moods of the calypsos in London at the time. Aged sixteen, he was returning to the city of his birth which he had left in to emigrate to Australia with his mother and step-father. After a few months in London he settled in Belgium, subsequently travelling throughout the continent, visiting Paris, Florence and Nuremberg.

MacInnes was, of course, a very different figure from Selvon. He had arrived in London at an earlier moment and as a consequence of a very different history. Making a song and dance 41 In a parallel fashion, however, MacInnes discovered in popular cultural activity in postwar London the potential for envisaging social change in the city, and he too dared to project utopian visions of London as a way of contesting prejudice and violence.

But it also describes a creative process which is at the heart of his London novels, especially City of Spades and Absolute Beginners. The popular cultural activities of music and dancing were suggestive to MacInnes as potentially composing a new London where racial prejudice, often supported by state authority, might be vanquished. He was particularly inspired by the American pop music and jazz that he encountered in places such as the Paramount and the bars and clubs of Soho. Youth offered a subterranean, subcultural vitality which cheerfully rejected the officious world of adult authority.

In the late s MacInnes was one of its most important advocates. MacInnes was excited by the changes he saw in London after the war and lived, sometimes perilously, among its new peoples, patronizing its liveliest cosmopolitan spaces. There were a lot of gay people around the place and he was one of them. Colin McInnes [sic] that was the bloke, a tall blonde person, wrote most of his books smoking dope in rooms with a lot of black people. In his public pronouncements at least, MacInnes embraced warmly African and Caribbean migration as firing London with a welcome vitality and as the latest stage in a longer history of arrivals fundamental to the life of the nation.

Writing of Petticoat Lane now Middlesex Street , MacInnes delighted in the transformation of the street into a carnival each Sunday morning owing to the cosmopolitan crowds which congregated at the market: The whole district is traditionally Jewish and, as well as the tourists from Continental Europe who flock on the Sabbath to the market, Making a song and dance 43 there is a large element of those immigrants from Commonwealth countries who, in the past fifteen years, have settled in our midst — to the infinite pleasure of those of us who love the life and variety they have added to the capital, and the sour disdain of those who have forgotten that the very essence of the English nation — and more particularly, of its capital — is that we are a gloriously mongrel breed.

Postcolonial Studies lecture by John McLeod: 'Writing Transcultural Adoption'

As we shall see, the subjective, hallucinatory elements of his fiction, although much overlooked, are vital. In his novels MacInnes both projects and interrogates his vision of the youthful cosmopolitan London he loved. His fiction facilitates 44 Making a song and dance an important degree of critical self-consciousness and self-questioning often missing in his essays.

For this reason they mediate an important analytical vision of postcolonial London in the late s perceived from a position poised ambivalently inside and beyond the cultures and communal spaces they depict. City of Spades is set within the bohemian London populated by those recently arrived from Africa and the Caribbean, as well as black American GI soldiers stationed in the capital.

The Routledge Companion To Postcolonial Studies by John McLeod -

Its narrators, between whom the narrative alternates, are two relative newcomers: Montgomery Pew, a twentysix-year-old white Londoner recently employed as Assistant Welfare Officer of the Colonial Department and representing state involvement in the lives of migrants; and Johnny Fortune, a youthful student of meteorology newly arrived from Lagos. In particular, the novel focuses upon three centres of gravity for migrants in s London: Soho in the west, Brixton in the south, and Whitechapel in the east.

Its central characters each begin the narrative in West London, which epitomizes a vision of cosmopolitan pleasure and delight, but are pulled gradually east and south towards violence, economic hardship and — culminating in the trial of Johnny Fortune — the discriminatory rule of the British judiciary.

Early in the novel, Montgomery Pew visits the Moorhen pub as part of his attempt to explore the London spaces being created by the migrants whose welfare is the central concern of his new position. If the West End epitomizes the possibilities of a cosmopolitan London, Brixton reveals a less palatable vision.

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Frequently a setting for violence in the Making a song and dance 45 novel, Brixton becomes a spatial repository for disappointment, disillusionment and dangerous survival, a nightmare world which inverts the illusory promise of Soho. It is a treasured and fragile space. Many establishments are constantly under surveillance by the police and threatened with closure. For the very moment I walked down the carpet stair, I could see, I could hear, I could smell the overflowing joys of all my people far below. And when I first got a spectacle of the crowded ballroom, oh, what a sight to make me glad!

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Everywhere us, with silly little white girls, hopping and skipping fit to die! Africans, West Indians, and coloured GIs all boxed up together with the cream of this London female rubbish! On the one hand it constitutes a sensory, euphoric vision of overflowing joy. The Cosmopolitan nurtures a shared cultural enthusiasm for music and dancing, and opens a space where Africans, Caribbeans, Britons and Americans white and black encounter each other in a mutually gratifying location. First there is his misogyny, as revealed in the contemptuous remarks about white female revellers. Second, MacInnes perhaps worryingly presumes that misogyny is somehow a constitutive aspect of black men and hence mobilizes a disappointing and imperious stereotype. Montgomery Pew attends daily performances of a ballet dance featuring a black troupe led by Isabella Cornwallis.

Montgomery is riveted by the spectacle this makes: And as they danced, they were clothed in what seemed the antique innocence and wisdom of humanity before the Fall — the ancient, simple splendour of the millennially distant days before thought began, and civilisations. In the theatre, they were savages again: but the savage is no barbarian — he is an entire man of a complete, forgotten world, intense and mindless, for which we, with all our conquests, must feel a disturbing, deep nostalgia.

And I thought I saw at last what was the mystery of the deep attraction to us of the Spades — the fact that they were still a mystery to themselves. The novel seems to collude in this view of black people by frequently depicting dance as the most significant and recurring aspect of black culture. Karl Marx Bo and Tamberlaine also mock their perspectives. Its contradictions are reflected in the divergent impulses identified with each of its first-person narrators: the benign yet problematic negrophilia and utopianism of Montgomery, and the unhappy fortunes of Johnny who never quite escapes the stereotype of imagined African male sexuality.

For these reasons, City of Spades is an unsettled and unsettling novel despite the intentions of its author to embrace and explore with enthusiasm the new London spaces created in the s. In his next novel, Absolute Beginners, MacInnes comes to consider more critically the contradictions at the heart of his utopianism, as well as the difficulties in creating a new version of the city from the energies and enthusiasms of youth. Absolute Beginners encapsulates the collision between those who wish to make a new London from their pleasures and dreams, and the harsh realities of racial conflict so unforgivable to MacInnes Making a song and dance 49 which betray its possibilities.

It is also one of the most important narratives of postcolonial London from the decade, as it is the only novelistic representation of the Notting Hill riots of August and September written in the immediate aftermath of events. Its vital closing sound, as in The Lonely Londoners, is laughter. He noted that most of the immigrants had settled to the west of the area.

In the midnineteenth century it was the insalubrious home to local pig keepers with one of the highest mortality rates in London. A quarter of its inhabitants were Irish, and it also boasted a significant gypsy population.

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