This leaping ahead should not be taken in the sense of space or time but more in the sense of the essential nature of being human. It is this future directedness – this leaping ahead, that opens up the possibility to choose choice, thus allowing for the play of the imagination.
Woven From Past And Future
By Winston Riley
“For people to say I am good I must be in the Museum of Modern Art. To hell with the Museum of Modern Art! I am building my own Museum so when you want your children to see work that come out of here, you can come. Just wipe your feet before you come. I make demands. This is serious business.”
LeRoy Clarke September 2009
This small offering came out of a breakfast meeting with LeRoy, following his invitation to me to address a formal gathering on November 6th to launch Legacy House of El Tucuche which would include an exhibition of his private collections and a book signing of his latest work – Voice Of A Smouldering Coal. The November 6th event would also herald LeRoy’s 72nd birthday, the next day.
At that breakfast meeting we reflected on the landscapes we had traversed while cycling together through the last forty years- which had encompassed several of his art exhibitions, his poetry readings and unending discourses on philosophy, art, politics, religion, poetry and literature. LeRoy was concerned about the pervasive lack of a sense of preservation and planned to counter that trend through his Legacy House of El Tucuche.
LeRoy’s request came at a time when I was- and am- deeply involved in reading the works of Robert Pogue Harrison and his attempts to uncover the humic foundations of the life-world in books such as Gardens- An Essay on the Human Condition; Forest- The Shadow of Civilisation and The Dominion of the Dead – Historical Studies of Urban America.
This combination of events forced me to reflect on our history as a form of erasure as can be seen by our indifference to preserving memory and legacy. I also realized that, to date, I have not written on LeRoy’s poetry, and so I thought I should look at LeRoy’s poetry in the context of legacy.
This offering therefore uses LeRoy’s poetry from the De Distance is Here as he states his position on Legacy, and my own response paying homage to the nature of the discourse between us:
Le Roy Clarke – De Distance is Here (pg 142)
We are incorrigible participants, shaping
Prolonged death that will be ours. This crisis
Is one of dead dog criteria which recurs,
Finally embroiling us, snake tight.
There will be no possibility of need
To liberate the soul from the graven fist.
Imprisoned by convention, we are the witnesses
And supporters to dead habit, which will not rake
Its dead away and bury itself, but
Rather continue to live its living death
Amongst us. The half living…
It is however through legacy that the ancestors author the narrative of the unborn. Vico
and Harrison would argue that our basic human institutions, religion, matrimony, burial, law, language art and literature, rely on the transmission of legacy. And as homo sapiens we are born of our biological parents. As human beings we are born of our ancestors. Our ancestors then are our progenitors.
LeRoy repeats in De Distance is Here:
“we are the witnesses
And supporters to dead habit….
Is one of dead dog criteria which recurs…”
I agree that is the nature of the ‘fall’. We can, however, exercise choice but do not; hence dead habits and “dead dog criteria” repeat themselves mindlessly from generation to generation.
LeRoy continues in De Distance is Here (pg 145):
Understanding the fall and loss of faith
In man is not enough.
Eye am obliged to toss hard-wrought habits aside,
Put the itch for flesh, the ready drum soothing
Every gesture into the low burning stare
Of sleep. My blood neither sees nor hears
Nor does it rise into a flood for any cause.
First to go were my arms and legs,
Eye crawl among decay and stone
To join them. Oh, my teeth, my nose, my ears!
My heart learns to be still.
Nothing more to say in my defence
To these dead democracies, these fine nations
Laced in devil-gut; to these fine patriots with the stone
Of a coward fixed in their foreheads, who dimly,
Through the slits in their throats, discern only
Cold horizons from the undersides of stones
And are weighed under too, in a satisfaction
Of spit: down, down, down!
Yes…’understanding the fall and loss of faith in man is not enough.’ However our sense of
ourselves, our legitimacy is handed down through legacy. Thus raging against the prison of
our legacy is a form of acquiescence. We submit to the dictates of our ancestors even when we rebel against them, we are not completely self-authored. As human beings ‘the how’ is our defining characteristic. How we retrieve our legacy is what is defining for us. Our legacy which is handed down from the past leaps ahead of us and thus retrieval is always future directed.
Wilson Harris points quite succinctly to the ability of the imagination to liberate us from models, traditions, beliefs that we have been conditioned to accept as absolute. The imagination can counter the classical blindness that occurs when legacy is ritualized.
In the Unfinished Genesis of the Imagination Wilson Harris states “perhaps there is strangeness, a series, a series of strangers within the body of the self, so to speak, that may offer us a wholly different intuitive penetration of the life of the imagination. Perhaps the abyss so-called secretes unsuspected resources that may alter the circumscriptions of fate.” Harris talks about intuitive clues, implying that a visible text in the hands of the author runs in concert with an invisible text that secretes a corridor into the future, where the burden of classical blindness needs to be taken up and treated differently; to be taken up and placed into new frameworks.
In De Distance is Here, LeRoy writes (pg 116):
“Dreams have eyes that see further
Than the Dreamer”
There is a relationship between house and legacy, a relationship which in the traditions, that have
graced our lands, is rooted in ancestral worship; rooted in the necessity to preserve memory of our lineage and world view. If in addition we take into account Fustel de Coulange’s view that the ancient house, the foundation of the ancient city had its origin in ancestral worship then as human beings we are creatures of legacy.
To create a physical house for legacy is a return to ancient traditions, allowing the living to mingle with the ancestors. This mingling is an invitation for individuals to prepare themselves for encounter through the creation of a pervasive mood – a mood that allows for the experience of the sacred – a mood that unburdens us of our classical blindness and establishes the precondition for retrieval and perpetuation of memory.
This form of retrieval opens up the future for our dwelling in the House of Being. Retrieval of legacy then, is not a pious repetition but as Heidegger posits, it is the retrieving of “repeatable possibilities of existence.”
Le Roy in De Distance is Here (pg 157):
Eye must learn to behave myself
Among these beautiful days
And immense tide of flowers
Swallowed up by my funerals!
Where do Eye begin?
Seriously now, Eye must learn all over
To live and to love my life and caress death
Where do Eye begin?
We begin where we normally are. Human beings individually or collectively act in such a
manner which is at times contrary to the essence of the very legacy handed down.
Is it not at times necessary to retrieve aspects of our legacy to alter social behaviour? But is this all that can be said about legacy?
Legacy takes on meaning when a ‘disclosive’ space is opened up giving rise to a series of
practices, skills and personalities associated with that ‘disclosive’ space. In the life world,
practices, skills and personalities can become ritualized and the essence of the legacy
marginalized. This marginalization is a form of decay which necessitates retrieval. In the history of Christianity there have been the re-formation and retrieval of the Christian legacy by the movements such as those of Calvin and Luther.
In the case of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) a disharmony occurred in multiple ‘disclosive’ spaces: The social tolerance of drinking habits grounded in the protestant
work ethic which allowed hardworking Christian citizens communal recreation activity after a hard week’s work – a communally accepted behaviour pattern that pre-dated motor vehicle travel.
The drunk driver, previously considered unlucky as he had no intention of maiming or
killing anyone, was now the catalyst for retrieval of the full responsibility of citizens without discontinuity in a democratic space. The change took place as a result of citizens who became conscious of themselves and the meaning of their ‘disclosive’ spaces. This change affected not only the behaviour patterns of drivers but also the laws, the legal profession, the insurance institutions, the medical profession, the car manufacturers and employers. MADD awakened the moral imagination of citizens and brought into relief the principle of full responsibility for citizens as legated in the constitution and marginalised in the drinking habits of males after a hard week’s work.
In the Caribbean our history is marked by discontinuities, escarpments- to use Wilson Harris’sterminology. Retrieval of legacy is also possible in the context of historical discontinuity. As an example, Troy, because of its mythic past, became a point of reference for Greek and Roman Conquerors to establish a relationship with Homeric deeds. Aeneas, after the conquest of Troy by the Greeks, fled to Italy with a group which became known as the Aeneads. The Aeneads are considered the progenitors of the Romans.
In The Dominion of The Dead, Robert Harrison states; “Troy’s past was re-projected in Rome’s future” and this depended on the resolve of Aeneas’s mission. “Troy’s past is repeated in Rome’s future.” Aeneas’s mission was quite different from that of Helenus and his group who also fled Troy and constructed a little Troy in the wilds of Italy. Helenus’s mission failed. Authentic repetition entails the renewal and redetermination of legacy, rather than merely its pious reproduction.
For us in the Caribbean, the Middle Passage and conquest are the defining escarpments. Legacy House of El Tucuche in this context legitimizes how J. D Elder saw LeRoy “a prophet, a diviner with pre-cognitive abilities, and an Egyptian artist”. J.D. pointed to the Jungian possibility that an Egyptian Sage, a Nubian Sage, an Ethiopian Sage an artist of 3000 years ago could be “draining his blood down into the blood stream of a LeRoy Clarke and freeing him to plant signs, to bring back 3000 years of African culture to us.”
Legacy House of El Tucuche does have its anomalies, anomalies which can lead to creative
responses. Legacy House houses authentic expressions of renewal and redetermination
of legacy through the projection of the temporal flow of our inner lives utilizing the
sequential ‘spatialisation’ of form in paintings in juxtaposition with the rhythm of poetry. At the same time one senses an attempt at expressions of pious reproduction of an ancient African religious form in the landscape.
Again, LeRoy in De Distance is Here (pg 169)
Darkness will have no power over abiding
Deformities of darkness; nor will light find sleep
In its own elegant brilliance. O, our fallen angels!