Disillusioned with Europe, or how to deal with an integration under unequal conditions

In the literary discourse about migration to London and Paris, Caribbean writers develop a strategy of creolization

Chris von Gagern

[The author, born 1953 in Munich, published his thesis about accounts of European contact with cultures in the Caribbean. A member of the Society for Caribbean Research, he currently lives in Berlin and Ibiza. His latest publication reviews the opposite point of view: the discourse of Caribbean writers about experiences in Europe.]


The paper is based on the findings of a research project supported by the Volkswagen Foundation and realized from 1999 to 2001 at the Institute for Latinamerican Studies at Berlin’s Freie Universität. In this context novels and autobiographical narratives of Caribbean authors dealing with experiences of migrants and/or their offspring in European metropoles since World War II have been analysed. The findings cast light on Caribbean authors as combative, not only because they present a decidedly critical view of hostile European attitudes but also because they incite to transform asymmetrical acculturation. In the face of a constant European demand for cultural assimilation frustrated as regularly by a social practice of racial discrmination and exclusion, Caribbean writers – at a diacronical view – tend to propose a subversive strategy of adaptation. Depicting their protagonists’ combination of European, African, and Caribbean cultural elements as an appropriate response, thus creating new metropolitan subcultures and identities, they implicitly advocate the concept of creolization. In the paper, the thesis is that Caribbean expertise in flexible adaptation indicates a way to come to terms with an asymetrically distorted globalization. 



The literary discourse about migration to Europe hints at Caribbean writers as advocates of and even (indeed) experts in the reconcilability of different cultures whereas from their accounts little or a dubious European affinity to racial and cultural difference is to be derived. From a diachronical viewpoint the texts reflect the difficult search for adaptation and cultural identity in process: regarding the first generation of migrants the discourse mirrors primaryly disillusionment about their hostile exile and resignation to its inaccessibility; regarding the second generation in the seventies it reflects a return to African roots and militant resistance prompted by the Black Power movement in the US; but at the latest since the eighties the tendency prevails to favour transcultural adaptation and hybrid identities. Relating to creolization their writings stimulate cultural hybridisation in Europe and a more complex, pluralistic concept of social organization. The continuity addressed in the headline therefore consists in a perpetuation or reinvention of Caribbean traditions – not so much in the form of a strict traditionalism or in the search for African roots (for the authors prove to be sceptical towards any exclusivistic identity) but rather faithful to the principles of creolization – combining cultural elements of different origin thus creating cultural variation. It is a continuity that allows for, and even stimulates (encourages) change. (The analogy to a strange attractor in chaos-theory which, represented in phase-space, symbolises a self-similar though never identical repetition seems evident). For adjusted to the metropolis from the overlap of different traditions not only transcultural adaptation and hybrid identities result but also new, creolized cultural varieties.
the quoted theoretics – prompted by the recent development of global cities and a Caribbean migration tending to a circular movement reflected in a proliferation of nomadic lifestyles alternating between cultures – coincide with the analysed writers in approving the overlapping of cultures and the resulting increase of cultural varation. Conversely they discredit concepts of unreconcilable antagonism. Moreover, especially Gilroy and Glissant ascribe a global significance to transculturation and creolisation as they perceive them as a way to transform an asymetrically distorted globalisation fundamentally. On the other hand they perceive arising ethnical polarization (antagonism) to confirm and reinforce a structure that severes or rules out overlap. In this context I consider essential Alexander’s comparison of tree and semi-lattice endowing a collection of elements with structures differring in the fact of either containing or lacking overlap among their subsets. His emphasis that the semi-lattice should be our vehicle for thought, particularly when „receptacles of life“ are concerned, constitutes a common denominator, as it were, (notwithstanding the difference of their viewpoints). 
The approach to transform (overcome) a rigid way of thinking about ethnic identity the impact of which has become apparent in Europe by creolizing opens certainly more hopeful perspectives than does the polarization of cultural differences with the subsequent social segregation and militant confrontation of ethnic groups. During the discourse, the representation of Caribbean migration to Europe appears to evolve from a perspective of concern about the problem of cultural uprooting to emphasizing its position as a pacemaker of a creolization influencing both European and Caribbean societies.