"Beyond a Boundary": Cricket and West Indian Self-Determination

Benjamin Graves '98, Brown University

Both an autobiographical memoir of his Trinidadian upbringing and a social-historical appraisal of West-Indian cricket, C.L.R. James' momentous Beyond a Boundary (1963) foregrounds cricket not only at the center of West Indian cultural practices but also at the nexus of colonial rule and class antagonism that has constructed Trinidad's precarious national identity.

Cricket's political resonance, as the book's title suggests, extends beyond the "boundary" of the cricket pitch and, moreover, interrogates the tenuous boundaries that separate culture from politics, race from class, high culture from low. As James argues in the preface, "It [the book] poses the question 'What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?'" Deeply implicated in the workings of intra- and international politics, Cricket is fundamentally unthinkable outside of the context of British colonial rule--much in the same way that West Indian colonialism and decolonization are unthinkable without cricket.

The opposition of batsman and bowler serves as a metonym for the broader antagonism between not only colonizer and colonized, but between leader and led, between nation and individual, and between competing Trinidadian class and race factions. Those "who only cricket know" forget that cricket (both a legacy of British imperialism and a means of resistance against it) is an instrument of power, political ideology, and social transformation. In other words, much like Edward Said's notion of contrapuntalism, James insists upon the inextricability or simultaneity of culture and politics:

I haven't the slightest doubt that the clash of race, caste and class did not retard but stimulated West Indian cricket. I am equally certain that in those years social and political passions, denied normal outlets, expressed themselves so fiercely in cricket (and other games) precisely because they were games. Her began my personal calvary. The British tradition soaked deep into me was that when you entered the sporting arena you left behind you the sordid compromises of everyday existence. Yet for us to do that we would have had to divest ourselves of our skins. From the moment I had to decide which club I would join the constrast between the ideal and the real fascinated me and tore at my insides. Nor could the local population see it otherwise. The class and racial rivalries were too intense. They could be fought out without violence or much lost except pride and honor. Thus the cricket field was a stage on which seleced individuals played representative roles which were charged with social significance. (66)

What do James' comments about "British tradition" reveal in terms of his attitude towards cricket as a British art-form that must be co-opted and reappropriated in order to be a meaningful instrument of anticolonial resistance? What's at issue here is James' complicated balancing of complicity and resistance; that is, in order to turn a residual colonial practice into a subversive anti-colonial one, the cultural practice must first be learned and assimilated according to the terms of the dominant colonial order. Is James, in other words, complicit in the workings of colonial oppression since his only mode of resistance is itself a colonial cultural practice? Does James concede too much by privileging cricket over indigenous cultural practices? Does cricket merely re-inscribe colonized subjects within the "boundaries" of colonial rule?

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