Space, time and us

To legitimise the call for a Caribbean Architectural History we should reflect on how to avoid some of the errors that have been committed in by historian in their attempt to raise a national consciousness and use it as a force to pull a nation out of the quagmire of economical or political ills as it so often has.

            The identity of Jamaica, as is the case of almost all Caribbean Countries, is fundamentally based on the manifold, multiplicity and heterogeneity. So what does the word our mean if we know it to embrace the many torn fragments from the whole world, thrown together by contingencies ranging from the force of the slave trade to the desire of wealthy sun-seekers?

It means this. That the circumference of the us is determined by our geographical position. And no more than that. That determines the climatological and geographic differential which service our historical uniqueness. The cultural values and perspectives which distinguish that us are based on the historical contingency that threw us together with the opportunity of forging ahead with our back inevitably to the future. This is backed up by Claude Levy Strauss who rightly identified even such an entrenched category as race to an aspect of culture, that is a historical category, and not the other way around. Similarly, morality is a distinguishing feature of culture and not the other way around. And culture is the arrangement of values, habits and beliefs in time and place.


Waiting to digest

Again we have to ask what all this means? It means, quite simply, this: That every history is written from a perspective relevant to the writer. That every history re-invents history according to the desires of the writer. That every view of history is necessarily read from a perspective relevant to the reader. Every reader re-creates his own history. In this sense On history book represents a Russian doll of increasingly individualised interpretations. And as long as we accept that, and know that the peculiar nature of each perspective is ineluctable. Then we need not, as Patrick Stanigar urges grow away from a northern perspective, but merely learn to digest it comfortably.

            But it means more than that, it means that the invention of a Caribbean Architectural History can avoid another conundrum.


We are one people in the world, and we are all of the world. With our encroaching globality, we need a new language to cope with the system of complementary differences that make up the patchwork of our world. But the differences are on a purely practical scale. The issue of value, as Nietzsche put it, is a scaled dragon. We can leave the issue of relative value well alone. We need to define self-referential values that do not depend a system of superlatives relative to anther culture, but justifies itself exclusively to abstract icons. We need to re-define the sense of us as an exclusively practical entity. Such a global awareness would create histories with specific co-ordinates with regard to the locality and its perspective, with regard to specific needs and desires relative to geographical and climatological situation but at the same time it would pay homage to our ineluctable connectedness to this world. That awareness would service our critique and analysis of differences and reduce them to their true value: their usefulness. Such an approach would assume any difference in moral outlook to be historical rather than intrinsic, allowing discussion, comparison and resolution on any moral issue.


The radical omnivore

An architectural history with its co-ordinates firmly within the Caribbean should thus allow the word Caribbean not to define an us which is antithetical, but an abstraction in which the history of architecture is re-interpreted not for nationalist purposes and self-pride, but simple usefulness and practical purpose with reference to the region.

            I am going to say that again. If a Caribbean history needs to be invented, let it learn its lesson from history, let it not become a merely reactive, antithetical and political thing, but a thing which is useful -like science- which practices the redemption of mankind as a whole and in its relationship to the world it is a part of. Such a discipline, rigorous in its historical morality would be useful to the many peoples living together in the Caribbean. Let it be written by whomever wants to write it and let it be read by whomever wants to read it, let us digest it from our perspective and above all let us defend the right of anyone wanting to say anything.


If I might paraphrase Blaise Cendrars: History is science arranged according to the needs and desires of the moment.