26 May 2008

Restoration: More Indigenous than the Ancestors, in the Poet's Eye

I was struck by this passage from Derek Walcott's acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. I had read this at the time it was released and had forgotten this passage until I accidentally found it again in the last few weeks.

Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole. The glue that fits the pieces is the sealing of its original shape. It is such a love that reassembles our African and Asiatic fragments, the cracked heirlooms whose restoration shows its white scars. This gathering of broken pieces is the care and pain of the Antilles, and if the pieces are disparate, ill-fitting, they contain more pain than their original sculpture, those icons and sacred vessels taken for granted in their ancestral places. Antillean art is this restoration of our shattered histories, our shards of vocabulary, our archipelago becoming a synonym for pieces broken off from the original continent.

The love that goes into restoration is even stronger than the love which took reality for granted. In the vision of the poet, what some have called the "Taino restoration" brings us face to face with people who are more firmly committed, attentive, and protective of indigenous heritage than even the ancestors that they take care to respect -- what a refreshing difference from scornful remarks about the "neo-Taino" as mere "wannabes" who are not "real," not "real" like "real Indians of the past." I take it that "white scars" can have multiple meanings here: a direct reference to glue, thus of binding, and healing; the sea, uniting Caribbean islands, these fragments of the mainland; and/or, the history of colonialism, white domination, that wrought the breakage to begin with. And finally the poem places the Antilles within a South American embrace, now bringing together the poet with the archaeologist while reminding a region of a history that is too often forgotten, willfully even.

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