Muse Of history. Why does Walcott argue that there is no forgiveness or pardon to offer the past?How can one give "strange and bitter and yet ennobling thanks ?


Derek Walcott

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mstultz72's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #1)

Walcott says “The Muse of History” is the “medusa of the New World” and that writers who attempt to redress historical (namely white European) wrongs are being conveniently selective with their blame, that they should:

"…know that by openly fighting tradition we perpetuate it, that revolutionary literature is a filial impulse, and that maturity is the assimilation of the features of every ancestor (Walcott 36).”

According to Walcott, there is only assimilation in the formation of culture.  Culture doesn't have a memory.  It evolves, moves only forward, can't be changed.

He says:

“But who in the New World does not have a horror of the past, whether his ancestor was torturer or victim? Who, in the depth of conscience, is not silently screaming for pardon or for revenge (Walcott 39)?”

“That amnesia is the true history of the New World (39).”

“But the tribe in bondage learned to fortify itself by cunning assimilation of the religion of the Old World. What seemed to be surrender was redemption. What seemed the loss of tradition was its renewal. What seemed the death of faith was its rebirth (43).”

In the New World, America and the Caribbean and South American have no past.  You can't lump them in with white Europeans.  They are victims of white Europeans too.  Loss of the past is a point of pride in the New World.

Since the New World wiped the past clean, there is no need for a pardon or forgiveness.  Amnesia.  It is already forgotten.  It never was.

ssfelton's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #2)

As someone from the Caribbean who studies Walcott at the University level, I can tell you that Walcott is saying that for those of us in the Caribbbean, In the Antilles, the past is something to build on. The past is bitter in that slavery and indentureshio and what-not was horrific and traumatizing to both slaves and slave masters - to both Europeans and those whom they subordinated and brutalized. The past is a bittersweet thing for Caribbean peoples because had it not been for the event of New World building, for the process of Creolization in the Caribbean, its inhabitants would still be living in Africa, Asia, Europe ect. And if you ask any Caribbean person, most (not all) would say that they are thankful that they live here and not in the land of their ancestors. Walcott himself, being half 'black' and half 'white' is the epitome of this bittersweet taste of history. Had it not been for thise struggles, he would not exist.

Enobling thanks - the Europeans gave those in the Caribbean something to build on. That is, its literature. Walcott uses Classical lit to subvert imperialism. You sould read his other essays and "the Prodogal" for clarification.

There is no forgivness or pardon for the past - He os not saying this. Instead, he says that to fix your gaze on the past, expecting and waiting for that forgiveness is to live in stasis. That is what he means by 'Medusa of History'. The Greek myth has it that who looks at the Medusa would turn forever to stone. Who looks upon and contemplates History for too long is turned into a stasis state from which there is no escape, no progress. Walcott says EMBRACE the AMNESIA of history; emprace the fragments of our epic memory and build on it because history is not a myth. We can't make stories out of it and perpetuate thise stories as real. The simple truth is that on the crossing from the old and into the New World, somethings were forgotten. MEMORY is not wholly reliable and that is all those who have crossed over, have to offer their decendents.

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