In their manuscript called The German Ideology written in 1836, Marx and Engels introduced their idea of breaking away from normative thoughts and ideologies; “Let us liberate them from the chimeras, the ideas, dogmas, imaginary beings under the yoke of which they are pining away. Let us revolt against the rule of thoughts. Let us teach men, says one, to exchange these imaginations for thoughts which correspond to the essence of man; says the second, to take up a critical attitude to them; says the third, to knock them out of their heads; and — existing reality will collapse” (The German Ideology, Marx and Engels, Preface). By stating that they were trying to help people not to follow the established system and thus not to maintain it in order to reach a more equal and respectable society. Indeed, “Marxist philosophy may be seen as an attempt to answer the call of the above three voices; to understand the human being in his or her essence, to look critically at the thoughts that humans hold true and to expose ideas from human consciousness and replace them with other, more vital propositions and realities” (Inside/Out: Contemporary Critical Perspectives in Education, Martusewicz and Reynolds, p.63) which is to take some distance with the established ideologies and preconceived ideas to be able to think by oneself and be truer. An ideology is “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy” (Oxford Dictionaries definition) it comes from the French word “idéologie” and before that the Greek’s terms “idea” (which means “form” “pattern”) and “logos” (which means “denoting discourse” or “connotation”). Following the idea that Marx and Engels introduced in their manuscript, is it possible to have this realization and change with and through art and literary forms in genera? An artist, is an “artisan” who goes beyond his work to create a new world and thus a new reality. So, what is art and how can it be used to break away from ideologies and create a new way of understanding the world? First, with Viktor Shvlosky’s essay Art as Device (1990), I will show how he presents art or literary forms as a good way to obtain this change by provoking the reader or the audience to feel it and explain what kind of “device” he suggests using to obtain this result. And then, I will exemplify this argument by looking at Sam Selvon’s novel The Lonely Londoners by seeing how he manages to distance himself from the normative literary ideologies as much on the form and organization of his text that on the content of it.
In his essay Art, as Device, Viktor Shklovsky explains how a literary text – or more generally art – can influence us and create new ways of understanding the world He introduces the principle of “enstrangement” also know as “defamiliarization” or “ostranenie” in Russian which literally means “making strange” and which is “the artistic technique of forcing the audience to see common things in an unfamiliar or strange way (literally “making it strange”), in order to enhance perception of the familiar” (New World Encyclopedia). Furthermore, he completely opposes this principle of “defamiliarization” with “habitualization” or “automation” which is when one is so used to the things that are surroundings them that one is no longer able to distinguish their “uniqueness” anymore; “we get used to horrible things and stop fearing them we get used to beautiful things and stop enjoying them. We get used to people and stop experiencing them as personalities. Art is meant to make things real again.” (Art, as Device, Viktor Shklovsky, Introduction) “Defamiliarization” is then used to present things under a new angle and by doing so avoid the stereotypes of thinking. Thus, the goal that art or any literary forms should reach is to create the sensation of seeing things without recognizing them; the real “device” of art is the “enstrangement” of things and the complication of the form, which increases the complexity of perception, and this process is, in art, an end in itself and must be prolonged and always questioned. What is already established in our conscience does not matter in art, what matters is the making of a thing and the understanding of it. Thus, Shklovsky’s concept of “Art as Device” or “Art as Technique” is linked to his vision of how to make a work of art more artistic by making the automatic and habitual perceptions “de-automatized” and renewed. Defamiliarization serves as a mean to force individuals to “experience the everyday, the ordinary in new ways through the use of artistic language” (New World Encyclopedia). The objective of the artist must be to create a shift in the normal or anticipated form of perception and by so doing, reveal the world anew. According to Shklovsky the technique is meant to “challenge the reader’s (or viewer’s) expectations and jar their sensibilities” (New World Encyclopedia). As a result, the reader is forced to see from a different perspective and appreciate the form of the text and not just its content or meaning. In other words, the readers have to break away from their preconceived ideas and ideologies to really appreciate the art and then make a new signification out of it.
The idea of art and any literary forms as a way to break away from implanted ideas can be exemplified in Sam Selvon’s the Lonely Londoners which breaks away and challenges the normative literary ideologies of the period.
In the Lonely Londoners Sam Selvon has distinguished himself from the other authors of his period throughout different aspects and on both the form and the content. First, the uniqueness and special features of the “form” of his book can be divided into three aspects; the audience, the structure of the plot and the language used in the text. I will start with the audience and how Sam Selvon managed to write a book that addresses two different audiences by using different techniques. Indeed, one of Sam Selvon’s goal was to touch as many people as possible and not only a Caribbean audience – and he uses a lot of processes in this text to reach this goal as I will show and explain later – as he explained when questioned about it; “What I try to do with my work is try to universalize it: … I never wrote for Caribbean people, I wrote to show Caribbean people to other parts of the world and to let people look and identify” (A Passage Back Home: A Personal Reminiscence of Samuel Selvon, Austin Clarke, p.76) Thus, the Lonely Londoners is addressing Caribbean immigrants – which is understandable as a Trinidad-born writer – as much as English people – to try and follow the Birtish literary institutions so that his work could be received and accepted in the “cultural centre” and thus be accepted; “It will also become clear that Selvon’s ?ction dramatizes and articulates many of the anxieties and concerns of both mainstream society and culture, and marginalized black subcultures in 1950s Britain.” (Form and Language in Sam Selvon’s the Lonely Londoners, Nick Bentley, p.68) This fiction is as much for the Caribbean subcultural groups that were growing and establishing in the late 1950s in Britain and who were trying to construct a solid and distinct black identity and collectivity and who could easily identify themselves in the characters and the plot, as for the “mainstream white audience” who could receive this fiction as some kind of “reportage novel”; “But tell me, sir, why are so many Jamaicans immigrating to England?” (The Lonely Londoners, p.7). Thus, the Lonely Londoners not only speaks to two distinct groups of “addressee” it also combines two literary genres which are realism – the faithful representation of reality – and modernism – to overturn the traditional modes of representation and express the new sensibilities of the time; “Selvon’s ?ction engages with this understanding of the ideological function of the realist mode, but his engagement with realism reveals a writer who is questioning the political assumptions associated with the form.”(Form and Language in Sam Selvon’s the Lonely Londoners, Nick Bentley, p.70) Furthermore, modernist writings are often seen as something that is addressed to more cultivated people with some educational privileges and thus which are inaccessible for the working class or marginalized groups. Even the representation of these same marginalized groups in modernist writings were not destined to them and wasn’t seen as a way to create a collective community or a way to transmit a political commitment. However, Sam Selvon uses modernist techniques at the same time as realist techniques – which carry according to ideological ideas a “political role” in fiction and who are the techniques convey a “committed literature” the most in order to make the readers see the political inequalities, inconsistencies and abuses of power – which completely puts into perspective the normative ideological view of these techniques. For example, the use of stream of consciousness in the Lonely Londoners (p.92 to p.102) can once again be seen from two different perspectives. First, it can be seen as a way for Sam Selvon to show the alienation, marginalization and loneliness of the Caribbean immigrants in London, but it can also be seen as a way to link the “individual” to a “collective subcultural” identity of similar immigrants which completely echoes the feelings of the characters themselves who all feel alone in this new city and culture and who can’t find their place “Is a kind of place where hate and disgust and avarice and malice and sympathy and sorrow and pity all mix up. Is a place where everyone is your enemy and your friend” (the Lonely Londoners, p.27) and the sense of collectivity they sense within each other “Always every Sunday morning they coming to Moses, like if is confession, sitting down on the bed, on the floor, on the chairs, everybody asking what happening but nobody like know what happening” (the Lonely Londoners, p.135). Furthermore, it introduces a “stream of consciousness” voice that takes the shape of all the black-working class characters. With that in consideration, the use of the stream of consciousness technique in the Lonely Londoners is “not primarily to indicate an individual’s alienated experience of the modern metropolis but to show its applicability for the political representation of black individuals as a collective experience” (Form and Language in Sam Selvon’s the Lonely Londoners, Nick Bentley, p.72). Moreover, this assumed distance between the modernist techniques and the preconceived ideological implications of literary fiction can also be seen in the construction of the plot in the novel. Indeed, the Lonely Londoners presents the reader with fragmented narratives of individuals as an expression of individual experience. Once again, the use of this narrative technique has a dual function in the novel. On the one hand, it conveys the experience of marginalization, alienation and loneliness of these Caribbean immigrants who arrives from a colony to the metropolitan centre, which is London, throughout “fragmented expressions”. On the other hand, – and in some contradictory and paradoxical way – the gathering of all these diverse narratives end up contributing to the creation of a collective narration with minority representation.
As we have seen, Sam Selvon’s position as an outsider from the “mainstream ideological convention” allows him to break away from these conventions and to generate a writing that really goes away from the normative literary ideologies of the time. The third aspect of this disruption, after the literary style and the construction of the plot, is the language used in the Lonely Londoners which is a “creolized English” or “nation language” which Sam Selvon wanted to be a “modi?ed dialect which could be understood by European readers, yet retain the ?avour and essence of Trinidadian speech” (Critical Perspective on Sam Selvon, Susheila Nasta, p.66). Indeed, language is often one of the technique that the postcolonial writers use in their fictions to illustrate the cultural distance they feel from the literature of the colonizing power. It’s also a way to claim their place – and displacement – and build up an identity away from the “Englishness” that pressures them. Sam Selvon chose to use the same “Creolized English” to express the narrative voice and the main characters, instead of putting the narrator in a “Standard English” and the characters in this “Creolized English”. He completely removes all the difference that could be thought or seen between the situation of the narrative voice and the characters it describes. Moreover, it is the clear expression of this “collective identity”, that is felt throughout the Lonely Londoners, who, like in the story itself, are rejecting “Standard English” and thus the power it could have on them, as with the example of Harris who is made fun of by the other Caribbean men because he using the “proper English”; “Man, when Harris start to spout English for you, you realise that you don’t know the language” (the Lonely Londoners, p.103). Thus, it avoids this authority that the narrative voice would have had, if speaking in “Standard English”, on the characters – who would be using dialect. Furthermore, Sam Selvon while creating this “Creolized English” or “dialect” used some abrogation and appropriation from Standard English. These two techniques can be seen in two different ways – as it is the case with the whole text who addresses two distinct audience. In fact, these techniques have different interpretations depending on the perspective taken upon them; from the “white mainstream British audience” perspective, the process of “abrogation” can be seen as some kind of rejection of the cultural centre and thus of the Standard English as the embodiment of the cultural assumptions and the power relations; from the “subcultural group of black settlers audience” perspective, the process of “appropriation” is more of a way to establish and impose an subcultural identity which is taking control, which is independent from the colonial power and which is thus undermining the colonial language. Sam Selvon’s process of language in the Lonely Londoners also has different political and ideological implications. Actually, we could argue that this inconsistency within the style of language and the techniques used to produce this effect generates a feeling of resistance towards the normative domination of Standard English within the novels of this period in the Western genre. Thus, he ended up creating – through all these modifications of the English language – a narrative voice that correlates with all his Caribbean characters. The narrative voice in the Lonely Londoners who is relating all the events that are happening in the story and who is introducing each characters is alive through Moses consciousness and as a result speaks in the same exact way – as we saw before – as the other characters. The narrator and the other members of this immigrant collectivity are expressing themselves the same way which is Sam Selvon’s way of shifting the normative “narrator observer” into a “narrator participant” in his story.
The fusion of this Creolized English with the Standard English is a way to disrupt the latter and to politically challenge and go against the ideological assumptions upon which “white dominant British society” rests. Likewise, the interruption of the dominant forms of language which is Standard English also portrays a consecutive disruption of all the normative ideologies that goes with the language in itself and that is exactly what Sam Selvon manages to do in the Lonely Londoners. However, to fully understand Sam Selvon’s choices in term of linguistic techniques and narrative forms in the Lonely Londoners, we have to take into consideration the social, cultural and literary climate of his period. During the literary context of 1950s, the techniques that he used are really innovative of the time, as Sam Selvon said himself; ” I think I can say without a trace of modesty that I was the first Caribbean writer to explore and employ dialect in a full-length novel where it was used in both narrative and dialogue” (Form and Language in Sam Selvon’s the Lonely Londoners, Nick Bentley, p.71). This will and need for experimentation in the language style also came out from the fact that Standard English was not completely adequate to fully apprehend and translate the consciousness of the black Caribbean migrants while retained the rhythm and melody of the Caribbean speech and thus culture.
In order to obtain a truthful Caribbean speech in the Lonely Londoners, Sam Selvon chose to go through some linguistics modifications and alterations, as for example, the use of Caribbean “slang words” such as “fellar”, “spade” or the process of shortening words – or the process of elision – as with the verb “to be”; “I too glad to see you, boy. If you don’t mind I want you to come with me.” (p.25). And finally, the omission of the “s” at the third person of singular in present simple; “Galahad start to stammer, all the big talk left him now” (p.24). All of this, plus of course the altered syntax throughout the whole text, not only create a close depiction of what could be the Caribbean speech but is also a way of Sam Selvon to keep and capture the rhythm of the Caribbean speech and to translate it truthfully in the text. But paradoxically, and no matter how truthful this “creolized English” might appears it is completely artificially created and thus don’t match nor represent any real dialect spoken in the Caribbean but is more of a combination of different dialects as well as some appropriation of Standard English. This is, once again, completely innovative for the time and a way to take so distancefrom the normative ideologies of the time and with a new language or dialect which translates the mix and struggle that the main characters have to face and live with in the Lonely Londoners.
The normative literary ideologies are not respected within the forms of the text as we could saw with all these aspects and literary techniques that Sam Selvon used but neither are the normative ideologies within the text and the story itself. The characters, for example are convinced that London is a certain way; “to them you will just be another one of them black Jamaicans who coming to London thinking that the streets paved with gold” (the Lonely Londoners, p.22) and thus that by going there they will have jobs and a better situation when the reality is the opposite. They had preconceived ideas – in other words, established and normative ideologies – of what their lives would be and is not. Sam Selvon in the Lonely Londoners is re-establishing the reality of the conditions of the Caribbean immigrants coming to London and is “crushing the dream”. By doing that he is not only producing some kind of “reportage novel”, by showing what is really the life of the Caribbean immigrants in London, he is also breaking away from what we would expect or maybe hope from a fiction about Caribbean immigrants coming to London which would be for them to find a job and have a better life from what they had back home because the metropolitan centre must be “better” than the colonies.