January 4, 2010
The Trinidadian Marxist and cricket expert C. L. R. JAMES (1901-89) pioneered what is now known as post-colonial thought, but did so by being thoroughly colonial. After attending school in the West Indies, James pursued a traditional career path by moving to England to seek literary and journalistic success. He wrote plays, a novel, and voluminous sports journalism, but soon emerged as an important political commentator on the far Left. He was active in Trotskyist politics first in England, then in his native Trinidad, and later in the United States. James left the U.S. in 1953 after being detained on Ellis Island for a visa violation, but would return in 1969 to lecture and teach. His final days were then spent in Brixton, England. James’s thought is suffused by a thwarted desire for liberation from imperial culture, a theme that joins his overtly political work, such as The Black Jacobins (1938), a rousing account of the Haitian revolution led by Touissant L’Ouverture, to his writing about sports, especially the classic Beyond a Boundary (1968). This book, a genre-breaking mixture of autobiography and cultural analysis, examines West Indian political consciousness through the lens of England’s great bat-and-ball game, exported to colonial cultures throughout the world. Playing on the tag line “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” James shows how West Indian cricketers became the best in the world and, by beating the masters at their own sporting game, changed forever the rules of the political game. James was a genius of cultural thought: no one has ever written more effectively, before or since, about the link between sports and politics.
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