"The Window" is the first chapter of Beyond a Boundary, one of the most famous, highly acclaimed, and influential books about sports every written (attached to this thought is a brief PDF file of a dictionary entry telling you more about the work and its importance).
Overall, the book Beyond a Boundary uses an analysis of West Indian cricket to tell the history of the West Indies, as well as the story of James's own life.
Besides its importance as an influential, pioneering study of global sports cultures, I believe Beyond a Boundary is significant as an example of a certain kind of story telling or narrative. I'll come back to this at the very end of this note below.
You are reading the very short "Preface" (just one paragraph) and "The Window" (about 20 pages), which falls somewhat naturally into four unmarked part: 1.First Cricket Memories (pp. 3-7); 2. Father's Side (pp. 7-12); 3. Mother's Side (pp. 12-17); 4. Reading and Writing (pp. 17-20). These notes will go thought these five parts.
The Preface to Beyond a Boundary, though extremely short, is also extremely dense with allusions, references, and meanings that will continue to be important throughout our semester, so I'm going to go through it slowly and in great detail. I won't do this for every reading throughout the semester, but James's style and the importance of this Preface warrant it.
PRO TIP: When you are given a relatively short passage to read, read it more than once. You might start with a quick reading (1), jot down whatever you gleaned from it. Then read it again (2), more slowly, jotting down what you didn't understand. Then read it again (3), looking up words or references you don't know, making notes of their meanings. Then read it again (4), using your notes to try to piece together what you did understand and what you didn't understand. Then read it again (5), see if you can form an overall picture of the meaning in your mind and try to summarize it in a sentence that is meaningful to you. Finally, read it again (6), and see how you feel about what you've read. So that's 6 readings of a short passage. Do this with the Preface now.
THINK ABOUT: James's influential approach to sports is expressed in the often quoted rhetorical question he poses: "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?" What do you think he meant? Consider first that it seems to be a way of saying something about "knowing" and something about "cricket" and something about the relationship between them.
Imagine that you are sitting with an alien from outer space during a Michigan football game on a Saturday afternoon in the autumn. The alien has asked you to explain what you are witnessing together. How you choose to answer says a lot about what you know about football but also about what you think is important to know about football. Would you identify the teams and the players? Would you talk about where the players come from and how they came to be here? Would you mention that most of them are black? Would you talk about the individual fundamental skills and techniques they are exhibiting? The strategies and tactics employed by coaching staffs and players? The rules? The violence? The behavior of the fans? The history of the stadium? The relationship between what is happening on the field and the mission of the educational institution to which it is attached? The economic aspects?
If you imagine a sport (like cricket or football) as a country with a border clearly separating it from another country, then you might imagine that the best way to know that country would be to ignore everything on the other side of the border. But James implies with his rhetorical question that to know that country you have to know what is not that country, what is on other side of the border.
THINK ABOUT: Borders and boundaries. Notice the title of James's book: Beyond a Boundary. In cricket, the word "boundary" refers to two things: 1) the edge of the playing field (like the homerun wall in baseball if it encircled the entire diamond and not just the 90 degree slice extending out from home plate); 2) a run scoring play in which the batsman hits the ball over the boundary (like a home run). Now think about what I just said about imagining a sport as a country with a border (or boundary). And now take a moment to consider the the multiple possible meanings of James's title.
What is James saying about the nature of sports and about what is required to claim we "know" them?
[Two bonus questions:
1) why do you think James presents this point as a question (rather than simply stating: "Those who only know cricket don't know cricket.")? Do you think the question-form has any meaning here? Consider the meaning of making a statement about knowledge (and certainty) in the form of a question, especially a rhetorical question.
2) Look at the question more carefully: "what do they know of cricket who only cricket know?" Now just isolate the pattern of repetition of the main words: "know" and "cricket". First we get "know," then "cricket," then "cricket" again, and then lastly "know" again. It's almost as though the word "who" was a kind of mirror inverting the order of the words. On one side we have "know-cricket" and on the other side we have "cricket-know." This structure actually has a name: chiasmus (pronounced "Kye-as-muss"). It is named after the Greek letter chi (which looks like our "x") because of the criss-cross pattern of the word repetition. Chiasmus is actually a common figure of speech (President Kennedy uttered a famous chiasmus when he said "Ask not what your country can do for your, but what you can do for your country.') The symmetry of chiasmus offers a feeling of closure and a sense of completeness that can lead the listener or reader to feel that all aspects of an issue have been accounted for. This is part of what makes chiasmus effective as a figure of speech. What do you make of the fact that James has employed the chiasmus here? If the chiasmus work partly because of the impression of completeness and the confidence it can impart to a listener or reader, what happens when a chiasmus takes the form of a question (as it does here)? And a question that challenges the assumptions we might have about the completeness of knowledge?
James has very assertively set down a challenge regarding what it means to know a sport. That's an excellent way for us to begin a semester in which we too are studying sports. So let me pause to go into greater detail here on this question of Knowledge.
James brings up knowledge twice in the Preface. First, in the rhetorical question we just looked at, then again in the final sentence: "To establish his own identity, Caliban, after three centuries, must himself pioneer into regions Caesar never knew." This is a tricky, but very important, sentence. It's tricky because you probably don't know who Caliban is, and may not Caesar either. Then, it's tricky because the use of "Caliban" and "Caesar" is metaphorical and the "regions Caesar never knew" are metaphorical as well.
PRO TIP: Normally, when you don't a word or name, you should look it up and I've tried to build a kind of glossary of important terms, works and people, into this concept map to encourage you to do that as you read. However, since this is our first day and our first reading, and because I want to be sure you get this, I'm going to give you this one.
So let's just see who they were to begin with, then we can look at how they work as metaphors, and then finally we can tackle what it means that Caliban must go into regions unknown to Caesar.
Caliban is a character in the play "The Tempest," written by William Shakespeare. The play is set on a tropical island, where a European nobleman named Prospero has set himself as a ruler over the island's native inhabitants, including Caliban, whom Shakespeare portrays as a kind of animal. For example, in one scene, Prospero berates Caliban for ingratitude, reminding him that he didn't even know how to speak until Prospero arrived and taught him. Caliban's sharp retort to this is that he wished he had never learned to speak, since the only good it has done him is that now he can curse Prospero for occupying his island and enslaving him. Though "The Tempest" is not set on any actually identifiable island, Shakespeare wrote the play at a time when the Europeans like himself were becoming familiar with reports from the English, Spanish and Portuguese men who explored and colonized the Americas, including the tropical islands of the Caribbean that we know today as the West Indies. Some of these included descriptions of native inhabitants as barbaric and uncivilized cannibals. Some scholars believe that the character of Caliban (whose name is almost an anagram of the word cannibal) is loosely based on these descriptions and that the play represents the European colonization of the West Indies.
Around the time that James was writing "The Window" numerous artists, intellectuals, and political leaders in the Caribbean who were dissatisfied with the effects of colonial rule on their native lands had seized on this idea and began to use Caliban as a symbol for themselves and their people. Just as Caliban cursed Prospero in the language the latter had taught him, so these individuals claimed that the Caribbean people would have to dismantle the effects of colonialism by using the tools—meaning the language, ideas, and social institutions—imposed on them or their ancestors by their colonizers. This process of dismantling the political, economic, cultural and psychological structures of colonialism is called "decolonization." And decolonization, in a word, is the metaphorical meaning of Caliban as James here employs the name in his Preface.
Caesar you may be somewhat more familiar with, perhaps by the name Julius Caesar. He was a Roman statesman and military leader who amassed popular power at home and expanded the territory under Roman control all the way to what is today England and Germany as a means of transforming the democratic Roman republic into the dictatorial Roman Empire. As he did with the fictional character of Caliban, James is using the historical figure of Caesar as a metaphor: in this case, a metaphor for imperial rulers. Through these metaphors, though Caliban is a fictional character created fifteen centuries after the death of Julius Caesar, James creates an image of a relationship between colonized (Caliban) and colonizer (Caesar).
Now, as I mentioned above, the "regions Caesar never knew" are metaphorical as well. James isn't necessarily talking about literal exploration of unknown territories. We can tell from the context (the sentence immediately before this describes, autobiographically, the process by which certain ideas James first encountered as a boy in the West Indies could only be tracked down and tested when he'd gone to England) that these regions probably refer to regions of thought. So the metaphor "regions Caesar never knew" means something like "thoughts or ideas that colonizers and imperial powers never knew." Caliban meanwhile, who is the colonized, will have to "pioneer" those regions, that is, to go beyond his colonizing rulers in order to discover these "regions" of thoughts and ideas, these bodies of knowledge, that they never knew. And he must do this in order, James tells us, "to establish his own identity."
So knowledge of ideas and the world, according to James, is inseparable from the process by which we come to form ourselves as distinct individuals with unique identities. This is true for all of us, of course, but James is especially concerned with those, like himself, who grew up as colonized individuals within a colonial empire. James reminds us that the very structures and dynamics of colonial society establish the ideas, customs, morals, and values of the colonial rulers as natural and superior, while the ideas, customs, morals and values of the natives are seen as strange and inferior. It follows from this that within such a system the "best" that a native (or colonized) individual could become is something like an adequate copier of the colonizer's superior way of life. But in doing so, this individual must distance himself from his own native way of life as well as from the history of his land and his ancestors. The result is a kind of unbearable duality of experience for such individuals one with serious and documented psychological effects: among the colonizers he can only ever be a second-rate copycat, while among the natives he is an alien, a poser who has forfeited his native identity for a kind of second-hand foreign one.
When James speaks of Caliban establishing "his own identity" he means an identity that escapes from this lose-lose dichotomy. Rather than either rejecting or trying to copy wholesale the ideas of the colonizer, Caliban can combine his unique experience and various acquired ideas in order to discover new thoughts and ideas and in this way "pioneer into regions Caesar never knew."
Part of what makes this passage so powerful, in my opinion, is that in this sentence James (following from the preceding, autobiographical sentence) is using the metaphors to speak of himself and his own experience but to do so in terms that render that experience more general: it becomes the possible experience of every colonized or formerly colonized person. In this way, it is a kind of battle cry or slogan, meant to inspire others like himself to establish their own identities.
But even so, the other part of what makes this passage powerful, again in my opinion, is that it is built around metaphors drawn from European culture (Caliban and Caesar) and, specifically, from the history of conquest and colonization. These metaphors, in that sense, are European tools in two senses: first because they come from European texts, and second because they are about European conquest and colonization. You wouldn't think such metaphors would be very promising raw materials for a sentence describing the process by which a colonized individual can free his or her mind, but James makes them just that.
Oh yeah, and don't forget, all of this begins with a challenge to remember that if you only know cricket, then you don't know cricket. So now it appears that part of what you need also need to know if you are truly to know cricket is the history of colonization and the process by which native subjects try to free themselves of its influence by using the tools of colonization. And this is because cricket—like language and Shakespeare and the history of the Roman empire—is one of those tools. And to see the ways that cricket is more than cricket, or rather that cricket is also a means for political domination and political liberation (which is the subject of James' book on cricket), is precisely to pioneer into regions Caeser never knew.
PRO TIP: Don't sleep on Bad Prof when it comes to reading.
James begins by setting the scene of his childhood. He grew up in a small town called Tunapuna in what was then the English colony of Trinidad (today it is the larger of the two islands making up the independent nation of Trinidad and Tobago, in the Caribbean island group known as the West Indies. He recalls the specific location of his house, and within his house, he recalls a specific place (a chair at the window) from which, as a boy of six, he was able to watch cricket practices and matches and also reach for books. This sets the pattern, he says, for his life, meaning presumably, a life in which sports and books (and having ready access to both) was a defining feature. But we might extrapolate a little from this too by taking sports and books as metaphors for body and mind, respectively. In that sense, the pattern of James's life is to feel equally curious about and at home in activities that emphasize the body and activities that emphasize the mind.
From here, he will recall two local cricketers: Matthew Bondman and Arthur Jones. The first, his next door neighor, James describes as among the "strongest early impressions of personality and society" and the second is important as "the maker" of a "cricket stroke." Together he refers to these as "landmarks."
THINK ABOUT: What are landmarks, generally speaking? What sort of metaphor is landmark? What do you make of James having chosen that particular metaphor (and that kind of metaphor) to describe these two figures from his childhood memories?
In describing Matthew Bondman (pp. 3-5), James offers details about his appearance, his behavior, his ability as a cricket player, and the brevity of his career—as well as how these were judged by James' family and others in the community. He recalls one stroke in particular and that when Bondman made it "a long low 'Ah!' came from many a spectator, and my own little soul thrilled with recognition and delight" (p. 4).
THINK ABOUT: How are these details related to each other? What do the judgments of others teach James about his society? What sort of questions doe they raise for him?
His recollections of Arthur Jones' batting stroke ("the cut") lead him through a series of associated memories (pp. 5-6): descriptions of fine cuts in English literature, recollections of other fine cutters he himself witnessed, to an analysis of the stroke itself, in general, that leads back to remember Jones again, and one single stroke in particular that stands out in his memory (pp. 6-7): "I knew that something out of the ordinary had happened to us who were watching. We had been lfited to the heights and cast down to the depths in much less than a fraction of a second. Countless are the times that this experience has been repeated, most often in the company of tens of thousands of people, I have never lost the zest of wondering at it and pondering over it" (p. 7).
THINK ABOUT: The emotional power of the moment James here remembers, it is a feeling that any sports fan has experienced. In fact, we might take that feeling for granted by now. But James, recalling this moment, now in his early 60s, still finds it worth wondering about and pondering. Take a moment to wonder about the fact that an event like a grown man striking at a small sphere with a flat stick can elicit that sort of reaction in the people watching him (and that people would not only watch him, but pay to watch him). What does that tell you about our relationship to sport and the role of emotion in it? How does this relate back to the earlier moment in which James recalls the thrill of watching Matthew Bondman? If emotion in fact plays such an important role in our attachment to and appreciation for the beauty of sport, then how do we—as scholars and so presumably rational thinkers—approach that emotional aspect of sports spectatorship, including our own emotional ties?
James describes his grandfather, who is of African ancestry, working his way into a position of responsibility as a manual laborer on a sugar cane plantation and how he adopted the custom of attending Sunday religious services in a "frock-coat, striped trousers and top-hat"despite the heat. James describes his commitment to this ritual as "an armour" and his aunts' previously described disdain for Matthew Bondman as "self-defence and fear." All these terms--"armour," "self-defence," "fear" as well as others in this passage—suggest an atmosphere of great vulnerability for James's family.
In recalling "Cousin Cudjoe," the blacksmith who lived two doors down, James remarks on how dark he was before recounting how Cudjoe was the only black man on an all white team, for which he was a star player (James recalls a particular match involving challenges between the bowler and Cudjoe and which ends with Cudjoe hitting the "first ball out of the world.". James recalls only later understanding "the significance of Cudjoe" by which he seems to mean, the significance of a black man being the only player on an all white team.
James next recalls his father, and the surprise with which he learned that his father had been a pretty fair cricketer in his own day (pp. 9-10) but that he had been required, like many other even more promising cricketers, to give up the game so as to be able to earn a living. James reflects that West Indian cricket developed ("arrived at maturity") in part because of the improved economic conditions of the black middle class (which now can afford to pursue the sport) and the rise in salaries paid to cricketers by English leagues (which makes it plausible for a good cricketer to make a living at cricket).
This section concludes with some remarks on other family members on his fathers side and of the role that sport played in their lives.
THINK ABOUT: How strongly James's memories are marked by the intertwiniing of race and class. That vulnerability James evoked in discussing his grandfather and his aunts (and even implied in his father's giving up cricket to make a good living) stems from the very specific conditions of Caribbean people of African descent in white ruled colonial societies. The opportunities for even modest financial stability and security were very limited for black families like James's and they were tied in often arbitrary ways to properly conforming to certain moral and cultural codes. Even then, of course, there was no guarantee that one's family, oneself, or one's own children would not fall back into the dire poverty to which colonial rule had condemned the majority of the descendents of the African slaves forced to come to the Caribbean to work on white-owned sugar plantations. Though slavery had been abolished before James was born, the legacies of slavery—limited access to various opportunities due to institutional or individual racism—continued to impact his society and his family. Consider the role or roles that sport plays in this dynamic for James as he is growing up.
THINK ABOUT: How frequently James admits that "only later" did he come to understand something, or become able to fit pieces of his experience into a coherent pattern, or come to know the significance of a person or event. Now consider the issues related to knowledge that were raised in the Preface. What's the relationship between the unfolding of events in James' early childhood, his recollection of them later in life, his shaping them into stories, and his coming to feel that he now understands them. In other words, think about the connection between narration (storytelling) and knowledge.
Over the next few pages (pp. 12-15), James moves to his mother's side of the family, dwelling at length on his maternal grandfathe, Josh Rudder, who had been a railway man. Like James' paternal grandfather, Josh Rudder made his way up in part as a result of the specialized technical knowledge the acquired through trying, hands-on experience. In this case, Rudder was able to become the first black railway engineer on the Trinidad Government Railway. Despite this, James recalls that his grandfather had no "racial or national consciousness," by which he seems to mean that he wasn't interested in standing for any larger cause such as racial equality or national independence from British rule. And yet, James tells the story (pp. 13-15) of how Josh was summoned to a big sugar plantation to fix one of the critical engines. Josh went, but at the moment of entering the engine room, insisted on going in alone. He repaired the engine and never let anyone know how he did it, explaining to his grandson (James himself): "They were white men with . . . all their big degrees, and it was their business to fix it. I had to fix it for them. Why should I tell them?" James sees in his grandfather's example the inspiration for his own subsequent writing and activism on behalf of West Indian independence since both share a belief in the capacity of the black majority to look after its own affairs.
Moving on to his mother, James remarks on her religious and moral rigidity, whch (as for members of his father's family as well) seemed to signify not only spiritual beliefs but an anxious desire to preserve a certain class standing. But James's mother was also an avid reader of all kinds of material, especially novels. From her James inherited both the love of reading and the books, and from these two made the discovery that through reading and education he could come to know more about the wider world (including that of the faraway cricket stars of his era) and understand better his place in it.
THINK ABOUT: The issues of race and class in a colonial context that James earlier raised in relation to his father's family remain present, but in a way that seems complicated by the theme of knowledge and education. Josh Rudder occupied an important role because he had acquired a kind of hands-on knowledge (know-how, we could call it). James meanwhile comes to know things by reading books and newspapers about them. It may tempting to set these two forms of labor and knowledge against one another, but James resists this, seeing them as two sides of the same coin. But if that's the case, perhaps it is also because the coin is the right of the West Indian descendents of African slaves (like James and his grandfather) to organize their society as they think best, to identify problems, to troubleshoot them, to derive solutions, and to manage their own political and social and cultural affairs; in a word, to be free.
Autonomy is the word we can use to name the drive toward and the practice of self-government (whether we are talking about whole peoples, classes, or individuals) and autonomy emerges clearly in this section as a concern of James, but one whose roots are complicated and twisted and reach back to lessons from early childhood that wouldn't necessarily lead you to think that he would become one of the foremost thinkers and writers and activists promoting black, working class and third world liberation from oppressive political and economic regimes.
Keep this in mind as we go forward: on the one side, rigid authorities and customs (among them sports and its accompanying values) that support unequal social systems that skew against certain bodies and on the other side, individuals and groups trying to first to survive and then to make their way and then, acquiring in the process a mixed bag of tools (among them sports and its accompanying values) that, in time, possibly, they may use to put together a vision and a plan for how to change that rigid, unjust society that shaped them.
In the end, James reflects on the subsequent trajectory of his life and career and considers that he has come full circle, devoting his life now to writing on literature and on cricket, his two earliest passions; but passions that his life experience has taught him can only be understood fully when they are connected to human society, in its best and worst aspects.
Besides its importance as an influential, pioneering study of global sports cultures, I believe Beyond a Boundary is significant as an example of a certain kind of story telling or narrative. As you will see, James manages to convey a great deal about the wider world of sports and society just be telling his own personal story. The reason this is even possible is that all of our personal stories are interconnected parts of the wider world (including the wider world of sports and society). That makes what James does possible. What makes James actually able to do it, in my opinion, is his recognition that revealing these often hidden connections requires an intensive caring attention to the concrete details of our experience, even the ones that don't seem obviously connected to the wider world.
THINK ABOUT: There's advice about story telling to be extracted from James' example: 1) approach the details of your own life's experiences with curiosity, interest, and compassion; 2) pay attention to what your five senses tell you about that experience: what did you see? what did you smell? what did you hear? what did you feel? what did you taste?; 3) set your own experience concrete in time and space, understanding that these aren't fixed elements of our experience—meaning tell what happens before and after and nearby your own experience.
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