On Carpentier’s Kingdom of this World

Creolization and Magical Realism in the Caribbean

In his prologue to The Kingdom of This World, Alejo Carpentier sets out a vision that strongly resembles Eduard Glissant’s ideas of creolization and its poetics. Glissant’s ideas of creolization consistently parallel Carpentier’s vision of the marvelous real and despite their different eras and modes of thinking, the notions of Caribbeaness in cross-cultural poetics and Americaness in the marvelous real overlap more than they diverge. This overlap allows us to enter into a conversation about culture, identity, agency, and the future of literary and cultural construction. Carpentier and Glissant intersect at a critical junction: in a shared desire to explore the human condition, its tragedies and its potential. They share an interest in re-approaching established forms of knowledge about the Caribbean and the Americas because they are insufficient, skewed and divisive. They both sense, in the Caribbean and in the Americas, an entry point into larger domain of knowledge, into issues of post colonial and modern crises. The two envision a model for understanding symbiosis, synthesis and hybridity in culture and art.

Glissant and Carpentier, above all, intersect in a shared belief of a greater communality to the human experience. Barbara J. Webb places the two thinkers, along with Wilson Harris, among authors that “recognize a capacity for creation and renewal in myths, legends, and folktales that arose from the encounter of Amerindian, African, and European cultures in the Americas…for [whom] the folk and mythic imagination is the key to artistic and historical understanding”(Webb,4). Carpentier attempts to present a different way of writing about the Caribbean, one that explores human nature and the construction of identity through new modes of conception and literary treatments, moving away from realism and, in particular, surrealism. What he proposes is an artistic project, an endeavour to understand the social condition through myth, story, and history. Glissant, in contrast, sets out to accomplish similar ends with the notion of creolization. It is a form of resistance to mestizaje, to notions of race and hierarchy. He proposes the retrieval, however impossible, of a history of all people – particularly the subaltern. This he considers to be “the ultimate point of our imaginative unconscious” (Glissant, 4). His notion of creolization set out a project of rediscovery – of a history of all peoples, of a different world poetics. Kingdom of this Earth undertakes just such a cause, giving voice to the voiceless; accumulating knowledge and experience of time slowly while exposing a plurality of identities, religions, languages and forms of expressions unique to a place where myth has not yet been exhausted (Capentier, n.p.).  Its exploration of narrative forms, music, myth and history as well as humanity’s nature, not that of the individual. This closely follows Glissant’s notions of the poetics of duration (136) and the poetics of creolization, of what he thinks of as the cross cultural imagination (142). These notions, this essay will endeavour to show, are at work in Carpentier’s novel. Glissant writes that cross-cultural poetics are not “linear and not prophetic, but woven from enduring patience and irreducible accretions (142).


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