Pastiche, Collage, and Bricolage: Caryl Phillips' Hybrid Journal and Letters of a Slave Trader in Crossing the River
- ariel: A Review of International English Literature
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 49, Number 2-3, April-July 2018
- pp. 119-148
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In the third narrative of Crossing the River, which includes Captain Hamilton's edited journal of his voyage to West Africa and correspondence to his wife, Caryl Phillips uses both pastiche—imitating the style of John Newton's authentic logbook, Journal of a Slave Trader (1750–54), and of Newton's letters to his wife—and a montage or collage through the inclusion of barely amended extracts from Newton's original documents. Critics disagree about the proportion of appropriation and creation in this third section; some highlight the novelist's creative transformation and transposition of the historical documents while others insist that Phillips relies excessively on the original text while simultaneously reducing its complexities. I argue that Phillips' faithfulness to the original enables him to preserve the memory of the slave trade in its sheer horror, while his deviations from Newton's journal and letters point to the instability of any text, be it historical or fictional. The insertion of this section within a novel in which other parts are more clearly fictional and involve former slaves draws attention not only to the constructedness of any discourse but also to the different textual means through which the past can be remembered.