- Marxism, Colonialism and Cricket: C. L. R. James’s “Beyond a Boundary.” ed. by David Featherstone, Christopher Gair, Christian Høgsberg, and Andrew Smith
It is hard to think of cricket, that game of the stately home, the aristocracy, the white flannels, played for up to five days for a single game as a revolutionary activity, striking a blow against Empire. Yet C. L. R. James’s 1963 Beyond a Boundary makes it just that, as the lapsed Trotskyist, continuing Marxist historian, political analyst, journalist, teacher, novelist, and revolutionary spends much of his most well-known book celebrating the British intelligentsia and the popular alongside West Indies independence. What is more striking is that fifty-five years after its first publication, here is a sports book still in print, in multiple editions, selling consistently well, and widely held to be not only the finest book about cricket ever written but one of the finest sports books ever and a foundational text of postcolonial cultural criticism. It carries a heavy burden and has been the subject of much analysis and discussion. There is little in that wider body of literature that would challenge this collection.
This collection emerges from a fiftieth anniversary conference: the book and James emerge as problematic, celebrated, and inspirational. The collection is theoretically, culturally, and politically demanding, critical and affectionate, full of insight and aware of its limits, and acutely engaged with the Beyond a Boundary’s significance and signification. Many of the essays accentuate James’s Britishness. Selwyn Cudjoe locates him in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Caribbean intellectual tradition shaped by a British education system, whereas Christian Høgsberg critiques his ambiguous sense of Britishness-through-sport, building his critique to draw a wider set of literature including cricket writing by Neville Cardus and Tony Collins’s grounding of modern sport in capitalism. The tension between these two chapters reflects both the tensions of the collection and of James himself—the Caribbean classical intellectual (Cudjoe) who must be understood in the context of 1950s British New Left (Høgsberg). Elsewhere we see these contradictions of Britishness in Roy McCree’s exploration of the publication process where agency is shaped by the relative metropolitan and colonial economic and political power and in Clare Westall’s reading of the book through an aesthetic of the Victorian bildungsroman alongside the image of key West Indies cricketers as Hegelian, world-historical tragic heroes.
The corollary of highlighting James’s Britishness is absences. Minkah Makalani’s decolonial reading and David Austin’s critique of James’s modernity both extend the exploration [End Page 86] of Britishness by drawing out the silences surrounding African and plebeian epistemologies. In both cases, there is a rich rereading of the much cited case of Matthew Bondman. Makalani’s treatment focuses on Bondman as an instance of James’s silence in the book about Indigenous and African perspectives, making an important link to the 1963 appendix to James’s Black Jacobins celebrating African outlooks and published the same year as Beyond a Boundary. Austin’s framing of Bondman allows him to unpack the problematic place of the popular, the subaltern, and the lumpen in James’s cricketing view, accentuating the power of Euro-modernity in James’s outlooks. Paralleling this gap around African-derived worldviews, Anima Adjepong’s rich decolonial feminist analysis unpicks the case of James’s Aunt Judith to get beyond cricket as masculine practice and multiplying the options for the meaning and place of cricket in anticolonial and independence politics: this only one of three contributions by women and the only to focus on gender—there is still much to do. The third profound silence explored is in Neil Washbourne’s exploration of W. G. Grace: James’s focus on his highest profile year, 1895, misses the representations of Grace’s embodiment of a specific form of masculinity in the year that Oscar Wilde faced two trials for...