Gwendolyn Corkill Feb 25, Critical Essay

Gwendolyn Corkill
Feb 25, Critical Essay

Paul Jay’s assessment on mimicry in Omeros

“Omeros raises the question of whether its reliance on the form of the European epic undermines its status as a Caribbean and postcolonial text.” Jay’s article, “Fated to Unoriginality: the Politics of Mimicry in Derek Walcott’s Omeros” explains that Walcott’s intent with his work is “…to explore his own identity and impulses as a writer, to come to terms with his mixed identity, and resolve some of the critical debates about the orientation and politics of his writing.” Walcott develops a specific trope—the wound—that serves as the vessel for all his metaphor. Jay claims Walcott creates the wound in order to “open and explore it.” As a result, Jay claims, Walcott creates “…a profoundly paradoxical poem that uses a classical Western poetic structure to argue against using classical Western poetic structures.” The “wound” stands for political and metaphorical subjects like slavery, colonization, and “misdirection in writing”. With this he creates the backdrop where he can overlay his ideas and opinions.
Walcott faces the criticism that his work is unoriginal. Jay addresses this writing, “the project’s unoriginality is its major premise.” Jay explains that mimicry is central to the major themes of the poem. Some of these themes suggest that Walcott is wrestling with how to write about the place as a man with confused identity. Jay cites, “The moment [ . . .] that a writer in the Caribbean, an American man, puts down a word,” Walcott writes in “The Caribbean: Culture of Mimicry?” (1974) “At that moment he is a mimic, a mirror man [. . .] fated to unoriginality” This reminds me of the quote attributed to Aristotle claiming that there was nothing new under the sun. Paul Jay writes a bit about this poem in the context of history. Jay writes, “From the viewpoint of history, these forms originated in imitation if you want, and ended in invention.”
Paul Jay sees The Plunkett/”Walcott” relationship as a mirror of his “mixed identity”. Everything that Plunkett is “Walcott” isn’t. Jay explains that the men think and behave in different ways but they seek the same goals. Jay goes on to presume that Walcott created these characters as a way of working out his own issues with being of mixed race and well educated. I suspect Walcott felt like something of an outsider looking in which likely lead to his difficulties writing. Now mimicry takes on a different meaning. Jay writes, “Mimicry in the poem finally has less to do with Walcott’s trying to copy Homer than with his desire to explore the centrality of mimicry in the construction of Caribbean identity”.
The politics of the Caribbean is an interesting subject that Walcott must explore in order to develop authority. In speaking of colonization Jay writes, “…the easiest thing about colonialism is to refer to history in terms of guilt or punishment or revenge, or whatever.” And he reminds us of the rarity of contentment. Walcott is searching for something sort of in shambles or confused—exemplified by the way he jumps from place to place. Jay notes on this saying, “…these multiple displacements and spatio-temporal points are what, following Benítez-Rojo, makes Omeros so thoroughly Caribbean a poem. The Caribbean, in his view, is a sum of its sources…The Caribbean has “no circle or circumference” but is in fact a chaotic assimilation of “African, European, Indoamerican, and Asian contexts”. Jay concludes that the formula mimicry equals imitation invention is in culture and art. The things we find in the debris of what is left are the things that come together piece by piece to make a whole. This seems like what Walcott is looking for.
Paul Jay’s article is concerned with how mimicry affects the Derek Walcott’s Omeros. There are some obvious imitations of Homer and the traditional epic poem. It is clear to me now why this is a work taught in our course about long poems. Not just because it is classified as a long poem but because of its manipulation of genre—our worst enemy and closest advisor. Jay uses this article to prove how paradoxical Omeros really is. He outlines how this affects his writing, how his writing is affected by his history and identity and how his identity influences his politics. Jay’s was a well thought out article, but I felt a lot of his points were unnecessary. It is clear that Walcott intends to mimic traditional epic as such I could have done with less talk of that and more about Walcott’s history and criticism—those were riveting sections. Jay’s article is robust and effective.

Jay, Paul. “Fated to Unoriginality: The Politics of Mimicry in Derek Walcott’s Omeros.” Callaloo. N.p.: n.p., 2006. N. pag. Google Scholar. Web. 22 Feb. 2013. .

One Response to “Gwendolyn Corkill Feb 25, Critical Essay”

  1. […] links: Gwendolyn’s essay  and Paul Jay’s […]