The Perilous ‘Pleasures of Exile’: C. L. R. James, Bad Faith, and the Diasporic Life

St Louis, Brett. 1999. The Perilous ‘Pleasures of Exile’: C. L. R. James, Bad Faith, and the Diasporic Life. Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 1(3), pp. 345-360. ISSN 1369-801X [Article]

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This paper discusses the impact of migration and exile on the life, political theorization and activism of C. L. R. James, challenging the archetype of the postocolonial, diasporic intellectual as inherently informing anti-essentialist discourses. I use Jean-Paul Sartre's concept of ‘bad faith’ to counter this representation, drawing a set of textually based insights into James' personal and intellectual development, tracing some of his political work in England, America and the Caribbean. The first section outlines the prevalent discourses of bad faith both internal to James' consciousness, and external in the construction and maintenance of colonial society during his formative years in Trinidad that establishes him as ‘in exile at home’. The second section charts James' relocation to London in 1932, his introduction to Marxism and the resistance of a Eurocentric left to his discursive articulation of ‘race’, class and imperialism. I argue that this leftist resistance initiates a defensive mechanism against the mirage of modernity that extends his bad faith. Drawing on his involvement in the Fourth International in America from 1938 to 1953, the third section suggests the exacerbation of James' bad faith. I argue that the struggle to remain within the left leads James into a deeper bad faith that, occupying his consciousness, creates a series of protracted fault lines in his theory and praxis. In conclusion, I look at James' return to Trinidad and his failed involvement in the politics of the region as a tepid home-coming, manifesting his exile. I suggest that in returning to Trinidad, and attempting to clear a space for himself, James resorts to crude nationalist and biological signifiers, contravening his earlier creolized political positions. Ultimately, I suggest that ‘bad faith,’ in articulation with an exilic mode of being-in-the-world, highlights the ambivalence of James' political thought that, in turn, may be attributed to the absence of a strategically ‘grounded’ community as a foundation for the establishment and practice of an oppositional political project.

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C. L. R. James, exile, bad faith, Marxism, anti-essentialism, intellectualism

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21 Apr 2023 10:28

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21 Apr 2023 10:28

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