Probing the legacy of one of the most influential sports books of all time

Russell Holden
In the Zone Sport and Politics Consultancy | @russinthezone

David Featherstone, Christopher Gair, Christian Høgsbjerg & Andrew Smith (eds.)
Marxism, Colonialism, and Cricket: C. L. R. James’s Beyond a Boundary
295 pages, paperback.
Durham, NC: Duke University Press 2018 (The C. L. R. James Archives)
ISBN 978-1-4780-0147-8

Often referred to as one of the great intellectual figures of the twentieth century, for those beyond the political left and aficionados of the development and struggles of Caribbean cricket and its global impact, CLR James remains a name that may be familiar, though many lack an insight into the significance and impact of his writings.

In marking the fifty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Beyond a Boundary, the editors of Marxism, Colonialism, and Cricket offer a fine and comprehensive attempt to reflect on the work of James, through a collection of essays by a range of individuals who have either spent considerable time studying his writings and activist record, or have had substantial contact with James himself. This extends to the case of Selma James, who was married to C.L.R. and involved in the typing of the many drafts of Beyond the Boundary, that begun in the 1950s.

The life and work of James were both rich and highly diverse, with his 1963 work being the best known and arguably the truest representation of his beliefs. In addition to being a work on popular culture, it is also concerned with how sporting practices can express political meaning and political struggle, whilst being shaped by the passions and divisions of the historical settings in which people have played, watched and consumed sport. His substantial outpouring of work includes writings on popular culture, aesthetics, gender, imperialism, resistance and identity formation. In his eighty-two years, he accomplished much and his notoriety extended well beyond his Caribbean origins and his homeland of Trinidad, more especially in the United States and the United Kingdom where he lived large chunks of his life. When James died in 1988, West Indies cricket was still on a high and he remained able to enjoy the glories of its development and success until his last days.

As James rightly maintains his seminal work is more than either a collection of cricket reminiscences and autobiography, rather, a gateway to socio-political and socio-economic analysis. Though it is often advocated as the definitive Marxist analysis of cricket, because of James’s failure to fully take on board cricket’s essence as a capitalist form, in reality his work prefers to focus, as Hilary Beckles suggests, on his contribution to the belief that his teachings represented more of a political manifesto of an ascendant nationalism that would launch West Indians on the world stage as equal citizens.

Her analysis shows how the ideologies of masculinity failed to acknowledge the emotional and physical support Caribbean women had long given cricket.

The contributions to the volume consider both the historical and contemporary relevance of the text. However, in each instance the authors are assuming the readership has a clear grasp of the issues closest to James’s heart. The early chapters very much focus on both the influence of his roots and the impact of the political and literary culture of Trinidad and how this played out within a colonial legacy whilst providing an insight into the nature of “British civilization”. McCree insightfully illustrates how this impacted on the lengthy publication process and the very interesting debate concerning the wording of the title. The draft manuscript had actually being entitled “Who Only Cricket Know”, inspired by the writing of Rudyard Kipling, one of the chief spokesmen for British imperialism.

Interestingly, Adjepong challenges the absence of reference to women in Beyond the Boundary, offering a decolonial feminist reading. Her analysis shows how the ideologies of masculinity failed to acknowledge the emotional and physical support Caribbean women had long given cricket. In opening a debate on representation and misrepresentation, Washbourne suggests that too much positive emphasis is placed on the role of WG Grace as a representative hero as he was equally guilty of reinforcing and strengthening the divide between amateurs and professionals. The work concludes with a very strong section of reflections, inviting three figures central to understanding Caribbean cricket to give their perspectives on the work. Former England captain Mike Brearley considers what is meant by the term to “know cricket” and examines the different forms of knowledge of players, captains and coaches, whilst also noting how the bulk of social history ignores sport and its place in everyday lives. Beckles, one of the leading social historians of the Caribbean, offers a very personal account, tying together his memory of attending Sir Frank Worrall’s funeral with his grandmother and the ability of the often ignored women of the Caribbean’s capacity to stand up for the principles that produced cricketers representing the game’s finest values. Selma James positions the book as part of a broader set of forces that radically politicised sport. As she noted in The Guardian (April 2, 2013), “Everywhere we are confined by boundaries, but we struggle to break out.”

This final section is undoubtedly the strength of the volume as it conveys a clear, personal and lucid account of why Beyond the Baoundary is so important and should still be celebrated. James’s work is pioneering in seeking to understand the ways in which cricket is shaped by the economic and political structures in which it is located. Furthermore, the publication represents the fluency of much of James’s writing and oratory as a charismatic speaker and public intellectual who sought to place himself at the forefront of public discussion. Consequently these final contributions compensate for some unevenness in the style and content of some of the earlier sections. However, the inclusion of a further chapter bringing together some of the challenges to James’s work would have been valuable, with both scholars and lay-readers benefiting from a broader discussion of some of the inconsistencies in his overall thesis. However, many will glean much pleasure and stimulation from a study of this text, which ideally should be accompanied by a reading of James’s original work which is beautifully crafted and a challenge to stop reading once the first page has been turned. As one of the most influential sports books of all time, this overview of it should be richly enjoyed by a wide global audience.

Copyright © Russell Holden 2019

Table of Content

Foreword. Opening Up
David Featherstone, Christopher Gair, Christian Høgsbjerg, and Andrew Smith

Introduction. Beyond a Boundary at Fifty
David Featherstone, Christopher Gair, Christian Høgsbjerg, and Andrew Smith

Part I: Cricket, Empire, and the Caribbean

  1. L. R. James: Plumbing His Caribbean Roots
    Selwyn R. Cudjoe
  2. L. R. James’s “British Civilization”? Exploring the “Dark Unfathomed Caves” of Beyond a Boundary
    Christian Høgsbjerg
  3. The Boundaries of Publication: The Making of Beyond a Boundary
    Roy McCree
  4. “West Indian Through and Through, and Very British”: C. L. R. James’s Beyond a Boundary, Coloniality, and Theorizing Caribbean Independence
    Minkah Makalani
  5. Looking Beyond the Boundary, or Bondmen without the Bat: Modernism and Culture in the Worldview of C. L. R. James
    David Austin

Part II. The Politics of Representation in Beyond a Boundary

  1. “Periodically I Pondered over It”: Reading he Absence/Presence of Women in Beyond a Boundary
    Anima Adjepong
  2. L. R. James, W. G. Grace, and the Representative Claim
    Neil Washbourne
  3. Shannonism: Learie Constantine and the Origins of C. L. R. James’s Worrell Captaincy Campaign of 1959–60: A Preliminary Assessment
    Clem Seecharan

Part III: Art, History, and Culture in C. L. R. James

  1. L. R. James and the Arts of Beyond a Boundary: Literary Lessons, Cricketing Aesthetics, and World-Historical Heroes
    Claire Westall
  2. The Very Stuff of Human Life: C. L. R. James on Cricket, History, and Human Nature
    Andrew Smith
  3. L. R. James: Beyond the Boundaries of Culture
    Paget Henry

Part IV: Reflections

  1. Socrates and C. L. R. James
    Michael Brearley
  2. My Journey to James: Cricket, Caribbean Identity, and Cricket Writing
    Hilary McD. Beckles
  3. Confronting Imperial Boundaries
    Selma James

Appendix. What Do They Know of England?
C. L. R. James


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