Sat | Oct 20, 2018

Editorial: Winkler's Jamaica Heaven

Published:Thursday | September 24, 2015 | 12:00 AM

It's peculiar how little remarked on - even by the officialdom - has been the death of an author as prolific, decorated and as 'out-of-orderly' Jamaican as Anthony Winkler, who died last week, aged 73.

This absence of substantial acknowledgement is perhaps not so much a statement of indifference, but rather a reflection of Jamaica's inability, thus far, to reconcile its relationship with its white citizens, especially those who prefer not to slink into the shadows, but attempt to speak in an authentic Jamaican voice. It is an issue with which, in life, Winkler clearly struggled.

Anthony Winkler was no Naipaul. Nor was he in the mould of the other early generation of West Indies writers, such as Selvon or Lovelace, or Lamming. For although there are in his first novel, The Painted Canoe, echoes of Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, his was a distinctive Jamaican voice, with a unique, and what his academic reviewer, Kim Robinson, would argue was a subservice narrative. Other critics, however, might claim that it was the same narrative repeated in most of his novels; that, in essence, refashioned a single tale.

Hard times

Mr Winkler was born in Kingston in 1942 to a white family, who, by the time of his birth, had long since fallen on hard times and irresolution, leading to his own rebellion at age 15, about which he was brutally frank in his autobiographical work Trust the Darkness - My Life as a Writer. At 21, Mr Winkler moved to the USA, where he became a successful writer of tertiary-level textbooks.

While as a novelist Mr Winkler didn't "think of myself as white", and according to Ms Robinson in her book, Out of Order! Anthony Winkler and White West Indian Writing, newcomers to his work often believe them to have been "written by a black Jamaican", he couldn't escape his race in majority black Jamaica. On his behavioural meltdown in high school, some suggested he was seeking attention for being white. He quipped in Trust the Darkness: "Being white in Jamaica meant you couldn't go mad in peace."

The issue of the complications of race affected perceptions of Winkler when, in the 1970s, at the time of the admixture of Michael Manley's democratic socialism and Black Power, Mr Winkler taught in Jamaica for a year, as recounted in Going Home to Teach. This consciousness about race and its history may sometimes cause the majority population to look for, and find offence, where none is intended, including in the hilarious, bawdy raucousness that typifies much of Mr Winkler's work.

His irreverence is, in a sense, an admission of national foibles. Or, perhaps as Ms Robinson posits: "Winkler pokes fun at various aspects of Jamaican society - a most refreshing change for Jamaican fiction. In fact, the presence of such satire makes the book's (The Lunatic) popularity all the more interesting since one characteristic of the Jamaican audience may be a tendency to take itself too serious and to react badly to criticism."

But in life and literature, there could hardly be a question where Anthony Winkler's head rested. Again, Ms Robinson points out: "By ridiculing America and Americans (in The Duppy), and by establishing ... Jamaica as God's choice of heavenly location, Winkler makes transparent at least part of his agenda ... despite having spent most of his life in America, Winkler has rejected the heartbeat of that country and regards nowhere but Jamaica as home."