A New World Order
”I am of, and not of, this place”. The sentence gets repeated several times during Caryl Phillips’ 2001 essay A New World Order, and it is the very motto of the globalised world that we are all apart of. Caryl Phillips dives into the themes of being homesick for a place that does not exist by telling his own tale of how he has sought to create an identity with the cards he has been dealt.
Most of the essay is a collection of flashbacks from Phillip’s life but not in chronological order.
He is most likely looking back on his life as a 32-year-old when he has just arrived in sub-Saharan Africa. This is his first visit but he does not seem like a stranger because Phillips is able to understand the practices and codes of the locals: “He is eager to make sure that I have witnessed the transaction. I understand”. So even in a place like this, he “instinctively” knows where he is and what he has to do. This is not something that you learn simply by reading a book. It is a phenomenon that can only be observed in a world like this where the significance of national border is constantly decreasing. Phillips ponders about this by going through noteworthy experiences in his life starting with his trip to New York City as a 20-year-old. He draws a vivid image of the city that never sleeps, and it honestly does not sound like a place you would want to be: “The night is stiflingly humid. Bright neon light, raucous voices, the constant blaring of car horns. Saturday night in New York City”. And yet, there is a part of him that is neither frightened nor undermined by this concrete jungle and that actually feels at home, even though he was born in St. Kitts and grew up in the northern part of England. There is nothing in his earlier life that would justify a sense of belonging in a city on the other side of the globe but nevertheless, we understand him. Who wouldn’t feel at home in a city that has its very aspect shown on television almost every day? A melting pot of ethnicity with entire sections dedicated to different nationalities. Although that might already be an out-of-date expression seeing as how the word ‘nationality’ implies that you belong to one specific nation, and Caryl Phillips is a prime example of someone who does the exact opposite; he is the cosmopolitan who belongs everywhere and nowhere.
In his second flashback, Phillips visits his birthplace with his mother. He is now 22 years old and it is his first contact with the roots he never knew he had. Once again, he is able to feel at home in the warm cradle of his ancestors while still being alienated by the very same place.
Phillips describes the water there as being “like the surface of a mirror” which is a comparison that clearly shows how he can see himself in this place. Just like New York City, he is not afraid. However, the division is especially clear when the mother turns out to not be that eager about returning. “There is much history still dammed up inside of her,” suggests that, whereas Phillips is able to happily view St. Kitts as his island of birth, the mother places so much more significance into this place. She may not be the same world citizen as her son, and perhaps therefore never embraced England the same way. St. Kitts is not only her birthplace but also her only home.
This theme of ethnic division continues in the third flashback in which Phillips is a strapping young lad running through the streets of Leeds screaming, “I am not a chocolate biscuit”. This childish metaphor shows the complexity of belonging somewhere. It is easy to imagine Phillips’ peers calling him a chocolate biscuit because of his black roots that he does not fully understand yet. He feels and thinks like a Brit, which is obvious by the fact that he is singing ‘God Save the Queen’ in the cinema, but he does not comprehend his ambiguous identity until he runs into the old lady who sees him as he really is. But what exactly is that? The ambiguity is evident in the following metaphor that is being used at the end of the third flashback: “History dealt me four cards; an ambiguous hand”. What this means is that Phillips has the opportunity to pick and chose any identity he prefers. So when the old woman sees him for what he really is, we have no way of knowing whether that is his self from the West Indies, Leeds, America or the cosmopolitan who, in fact, does not have one specific home.
Phillips would most likely describe himself and the rest of the world as cosmopolitans who “[…] are all unmoored. Our identities are fluid”. He reaches this conclusion with the help from none other than the Statue of Liberty herself. In front of this once American national symbol, he observes two Croatian gentlemen kneeling down and being moved the same way American citizens does. Phillips realizes that we have entered a new world order in which nationality is a term long gone. He continues to list different aspects of this new world order: When there are no nationalities to identity with, the problem of one nationality being conceived as superior to another will no longer exist. It is an absurd concept that would not make sense in a world where no one has a homeland to proudly stand on top of. Now, we are rootless beings drifting endlessly through what was once called countries in search of an ever-changing identity. It is possible to kneel down in front of the Statue of Liberty and feel pride even though you did not grow up in America. It is possible to feel sad because of the death of a beautiful princess even though you did not grow up in England. We have all been dealt an ambiguous hand and are therefore able to call anywhere our home, which in turns destroys the very notion of what home used to be.
 Phillips, Caryl: ”A New World Order” 2001, s. 21 l. 23-24
 Ibid., s. 21 l. 14-15
 Ibid., s. 21 l. 2
 Ibid., s. 22 l. 46-48
 Phillips, Caryl: ”A New World Order” 2001, s. 23 l. 78
 Ibid., s. 23 l. 91
 Ibid., s. 24 l. 8-9
 Ibid., s. 23 l. 96
 Ibid., s. 24 l. 117
 Ibid., s. 25 l. 165-166