8 months ago

The Caribbean Review of Books (New vol. 1, no. 19, February 2009)

A sample of the new CRB, as published by MEP until 2009


The Caribbean Review of Books, February 2009 Home and away By Rhoda Bharath Caribbean Literature After Independence: The Case of Earl Lovelace, ed. Bill Schwartz (Institute for the Study of the Americas, ISBN 978-190-003-9918, 195 pp) A Place in the World: Essays and Tributes in Honour of Earl Lovelace at 70, ed. Funso Aiyejina (Lexicon Trinidad, ISBN 978-976-631-050-9, 201 pp) Unless the name is Derek or Vidia, there aren’t many Caribbean authors likely to have two books of criticism published about them in the same year. In 2005, the University of the West Indies St Augustine campus celebrated Earl Lovelace’s landmark seventieth birthday with a conference and related celebrations. Three years later, conference chief-cook-and-bottle-washer Funso Aiyejina published a slick illustrated version of the conference proceedings. Just months before, Bill Schwarz, a lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London, also edited a collection of essays on Lovelace, funded by the University of London’s Institute for the Study of the Americas. Schwarz announces very early that “the distance between writer and critic is hazardous at the best of times,” and a comparison of his Caribbean Literature After Independence and Aiyejina’s A Place in the World certainly establishes this. The former is an academic tome offering a view that is for the most part non-Caribbean and North Atlantic in perspective, with contributions from the likes of Chris Campbell, Louis James, James Proctor, and John Thieme. With the exception of Lawrence Scott, who has memoirs of Lovelace in both books, the contributors are all researchers with a background in some form of postcolonial studies, but not necessarily a firm background in Lovelace’s work and the Caribbean landscape. Aiyejina’s book functions as both an academic interrogation of Lovelace’s life’s work and a pictorial biography. Memoirs by Greg Rigbsy and Lawrence Scott give us a deft portrait of the artist in work and life, and Lynda Quamina-Aiyejina has provided an exhaustive bibliography that is a researcher’s dream. Academics and friends commingle within its pages, and every so often there are photographs marking some event in Lovelace’s life. There is a sense in which the contents of this book seem more familiar with Lovelace. There are essays from the likes of Gordon Rohlehr, Louis Regis, Merle Hodge, Sandra Pouchet-Paquet, and Jennifer Rahim: all intellectuals in their respective fields, but also friends and acquaintances of the man in question. We can be skeptical of both books for two reasons: one seems almost too familiar with its subject, while the other is not familiar enough. In this regard, each book is a foil for the other. Both will be useful to new and seasoned readers of Lovelace’s work. Obviously there are many areas in which they overlap, but there are also places where they diverge, and at least one path both have chosen not to pursue. Aiyejina and Schwarz both focus on the importance of Lovelace’s choice to remain in the Caribbean and be an indigenous artist. Kate Quinn’s essay in the Schwartz volume tells us precisely what a decision like that means in dollars and cents. J. Dillon-Brown covers familiar areas when he looks at the theme of nostalgia in Lovelace’s novels. Patricia Murray attempts a comparison of Lawrence Scott and Lovelace in her piece “Writing Trinidad: Nation and Hybridity in The Dragon Can’t Dance and Witchbroom”, but she avoids close analysis of the language of both authors, which plays such an integral role in developing notions of nationalism as well as hybridity. She opts for broad statements about Lovelace’s use of Caribbean oral traditions, and is not quite sure what to make of Scott’s use of Trinidad Creole in his narrative. Her understanding of Dragon (1979) is also questionable (the novel’s focaliser is not Aldrick, nor does the novel’s plot span a one-year period, and Eulalie is a character in another of Lovelace’s novels. Perhaps she was referring to Sylvia). In light of this, Merle Hodge’s essay in the Aiyejina volume, on Lovelace’s Mural in Old use San of Juan, language, Puerto Rico provides some relief, despite its brevity. She gives a thorough explanation of Lovelace’s development from a stylised Standard English to his now signature Trinidad Creole. Gordon Rohlehr leads off the offerings in A Place In the World with an historical overview that looks at not only the development of Lovelace’s body of work from While Gods are Falling (1965) to Salt (1997), but also the Caribbean’s political and intellectual landscape from the 1960s to the present. Rohlehr links Lovelace’s development as both a critic and a writer with the development of the Caribbean from the postcolonial and post-Holocaust to the postmodern and multicultural. He looks at the recurrence of the motif of “newness” in the re-constructing of the Caribbean, and shows how 16

The Caribbean Review of Books, February 2009 Lovelace’s politics and ethos would lead to the development of a writer capable of conceptualising groundbreaking and controversial novels. Rohlehr is careful to detail that Lovelace had notions similar to some of his literary peers, and that like the early V.S. Naipaul and Derek Walcott he too felt a sense of despair and dread about Trinidad society in the 1960s. In reference to Carnival, often touted as our highest manifestation of culture and nationalism, and used by Lovelace as a tool of self-definition and meaning, Rohlehr reminds us that Lovelace once said, “A Lovelace does not write back to any empire, and according to Rahim he rejects the notion of exile. He has made his nation his empire, and writes to and for it. His preoccupation is not so much how we cope with postcolonialism, but how we move from the postcolonial condition — contending with our responses to and feelings about empire — and begin the new phase of responding to ourselves and not some other, of seeing ourselves as the subject, not the object. Rahim argues that Lovelace, in making rootedness mandatory and choosing to make “the island the real and imaginative centre from In his essay in A Place in the World, Gordon Rohlehr is careful to detail that Earl Lovelace had notions similar to some of his literary peers, and that like the early Naipaul and Walcott he too felt a sense of despair and dread about Trinidad society in the 1960s society that glorifies waste is not and cannot be a serious society.” Lovelace’s perception of Carnival was then one of waste. Then came his famous ultimatum: “Do, die, or run away.” It is from this point that Lovelace, almost monk-like in his dedication, applied himself to the task of validating rural and grassroots culture, attempting to build a new Caribbean out of the shambles of the past, and, from Walter Castle to Uncle Bango, building a case for reparation. In Caribbean Literature After Independence, Aaron Love’s essay “The Crisis of Caribbean History: Society and Self in C.L.R. James and Earl Lovelace” echoes some of Rohlehr’s sentiments, and goes even further in exploring the dialectic between self and society. Love’s essay shows that Lovelace and James had similar concerns about subjectivity and history. Love takes the time to explain James’s troubled past with the People’s National Movement, and Lovelace’s continued analysis of their relevance to a post-independence nation. James saw The Dragon Can’t Dance as a tool for cultural conception and self-perception, because it helped to foreground the historical consciousness of the Caribbean subject in search of a new selfhood. The term “transnationalism” is often bandied about with reference to Caribbean literary discourse. Migration is not only a theme in our writing, but a means to existence for our artists. In order for them to carve out an existence using their craft, they often have to find a metropolitan country in which to do so. And many of our artists spend their lifetimes as hyphenated individuals who write back home from the empire, or the neo-empire. With all of this in mind, in her essay “The Nation/A World/A Place to be Human — Earl Lovelace and the Task of ‘Rescuing the Future’” (included in A Place in the World), Jennifer Rahim lays a case to show that Lovelace, in choosing to do, and to remain rooted in Trinidad doing, has avoided the label of transnationalism. which he views and speaks to the world,” has forged the way ahead. Kate Quinn puts a very realistic spin on the opportunity cost of an artist’s choosing to stay rooted in the Caribbean. There is no question that migrant artists have fared better than those at home, primarily because government policies in the Caribbean do not include the role of the artist, an issue that Lovelace has argued passionately for in his essays. Quinn uses very hard facts to show that Lovelace and others who chose to stay in Trinidad, such as poet Anson Gonzales and dancer Beryl McBurnie, paid a high price for their decision. Bill Schwarz’s “Being in the World” also takes a look at Lovelace’s ideas of self and place. Through an assessment of several of Lovelace’s essays collected in Growing in the Dark (2003), Schwarz looks at the importance of failure, the folk, and folk practices to the author’s way of being in and interrogating his home in the new world. Schwarz’s essay seems an ideal segue into Sandra Pouchet-Pacquet’s paper “The Vulnerable Observer: Self-Fashioning in Earl Lovelace’s Growing in the Dark (Selected Essays)”, in the Aiyejina volume. She assesses the development of Lovelace’s ideologies from a chronological framework, as opposed to the thematic framework with which Growing in the Dark was organised, and examines the shifts and complexities of the personal voice, issues of ideological self-placement, and the importance of connection and otherness that is at the centre of all cultural and historical representation. She sees Lovelace’s time writing for the Trinidad Express as the development of a holy trinity of the writer, his society, and the media organisation. In assessing Growing in the Dark, Pouchet-Pacquet looks at Lovelace’s familiarity with the critical works of James, Walcott, Naipaul, Wilson Harris, George Lamming, Kamau Brathwaite, and Franz Fanon; also his interpretation of historical events such as the Civil Rights movement and Black Power, and the obvious organic development of his own counter-discourse. 17

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