6 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 Schwarz and Pouchet-Paquet draw important parallels between Fanon and Lovelace, and their preoccupation with the African essence, identity, affirmation, social responsibility, racial origins, and roots. It is not typical for us to think of Indo-Trinidadians as warriors. The word “warrior” tends to evoke images of brute strength and force, of rebellion and struggle — words which, when they are used in a sentence to describe Indo- Trinidadians, seem paradoxical because of historical perceptions and misconceptions. Vishnu Singh’s “Lovelace’s Un- Salted Indians”, in A Place in the World, analyses how well Indo-Trinidadians fit into the warrior tradition Lovelace has chronicled in his body of work. Singh looks at the modes of transformation available to them in society, namely business, education, and religion, and examines the characters of Moon, Sonan Lochan, and Kenwyn Lochan in Salt. He makes it clear that Lovelace’s interrogation of the Indian’s transformation and assimilation into Caribbean society is tentative at best. But, in a sense, so is Singh’s essay, because he makes no attempt to link Indian warriors in Salt to their forerunner Pariag, the outsider from The Dragon Can’t Dance. Any serious engagement with Lovelace’s depiction of Indians has to start with Pariag, especially if the assessment is from the angle of the Indian in the warrior tradition. His depiction makes a strong case for the Indo-Trinidadian as a fighter, facing obstacles and overcoming them. Also in the Aiyejina volume, Louis Regis looks at the religious ideology of Salt as Lovelace’s coming to terms with the psychic dimensions of the African presence in the New World. Obeah is transformed into something both spiritual and nonreligion-specific. It is the thing that makes black people feared and gives them their power. It is the occult that makes black people occult. The result is either ambivalence or opposition to everything African. As Bango (one of the main characters in Salt) sees it, only when people “acknowledge their inner strength and power, this power that resides in their possession and knowledge of obeah,” will they come to terms with themselves. Says Lovelace, “In denying Obeah it was easier to penetrate and destroy the basis of African society in Trinidad and Tobago, to remove its philosophical underpinnings.” The reclamation of the power within us is also part of Lovelace’s argument for reparation, a recurring theme throughout his entire body of work. This preoccupation is also Carolyn Cooper’s concern in “Self Searching for Substance: The Politics of Style in A Brief Conversion and Other Stories”. She analyses Lovelace’s use of the ambivalent triumph of masquerade to project a reversal of hierarchies, whether they are sexual, social, religious, or metaphysical. Cooper acknowledges Travey’s rebellion, in the collection’s title story, as an act of empowerment. He is the heir to a self-empowering warrior tradition. She also looks at how masquerade’s absurd side emerges when used as a protective device by the female protagonist in “Call Me Miss Ross, For Now”, who assumes a fussy façade to protect herself from what at first are unwanted male advances. But having worn the masquerade for so long, when she is ready to drop the charade she is uncomfortable, unsure of how to behave in her own skin, because the masquerade is now all she knows. Turning back to Caribbean Literature After Independence, Nicole King’s essay on Lovelace’s short stories goes even further than Cooper’s in its analysis of the function of masquerade in Lovelace’s work. King explores the importance of the performative as an everyday strategy in the search for personhood, and the new post-independence nation as theatre in “Performance and Tradition in Earl Lovelace’s A Brief Conversion: The Drama of the Everyday”. She assesses the importance of performance, masking, and the assumption of different personas in the postcolonial environment, noting that Lovelace uses simple everyman characters to reflect the “false promises and false hopes bequeathed by the national project.” This essay, more so than any other, makes the reader starkly aware that neither of these books makes any attempt to assess Lovelace’s dramatic works; and this is a shame. In his own contribution to his book, “Novelypso: Earl Lovelace and the Bacchanal Tradition”, Funso Aiyejina establishes an aesthetic against which Lovelace and writers like him, who don’t fit comfortably or snugly within the sub-category of postcolonial writer, can be assessed. Aiyejina looks at Carnival as the literary tradition against which Lovelace must be analysed and assessed. Instead of Spivak, Bhabha, and Said, we should turn our eyes to Shango and Esu to comprehensively understand the techniques and messages that Lovelace conveys. Aiyejina argues that the Western literary tradition cannot adequately deconstruct and determine Lovelace. We must look elsewhere, and that elsewhere is right here. He posits, for instance, that The Dragon Can’t Dance and Salt are not merely novels, but calypsos in novel form, and that throughout Lovelace’s body of work aspects of the Carnival aesthetic (stickfighting, calypso, masquerade, storytelling) have played an important role in shaping and defining the author and his writing. Aiyejina continues in the tradition of literary critics like Harris and Rohlehr to formulate a theory that is more indigenous to Caribbean readers. Both of these books have at least one essay that is a bit idiosyncratic. In the Schwartz volume, Tina Ramnarine attempts a look at the importance of the leitmotif of sound in Lovelace. She considers Salt in relation to Caribbean performance traditions and traces the intersections between creative expression and political vision. Usually scholars discuss Lovelace’s use of stickfight lavways and calypsos in relationship to folk culture, but Ramnarine’s ethnographic perspective on his use of musical performance to further ideas of unity and liberty remains exploratory in tone. Also in Caribbean Literature After Independence, Chris Campbell’s eco-critical take on Lovelace’s novels The School Master and Salt required that he be far more familiar with 18

The Caribbean Review of Books, February 2009 the topography Lovelace is writing about to really be able to show the relationship between landscape and text, and to properly evaluate the importance of what the author is saying. Often the essay seems to be imposing eco-criticism on an essay that is really about Lovelace’s views on politics, religion, and education. And urban planner Jim Armstrong contributes an essay to the Aiyejina volume about art and creativity in relation to identity. He looks at art as a prescription for post-traumatic stress disorder, and the importance of planning and development. In a very real sense he echoes In brief Daddy Sharpe, by Fred W. Kennedy (Ian Randle Publishers, ISBN 978-976-637-343-6, 411 pp) Daddy Sharpe, the debut historical novel by Fred W. Kennedy, is a well-researched fictional narrative that recreates the life of the Jamaican National Hero Samuel Sharpe, whose leadership in the “Christmas Rebellion” of 1831 gave impetus to the passing of the Abolition Act in 1832 and eventually led to the end of slavery in the British Empire. Although Sharpe’s involvement in the rebellion was recognised by the Jamaican government in 1975, the details surrounding his life remained in relative obscurity, and Kennedy deserves praise for clarifying the historical record. The narrative of Daddy Sharpe, told mainly from a firstperson point of view, begins with Sam Sharpe in jail and awaiting his death by hanging. By using a series of juxtapositions with the Anancy story “Bro Tiger Goes Dead” and John Bunyan’s allegorical novel The Holy War as plot devices, Kennedy relates Sharpe’s story to the theme stated explicitly on the first page: “to reveal to you the madness of slavery.” Looping the time frame, Kennedy manages to tell the stories of Sharpe’s mother Mimba and his wife Nyame — with whom he had a child, Juba — and to give a portrait of life during slavery and the hardships endured by New World Africans. Kennedy also reconstructs the stories of Mrs Samuel Sharpe, the wife of the slaveholder after whom Sharpe is named, and Reverend Henry Bleby, an eyewitness to Sharpe’s execution: The sun disappeared behind the clouds and a darkness came over the land. Saddened by his loss, we all left the town square, which some liked to Golgotha, the place of a skull. Support the CRB: subscribe online at many of Lovelace’s concerns with art, the individual, and the environment without necessarily discussing Lovelace. Both books have their glitches, and could have benefitted from tighter editing. There are instances of misspelling and punctuation errors, and it is even more irritating when the editor of a text is not exacting enough with his contributors. But both volumes are starting-points for assessing and reviewing Lovelace’s contribution to the prose form for Caribbean literature. Now if we could only get someone to say something about his plays. This fitting description of Sharpe’s death as a Christ figure is not surprising, for throughout the novel the overwhelming impression of “Daddy Sharpe” — “daddy” was a term used by Baptists of that time to denote respect for his position as a deacon — is of a pious man: As God is my witness, you must know, Minister, that despite what everyone says, I did not contemplate the shedding of blood and I did not want the tribulation that has been brought down on the heads of my brethren. I did it for freedom’s sake in the name of Christ Jesus. By combining these various strands from the period between 1814 and 1832, Kennedy gives his reader a muchneeded perspective on the prelude to Sharpe’s fateful decision to lead a peaceful demonstration, before witenssing the turn to violence over which Sharpe has no control: “Our plan for peaceful resistance, which we had worked for so hard, went wrong all in an instant.” The meticulous scholarship that Kennedy demonstrates in reconstructing these events is to be commended, and Daddy Sharpe is an excellent supplement to the study of this period. As a novel, however, the storytelling in Daddy Sharpe does not match its historicity. Fiction, historical or otherwise, depends upon fully realised characters whose dramatic needs propel the plot and answer the reader’s desire to know what happens next. Although Kennedy creates a portrait of Sharpe as devout Christian, plot elements such as his relationship with Nyame as a possible reason for him not to go to war (or vice versa), or the revolutionary and religious fervour that would lead him to become a martyr, are never fully developed. In a pivotal scene, Sharpe tells us his life is changed after a vision quest in the bush. But instead of compressing the action (even at the expense of historical fact) to demonstrate the consequences of this epiphany, there is a break in the story line with Bunyan’s Holy War, followed by descriptions of two slave owners. And there are no scenes that convince the reader of the immensity of Sharpe’s conversion to the Gospels’ message of freedom. When he does act, Sharpe seems more like a victim of events than an actual leader, so his eventual surrender and martyrdom are almost anticlimactic: Samuel Sharpe and the reader remain bound to the grind of inevitable history. Geoffrey Philp 19

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