Talking Caribbean: The Rhetoric of Mas


In “Talking Caribbean: The Rhetoric of Mas,” Simon Lee reviews a recent book by Trinidadian author Kevin Adonis Browne (Syracuse University), Tropic Tendencies: Rhetoric, Popular Culture and the Anglophone Caribbean, calling it an important addition to both Caribbean Cultural studies and Caribbean cultural theory. [See previous post New Book: “Tropic Tendencies—Rhetoric, Popular Culture, and the Anglophone Caribbean”.]  Here are excerpts (with a link to the full review below):

Developed from his doctoral thesis, which attempted to answer two fundamental questions – (1) What is Caribbean rhetoric and (2) its role in popular culture- Browne refocuses critical attention on a wide range of Caribbean vernacular cultural expressions, viewing them through the trope of the carnivalesque and a creolized theory of rhetoric.  In so doing, he has finally pushed cultural theory in the Anglophone Caribbean beyond the Creole/ization discourse initiated by CLR James and formalized by Kamau Braithwaite over 40 years ago, in his 1971 The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770 – 1820.

Cultural theory and poetics in the English Caribbean have long languished in a parochialism and an anti-intellectualism, which are the legacy of British (specifically English) colonialism. In contrast, both the Hispanophone and Francophone sub-regions have well established traditions of cultural discourse and theory, led by Caribbean rather than Eurocentric concerns. In Cuba there was Marti, Fernando Ortiz and Benitez-Rojo; In Haiti Antenor Firmin and Jean Price-Mars, while Martinique engenderd Negritude (Cesaire), Creolité (Chamoiseau, Confiant and Bernabé) along with Antillanité and the Poetics of Relation (Glissant).

[. . .] The Mas Rhetorica Browne introduces all of us Caribbeans to is based on the “key topic in Caribbean rhetoric” the carnivalesque: “the premier act of rhetorical (re)invention and the critical response to shifting situationalities of everyday life”, “an embedded practice of culture and the definitive method for understanding and enacting the critical aspects of Caribbean ethos.” For Browne the carnivalesque is manifested in multiple genres: aural, oral, visual and scribal which resonates with far more meanings than a simple adjectival tag.

The immediate value of Browne’s enquiry is that it takes us back to the root of decolonization; a process abandoned in the Anglophone Caribbean as the vision of Federation went aground on the rocks of insular nationalism and a myopic pursuit of development. He reminds us at a critical juncture-when many of the expressions he analyses are under serious threat of erasure if not erosion- that Caribbean rhetoric  “coalesces as a series of carnivalesque displays in response to a historical situation” and that its development is “a deliberate response to misrepresentation.” However, he rejects the binarism implicit in viewing Caribbean culture “solely in terms of resistance” and the inevitable comparisons this would lead to with mainstream culture, by refocusing our attention and analysis on the question “whether we go far enough into our own systems to construct an approach that is sufficiently meaningful for us and useful for others.”

[. . .] He begins his own investigation of our systems with language and a classification of the rhetorical modes of Caribbean discourse: code-switching, wordplay, circumlocution, call and response, boasting/shaming, proverbs, the sermonic and nonverbal/visual semantics. [. . .]

For full article, see

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