“CLR James, Walter Rodney and the Public Self of Caribbean Insurrectionary Politics”
Professor Paget Henry (Brown University)
Tuesday 30th October 2012
The 2012 Walter Rodney Memorial Lecture was given by Paget Henry, Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies at Brown University. As well as staff and students from the university, we also welcomed guests from outside. These included Yesu Persaud himself, in whose honour the Centre has been renamed.
David Lambert, Director of the Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies
This year’s Walter Rodney lecture brought together a range of themes that Paget Henry has been grappling with over the last few years and outlined clearly the contours of a significant strand of thought relating to insurrectionary politics in 20th-century Caribbean history. The talk pivoted on the exploration of two central figures: Trinidadian historian, writer and philosopher C. L. R. James; and the Guyanese thinker and activist Walter Rodney. Building on the framework that Professor Henry set down in his ground-breaking work Caliban’s Reason: Introducing Afro-Caribbean Philosophy (2000), the lecture began by elucidating the 'historicist' and 'poeticist' dimensions of James’s and Rodney’s thinking. Arguing that, for both men, the humanization of Caribbean workers was key to their politics, Henry traced out the way in which moments of revolutionary upheaval could be conceived as eruptions of a creative public self. This notion of subjectivity he saw as being shaped by the political and social conjunction and the class dynamics at play at the time at which they were writing. Given the transformations in the global economy since 2008 and the persistence, even increase, in tensions between different ethnic and religious groups in the Caribbean, the lecture underlined a call for new forms of dialogues in the region. Professor Henry, inspired by novelist Wilson Harris, set out the persuasive case for a new architecture of subjectivity as the basis for building fresh alliances in the fight against the exploitative thrust of global capitalism.