Lectures and Panel Discussion at Moray House Trust, Georgetown, Guyana
10th June, 2013
With colleagues from the University of Durham and University College Dublin, we presented two papers at Moray House cultural centre. The evening opened with a short address by Dr. Yesu Persaud, who spoke of the longstanding links between Guyana and the Caribbean Studies Centre at Warwick. Dr. Mark Tumbridge, from the Univeristy of Guyana and a member of the 'Global Frontiers' research network, chaired the event. Our papers outlined our current research on world literature and world-ecology, with a specific emphasis on the local registration of global environmental transformations in Guyanese writing. Dr. Niblett's paper, "Spectral Ecologies: Fair-Maid and the Massacouraman", considered the presence and significance of these folkloric figures in Guyanese fiction. Through an analysis of such works as Cyril Dabydeen's Dark Swirl and Pauline Melville's "Erzulie", he argued that invocations of these figures tend to be bound up with the registration of a moment of transition between different phases of development in Guyana, and in particular that they work as a way to encode -- or function as a response to the phenomenal experience of -- transformations in the production of nature. Dr. Campbell's paper, "Kaieteur and Kanaima: Barrington Brown, Environmental Racism, and Travel Writing in Guyana", examined the fraught position of Barrington Brown as a natural historian and ethnographer, attending in particular to the development and deployment of eco-primitivism and the establishment of the ‘noble eco-savage’ trope. Dr. Oloff and Dr. Deckard acted as respondents to the papers, before discussion was opened to the floor, during which important contributions were made by many attendees, including Major General Joe Singh, Vanda Radzik, and Petamber Persaud.
Islands Unchained: Commodity Frontiers, Food Regimes, and Archipelic Aesthetics
A One-Day Symposium on Caribbean Literature and the Environment
This one-day symposium explored the literary and cultural registration of what Kamau Brathwaite, in his famous essay on the poetics of the hurricane, once called the “environmental experience” of the Caribbean. Although there is much to contest in Brathwaite’s essay, his emphasis on the violence of the hurricane as demanding a particular aesthetic corresponds to the accent placed on the material and symbolic significance of an eruptive nature in the work of many other Caribbean writers. In Les fruits du cyclone: Une géopoétique de la Caraïbe, Daniel Maximin argues that if, on the plantation, the vagaries of the natural world could be seen as complicit in the torment of the slaves, nevertheless these same surroundings also offered “an abundance of roots for hope, food for those marooning and refuges for those resisting.” Indeed, writes Maximin, “geography and more deeply still geology have allied with the slave and enabled him to fight, to find weapons, to dream, to imagine the possibility of liberty, equality, and a rooting in the here and now” (91). If the region’s eruptive nature thus held out the Utopian promise of breaking the chains of slavery, it also pointed to the potential destabilization of the landscapes produced by plantation labour and subject to the pressures of global commodity chains. The ambivalence of this environmental experience – at once both liberating and enchaining, catastrophic and Utopian – is inseparable from the world-ecological significance of the Caribbean, its centrality to the successive reorganizations of global nature through which the capitalist world-system has developed.
Bringing together critical perspectives drawn from environmental humanities, world literary studies, ecocriticism, and food studies, “Islands Unchained” examined the aesthetic responses generated by the contradictory dynamics of the socio-ecological history of the archipelago. The commodity frontiers that have cross-cut the Caribbean, from sugar and oil to bananas and bauxite, have shaped – and have themselves been shaped by – the region’s complex weave of human and extra-human natures. In order to shed new light on the implications of this history for cultural production, the symposium explored the possibilities offered by the commodity frontier as a basis for new kinds of literary comparativism. But to speak just of sugar and other cash-crops is to tell only half the story. For as Sylvia Wynter pointed out in 1971, “the history of Caribbean society is that of a dual relation between plantation and plot” (“Novel and History, Plot and Plantation”, 99). Thus, if the plantation has left an indelible mark on the region’s literature, then so too has the socio-ecology of the provision grounds and the vernacular or folk foodways that persisted alongside, or emerged in opposition to, cash-crop regimes. Can we speak, then, of an aesthetics of the yam or of cassava alongside an aesthetics of sugar?
In addressing this and related questions, the symposium considered such issues as the value of a world-ecological methodology for reading Caribbean texts; the ‘archipelic aesthetics’ of a region constituted through a history of ecological catastrophe and renewal; the cultural encoding of the environmental crises induced by the logic of the commodity frontier, as well as of such natural hazards as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes; and the enabling possibilities of yoking food regime analysis to literary criticism.
The programme consisted of the following papers: Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert (Vassar), “Gade nan mizè-a m tonbe: Vodou and Haiti’s Environmental Catastrophe”; Anthony Carrigan (Keele), “The Dialectic of Ordinary Disaster in the Caribbean”; Sharae Deckard (UCD), “Cacao and Cascadura: Commodity and Food Regimes in Caribbean Fiction”; Kerstin Oloff (Durham), “Caribbean Zombies: World-ecology, the ‘Human’ and Gothic Aesthetics”
Recordings of the talks can be found on the side-bar above.
Sponsored by the Food GRP and the Global History and Culture Centre
Click below for an audio recording of the event.
Click below for audio recordings of the
papers presented at the symposium: