Monday, May 27, 2013

Relocation of Blog!!

Hi all,

Please note that this blog has moved to . The layout is much cleaner and more user-friendly for sure. I will be taking down this blog completely in the near future so please bookmark the new link!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Close Reading of Diary of Souls excerpt

On Monday, December 1st, the students of CARI 6011: Caribbean Text and Performance performed a close reading of an excerpt of the play "Diary of Souls". "Diary of Souls" was written by the Bahamian playwright Ian Gregory Strachan. This play concerns the treatment of Haitians by Bahamians. It is the story of a sea guard who gets embroiled in the anti-Haitian culture of Bahamas when his team is faced with the task of disposing of several Haitian bodies on an uninhabited island. Following this he is haunted or "visited" by the ghosts of a few of the Haitian spirits which could not make the passage to their final spiritual resting place and therefore need his help. Most of the principal characters are Haitian ghosts and the element of the supernatural is also seen in the vodoun accomplished by the character Sylvie. This play is an excellent one to study in class or to perform in a Caribbean setting as it very casually assumes the valorisation of alternate epistemologies such as vodoun. This religion is given credence very naturally in the play. The only person who doubts the existence of the supernatural is an agnostic therapist whose materialist methods of helping Ishmael are ultimately inneffectual. The following is a review of an excerpt the students put on from "Diary of Souls".

The excerpt the participants performed was Scene 2 to Scene 7.

The readers were assigned the following roles:
Ti Twan - Kherrie
Pol        - Malica
Silvi      - Allysen
Doctor - Camille

(The Direction and Stage directions were read by Janelle)

A close reading requires that the actors get to know their characters very well and seek to give as close a portrayal of their voice as their voice is the only thing they can focus on as one cannot use their body. This is what I've learnt of the characters based on the voicing by the students. (N.B. Malica was faced with the difficult task of voicing two characters:  Pol and Ishmael)

The casting of Allysen as Silvi was the perfect decision as she naturally has a melancholic tone and she had analyzed her character enough to exploit this. She recognized that Silvi showed a quiet maturity beyond her years due to her spiritual leaning and understanding of vodoun. This alternate epistemology or different way of understanding natural phenomena meant that Silvi has naturally acquired a wisdom beyond her years. Allysen rightly spoke slowly, deliberately and softly in order to convey this. Silvi has the fewest lines out of the tree dead characters, yet what she does say has a weight which informs the listener that it has greater meaning than the few words would suggest. She is one of the most levelheaded characters of the play with much fewer lines than her male countarparts,  which makes it good for a feminist interpretation. Indeed, the ghosts could not have made it fully into the land of the dead had Sylvi not known how to communicate with Ishmael through vodoun.

Her wisdom is paralleled with the calm patience the Doctor displays with Ishmael. The doctor was played by Camille who sought to portray the level-headed psychiatrist whose task is to assist Ishmael who appears to be suffering from Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder. The contrast between patient and doctor was highly important as they are operating out of two very different belief systems. Ishmael has believed in ghosts from his youth while the Doctor has a logical, almost materialist, view of interpreting the world. She is more than skeptical of Ishmael's "visits" from the dead and promptly prescribes anti-psychotic medication. She thinks nothing more of the dead apart from the fact that death is eminent for everyone. However, apart from using her practical world-view which is ultimately ineffectual in a play which privileges notions of an alternate spirituality, the Doctor more importantly serves as the voice of the reader. It is also her duty to record Ishmael's version of events, for while she finds it difficult to believe everything he says, she is dissonant enough to question the official record given by the powers that be. She  She is part investigator, part healer but ultimately the only person that can heal Ishmael is himself with the help of Silvi.

As mentioned before, Pol was played by Malica who also played the role of Ishmael. This required her to alter her voice significantly to distinguish between characters. Pol exhibits an almost defeatist attitude which Malica exaggerated by a low tone and slow and deliberate enunciation. On the other hand as Ishmael she spoke with a high, anxious tone which at times careened up and down in pitch as he tried to explain these supernatural sightings to the skeptical psychiatrist. The anxiety she showed as Pol emphasised the Post Tramatic Stress Disorder he is suffereing from following the disposal of the bodies. He is wracked with guilt, and on top of that is now haunted by the ghosts of those who did not fully make the passage to Guinea, where the dead spirits lie. The way frantic Ishmael and the doubtful Doctor bounced off of each other in this excerpt demonstrated the fact that they are operating out of two very different belief systems.

Just from this excerpt the success of this play by Ian Strachan can be seen in its valorisation of the Caribbean belief system vodoun. Vodoun as a syncretic form of religion which is the mixing of African religions and European Catholicism. Vodoun in itself shows the Caribbean to be the point of intersection between several cultures and is a valid way of seeing the world in Haiti. The benefit of this is seen in its positive use in this play.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

(Text) Cesaire's A Tempest

Aime Cesaire's A Tempest is the classic text to demonstrate the truism that much of Caribbean drama is concerned with "writing back" to the Empire. Much like Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre was answered by Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, Aime Cesaire re-writes another crutch of England literary canon thus undermining what it has built itself on the entire epistemology of what it means to be British. Cesaire writes back the Empire because he wants the British colonial system to confront what it has done to the colonials. To take account of its atrocities. Here, Cesaire takes the well-known Shakespearian play and re-writes it addressing the concerns a colonial subject of the Caribbean would have, and still are concerned with.
Still, this leaves the question of why did Cesaire choose this particular play of Shakespeare's to re-write? Well, The name 'the Tempest" already suggests a certain volatility which can be argued to be likened to the ontological malaise a Caribbean person constantly finds himself immersed in. To explain, this malaise is due to the fact that the Caribbean contains multitudes; a plethora of different peoples who all have mixed backgrounds and mixed blood from numerous different tribal groups in Africa, from Europe, from the Indian subcontinent, from the now decimated native groups that once populated the Caribbean, from Syria ... we can go on and on.
The benefit of this play by Shakespeare is that it is already multicultural like the Caribbean. We have the European side represented by Prospero, Miranda and the other shipwrecked Europeans, the black slave represented by Caliban, and Ariel, the mulatto slave, who all collide on the tiny island which could easily be, and might have been meant to represent a Caribbean island.

The benefit of writing this play in the twentieth century is that it can call on political and cultural icons who can easily make relatable the characters. For example, in the play Caliban shares clear parallels with Malcolm X while the "house slave" Ariel bears a striking resemblance to Martin Luther King Jr.

Caliban is the spokesman through which Cesaire can vent his postcolonial anger on Prospero, who here as we have said, is a representative of all the colonial empires of Europe. In the end Caliban holds Prospero accountable for all the psychological damage he has suffered:
You lied to me so much
about the world, about myself,
that you ended up by imposing on me
an image of myself:
underdeveloped, in your words, undercompetent-
that's how you made me see myself! ...
This may as well be the official letter all postcolonial subjects post to the former Empires for it speaks of the mental slavery other iconic figures such as Bob Marley, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey etc, preached about. The following classic statement from the Tempest about language has been adopted and re-advanced several times by postcolonial critics as the crucial quote which sums up all that postcolonial literature seeks to do:
You taught me language, and my profit on’t
Is I know how to curse
This shows the heart of all postcolonial literature which is the tormented relationship the colonized has with his colonizer, and his determination to use the language of the colonizer in order to expose the colonizer as the debilitating force it was on the subjects who have to go through the long process of decolonisation in order to reverse the psychological effects of centuries of colonisation.

Works Cited

Cesaire, Aime.  A Tempest.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest.

Bellywoman Bangarang

This play was written by The Sistren Theatre Collective of Jamaica. The introductory note on the play in the Contemporary Drama of the Caribbean explains that it was founded by working class women in Kingston and with assistance from a tutor from the Jamaican School of Drama. The objective as recorded in the introductory note was to:
analyse and comment on the role of women in Jamaican society through theatre, to organize ourselves into a self-reliant co-operative enerprise and to take drama to working class communities (77).
The Sistren collective exhibits a distinctly feminist impulse as well as one dedicated to defying Gyatri Spivak's theory that the subaltern cannot speak.  Here we see the most subaltern of them all: poor, third-world, inner-city, black, women giving to serious issues challenging Jamaican society and taking it to "the downpressed" people of Jamaica. This was not without serious opposition by the powers that be however and the actors were pelted with fruit and faced general resistance and aggression by males because of their frankness about the rampant reality of rape culture and the acknowledgement of homosexuality in Jamaica.

This play, while being criticized as being "too expressionistic" is a brave and honest betrayal which no doubt embarassed the audience as it was fearless in its airing out of the dirty linen. One important issue addressed was the internalized misogyny of many of the young girls' mothers who perpetuate the dominance of men and force their daughters to abide by the misogynistic society they were born into. This sets up the vicious cycle of abject poverty most of inner-city women live in. The mother's get pregnant young and have several children, does not encourage the daughters to find a way out of the ghetto and so the daughter winds up having several "pickneys" herself and the cycle continues.

One surprising critic of the plays were feminists from abroad. The introductory note says
Some feminists abroad lambasted it for remaining silent and not doing enough on issues of homphobia (80)
 Here we see the differences in first-wold and post-colonial feminism which is an area that I am personally very interested in. The fact of the matter is that as feminists around the world have different issues which concern them, there will be discrepancies in an ideology of feminism which seeks to cloak and stand for the rights of all women and advances ideas of intersectionality. However, in the 1970's, while the feminists were gaining ground in America in rights of sexual liberty and birth control etc, the objectives of post-colonial feminists were very different. This play for example places greater emphasis on rape, domestic abuse and what to do when there is no birth control used and the girl is already pregnant. What then? On top of that there are institutionalized issues of class prejudice and race which are also serious concerns. In the midst of this very gynocentric work, adequate attention to the issue of homosexuality (in any case the Jamaican audiences already thought it was too "anti-man") may not have been put to the fore in a way that first world feminists would have liked.
But quite frankly the play was not put on for them. It was described by a member a the target group, a young black female who said the liked the play because "what me get from di play is dat dem a sey we woman musn't be licky licky. An a dat me like." Therefore it can be said that the Sistren Theatre Collective achieved their objective in reaching the core group of arguably the most oppressed group of the world: third world, poor, uneducated, black, women.

Works Cited.

Sistren Theatre Collective. Contemporary Drama of the Caribbean. Ed. Erika J Waters and David Edgecombe. St. Croix: The Caribbean Writer, 2001. 77-131. Print.

Waters, Erika and David Edgecombe. Contemporary Drama of the Caribbean. Ed. Erika J Waters and David Edgecombe. St. Croix: The Caribbean Writer, 2001. Print.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Odale's Choice: Criticism

Odale’s Choice was published by Barbadian writer Edward Brathwaite in the year 1967 and prior to that performed at the Mfantisam Secondary School, Saltpond, Ghana in 1962. Odale’s Choice is the modernized version of the Greek play Antigone. It is concerned with the rebellion of one girl, Odale, who defies her uncle Creon when she tries to give her bother the dignity of a burial. The setting of the play is an unnamed location in Africa. In the production note in the book it states that
The theme is timeless: the defiance of tyranny, a situation full of conflict and natural drama (3). 
Therefore, though it is set in an unnamed African country the universal themes of tyranny and conflict suggest it could be mapped over any territory or land in the world. In fact, one could very easily re-write Brathwaite’s play and set it in a Middle Eastern country governed using Sharia law. The restriction of women in a religious patriarchal climate is very applicable to the themes of female oppression and male domination represented in Brathwaite’s play by Odale and her uncled Creon.

 As a re-writing of an ancient Greek play revered in the West it adheres to the precept of Caribbean literature as being primarily concerned with “writing back to the Empire” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, Tiffins). This writing back concept has been one performed by many other Caribbean writers, including Jean Rhys with Wide Sargasso Sea, her response to Jane Eyre. 

The impulse of the play is clearly guided by Edward’s awakening African consciousness. At the publishing of this book he was still called Edward, though now he is Kamau. The birth name alone tells us that it is an early work by Brathwaite. The play is saturated by this burgeoning nostalgia for Africa which Walcott would say is no longer our own to be nostalgic about. The language of the text at times sounds distinctively Barbadian instead of that of an African country. For example on page 13 a sergeant says “An’ keep you eyes open! … you lamp gone out an’ you mouth open sleepin’.” The arrangement of words here sounds uniquely Bajan. The question thus becomes, was this intentionally done by Brathwaite, a linguistic attempt to bridge Africa and Barbados divided by colonial history by using both Bajan dialect as well as cliché African words? Was taking this play to Africa his early attempt to legitimize himself as African in African eyes? Walcott, the realist, would say to these claims of legitimacy to an African identity that we can never go back and the attempt to do so is a farce. According to him the “claim we put forward now as Africans is not our inheritance but a bequest, like that of other races” (10). Therefore he believes that we as the descendants of Africans (and of Europeans and of Amerindians, and of Syrians, and Chinese, and of Indians, and whatever other groups came here to make the Caribbean an even more complicated and layered archipelago) are so far removed from the point of origin that to request an African identity is not our right but is merely our heritage which we don't have a right to.

However the worth of this play may be found in its universal themes of tyranny and male domination as most of modern day societies are still very patriarchal and Odale's struggle in  this society as a lone female is very relatable till this day. As such, the one passage which achieves a level of sincerity is Odale's monologue where she laments the oppressed status of the woman, and also exhibits a level of internalised misogyny:
We are women. We bring you into the and we bear you out again. We weep at your birth and mourn at your death. That at least is our duty; that alone we can do. And if we don't do it, we are failing all women. We are weak, but we must be strong (19)
 This appraisal of the limits and weaknesses of women is challenged by Odale herself who defies her uncle in order to bury her brother. So in practice she works against the words that come out of her mouth. Finally, by the closing of the play her actions and actions resemble each other:
Don't touch me! Of my own free will, I will go! (32)
These are Odale's final words as she led off by male guards to her death. This persistence of female resistance in the uber-patriarchal society represented by her tyrannical, omnipotent uncle is one to be admired, but it is about the only good aspect of this relatively weak early work.

Works Cited
Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth, Griffith, Tiffin, Helen. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in
Post-Colonial Literatures. London: Routledge, 1989. Print.

Brathwaite, Edward. “Odale’s Choice”. Ibadan: Evan Brothers Limited, 2011. Print.

Walcott, Derek. “What the Twilight Says.” What the Twilight Says: Essays. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1998. Print. 3-35.

Friday, December 7, 2012

An Overture

This blog was borne out of the gap on the internet of criticism on Caribbean drama.In the long term, this blogger aspires to service the Caribbean theatre as a voice on the internet which bears witness to the many productions and criticism produced by Caribbean people which often go unnoticed or are forgotten. The internet is a fantastic medium for the recording of such plays and criticism because it serves as memory where that of humans is imperfect. Everyone knows that once something is on the internet, it is there forever. So without further ado, let us begin.

A seminal text of Caribbean literature is of course, Derek Walcott's, What the Twilight Says, and no respectful blog would be complete without mention of it. I intend to go a step further and give a summary and review of the introduction, as the blog is named after it. Before there was the Twilight franchise, there was another way people in the Caribbean associated the word Twilight, as the introduction to the eponymous work What the Twilight Says, which is a collection of essays on various writers. Such writers include names as diverse as C.L.R James and Tennyson.

The introductory essay “What the Twilight Says” is essentially the reflections of a life dedicated to the arts in the Caribbean. Derek Walcott calls upon his extensive knowledge as a man of theatre – the original meaning of playwright – as one who is a professional of his craft and who knows all there is to know about the theatre, and he is certainly one who knows of the difficulties of production in the Caribbean. In this essay he speaks of the need of the actor to first divest himself of all that he knows of the world so that he can understand.

The essay begins with the approaching dusk falling on a village setting in the Caribbean. The poverty of the village is made to seem lyrical. There is trepidation however as the impending darkness marks the “metaphor for the withdrawal of empire and the beginning of our doubt” (4). This is the meaning of twilight in this work: It is simply the turning of an epoch (119). Written in 1970, it referred to the receding British empire (by then almost non-existent. Some have noted the end of the empire took place as early as 1947 in the Partition of India) and the darkness was the uncertainty of the shift of powers from white colonial master to black national ruler. Instead of focusing on national leaders, Walcott privileges the artist in the role of the bringing to the surface the cultural consciousness of the country. He explains: “The future of West Indian militancy lies in art” (16). By this he means that the actors instinctively know there is a need for revolt even though they may not know the tools to use. He however explains that the theatre has a desperate hunger for that which has been taken from him. “The sparse body of West Indian theatre still feeds on the subject of emaciation and what it produces … Hunger induces its delirium, and it is this fever for heroic examples that can produce the glorification of revenge” (17-18). Here Walcott is speaking about the desire to give the empire its just desserts and hold the empire accountable to the deracination it has suffered in that while it knows it is black, it has no roots to cling to. “The depth of being rooted is related to the shallowness of racial despair. The migratory West Indian feels rootless on his own earth, chafing at its breaches” (19). 

This brings us to the central focus of Walcott’s introductory essay: the problem of identity. There are two conflicting systems, that of the African and the European, neither of which any longer belong to the West Indian. Therefore, Walcott suggests an assimilation, similar to the theory of creolite of Edouard Glissant. Walcott finds it ineffectual to dismiss either of the systems and shows particular disdain for the romanticist notions of Africa. He challenges these essentialist Afrocentrists by saying “But we are all strangers here. The claim we put forward now as Africans is not our inheritance but a bequest, like that of other races, a bill for the condition of our arrival as slaves. Our own ancestors shared that complicity, and there is no one left on whom we can exact revenge. That is the laceration of our shame” (10).

Though now in the uncetain period of twilight, Walcott suggests that it is not all doom and gloom because of the historylessness of the island inhabitants. He suggests that “If there was nothing, there was everything to be made. With this prodigious ambition one began” (4) and reminds us of the freedom of expression there is in the Caribbean as a tabula rasa of sorts. Till this day there is much space last on the slate for new ideologies, literary output, critiques etc to be added to the still sparse board.

Works Cited
Walcott, Derek. “What the Twilight Says.” What the Twilight Says: Essays. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1998. Print. 3-35.