Category Archives: Mas Rhetorica

High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture (2018)

HIGH MAS BOOK COVERI’m pleased to announce the publication of my book, HIGH MAS: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture by the University Press of Mississippi.

HIGH MAS: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture is a book of contemporary Caribbean thought and practice. In it, I combine the arts of photography and the lyric essay to devise a way of seeing the Caribbean, the world, and the self.

I can’t wait for it to be fully in the world, but you can pre-order it here.

Kevin (@drbrowne)

Reserve your copy of HIGH MAS

for the Trinidad Launch on November 4, 2018!


Responding to the myths and crises of identity, of nation, and of belonging that persist in the region, HIGH MAS complicates assumptions about Trinidad Carnival as an exemplary festival of local freedoms. Instead, Browne explores the spirit of Mas as a deeply generative means of vernacular expression. Using the performance of Mas as a lens for reading the contemporary Caribbean, Browne draws particular inspiration from the performances of Blue Devils, La Diablesse, and Moko Jumbies—all of whom were photographed by the author between 2014 and 2017.


 

 


Essays accompany each series and frame the author’s ideas of “Caribbeanist Photography” as a practice that is both reflective and refractive. Beginning with memoir, and moving progressively toward a more extensive treatment of Caribbeanness as performance—as Mas—the book is a celebration of the Caribbean subject. It is, furthermore, a declaration of the agency of ordinary people who take it upon themselves to do extraordinary things, who deconstruct the vagaries of everyday life to construct meaning. Like its overarching theme, HIGH MAS disrupts conventional assumptions of what Mas—and the people who make Mas—can do. It recomposes the image. Relying simultaneously on aspects of memory, experience, imaging, and inquiry, HIGH MAS is an intricate argument for the relevance of vision to the Caribbean voice.

Advance Praise for HIGH MAS…

“Kevin Adonis Browne’s High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture, is a one of a kind work that understands fundamentally all that is at stake when people make Mas–the embrace of their fierce unexpurgated beauty. The writing, and by that I mean both text and image, is as liquid as Mas itself catching the exquisite balancing of life here, life after, and life before which is ‘being’ in Mas. Mas is the body abstracted from the formal tyrannies of history and of the quotidian–not a fleeting or temporary state of performance but the production of an ongoing state of being; neither cosmetic nor decorative nor even dramatic but lodged in the existential, or as Browne might call it the rhetorical. Browne shows us everything about the permeable, uncanny habitations of these figures of Mas in his lucid images. This book is wise and field changing.” 

–Dionne Brand, poet, novelist, and essayist


“Lest we forget there was Mas (still is!), Kevin Adonis Browne reminds us of its crucial role in Caribbean culture and history. In this remarkable book, Browne turns his Caribbeanist photographic gaze on images of Mas present and past, too many taken for granted, too many in danger of being lost forever. Poet, visual artist, photographer, essayist, visionary, Browne warns us to pay attention to what we see and feel. This book with its riveting photographs and poetic prose is essential reading. It will open our eyes to what lies beneath the revelry of Mas.”

–Elizabeth Nunez, distinguished professor of English at Hunter College, CUNY, and author of several novels including Prospero’s DaughterBruised Hibiscus, and Anna In-Between


“Kevin Adonis Browne’s High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture is a gorgeous rhetoric, a poetic, visually stunning, and necessary book. That it is a rhetoric is clear from Browne’s essays that theorize, meditate on, and historize Carnival. These essays explore memory, blindness and the problems of sight, composition, light, refusal, something like freedom and the practice of Caribbeanist photography. The subjects with whom he collaborates–those people who make Mas–inform and co-shape the photographic praxis that Browne elaborates in the essays and performs in the photos. A visual textual document of the present, High Mas leaves me breathless with the beauty of what we make, how, and under what conditions.”

–Christina Sharpe, professor of humanities at York University, Toronto, and author of Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects and In the Wake: On Blackness and Being


 

Pre-Order HIGH MAS

HIGH MAS: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture will be released on October 15, 2018. Pre-Order your copy on Amazon, Barnes & NobleWaterstones, and wherever fine books are sold.

(Keywords: Caribbean Poetics, Trinidad, Photography, Carnival, Cultural Rhetoric)

Read or download a pdf of Chapter Summaries here.

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Tropic Tendencies: Rhetoric, Popular Culture, and the Anglophone Caribbean (2013)

Rhetoric, Popular Culture, and the Anglophone Caribbean

 

“Browne’s excellent contribution to cultural studies in the Anglophone Caribbean is grounded in a rhetorical praxis that ranges over several expressive forms, including poetry, masquerade, music, folklore, fiction, and digital media. The compelling analysis is impressive both in coverage and insight.”

Glyne A. Griffith, University at Albany

Browne’s Tropic Tendencies is a groundbreaking study, and a necessary one. [His] thought-provoking theory of the Caribbean Carnivalesque—itself a prime example of the rhetorical creolization present in the many performances he observes—blends classical and contemporary vernacular traditions to articulate an ethos that is distinctly Caribbean.

Elaine Richardson, Ohio State University

Tropic Tendencies
Tropic Tendencies

A legacy of slavery, abolition, colonialism, and class struggle has profoundly impacted the people and culture of the Caribbean. In Tropic Tendencies, Kevin Adonis Browne examines the development of an Anglophone Caribbean rhetorical tradition in response to the struggle to make meaning, maintain identity, negotiate across differences, and thrive in light of historical constraints and the need to participate in contemporary global culture.

Browne bases his study on the concept of the “Caribbean carnivalesque” as the formative ethos driving cultural and rhetorical production in the region and beyond it. He finds that carnivalesque discourse operates as a “continuum of discursive substantiation” that increases the probability of achieving desired outcomes for both the rhetor and the audience. Browne also views the symbolic and material interplay of the masque and its widespread use to amplify efforts of resistance, assertion, and liberation.

Browne analyzes rhetorical modes and strategies in a variety of forms, including music, dance, folklore, performance, sermons, fiction, poetry, photography, and digital media. He introduces chantwells, calypsonians, old talkers, jamettes, stickfighters, badjohns, and others as exemplary purveyors of Caribbean rhetoric and deconstructs their rhetorical displays. From novels by Earl Lovelace, he also extracts thematic references to kalinda, limbo, and dragon dances that demonstrate the author’s claim of an active vernacular sensibility. He then investigates the re-creation and reinvention of the carnivalesque in digital culture, demonstrating the ways participants both flaunt and defy normative ideas of “Caribbeanness” in online and macro environments.

Kevin Adonis Browne is assistant professor of writing and rhetoric at Syracuse University.

PITTSBURGH SERIES IN COMPOSITION, LITERACY, AND CULTURE

Paper ISBN 978-0-8229-6259-5
6 x 9 • 232 pp.
14 Illustrations

Buy on Amazon.
Download Tropic Tendencies Press Release.

Of Time Travel and ​Trigger Warnings; Or, Somewhere Between #BoycottHM and #BoycottHandM

My friends are like family. Which means they don’t seem to care much about trigger warnings. They just go ahead and send me things:

• mixed-race jokes
• porn-inflected jokes
• gender-based violence jokes
• the occasional mutilation joke
• jokes about misogyny and missing teeth and pain and other assorted cruelties.

And I know why they do it: not because they secretly hate me and think I’m a bit too detached from my world to be bothered by a disembowelment when set to uninteresting music, but because I’m as likely to ignore the violence as break into a full-throated analysis of one thing or another.

I know what you’re thinking, because I think the same thing from time to time: I need better friends. It’s true, but I love them all (if not equally), so what can I do? People need some way to deal with the pathology of the society of which they are a part–a society from which they hope to remain apart. It is a futile hope. And their apathy–ours, really–is nothing short of Macchiavellian. The justification, poor as it is, does work. Family, amirite? (I call people “darlings” and “beautiful badasses” on here, so it’s whatever.)

Anyway, I was minding other people’s business on social media, when I get a version of the image on this post–just the child on the left. I only saw the child on the right this morning on a Crisis Magazine tweet. My first reaction was, “cute kid.” I didn’t take the bait. I responded with a bit of cynicism–“we keep expecting these people to do right by us”–and kept it moving.

Scroll.
Swipe.
Tap.
Comment.
Reaction (❤, mostly).
Lol.
Repeat.

Repeat. Damn.

I didn’t say that if the child on the left makes it past the age of 12, learns the principles of black liberation, has “The Talk” (birds, bees, bullets), and avoids Hotep fallacies, coconut oil, and kale, he’ll be as much a “survival expert” as his apparent counterpart. And that his apparent counterpart–framed as a conservative, capitalist, colonialist, imperialist mashup in the shape of a boy cut to fit a sweatshirt–not only views his blackness as a thing to be conquered, but also as an aspiration. No, he doesn’t want to be black–why would he? Rather, he is a projection of a whiteness I recognize. A child made to portray a desire for the condition of being “the coolest monkey in the jungle.” Not in the Jane Goodall sense of cool, obviously (chimps are apes, after all).

Because we know neither of those children resides in any real jungle, we can (must) assume that the metaphor is what matters here. Viewed in such a way (and because symbolic language is not what it is but what it might be), it’s reasonable to look at this child on the right as a prefabricated hipster conservative, and his gaze as a parable of inevitable gentrification. Stoops and corners, like ruins in the memory. Eminent domain, and the bodies made to represent it. Bodies designed, as it were, to desire and be displaced from it.

I didn’t say that I was thrown back–because all sweatshirts are a throwback, in the age of clima-cool. In an age of breathable clothes worn by bodies that can’t breathe, I saw this child (the one on the left) as representing something of a hybrid–a visual prelude-postscript to a very particular set of issues that plague contemporary life. In short, you could say I saw him as a superhero. I saw him, foolishly, as a young Luke Cage: developing his love for sweatshirts from a young age, causing trouble in the concrete jungle of Harlem or Bed-Stuy (or wherever black bodies are stripped of their black minds and black spirits, wherever they’re either forced or inclined to run and fight for their lives with hands up or throats clenched or hearts broken, wherever death–black death–is not a metaphor, but a reality). A young Luke Cage, before becoming a caricature of our suffering, before Black Panther shows up, takes the wheel, slaps the #Oprah2020 out of our mouths, and redeems us all.

And why not? Escapism (like desensitization and terrible Whatsapp etiquette) is a strategy for people like us. From “Flying Africans” of Modernity and Black Antiquity to the elemental Earth, Wind & Fire.

We fly. We stay fly. We be fly.

It’s how people like us, who seem to have no power, deal with shit. And I’m no different, so you can believe I’d go with Luke Cage who, before he was bulletproof, badass, or beefcake was not unlike the child on the left. Black.

And when Black Panther comes like Black Jesus, I’ll make of this sweatshirted child a young T’Challa on a visit to America, throwing shade as an unapologetic embodiment of a Signifying Monkey in this prison industrial complex of language–with its marketplaces and parlors. Before that happens, though, I try to get my mind right. I turn the conversation inward.

Me: Why Luke Cage, which was immediately (and ultimately) disappointing?

Also Me: Because I’m bound, like everyone else, by the symbols I’m given. And there aren’t enough black Jedi.

Me: Why not read this image as an homage to Trayvon Martin?

Also Me: Because while the easy imposition of black death and white superiority on children’s bodies causes me anxiety (almost as if it were prophecy), trauma is not a badge of honor–nor is resilience synonymous with recovery. There is blood on all of our shrines.

Me: Why not remix the irony of red-green colorblindness and ridicule the construction of race as an example of a dilapidated discourse, as an uninhabitable idea?

Also Me: Because the “red-black-green” progression from Martin to Luke to Cool is as much a “semiotic slight” as “sleight of hand”–a move from child to man to child; a broken promise that takes us forward from bullet riddles to cages to jungles, as if it were progress. Because “the red, the black, and the green” is how many of us learned to spell “Justice.” Because it is a nostalgia that mirrors the tragic-comic-absurd of throwback sweatshirts in contemporary culture over the past decade. Oh, Luke. If only your projections could save us.
(Also Also Me: Wait, darling, T’Challa is coming. Again. And Carnival. Wait.)

Me: Why not reach for the image of Trayvon, a child who would be 23 next month, pluck him out of the memes that made light of his black death, bring him forward in time, forward into 2018, imagining him as a smaller child now, bending time to give him more time, giving him a restart on his clock, summoning my mystical manipulation of time and flight and travel to save this child’s life before his love of candy and iced tea?

Also Me: Because I’m waiting for a future, a mothership prophesied in Soca and Funk, sanctified in Fire and Water, and reified in Black Magic. Because I’m not yet what I’ve longed for.

Me: Why not scoff at the absurdity of false equivalency and the problem of signs?

Also Me: It was an interpretive choice, obviously. And a self-care choice, as well. Because black death is as much a reflex for us as for those who would destroy us. Because I only appear to respond to an absurdity with an absurdity, something like a phenomenon to offset the silliness of sacrificing the image of children to the diseases we’ve learned to worship. There are children, lodged between #BoycottHM and #BoycottHandM. Boys, as it turns out, being anything but themselves.

There’s a larger, simpler point: it’s impossible to escape from a trap that I set for myself, no less possible to remove my skin and burst into flames. A trigger warning, after the bullet, in between the ceaseless volley of hurts that we must negotiate–often, and unfortunately, at the cellular level–for people like us.

People like us, who know the trigger is the weapon–that language is a perfect violence, one we cannot boycott. And so it is, that with all perfect violences, the perfect villains will often look just like us. Until they don’t.

Let the church say, “Ase!”

On Mango Sucking

The problem of mango string in your teeth is neither the mango’s fault nor your own. Find the right mango variety, and you’ll have less of a problem. The greater problem, assuming there aren’t any other varieties available, is the lack of choice. As in, I have no choice but to eat this mango all the way down to the seed. 

Then, of course…

What remains between our teeth is regretful, to be sure. (It’s what I imagine floss would be if it had a personality disorder and dressed in costume, tormenting others to make itself relevant.) But because it is derived from our previous pleasures, it is not essentially a regret.

It’s important to know the difference, as we walk sucking our teeth among strangers for whom discontent is the norm. Or, in the comfort of our homes, taking an adolescent pleasure in running our tongues along those teeth and smiling broadly at the bowl of skins and seeds resting on our lap.

The Cure for Tabanca

This is what I have told myself…

Tabanca is love gone bad, or so they say. The only cure I know of is this: knowing that there are two ends. The first “end” is the ending that causes the pain I feel right now. It is inevitable, always happening or about to happen. As certain as death, my human frailty, once recognized, will betray me (and others). Every character trait has a finite quality that will fall short of whatever expectations I set for them. 

The second “end” is the end of my pain, which no person can ease until it has run its course and done what it is meant to do. Whether I think of it as a poison or an elixir, I should know that what I feel is not the absence of the other, but my own, unavoidable, presence. Not the inarticulable hurt that seems to herald these bouts of maddening loss, nor the fact that I have always been a little mad, but the unsatisfying truth that I am who I am. Not the selective remembering that defines my grief and heartbreak, but the unmistakeable beating of a heart I’ve learned to ignore, caught up as  I’ve been in other sounds, other noises, bodies, mouths, eyes, tongues, words. And while I may have played at exploring the anatomy of love, I cannot escape my heart–the thing beating [within] me. It is always with me. This is why we sometimes feel like we want to die, that we will die–either because of the pain, or to escape it. So strong is the idea that this pain must subside, then disappear, that I forget that I am the source of what I feel. And while I may feel as though I want the end to come, my pain is proof that I’m not yet ready to let go. I still feel. It is a frailty that (like all other things about myself) I must accept. 

The end, in this sense, is both teleological and ontological–or, more accurately, the purpose and possible outcome (telos) of my experience is the rediscovery of my damaged, dormant, and muted self (ontos). That is the lesson, a lesson that I’ve sought to understand without taking the time to question. It is also a fact, one I’ve pretended to forget: by shifting my attentions from myself to another, I’ve only changed the direction of those attentions, not their source or their quality. And though it may be tempting to suggest that how badly I feel is a direct result of how deeply I’ve loved, the opposite may be more accurate. That is, how badly I feel is a direct result of how badly I’ve loved–and how well. Pain is pain, no matter the cause. 

But since we know that our capacity for denial is the inevitable precursor to Tabanca–a symptom, if you like–then reflection may be viewed as treatment. Recognition is your recovery. Acceptance, in this vein, is the cure. But all this denial says is that you’ve been misdiagnosed. Love gone bad was never love to begin with, only a placebo that has expired, leaving you with little choice but to withdraw. That withdrawal is nothing more than a painful return to a state you never really left: yourself.

Then I think of something pithy to say, to mask the fact that I’m as disappointing as I am disappointed. Failing to do that, I choose a kind of silence.

Regarding the Cost of My Book…

Some thoughts ahead of the publication of my book, Between Still Life and Afterlife: Mas, Photography, and the Self (UP Mississippi, forthcoming).

First, know this: you will lose what you hope to keep. Those of us who create know that our creations–and what we think of as our creativity–come at a cost. They do not simply appear out of a vacuum. No. Something must be given and given up in exchange for what we create. A sacrifice, in a way, without the expectation of a blessing. A curse is as likely to come. Or nothing.

The inevitability of loss is the only gain, the only reward. Know this. Accept it, if you can. Ignore it, if you must. But expect it.

Nothing is sacrosanct that existed before that created thing. No one is safe from it. (And yes, they know this and try to love you anyway, thinking themselves safe and special–almost immune. You think it, too. I think it. They try to stay, to take you as you are, but they know. No excuse can suffice, nor weak justifications satisfy. Lies, yours and mine and theirs, cannot hold. It is what it is: a reality greater than you.) No reward awaits you for admitting, publicly or in private, that there is no depth to which you will not go to defile yourself, all for the creation of a thing.

It’s a violence no one is bound to understand, one done to yourself and to others, existing beyond the limits of perfect conscience, beyond the reach of hand, heart, and mind. A violence that transcends its own inadequate morality, one that leads you to a truth that is even more inadequate: no art, no image, no words, no melody will ever bear the burden that comes from their expression. Instead, it is you who must bear it. This is how it is with something you know will outlive you, outlasting even the impulse of its birth.

I’m thinking of what I’ve caused to bring into this world, and sometimes the enormity of what it cost is too much to bear. But to see what others have not seen, you must either see differently or see different things. Each will lead you away from what, and who, you know. Each will move you, or move others. Each will bring you through the loss, through the blur of your tears, to a dissatisfaction glorious enough to see you create, again, in spite of the cost. You push, though you haven’t seemed to move.

There you sit–between the still life of what you perceive and the afterlife of a thing you have conceived but cannot articulate–understanding that though the cost is great, your creation knows no currency.

It is you who must have the courage, or the desperation, to pay.
KB

 

Between Still Life and Afterlife: Mas, Photography, and the Self

_________

Please donate and share the link below, as I try to raise money to make this book a reality. #BetweenStillLifeandAfterlife

https://www.gofundme.com/9zhcoo

Impressionism and the Caribbean: Francisco Oller and His Transatlantic World

Repeating Islands

Francisco_Oller_-_La_ceiba_de_Ponce

Opening tomorrow:

Impressionism and the Caribbean

June 14 – September 6, 2015

From the Blanton Museum’s website:

The Blanton Museum presents Impressionism and the Caribbean: Francisco Oller and His Transatlantic World, an exhibition of approximately eighty paintings by Realist-Impressionist painter Francisco Oller (1833–1917) and his contemporaries. Organized by the Brooklyn Museum and debuting at the Blanton, the exhibition reveals Oller’s important contributions to both the Paris avant-garde and the Puerto Rican school of painting. Providing historical, geographic, and cultural context for Oller’s work, the exhibition also features paintings by nineteenth-century masters Paul Cézanne, Winslow Homer, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and others. The Blanton’s presentation also includes a small selection of works by contemporaneous Texas artists working on both sides of the Atlantic.

One of the most distinguished transatlantic painters of his day, Oller helped transform painting in the Caribbean. Over the course of his career, he traveled between Europe…

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