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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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Islands in the Mainstream

One of the paradoxes of rhetorical inquiry is that it tends to disqualify the very activity on which it is founded. Beginning with Plato’s skepticism of its merit, inquiry into the practice of rhetoric has long been mediated by the constant need among rhetoricians to provide a solid, indisputable account of its worth. An unfortunate consequence of this is a contemporary tradition that has treated emergent rhetorics with similar skepticism and frustration—indigenous, feminist, queer, digital, and cultural rhetorics have all run afoul of the tradition at some point and have been subject to unwarranted dismissal or casual disregard.

The Caribbean is no exception.

The region has been viewed as an archetypal site of modern fragmentation, coalescence, and consumption that all occur as a great confluence of languages, cultures, and worldviews in the region. In response, emerging scholarship in rhetorical studies has begun to put pressure on this myth and has called for a more robust understanding of the region, its people, and especially their means of negotiating the myriad complexities of vernacular life. Among vernacular practitioners, it is argued, rhetoric is more than the use of language to make meaning of observable phenomena, more than the critique of symbolic or material representations, or of how they and the things they say and do and make are viewed or named by others. More crucially, these practitioners are able to activate vernacular sensibilities for particular outcomes through conscious performativity, creative alterity, and other forms of deliberative display.

However, aside from its practitioners, and the few who specialize in its study, this fact is not self-evident. A significant reason for this is that although our activities are often implicitly persuasive (or possess suasive characteristics that are easily discernible), we do not often consider what we do to be within the realm of rhetorical studies. And for those of us inclined to view the argumentative, rational, and persuasive aspects of our creative and scholarly work as rhetorical, there is an additional tendency to avoid explicit attachment to the discipline, preferring to employ more palatable euphemisms (like versatility, discourse, strategies, or tactics) that appear to be less fraught.

From the view of rhetorical studies, such distinctions are a mistake.

As a matter of fact, distinctions of this sort are counterintuitive to the understanding of productive discursive activity as rhetoric, leaving many seminal works virtually dispersed, or beyond the perceived boundaries of the field. The development of Caribbean scholarship in rhetoric may thus be thought of as being doubly undermined—both separate and unequal—and subject to de facto invisibility and silencing. Ironically, this threat of erasure presents us with an invaluable opportunity to accomplish important definitional work. It therefore serves as the impetus for sustained engagement.

Rooted in the need to be seen and heard, as well as the imperative of giving a suitable account of the rhetorical tradition(s) from which it emerges, we are inclined to ask:

How do Caribbean people define themselves as deliberate practitioners of rhetoric, and how do their practices contribute to the knowledge-making processes that can potentially surpass the far too simplistic designations of “identity” or “cultural production” in contemporary society? What is the province of Caribbean rhetoric, its scope? What are its inimitable characteristics and its more generalizable ones, which would encourage meaningful interaction? What are the greatest impediments to rhetorical exploration, particularly with regard to the intersections of rhetoric with related arts (aesthetics, poetics, philosophy, and politics)? Who gets to theorize what it is and is not?

If rhetoric is indeed grounded in human activity, does it not fall to those engaged in that activity to name themselves and their representative rhetoric(s), theorizing in terms they devise?

The study of Caribbean rhetoric is itself an affirmation of that logic, a response to the implicit urgency triggered by the glaring absence of such work from the field. As a necessary measure, it resists tendencies toward reflexive parochialism, viewing interdisciplinarity as its best approach, an approach that promises to be more generative and, ultimately, more useful to theorists and practitioners alike; the breadth of scholarship to which it can be applied is intended to reflect not only the inherent complexity of the region, but also suggestive of the ways contemporary understandings of Caribbean rhetoric is/ought to be conceived, articulated, practiced, taught, and preserved.


This is adapted from a Call for Papers I shared last year for a collection of the same name. As I make my way through the many fine essays that were submitted, I’d be happy to discuss the project and will remain open to possibilities for additional essays that can satisfy a reasonable deadline. I realize this gives me a bit more work to do, but I think it’ll be worth doing if the result is more people engaging in conversation and inquiry into Caribbean Rhetoric.

 

Caribbean Rhetoric and Its Composition: A Slide Presentation

A series of slides from a 10-minute presentation I gave on research in Caribbean Rhetoric. Slides only. No audio. It gives (or should give) a sense of how I conceive of projects, as well as a basic sense of their scope and depth. While necessarily brief, I’m hoping some of the ideas included here will spark even further discussion of this emerging area of study. You already know how to get in touch with me (@drbrowne), so feel free to do so if you want to chat some more about it.

Ideally, it will encourage you to embark on rhetoric projects of your own (without being too intimidated). Rhetorical inquiry–whether in terms of analysis, practice, theory, or whatever–needn’t be intimidating. And besides, we don’t have the luxury to be intimidated. There’s so much to do, and I need help.

The 25-slide presentation begins and ends with the same imperative that is central to my ideas of Caribbean Rhetoric–the “Mas Rhetorica”–that resist invisibility and silencing. I discuss the concept more extensively in Tropic Tendencies, which you can check out here: http://www.amazon.com/Tropic-Tendencies-Rhetoric-Anglophone-Caribbean-ebook/dp/B00GUDW6TE/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1386029876&sr=1-1&keywords=tropic+tendencies

Grampadaddy’s Hands

Everything we do is a placeholder for another work-in-progress.

De other day when ah was in Trinidad, ah take a chance to take some picture ah meh granfather hand. “Grampadaddy.”

Grampadaddy: a name ah make up when ah was a youth. There are no theories about that.

Anyhow, ah dey playing with de camera and end up adding a “magic pen” effect to de picture. And then Boom. Meh fascination with he hand finds its roots where most fascinations do: with things that strike the fancy, stir the imagination, but are hardly ever known. Those mysteries that form the parameters of your life, providing the yard for your consciousness to go and play around in without the risk of getting lost–well maybe a little lost, but not entirely.

Grampadaddy's Hand, with Keys
Grampadaddy’s Hand, with Keys, La Romaine, Trinidad, 2013 (“Magic Pen” Effect, Samsung Galaxy SIII)

It have a poem inside here fuh meh to write, eh, buh it ent come yet. Ah hatuh wait on it. In de meantime, ah thinking. Thinking bout home. Thinking bout which one ah dem vein ah come from. De poem coming. Ah coulda even kinda hear it jumping up inside meh head. Then again, was carnival season. Christmas did just done, and the speakers and them by the bars and them turn up loud.

The rhythms can deceive yuh. Yuh could get lost in them.

But if getting lost in the things that have conspired to make me is at the heart of my fascination, then I suppose Grampadaddy’s hand is as good a place as any to start to find my way. There:

Motive.

For those still left to consider whether there is a rhetoric here, and whether this particular inquiry of digitized/digital archiving aligns in any way with my scholarly interests and ambitions, I say there is discernible motive:

The urgency of finding a way. The implicit contingency of making a way on your grandfather’s veins where there seems to be no other way, at least none you could see on your own.

On top of that will probably come a more carefully crafted consideration of symbols, their actions, and the inherent tensions between their metonymic aspects and their metaphoric ones, the dynamics of composition–de degree to which this or that is embodied or is simply meant to evoke the body, mine or his, or whomever’s, as well as…etc., etc.

That will come because it must. Because that is what I do. It’s kinda my thing.

Fuh now, though, is only this hand, with some keys, digitized to show the veins.

And I good with that.

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