Tag Archives: rhetoric

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.

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

Rhetoric and the Stoning of Rachel Jeantel

These are the facts:

Granny solved the issue for me pretty early.

She called me “black boy.”
I answered easily, lovingly.

Of course, I didn’t know there was an issue that needed solving, steeped, as I was, in my own naïveté–a condition no doubt precipitated by the time spent in my mother’s womb. And besides, who runs around a few years later–jumping over ravines, hunting birds by slingshot (“pull-and-go” rubber, not “pull-and-stop”), pitching marbles badly in the dusty rings of cocoyea broom-swept yards, and finding other manners of mischief to occupy the mind–and still finds the time to think about the blackness of one’s skin? Well, you. You, if you were one of us. I know that I was not the only one, nor were the children I played with in any way unique in our knowledge that we were, indeed, black. Black and, thus, different. We didn’t need to know that. Didn’t need to make the connections, to deduce and conclude, and so we made little effort to. You see, “difference” was as default a condition as our naïveté at that age. And at that age, a few years outside the womb, where there was no longer any amniotic fluid to filter the noise of a world only experience and adulthood would allow us to make sense of, we relied instinctively on the experience of our forbears.

But filters fail from time to time, as we know. So when a “brown-skin” girl I loved told me I was “too black to wear yellow,” it was nothing less than a laceration on my soul. “Kids are cruel” is what we’ve learned to say, which is shorthand for dealing inadequately with our hurt. And when her sister, equally brown, fell in love with a man as black as I was, the pain of preference bore a certain tint. A deeper hurt.

More lacerations came, along with the coagulations and resulting scars that have taken deceptively simpler, axiomatic forms and have since connected themselves to the mind and heart:

black and beautiful
black and stupid
blacker the berry
black and ugly


And so it is that following an airing of the Dark Girls documentary on the OWN network the other night, I got into a brief twitter exchange with Dr. Yaba Blay, who wrote an article for Clutch Magazine in response. In that article, Color Me Beautiful: A Dark Girl Reflects on “Dark Girls,” Blay noted–correctly, and, for my part, thankfully–that missing from the documentary was a sense of nuance–complexities and subtleties. According to Blay:

The voice of the confident, assured, self-affirming, self-loving, “I wish you would tell me I’m not the ish” sister, who although she can relate to the pain refuses to stay stuck in it and has somehow figured out how to find beauty in her reflection. We needed that voice, not to distract from or to negate the experiences of pain, but rather to balance them with the capacity for triumph, if the purpose of the dialogue is in fact our healing.

My response to the article was succint:

@fiyawata boom goes the mfkn dynamite.

It was an unveiled reference to Scandal, a tv series we find ourselves tweeting about. We mused on the possibility of a “dark boys” documentary and whether the commensurate hashtag–#darkboys–was yet a thing. It was. I went about my business, thinking about how I could join the conversation and express some of the nuance that Blay challenged me–all of us, really–to bring to the fore. Nuance was all around me, but you know how things go. Things come up, and we get caught up. I’ve explained this a little bit before. Nuance was all around, and someone else more capable would take it up and make of it what it deserved to be.

We academic types must be judicious in how we pick our battles and our projects, after all.

I tend to view a great deal of things as a rhetorician, so I acknowledged the deeper, more implicit challenge–that the purpose of dialogues about trauma ought to be oriented toward healing–as a key example of how rhetoric can lead to meaningful outcomes for those directly and indirectly involved. Then I just kinda passed the plate. Others would take it up.

Then came Rachel Jeantel, a key ear witness for the prosecution in George Zimmerman’s trial for the second degree murder of Trayvon Martin, a child. But this is about Rachel Jeantel. She is black. She is 19. Her friend is dead. The man who killed him sits in the same room a few feet away. These are the facts.

Much has been made of Jeantel’s testimony over her two days on the stand, which has stoked people’s passions beyond the immediacy of the trial. This is not to say that people have forgotten that Trayvon Martin ended his life face down in wet grass on February 26, 2012. People haven’t forgotten that George Zimmerman pulled the trigger and now sees his freedom hanging in the balance in a Florida court.

Pass the plate, Kevin, pass the plate. Yeah, nah.

Rachel Jeantel is black. She is plus-sized. Some would say she is fat. Some would chuckle, others would laugh, and (lucky for us) others will be reminded of other public shamings and remind us of the inherent problem with this. On Twitter, exemplifying the latter, Joan Morgan (@milfinainteasy) pointed out that:

[T]he defense simply strategizes that her black, female body makes her foreign and suspicious enough to cast doubt on her credibility…but the real tragedy is that this strategy can always rely on black folks self-hatred to help it right along.

Even more was made of her language. She speaks Black English. Atlantic Creole. African American Vernacular English. Ebonics. Black sound. She also speaks Haitian Kreyol and Spanish. These three, Jeantel noted, were the languages she grew up speaking.

Never mind that, though.

Predictably, others in social media and on tv have taken it up and have begun debating whether the attacks by the defense or her stereotypically black reactions to them were more objectionable. Lest there be any confusion where I stand on this, let me be clear that I think Rachel Jeantel’s composure was commendable, especially so given the context, and I challenge anyone to maintain such composure while being harrassed, as Jeantel was by defense attorney Don West (as is his, or any defense attorney’s, prerogative), about what you really heard on the phone the night your friend was followed, interrogated, wrestled with, shot, and killed. Maintain your composure then.

Rachel Jeantel is not just a black woman, she is very black. Darker than I am. She is the kind of black that rests at the heart of traumatic connotations and self-hatred. The kind of demeanor that Lolo Jones sought to make fun of by comparing her to Tyler Perry’s “Madea” and which was described as disrespectful, immature, uneducated, and so on and so forth into the far too familiar territory of angry black bodies–bodies cursed to be grotesque and unsophisticated as the natural consequence of an indelibly black skin. Talk about shade, right? Right? She is, like many of us are: marked as different by default. This is a principle with which we are supremely familiar. But she could handle it–and did–right? As Rachel Samara, writing for Global Grind has noted, “Rachel was raw, emotional, aggressive and hostile, and she was unapologetically herself.” Agreed, to a point. To a point because I wouldn’t want to conflate the elements of Samara’s list. With Blay’s charge still fresh, I went in search of nuance–most of which I’ve restricted to my Twitter timeline. Among other things, I noted that, “Black language is on trial.” I should have added that black language–visual, oral, and aural–was also on display.

We saw and (mis)interpreted the kinesic features, such as her “cut-eyes” when she determined a question was ridiculous. We heard the tonal semantics or paraliguistic features embedded in the range of “Yes, Sir” responses. You remember that thing Jeantel did with her mouth? That was a steups. In my book, Tropic Tendencies, I discuss the steups:

The steups… is used to express disgust, disrespect, insubordination, impatience, anger, and frustration. Conversely, it is also used to effectively show empathy, regret, and relief. [It] also communicate[s] that the practitioner intends to be seen and heard by the subject. (62)

Unfortunately, what is missed is very often missed by choice. Never mind that the languages we all speak are nothing if not consistent and subject to logical rules and discernible redundancies. You know, a grammar. There’s a grammar in play, for example, when she said, “I coulda heard,” which could mean either “I could hear” or “I could have heard.” In both cases, the tense used could refer to something that actually occurred, even though the latter could also be read as possibly having happened. We don’t need to get but so technical, here.

Regardless of complexity, speakers of black languages have historically been and continue to be maligned in the classroom and wider society–that is, marked primarily in the context of cultural, educational, and sociolinguistic models of deficit. From that point of view, it is the speaker who lacks the intelligence, skill, capital, and credibility to be effective. Not that the listener has either failed or refused to listen to what was being said. A person subject to deficit lacks the polish, the sense of sophistication that would garner respectability in the mainstream. This is not news. As you can imagine, the criticism was all too familiar and far too easy to find–such that it was likened to a social media stoning. Rachel Jeantel’s body, her brain. I made no attempt to apprise myself of that firestorm. Not news. Naturally, as in any asymmetrical power dynamic, speakers of the nonstandardized language have to defer to the speakers of the stanardized language:

West: “Can you understand English?”
Jeantel: “I can understand you.”

Think of Jeantel’s response as demonstration of a kind of forced versatility and a common characteristic of vernacular education. We speakers of black language have had to deal with this kind of discrimination in every aspect of our personal and public lives. As a consequence, we are forced to make hard choices about how we represent ourselves as language users–these, academic types like myself will corroborate, are examples of complex rhetorical choices that demonstrate the practitioner’s awareness of a situation and (often) her conscious response to it. You see, the response would have to be conscious because, unless completely beaten down, a practitioner like Rachel Jeantel would be unlikely to “just take it” without the impulse to talk back or fight back. Yes, Sir. There are other processes at play that show Rachel Jeantel to be a particularly astute practitioner of black rhetoric, but you get it, right?

Regardless of what you hear, or are led to believe, ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is ignorance. There is no satisfactory synonym, no substitute for not knowing, which is why you often hear the term ignorance paired with the adjective “plain” (and about as much as you hear the above pairings). And, try as we may, there is no known process for someone else knowing something for you–it’s one of those things you must do on your own. You must draw upon what you would like to know (motive) and find a balance with what you happen to know (memory). It’s a process. What will Rachel Jeantel remember of all this? What attitudes toward white people will linger, whether justice is served or not? Will there be any exoneration for her language, her confusion on the stand, her apparent failure to parse the nuances of culture and community, her exasperation? What will she deduce and conclude from this time in her life?

I don’t really know (can’t know) but I have to ask because this is where I find myself, right now: in the echo chamber that is my mind. Maybe it is that all things begin in the mind, that vast reservoir of memories and motives that seem to shape us regardless of whether we are aware or not. Maybe not. Right now, though, this is where I find myself: obliged to consider what occurs at the intersection of memory and motive, of what I know and what I can prove. Once there, knowing little and proving nothing, I am obliged to consider what and who I see.

Right now, I see Rachel Jeantel.

Obviously, this is not about Rachel Jeantel the person. I don’t know her personally and have the impulse to reject attempts–say, by major news networks–to “get to know who she is.” General curiosity aside, I understand that the Rachel Jeantel I saw on the news is a representation–a symbol–upon which we could but shouldn’t heap fears, frustrations, proclivities, prejudices.

I don’t know the child whose friend was murdered.

This is not about her. It is about a challenge that I have failed. In a way, I had to fail. Because there was no nuance that I could see in how Rachel Jeantel was treated on the stand, try as I did to look for it. Condescension is not nuanced; it is raw, uncompromising, and unmistakable. It is neither soft nor smooth. Abuse is never subtle. And yes, condescension is a form of abuse–it is meant to demean, undermine, ridicule. Never mind that.

In the end, I had to fail because Rachel Jeantel is a effin boss, because in the end (or by the end of the news cycles that often define us or our timelines), it is clear that Rachel Jeantel–whoever she may turn out to be in the wake of this–never needed me to come to her defense. Instead, this “confident, assured, self-affirming, self-loving, ‘I wish you would tell me I’m not the ish’ sister, who although she can relate to the pain refuses to stay stuck in it and has somehow figured out how to find beauty in her reflection” has come to mine, a black man whose grandmother once called him “black boy.”

Abrahams, Roger. Everyday Lives: A Poetics of Vernacular Practices. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2005.
Gilyard, Keith. True to the Language Game: African American Discourse, Cultural Politics, and Pedagogy. New York: Routledge, 2011.
Mufwene, Salikoko, ed. Africanisms in Afro-American Language Varieties. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1993.
Richardson, Elaine. African American Literacies. New York: Routledge, 2003.
Rickford, John. African American Vernacular English. Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1999.
Smitherman, Geneva. Talkin and Testifyin: the Language of Black America. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1986.

This essay was published on July 9, 2013 in Enculturation, a refereed journal that explores contemporary theories of rhetoric, writing, and culture. You can download the pdf here.

Thesis Statements (Of Sorts)

Cliches are cliches because they embody a recognizable logic, if not a basic truth that is as undeniable as it is annoying (particularly when used in small talk). Remixed, this particular one goes something like:

Ask any writer, any arranger of words, images, sound, or any of those combined, and you will hear that what we do is hard. Not for the faint of heart, pen, fingers, etc.

My colleagues and friends and students will readily attest, as will my Mom. As will I, for that matter. Despite a few decades proving the contrary, many still seem to think that the text emerges already polished from the mind of the writer whose intelligence, sophistication, and experience have all cooperated on the writer’s behalf (and conspired against the student/writer who, once assigned to write on this or that matter of crucial import, must now struggle to do so at the risk of grades and the like).

My sympathy is there—with the struggling writer—because as a writing teacher, I have had both cause and occasion to consider my own process—though, only to minimal effect.

Nevertheless, as part of that consideration, I’ve realized that I’ve taken a number of things for granted—specific to my point in this post, I’ve taken for granted the fact that all the texts I produce have meaning in terms of conception, methodology, and practice. I don’t know why I’ve let that fact slide, especially when knowing, and acting on what is known, is at the heart of my work and of my conception of what we do as vernacular practitioners of every life. Have I forgotten that I intend to practice what I…theorize? No. Have I decided to recant and start anew with an idea that what we do amounts to nothing? No. Is it an internal contradiction I’ve yet to resolve? I don’t think so. Me and my demons are good. The reason is frightfully mundane, I’m afraid: I got caught up. Doing things. Living. Trying to make ends meet. Simple as that. Funny, I imagined this admission with a bit more flourish. I could try restating, but no.

I got caught up.

I’m continuously revisiting the latter parts of this circuitous path that I took to get to it. The book didn’t just happen—couldn’t just happen. These early articulations—the semi-literate scribblings in notebooks—ought not be relegated to the nether regions of untapped memory, dry-rotting in the mind like an unkept artifact.

Page One of Notebook One, 2008
Page One of Notebook One, 2008

Instead, I’m interested in whether anyone else would be interested in how this notion of Caribbean Rhetoric was originally articulated, how it developed, how it was turned into and on and away from itself, how the ethos of a Caribbean rhetorical theorist was able to coalesce in a recursive process of composition. It’s a huge presumption, I know, but the alternative is unacceptable to me. I’m also interested in having others join me, confident that their ideas and approaches to rhetoric are not only valid but essential. This begins with me doing what being caught up has trained me to do: to take for granted that the texts I have produced over the course of the last few years of thinking about Caribbean Rhetoric do in fact have meaning, that they ought to be preserved, shared, engaged with. It begins with Notebook One, Notebook TwoNotebook Three, and Notebook Four. It begins there because I don’t have a cool answer for why I do what I do, but I want people to know that it is being done. That’s the thing about vocations—that, strangely enough, doing is the ultimate articulation of that which you have been called to do. No cool answers. Only a bunch of flailing questions tethered, as it were, to a basic statement. On Page One of Notebook One, I write:

My idea is to posit Cbean rhetorical forms as the sine qua non of the superisland ethos.

We’ll see.


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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:


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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Us as Kids (1976)

Us as Kids, San Fernando, Trinidad, 1976
Us as Kids, San Fernando, Trinidad, 1976

It is this simple: I want to be remembered. I look at this picture of myself and my cousins–Leonel on my right, Dionne to my left, Rhonda behind me, and Noel behind her–and feel sad that my nostalgia for other things is not as effective here. It shouldn’t be like that, but this is what it has come to.

It’s tempting, of course, to opt for the obvious symbolism as I grasp at straws for a language to explain what I mean. Symbolism, a domain I frequent. The matrix stands out (but, truthfully, it can scarcely receive more of a mention than this, reserved mostly for this or that conclave of skeptics and cynics with whom I tend to keep company from time to time). It’s enough to say that the framing was deliberate–perhaps as deliberate as the steel frame that taught us too well about gravity and texture. But this is how temptation works, I suppose. So it’s best to take it in stride.

The sadness is a trump card, though. A far better frame for my regrets, for things I miss and have missed. Funny how the regrets pile up in proportion to what we have not done, rather than the alterations we think we’ve made to history. No such luck, we find out. Often too late.

What happens then? When, having been put through the ringer, we come face to face with the stark limitations of an “all-too-humanness?” Hard to say conclusively, but (for me, at least) I turn to words. There’s a prophecy embedded somewhere in that: “turning to words.” A possible transformation. A wish. A story coming to pass (because, as the people say, What ent meet yuh ent pass yuh). So here it is: a project on a conception of the self whose beginnings are etched out in public, like an idea that through practice calls itself into account.

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