- What is This Thing Called Callaloo?:An Introduction
for his voice gets lost in the swamp of hunger,
and there is nothing, really nothing to squeeze out of this little brat,
other than a hunger which can no longer climb to the rigging of his voice
a sluggish flabby hunger,
a hunger buried in the depth of the Hunger of this famished morne.Aimé Césaire1
. . . We cannot solve the problem of poverty and hunger. Since the goal of our mode of production is not to produce for human beings in general, it's to provide the material conditions of our existence for the production and reproduction of our present conception of being human: to secure the well-being, therefore, of those of us, the global middle classes, who have managed to attain its ethno-class criterion . . . Yet, that plot, that slave plot on which the slave grew food for his/her subsistence, carried over a millennially other conception of the human to that of Man's. . . . So that plot exists as a threat. It speaks to other possibilities. And it is out of that plot that the new and now planetary-wide and popular musical humanism of our times is emerging.Sylvia Wynter2
. . . Although, as Hume says, critics can reason more plausibly than cooks, they still share the same fate.Immanuel Kant3
Kalalou pa maje ak yon sèl dwèt.Creole Proverb4
After thirty years and 106 issues, the question that lingers for many who encounter Callaloo, and which the journal has never sought to answer beyond printing a recipe and a brief reflection in its inaugural issue, is: what is it?5 To what does callaloo refer? Simply, not a thing. Begun in 1976, the journal itself is the record of a three-decades-long process of making concrete a sound, to feed an aesthetic. What lies behind that sound are metaphor, [End Page 14] translation, invention, and the processes by which people satisfy the hunger of a new rootedness. Charles H. Rowell's seduction by a word that neither he nor assistant professor Leila H. Taylor could spell leads us thirty years later to a unique exploration of the relationship between material practice, aesthetic culture, and oral tradition in the African Diaspora.
Conspicuously, this anniversary issue is about the significance of callaloo, the journal and the food. It began as a compilation of some of the manifestations of the vegetable and dish, callaloo, in Black Diaspora cuisine and the reach and resonance of the journal in that diaspora. The journal was founded, initially, as response to what Rowell saw as the northern bias of the aestheticism of the 1960s and 1970s Black Arts Movement in the United States, and the movement's rejection of Black Southern culture as an inauthentic source of African culture in the New World.6 That singular rejection of the idea of an uncorrupted African culture has led Rowell over the years to reach into the diaspora, to expand his vision to create a representational space for global Southern culture.7 The journal has consistently embraced this potential with its issue on Native American literatures and issues on Puerto Rico, Haiti, Cuba, and the more recent one on Afro-Mexican literature and culture. At the same time, it has offered us new ways of thinking about black diapora cultures. That pursuit has been so successful that Marlon B. Ross queries in his reflection, "what does it mean to belong to the African Diaspora when the ancestors' common tongues cannot bind the belated body to articulated sound?"8 Callaloo, Ross finds, has not confirmed a diaspora of blood, culture, or language. Rather, in rejecting the notion that such forms of continuity exist, or need to exist, the journal has allowed him to see and experience the African Disaspora as a thing of dissonance and confluence, as both "rooted and floated." For Ross, the journal's refusal to affirm or (re)inscribe a sui generis notion of diaspora culture has produced "identity vertigo" but not the kind that leads to a sense of loss, confusion or postmodern anxiety.
For this issue, tracing the appearances of caruru...