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Cultural Conundrums

Gender, Race, Nation, and the Making of Caribbean Cultural Politics

Natasha Barnes

Publication Year: 2006

Cultural Conundrums investigates the passions of race, gender, and national identity that make culture a continually embattled public sphere in the Anglophone Caribbean today. Academics, journalists, and ordinary citizens have weighed in on the ideological meanings to be found in the minutiae of cultural life, from the use of skin-bleaching agents in the beauty rituals of working-class Jamaican women to the rise of sexually suggestive costumes in Trinidad’s Carnival. Natasha Barnes traces the use of cultural arguments in the making of Caribbean modernity, looking at the cultural performances of the Anglophone Caribbean—cricket, carnival, dancehall, calypso, and beauty pageants—and their major literary portrayals. Barnes historicizes the problematic linkage of culture and nation to argue that Caribbean anticolonialism has given expressive culture a critical place in the region’s identity politics. Her provocative readings of foundational thinkers C. L. R. James and Sylvia Winters will engender discussion and debate among the Caribbean intellectual community. This impressively interdisciplinary study will make important contributions to the fields of Afro-diaspora studies, postcolonial studies, literary studies, performance studies, and sociology. “Postcolonial cultural criticism is celebrated for its mastery of generalization and condemned for its inability to historicize. Cultural Conundrums is unique in its ability to find a middle ground. It touches on some of the most important and contentious issues in the field. This book will account for why it was in those small islands that what we now call cultural studies was invented.” --Simon Gikandi, Princeton University Natasha Barnes is Associate Professor of African American Studies and English at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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Prologue: Josephine Beheaded

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pp. 1-18

There is a spectacle in Martinique’s gracious Savane park that is hard to miss. The statue honoring one of the island’s most famous citizens, Josephine Tascher, the white creole woman who was to become Napoleon’s lover, wife, and empress, is defaced in the most curious and creative of ways. Her head is missing; she has been decapitated. But this is no ordinary defacement...

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1. Gender & Caribbean Play

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pp. 19-70

If the story about Martinican headscarves maps women as dubious figures for the celebration of a modern Caribbean subjectivity, the culmination of independence movements in the 1960s rendered invisible women’s participation in the anticolonial struggle. In Jamaica, the anglophone Caribbean island perhaps most preoccupied with constructing and popularizing a new public sphere for the showcasing of its postcolonial identity...

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2. The Utopic Popular: Trinidad's Carnival

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pp. 71-98

Like the withheld kiss, C. L. R. James’s triumphs are small gestures of the performative—those of the “flea whose itch . . . make[s] all Power wince,” as Derek Walcott brilliantly puts it in “The Spoiler’s Return.”1 James was thoroughly captivated by the uniqueness and mastery of Caribbean style. His constant veneration of the historic specialness of Caribbean identity made him, even as an old man witnessing the corrosion...

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3. The Dystopic Popular: Jamaica's Dancehall

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pp. 99-134

When Edouard Glissant yearns for a new Carnival aesthetic to emerge out of the ossified tourist spectacles that Martinique’s pre-Lenten festival has become,1 the reader senses that Glissant would approve of the symbolic economies at work in the Bournehills masquerade presented in Paule Marshall’s 1969 novel The Chosen Place, The Timeless People.2 This community’s annual reenactment of the Cuffee Ned slave rebellion...

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4. Reluctant Matriarch: Sylvia Wynter & the Woman Question

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pp. 135-173

At the heart of this chapter lies a major conundrum for Caribbean feminism and its history as a late development of emergent politics: why did the nationalist movements of the 1950s and 1960s not inaugurate a progressive identity politics where gender as well as race can be equally relevant categories of anticolonial resistance. This is not to say that the sociopolitical and...

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Conclusion: On Violence

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pp. 174-183

All the present discontents surrounding the interplay of race, nation, and cultural hero were mobilized in the anglophone Caribbean with the news that Michael “Mickey” Smith, a Jamaican dub poet and raconteur of the bewilderment of the present, was stoned to death outside his Kingston home in 1983. Much was made—socially and poetically—about the meanings of his murder. For commentators both in Jamaica and abroad...


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pp. 185-210


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pp. 211-226

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025749
E-ISBN-10: 0472025740
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472069392
Print-ISBN-10: 047206939X

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 16 illustrations
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 593295444
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Cultural Conundrums

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Caribbean Area -- Social conditions.
  • Caribbean Area -- Race relations.
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