October 22, 2014

Resisting Against the System: Kreyòl, Patwa & the Matrix of Maroonage

Professor Geoffrey Philp traces the origins of language suppression as a tool of colonial policy in the Caribbean and the various forms of resistance in the work of Haitian and Jamaican writers such as  Manno Charlemagne, Bob Marley, Louise Bennett, and Felix Morrisseau-Leroy.

Geoffrey Philp, author of the e-book, Bob Marley and Bradford’s iPod, has also written five collections of poetry, two children's e-books, and two short story collections. An award winning writer, Philp is one of the few writers whose work has been published in the Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories and the Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse. He teaches English and creative writing at Miami Dade college where he is chair of Developmental Education at the North Campus.

"Preserving Global Creole Cultures and Languages"

International Creole Month

Thursday, October 23, 2014.   
9:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Room 3249.
North Campus Conference Center, 
Miami Dade College

Resisting Against The System

October 20, 2014

Book Review: A Brief History of Seven Killings

A Brief History of Seven Killings

When New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani described A Brief History of Seven Killings as “epic in every sense of that word,” I thought my reaction would be similar to Dr. Johnson’s response to another epic, Paradise Lost: “None could have wished it a word longer.” Coming in at just under seven hundred pages with a cast of at least seventy-six named characters from the laconic Josey Wales to the inscrutable Nina Burgess, A Brief History of Seven Killings spans three decades of Jamaican history during the post-independence era.

While A Brief History of Seven Killings could be reduced to the chronicle of Rolling Stone journalist, Alex Pierce, who stumbles on to information about the assassination of Bob Marley, which puts his own life in danger, that would be only one of the plots. And such a reductionist view would be a grave injustice to this monumental work. For Marlon James is updating many of the questions raised in Jamaican classics such as Brother Man, an exploration of the influence of Rastafari; Voices Under the Window, which captured the race, class, and colour conflicts of Jamaican culture, and The Children of Sisyphus, a Dantesque vision of a Jamaican ghetto. 

James is also asking questions that affect the life of every Jamaican at home and abroad: Why was the CIA involved in the destabilization of the Jamaican government from 1972-79? Why did the peace movement fall apart? Why would anyone try to kill the famed prophet of reggae and Rastafari? Only a writer with the prodigious talent and assiduous attention to the craft of storytelling that Mr. James possesses could have attempted such an ambitious project and created this spellbinding narrative. As someone who lived through those turbulent times and who is knowledgeable about many of the facts, rumors, and half-truths about the attempted assassination, I was impressed not only by James’s approach, but also with his treatment of the events surrounding December 3, 1976.

Perhaps, the most intriguing aspect of this novel is the shift in perspectives. Just when I thought I knew a character such as Josey Wales, the brutal leader of the Storm posse, I found myself in the middle of a tender scene between him and his son: “I smile with the boy so that he don’t feel like I threatening him too much, but he is sixteen now, and I still remember sixteen, so I know the hunger growing in him. All this talking back is moving from a little cute to a little threat. Part of it sweet me, seeing this little shit puff him chest out.” Or another killer, Weeper, who reads books such as Bertrand Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy and will not hesitate to murder and maim, yet still finds time to enjoy moments with his lover: “He thinking I going to be the one to look away first, but I not going look away and I not going to even blink.”

A Brief History of Seven Killings, which was dubbed the “Great Jamaican Novel” by Fader, has rightly earned this title. For even after six hundred and eighty eight pages, I was still concerned about the fates of Alex Pierce and the enigmatic changeling, Nina Burgess. Or whatever she calls herself these days.