Remediation and Diaspora: Kamau Brathwaite’s Video-Style

  • Carrie Noland


Does Kamau Brathwaite’s ConVERSations with Nathaniel Mackey (1997) represent a step forward—or at least away—from the aesthetic ontology of his 1981 “History of the Voice”?


Nation Language Hard Drive Oral Performance Page Layout Diacritical Mark 
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  1. 6.
    In an interview published in 1993, Brathwaite states: “The pentameter is involved with the march, left right, left right. When you get into the pentameter you are dealing with imperialist fact”: Three Caribbean Poets on Their Work: E. Kamau Brathwaite, Mervyn Morris, Lorna Goodison, ed. Victor I. Chang, Foreword by Michael J. Dash (Mona, Jamaica: Institute of Caribbean Studies, U of West Indies, 1993), 3. Aldon Lynn Nielsen has written thoughtfully on the dangers inherent in positing a strict dichotomy between pretechnological or oral forms (invariably associated with Africans and peoples “without writing”) and technological, or scriptural forms (invariably associated with white Europeans) in Black Chant: Languages of African-American Postmodernism (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997). As he points out in the introduction, “Even the most lifelike literary representations of colloquial speech only infrequently correspond with exactitude to the recorded utterances of actual speaking subjects” (9).Google Scholar
  2. See also Nathaniel Mackey, Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993).Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    For a provocative version of the argument that all colonial languages—electronic and otherwise—pollute the experience of colonized subjects, see Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Colonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (London: James Currey, 1986).Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    From “Visionary Literacy: Art, Literature and Indigenous African Writing Systems,” lecture delivered at Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco, 24 May 1993, quoted in Nielsen, 36. See also Harryette Mullen, “African Signs and Spirit Writing” in African American Literary Theory: A Reader, ed. Winster Napier (New York: New York UP, 2000), 623–642.Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    I therefore disagree with Charles W. Pollard, who states in New World Modernisms: T. S. Eliot, Derek Walcott, and Kamau Brathwaite that the “Sycorax video-style extend[s] this initial insight to alter the graphic conventions of writing in order to convey the sound of nation language more precisely” (Charlottesville: Virginia UP, 2004, 11); see also pp. 114 –129 and 173 –178, and Gordon Rohlehr, “‘Black Sycorax, My Mother’: Brathwaite’s Reconstruction of The Tempest” in For the Geography of the Soul: Emerging Perspectives on Kamau Brathwaite (Trenton, N.J.: African World P, 2001).Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    Jean-François Lyotard, Discours/Figure (Paris: Klincksieck, 1985).Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1962)Google Scholar
  8. and Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time, vol. 1, trans. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1998).Google Scholar
  9. 17.
    Brathwaite may also be responding to a tradition of poetic writing engaged in the graphemic reproduction of sound associated with Charles Olson; on the importance of typography in twentieth-century American poetry, see Jerome McGann, Black Riders: The Visible Language of Modernism (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993)Google Scholar
  10. and Lesley Wheeler, Voicing American Poetry: Sound and Performance from the 1920s to the Present (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2008).Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    McLuhan: “The stripping of the senses and the interruption of their interplay in tactile synesthesia may well have been one of the effects of the Gutenberg technology” (17); see also his observations on the kinesthetic effects of silent reading (87–88) and Cynthra James, “Caliban in Y2K?—Hypertext and New Pathways” in For the Geography of a Soul: Emerging Perspectives on Kamau Brathwaite, ed. Timothy J. Reiss (Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (1967), trans. and intro. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (New York: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976).Google Scholar
  13. 20.
    Mark Poster, The Second Media Age (Cambridge: Polity P, 1995) and The Mode of Information: Mode of Production Versus Mode of Information (Cambridge: Polity P; and New York: Blackwell, 1984).Google Scholar
  14. 21.
    I treat Glissant’s notion of “creolization” in my Introduction; see Edouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse, trans. and intro. J. Michael Dash (Charlottesville: U of Virginia, 1989).Google Scholar
  15. 22.
    Graeme Rigby, “Publishing Brathwaite: Adventures in the Video Style,” in The Critical Response to Kamau Brathwaite, ed. Emily Allen Williams (Westport, Conn. and London: Praeger, 2004), 261.Google Scholar

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© Carrie Noland and Barrett Watten 2009

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  • Carrie Noland

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