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Ti Dial at Ion

Ti Dial at Ion

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Published by Ash Smith
Tid(e)lation and The Margins of The Page in The Work of Kamau Brathwaite
Tid(e)lation and The Margins of The Page in The Work of Kamau Brathwaite

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Published by: Ash Smith on Oct 15, 2010
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Ashley E. SmithDr. Robin CohenPostcolonial LiteratureMay 6
, 2007
Tid(e)ilation and the Margins of the Page in the Work of Kamau Brathwaite
“Before we begin, we haffe discuss SYSTEMS” is how United States Poet JulianaSpahr begins a talk on the influence of Kamau Brathwaite by quoting the opening lines of his book 
MR Magical Realism
.(Spahr 1) The book itself is a collage of historical facts,literary criticism, and re-imagined information in which author crosses continents toweave submerged “New World” presences with recovered “dreamconnections” since thearrival of Christopher Colombus. It is in this sense of addressing the shifting margins andcross-cultural nature of Brathwaite’s work that I would like to consider the formation of avisual poetics that the author has dubbed “Sycorax video style”. It is a style that hehimself has described as coming from the margins of the screen “which, as you know arenot really margins, but electronic accesses to Random Memory…” (Dawes 37)In this case, proceeding as Brathwaite on the seams of the intertextual, I wouldlike to begin with an earlier image lifted from Homi K. Bhabha’s “Signs Taken for Wonders”, which entails “the fortuitous discovery of the English book” (Bhabha 1) in thehands on the colonized outside Delhi. In the story of Annund Messeh, the “catechismist”encounters a group of worshipers who have in their possession a number of printed andhand copied Christian Bibles. Rather that having converted to a British form of Christianity, these worshipers accept the book as given from god to them. In doing so,
2they begin to syncretize autochthonous beliefs with Christian customs in a way thatdestabilizes the Western authority signified by the introduction of the Gutenberg book. Inthis moment, Bhabha notes the form resistance opened by hybridity. From here, I wouldlike to fast forward to 1987, to a poem by Kamau Brathwaite that marks the invention of what he will later call Sycorax video style.mamma!I writin you dis letter/wha?I pun on a computer o/kaylike I join the mercantilists?well not quite! (“X/Self xth letter to the thirteen provinces”
43)In this moment, Brathwaite locates the technology of computer mediated communicationon the European mercantilist side of a digital divide, acknowledging its origins in atechno-industrial complex, but he immediately adapts it to a Caribbean context. By thelast lines of the poem, the act of communication has been to converted to the nearlyspiritual method of “writin in light”(Middle Passages 115). As Stuart Brown notes: “Eventhat phrase carries connotations of the middle passage; one ‘justification’ the slaversmade for the continuing trade in human beings over four centuries was that it deliveredsavages Africans from darkness into the benign light of Christianity…” (Brown 2) InBrathwaite’s poem, the computer is noted as coming from a Euro-American industrialcomplex (as external to the Caribbean), and yet his embrace of it creates a space fromwhich to address the lingering justifications for slave trade and colonialism, but also setsoff a series of creative re-envisionings.From this point in the pre-Sycorax style of the original publication of 
3Brathwaite began to introduce into publication the computer generated typography thatlargely constitutes the video style. The author describes this innovation as coming fromhis “time of salt”. Between the years 1986-1990 Brathwaite was struck by the death of his wife Doris Monica Brathwaite (whom he refers to as Zea Mexican), the destruction of his home and archives by hurricane in Irish Town, Jamaica, and a brutal break in to hisKingston apartment in which a gunman shot him at point blank range in the head. In thisfinal incident, the bullet lodged in the gun, but Brathwaite believes that a “ghost bullet”entered his body rendering him “dead” and incapable of writing by hand afterwards(McSweeney). Thus, Doris Brathwaite’s early MacSE, and what the poet describes as“Sycorax lurking in the corner of the screen” (McSweeney) became a way for the author to reconnect to his earlier work and write through these tragedies and towards publicreconnection. The resultant style is a composite of visual elements: pictorial graphicsintersect with text in varying font sizes, many of which are deliberately pixilated – recalling the dot-matrix effects of early Macintosh computers. Often these cybernetic-infused typographies are brought into contact with normalized type faces, as if challenging the concept of standardized literature and interrogating modes of literarydistribution and reception. In Brathwaite’s own words, the process becomes bothsculptural, spiritual, and a secular extension:“… the video style comes out of the resources locked within the computer, esp myMac Sycorax & Stark (but not particular to them or mwe) in the same way asculptor like Bob’ob or Kapo wd say that the images they make dream for themform the block of the wood in their chiselWhen I discover that the computer cd write in light, as X/Self tells his mother inthat first letter he writes on a computer, I discovered a whole new way of SEEING things I was SAYING…” (Wordsongs & Wordwounds 2)

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