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PoCo Mas/ A Poetics of Salvage and Speculation in the Caribbean Diaspora

  • Author(s): Thomas, Cathy Theresa
  • Advisor(s): Lau, Kimberly J
  • Perks, Micah
  • et al.
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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License

In this hybrid dissertation, “Poco Mas/A Poetics of Salvage and Speculation in the Caribbean Diaspora,” I address broader questions of how the concept of salvage,—in its conflicting dualism of its ability to describe the prior experience of wreck and loss or to describe an experience of recovery and repair—engages the ways blackness and sexualized embodiment take up space in the Western imagination. I look at racial and gendered representations of (mostly) Afrodiasporic bodies of the Anglophone Caribbean and the material realities they experience(d) as diasporic subjects to generate discussions interested in exploring a historically unprecedented "post-human" future attentive to long histories of racialization, colonization, and enslavement. I assert that diaspora is a key site for theorizing Caribbean writing from where a generative consciousness opens up a corresponding archive—enmeshing salvage and speculation—between fictive and actual bodies that allows the writing, and thus the writer, to simultaneously represent allegorical and political sites across space and time.

Part One of the dissertation, “Cartographies of Salvage and Speculation,” is divided into two sections and considers the lasting effects and slow violences of colonial knowledge-production. In section one, “‘Come Back to Jamaica:’ Notes on Salvaging Paradise,” I close read novels by Oonya Kempadoo locating tourism, migration, carnival, and dark humor in desires shaped from a diverse legacy of epistemologies and imaginaries but connected by diasporic and transnational identities and dislocations. In section two, “Wynter is Coming: Or, How the Creative Critical Speculations of ‘Semantically-Neurochemically Activated’ Cosmogonies Narrates the Caribbean,” I bring into focus Sylvia Wynter’s transdisciplinary critique of liberal humanism. Wynter’s concept of science of the word is a generative site of inquiry for which I critically and creatively engage growing scholarship on feminist epistemology and methodology, Caribbean carnival, as well as Afrofuturism and Afrosurrealism. Drawing on this and my own theoretic impulses, I conceptualize new discursive frames from which the survival of social, political, and physical life rely.

Part Two, PoCo Mas, are linked stories. Plotting reverberates from 2036, when cataclysmic storm systems and their life-altering impact are collectively renamed and remembered as Diáspora. Subsequent oceanic disasters cause tide-altering currents from which human, plant, animal, and manufacturing detritus make a reverse Middle Passage voyage where mourners, auctioneers, and scientists collect tissue samples and the sea. Decades after Diáspora, these natural(ized) disasters reshape human-nature-word relations. Epigraphs mobilizing a range of intellectual histories float between stories as Detritus to carry provocations inciting relationality rather than rationality to examine extreme loss. From the wreck, people salvage a unique set of sumptuary codes, linguistic creolizations, politico-spiritual alignments, and manners bringing forth a “semantically-neurochemically activated” (Wynter) cosmology. In this way, my protagonist is a sociogenic figuration of what could be called Wynter’s Man3, the post-human post-“Diáspora” being.

My writing is conceptually and intellectually positioned within a series of expanding frames in which humanism, race, and catastrophe overlap. With both halves of this dissertation, it is possible to trace and understand, in a broad sense, the continuities of epistemic and ontological anti-black racism registered in the Caribbean. This dissertation is informed by the (re)turn to experimental poetics and autoethnography in Black Studies, a synthesis of feminist thought drawn from prose, poetry, critique, and decolonial science fiction and fantasy, the attention to carnival’s paradoxical transnational context as both cultural disseminator and global commodity in Caribbean Studies, and the turn to ecology in Postcolonial Studies.

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This item is under embargo until September 20, 2021.