Study Day, University of Kent, 2nd September 2022
‘I bent down
Listening to the land
But all I heard was tongueless whispering.’
Martin Carter, ‘Listening to the Land’
This study day will investigate the conjuncture of the ecological and the translational in Caribbean creativity and thought. What happens if we attend to Caribbean ecologies as both agents and subjects of translation? What might be hidden or revealed by approaching Caribbean environments through a space between languages? The study day will explore this topic in a literal sense by bringing together contributions on engagements with the ecological in the different languages of the Caribbean, and asking how far attention to the ecological can enable new forms of movement within and beyond the archipelago. It will also do this metaphorically, asking what arises in the space between the language of the land and that of the person listening. When we listen to the land, what language(s) does it speak and how might these be translated?
Contributions are invited on material in any Caribbean language including French, English, Spanish, Creoles and Dutch.
Caribbean writers have long grappled with the violent translations of colonialism and its aftermath, elaborating theories of what we might call translation’s remainder, that which remains resistantly outside the purview of colonial language and thought, from Kamau Brathwaite’s nation language to Glissant’s opacité to Vété-Congolo’s ‘Pawòl’ (Kamau Brathwaite 1984, Glissant 1990, Vété-Congolo 2018).
Recent years have seen increasing focus on the environmental dimensions of Caribbean writing (DeLoughrey, Gosson and Handley 2005, Campbell and Niblett 2016, Hardwick 2016). Equally, there has been an increasing recognition in ecocriticism of the need to move beyond a focus on anglophone texts and environments (Heise 2008).
Contemporary Caribbean environments can be seen as translated environments in many senses: colonization began with an act of renaming in the language(s) of the colonizer, followed by the violent erasure of Caribbean languages through the decimation of indigenous people. The land was worked by transported and enslaved speakers of Fon, Yoruba and Wolof, among many other African languages. This violent uprooting of people was accompanied by a literal uprooting of plants, as modern Caribbean environments were formed by the bearing across of trees, animals and seeds from other continents (Tinsley 2010). In our own time, images of Caribbean landscapes circulate in the translated idiom of the tourist brochure.
Yet, as Martin Carter’s lines suggest, Caribbean environments translate as well as being translated, enabling movements between languages and cultures. The common figures of plantations surrounded by resisting hills, and islands washed by a common sea belie the political (dis)affiliatons imposed by colonizing nations. Carter imagines the land holding a ‘tongueless whispering’, a rustle on the edge of comprehensible speech that could be one voice or many voices, an expression of pain or an expression of resilience, an indigenous language, an African language, a colonially conceived Creole, or something in between.
The encounter evoked by Carter is a moment when the visible and the invisible, the seen and the heard, the human and the land meet and criss-cross, as both the land and the person stooping to hear it become listening translators and translating listeners. By engaging with the criss-crossing of such categories in Caribbean writing and thought on the environment, this study day hopes to deepen and enrich understanding of both the translational and the ecological.
Confirmed keynote speaker: Dr Sharae Deckard, University College Dublin
Study day participants are invited to submit proposals for twenty minute papers on the following (non-exhaustive) list of themes:
- Comparative approaches to Caribbean environments
- Gender and the environment in the Caribbean
- The chlordécone scandal
- Volcanic landscapes
- The environment and revolt
- Caribbean ecologies and tourism
- Coastal ecologies
- Slavery and the environment
- The environment and capitalism
- Words for Caribbean flora and fauna, their etymologies and translations
- Positionality of scholars working on Caribbean environments
Travel bursaries may be available to graduate students and early career scholars with no other sources of funding.
300 word abstracts should be sent along with a short biography to Sara-Louise Cooper at email@example.com by 6th May 2022.