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Playing with the Truth

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Posted: September 26, 2003

I am sure that the Maha Sabha researchers who scan the internet for information on their enemies must be feeling pretty good about themselves. Just run to the internet, get some information, usually negative, and there they have it: an attack, they are sure, is bound to impugn Professor Selwyn Cudjoe's scholarship. They do not have to read the original source-it is so easy to get a review-they do not have to expend any critical thinking-it is so easy to regurgitate what others say-and they do not feel any obligation to be balanced in their observations-that does not allow them to achieve their nefarious purposes. All they have to do is to throw the dirt and some is bound to stick.

In his latest salvo, Mr. Sat Maharaj draws on a review Professor J. David (not Davis as Sat reports) wrote twenty two years ago about my book, Resistance and Caribbean Literature, to denigrate my scholarship (1980) (See Sat Maharaj, "A Torrent of Misinformation" TG., Sept. 16). In his review, Professor Danielson made a compelling case about the shortcomings of my book. I did not contest his views when he offered them and do not wish to do so now.

However, there is another side of the story that I share with the readers. In 1990, in World Literature Written in English, Stephen Slemon made the following observation. He said: "The new binaristic absolutism which seems to come in the wake of First-World accommodation to the fact of post-colonial literary and cultural criticism seems to be working in several ways to drive that trans-national region of ex-colonial settler cultures away from the field of post-colonial literary representation. The Second World of writing within the ambit of colonialism is in danger of disappearing: because it is not sufficiently pure in its anti-colonialism, because it does not offer up an experimental grounding in a common 'Third World' aesthetic, because its modalities of post-coloniality are too ambivalent, too occasional and uncommon, for inclusion within the field. This debate over the scope and nature of the 'post-colonial'...has enormous investments in the second debate,...[I]n fact the idea of both literary and political resistance to colonialist power is the hidden term, the foundational concept, upon which all these distinctions in the modality of the post-colonial' actually rest...The first concept of resistance [as a literary aesthetic] is most clearly put forward by Selwyn Cudjoe in his Resistance and Caribbean Literature and by Barbara Harlow in her book, Resistance Literature" (B. Ashcroft, The Post-Colonial Studies Reader.") In other words, Selwyn Cudjoe was the first scholar in the world to use resistance as a literary aesthetic or, as Slemon notes, Resistance and Caribbean Literature was the first work to advance political and literary resistance as a "foundational concept" in "Third World aesthetic." I am sure that this is a bit heady for a Hindu nationalist but it takes knowledge of literary theory to enter into this debate. Merely mutilating a review (for example, there are no ellipses in Maharaj's quotations) to gain an advantage is not an advisable way to enter into productive discourse.

An appreciation of the academic reception of Resistance and Caribbean Literature cannot be confined to one review. In the first review of this book that was published in the Boston Globe in 1980, Professor Veve Clark of Tufts University wrote as follows. "Cudjoe's work is new and daring...Cudjoe's work is important reading for several reasons. Using a holistic method, he has shown the historical and literary uniqueness of Caribbean literature. It is refreshing to have a literary historian look at creative writing through Caribbean eyes rather than through a supposedly objective lens poised somewhere over the equator. In a decade marked already by fierce hostility towards Marxism and militancy, one can only hope that this very valuable and well-researched study will not be minimized." Professor Clark understood what Professor Danielson did not grasp sufficiently. Necessarily, the first three chapters of my book are "non-literary." They are historical and theoretical. They set a framework within which to collapse the literary since, at that time, there was not a history of Caribbean resistance as I define it in my book. C. L. R. James and others had written about resistance. I looked at what I call political, socio-economic and cultural resistance. Professor Clark understood the inter-relationship between these dimensions of resistance and how they shaped my analysis. This insight made Resistance and Caribbean Literature an important contribution to literary theory internationally. Barbara Harlow's book came six years later in 1986.

One can always disagree about the readability of a book and perhaps a translator possesses a different theoretical lens than a literary theorist. Professor Angus Richmond from the University of London offered the following take on my book: "In the final analysis, this reviewer has to allow that the Harvard professor's book is an outstanding work, well written and comprehensively researched and likely, in spite of its controversial areas, to be invaluable to scholars and critics in the field. Certainly, if Cudjoe sets out to establish a holistic focus, as he states in the introduction, this premise is validated by a plausible analytic method linking art to politics and history. Beside, Caribbean literature, by the uniqueness of the parallel historical experience must lay claim to its own sociology. No useful purpose is served by writing it off merely as an appendage to European or American literary culture' (Race and Class).

Two concepts emerge from this reading: a holistic focus and the linking of art to politics and history. At the end of the 1970s, we were coming out of an age in which some critics were not supposed to venture out from the words upon the pages (Leavis). Other critics argued that because literature reflects (now we would say signify) life one can extract a richer interpretation of the text if one explored the larger socio-historical context in which it is inscribed. Later on, the deconstructionists and the psychoanalysts added other dimensions to our explication of literary texts. Professor Danieldson was correct. I should have paid more attention to the language of the texts I examined.

In the West Indian school of literary criticism-to the degree there was one-no one had ventured far beyond Leavis. In the Caribbean context where slavery, colonialism and indentureship had impinged so deeply into our historical consciousness one had to look closer to see how these realities shaped both the form and content of creative writing. This insight led Karina Williamson, writing in Notes and Queries, to predict that Resistance and Caribbean Literature "is sure to become a landmark in the field of West Indian literary history. Wide-ranging and extensively researched, it is the first full-length study of Caribbean literature to embrace the whole of the Spanish, French and English-speaking Caribbean since G. R. Coulthard's Race and Colour in Caribbean Literature and has the advantage over Coulthard's pioneering work of a wider perspective and twenty years of accumulation of new creative writing, criticism and research to draw upon." Professor Williamson also thought it "regrettable that a work of importance from an academic press should be disfigured by so many minor errors as are to be found here."

In spite of such a shortcoming, a reviewer for the British Bulletin of Publications on Latin America, the Caribbean, Portugal and Spain wrote: "Based on a wide knowledge of sources from the main languages of the Caribbean, he [Cudjoe] gives us four chapters of historical introduction. He shows the origin and influence of the 'European' slave trade to be wide and profound, including a deceptive scale of values. Professor Cudjoe is widely read... (and his is) an original and modern approach." They, too, understood that slavery involved a system of values that had to be factored into any analysis of our literature.

Professor Danielson saw my book as "a polemic, an instance of quasi-scholarly pamphleteering." Yet, it will be instructive if Maharaj can tell us where I say that "what is required in the Caribbean is 'therapeutic violence' to overthrow all post-colonial oppressors." Significantly, the only words that Danielson placed in quotation marks were "therapeutic violence." In Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon advocated the need for 'therapeutic violence' if colonial people-not the oppressors-were to free themselves from the psychological violence that slavery and colonialism imposed on us. Recognizing my astuteness in this regard, Williamson observed: "Professor Cudjoe's thesis is...that resistance has supplied the aesthetic-political element in the 'structuring' of Caribbean literature. Sharing the alienated consciousness of all Caribbean peoples, the writer is impelled by his 'artistic sensibility' to articulate the conflicts within his society and the individual endangered by their history."

In the seventies when I wrote my book progressive scholars were trying to come to grips with what can be called the role of cathartic violence in the liberation of colonial peoples. I examined how certain writers treated this phenomenon. Professor Harold Walters of the University of Rhode Island wrote in World Literature Today: "Resistance and Caribbean Literature (is) an absolute must for the library of all those interested in the Caribbean and also in the connection between Africa and the Caribbean...It is a gold mine of information. It is beautifully written when Cudjoe does not let Suchkov (a Russian literary critic) run his life. I look forward very much to his next book."

Maharaj's tendentious stripping of Professor Daneilson's important critique is scandalous. He can have no understanding of the violence he has done to Prof. Danielson sentiments or the ethical lapses that his mutilation reveals. Such is his incomprehension that even as he tries to assail me, he mis-uses the language. It makes absolutely no sense to say, "Attacks against the person is a fallacy every student of logic learns very every." How in heaven's name can an attack against the person (or is it a person) become a fallacy, that is, "a false notion" or "incorrectness of reasoning" (American Heritage Dictionary)? I repeat: "Sat and Parsuram Maharaj do not reflect the acme of East Indian intelligence." They should confine their activities to subjects they comprehend.

Soon Mr. Maharaj will learn that the shared knowledge and information which he gleans from the internet must be analyzed and interpreted. Then, it must compete with other views. A fair-minded person cannot read Professors Danielson, Slemon, Clark, Walters, Williamson, Raymond (and there are others) and conclude that Professor Danielson offers the most comprehensive picture of my work. Even Professor Danielson conceded that the blemish of which he speaks has as much to do the press as it has to do with this author. Hence his conclusion: "Cudjoe, his typist and his publisher have somehow conspired to subject us to every kind of error..." In his animus, Mr. Maharaj conveniently leaves out the latter sentence. He jumps right over it because it does not fit his purpose. Such is not the procedure of an honest man. My only hope is that God gives him the wisdom to see the light and the truth. He does not seem to have gotten these gifts from other sources.

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