You Have Smadee

My novelOh Gad coverdebuted in April 2012. Hazra Medica, an Antiguan and Barbudan pursuing her Doctorate of Philosophy in Literature at the University of Oxford, referenced the book in making a key point during a recent conference presentation at the University of Warwick. Sorry, but that’s kind of a trip for this girl from Ottos, Antigua and I remain amazed by the places your words will travel, if you’re a writer, that you have yet to visit (actually I had hoped to be there but it didn’t work out so it’s nice to know that my words represented in my absence); it’s an inversion of likkle me back in Ottos, reading writing from far flung places and being transported to those places in the reading. It’s a beautiful thing, and I am still too new, still too much on the grunting-uncertain-uphill-climbing leg of this journey to take any of it for granted. So, though her paper is substantively about issues bigger than my book,  I want to thank Hazra for finding my words worthy of inclusion, and for agreeing to let me share some of her presentation with you. I wish her continued success in her academic pursuits. Below are the abstract and the relevant section of the paper, which Hazra expects to publish in full some time in the future.

Sidebar: How cool is it by the way, if you’re Antiguan and grew up on calypso, to see the words of some of our most prolific and profound folk artistes (our calypsonians and calypso writers) being given serious weight in academia? Pretty damn cool!

ABSTRACT (by Hazra Medica is a 3rd year DPhil literature student at the University of Oxford)

Hazra PPT

Title:  “You have smadee”:  The struggle for personhood inscribed within the ethno-nationalist stance of the Antiguan calypso.

 “I call in to the radio, tell dem watch how they talkin’, ‘cause you have smadee.”

(“Audrey” in Joanne C. Hillhouse’s Oh Gad! 235)

In Joanne C. Hillhouse’s 2012 novel, Oh Gad! , the assertion by “Audrey” that her sister, “Nikki” has “smadee” (“somebody”/ “people”) constructs personhood as smadee-ness/somebody-ness achieved through membership in and acceptance by the group. It invalidates the various attempts to deny her sister personhood, and curtails efforts to impose upon her the body of the amnesiac denied history, home, narrative and nation. The Antiguan calypso engages in a similar project of [re]construction on behalf of the Afro-Antiguan proletariat.  For the Antiguan calypsonian, the indigene is, definitively, the working class Afro-Antiguan and the nation is, to borrow from Anderson, imagined as a homogenous bloc of besieged working-class Afro-Antiguans.

This paper examines the calypso’s insistence upon Afro-Antiguan personhood and its militant re-writing of the collective memory of the Afro-Antiguan nation.   To this end, the discussion of the epistemological and ontological challenge to hegemonic colonial/neo-colonial discourses inscribed in the ethno-nationalist stance of the calypso is guided by philosopher Charles W. Mills’ theory of ‘smadditization’.  For Mills, ‘smadditization’ is an “insistence on personhood” and “the struggle to have one’s personhood recognized in a world where, primarily because of race, it is denied” (“Smadditizin’” 55). Crucially too, for him, and as the Antiguan calypso clearly demonstrates, the process, is, necessarily, “a collective enterprise” given that it is membership in the “despised race” which excludes the individual from “full personhood” (63).

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EXCERPT FROM THE PAPER

The first half of this paper’s title is inspired by an exchange between two characters in Joanne C. Hillhouse’s 2012 novel- Oh Gad!  During the exchange, the Antiguan born and American bred protagonist’s sense of total alienation, as a newcomer to Antiguan society, dissipates after her usually hostile sister relates defending her against callers to a radio programme:
Audrey continued, “I call in to the radio, tell dem watch how they talkin’, cause you have smadee.”
Nikki laughed, a rough cough of a laugh.  “I have smadee,” she repeated.
“You have people, yes,” Audrey said. “Wha dem think? You drop from tree. I don’ mind they talk, you know, so long as they keep it at a certain level.”
“I have smadee,” Nikki mumbled to herself…. (235)
Smadee” is an Creole English word derived from the Standard English word “somebody”. As used by Audrey, it denotes personhood as achieved through membership in and acceptance by a group.  In Nikki’s case, her personhood is tied to the collective identity of her family.  In turn, her membership in her family secures her a place within the larger family- the imagined Antiguan nation.  Audrey’s assertion that Nikki has “smadee” invalidates the dis-location of her sister as a person as well as the attempt to impose upon her, to borrow from Glissant, a “nonhistory” which would hinder her consumption of the identity-forming collective memory of the nation.
‘Smadditizin’’/ ‘smadditization’ derives from “smadee” and for Mills (1997),  it is the “insistence on personhood” (55). It is “the struggle to have one’s personhood recognized in a world where, primarily because of race, it is denied” (55). Indeed, Mills argues that smadditization may be viewed as “the central, paradigmatic experience of the oppressed in the Caribbean region” and that smadditizin’ “encapsulates the many dimensions of struggle of those historically subordinated” in the region (55,54).  For Mills, the struggle is not just epistemological and ontological, but also  political, cultural and moral- all of which fits perfectly, as we will see, with the intents of the Antiguan calypso.

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