blog | werkgroep caraïbische letteren

Icon comes alive in scholarly work

by Glenville Ashby

In Caribbean Counterpoint Dr. Sara Florian forays into the mind of Lasana Sekou; his fears and hope, and his musings, she lays bare. In her dissection we see a man driven by a painful history, a history that collectively cements a people into a worn but redeemable fabric.

In Jungian terms, his native land is part of a Caribbean gestalt, part of a historico-cultural archetype that haunts but, at the same time, offers redemption and healing. In this binary, paradoxical landscape rests the destiny of a region grappling for relevance.
In these parts, the will to meaning is challenged by the disquiet susurrus of yesteryear, a long dolorous period that was. In these parts a longing for change is real but change – veritable change – is realizable only when every layer of society is galvanized toward real independence and nationhood. In Dr. Forian’s scholarship, we acknowledge the wonderment of Caribbean experience from which Lasana Sekou emerged. Rooted in St Martin’s despair is a unique aesthetic quality that synthesizes its every expression – a state of non-duality or advaita, according to Vedic philosopher Shankaracharya. In Sekou’s dialectics, we find salvation. We become whole. Dr Florian captures the salvific value of Sekou’s artistry but not before a praiseworthy preface by philosopher and writer Dr. Earl McKenzie.
Of Dr. Florian’s thematic insightfulness, he writes, “[She] has an interest in the aesthetics of Caribbean poetry, and in this book, she brings her research on this topic to bear on the examination of Sekou’s work. This includes her examination of Sekou’s skills as a polyglot…She is interested in identifying the poetics that guide various elements of his work, including his versification and characterization. She is interested in how his aesthetics is related to his praxis as an activist and nationalist.”
Throughout, Dr. Florian explores Sekou’s quest for regional ‘inviduation.’ Sekou is the consummate Taoist, absorbing, integrating and reconciling conflicting constructs as represented in his metaphorical framing of salt. St. Martin‘s very existentialism is interwoven in salt. Salt is history, culture, commerce, and the psychic unfoldment of its people. Salt has wrought unimaginable pain but ultimately, will deliver a well-deserved meed. Salt is a phenomenology worth understanding. On this matter, Dr. Florian exhaustively expounds. In stages, St Martin, its people, not unlike the (elemental) compound, will consolidate, agglomerate from free-flowing particles into a large singular mass – resilient, purposeful and unyielding.
Sekou’s metaphoric thrust reverberates through the bosom of his people. It is “the salt of memory of a place, culturally, spiritually, and chemically, and Sekou identifies this natural symbol as the symbol of slavery,” Dr. Florian pens. “Salt is used to preserve food, to give sapidity and to heal and purify.“
Incontrovertibly, salt “is a metaphor for the past and the future.”
But a nightmare unabatedly haunts his people. Sekou, though, has responded, “giving meaning to the laments of the spirits of the place, and tries, in this poetic and aesthetic way, to purify the pain of this heritage to build a new country.”
Amid shifting sands toward wholeness, Sekou’s aesthetics thrives. “This aesthetics of the pain also marks Sekou’s poetry and fiction,” Dr. Florian notes. “He’s a visive artist,” she concludes, aiming to “shape a new consciousness, a new country alternatively growing, being toned down by the sweet nostalgia of be/longing, as in the Quimbe poem “4”: “a tear of pain/ is a pillow of salt tending our wound of longing”’
Sekou’s pantonomic view of self and destiny emerges out of his journeys, of which Dr. Florian writes, “A travelled man, Sekou’s vision is all encompassing. He understands the cultural particularities and nuances of the East as reflective in the tonal rhythms of his work including its etymology and cadence.”
Dr. Florian cites Kittitian John Brown who states that “a West Indian literary aesthetics emerges from a well defined West Indian Identity,” and “that regional writers, to be successful, must be attuned to the characteristic rhythms of speech of their people and their essential ways of thought and feeling.”
A West Indian particularism is arguably formed out of such an undertaking.
Sekou remains central to this ‘Caribbeanness.’
Florian avers, “Sekou’s poetic voice forms part of a Caribbean counterpoint, his commitment to his people and to humanity in general is thrown into relief in his approach to historical, political and economic causes…and his own aesthetics, which is rooted in his linguistic choices, the construction of a creole voice and maroon voice.”
The enduring impact of Sekou’s contribution to Caribbean lore is unequivocal. His is a blueprint for personal and regional transformation. His own words resound, “The post-Emancipation or traditional Caribbean societies maintained and saw reinforced features of the plantation societies – especially relative to racial and social hierarchies. Fundamental to change has been revolution and revolutionary activities…propelling the region beyond the plantation-based structure. Contemporary society change must come from the political and social structures with significant contribution from the working people.”
Undoubtedly, Dr. Florian has produced more than a hagiographic monument on a Caribbean icon. Not unlike Sekou, she presents an epistemology that is non-dualistic and absorbent. Hers is a thesis that continues to build on insights as she journeys through regions and cultures, not unlike Lasana Sekou, from whom she finds definitive purpose.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)

Sara Florian, Caribbean Counterpoint. The Aesthetics of Salt in Lasana Sekou
Copyright 2019 Sara Florian
House of Nehesi Publishers, Philipsburg, St. Martin
ISBN: 9780997489569
Available at Amazon
Ratings: Highly recommended

[from Kaieteur News, 30 August 2020]

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