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Race Fundamentalism: Caribbean Theater and the Challenge to Black Diaspora

Chetty, Raj. Race Fundamentalism: Caribbean Theater and the Challenge to Black Diaspora. 2013. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

This dissertation engages with radical Caribbean theater as a crucial literary archive that is nonetheless underexplored as an expression of political culture and thought. The theoretical grounding of the chapters emerges from the analytically generative thrust of a comment by C. L. R. James in The Black Jacobins: "to neglect the racial factor as merely incidental is an error only less grave than to make it fundamental." While the phrase asserts that race cannot be neglected, it also cautions against ensconcing race as fundamental analytical priority, suggesting a powerfully fluid conceptualization of radical political culture. My chapters argue that radical theater projects in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic share this fluid conceptualization of radical politics with the Trinidadian James's own stage versions of the Haitian Revolution. These theater projects differ from more static paradigms within diaspora, transnational, and race studies that reduce political radicalism to race, precisely the "fundamentalist" approach to race against which James cautions. This reduction fails to register how race, diaspora, and nation continue to be fashioned within a context of persistent class struggle, colonialism and imperialism, and sexism. Furthermore, scholarly discussions of race and diaspora often are rooted fundamentally in U.S. experience, obscuring the ways race is negotiated differently in various New World diasporas, including those in the Caribbean region.

The plays I analyze open up the articulations between race, class, and gender in anti-colonial, anti-racist, and anti-sexist struggles. Furthermore, I attend both to the intra-Caribbean differences that influence the development of radical political culture and to the important connections across areas too often analyzed along colonially fragmented lines. My pan-Caribbean approach avoids thinking of the region as exclusively understandable through linguistically-determined approaches. Across different linguistic and colonial histories, the plays I study cohere in the way they stage political agency through popular culture, collaboration, and spectator participation, all central to each play's aesthetic development and politics but irreducible to race. While race does feature in each play as the site for political radicalism, the performances of race, blackness, and diaspora in the plays are often unrecognizable to U.S. elaborations.

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