Obeah and the West Indian Short Story by Janelle Rodriques

I checked out this lecture a while back.

Janelle Rodriques is currently working on her doctorate degree at Bremen University, with a focus on Postcolonial Literature. She is presenting, in her lecture, the findings of her research for part of her dissertation, which is focussed on short stories written in and around 1939 – 1950 in the West Indies in the Caribbean, specifically detailing the history and significance of Obeah spiritual belief in literature of that time.

First of all, Rodriques describes the West Indies as an Anglophone Caribbean region which was colonialised in the late 16th century. Obeah is defined as an umbrella term for a number of different syncretic African-inspired Anglo-Caribbean spiritual and faith practices developed by West- Africans in response to their dislocation and enslavement. Furthermore, Rodriques describes it as a ‘way of life’ more than simply a religious practice. Common symbolism includes feathers, candles and roots, which all hold a specific spiritual meaning. Contrary to other spiritual practices such as Santeria, for example, Obeah does not have deities. However, there are similarities as well, as both reject the views supported by the Western philosophical framework of ‘Enlightenment’, meaning that Obeah does not support the idea that scientific facts are of higher value than spiritual belief. Obeah is a belief system based on a type of fluidity which transgresses materialism and spirituality. The social significance of Obeah is primarily based on the fact that it is part of a political counter-movement against Western colonial powers and hierarchical structures prevalent in the Caribbean.  Finding its beginnings in the horrors of slavery, with the term first being established after a slave-revolt in Jamaica in 1760, Obeah was a way of life and a way of separation from western culture. It was outlawed in the 18th century and has only recently been decriminalised. Rodriques describes Obeah as “pure potential” and “spiritual energy” and explains that its fluidity makes it difficult to narrate in prose fiction.

After defining and detailing Obeah and its social significance, Rodriques explores the topic of the short story. She illustrates that the 1930s were an important time for the short story, as a new consciousness was emerging which promoted a disconnect from western ideals and the establishment of unity among the colonised, regardless of political perspective and religion, with fiction being an important tool in counteracting the political structures prevalent at the time. This time marked the beginning of anti-colonialist literature as a political statement and although the focus lay on a regional audience, the message was to be conveyed internationally to create an even greater common consciousness of anti-colonialist sympathies. Rodriques exemplifies this by introducing the audience to a short story called A Case in Court which was written by a writer with the pseudonym ‘Pennib’ and published in The Gleaner magazine in 1939, with its language being Patoa, a mash-up of different African languages turned into a creolised English. She describes that short stories are a commonly utilized and relate to African traditions, one of the types of short stories being the Anansi story, which is also used in A Case in Court, with the protagonist being a poor, illiterate trickster who manages to outsmart the judge after being accused of practicing Obeah.

In brief, Obeah holds much significance as it is more than just a spiritual practice: it symbolises not only anti-colonialist ideals but also the liberation of the oppressed and is therefore subject to constant rejection and dismantlement by the colonial powers which it seeks to be liberated from.

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Telling It As It Is, Mr. President? The Issue of Donald Trump’s Supposed ‘Word Salad’

Successful communication asserts a common sense when it comes to social interaction. This is especially crucial in the face of the power relation between politicians and their followers. It is a common skill of politicians to be able to properly utilize communication strategies as to effectively convey a message or make use of tactics to influence followers. It can therefore be asserted that an aptness in effective use of politeness and impoliteness strategies[1] is necessary in political discourse.

The proper use of politeness and impoliteness strategies is closely tied to the language tool of manipulation (Slavova 2012: 170). Political discourse resembles a constant power struggle as well as a cooperation between those who hold power and those who the ones in power rely on to maintain it. Therefore, it is of some significance for the one in power to properly communicate with his or her supporters. This double-sided power struggle, which entails on the one hand, to assert dominance and on the other hand, to maintain positive relations, asserts a high level of aptness when it comes to proper manipulation of social interaction (Slavova 2012: 170-171).

President Donald Trump’s use of language has been subject of investigation as well as criticism. Many think that his language style is uncalculated, with a large amount of people even calling it “word salad” (Lakoff 2016). His voters have praised him for always “tell[ing] it as it is” (BBC News 2016), thereby painting a picture of sincerity. But how sincere is the recently-elected president? George Lakoff writes in a blog post on his website that “[e]very time someone in the media claims his discourse is word salad it helps Trump by hiding what he is really doing.” (2016)

This research paper aims to dispute the assumption that President Trump’s use of language is uncalculated by focussing on the utilization of politeness and impoliteness strategies in relation to political discourse, as outlined and categorized by Brown & Levinson, and Culpeper. Subject of analysis is a television interview held by ABC’s David Muir with President Trump. The analysis is an attempt to provide evidence to expose President Trump’s strategic use of politeness and impoliteness strategies to assert his power over his critics and create a false sense of balance between him and his followers.

[1] as defined by Brown & Levinson (1987) and Culpeper (1996)


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Dr. Ian Watson: First World War Poetry

I saw this lecture in 2014. Dr. Ian Watson is an independent scholar and poet who spent many years teaching at the Bremen University as senior lecturer. His lecture covers first world war poetry from Ireland, which is a topic he claims to feel intimately connected to because of his own experience, hearing stories from war veterans as well as reading poetry from the time. Watson proposes the idea that the suffering experienced during that time has created poetry that is filled with intense poetic expression.

Watson makes some important distinctions between (a) combatant and non-combatant poets, combatant poets being those who actually fought in the war, (b) survived and didn’t survive, referring to whether or not the poet made it out of the war alive, (c) patriotic or critical (anti-war), judging the sympathies of the poet in context to the war, and (d) established poets or newcomers, referring to the level of acclaim, which the poet has already come to.

Combatant poets were Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, Lt. General John McCrae, and Isaac Rosenberg, who also fall under the category of non-survivors, while those combatant poets who survived are Robert Graves, Edmund Blunden and Laurence Binyon. Non-combatant poets were Jessie Pope, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, and Sir Henry Newbolt.

Critical poets were Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas, Robert Graves, D.H. Lawrence, Isaac Rosenberg, Rudyard Kipling, and Thomas Hardy, while Jessie Pope, Rupert Brooke, Lt. General John McCrae, and Sir Henry Newbolt were non-critical of the war. Kipling was non-critical until 1910, experiencing a change from being highly nationalist and pro-war to a more liberal view, when his son was killed in the war.

Watson chooses three war-critical poets to focus on in the lecture: Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Edward Thomas. Both Edward Thomas and Wilfred Owen did not survive the war. Siegfried Sassoon, however, managed to exit the war alive. Watson highlights the differences between these three war-critical poets by setting them is contrast to poets who supported the war. He also outlines the differences between those poets who survived and those who did not by comparing their work.

After briefly introducing the audience to a pro-war propaganda poem by John McCrae from 1915, which utilizes symbolism a to convey a patriotic message, Watson shows the audience what he calls the most iconic first-world war poem: For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon. After that he discusses Vitai Lampada by Sir Henry Newbolt, which expresses pro-war sympathies, metaphorically turning the endeavour of war into a sports event, which would appeal to youngsters.

Watson then describes the difference between Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Own, who dealt with the war very differently, not only because of their unlike background, Sassoon being from the upper class, and Owen from the lower class, but also the fact that Sassoon survived, while Owen died in the war. However, Watson explains that, after meeting Owen, Sassoon was highly influenced by Owen’s work. Sassoon engaged in a type of angry anti-war satire poetry. In comparison, Wilfred Owen’s poems are of a more realist nature. Watson describes the difference between Sassoon and Owen as one of satire versus compassion. While Sassoon shows a more privileged perspective of the horrors of war, but still highly critical of the war, Owen’s work details the horrific events that took place in a more realistic light. A further anti-war poet whom Watson introduces the audience to is Edward Thomas, whose poem As the team’s head-brass, details how Britain changed due to the war.

In brief, Watson’s lecture introduces the audience to the different kinds of Irish First World-War poetry and the different perspectives from which it is told.


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#BlackLivesMatter Activism and Popular Music as a Challenge of Racial Profiling and Police Brutality

When we look at the history of African-American protest, one of the most prevalent issues being challenged is racial profiling and institutional brutality. And when the topics of racial profiling and institutional abuse of power, namely police brutality, are discussed, two facts become abundantly clear: (1) the two are closely related. The tendency of police in the United States to show a bias towards specific groups and the even more disturbing tendency of police officers to use unnecessary physical force against those specific groups unfortunately tend to go hand in hand. (2) The issues are not as recent as some would think, with the major evidence of this being the ubiquity of said matters in popular African-American media culture throughout history.

However, it is important to acknowledge one fact: Movements and reactions to fight racial profiling and police brutality against African-Americans have become increasingly strong with activist groups having managed to use popular media to their advantage to spread a message of awareness and resistance. The fact that almost all modern liberal news providers have sections for the coverage of issues related solely to African-Americans proves that there has been a surge in media interest in the matter as well as the movements which are created as a counterculture to the popular zeitgeist of apathy and obedience to a system which still promotes institutional racism and shows a terrifying tendency to systematically disregard the lives of African-Americans.

Music has always played a major role in the fight against racial bias, especially covering issues of racial profiling and police brutality. From Jazz to Rap music, African-American musicians have, for many years, chosen to use music as a way to challenge political and institutional systems and have been successful in spread their message of discontentment and anger. The discontentment is directed not only at a system which expects obedience from groups it chooses to disregard and systemically prejudge, but also at one which discourages support for their cause. Apart from entertaining people, music is often used as a tool to help people either see the misrepresentation of the African-American community and to encourage changes or to help people who are at odds with their own identity, see that they are, in fact, being misrepresented and prejudged and how to go about finding healthy ways of dealing with those feelings and fighting the issue.

In recent years there has been an increase in media interest in the matters of racial profiling and police brutality as well, largely due to technological advances such as smart phones and cameras making it a lot more likely to catch police in the act of physically assaulting or even killing African-Americans. Such as was the case with Trayvon Martin, a young African-American whose killing encouraged people all over the United States to come together in an attempt to assemble a countermovement against racial profiling. This movement started as a hashtag on the social media forum Facebook and was called #BlackLivesMatter.

The movement encouraged musicians in the American music industry to challenge institutional systems in an attempt spread awareness of people losing their lives due to racial bias. It can be claimed that this recent increase in activism has a lot to do with mainstream music scene while the music scene is profiting from the exposure of the matter. This almost symbiotic relationship between the social activism behind #BlackLivesMatter as the major representative of modern day ‘black’ protest and the mainstream music coverage of the matter and how both have created social change will be shown in this analysis by investigating some prevalent examples.


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“Reflections on how to read Africa”. A lecture by Dr. Louisa Uchum Egbunike

Dr. Louisa Uchum Egbunike is a lecturer at the Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, who presented her fascinating lecture at Bremen University in 2016. Her focus of research is African literature, specifically Nigerian literature and its authors. The lecture topic is representative of her PhD thesis topic ‘The Igbo Experience in the Igbo Nigerian Novel’, which proposes that African literature tends to utilize specific techniques to challenge the way in which Africa and Africans are seen and understood. One way in which this is achieved is proverbs, which Dr. Uchum Egbunike highlights in her lecture. She puts specific focus on Igbo proverbs from Nigeria.

Dr. Uchum Egbunike explains that, in West African oral tradition, proverbs are a commonly used form of artistic and philosophical expression. Usually highly metaphorical, proverbs are used to “illustrate ideas, reinforce arguments and deliver messages of inspiration, consolation, celebration and advice” (Uchum Egbunike: 2016), and often connected to philosophical concepts, which give the reader a specific insight into the world they represent by means of implicit conveyance. In this way, proverbs add something special to language, which specializes and focusses meaning to convey a sense of the environment they stem from.

To exemplify the use of proverbs in Nigerian literature, Dr. Uchum Egbunike introduces the audience to author Chinua Achebe, a prominent Nigerian author, poet, critic and professor. One such utilized proverb in Achebe’s work is “Onye ije isi awo ihe ama”, which Uchum Egbunike explains as being representative of an idea that, by far, exceeds the literal translation. She explains that the proverb supports multiple assumptions: Firstly, it details the Igbo experience of the traveller, who is commonly understood within the Igbo community as someone who has something very special to offer to his environment. Secondly, the proverb introduces the construction of a hierarchy which is based on the perceived wisdom and worldly knowledge of the traveller. And thirdly, it suggests the idea of a fixed homeland, portraying the Igbo people as homebound and showing patriotic sentiment. This is further detailed in Achebe’s novel No Longer at Ease (1960), which Uchum Egbunike describes as representative of the described sentiment conveyed in the proverb. The novel tells the story of an Igbo man who leaves his home to study in Great Britain. While telling his story, the novel details the protagonist’s feeling of being pressured to perform, and the tensions created by the sense of distance. Uchum Egbunike describes that the protagonist comes to an understanding of himself as a Nigerian person, which is largely due to the distance from home offering him a new perspective.

Uchum Egbunike also details another novel which is exemplary of the idea portrayed by the proverb: Our Sister Killjoy (1977) by Ghanaian author Ama Ata Aidoo. The novel tells the story of a young Ghanaian woman who studies in the UK. It strongly utilizes the idea of returning home, explicitly and implicitly, and is closely linked to Ghanaian history, while expressing strong sentiments against the historical disruptions caused to Ghana by the slave trade, with a specific focus on Ghanaian women. Uchum Egbunike theorizes that Aidoo makes use of symbolism such as the Sankofa, which symbolizes a return, and utilizes choppy typography to instil a feeling of “structural anarchy”, which is functional as a textual subversion of structural norms, to rebel against white male centred narratives, while constantly alluding to the idea of the travel strengthening the sense of home.

In brief, Dr. Uchum Egbunike illustrates clearly in her lecture that West-African proverbs are vast in meaning and are commonly used to convey philosophical concepts in a simplistic way.

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Dr. Derrais Carter: Refusal and Possibility in Black Narrative History

Dr. Derrais Carter is an assistant professor of Black Studies at Portland State University in Oregon, USA. I watched his lecture and felt it would be prudent to summarize it for anyone interested and on a path to researching African-American history. His lecture explores the ideas behind a research project he has been working on, which puts into question “the way in which Black history is and should be told, to give historians the options of refusing to include certain details to protect people involved” (Carter: 2016) and be critical about the documents representing the history in question. Carter uses a 1919 scandal as an example for his argument, which is basically that there is a problem with the way in which Black voices are treated and represented throughout history.

The scandal in question involves self-proclaimed scientist and researcher Herman M. B. Moens, who focussed his studies in the late 19th and early 20th century on racial mixture and proposed the idea that there was a close link between Black people and apes, before changing his theories later on and asserting that Black people were actually the next step in human evolution. However, while being funded and supported by African-American organizations which challenged racial injustice, he systematically used his supposed research, which included photographing naked African American children, as a way to get close to young African American girls, which he had become sexually interested in. Later, Moens was investigated and surveilled by the FBI, which used one of the African American girls which Moens had been sexually assaulting, to get proof of his actions and the FBIs theories of him being a spy. Carter explains that the fact that the 17-year-old African American girl was wrongfully utilized as a tool in an FBI investigation against Moens, and the FBI documents showing that they were aware of Moen’s actions for years, as well as the lack of the school system’s care for the situation of the children shows not only extreme institutional racism but also leads to the question of the credibility of the FBI reports as historical evidence. Moreover, the documents in question follow of narrative which represents the young African American girls as sexually deviant and guilty of their own shortcomings, which is symbolized by referring to them as grown women rather than young girls.

The scandal and its documentation supports Carter’s argument that there is a difficulty in portraying history for African Americans. The young girl’s accounts of the events were only briefly included in the FBI’s documentations, all the while depicting her as a sexually available woman, when, in reality, she was inappropriately used and sexually assaulted by Moens. Carter introduces the idea of excluding everything from the historical account other than the voice of the young African American girl, without using her name, thereby embracing the limits of the research to tell her story only. The common exclusion of the victim’s accounts in African American history is a problem which has been analysed also by Professor Christina Sharpe, whose theories Carter bases his findings on.

In brief, Carter’s lecture presents the audience with the problem behind the telling of Black history and exemplifies this by presenting the case of the young African American girl who was sexually abused by Moens and used by the FBI as merely a tool, all the while being disregarded as valuable enough to actually be heard in the documentation used to describe the scandal.

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How the Liberal Media Strengthened the Monster via ‘Linguistic Neglect’: Trump

Donald Trump’s rise to fame started before he ever decided to run for president. His muppet like antics and his inability to watch his mouth are something many stressed out, pissed off, overworked and large-dreaming Americans love. He is entertaining. Not in the way Bush was, I mean, you would not want to have a beer with the man, but you would definitely want to listen to him give a pyramid scheme type speech about how to become rich AF. And you would believe him. Because he talks like you. He doesn’t seem to have a higher IQ then you, either, which makes it very likely that you could achieve what he has achieved.

And, let’s admit it. The media loves the guy. He is just so damn newsworthy. Scandals reigning as if TMZ’s editor in chief was running the show. And it isn’t just the Republican news sources that love talking about him. News sources claiming alliances to the Democratic party are as much part of the problem. How? By talking about him as much as they did and by adding certain linguistic features to their articles that are naturally going to get us thinking about his legitimacy. I mean…could he be right after all? He seems scary. Life is scary. Should I follow him?

There have been many ideas and thoughts circling around claiming that the media is at fault for Trump’s rise in popularity. They have been covering his presidential campaign like it was going out of style. Like he actually had something important to contribute. But the manipulation goes much deeper.

So I took it upon myself to take a closer, linguistic look at the array of news articles covering the Republican presidential campaign to see if I could find a pattern of subliminal Trump-Love coming from the liberal news sources. And, OMG, did I find it. I am sorry to say this but I am pretty sure the liberal media actually helped people cross over to the dark side. Not because they said nice things about him, but because they made him seem larger than life, like he could not be beaten. Like he was a small man with a huge force of power behind him. Up there on that pedestal with Darth Vader and Leather Face, he achieved what every entertainer…uhm, sorry… politician wants. FAME. Americans love famous people. They soak it up and bathe in it. Even liberals  (Don’t lie!) So thank you, liberal media, for, rather than opposing or even distracting from Donald Trump’s bullshit campaign…you pulled out the red carpet.

When linguists want to find patterns, they analyze a collection of texts. I chose ten texts from different liberal news sources including The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, and The Huffington Post.

First I wanted to get a better idea of the skill level of the journalists, considering that their linguistic skill could have an influence on the word choice of the articles. I found that the overall lexical density of the texts, which is something linguists use to determine the proficiency of authors, mainly focused on their vocabulary, was about 39%. This number is very normal. It implies an average level of proficiency and is a very common result when investigating most articles put out by major news sources. So we could not blame the intellect or journalistic ability of the authors here.

After that I checked out the most frequently used words. “Trump” is the only candidate, whose name appears in the top 30 most frequently used words in the articles, with “Carson” coming in second. Terrifyingly enough, however, while the Donald comes in at Nr. 4 of the most frequent freaking lexical nouns, Carson is Nr. 29. I mean, that is a huge difference.

And not only does Trump’s name pop up a whole lot of times, but the words surrounding his name are absolutely terrifying: the most common verbs used in sentences regarding his presidential campaign are ‘defeat’, ‘fight’, ‘beat’, ‘oppose’ while the adjectives are usually words that imply a certain degree of status or power such as ‘large’, ‘radical’, and ‘super’.

So what does that mean? Well…it means we are supposed to fear him, doesn’t it? And what do humans do when they are afraid? What are the two most common reactions? – Submission or resistance.

Now if we take a look around ourselves right now. Go ahead, take a look out of the window! Do you see much resistance? Do you see people fighting their labor-slavery? No?

Me neither!

So  I guess my point is, the liberal media needs to stop following trends. If you really want to make a difference, be as progressive as you claim, then don’t hold people back by worrying about keeping up with gossip, fear-mongering and trends.

Because it is likely that Donald Trump becomes President of the United States and if he does, I BLAME YOU, because you should have known better!


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