“The Independence, Energy and Creative Talent of Carnival Can Do Other Wonders”: C.L.R. James on Carnival

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    This essay will examine the writings of C.L.R. James, one of Trinidad’s greatest thinkers and writers, on Carnival as an indigenous popular cultural phenomenon, which for James showed the potentialities for mass mobilisation and self-organisation among the people of Trinidad and Tobago. From a young age growing up in colonial Trinidad, James had been fascinated by calypso singers at Carnival time, and he retained his love of Carnival as it emerged from what Susan Campbell called “a shadowy but persistent form of oppositional culture” under colonialism into a state-sponsored national festival in post-colonial Trinidad and Tobago. James is famous for his writing on “Mighty Sparrow” in his Party Politics in the West Indies (1962), but this essay will discuss James’s rather less well-known writings on Carnival, including his witnessing of signs of an emerging embryonic “Carnival culture” in London during the 1930s and 1950s among West Indian migrants, including at Test cricket matches at Lord’s involving the West Indies. After returning to Trinidad in 1958, in The Nation (the paper of the People’s National Movement), James commented on Trinidad’s Carnival in 1959 in various editorial and articles. The paper will suggest that James’s analysis of Carnival as not only a national festival with the ability to make a transnational impact, but also as a “a form of self-activity of the masses of the people, a reaction against the perpetual preaching of foreign doctrines and foreign celebrations” represents a pioneering and distinctive contribution.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)513-533
    Number of pages21
    JournalCaribbean Quarterly
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2019

    Bibliographical note

    This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Caribbean Quarterly on 26/11/2019, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/00086495.2019.1682355.


    • C.L.R. James
    • Carnival and popular culture
    • Trinidad and Tobago
    • cricket
    • cultural history
    • Marxism
    • Caribbean


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