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The Unconquered Challenge

Published: 
Monday, August 25, 2014
Dr Kevin Browne speaks about rhetoric at the Unconquered series that took place at Propaganda in Belmont. PHOTO: WESLEY GIBBINGS

Any newcomer to social activist/writer Attillah Springer’s Unconquered dialogues would have understandably remained confused about its original objectives when the series re-convened on August 13.

This latest attempt at “creating a space for people to discuss things and find solutions” followed an inaugural Carnival-inspired session in January and appeared to have been further motivated by the fact that several members of the audience assembled at designer Robert Young’s “Propaganda Space” in Belmont were fresh from an all-night demonstration outside Parliament, where the controversial Constitution Amendment Bill had been debated and passed early Tuesday morning.

“We need to create action out of conversation,” Springer was to later tell the T&T Guardian.

For sure, any attempt to discuss “building and maintaining systems that support integrity,” as Springer puts it, is always likely to be a path paved with good intentions.

Two contrasting presentations that Wednesday however did little to provide a coherent road map. Public-accountability crusader Afra Raymond urged empiricism and focused action. Language professor Kevin Browne delivered a lecture on rhetoric as social activity and later engaged writer Eintou Springer in an exchange on Athenian values.

History, some participants also learnt, is not taught in the schools of T&T. There was at least one audible gasp in the audience.

Raymond was intent on keeping on message. A “world information war,” he argued, was being waged during which phenomenal breakthroughs in popular information and communication technologies were coming up against increasingly sophisticated and pervasive state intrusiveness.

Citing controversial American journalist/attorney Glen Greenwald’s No Place to Hide exposé on global surveillance activities, Raymond encouraged the gathering to consider the implications of the “information war” on social activism.

He also described his work as the “boring stuff” involving studious examination of “the published record.” His call for help in researching emerging issues and filing Freedom of Information petitions brought immediate positive responses from a few.

“I spend my time only examining the archives,” he declared. “I am not interested in ‘he-say-she say’ … my work is based on the records. (Because) if we want to understand what is going on in this place, we have to become more and more diligent.”

When it was Browne’s turn, he delivered what he was to subsequently label, on his blog, as the opening notes for delivery of an anguished “Desiderium” on the state of the country of his birth.

Moving from Raymond to Browne was dizzying in the heat and over the low rumble of cars negotiating Erthig Road.

“As I understand it,” Browne said, “rhetoric is social activity—a consideration of the range of expressions and expressive features that shape our existence, as well as the orientation of those expressions toward the realisation of a more meaningful life.”

“I am not so much interested in whether people understand the intricacies of rhetoric on an academic level, but rather that they understand it enough to tune the dynamics of their interactions toward change,” he continued. “We know well enough that there is a need for change.”

Springer et al appear to be on to something here, but it would seem even they aren’t too certain what it is. The mandate shifts from “creating space” for talk to formulating a people’s manifesto. There are Young’s magnificent patchwork designs, Raymond’s detailed needlework and Browne’s drip and splash paintwork.

Springer is certain to suggest Unconquered comprises all of the above.

“It now becomes necessary to reject the tendency to emphasise struggle as the illusory fulcrum of Caribbean expression and view it, instead, as a rhetorical situation to which subjects are obliged to respond, react, negotiate, and improvise,” Browne explains.

Hmmm.