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Title: Critical readings of perceptual models in the poetry of Linton Kwesi Johnson : bass culture
Author: Layne, Louisa Olufsen
ISNI:       0000 0004 7652 3940
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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This thesis offers an extended reading of the poetry of the Jamaican-born British poet and reggae performer Linton Kwesi Johnson and seeks through these readings to also understand the wider Anglophone Caribbean literary canon's concern to define a Caribbean aesthetic. It proposes three perspectives through which to understand Johnson's influences and to analyse the relationship between aesthetics and politics in his poetry: first, the Anglophone Caribbean literary canon (chapter 1); second, British reggae and punk subcultures (chapter 2); and, third, Jamaican dub and reggae music (chapter 3). By taking up these three perspectives, the thesis positions Johnson's poetry within, respectively, the post-independence Caribbean canon, post-war British poetry, and Black British writing. The thesis demonstrates how Johnson's poetry and criticism both implicitly and explicitly think through the importance of aesthetic choices in the process of generating different forms of black political consciousness through poetry. As reflected in the order of the chapters, Johnson's poetry and criticism recovers a Caribbean past, while also voicing the Black British present, and finally anticipates a utopian 'dubwise' future. Throughout, the thesis acknowledges the interconnectedness of these three elements, and discusses how Johnson's work is filled with tensions between themes of universality and Jamaican particularity, political commitment and aestheticism. More concretely, the thesis argues that Johnson takes forward and redirects Kamau Brathwaite's and The Caribbean Artist Movement's interest in defining a Caribbean aesthetic. He paradoxically continues Brathwaite's project of developing new and authentically Caribbean 'perceptual models' in poetry by interacting with the punk movement and creating specifically Black British forms of reggae. Reading Johnson's poetry through the prism of the Caribbean canon, and the canon through the lens of Johnson's poetry, therefore allows us to see that the concept of a Caribbean aesthetic is not only a stylistic or ethnic category, but also a methodological one. Furthermore, the thesis shows that Johnson is inspired by the belief systems of dub and reggae music to develop the core aesthetic-political concept of 'bass culture'. The concept frames Caribbean aesthetics, as well as black aesthetics more generally, as radically inclusive, even universal categories, which nonetheless have a determinate content. Overall, the thesis extends existing academic scholarship on Johnson's poetry, while contributing more broadly to our understanding of both the possibilities and limitations involved in approaching Caribbean literature, Black British literature, and British literature as distinct categories.
Supervisor: Boehmer, Elleke Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available