Commons Conversations

Echolocating the Caribbean Diaspora

Commons Conversations
30 Aug, 2021

Echolocating the Caribbean Diaspora

with Cathy Thomas
Assistant Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara

Moderated by BCNM Director Abigail De Kosnik

Presented as a part of BCNM’s Commons Conversations, a lunch-hour lecture series. Co-sponsored by the Department of English and the Center for Race and Gender.

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In this talk, Dr. Cathy Thomas discusses her current book project “PoCo Mas” that makes connections across visual art, theory, creative writing, performance, and science. She shares a visual and digital artifact, Footfall Echolation, created for the fictive world of her novel whose plot reverberates into the past and future with the year 2036 being the start of a cataclysmic system of storms that devastate the planet. The 26 weather events are simply remembered, collectively renamed, then trademarked Díaspora™. After the wreck, people salvage a unique set of political, social, fashion, and language codes from imagined and lost geographies. Footfall Echolocation (FE) emerges from this larger project. Her goal is to create and share, through digital imaging and soundscapes—from atomic to organic to sardonic—the networked experiences of the Caribbean diaspora using object mapping of bespoke footwear to unmap familiar and comfortable grids of spatial terrain from which the history of the Caribbean is told.

By designing footwear from salvaged materials she asks, “where do you wear in the diaspora?” Invoking this question addresses the threshold of nostalgia using material history and imagination to move outside the enclosure of the Cartesian map’s spacetime. FE examines scattering of people, plants, animals, cells, and ideas as a sound and image archive. Digital images and video of the shoe will be accompanied by spoken word and both found and invented soundscapes. For this talk, she shares one piece, “West Indian Primer,” based on The Nelson’s West Indian Primer, a twentieth-century British grammar book used in the Caribbean to teach Anglocized phonetics to children. ‘Where you wear’ invites echolocation as methodology to take up and take seriously Sylvia Wynter’s insights on what it means to be human depending on one’s race, time, and location.

About Cathy Thomas

Cathy Thomas is a creative critical scholar working on African American and Caribbean literature as well as being a comic arts scholar. She has written several articles, book chapters, two chapbooks, a syndicated comic strip, and short films. She is currently completing two books. Her spec fiction novel PoCo Mas explores a historically unprecedented Afrofuture attentive to the long histories of Humanism, afterlives of anti-black violence, and aftershock of weather through the lens of Carnival and the poetics of mas(querade). Her collection of linked slipstream stories Girls on Film explores the mother-daughter-alien relation across time, race, and the silver screen. She is also researching her monograph Unruly: On a Genealogy of Afrodiasporic Women and Girls. She is an Assistant Professor at University of California at Santa Barbara in the Department of English. She was a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow working with sf/fantasy writer Nalo Hopkinson at UC Riverside, received her PhD in Literature at UC Santa Cruz, her MFA in Creative Writing at CU Boulder, and a BA in Molecular, Cell, & Developmental Biology at Wesleyan University.

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