"Reggae Got Blues": The Blues Aesthetic In African American Literature As A Lens For The Reggae Aesthetic In Anglophon Caribbean Literature

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English and Languages


Doctor of Philosophy

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In Natural Mysticism: Toward a New Reggae Aesthetic (1999), Kwame Dawes coined the term "reggae aesthetic" to explain the paradigm shift in 1960s-70s Caribbean literature that also dovetailed the rise of reggae music in Jamaica. By exploring the impact of popular music on the social developments in late 1960s and early 1970s Jamaica, Dawes offered a new method of Caribbean literary analysis reminiscent of the extant blues tradition in African American literature--similar to the way that reggae music borrows from the blues--and in so doing, highlighted the artistic and cultural influences that link people of color across the "Black Atlantic." This dissertation builds on Dawes's theory by exploring the history and function of music as an aesthetic form and narrative trope in literature of the Black Atlantic. Blues and reggae in contemporary fiction manifest the oral tradition in African storytelling. A comparative study on reggae and blues aesthetics in literature supplements the existing research specifically by continuing the study of reggae aesthetics: in contrast to extensive literature on the blues aesthetic, there is very little critical scholarship on reggae as a literary aesthetic. Finally, despite the objections of some critics, works in these literary genres will continue the tradition of orality in literature of the Diaspora while creating new benchmarks for future writers and for newer modes of literary analysis.