4th year – BA English Language & Literature (Int)
Transforming Urban Identities: Linton Kwesi Johnson’s Performance of Voices
This paper examines the ‘linguistic revolution’ at work in the dub poetry of British-Jamaican poet/singer Linton Kwesi Johnson. Writing during the violent cultural conflicts of 1970/80s London, Johnson’s poetics can be located within a tradition of postcolonial resistance. However, Johnson’s distinct patois voice does not conform to an essentialist notion of cultural authenticity; it is instead a self-consciously performed vocal construction. Informed by ideas of poststructuralist theory, I argue that it is the social specificity of voice that Johnson’s poetics foregrounds. The metropolis offers spaces in which to experiment with different voices, consequentially exposing the reliance of each voice upon specific contextual factors. Even the voice which Johnson’s opposes – the culturally dominant forms of Standard English – is radically contextualised in this manner. The governing ideology associated with Standard English is thus revealed to be a performance dependent upon favourable social conditions. Finally then, the analysis extends to the dominance of certain generic forms within the literary canon, suggesting a connection between aesthetic traditions and the inclusion/exclusion of certain social groups.