This essay decodes how Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings uses the history of Jamaican music, culminating in the conflict between roots reggae and dancehall, to chart the Cold War’s temporality, futurity, and ideological conflicts over time, temporality, and futurity. A Brief History of Seven Killings points readers to a jaded, subaltern temporality encoded in a dancehall music that rejects the revolutionary utopianism woven into postindependence Jamaican music. The novel stages this temporal conflict at the center of Jamaican popular music through the status of revolutionary Cuba and the riddim-based technique of dancehall song composition, both of which converge in the itinerary of the “Death in the Arena” riddim. The novel thus invites readers to process the Cold War’s conflict over time and space through the lens of Jamaican music, attuned both to how geopolitics inflected that music and to how that music inflected geopolitics. Reading the evolution of Jamaican music since independence, this essay reveals how the form of James’s novel replicates the spectral and shattered assemblages of dancehall music in order to borrow some of its fugitive, subaltern autonomy.
Death in the Arena: A Brief History of Dancehall, Time, and the Cold War
Jason Frydman is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Brooklyn College and the former director of the Caribbean Studies Interdisciplinary Program there. He is the author of Sounding the Break: African American and Caribbean Routes of World Literature (2014). His current research explores the cultural history of the Cold War in the Caribbean.
Jason Frydman; Death in the Arena: A Brief History of Dancehall, Time, and the Cold War. Small Axe 1 November 2019; 23 (3 (60)): 34–49. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-7912310
Download citation file: