Tue | May 23, 2017

Access to misinformation

Published:Sunday | August 29, 2010 | 8:00 AM
Cooper

Carolyn Cooper, Contributor

Last Sunday's 'revelation' that the Government did, in fact, authorise the hiring of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to act on its behalf is no surprise to anyone who understands the basic principle on which fictional stories are constructed.

Even the most imaginative story must make sense. The Sunday Gleaner's melodramatic headline, 'Caught,' could catch only those who had been swallowing hook, line and sinker each version of Prime Minister Bruce Golding's evolving story.

In the Introduction to Prose Fiction course that I teach at the University of the West Indies, Mona, we study character, analyse plot, test the limits of narrative point of view, examine settings, explore symbolism, consider the text's representation of reality, and define its overarching world view.

Again, I make my case for the value of literature as a field of enquiry that trains students to develop a wide range of skills in reading, writing, and analysis. These competencies can be applied in all kinds of challenging professions such as teaching, law, banking, management, medicine, politics, and journalism.

So let's apply some of the principles of literary analysis in a critique of the 'Dudus'-Bruce saga. Both characters are joined at the hip by the hyphen. And that's symbolism. Talking of symbolism, there's a brilliant exhibition of recent paintings by the Belizean artist Hubert Neal Jr at the Grosvenor Gallery. The collection is called 'The Dudus Chronicles'. A particularly arresting image is 'Shower Posse'. Blood gushes from a showerhead. Locating the Shower Posse in the domestic setting of a bathroom is chilling. This displacement suggests the unsettling idea of a blood bath, turning trauma into everyday violence.

The man behind the masks

Though shackled together, Dudus and Bruce are not of equal importance in our intriguing morality tale. Dudus is a minor character; he is, essentially, a foil. This term is used in literary analysis to describe a character whose main function is to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the characters around him. Like shining foil paper, Dudus shows up Bruce.

Indeed, the main character in the plot is Bruce Golding. The big question that faces us as we try to analyse his character is this: can we really expect our prime minister to be a reliable character witness for himself? Can we ever be sure of which mask he's wearing? Is it PM, party leader or repentant sinner at the mercy seat?

This brings us to the business of narrative point of view - the perspective from which a story is told. Two popular perspectives are 'first-person' and 'omniscient.' The omniscient narrator literally knows (scient) everything (omni). You can depend on the accuracy of the information given by an omniscient narrator.

This is not at all true of the first-person narrator whose perspective is singular and limited. The first-person narrator can reveal only as much as he or she knows or is willing to disclose. So when Bruce Golding says 'I' - in the first person - you simply cannot take his statements as gospel. What 'the I' says is provisional, subject to constant revision.

There are several other characters in this Dudus-Bruce melodrama. Harold Brady, the go-between, seems to be the designated fall guy - the scapegoat who must take full blame for the errors of his collaborators. The term 'scapegoat' is rooted in Jewish mythology. One of the high points of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the releasing of a goat into the wilderness, symbolically carrying the accumulated sins of the people.

The twists and turns of the complicated plot make it difficult to determine who is villain and who is victim in the tale of the Government's dealings with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. The law firm is loudly proclaiming its innocence. It, allegedly, acted with complete propriety.

I suppose Mr Brady will have to decide whether or not he wants to assume the role of victimised scapegoat. He may not find the wilderness to his liking. But will he be able to return to the fold? Lawyers, like goats, are notorious for their ability to negotiate rocky terrain, so I expect that Mr Brady will survive his banishment, if it comes to that.

The moral of the story

What does the Dudus-Bruce saga reveal about the nature of Jamaican society? That we get the politicians we deserve? Daryl Vaz, another figure in the tale, made an illuminating statement at last week's post-Cabinet media briefing, which is quoted in The Gleaner of Thursday, August 26:

"I read the papers yesterday (Tuesday) and I saw several different groupings, including groupings in the countryside, who still feel that there is more to the Manatt issue, and I feel it is going to be important that we separate the politics from the actual concerns and try and address it because it is a deep concern which relates to the issue of governance."

The countryside is not quite the same as the wilderness. But I do wonder why Mr Vaz chose to go there. He seems surprised that people in the countryside are concerned about the Manatt issue. But the issue isn't Manatt. It's governance. And it concerns all of us whether we live in the city or the country.

Furthermore, Mr Vaz appeals to us to "separate the politics from the actual concerns". This is classic doublespeak. If we insist that "there is more to the Manatt issue", that's 'politics'. But if we focus on our 'actual concerns,' that's 'governance.' This subterfuge, coming from the minister with responsibility for information, is quite alarming.

Governance is politics. Governance is all about how political parties conduct the affairs of state, especially when they are in office. And that is our actual concern. Knowledge is power and information is politics. End of story.

Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a public intellectual specialising in cultural enterprise management. She is also the host of PBC Jamaica's new TV talk show, Big People Sup'm. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com or karokupa@gmail.com.