Claude McKay’s vagabond classicisms: empire, uplift, and antiquity

Ben Gregson, PhD student, on Jamaican writer Claude McKay for the Classical Receptions Journal.

This article examines the classicisms of the influential Jamaican writer, Claude McKay. Taking as paradigmatic an allusion to the myth of Laocoön in Banjo, it analyses McKay’s troubling of the classical notion of translatio imperii et studii throughout his work. Consistently rejecting imperium, McKay nevertheless embraced classical studium as a potential source of racial uplift and new creative expression. He resists both hegemonic Euro-American classicisms which appropriated Greco-Roman antiquity to authorize their imperial projects and simplistic Afrocentric classicisms which relocated imperial fantasies in Egypt and Ethiopia. However, McKay still admired the cultural legacies of Greco-Roman and African ancient civilizations. Freely and selectively enlisting these various, often-contradictory, classical traditions, McKay’s vagabond classicisms attacked empire, in all its forms, while reaffirming the aesthetic and social potential of decolonized and heterogeneous antiquities.

Full article here