This study proposes a new interpretation of the Haitian Revolution and its aftermath by examining the ideological foundations for the emergence of the first monarchy in the postcolonial Atlantic world. The discourse of freedom and the practice of authoritarianism in the Haitian Revolution, which was followed by Jean-Jacques Dessalines's establishment of an “empire” and the kingdom of Henry Christophe, show the profound antinomies of the discourse of universalism. Beginning with a reading of Haiti's founding documents in light of the political thought of Etienne Balibar and Hannah Arendt, the author proceeds to a brief case study of the highly polemical writings of Pompée Valentin, baron de Vastey, the secretary and “publicist” to King Henry Christophe. The first Haitian writer of note, Vastey passionately defended Haiti's revolutionary birth, its sovereignty, and its monarchy in an attempt to argue for its belonging within the modern world. At the same time, his writings point out the tensions of a universalism that both claimed for Haitians the status of a universal class and legitimated the founding of authoritarian rule within Haiti.
Doris L. Garraway teaches French and francophone literature at Northwestern University. She is the author of The Libertine Colony: Creolization in the Early French Caribbean (2005) and editor of Tree of Liberty: Cultural Legacies of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World (2008). Her articles have appeared in the journals Research in African Literatures, theInternational Journal of Francophone Studies, Callaloo, Eighteenth-Century Studies, and Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, and in the edited volume The Postcolonial Enlightenment (2009).
Juxtaposing two audiospheres (the Haitian streets after the 2010 earthquake and the “Hope for Haiti Now” telethon), this essay brings together scholarship on the visuality of suffering with work on music and emotion in order to explore the links between singing and knowledge, between humanitarianism and culture in the Caribbean, and between the photojournalism of disaster and the musicology of the disaster telethon. Even as Haitians sang widely in response to the earthquake, the disaster telethon, in its visual depiction of the sufferers, did not broadcast Haitians singing but rather rendered them unamplified and mute. The telethon focused on the emotionality of the American popular singers, and overwrote the story of the disaster with an American way of knowing, divorced entirely from Caribbean narratives, histories, and understandings. McAllister crystallizes connections between realms that might otherwise be difficult to discern: privatized humanitarianism, emotion, celebrity, entertainment, and the mediatized image of the Caribbean nation of Haiti.
Elizabeth McAlister is an associate professor of religion, African American studies, and American studies at Wesleyan University. She is author of Rara! Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and Its Diaspora (2002), coeditor (with Henry Goldschmidt) of Race, Nation, and Religion in the Americas (2004), and producer of the CDs Rhythms of Rapture: Sacred Musics of Haitian Vodou (Smithsonian/Folkways, 1995) and Angels in the Mirror: Vodou Music of Haiti (Ellipsis Arts 1997).
This essay addresses the aesthetics and politics of “restitution” in the works of Victor Anicet, a contemporary ceramist and painter from Martinique. Specifically, it investigates the mixed-media piece titledRestitution as a site of memory, restoration, reinvention, and healing. Anicet uses the tray, a multifunctional object, to inscribe the plantation labor, along with Taïno, Vodun, Congolese, and Berber symbols that reflect fragments of Martinican culture. The color blue, which covers all of the objects in the tray, unites the fragments and serves as an agent of dynamism and memory. The visual—and tactile—creations of Anicet complement the theories of Suzanne Césaire, Edouard Glissant, Monchoachi, and Derek Walcott. (In French)
Naïma Hachad is an assistant professor of French at American University, Washington DC. Her work explores artistic and literary forms derived from representations of identity in the Maghreb and the Caribbean in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. She has authored articles on the works of Abdelkebir Khatibi and Edouard Glissant, bilingualism, memory and space, and Maghrebi feminine voices, appearing in journals such as Etudes Francophones, CELAAN Review, and Revue des Sciences Humaines.
Valérie Loichot is an associate professor of French and English, and core faculty in comparative literature at Emory University, Atlanta. She is the author of Orphan Narratives (2007) and the forthcoming The Tropics Bite Back (2013), as well as of many essays on Caribbean and US literature, creolization theory, and food studies, featured in journals such as Callaloo, Etudes Francophones, French Cultural Studies, the International Journal of Francophone Studies, and Mississippi Quarterly.
This essay focuses on the densely interdisciplinary nature of Erna Brodber's textual knowledge production, its visionary quality, and the complex narrative strategies of her fictions that bear comparison with those of Wilson Harris. Mapping the scaffolding of Brodber's formal aesthetic, and her ethical and ideological frameworks, assists in navigating the rich terrain of her work. The generic fusions that comprise Brodber's writing style demand a negotiation between philosophy and discourses of therapy and healing that her fiction must serve. Attending to these fusions one can make out patterns in her fictions that reiterate/rehearse specific central concerns.
This article offers ways of engaging with the initially challenging writing because of her conviction that Brodber has so much to teach us. Discussing some of these challenges, it draws on Brodber's fiction and nonfiction, both of which insist readers learn to read in a new way. The reward is attainment of a transformative vision that shares Harris's commitment to revising, recreating, and redefining history.
Evelyn O'Callaghan is a professor of West Indian literature at the Barbados campus of the University of the West Indies. She has published Woman Version: Theoretical Approaches to West Indian Fiction by Women (1993), The Earliest Patriots (1986), and Women Writing the West Indies, 1804-1939: A Hot Place, Belonging to Us (2006); edited a nineteenth-century Caribbean novel, With Silent Tread, by Frieda Cassin (2002); and has written many articles and chapters on West Indian literature, particularly by women.
This article is an in-depth interview with the writer. The interview is prefaced by an analysis of the significance of Erna Brodber's historical and sociological texts, as well as her novels, whcih function as the backdrop for her community activism in the Woodside village, her home in rural Jamaica.
Catherine John is an associate professor of English at the University of Oklahoma. Her area of specialty is African diaspora literature. She has a special interest in the philosophy of culture as it has emerged in African American and Afro-Caribbean literary and cultural contexts. She is the author of Clear Word and Third Sight: Folk Groundings and Diasporic Consciousness in African Caribbean Writing (2004). She is currently working on a manuscript titled "The Just Society and the Diasporic Imagination."
Erna Brodber's historical interest in oral accounts as a source of emotional realities and social-psychological responses is expanded in her experimental novel Louisiana to include supernatural and extra-ordinary phenomena. Her incorporation of spirit possession into the life experiences of her protagonist forces a fundamental rethinking of the psyche, historical evidence, and the temporal relationship of the present to the past. Her novel suggests that silences in the written records are not only absences to be filled with new historical data but also spaces ofaffect, which does not designate “feeling” so much as a visceral response that cuts across thought and feeling, mind and body, spirit and matter, the physical and intuitive senses.
Jenny Sharpe teaches Caribbean literature in English and Afro-American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she is also chair of the Department of Women's Studies. She is author of Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text (1993) and Ghosts of Slavery: A Literary Archeology of Black Women's Lives (2002). Her current research examines the literary turn in archival studies and Caribbean literature's engagement with the materiality of the archives.
In this essay, Meriwether argues that Erna Brodber's representation of Vodou, spiritism, and blues music in her novel Louisiana illuminates a shared praxis among Afro-diasporic subjects that forms the basis of their viable political community. Using Houston A. Baker Jr.'s theory of the “blues matrix” and Homi K. Bhabha's theory of culture as enunciation rather than epistemology, Meriwether contends that Brodber's community comes into effect through various cultural discourses, and that these discourses illuminate a novel form of collective agency that is radically different from Westernized notions of community.
Rae Ann Meriwether is an adjunct instructor of composition and literature courses at Le Moyne College, Syracuse, New York. Her research interests include postcolonial theory, Caribbean literatures and theory, and historiography. She is currently working on a book manuscript that explores literary representations of community in Caribbean and Afro-diasporic literature.
In a response to the four essays on her work—by Evelyn O'Callaghan, Catherine John, Jenny Sharpe, and Rae Ann Meriwether—published in the same issue of Small Axe, Erna Brodber attempts to explain why her work is so difficult. If O'Callaghan's students complain that Brodber's work makes their heads hurt, they are not alone; even Brodber's colleagues have said this. Brodber takes this opportunity to speak to this “head-hurting,” confessing that much of this difficulty was designed as part of her methodology. She examines each of her published novels and explores the changes in her approach her more recent works—The World Is a High Hill (2012), a collection of twelve stories, and “Nothing's Mat,” a novel awaiting its publisher.
Erna Brodber was born and raised in deep rural Jamaica. She went through school on scholarships and fellowships, culminating in a PhD in history. Through her company, Blackspace, she engages in a wide range of community volunteering meant to help the descendants of Africans enslaved in the New World to realize their full potential. Her community work, sociological work, and creative work have been recognized by the Institute of Jamaica, with a Musgrave gold medal, and by the University of the West Indies (Mona), with an honorary doctorate in literature.
Thierry Alet is a Guadeloupean-born visual artist. He has exhibited his paintings and drawings in solo and group shows regionally and internationally. Alet's latest exhibition included the monumental sculpture Blood in the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris. He began his formal training in art at the Institut d'arts visuels, Fort-de-France, Martinique, and later studied, as a graduate student, at Pratt Institute, New York. He is the founder of the Frère Indépendent, an international not-for-profit organization whose aim is to provide widespread visibility to artists. He lives in New York and in Guadeloupe.
This article takes the 1928 Atlantic hurricane, remembered in Guadeloupe as le grand cyclone 28, as the starting point for a selective genealogy of Guadeloupean women in times of catastrophe, following Melissa Harris-Perry's study of women and citizenship during Hurricane Katrina. The essay reminisces and imagines different scenarios of survival and resilience, while analyzing modes of representations of Guadeloupean identities, from the unattributed and undated ID photograph of the author's paternal grandmother to Augustus Sherman's group portrait of migrant workers on their arrival at Ellis Island in the late 1910s, Man Ray's exotica of his métisse muse on the eve of World War II, Sarah Maldoror's filmic depiction of a heroine of the Angolan anticolonial struggle in the 1970s, Alain Foix's recent historical reconstitution of the encounter between Angela Davis and Gerty Archimède, and Joëlle Ferly's “revolutionary” performance in Port-au-Prince in 2011. The article concludes on the impossibility of Guadeloupean identity outside of anarchipelagic construction of history.
Claire Tancons is a curator, writer, and researcher whose work focuses on Carnival, public ceremonial culture, and protest movements. She is interested in alternative genealogies of performance practices from the Americas, Asia, and Africa and is investigating the processional form as a counter to dominant exhibitionary models. In 2012 she founded Extemporary, an artistic and curatorial collective dedicated to public performance. Born in Guadeloupe, she is based in New Orleans.
Kaiama L. Glover's Haiti Unbound fills a gap in understanding writing that took place in Haiti during Duvalierism, helping to open onto new(er) global narratives. In so doing, Glover contributes to the questioning of how and why poverty is fetishized. This review explores the Spiralist aesthetic's illustration of why Haiti fascinates a “Western” sensibility.Grosso modo, the review outlines the existing narratives of “Haiti” as revolving around the polarities of, on the one hand, its extreme “poverty” and, on the other, its reputation for tremendous artistic production: Is there a way to approach discourses about Haiti that explores how and why such extreme narratives continue to be produced?
Alessandra Benedicty is an assistant professor of Caribbean and francophone literatures in the Division of Interdisciplinary Studies at the Center for Worker Education of the City College of New York (CUNY). She has published in Contemporary French and Francophone Studies, the Journal of Haitian Studies, and Studies in Religions / Sciences Religieuses.
This review dialogues with Kaiama L. Glover's Haiti Unbound to explore how the Spiralist authors have grappled with the problem of history and the difficulty of representing life under the Duvalier regimes. The essay seeks to situate her contribution within a broader field of literary criticism surrounding French Caribbean and Haitian literature, and draws on her approach to analyze a selection of novels by Lyonel Trouillot.
Laurent Dubois is Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and History at Duke University and codirector of the Haiti Laboratory of the Franklin Humanities Institute. He is the author of Haiti: The Aftershocks of History (2012), Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France (2011), Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution (2005), and A Colony of Citizens (2006). He is currently writing an Atlantic history of the banjo.
This review engages with fundamental questions regarding postcolonial canon formation and the marginalization of the Haitian Spiralist writers, the theory-centrism of postcolonial criticism, and “showing” versus “telling”—issues raised by Kaiama L. Glover's Haiti Unbound. Using as a point of departure Glover's key notions of “not-Paris” and “ex-centricity” regarding the critical reception of the Spiralists, this essay responds, Why only not-Paris? It argues that equally significant for this particular group of Haitian writers is the fact that they are also not-US (not-NYC) and not-Quebec (not-Montreal), as these represent, from a Haitian literary perspective, other crucial centers of publishing. Through analysis of the centrality of Haitian writers—including that most ultravocal Spiralist, Frankétienne—to the whole French Etonnants voyageurs project, the article argues that many Haitian writers are, in fact, what we could callbecoming-France/becoming-Paris. Questioning the phenomenon of postcolonial star formations, as delineated by Graham Huggan and Chris Bongie, the essay also examines the inescapability of extra-literary factors, where Haitian literature is concerned, particularly in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.
Rachel Douglas is lecturer in francophone postcolonial studies at the University of Liverpool, where she works on Caribbean literature and film in French and English. She is author of Frankétienne and Rewriting: A Work in Progress (2009), and is currently working on two monograph projects: "Rewriting the Haitian Revolution: C. L. R. James's The Black Jacobins in Context" and "Caribbean Rewriting: Rewriting the Caribbean."
The 2010 earthquake has given rise to and put into wide(r) circulation a narrative very much of a piece with the long-standing discourse of Haitian singularity. This recent, though not new, narrative is premised not only on the notion of Haiti's endless suffering but also on a concomitant notion of the Haitian people's endless capacity for suffering. Furthering the trope of Haitian resilience, this narrative functions in tandem with that of Haitian barbarism, situating the country and its populace in a space—a state?—of exception; it subtly disables true empathy, so allowing the rest of the not-Haiti world to imagine and accept Haitians as somehow other than human. It is this positioning of Haiti at the extreme poles of the human condition that Glover calls into question in Haiti Unbound. In this essay, she attempts to respond to and push further the insightful points of inquiry proposed by Alessandra Benedicty, Laurent Dubois, and Rachel Douglas in their compelling and multivalent engagements with her book.
Kaiama L. Glover is an associate professor in the French Department and the Africana Studies Program at Barnard College, Columbia University. She has published in the French Review, Small Axe, Research in African Literatures, the Journal of Postcolonial Writings, and the Journal of Haitian Studies, and is the author of the book Haiti Unbound: A Spiralist Challenge to the Postcolonial Canon (2010). Her current project considers the ethics of narcissism and configurations of the feminine in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Caribbean fiction.