In 2009, during a period of intense debate surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Jamaica, Staceyann Chin published the first memoir of growing up lesbian in Jamaica. While Chin's lesbian identity is a major theme of the text, also important is documenting the child abuse and homophobic violence she suffered. This essay makes visible the connections between physical punishments during slavery (with particular reference to “The History of Mary Prince”), practices of child abuse and homophobic violence in Jamaica, and contemporary modes of recognizing legitimate subjects by the state. In contrast to research focused on homophobia in the Caribbean as largely a product of religious teachings or a relic of the Victorian era, this essay instead suggests that powerful histories of physical control and discipline influence contemporary beliefs about the “threat” LGBT individuals present to the nation. Chin's identity as a woman of Chinese and African descent calls into question a unitary identity or origin story for Caribbean subjects and asks which bodies are allowed to be legitimate citizens of the postindependence Caribbean. Chin's personal experiences are put into the context of larger debates within Jamaica about sovereignty in the wake of US and UK announcements linking budgetary aid to compliance with international LGBT rights norms.
Jocelyn Fenton Stitt is a visiting associate professor in the Department of Women's Studies at the University of Michigan. She was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Michigan in 2013–14 and an associate professor of gender and women's studies at Minnesota State University, Mankato. She has published essays on Caribbean literature in Ariel, Michigan Feminist Studies, and Small Axe, and coedited Mothers Who Deliver: Feminist Interventions in Public and Interpersonal Discourse (2010) and Before “Windrush”: Recovering a Black and Asian Literary Heritage within Britain (2008).
While scholarly and popular attention has focused on both interethnic tensions and hyperdiverse mixtures in Trinidad, this article considers solidarities based neither on mixture nor on bounded, antagonistic cultures. These “altered solidarities” reflect the ways subaltern Indian and African Trinidadians have articulated trust and influence through ethnoracial difference. J. Brent Crosson constructs both a counterhistory of ethnoracial relations in Trinidad and a counternarrative to culturalist explanations for contemporary violence to foreground less-legible forms of interracial connection and intraethnic division. While these counternarratives remain provocations defined by the particular context of African and Indian relations in “rural cosmopolitan” Trinidad, altered solidarities point toward wider interventions in debates that surround pluralism, creolization theory, and the delimitation of national, ethnic, or political communities.
J. Brent Crosson recently completed a PhD dissertation based on field research in Trinidad with the assistance of Fulbright and ACLS/Mellon fellowships. His work has appeared in the Journal of Africana Religions and Cultural Anthropology's “Fieldsights.” With the support of the Ruth Landes Memorial Research Fund, he is currently a postdoctoral fellow and visiting scholar in the anthropology department at New York University.
This essay inquires into the uses of Haiti and its revolution as emblematic for contemporary theory. It raises a question about the new “philosophic” construction of Haiti—and its revolution—as an originary or exemplary moment of “human rights,” less to impugn universality as such than to caution that it is always important to ask about the ideological construction of the theory-problems in our scholarship. The essay then turns to a discussion of the problem-space that makes intelligible why and how C. L. R. James's The Black Jacobins is constructed as an exploration of the Haitian Revolution as a question of “universal history.”
David Scott teaches in the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University. He is the author, most recently, of Omens of Adversity: Tragedy, Time, Memory, Justice(2014) and is now completing a book titled “Stuart Hall's Voice: An Ethics of Receptive Generosity,” based on lectures given at the University of the Western Cape in 2013.
French is usually referred to as an elite language in the context of Haiti. By contrast, Haitian Creole is acknowledged as the language of the people. In this essay, Nadève Ménard argues that it is crucial to move beyond this simplistic paradigm. While the Caribbean is generally celebrated for its multi-culturalism, Haitian linguistic plurality tends to be denied outright or disparaged as a characteristic of the exploitative members of the elite. Yet multilingual Haitians include not only those of the middle and upper classes but also those living along the border with the Dominican Republic and vendors traveling between Haiti, Curacao, Panama, and the Bahamas, as well as return migrants and others. The author posits that the insistence that all multiligual Haitians belong to the same socioeconomic category depends on the image of the authentic Haitian as poor, illiterate, and monolingual. Further, defining the authentic Haitian as monolingual essentially perpetuates the denial of linguistic rights for the majority of the Haitian population.
Nadève Ménard is a professor of literature at the Ecole Normale Supérieure of the Université d'Etat d'Haïti. Her research centers on the representation of political conflicts in literature. She has contributed to several journals and collective book projects. She is the editor of Ecrits d'Haïti: Perspectives sur la littérature haïtienne contemporaine (1986–2006) (2011), and she is one of five coeditors working on The Haiti Reader, forthcoming from Duke University Press. With Régine Michelle Jean-Charles, she launched Tande, a trilingual blog on Haitian culture and literature (tandenou2.blogspot.com).
This essay mines the concept of untranslatability in two texts by Eduardo Lalo: Los países invisibles and La inutilidad. The analysis interrogates the juridical implications of translation within the “world republic of letters,” which ostensibly accrues literary capital to texts produced within a particular national context. On this premise, Natalie L. Belisle argues that “untranslatability” designates the exclusion of texts originating in juridically indeterminate spaces, such as Puerto Rico, from world literary space. Building primarily on theories of language and translation in the writing of Edouard Glissant, among others, the author suggests that Lalo's work deploys untranslatability as a means of affirming the literary and political identity of Puerto Rican writers' against the classificatory schema of world literary space and the canon.
Natalie L. Belisle is a PhD candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she is completing her dissertation on how political strangers, as depicted in contemporary Caribbean narrative, make use of “documentation” to mobilize alternative citizenship practices. Broadly, her research focuses on the idea of “futurity” in Caribbean literature and on the viability of public humanities initiatives as a means of mobilizing citizen engagement in the Caribbean.
This essay compares Sigmund Freud and Walter Benjamin to argue that the most creative way of engaging with an elusive mode of meaning within any cultural source is to provide a tertium quid, a new “supplementary legibility” present neither in the source culture nor in the target culture. Cultural translation thrives when it exceeds the act of imitating a “foreign” illegible text, becoming instead a bold, conscientious effort to imitate the freedom of the originary signifier in all of its inevitable indeterminacy of meaning and plurality of signification. The author focuses on exemplary practitioners of this demanding task—on historically situated insider-outsiders such as Freud and Benjamin as well as on subaltern groups who seek recognition and reattachment to an illusory transcendental “civilization.”
Rose Réjouis is an associate professor of literary studies at Eugene Lang College, New School for Liberal Arts. She is the author of Veillées pour les mots: Césaire, Chamoiseau, Condé (2004) and is the translator, with Val Vinokur, of Patrick Chamoiseau's Solibo Magnificent and Texaco and of Marie Vieux-Chauvet's Love, Anger, Madness.
While models of creoleness in the Caribbean reinscribe a theoretical monolingualism, thinking about regional literature as multilingual instead allows for an understanding of the ongoing relationality, conflictuality, and creativity produced in the translative modes through which literary expression negotiates between the primary languages of the region. In reading for the translative, writing that works between vernaculars or Creoles and dominant European languages, we can identify a distinctly Caribbean mode of expression. In this essay, translative analyses of Derek Walcott's play Drums and Colours and the essays and poetry of Monchoachi show the creative engagement with a differential opacity that speaks to the negotiation of the specificities of self-determination and self-definition necessary to the postcolonial condition.
Kavita Ashana Singh is an assistant professor of English at the University of Houston. She researches and teaches francophone and anglophone Caribbean literature and culture and is currently working on a book on performance and multilingualism in the Caribbean titled “The Carnival Language: Exhibitive Multilingualism in the Postcolonial Caribbean.”
In relating to language (in the poetic relating to language) listening precedes the “answer,” for it is the condition of the “answer well.” And the “answer well” by the poet, who stands face to face with the word that language speaks, is an “answer” that is accorded, that is attentive to the world and the mode it instills. Still, “letting oneself be spoken” does not go without a “letting go,” without rupture or distancing, the whole body seized and worn down, for most of us, by a shrinking world, by a threadbare language. What we need is to turn around, go the other way. There is where it has a chance to potentially grow within us.
Monchoachi is the pseudonym of André Pierre-Louis, the Martinican-born writer. He studied philosophy at the University of Bordeaux and is the author of a number of books. Among his collections of poetry are Mantèg (1980), Nostrom (1982), Nuit gagée (1992), L'espère-geste (2002), which won the Prix Max Jacob and the Prix Carbet de la Caraïbe, and, most recently, Lémistè (2012). His collections of essays include Eulogy of Servility (2007) and The Savage Word (2009). He is also a translator into Creole of Samuel Beckett's plays.
Charl Landvreugd (whose work also appears on the covers of this issue) studied fine art and the history of art at Goldsmiths College, London, and, as a Fulbright Fellow, in the program Modern Art: Critical and Curatorial Studies at Columbia University. He has been awarded several scholarships and grants to develop his research into African diaspora aesthetics in Continental Europe and is now continuing his explorations at the Royal College of Art, London. He lives and works in Rotterdam.
Wayne Modest is the head of the Research Center for Material Culture at the National Museum of World Cultures, Netherlands. He was previously head of the curatorial department at the Tropenmuseum, and keeper of anthropology at the Horniman Museum, London. He has held visiting research fellowships at the Yale Center for British Art and the School for Museum Studies, New York University. His most recent publications include Museums, Heritage, and International Development(with Paul Basu, 2014), Museums and Communities: Curators, Collections, Collaborations (with Viv Golding, 2013), and “Slavery and the (Symbolic) Politics of Memory in Jamaica: Rethinking the Bicentenary,” in Representing Enslavement and Abolition in Museums (2011).
The Hawthorne Archive sends a few fragmented materials to Small Axe about Colin Dayan: a letter, a file note, a commentary on the photographs missing from Dayan's autobiographical writings, and an inventory of keywords. In all, this essay is an emphasis on her ethical-political-practical concern for those made into unpersons by the law and the work of “imagining what can't be verified.”
Avery F. Gordon is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the author of Keeping Good Time: Reflections on Knowledge, Power, and People (2004); Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination(2008); and (with Ines Schaber) The Workhouse: The Breitenau Room (2014). She is the cohost of No Alibis, a weekly public affairs radio program, and the keeper of the Hawthorne Archives.
This reflection argues that the oeuvre of Colin Dayan provides critical tools for the elaboration of black transgender studies. Specifically, the authors analyze the trial and imprisonment of black transgender activist CeCe MacDonald using Dayan's work as a methodological model. The essay engages Dayan's work on race and gender in Haiti, History, and the Gods to elaborate a critique of how racism and transphobia become intimately intertwined in the attack against MacDonald. The authors then turn to Dayan's more recent work in The Law Is a White Dog to discuss how transphobia is informed by racism in the course of MacDonald's experience in the criminal justice system.
Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley is an associate professor in the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests include women of color feminism, Caribbean literature and performance, and queer theory. She is the author of Thiefing Sugar: Eroticism between Women in Caribbean Literature (2010).
Matt Richardson is an associate professor in the departments of African and African diaspora studies and English and an affiliate faculty member in women's and gender studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of The Queer Limit of Black Memory: Black Lesbian Literature and Irresolution (2013). His research interests include black queer studies, feminist studies, and cultural criticism.
This essay provides an overview of Colin Dayan's work that attends, specifically, to her representations of slave law in Haiti, History, and the Gods and The Law Is a White Dog. It takes as its point of departure Dayan's indictment in the final chapter of Haiti, History, and the Gods of the infamous Code Noir and her equally blistering account of a well-known instance of settler violence, that of the planter Nicolas Lejeune, whose prosecution for torture in 1788 has recently been examined from a decidedly more sanguine perspective by legal historian Malick Ghachem. Contrasting Dayan and Ghachem's very different representations of the Code Noir and the Lejeune case helps illuminate the (ever more visibly) political stakes of Dayan's long-standing critique of the conversional logic through which both the slavery of old and the penal incarceration of today have “turned humans into things, beasts, or mongrels.”
Chris Bongie is a professor of English at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the author of three monographs, the latest of which is Friends and Enemies: The Scribal Politics of Post/Colonial Literature (2008). He has also published critical editions/translations of early works about the Haitian Revolution, including novels by Jean-Baptiste Picquenard and Victor Hugo, as well as, most recently, Haitian writer Baron de Vastey's trailblazing 1814 work of anticolonial critique, The Colonial System Unveiled (2014).
The essays by Avery F. Gordon, Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley and Matt Richardson, and Chris Bongie about Colin Dayan's work and thought, in their differing forms and intent, inspire Dayan to do something like a riff on each, and she attempts to capture the gist of each reaction and elaborate her response as a kind of homage to these readers. In thinking of each section of her response essay as part of a triptych (or trinity, perhaps), mutually overlapping and entangled, Dayan takes the questions and prompts of her interlocutors as a challenge, a call to a practice of spiritual yearning, and a mode of political deliberation. She also writes in homage to Walter Rodney's sense of what it means to “ground with” her brothers and sisters in these dread times.
Colin Dayan is the Robert Penn Warren Professor of the Humanities and a professor of law at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of A Rainbow for the Christian West(1977), Fables of Mind: An Inquiry into Poe's Fiction (1987), Haiti, History, and the Gods (1995), The Story of Cruel and Unusual (2007), and The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons (2011).