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Empire and Underworld

Empire and Underworld: Captivity in French Guiana

Miranda Frances Spieler
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Empire and Underworld
    Book Description:

    The French Revolution invented the notion of the citizen, but it also invented the noncitizen—the person whose rights were nonexistent. The South American outpost of Guiana became a depository for these outcasts of the new French citizenry, and an experimental space for the exercise of new kinds of power and violence against marginal groups.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06287-0
    Subjects: History, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-ix)
  3. Map: French Guiana, 1789–1870
    (pp. x-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Marc bloch’s posthumous work, Apologie pour l’histoire (1949), insists often on the value of traces that mark the ground including buildings, field structures, and archaeological remains. Unwritten traces have the same importance for Bloch that footprints, fingerprints, or cigar ash would for a detective. Yet he also imagines vestiges on the land to have a moral and aesthetic value that is distinct from their usefulness. In physical remains, the past touches the land of the living and invites the touch of the historian.¹

    This is a book about French Guiana in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a sparsely peopled slip...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Leaving the Republic
    (pp. 17-37)

    In the summer of 1795, the tone-deaf vaudevillian Louis-Ange Pitou moved his act from the Armed Man, a royalist tavern, to the public squares of Paris. He stood with a shapely fiddler on a table near the Louvre and insulted the government in verse that he made obscene through his talent for physical comedy.¹ He was arrested for the sixteenth time in August 1797 and sentenced in October. Pitou used his chilly months in the Bicêtre prison to write his memoirs, Analysis of My Woes and Persecutions.² But the real misery lay ahead. In January he set off with a...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Strange Dominion
    (pp. 38-59)

    Deportation during the 1790s combined the removal of rights with notional long-distance travel. This form of exile did not require going anywhere. It meant crossing a threshold of law that represented the edges of the rights-bearing French community. Whether they fled abroad, remained in France, or wound up in Guiana, enemies of state lived under the sovereignty of the French government in an unusual sanctum of its authority. Revolutionaries projected this dominion for traitors onto the edges of the world, as they pictured it. Madagascar, Namibia, terra australis, and French Guiana were the same place. They were abstract destinations off...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Free Soil
    (pp. 60-80)

    On 13 april 1793, the mayor of Cayenne faced the sea, the town’s mud wall behind him, and waited to greet the new commissar, Nicolas-Georges Jeannet-Oudin, at the gates of the city. Later that day, Jeannet joined the regiment, the militia, and local worthies to pay “homage to the fatherland on its altar.” The patriot mass ended with the song that people still called “The Hymn of the Men from Marseille.” At the words “Sacred Love of the Fatherland, Liberty, Sweet Liberty,” everyone fell to his knees.¹

    When reporting his arrival, Jeannet confessed to a flicker of unease as he...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Missing Persons
    (pp. 81-110)

    In September 1828, Dezailly Allongé Alexis (Artifaille, Alexis Allongé nicknamed Artifaille, Dessailly, Desalliers, Darzalier), imprisoned for vagabondage in Beauvais, petitioned the minister of the interior to release him from yet another random imprisonment. “The little security he enjoys when traveling for his personal affairs . . . makes him the frequent victim of false suspicions and arrests that hover over him, as a kind of misfortune attached to his person. . . . Your Excellency, render a citizen to society who will be eternally grateful for this good turn.” Dezailly appealed to the minister in a political vocabulary that harked...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Idea for a Continent
    (pp. 111-133)

    “After having occupied ourselves so intently with making the races of animals better and more beautiful . . . is it not shameful to have so neglected the race of man?”¹ For the legislator and physician Pierre-Jean-Georges Cabanis, the aim of studying man was to remake him. In 1796 he proposed to revamp the national project of human regeneration. What began in 1789 as a legal and political project should become a scientific one.

    Under the influence of Cabanis, a motley assortment of scientists including linguists, zoologists, and physicians founded the Society for the Observation of Man under the Consulate.²...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Local Arrangements
    (pp. 134-159)

    French advocates for convict transportation projected sealed nooks of punishment onto abstract stretches of empty ground. The Mackau Commission claimed to have chosen Guiana because so much land remained available. As an enterprise that administrators planned to cordon from the world, the penal colony seemed to require territory that stood outside human history.

    There was, in practice, no such thing as vacant earth. It proved impossible for anyone to envisage land in Guiana without reference to the colony’s past and present. The local history of slavery shaped the new convict settlement, as did the unfolding story of the second emancipation,...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Enormous Room
    (pp. 160-189)

    In the spring of 1852 the navy shipped fifteen hundred tablespoons with an equal number of forks, goblets, and plates to Guiana, along with planks, empty mattress covers, 190 bathrobes, assorted reparative potions, hammers, hatchets, carpentry tools, paving shovels, and saws.¹ Law also traveled to the colony as part of the navy’s assembly kit for a new convict society.²

    The 1852 decree that emptied the port prisons into Guiana intended the legal apparatus of felonry to move with the men overseas. The navy sent procedural instructions about the special maritime tribunal that had long judged convicts in the ports. It...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Metastasis
    (pp. 190-218)

    In the fall of 1863, Jacques Modeste Vathonne left Guiana for France to resettle as a surveyed man in his home department of Eureet-Loir. The prefect of Paris assigned him to the village of Pinthières, his birthplace. The mayor of that village, where no one knew him, could expect to identify this average looking man—mouse-haired, balding, of middling stature (5 feet 7 inches)—by his pallor, the dimple on his chin, and the image of a trophy tattooed on his left arm.¹

    Vathonne was a rarity in the 1860s. At the time of his homecoming, more than twelve thousand...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 219-224)

    In 1947, french guiana became a department of France—an appendage of the metropolitan state. Robert Vignon, the first civilian prefect, viewed the former colony as land that civilization had overlooked. He became known locally for his expeditions, by plane and canoe, to visit the so-called populations primitives. These were Maroons and the few hundred Indians of the Wayana and Emerillon tribes who survived in the interior. “Maintaining the Indians artificially in medieval conditions, cut off from all evolution, is criminal and genocidal, because it is the disappearance of an ethnicity that is at stake,” he wrote.¹ For Vignon, the...

  14. Appendix
    (pp. 225-230)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 231-276)
  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 277-278)
  17. Index
    (pp. 279-284)