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Exhibiting Slavery

Exhibiting Slavery: The Caribbean Postmodern Novel as Museum

Vivian Nun Halloran
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Exhibiting Slavery
    Book Description:

    Exhibiting Slaveryexamines the ways in which Caribbean postmodern historical novels about slavery written in Spanish, English, and French function as virtual museums, simultaneously showcasing and curating a collection of "primary documents" within their pages. As Vivian Nun Halloran attests, these novels highlight narrative "objects" extraneous to their plot-such as excerpts from the work of earlier writers, allusions to specific works of art, the uniforms of maroon armies assembled in preparation of a military offensive, and accounts of slavery's negative impact on the traditional family unit in Africa or the United States. In doing so, they demand that their readers go beyond the pages of the books to sort out fact from fiction and consider what relationship these featured "objects" have to slavery and to contemporary life. The self-referential function of these texts produces a "museum effect" that simultaneously teaches and entertains their readers, prompting them to continue their own research beyond and outside the text.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2868-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Translations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Novels as Museums in a Postmodern Age
    (pp. 1-20)

    Following the 2001 passage of the so-called Taubira law, which declared slavery and the slave trade to be crimes against humanity, the French government created a national Committee for the Remembrance of Slavery made up of writers, museum curators, and historians hailing from France and its overseas departments: Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion, and French Guiana.¹ The committee’s mandate was to increase public awareness of the history of French involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. French president Jacques Chirac appointed acclaimed Guadeloupian novelist Maryse Condé as the committee’s president. Condé has written three slavery-related, postmodern historical novels: the two volumes of the...

  6. 1 Books as National (Literary) History Museums
    (pp. 21-50)

    In October 1992, the Museum of the Americas opened its doors in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to coincide with the five-hundredth anniversary of Colombus’s “discovery” of the New World.¹ Located on the site of the former barracks of the Spanish colonial army, el cuartel Ballajá, the Museum of the Americas houses three permanent exhibits, The Indian in America, Popular Arts in America, and Our African Heritage, and hosts a variety of traveling exhibitions throughout the year. The museum is the brainchild of Dr. Ricardo Alegría, a noted anthropologist, and archaeologist who has dedicated his professional life to the systematic documentation,...

  7. 2 Art Museums: Visual (Inter)Texts
    (pp. 51-78)

    Thematic exhibitions at art museums regularly display visual and three-dimensional art objects as representative of larger sociopolitical conflicts or movements that characterized a particular era. During the summer of 2005, the Milwaukee Art Museum hosted an exhibition in its Decorative Arts Gallery entitled About Face: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the African American Image, curated by Glenn Adamson.¹ Ceramic arts—pitchers and jugs—bearing the iconic image of the prominent leader of the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint L’Ouverture, are at the heart of this exhibition. It may be surprising for modern audiences to consider how nineteenth-century ceramics functioned as a vehicle for political...

  8. 3 Ethnographic Museums: The Literary Diorama
    (pp. 79-99)

    As I argue in chapter 1, Maryse Condé’sI, Tituba, Patrick Chamoiseau’sL’esclave, and Reinaldo Arenas’sGraveyard of the Angelsuse intertextual citations to place themselves within the framework of a national literary tradition and/or history in Barbados, Martinique, and Cuba, respectively, regardless of their authors’ birthplace. In contrast, the postmodern historical novels about slavery discussed in this chapter—Fred D’Aguiar’sThe Longest Memory(1995), Caryl Phillips’sCrossing the River(1993) andHigher Ground(1995), and both volumes of Maryse Condé’s epic family sagaSegu(1984 and 1985)—are part of a large diasporic project that purposefully rejects the geographic...

  9. 4 Between Plantation and Living History Museum
    (pp. 100-120)

    Whereas both the ethnographic museum and literary dioramas of the African villages discussed in the previous chapter maintain a sense of the historical divide separating visitors/readers from the scenes depicted by emphasizing their subjects’ exotic otherness, plantation and living history museums try to do the reverse: they emphasize the historical authenticity of their location in order to integrate their visitors into the intimate settings of everyday life to make history come alive for them. Unlike auction blocks or slaving vessels, which are archaic artifacts fairly unique to the administration of the institution of slavery and therefore not part of a...

  10. 5 World Heritage Sites: The Fortress
    (pp. 121-148)

    The islands circumscribed by the Caribbean basin bear the ruins left behind by violent encounters between transnational antagonists too numerous to tally. Architectural and geographic landmarks situated throughout the islands silently attest to the physical and temporal reality of these bloody episodes in the region’s history. Military forts scattered throughout the Caribbean archipelago that were once sites of unspeakable carnage and devastation now have become part of the heritage tourism circuit. As primary sources for historical investigation, landscape and architecture pose an inherent challenge to the way the museum has developed into a cultural and historical institution that houses objects...

  11. 6 Mourning Museums: Diasporic Practices
    (pp. 149-176)

    There are public memorials erected in memory of important historical figures that rose up against the plantation system of slavery and gained fame and prominence in their fight for liberty throughout the islands of the Caribbean. These monuments not only commemorate the heroic actions of brave individuals who usually lost their lives in the struggle for freedom, but also serve as public indictments of the racist ideologies that attempted to deny these people their humanity and label their resistance as “unlawful” and “barbaric.” As structures specifically created to mark the end of a person’s life, monuments, sculptures, and...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 177-190)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 191-202)
  14. Index
    (pp. 203-208)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 209-210)