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The Haitian Revolution in the Literary Imagination

The Haitian Revolution in the Literary Imagination: Radical Horizons, Conservative Constraints

Philip Kaisary
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 256
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    The Haitian Revolution in the Literary Imagination
    Book Description:

    The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) reshaped the debates about slavery and freedom throughout the Atlantic world, accelerated the abolitionist movement, precipitated rebellions in neighboring territories, and intensified both repression and antislavery sentiment. The story of the birth of the world's first independent black republic has since held an iconic fascination for a diverse array of writers, artists, and intellectuals throughout the Atlantic diaspora. Examining twentieth-century responses to the Haitian Revolution, Philip Kaisary offers a profound new reading of the representation of the Revolution by radicals and conservatives alike in primary texts that span English, French, and Spanish languages and that include poetry, drama, history, biography, fiction, and opera.

    In a complementary focus on canonical works by Aimé Césaire, C. L. R. James, Edouard Glissant, and Alejo Carpentier in addition to the work of René Depestre, Langston Hughes, and Madison Smartt Bell, Kaisary argues that the Haitian Revolution generated an enduring cultural and ideological inheritance. He addresses critical understandings and fictional reinventions of the Revolution and thinks through how, and to what effect, authors of major diasporic texts have metamorphosed and appropriated this spectacular corner of black revolutionary history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3548-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    The declaration of Haitian independence by Jean-Jacques Dessalines on January 1, 1804, was the culminating moment of the Haitian Revolution that had erupted some twelve years earlier in the French colony of Saint Domingue. The story of the birth of the world’s first independent black republic has long held an iconic fascination for a diverse array of writers, artists, and intellectuals. The Haitian revolutionary war of independence overthrew slavery, white supremacy, and colonialism. As an entirely novel historical event that was, however, universal in its political aspirations and ideological implications, it was variously represented as a slave rebellion, an anticolonial...

  6. Part One: Radical Recuperations: Universalism and Transformation

    • 1 Radical Universalism: The Haitian Revolution, Aimé Césaire, and C. L. R. James
      (pp. 21-36)

      Aimé Césaire’s and C. L. R. James’s Haitian texts articulate a case for the recuperation of the story of the Haitian Revolution within the context of twentieth-century anti-imperialist struggle in Africa and the Caribbean. C. L. R. James made clear that this was one of his objectives when he gave a lecture series in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1971 on his historical masterpieceThe Black Jacobins: “Now, what did I have in mind when I wrote this book? I had in mind writing about the San Domingo Revolution as the preparation for the revolution that George Padmore and all of us...

    • 2 Langston Hughes: Harlem and Haiti
      (pp. 37-55)

      The influence of the Harlem Renaissance on both Aimé Césaire and C. L. R. James was fundamental. Langston Hughes and other poets and writers of the Harlem Renaissance, including Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Countee Cullen, “enjoyed a heroic status among black intellectuals when Césaire arrived in Paris in 1931.”¹ Hughes was dubbed “the father of negritude,”² his work known to and admired by writers adhering to its agenda as well as C. L. R James.³

      It is thus instructive to turn to Langston Hughes’s recuperations of the Haitian Revolution and to trace their commonalities with Césaire’s and James’s radical...

    • 3 Return to Négritude: The Haitian Revolution and René Depestre’s Un arc-en-ciel pour l’occident chrétien
      (pp. 56-76)

      René Depestre, one of Haiti’s most renowned men of letters, belonged to a second generation of négritude poets, and although he was also a novelist and essayist, it is on his poetry that his international literary reputation rests. This chapter is concerned with his book-length radical poemUn arc-en-ciel pour l’occident chrétien (A Rainbow for the Christian West) in order to analyze the means by which its recuperation of the Haitian Revolution articulates a poetics of radical liberation. At the outset it is necessary to note that Despestre’s radical political position as set out inUn arc-en-cielhas not endured:...

    • 4 The Haitian Revolution and Radical Visual Politics: Jacob Lawrence, Kimathi Donkor, and the Cultures of Philately
      (pp. 77-106)

      I have in the first section of this study sought to argue that a radical and original ensemble of writings, heterogeneous in medium, voice, and tenor, can be read as consistent in their ambition to recuperate the Haitian Revolution by mobilizing history as the carrier of their transformational, revolutionary messages. To elaborate the argument further, I now turn to the visual arts, in full knowledge that a proper discussion of the more than two centuries of iconography relating to Toussaint and the Haitian Revolution merits a book-length study of its own.¹

      I have therefore chosen to focus on two radical...

  7. Part Two: Conservative Visions: Pessimism, Seduction, and Fantasy

    • 5 Edouard Glissant’s Monsieur Toussaint: Conservatism Hidden in Relation
      (pp. 109-120)

      Edouard Glissant’s only published play,Monsieur Toussaint,suggests that there is no one “true” account or interpretation of the Haitian Revolution or of its most celebrated figure, Toussaint Louverture.¹ InMonsieur Toussaint, Glissant’s representation of Toussaint cannot be seen as a dramatic attempt to portray him realistically, but instead, Toussaint is used as an exemplar of the Glissantian concepts ofRelationandcréolité. In the preface to the 1961 first edition, Glissant claimed that the work is not politically inspired, and that rather it is linked to what he calls, paradoxically, “a prophetic vision of the past.”² This chapter examines...

    • 6 Ideological Frailty and the Marvelous in Alejo Carpentier’s El reino de este mundo
      (pp. 121-134)

      Alejo Carpentier, the Cuban novelist, essayist, musicologist, and communist, is widely acclaimed as having been one of Latin America’s most influential writers. His innovation of the concept of “lo real maravilloso”—the marvelous real—gained such influence among the writers of the region who chose to affiliate themselves with the term that the particular perception of Latin American social reality it encouraged is evident throughout the writings of the Latin American literary boom of the 1960s.¹Lo real maravillosowas an extraordinary and distinctive literary style and theory that was defined by the bewitching novel of the Haitian RevolutionEl...

    • 7 The Aesthetics of Cyclical Pessimism: Derek Walcott’s Haitian Trilogy
      (pp. 135-156)

      Derek Walcott’s long-standing interest in Haitian history is revealed in a trilogy of plays that draw on the Haitian Revolution for their subject matter. The three plays—Henri Christophe,Drums and Colours, andThe Haitian Earth—were collected into one volume and published asThe Haitian Trilogyin 2002.¹ Until their publication in this collected format they were largely forgotten works and hard to find; even the most recently completed play in the trilogy,The Haitian Earth, which is now presented as Walcott’s major or mature Haitian work, had never been published. Walcott wrote a new foreword to the plays...

    • 8 Fantasizing the Haitian Revolution with Madison Smartt Bell
      (pp. 157-174)

      Madison Smartt Bell’s trilogy of novels on the Haitian Revolution and Toussaint Louverture are discussed in this chapter in order to assess their productive capacities and limitations.¹ The limitations are manifest when the novels are examined in the context of the contemporary historical novel of slavery and the genre’s antecedents, as well as when they are contrasted with the fertile radicalism of the works considered in this book’s first part. Despite an extensive documentary basis and an apparent progressive interpretation of events, Madison Smartt Bell’s trilogy undermines itself by emphasizing an exotic setting, insufficiently individualizing its characters, and producing a...

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 175-178)

      I have argued over the course of this book that a pantheon of twentieth- and twenty-first-century aesthetic treatments of the Haitian Revolution should be divided along a single axis of distinction: the radical and conservative. My general aim has been to demonstrate how the Haitian Revolution has profoundly influenced an important international constituency of writers and artists, and to promote the view that it should be understood in all its multiple dimensions, and honored for its aspirations and achievement. More specifically, in pursuing this line of argument, I have set out to make the case that the politics of those...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 179-202)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 203-230)
  10. Index
    (pp. 231-238)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-240)