Beyond the Slave Narrative

BookBeyond the Slave Narrative

Beyond the Slave Narrative

Politics, Sex, and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution

Liverpool Studies in International Slavery, 4

2011

February 8th, 2011

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The Haitian Revolution has generated responses from commentators in fields ranging from philosophy to historiography to twentieth-century literary and artistic studies. But what about the written work produced at the time, by Haitians? This book is the first to present an account of a specifically Haitian literary tradition in the Revolutionary era. Beyond the Slave Narrative shows the emergence of two strands of textual innovation, both evolving from the new revolutionary consciousness: the remarkable political texts produced by Haitian revolutionary leaders Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and popular Creole poetry from anonymous courtesans in Saint-Domingue's libertine culture. These textual forms, though they differ from each other, both demonstrate the increasing cultural autonomy and literary voice of non-white populations in the colony at the time of revolution. Unschooled generals and courtesans, long presented as voiceless, are at last revealed to be legitimate speakers and authors. These Haitian French and Creole texts have been neglected as a foundation of Afro-diasporic literature by former slaves in the Atlantic world for two reasons: because they do not fit the generic criteria of the slave narrative (which is rooted in the autobiographical experience of enslavement); and because they are mediated texts, relayed to the print-cultural Atlantic domain not by the speakers themselves, but by secretaries or refugee colonists. These texts challenge how we think about authorial voice, writing, print culture, and cultural autonomy in the context of the formerly enslaved, and demand that we reassess our historical understanding of the Haitian Independence and its relationship to an international world of contemporary readers.

The Haitian Revolution has generated responses from commentators in fields ranging from philosophy to historiography to twentieth-century literary and artistic studies. But what about the written work produced at the time, by Haitians? This book is the first to present an account of a specifically Haitian literary tradition in the Revolutionary era. Beyond the Slave Narrative shows the emergence of two strands of textual innovation, both evolving from the new revolutionary consciousness: the remarkable political texts produced by Haitian revolutionary leaders Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and popular Creole poetry from anonymous courtesans in Saint-Domingue’s libertine culture. These textual forms, though they differ from each other, both demonstrate the increasing cultural autonomy and literary voice of non-white populations in the colony at the time of revolution. Unschooled generals and courtesans, long presented as voiceless, are at last revealed to be legitimate speakers and authors. These Haitian French and Creole texts have been neglected as a foundation of Afro-diasporic literature by former slaves in the Atlantic world for two reasons: because they do not fit the generic criteria of the slave narrative (which is rooted in the autobiographical experience of enslavement); and because they are mediated texts, relayed to the print-cultural Atlantic domain not by the speakers themselves, but by secretaries or refugee colonists. These texts challenge how we think about authorial voice, writing, print culture, and cultural autonomy in the context of the formerly enslaved, and demand that we reassess our historical understanding of the Haitian Independence and its relationship to an international world of contemporary readers.

Colonial and postcolonial studies will gain significant new breadth and depth with the publication of Deborah Jenson’s Beyond the Slave Narrative: Sex, Politics, and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution. This pathbreaking book brings to light the rich but largely neglected Francophone record of black literacy from the late eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. Rectifying the anglocentric view that slave narratives were the only or most authentic form of black voices from the past, Jenson provides probing analyses of Creole poetry, political discourse, and other materials. Deeply committed to improving present-day conditions in Haiti, Jenson finds in the cultural heritage of the past the basis for a fuller understanding of current problems and for hope in the future.
Doris Y. Kadish

https://global.oup.com/academic/product/9781846317606?cc=us

About The Author

Deborah Jenson is Professor of Romance Studies, a Global Health Institute faculty affiliate, and co-director of the Franklin Humanities Institute "Haiti" Humanities Laboratory at Duke University. Other work includes Trauma and Its Representations: The Social Life of Mimesis in Post-Revolutionary France (The Johns Hopkins UP, 2001), MLA editions of Sarah: A Colonial Novella by Marceline Desbordes-Valmore.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half-title1
Title2
Copyright3
Contents4
Acknowledgments5
Introduction: Race and Voice in the Archives: Mediated Testimony and Interracial Commerce in Saint-Domingue8
Part I: Authorizing the Political Sphere50
1 Toussaint Louverture, “Spin Doctor”? Launching the Haitian Revolution in the Media Sphere51
2 Before Malcolm X, Dessalines: Postcoloniality in a Colonial World87
3 Dessalines’s America128
4 Reading Between the Lines: Dessalines’s Anticolonial Imperialism in Venezuela and Trinidad167
5 Kidnapped Narratives: The Lost Heir of Henry Christophe and the Imagined Communities of the African Diaspora201
Part II: Authorizing the Libertine Sphere231
6 Traumatic Indigeneity: The (Anti)Colonial Politics of “Having” a Creole Literary Culture232
7 Mimetic Mastery and Colonial Mimicry: The “Candio” in the Popular Creole (Kreyòl) Literary Tradition250
8 Dissing Rivals, Love for Sale: The Courtesans’ Rap and the Not-So Tragic Mulatta282
Epilogue308
Index316