Beyond the Slave Narrative: Politics, Sex, and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution

Beyond the Slave Narrative: Politics, Sex, and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution

Beyond the Slave Narrative: Politics, Sex, and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution

Beyond the Slave Narrative: Politics, Sex, and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution

Excerpt

Race and Voice in the Archives:
Mediated Testimony and Interracial
Commerce in Saint-Domingue

The fundamental purpose of this book is to introduce a literary tradition that sprang directly from the Haitian Revolution, by Haitians. Not literature from afterwards, like Haitian writer Jean Casimir’s Creole and French treatise on the Revolution, Pa Bliye 1804; not literature from elsewhere, like Alejo Carpentier’s wonderful historical fiction The Kingdom of this World; not literature on the symbolic resonance of the Haitian Revolution or “the idea of 1804” in Nick Nesbitt’s philosophical coinage; but the first Haitians speaking publicly and potently for their culture in the revolutionary era, and becoming authorial voices whose words left a profound mark on the Western world.

Despite the wealth of materials representing early Haitian voices, scholars have proven reticent in treating them as literary sources, or even as reliable political sources. The naturalization of the slave narrative as the genre most associated with blacks’ self-expression in the era of Caribbean and American slavery privileged an autobiographical mandate. Early texts by blacks devoted to state-building in a racialized world, which was the fundamental motivation for the public texts of Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, or to poetic representation of the social and sexual interrelations that marked the complex interracial space of colonial culture, which is the major preoccupation of popular Creole poetry, have proven more challenging to recognize and categorize appropriately. This heteroclite corpus of political texts and correspondence, political memoirs, and early Creole poems challenges readers to think outside the box of the dominant genre of early Afro-diasporic literature in the Anglophone world: the slave narrative. The literature of the Haitian Revolution and independence puts the focus not on slavery per se, but on the means through which individuals and communities revolutionized the discursive sphere as well as the political sphere of Atlantic modernity.

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