Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

The Place of Madness and Music in Lyonel Trouillot's Les Enfants Des Héros

Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

The Place of Madness and Music in Lyonel Trouillot's Les Enfants Des Héros

Article excerpt

Like all countries, Haiti has borders which can be located on a world map. Haiti has a government which sends ambassadors to other countries and diplomats to such worldwide organizations as the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the World Trade Organization. Countless fact sheets pertaining to the Haiti's demographics, politics, and economics are commissioned, collected, stored, and updated by internal and external groups and institutions. Haiti, therefore, has a sense of place because it performs in certain regards on the world stage similarly to any other country. At the same time, Haiti's sense of place has been compromised by persistent political instability, relentless economic poverty, and environmental catastrophes. The prevailing image projected to the world is one of misery and despair. The questions incessantly raised about this place concern its capacity to bring about change, its ability to instill a sense of hope of better days to come, its potential to guarantee human dignity for all its inhabitants.

Haitian writers have certainly addressed the issues of change, hope, and human dignity in their texts over the years. They have also portrayed the forces of terror standing in the way and inciting madness in many of their characters. This literary madness parallels the innumerable cases of real life madness afflicting Haitians from the time Haiti was known as Saint Domingue and under French colonial rule until the present day. For Lyonel Trouillot, one of Haiti's most prolific contemporary writers, the notions of change and madness are currently linked to the clash of identities between individuals and collective groups: Haitian literature was written in a very serious tone previously, as if all texts were bringing essential truths, values, and ideas to the reader.

But in Haiti, still being a very divided country that includes social structures as closed as apartheid, the dilemma remains the difficulty for the individual to exist in a positive relationship with the community. I believe that difficulty is exposed in my work and the works of most Haitian writers today. ("Reading Callaloo" 167)

Individuals and community clash at all levels - social, political, economic, and cultural - and they find themselves stumbling over obstacles placed before them by a troubling historical legacy. This legacy has been subject to much debate; however, it is clear to Trouillot that where history currently positions Haiti influences what writers have to say and how they say it:

Writers in the United States and writers in Western Europe have the luxury of playing the role, the no risk part of the blind dilettante. Writers in Haiti do not have such a luxury. There is no ivory tower here. And the problems of the individual and the group are so entangled that even if one wants to speak of his sexuality the immediate social reality knocks at the bedroom's door. And we in Haiti are not yet at the age (I hope that this is a very short age in the western world) where art has tired of the quest for ideas, for meaning, or for utopias. ("Reading Callaloo" 168)

The historical legacy of Haiti has made it impossible for Haitian writers to isolate themselves from what Trouillot labels "the horrible side of, the horrible acts in and aspects of, their immediate reality" ("Reading Callaloo" 168). Instead, it compels them to examine the significance of place with particular urgency in order to extricate social structures maintaining their stranglehold over individual identity. Once this stranglehold has been loosened, individuals will be able to forge new, healthier relationships with the community and take a step toward some sort of "utopia."

This "utopian" vision is not an illusion; it does not conceal the overwhelming odds against writers trying to bring about change. It does, nevertheless, provide their writing a sense of resolve. Writers dare to assert that the situation in Haiti can improve through profound examination of the horrible acts intertwined into the social fabric. …

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