Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

Servants Turned Masters: Carlos Esteban Deive's Viento Negro, Bosque del Caimán, and the Future of Hispaniola

Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

Servants Turned Masters: Carlos Esteban Deive's Viento Negro, Bosque del Caimán, and the Future of Hispaniola

Article excerpt

Carlos Esteban Deive's Viento Negro, Bosque del Caimán: Novela (2002) focuses on the 1791 slave revolt and its social, political, racial, and religious repercussions from the perspective of the Spanish side of the island, a point of view largely neglected by fictional and non-fictional accounts of the Haitian Revolution. Viento Negro features fictional characters alongside historical figures and while it relies heavily on established chronology and facts, it also alters them in significant ways. An acclaimed historian, anthropologist, and novelist, Deive knows well the role that narrative plays when one tries to map the relationship between past, present, and future and is particularly conscious of the "content of the form," that is, of the effects that genre and formal features can have on the understanding, shaping, and transmission of history.1

Through his recent investigation of the relationship between genre and the Haitian Revolution, David Scott observes that, due to the anticolonial organization of the relation between past, present and future, the transition from colonialism to postcolonialism tends to be presented predominantly as a romance, that is, as a story of overcoming and vindication, of salvation and redemption.2 Using C. L. R.James's Black Jacobins (1938) as a springboard, Scott argues that tragedy might be a more useful narrative frame to assess the Haitian Revolution as it is

not driven by the confident hubris of teleologies that extract the future seamlessly from the past, and [is] more attuned at the same time to the intricacies, ambiguities, and paradoxes of the relations between actions and their consequences, and intentions and the chance contingencies that sometimes undo them.3

Deive's Viento Negro constitutes a departure from both romance and tragedy. It might instead be categorized as a suigeneris comedy or even as an opera buffa, if one considers that the narrative is constantly underscored, often in a contrapuntal manner, by the arias of the soprano Angiolina Falconelli who criss-crosses the island of Hispaniola singing for the French, the Spanish, and the Black Jacobins. At the outset of the 1791 rebellion, for example, it is Falconelli's performance of Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona (The Maid Turned Mistress) that provides the ironic soundtrack to historical events in Le Cap.4 Comedies, it is well known, can be intrinsically conservative and ultimately support the reconstitution and conservation of the order they seem to disrupt. Admittedly, therefore, the comedic genre of opera buffa might not be an obvious choice for an historical novel which, as we will see, aims to make important points about Hispaniola's past and present and to foster a much-needed transformation of the ways in which Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the two countries which share this Caribbean island, perceive one another and themselves. Furthermore, references to The Maid Turned Mistress might initially suggest that readers will be exposed to a Dominican mockery of the Haitian Revolution and its leaders but I would argue, instead, that Deive adapts the comedic template of the opera buffa to serve his purpose of re-imagining the future of Hispaniola disallowing what Reinhardt Koselleck has called "futures pasts."5

Unlike tragedies but like romances, comedies and opere buffe tend to "end well." Unlike romances, however, comedies and opere buffe do not dramatize the victory of good over evil and do not stage the "ultimate transcendence of man over the world in which he was imprisoned by the Fall."6 Initially written to work as intermezzi given in the long waits between the acts of the opera seria and considered to be inferior to it, opere buffe treat serious matters with humor. Like Scott's tragedies, they are full of intricacies and ambiguities, thriving on paradoxes and reversals of fortune, but their protagonists lack the stature of tragic heroes and heroines and are instead everymen and women who operate in everyday situations. …

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