Defilee's Diasporic Daughters: Revolutionary Narratives of Ayiti (Haiti), Nanchon (Nation), and Dyaspora (Diaspora) in Edwidge Danticat's Krik? Krak!
Braziel, Jana Evans, Studies in the Literary Imagination
With the critical and popular successes of Edwidge Danticat's literary texts, Haitian literatures in the United States have found a new Anglophone feminist voice that sings of memory and loss, motherland and migration, as well as liminal spaces between: the Atlantic Ocean for those crossing the sea or the detention centers at Guantanamo Bay for those intercepted at sea by U.S. Coast Guards and detained there. Danticat's literary texts rethink national boundaries, specifically Haiti's borders of nanchon (nation) and dyaspora (diaspora), and her narratives suggest transnational flows across the Atlantic and the Caribbean in which Haiti's dyaspora informs its nanchon. Danticat intimates that citizenship needs to be thought of as diasporic and transnational rather than merely as a national category of identification, and her literary texts also have significant parallels with theorizations by Carolle Charles (1) and Myriam J. A. Chancy (2) for a transnational Haitian feminist politics (3) and poetics. (4) In her migratory texts, Danticat explores the ambivalent diasporizations that annihilate definitive national belonging, noting how the parameters of the national persist and are refigured in the diasporic; like Charles and Chancy, Danticat suggests a transnational feminist politics to address the struggles of women in Haiti and in its dyaspora and to chart cross-national alliances between them.
In this article, I analyze Danticat's literary preoccupations with maternity (embodied, failed, and refused) in her story collection Krik? Krak! (1995) as emblematic of Ayiti (Haiti), nanchon, and dyaspora. The stories in Danticat's Krik? Krak! are interwoven narratives of suffering and violence but also of survival and endurance in Haiti and in its dyaspora, or "tenth department." (5) I also analyze Danticat's feminist "poetics of relation" (6) and her diasporic storytelling about Ayiti through the revolutionary figures of Defilee-la-Folle and Sor Rose in the stories "Nineteen Thirty-Seven" and "Between the Pool and the Gardenias." (7) While Danticat's historical points of reference in Krik? Krak! traverse the boundaries of past and present from an African Creole origin evoked in the folkloric and legendary historical figures of Defilee and Sot Rose to present-day Haiti and her refugee migrations, I will focus more narrowly here on Danticat's transnational feminist re-visioning of Haiti's history through the figures of Sot Rose and Defilee. (8) Danticat uses these heroic maternal figures from the colonial (Sor Rose) and revolutionary (Defilee) periods to underscore the necessity of thinking of nanchon and dyaspora as racialized, gendered, and sexualized terrains.
I. LIEUX (FEMININES ET HAITIENNES) DE MEMOIRE: DEFILEE-LA-FOLLE AND SOR ROSE
French historian Pierre Nora defines lieux de memoire ("places of memory") as "moments of history torn away from the movement of history, then returned; no longer quite life, not yet death, like shells on the shore when the sea of living memory has receded" (289). The French historian further explains that
lieux de memoire are fundamentally remains, the ultimate embodiments of a memorial consciousness that has barely survived in a historical age that calls out for memory because it has abandoned it. They make their appearance by virtue of the deritualization of our world--producing, manifesting, establishing, constructing, decreeing, and maintaining by artifice and by will a society deeply absorbed in its own transformation and renewal, one that inherently values the new over the ancient, the young over the old, the future over the past. (289)
For Nora, lieux de memoire emerge at that moment when history separates from memory, when history gives an account of its own historiography. Lieux de memoire are fragments of historical memory, separate from history proper or historiography. Nora writes,
One simple but decisive trait of lieux de memoire sets them apart from every type of history to which we have become accustomed, ancient or modern. …