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The Haitian Revolution in the Literary Imagination

Radical Horizons, Conservative Constraints

Philip James Kaisary

Publication Year: 2014

The Haitian Revolution (1791–1804) reshaped the debates about slavery and freedom throughout the Atlantic world, accelerated the abolitionist movement, precipitated rebellions in neighboring territories, and intensified both repression and antislavery sentiment. The story of the birth of the world’s first independent black republic has since held an iconic fascination for a diverse array of writers, artists, and intellectuals throughout the Atlantic diaspora. Examining twentieth-century responses to the Haitian Revolution, Philip Kaisary offers a profound new reading of the representation of the Revolution by radicals and conservatives alike in primary texts that span English, French, and Spanish languages and that include poetry, drama, history, biography, fiction, and opera.

In a complementary focus on canonical works by Aimé Césaire, C. L. R. James, Edouard Glissant, and Alejo Carpentier in addition to the work of René Depestre, Langston Hughes, and Madison Smartt Bell, Kaisary argues that the Haitian Revolution generated an enduring cultural and ideological inheritance. He addresses critical understandings and fictional reinventions of the Revolution and thinks through how, and to what effect, authors of major diasporic texts have metamorphosed and appropriated this spectacular corner of black revolutionary history.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

The ideas behind The Haitian Revolution in the Literary Imaginatio began to take shape while I was studying for an M.A. and then a Ph.D at the Universities of Sussex and Warwick, respectively. At Warwick, it was my privilege to enjoy the supervision of Benita Parry. I...

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pp. 1-18

The declaration of Haitian independence by Jean- Jacques Dessalines on January 1, 1804, was the culminating moment of the Haitian Revolution that had erupted some twelve years earlier in the French colony of Saint Domingue. The story of the birth of the...

Part One: Radical Recuperations

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1: Radical Universalism

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pp. 21-37

Aimé Césaire’s and C. L. R. James’s Haitian texts articulate a case for the recuperation of the story of the Haitian Revolution within the context of twentieth-century anti-imperialist struggle in Africa and the Caribbean. C. L. R. James made clear that this was one

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2: Langston Hughes

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pp. 37-55

The influence of the Harlem Renaissance on both Aimé Césaire and C. L. R. James was fundamental. Langston Hughes and other poets and writers of the Harlem Renaissance, including Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Countee Cullen, “enjoyed a...

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3: Return to Négritude

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pp. 56-76

René Depestre, one of Haiti’s most renowned men of letters, belonged to a second generation of négritude poets, and although he was also a novelist and essayist, it is on his poetry that his international literary reputation rests. This chapter is concerned with...

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4: The Haitian Revolution and Radical Visual Politics

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pp. 77-106

I have in the first section of this study sought to argue that a radical and original ensemble of writings, heterogeneous in medium, voice, and tenor, can be read as consistent in their ambition to recuperate the Haitian Revolution by mobilizing history as the carrier...

Part Two: Conservative Visions

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5: Edouard Glissant’s Monsieur Toussaint

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pp. 109-120

Edouard Glissant’s only published play, Monsieur Toussaint, suggests that there is no one “true” account or interpretation of the Haitian Revolution or of its most celebrated figure, Toussaint Louverture.1 In Monsieur Toussaint, Glissant’s representation of Toussaint cannot be seen as a dramatic attempt to portray him realistically...

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6: Ideological Frailty and the Marvelous in Alejo Carpentier’s

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pp. 121-134

Alejo Carpentier, the Cuban novelist, essayist, musicologist, and communist, is widely acclaimed as having been one of Latin America’s most influential writers. His innovation of the concept of “lo real maravilloso”—the marvelous real—gained such influence among the...

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7: The Aesthetics of Cyclical Pessimism

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pp. 135-156

Derek Walcott’s long-standing interest in Haitian history is revealed in a trilogy of plays that draw on the Haitian Revolution for their subject matter. The three plays—Henri Christophe, Drums and Colours, and The Haitian Earth—were collected into one volume...

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8: Fantasizing the Haitian Revolution with Madison Smartt Bell

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pp. 157-174

Madison Smartt Bell’s trilogy of novels on the Haitian Revolution and Toussaint Louverture are discussed in this chapter in order to assess their productive capacities and limitations.1 The limitations are manifest when the novels are examined in the context of the...

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pp. 175-178

I have argued over the course of this book that a pantheon of twentieth- and twenty-first-century aesthetic treatments of the Haitian Revolution should be divided along a single axis of distinction: the radical and conservative. My general aim has been to demonstrate...


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pp. 179-202


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pp. 203-230


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pp. 231-238

Series Page

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pp. 239-240

E-ISBN-13: 9780813935485
E-ISBN-10: 0813935482
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813935461
Print-ISBN-10: 0813935466

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 14 b&w illus. approved 4/16/13 MF
Publication Year: 2014