3 Hope and Infinity
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3 Hope and Infinity The Haitian Revolution is one example of the belief in possibility and transformation against overwhelming odds. The triumph of enslaved people over Napoleon’s forces, armies that had subjugated a wide swath of Europe, was hardly imaginable. The story is not just inspirational to Haitians and to the whole Caribbean, but it represents the nexus of black masculinity asserting itself beyond the colonial regime that oppressed and denied it. In this chapter, I complicate the work of chapter 2 by situating the feminine within these masculinized constructions of national belonging. Here, feminist rehearsal places narratives of Haitian history by women at the center of the Haitian story. Implicitly, it is important to consider narratives presented in ways other than those privileging a male emphasis on particular forms of literary argument. Here, I incorporate the perspectives of Haitian women through two of Rose Marie Desruisseau’s paintings from 1986, Vodou Ceremony and The Ceremony of Bois Caïman , and Edwidge Danticat’s short story “A Wall of Fire Rising.” These alternate representations of the Revolution do two things: value the revolutionary masses rather than the heroes who were central in chapter 2, and serve as a Haitian counterpoint to those three texts written by nonHaitians . Foregrounding twentieth- and twenty-first-century Haitian women’s voices builds on Joan Dayan’s construction of the Haitian heroine Défilée, or Défilée la Folle (Défilée the Madwoman), who gathered the pieces of Jean-Jacques Dessalines’s mutilated body and buried them.1 I place Desruisseau’s paintings and Danticat’s story in dialogue with the representations of the Revolution by James, Césaire, and Carpentier for the purpose of rehearsing the Revolution from other vantage points. I hasten to add, however, that I am not arguing that non-Haitians should not present or re-present the Haitian experience. Instead, I want to focus 89  Hope and Infinity here on twentieth-century representations of this seminal event by Haitian women. This chapter extends my prolonged fascination with the possibilities of the Revolution as it relates to the Haitian and wider-Caribbean story. I am particularly interested in the feminist rehearsals of various Caribbean temporalities and the possibilities provided by cultural artifacts to help develop the creative capacity to understand and critically read these specific periods. The moment of the Haitian Revolution offers particularly fruitful opportunities, as Dayan has shown, to challenge the prevailing hegemonic narratives that generally consume representations of the event. According to the following accounts, Défilée negotiated her belonging to the revolutionary Haitian nation in several ways. She was a patriot who mourned the death of her parents, brothers, sons, and perhaps a lover. In one account, she was a sex worker negotiating the space of grief and survival.2 Rehearsing Défilée’s story is important because she, while memorialized and celebrated as a national hero, reconstituted the Haitian nation by collecting the pieces of Dessalines’s body. In these versions, Défilée’s body is involved in multiple transactions—not only through sex work and as a market woman but also as the collector of Dessalines’s flesh. Défilée’s role as the nationalist adhesive is a romantic symbol indicating women’s revolutionary function while, at the same time, emphasizing the limited revolutionary promise for women. Défilée’s apparent madness (discussed below) is brought on by a series of circumstances born of violence. Similarly, depictions of the Revolution by Haitian women occur within the context of women’s daily realities . The conditions in the nation affect women’s bodies in particular ways and have an impact on the negotiations they must make; Défilée’s story, then, serves as a significant marker and reminder of women’s experiences during national formation. While Défilée re-forms the nation, the figures in Desruisseau’s paintings and the mother, Lili, in Danticat’s story produce their own reformations, manifested through Vodou imagery and negotiations of the contemporary Haitian economic terrain. These representations are not grand schemes but intimate engagements of both revolutionary possibility and revolutionary fatigue. Rehearsing Défilée’s story—one intricately tied to the ways in which the Haitian nation imagines itself—reveals how women and their relationships to their own and other bodies framed belonging from Haiti’s inception. The versions of Défilée’s story begin with her more commonly known moniker, Défilée la folle, but...


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Subject Headings

  • Caribbean literature -- History and criticism.
  • Feminist literature -- Caribbean area.
  • National characteristics, Caribbean, in literature.
  • Feminism in literature.
  • Gender identity in literature.
  • Caribbean Area -- In literature.
  • Caribbean Area -- In art.
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