"L'Ouragan de Flammes" ("The Hurricane of Flames"): New Orleans and Transamerican Catastrophe, 1866/2005
Abstract

This essay takes its cue from a nineteenth-century New Orleans poem, "Pour les Incendiés de Saint Domingue," which was dedicated to the victims of a great fire that burned Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1866. Reading both the poem and the disaster it memorialized as productive lenses upon the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the author seeks to understand the 1866 fire and the 2005 hurricane as instances of transamerican catastrophe: disasters that were insistently narrated in their respective moments as national tragedies, but which tell very different stories when examined within the wider and more complex geopolitical context of the American hemisphere, and particularly the Caribbean. 'Pour les Incendiés'first appeared in the earliest African American daily newspaper in the United States, La Tribune de la Nouvelle Orleans, a francophone journal that elaborated an alternative discourse of racial politics and historical understanding and helped to shape a transamerican public sphere. At the same time, the poem itself, and the varied modes of formal agency it exercises upon its poetic content and within its historical context, speaks powerfully to our current political moment. The poem provides a kind of mediating text between the two transamerican catastrophes, clarifying the historical and discursive trajectory from the nineteenth-century Haitian fire to the contemporary political and public discourse emerging from Katrina's aftermath.


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