- Writing on the Fault Line: Haitian Literature and the Earthquake of 2010 by Martin Munro, and: Tropical Apocalypse: Haiti and the Caribbean End Times by Martin Munro
The Haitian Revolution and the ensuing 1804 Declaration of Independence guaranteed the former French plantation colony of Saint-Domingue a unique place in the world imaginary. The ‘first Black Republic’ has been consistently a ‘cas limite,’ a borderline that challenges complacency on humanity’s performance in social, economic, political or ethical terms. To take the measure of this challenge, one only has to contrast the safety of critical approaches to the ‘French Caribbean’ (Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana) with the far more extreme shocks and quakes that have correspondingly raised the ethical and political stakes of (mis)reading Haiti.
Over many years, Martin Munro’s work has been mapping the cultural imprint of Haitian history. Along with several other groundbreaking critics, whose thinking he draws upon (including J. Michael Dash, Nick Nesbitt, and David Scott), he has made Haiti more approachable (especially for the Anglophone world) through his own readings and also through the essay collections that he has edited or co-edited, on the cultural aftershocks of the Haitian Revolution or the seismographic writing of Edwidge Danticat, for example.
While Munro’s first monograph focused on exile and post-1946 Haitian literature, 2014 and 2015 saw the publication of two further studies on the Haitian imaginary. Both volumes help to explain Haiti’s exceptional status as a test case of humanity’s global relation to its most crucial conceptual touchstones: time, space, truth, nature, justice, identity, freedom, ecology, progress, poverty, democracy, equality, cultural expression…The first appeared in 2014 in the Liverpool University Press collection “Contemporary French and Francophone Cultures.” It concentrates on how Haitian literature registers the earthquake of 2010. Writing on the Fault Line is based on close readings of post-earthquake writing, and the study is structured around the conceptual triad of body/heart, spirit, and land. The symbolism of earthquakes is quite specific. Not only does it contrast with those disasters imputed today to human activity (via global warming), but when the earth itself rises out of its quiescence, it reduces the entire human habitat, both natural and man-made, bodies and buildings, but also socio-political structure, to debris and chaos. Munro shows how this natural disaster is read as being particularly portentous in Haiti, reinforcing for some the sense of humanity’s historical powerlessness to effect positive linear change.
In 2015, Virginia University Press published Munro’s complementary volume, Tropical Apocalypse, in its “New World Studies” collection. Subtitled Haiti and the Caribbean End Times, this is—unsurprisingly—the more intellectually stretching of the two interrelated projects, most especially in its philosophical depth and historical reach. Whereas the first impresses primarily by its assured coverage and analysis of a specific topic (post-earthquake writing), the second approaches a more diffuse and complex intellectual nexus, reaching far beyond literary and cultural criticism into a less earth-bound, more speculative realm. It highlights the philosophy of time and revelation implied by apocalypse thinking, linking it to the prophetic tenor of religious thought, especially Protestant fundamentalism. In Tropical Apocalypse, Munro reframes the reflection already underway in his co-authored editorial introduction to the bicentennial volume on the Haitian Revolution. In 2006, the West is charged with viewing Haiti as “a place outside of history, a […] phantasmal time-capsule” (x); in 2015, Munro posits that, through its problematic relation to linear time, which it appears to deny, Haiti can open “a window onto all of our apocalyptic futures” (199).
Apocalyptic discourse posits both the exacerbation and the defeat of teleological desire, stressing the deceptiveness of all sense both of an ending and of renewal. Like the zombie figure, [End Page 145] representing the living dead, apocalypse thinking registers what Žižek identifies on the global scale as “end times” that go on and on in the Beckettian present of a permanent “endgame.” It...