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The literary impact of the Haitian Revolution

By Philip James Kaisary


The Haitian Revolution (1 791-1804) reshaped the debates about slavery and\ud freedom in Europe, accelerated the abolitionist movement, precipitated\ud rebellions in neighbouring territories, and intensified both repression and antislavery\ud sentiment. Its long-term effects remain visible in the many\ud representations, recuperations, and invocations of the Revolution as an\ud exemplar of black agency. At the same time, the violence of the conflict led to\ud portrayals of Haiti as unregenerate and primitive, a prey to 'voodoo' and\ud lawlessness. Hence the recuperation of Haiti's political and cultural history, in\ud which the establishment of the first postcolonial nation must be accounted for\ud as a momentous event despite its ostensible failure, contests the tradition of\ud imperial denigration. The thesis addresses how the Haitian Revolution followed\ud by the establishment of a Black Republic, provided inspiration for writers,\ud artists and intellectuals throughout the Atlantic Diaspora in diverse cultural and\ud intellectual locations from the 1920s onwards. If public knowledge about\ud Haitian history has for some time now been limited in Europe and North\ud America, the Revolution has been a potent factor in black memory and it\ud remains an inspiration to Carib beans, Africans, African Americans, and Latin\ud Americans, as well as to radical intellectuals and artists worldwide. The thesis\ud studies the writings generated by the Revolution in the works of Aime Cesaire,\ud C. L. R. James, Rene Depestre, Langston Hughes, Edouard Glissant, Alejo\ud Carpentier, Derek Walcott, and Madison Smartt Bell, spanning French, English,\ud and Spanish, and including poetry, drama, history, biography, fiction, and\ud opera; while in the visual arts it considers the paintings of Kimathi Donkor and\ud commemorative postage stamps. My discussion addresses both critical\ud understandings and fictional reinventions of the Revolution's achievement and\ud tragic reversals. I examine the ideologies informing the analyses, and the\ud aesthetics of the imaginative writings, where a political stance in some cases\ud served to promote innovation and experimental style and in others was a\ud constraint

Topics: F1201, PN
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