On racism, sexism, and other “fantastical inversions.”
December 12, 2019 12-1 PM EST
The novel’s stylistically unusual second movement delves into several of the themes introduced earlier in the narrative, but approaches them from multiple new angles. Reflecting from afar on what it has meant to the Jacmelian community to lose Hadriana , Depestre’s narrator tackles subjects ranging from the science of zombification in Haiti to the legacies of colonial racism in the modern world. Our Wesleyan University colleague Gina Athena Ulysse offers some initial thoughts on this movement below, while the article below on “Exploiting the Undead” provides a reading of the place of the zombie within Haitian literature more broadly. During our conversation, we’ll delve into the work that the figure of the zombie does in this movement of the novel, and consider this portion of the novel in the light of Depestre’s own position of exile in France. We’ll also ask why he chose to use such a wide variety of literary forms to respond to and frame common interpretations of Haiti. And we’ll focus in on Depestre’s satirical and multi-valent engagement with ethnography and anthropological theories around the zombie in this section.
Reading: Movement 2
Gina Ulysse offers these reflections:
This is a really interesting novel that I am sure will continue to generate pretty exciting conversation. I did appreciate this re/positioning of Haiti through Jacmel as very much a part of the world and in the world. I also took note of how this endless fascination with zombies intersects with race/color class and gender/sexuality. I agree with you that it is a political novel (I think that was a response to Martin Munro) and would concur with Regine that its politics are also deeply in need of feminist analysis (not sure what Depestre was necessarily advocating…). It was a refreshing commentary on the limits of the male gaze that this white woman was more self-possessed than she would ever be given credit for. This brought me to a short piece by Carole Charles on women as machann or machandiz (in honor of the feminists who died during the earthquake) that would be really good additional reading reference for folks. There are other feminist writing on the uses of the erotic (Lorde) women’s bodies as battlefield (Thistlethwaite). Both demand we be mindful to discern (playing aside), how erotic is sometimes constructed through violence and is rendered seductive.
The points I was asked to ponder on in the second movement include the above as well as this engagement of Levi-Strauss’s the sorcerer and his magic and Cannon’s infamous voodoo death article….. about Australian aborigines. Kate Ramsey’s book and Laennec Hurbon are also notable here in terms how this fascination with zombies has evolved. I believe Kate has actually written an article that looks in part at Cannon in OSIRIS journal. Of course, you know that VoodooDoll is a critique of this academic obsession with zombies that the narrator writes about. I love that the zombie gets to talk back and how this flips the script demanding confrontation of who was zombified (challenged sanctified white womanhood). The unspoken labor of being woman, of being a white woman (deBeauvoir is here with a woman is not born, but made). One could go also think through the ways this is referencing racial capitalism. Why academia needs zombies has been addressed by Baldwin (why do you need a negro?). For me it is important to note this is one way that Haiti has become representative of blackness of a particular kind, right. A revolutionary kind of black, as I wrote in “Why representation of Haiti matter now more than ever” (in my book Why Haiti Needs New Narratives). I would avoid keeping this aspect of conversation insular to look to the black diaspora for interlocutors.
For further information:
- Kaiama L. Glover, “Exploiting the Undead: The Usefulness of the Zombie Figure in Haitian Literature,” The Journal of Haitian Studies (2005).
- READER’S GUIDE