Date of Award

Fall 12-15-2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Department

English

First Advisor

Renee Schatteman

Second Advisor

Ian Almond

Third Advisor

Kameelah L. Martin

Fourth Advisor

Richard A. Long

Abstract

U.S. American literary and creative artists perform the work of developing a discursive response to two critical moments in Haitian history: the Revolution (1791-1804) and the U.S. Marine Occupation (1915 to 1934), inspiring imaginations and imaginary concepts. Revolutionary images of Toussaint Louverture proliferated beyond the boundaries of Haiti illuminating the complicity of colonial powers in maintaining notions of a particularized racial discourse. Frank J. Webb, a free black Philadelphian, engages a scathing critique of Thomas Carlyle’s sage prose “On the Negro Question” (1849) through the fictional depiction of a painted image of Louverture in Webb’s novel The Garies and their Friends (1857). Travel writing and ethnographies of the Occupation provide platforms for new forms of artistic production involving Vodou. Following James Weldon Johnson’s critique of U.S. policy (1920), others members of the Harlem Renaissance provide a counter narrative that reengages particular U.S. readers with Haiti’s problematic Revolution through the visual and literary lens of the Occupation experience. The pseudo journalism of William Seabrook's The Magic Island (1929) serves as the poto mitan (center point) around which other creative works produced after the Occupation appear. Katherine Dunham, Zora Neale Hurston, and Maya Deren followed in Seabrook’s wake. Literature, performances, and film, as well as complementary ethnographic records for each follow from Dunham (Dances of Haiti, 1983), Hurston (Tell My Horse, 1938), and Deren (Divine Horsemen, 1953). The artistic production of these significant cultural producers may better represent their experience of fieldwork in Haiti following the Occupation. Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), Dunham’s exposure of Haitian dances across the world stage, and Deren’s experimental films better capture the reciprocal effect of the ethnographic process on each in their continued presentation to contemporary audiences. Literature directly related to their production appears later in Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo (1972), Arthur Flowers’s Another Good Loving Blues (1993), Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994), and Nalo Hopkinson’s The Salt Roads (2005). These productive literatures and art forms actively engage in creating the transnational ideal of diaspora as we understand it today. All dance delicately with spirit.

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