Reviewed by Tammie Jenkins
Thursday, October 16, 2014
From Toussaint to Price-Mars: Rhetoric, Race, and Religion in Haitian Thought Reviewed by Tammie Jenkins
Joseph, Celucien L. From Toussaint to Price-Mars: Rhetoric,Race, and Religion in Haitian Thought. North Charleston: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2013. ISBN: 978-1490400952. 372pp.
Reviewed by Tammie Jenkins
In From Toussaint to Price-Mars: Rhetoric, Race, and Religion in Haitian Thought, Joseph explores the Haitian intellectual tradition using works from four noteworthy men as intergenerational discourses embedded in a “rhetoric of freedom” (61) and a “rhetoric of resistance” (69). Joseph examines the contributions of Toussaint Louverture, Antenor Firmin, Jacques Roumain, and Jean Price-Mars, to the development of the Haitian intellectual tradition across time and geography. Maintaining that the Haitian intellectual tradition is not a homogenous construct, but a multiplicitous, intersecting, and divergent set of discourses, Joseph opens From Toussaint to Price-Mars with an introductory section which explains the scope and sequence of the text as well as his thesis and objectives. Using original works, translated texts, and his personal narratives, the author furthers this investigation by articulating the role of race, religion, and identity in discourses of Haitian intellectualism.
Containing seven chapters From Toussaint to Price-Mars has been chronologically subdivided into three parts: Part 1: “The Rhetoric of Race and Freedom,” Part 2: “Engaging the Race Concept and Haitian Afrocentrism,” and Part 3: “Reflections on Religion and Critical Theory.” Featuring an introductory chapter on “Engaging Race, Rhetoric, and Religion,” Joseph provides a synopsis of his previous book Race, Religion, and the Haitian Revolution: Essays on Faith, Freedom, and Decolonization and refers to his present work From Toussaint to Price-Mars, as a sequel to his aforementioned text, the author situates this book as a continuation of his investigation into the role of rhetoric and religion in the development of the Haitian intellectual tradition. Examining the “ideas and writings” (1-2) of four key Haitian intellectuals, Joseph argues that the Haitian intellectual tradition began shortly after the revolution and has continued its evolution into Haiti’s “postcolonial present” (3). The book concludes with an appendix which further describes the Afrocentric underpinnings of Antenor Firmin’s work. In From Toussaint to Price-Mar, Joseph uses data collected from archival and historical records, personal documents, and recorded speeches, to analyze the rhetoric contained in works by Louverture, Firmin, Roumain, and Price-Mars as evidence of a Haitian intellectual tradition. Anchored in “Black Atlantic thought and culture,” (3) each chapter connects the succeeding intellectual’s work to that of a predecessor.
In Part 1: “The Rhetoric of Race and Freedom,” Joseph provides a brief biographical overview of Louverture’s early lived experiences which the author views as a contributing factor to Toussaint’s intellectual development. Reaffirming the place of Toussaint in the development of the Haitian intellectual tradition and its evolution, the author refrains from regurgitating accepted historical accounts associated with Louverture, instead, Joseph describes Louverture as a man of “deep commitment” (9), letters, and ideas, whose texts exceeded European notions of freedom. In From Toussaint to Price-Mars Joseph presents and image of Louverture as a political activist, who used his texts to propagate his rhetoric of freedom and resistance in larger societal conversations. Using excerpts from Louverture’s original 1792 letter, Joseph examines Toussaint’s concept of freedom in a post-Revolutionary Haiti. The author found that Toussaint’s texts contains an orality that moves from the page in ways which enabled him to use his words to interject his ideas into larger societal discourses. The author uses this analysis to (re)situate Louverture, in the literature, as a multi-faceted intellectual leader of the newly created Republic of Haiti, who possessed the ability to use language in ways which enabled him to infiltrate the public sphere.
Part 2: “Engaging the Race Concept and Haitian Afrocentrism,” extends the discourses introduced by Louverture into the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this section, Joseph examines the Afrocentric underpinnings of Antenor Firmin’s intellectual ideas. Using Firmin’s The Equality of the Races, Joseph examines the ways in which Firmin promoted the reclamation of Egypt as the ancient African civilization of Kemet. Acknowledging that Firmin’s, the progenitor of ethnology, intellectualism challenges white ideas of black inferiority, Joseph maintains that Firmin’s rhetoric of freedom and resistance promoted the rewriting of European history to include the achievement of Africa and its civilizations. The author proposed that Firmin’s ideas are ingrained in the Haitian intellectual tradition through his desire to (re) position “the Haitian intellectual in the tradition of the Black Atlantic vindicationism and the anti-racist narrative in the history of ideas” (92) which Firmin deemed necessary for the development of black racial pride and the reconnection of diasporic blacks with Africa.
In Part 3: “Reflections on Religion and Critical Theory,” moved the Haitian intellectual tradition towards discourses of religion and nationalism, in which works by Jacques Roumain, founder of the Haitian Communist Party, are used by Joseph to position Roumain in the role of public intellectual. Drawing on Roumain’s novel Master of the Dew, Joseph investigates the ways in which Roumain’s text challenges social class hierarchies and economic disparities. Roumain, a member of the Haitian indigenisme, embraced Marxism, a theory expounded by Karl Marx, in his book the Communist Manifesto, as way to unite Haitians. Using Marxism as his conceptual lens, Roumain added a “rhetoric of pain and suffering” (227) to the prevailing discourses of freedom and resistance already present in the Haitian intellectual tradition.
Returning to discourses of religion and nationalism, Price-Mars uses his “religious sensibility” (272) to redefine and articulate his rhetoric of freedom and resistance in the early twentieth century. Addressing discourses of “Haitian identity and the religion of Vodou” (273), Joseph uses Price-Mar’s So Spoke the Uncle, to examine the ways in which hybridity and intertextuality are interwoven in Price-Mars rhetoric of freedom and resistance. The author contends that Price-Mars integrated ideas drawn from Firmin and Rouman into his works to encourage Haitian citizens to embrace their African heritage, their history of enslavement, and to work toward the creation of a national Haitian identity.
From Toussaint to Price-Mars presents an extensive overview of the range in which the Haitian intellectual tradition has contributed to the articulation and dissemination of ideas and thoughts, anchored in conversations of freedom and resistance. In From Toussaint to Price-Mars, Joseph selected text written by four outstanding men whose works serve as representations of the Haitian intellectual tradition. This book stands as one of the first to explore and to situate the influences of Louverture, Firmin, Roumain, and Price-Mars on the development of a Haitian intellectual tradition; however, From Toussaint to Price-Mars overlooks the contribution of women to the establishment of this tradition. Nevertheless, scholars with interests in Haitian History, Rhetorical Studies, Cultural Studies, as well as Black Atlantic and Diasporic Studies may find From Toussaint to Price-Mars a useful primer.