Showing posts with label Sex. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sex. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Beyond the Slave Narrative: Politics, Sex, and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution" reviewed by Tammie Jenkins

Jenson, Deborah. Beyond the Slave Narrative: Politics, Sex, and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution. Liverpool, England: Liverpool University Press. 2011. ISBN: 9781846317606. 322 pp.
  Reviewed by Tammie Jenkins

In Beyond the Slave Narrative: Politics, Sex, and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution, Jenson investigates “the emergence of a mediated Haitian” (303) literary tradition, which the she maintains is rooted in discourses resulting from the Haitian Revolution (1791-1803). Exploring notions of freedom versus independence, the author explores works by Haiti’s early leaders such as Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Henry Christophe, as literary texts, as opposed to political writings. Opening with works by Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Henry Christophe, Beyond the Slave Narrative, present the ways in which issues of authenticity arise, when considering texts written by early Haitian leaders, due to the fact that they, on occasion, used secretaries or transcribers, to record their written narratives. Consequently, Jenson suggests that these texts have been marginalized by Western literary tradition, in favor of the traditional slave narrative, as authentic representations of black lived experiences and social realities, during the colonial period, in the New World.
Featuring eight chapters, a separate introduction, an epilogue, index as well as notes and a bibliography at the end of each chapter, Beyond the Slave Narrative, is sequentially subdivided into two parts: Part 1: “Authorizing the Political Sphere” and Part 2, “Authorizing the Libertine Sphere.” In the introduction titled, “Race and Voice in the Archives: Mediated Testimony and Interracial Commerce in Saint-Domingue,” Jenson outlines the purpose of Beyond the Slave Narrative, as a prelude to “a literary tradition that sprang directly from the Haitian Revolution,” (1). This chapter situates Jenson’s vision for the entire book by providing the scope and sequence, thesis, conceptual framework, as well as a brief summary of each of the chapters contained in the text, in addition, to in-depth descriptions of each archival record used to support her overall contention. Beyond the Slave Narrative, concludes with an epilogue in which Jenson reiterates her argument for the exploration of the Haitian literary tradition as more than political texts.
In Part 1: “Authorizing the Political Sphere,” Jenson examines works by Louverture, Dessalines, and Christophe, grounded in rhetoric of empowerment, underpinned by sentimentality and commonalities across their lived experiences, which the author describes as “cultural patrimony” (10). Jenson credits Louverture as the progenitor of the Haitian literary traditions, through his use of spin to create counter-narratives supporting the development of a Haitian cultural identity. In the context of Haitian literary works, Jenson includes letters, proclamations, poems, legal documents, treaties, and oral history, which she examines as geopolitical conciliatory narratives used to preserve the history of the writer or storyteller, in the language of the text. From the author’s perspective, Haitian literature has been interwoven with other black literary traditions; however, in 1804, the Haitian literary tradition began to gain momentum, which separated it from traditional Western slave narratives by marking its discourses as postcolonial texts articulating notions of identity and “state-building in a racialized world” (1). Presenting Haitian literary works as “mediated texts” (94), Jenson noted the ways in which Louverture, Dessalines, and Christophe used religion, in their writings and personal correspondences, which she noted were instrumental in moving the Haitian literary tradition from political narratives towards discourses of social and cultural independence, in the public sphere.
Part 2: “Authorizing the Libertine Sphere,” the author discusses the challenges of locating diasporic literature such as poetry, produced by Haitians. The author contends that Haitian literary works tend to focus on the discursive use of language and accepted meanings, as sites of resistance, interacting with larger societal conversations of “other.” In this section, Jenson studies texts produced before, during, and immediately following the Haitian Revolution, as part of a trajectory, embedded in discourses of unbecoming as a source of identity construction, in larger societal conversations of freedom versus independence. Arguing the that there is a distinct difference between Western slave narratives and Haitian literature, Jenson challenges accepted notions regarding the meaning of slavery to former slaves and redefines these discourses, as they relate to decolonization.
Beyond the Slave Narrative, explores the writings of former Haitian military leaders and poets as contributors to the development of the Haitian literary tradition which “forged the precarious sovereignty of the black nation” (3). The strengths of Beyond the Slave Narrative, includes an extensive overview and discussion of the contributions of each work selected for this book, Jenson provides archival documents with original texts, detailed translations of each work in English, in-depth analysis, as well as a concise overview of the content of each chapter. In Beyond the Slave Narrative, Jenson includes a variety of documents to illustrate the ways in which Haitians their literary texts to establish a  tradition situated by their lived experiences to present discourses of freedom versus independence; hence, transgressing the intersections of race, gender, and class. In Beyond the Slave Narrative, Jenson provides accounts of the ways in which the role of women and the female voice was introduced into the Haitian literary tradition; however, the contributions of women writers, secretaries, transcribers, and the like are absent from her narratives. Nonetheless, scholars interested in Diasporic Literature, Haitian Literary History, Literary Criticism, English, Rhetorical Studies, Cultural Studies, as well as Black Atlantic and Diasporic Studies may find Beyond the Slave Narrative a useful primer.

Tammie Jenkins, Ph. D.
Independent Scholar