“In our country, it’s true, history repeats itself more than it does elsewhere…”
As you read Movement 1 of the novel, you can begin with the set of questions surrounding “History and the City” (below) from our colleague at the University of Virginia Marlene L. Daut. In the video of the November 21st, 2019 Book Club meeting, she opened the conversation with a great presentation of how to think through both the place of history in Depestre’s novel and the various Haitian literary genealogies, going back to the nineteenth century, that he was potentially drawing on and in dialogue with.
Our discussion then spiraled around several insights from participants (some jumping off from the comments below), about how to think through Depestre’s playful relationship to the question of history, of masking and masquerade, and of carnival. Contributors offered different ways of thinking through the question of precisely what Depestre might be saying about, and doing with, history in the ebullient carnival scene. We had a particularly interesting riff on why this was all set in 1938, with a series of potential referents and echoes surrounding that year: the publication of C.L.R. James’ The Black Jacobins, of Aimé Césaire’s Notebook of a Return to My Native Land, and major labor uprisings in the British Caribbean. We dwelled on the remarkable moment when Depestre depicts Jean-Jacques Dessalines playing a ping-pong match with Stalin (and showed some of the sketches of work by artist Nathalie Jolivert, who has been inspired by that scene in some of the work she is doing for the exhibit). As was the case in our first meeting, the time went by too fast, with many strands and insights still to be followed.
History and the City (Pre-Conversation Questions by Marlene Daut)
In After the Dance, novelist Edwidge Danticat writes that Depestre’s Hadriana represents “one of those rare literary cases in which a novel’s character becomes even more real, and more powerful, than actual people.” Remarking upon the numerous visitors who travel to the city of Jacmel year after year “looking for Hadriana,” Danticat wonders, “Did Depestre and Jacmel create Hadriana or did she create Jacmel and Depestre?” Depestre undoubtedly created a transcendent character with Hadriana, whose story has clearly resonated for a wide array of readers and travelers. Yet while Danticat reads the city of Jacmel as the real zombie in the story—“A case can be made that the Jacmel I am visiting now cannot help but be a slightly zombified version of its former self”—is there a way in which Jacmel, like Hadriana, actually ends by escaping zombification?
Un-settled by European colonizers in the seventeenth century, the city of Jacmel was a colonial creation that became the site of magnificent postcolonial yearnings, particularly for Simón Bolívar, whom Depestre paints into the story by describing his “appearance” during Carnaval. The reader of Hadriana will subsequently learn that Bolívar visited Jacmel to gain assistance for his quest to fight for independence for Gran Colombia. Yet, Bolívar’s explicit connection to the city of Jacmel only makes the other historic figures, especially Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Henry Christophe, appear out of place. Before tracing a long list of revolutionaries and their cities, so to speak, Hérard Dumesle wrote in his Voyage dans le nord d’Hayti (1824), “Every single place on this island, now famous because of this unforgettable war, […] testifies to a victory or consecrates a glorious memory.” If each of the Haitian revolutionaries comes to life in Dumesle’s travelogue in the separate regions and cities with which they are associated, then what does it mean for Christophe, Dessalines, and Toussaint to appear in the “wrong” city, so to speak, in Depestre’s novel?
View the video of our November 21st, 2019 meeting (which we started recording a bit late, so it begins in the midst of Marlene Daut’s presentation), and read the chat below.Hadriana Chat Carnivalesque History
For further information:
- READER’S GUIDE
- Edwidge Danticat After the Dance (2007)
36 Replies to “Carnivalesque History”
I really like these questions, Marlene. One of the things I love about Depestre’s novel is the way it evokes and wanders through the many layers of Jacmel’s history, sparking with references, some of them very elliptical, to historical figures and moments. There are some wonderful maps of Jacmel held in the French Bibliothèque Nationale, from different eras, a few of which are here:
From 1760: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b531035760
From 1786: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b531035832
From 1800: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8492190x
From 1804: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b53027884c
From 1892: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b52503688j
(Movement 1, chapter 3, section 1 – Carnaval scene)
By placing important figures from Haitian history and fantastic figures from Jacmel’s culture alongside European figures, Depestre suggests an alternative version of the supposedly universal and immutable History. In many occidental narratives of global history, Haiti is presented as a country whose past and culture revolve around French leadership and domination. While its role as a profitable colony is often included, its existence as an independent state is often neglected or relegated to the fringe. Through Carnaval, however, Haitians are able to assert the legitimacy and centrality of their own history, while also poking fun at famous occidental leaders and generals. For instance, Alexandre Pétion is described as hugging Alexander the Great, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines is described as playing table tennis with Stalin. These interactions suggest a sense of equality and camaraderie among these figures and the cultures to which they belong. Thus, Depestre challenges universalist ideas, reminding us that there is no History. Instead, there are multiple histories, each of which offers a different way of understanding individual cultures and international relationships. In this scene, participants in Carnaval construct a new narrative that transcends the limitations of time and place and introduces play into historical storytelling.
Just like Jessica Cohen, my attention was drawn to this particular passage during Carnaval where René Depestre brings in Jacméliens disguised as important Haitian historical figures alongside European ones suggesting an insertion of Haiti inside global history (p60-62). The masquerade made me think of the Hauka movement, a ritual practice associated with trance that started in Niger, during which the ceremony participants would dress up and dance to become possessed by British colonial administrators. Such a ceremony is depicted in Les Maîtres Fous de Jean Rouch. The practice doesn’t simply relive colonial history but is rather a form of resistance aiming to help the community heal from colonialism. Similarly, in Depestre’s Hadriana, this reconstruction of history clashes temporalities and creates a reversal of social status which, even for a brief moment (Carnaval, ceremony), helps the community alleviate its painful past.
Hi, everyone! My name is Christina, and I’m taking Professor Raj Chetty’s Caribbean Literature here at SDSU.
I’m really interested in the centrality Jessica Cohen mentions in this comment. From the beginning, the novel centralizes Jacmel, stating that “. . . up in heaven, purgatory and paradise were separated by a bay exactly like the one in Jacmel” (First Movement, Ch.1, S.2). So, as death affects us all, everyone would eventually find their way to Jacmel in the beginning steps of their afterlife. Within Jacmel, as a carnivalesque wedding celebration turned funeral procession storms around the body of Hadriana, we experience stand-alone chapters of the sights and sounds of a centralized Haiti colliding together in a temporal space. History rewrites itself. The chaos of it all betrays a strange sort of order as the carnival community comes together to save the soul of Hadriana. Even traditionally Christian folks find their way although eventually making their departure. It is all simultaneously tensions and peace, chaos and order, sense and insensibility merging into one as easily as it is thought they cannot. Jacmel, Haiti, carnival, and Vodou stand to disrupt history to show it will still work. It still functions and provides us with new meaning and understanding of our world. It offers us a new way of connecting that can be left behind with the rigidity of binaries and oppositions.
Ursula here from Professor Chetty’s Caribbean Lit class.
I believe that in this section of the novel several themes come to play and history and culture are very much present as you, Jessica Cohen state. The recreating of these historical figures, like Stalin, in terms that are more carnivalesque further on exemplify the messages that Jacmel is part of its own nation. Jacmel gets to re-write it’s own history as part of a what they decree should be told and understood from these political figures. By doing so, Jacmel further on points towards it’s independence from the European nations and narratives.
Furthermore, René Depestre creates a new, zombified narrative of his own, withe story within his novel. Not only is he recreating Jacmel’s own environment and traditions, as well as narratives, but is also telling the story of the people of Jacmel, and their own interpretations of such. Of what it meant to believe in the things they did about others and or even the things they deemed sacred enough to not question or dwell upon.
This novel truly takes things from a macro viewpoint and summarizes it, or mirrors it in a micro perspective. Each event that takes place in the novel is suited to fit a character in particular, while telling things about other characters while doing so.
This first section of the novel was very telling in the type of ‘character’ that Jacmel is.
The carnival scene is vivid, and visually striking. This makes the scene incredibly impactful in translating a sensory experience to the reader. The hybridity of Jacmel is on full display, as the people negotiate between Catholicism and Vodou.
Just as you have mentioned, Jessica, Depestre challenges the notion that European history is universal history, elevating figures of Haiti as well as its history and culture. Here, all that is uniquely Haitian is not reduced to a culture that simply revolves around European, particularly French history. It is not simplified to be easily digestible for readers outside of Haiti, ultimately centralizing the people of Haiti and their experiences.
I find this reading very intriguing, especially as Cohen says, “Depestre challenges universalist ideas, reminding us that there is no History,” in reference to the conciliation between Jacmel cultural figures and European figures. This claim is not an easy one to assume yet I can understand it as coming from a place of accountability. There is “no history” because what we possess in and of it itself will never be anything close to comprehensive. Many times in history have there been places where we blindly picked up where things were left off, with gaps, questions, and fantasies put in place to create a mirage of knowledge and understanding. Those European figures in some way are humanized through these practices and provided a sense of camaraderie that we normally would not expect, breaking apart their history to show the non-linearity of our concept of time. There are so many narratives within the individual ones we perpetuate and these depictions and Haitian cultural practices provide themselves and others new histories that free them from lesser ideals.
I’m looking forward to the discussion tomorrow! This is such a fun novel, and as Laurent says, it has so many layers.
Marlene calls our attention to the mixed-up way history appears in the novel’s carnival scenes: I think Jessica is right to see Depestre placing Toussaint and Dessalines alongside Alexander the Great and Stalin as a way of making us think about dominant historical narratives.
Marlene’s framing makes me think even more about the irreverence of the descriptions. Depestre’s carnival revelers aren’t interested in historical accuracy, or even real history for that matter. These aren’t “vindicationist” versions of Haitian heroes or world-historical actors deployed to underscore Haiti’s achievements. Typical versions of nationalism (in Haiti and elsewhere) treat “founding fathers” as objects of veneration: I wonder how much our deterritorialized author is seeking to deflate precisely that kind of noirist iconography.
Hi everyone, I missed the original chat due to poor scheduling but am excited to be part of it tomorrow. I teach high school English at a boarding school in MA (Andover) but also have 2 online sites on Haiti and teach a course on the literature and history of the Haitian Revolution with a colleague. A student and I did an independent project this fall on 20th-Century Haitian literature, and we just read, among other things, Hadriana, and it was interesting to see how the text landed with a high school senior (he has been avidly following the book club too!). To help contextualize things for him, I pulled out Leah Gordon’s Kanaval for pictures and Danticat’s After the Dance (the endpapers of the hardcover have great maps, and it was fun tracing the various routes from the novel). I also pulled out a book I’d grabbed years ago at a conference: Jacmel en Photos by Jean-Elie Gilles (it’s an Educa Vision text). Most of it’s poor quality, because it’s reproductions of folks’ personal photos, but it’s a great resource in many ways, and I was struck by its nostalgia in it (photos of prominent Jacmélians of the late 1800s, early 1900s, photos of the now-non-working electrified street lamps of the 1890s, etc.).
In the last conversation, there was much discussion of time, and Gilles’s book made me think of the nostalgia in Hadriana, the way it’s often returning to a wealthier heyday of the 1890s, for instance (including a mention of those street lamps). The novel is mostly about 3 days in 1938, but even within that time, there’s a longing for another time and a sense of Jacmel in 1938 being a diminished thing and of everything after 1938 being diminished in comparison to that time (a sort of temporal Russian nesting doll). I wonder about the ways in which the Haitian revolutionary figures are another kind of nostalgia here as well as a rebuke and challenge to contemporary political stasis–both in practice in Carnival and in the text itself. I’m always wondering about the narrative of the Haitian Revolution in tension with other kinds of nostalgia (like for Duvalier, for instance).
Along with those major Revolutionary names are so many very specific Jacmel names that are mostly lost to a non-Haitian, non-Jacmélian-of-a-certain-era reader, and I wonder about this very specific recreation of Jacmel by a writer writing from abroad and recreating a kind of “imaginary homeland,” as Rushdie puts it. It feels in parts like Gilles’s book–a very specific kind of mapping of people and places of Jacmel in that time, and I appreciated the book’s ability to be both incredibly local in time and space (a love story of the main character and Jacmel, as much as Hadriana) and exist outside of it for a different kind of audience that seems explictly non-Haitian.
Lastly, I was behind on site updates but just added a couple of more recent Manoir Alexandra photos from 2017 and earlier (the clearest photo is from 2017) here: http://www.mappinghaitianhistory.com/south-east Just scroll down to the Jacmel General section. Since then, they’ve built on huge additions to the original structure and reopened and can be found via Google as both Hotel Adriana and Hotel Alexandra…
Thank for these thoughts, Stephanie, and for the information about that Gilles book — it looks fascinating! I’m really interested in the way you, Rafe and Jessica have all highlighted the interesting ways in which Depestre is playing with history here: the “sense of equality and camaraderie” Jessica identifies, the “irreverence of the descriptions” noted by Rafe, and the use of history in the constitution of a kind of Rushdie-style “imaginary homeland” you note. In her artwork for the upcoming exhibit, Nathalie has been producing some amazing visual responses to this (notably the ping-pong scene!). So much swirling around in this particular section of the novel…
One of Professor Glover’s students here! I am particularly interested in Laurent’s question about why Depestre does not explicitly discuss the political-economic context. While we cannot be sure of Depestre’s intentions, I think it is interesting to consider the effects of his choice.
I’d like to turn to Condé’s “Order, Disorder, and Freedom,” which explains the rigid framework seen in the Afro-Caribbean literature canon. Important ‘rules’ include that the hero should be a black male, that Afro-Caribbean society should not be critiqued, that all problems faced by postcolonial communities are rooted in slavery, and that the novel should have political aims. Condé asks how writers can achieve freedom from these guidelines in order to tell new and perhaps more genuine stories about history and contemporary society. I argue that Depestre provides an example of how this order can be transgressed.
First, by focusing on hyper-local details and Hadriana’s zombification, he breaks from the idea that the novel must tell a strictly political story about Haiti’s fight against slavery/colonialism. While it is, of course, possible to read the zombification of Hadriana and the sex-addict butterflies as symbols of colonialism’s aftermath, Depestre leaves it to the reader to make those connections. I think that Depestre has, instead, brought Haitian traditions, like sacrifices and maybe even Voodoo itself, into question.
Second, his novel is largely about the exploitation and objectification of Hadriana by the Jacméliens, rather than by the US or France. Accordingly, Haitian society is critiqued by its victim and struggle is presented as that of an individual, rather than as that of the collective — major breaches of the framework presented in Condés “ODF.” I hypothesize that if Depestre had written about larger issues, this story would have disappeared. For instance, in the second movement, Patrick reads an article about Jacmel that makes no mention of Hadriana at all — she does not figure into the popular narrative.
Lastly, since the novel’s three movement narrative structure relies on Hadriana being the focal point, we could read the lack of political-economic context as an artistic choice.
Ultimately, I think that by zooming in and not focusing on the political-economic situation of Haiti as a whole, Depestre is able to break free from the rigid ‘rules’ of Afro-Caribbean literature. Thus, he proposes a small history that can be integrated into the History that western society and Afro-Caribbean writers have proposed.
Whoops – I am sorry, just realized that I am actually responding to the question posed by Joel, not Laurent!
I agree that Depestre is writing against the preconceived notion of Afro-Caribbean literature as Condé outlines it in her essay. Though I’m wondering if he is calling the traditions themselves into question. I think the novel depends upon these structures and undermines them in a way that calls the traditions less into question as opposed to the people practicing them. One of the major points of the novel is that nobody opens the door for Hadriana when she escapes zombification, underling her role as a figurehead as opposed to being viewed as an actual person. But the fact that people didn’t open their doors doesn’t illustrate traditions being at fault so much as the hypocrisy of the people practicing these traditions. I completely agree that he is critiquing Haitian society. I think it’s especially pertinent knowing that he left Haiti at 19. In this way, his critique of Haiti makes sense since he has hopped around the world, looking to achieve the dream of a global Communist revolution and every place he’s lived has fallen short.
I’d argue though, that the sociopolitical context is there, implicitly. While not explicated in a historic, omniscient “this-is-what-else-is-happening” way, the presence of Carnaval, the fact the Hadriana flees to Jamaica, and the second movement (in which Patrick breaks down his ideas of why Jacmel’s economy floundered and his understanding of zombies), even Hadriana’s race and her marriage all carry the weight of the larger sociopolitical context. I’m interested in uncovering more deeply in what ways the outside world manifests in Hadriana dans tous mes rêves.
Greetings all. I’m a journalist born in Haiti but who has lived mostly in the U.S. and now in Paris for the last seven years. I’ve been working on a book about my family’s 300-year presence in Haiti. In the research process I’ve been educating myself on Haitian history and literature so this discussion is very valuable. I couldn’t participate in the first session because of the schedule change but I will join session #2.
I have lived on and off in Haiti and was particularly struck by Depestre’s evocation of Jacmel, a town where I have family ties (one relative was a judge) and have visited several times.
He captures the hermetic nature of small-town life; our narrators know all the principal characters and their strengths as well as their flaws. There’s no need to ponder their behavior because they act as expected.
The other aspect that rings true is the narrator’s pride in his home town. You get this less so today when the Haitian world is so centered in P-au-P. I remember a Jacmelian relative lambasting people from Cap Haitien as “barbarians” because they used a different word for umbrellas (voum-tak). Haitian identity was once closely bound to place of origin. My mother’s side talked about Grande-Rivière du Nord (near Le Cap) although they had not lived there for several generations.
Depestre uses an inconsistent mix of real Jacmel names (Kraft) and slightly altered (Radsen instead of Madsen – although he correctly refers to their Danish origins).
Finally, I am curious how Depestre, who has had a deeply political life, leaves out the political-economic context. The last US Marines had left Haiti just four years before the book’s setting. The global depression was in full bloom with the world heading toward WWII. Tensions between blacks and mulatres were rising as the noirist/indigeniste post-Occupationmovement was taking hold. Was this because of his long absence – or a deliberate artistic choice – to isolate Jacmel from the global realities that would complicate the story?
Good morning, everyone! Thanks for engaging with the questions. I am very excited to lead today’s discussion. In the interest of time, I am going to paste a few of the passages below that I am really interested in discussing with all of you.
1. “All over the square, the various masks reconstituted the particular time and space that corresponded with the heroes they represented at the moment of their participation in the planet’s history. But historical memory had gotten mixed up….Alongside all the legendary characters, but never truly joining them in their fantastic adventure, roamed a host of other Jacmelian visions, just as fancifully dressed, but who had opted for the less spectacular roles of pigs, orangutans, birds of prey, bulls, sharks, cobras, crocodiles, tigers, Tonton-Macoutes, and leopards” (83-84).
2. “This masked occasion had convoked three centuries of human history to my sister’s wake. Figures sculpted from the purest marble and figurines of rotten wood had come together to dance, sing, drink rum, and refuse death, kicking up the dust on my village square, which, in the midst of this general masquerade, took itself for the cosmic stage of the universe” (84).
3. “For white people, the zombie is just one of those fanciful Haitian ways of dealing with fate. The Siloés would have made a mockery of my memories” (125).
4. “In our country, it’s true: history repeats itself more than it does elsewhere” (126).
5. “According to Uncle Ferdinand, a zombie–man, woman, or child–is a person whose metabolism has been slowed down under the effects of some organic toxin, to the point of giving all appearances of death; general muscular hypotonia, stiffened limbs, imperceptible pulse, absence of breath and ocular reflexes, lowered core temperature, paleness, and failure of the mirror test” (128).
I am also wondering if some of the hyper-local aspects of the novel is intentionally opaque to a non-Jacmélian or non-Haitian reader, that it’s supposed to resist some of the “Letter from Jacmel” treatment of the visiting writer in the 2nd movement. Especially with Carnival, which is both hyper-local and increasingly sold to a non-Haitian gaze, I wonder if there’s a bit of insistence on unreadability.
Hi everyone! I’m one of Professor Glover’s students this semester and, like Stephanie, after having read the novel I was left wondering about its relationships to potential, and / or aimed, readership(s). I found particularly interesting the ways through which the novel seems to, perhaps not accomodate, but at least conceive, an ample range of possible readers: while it delves upon the “hyper-local aspects” Stephanie mentioned, I felt that, at the same time, the novel kept anticipating (and interestingly, often to deconstruct it) the “typical” reception of Western audiences. As a French reader, I’m ashamed to admit that in the episode of Hadriana’s funeral debates, my initial reaction seemed to be directly embedded in the text itself, reflected by the narrator’s description of Hadriana’s parents: “Ils avaient été profondément choqués d’entendre leur voisine mêler le nom de Nana a une scabreuse histoire de papillon persécuteur de nymphettes” (51).
Here, as in other instances through the voice of various characters, it seems that the narration leaves space for a representation of alternative readings and understandings of the events —without necessarily condoning them, as what follows this very description of the parent’s reaction makes clear: “ils avaient le sentiment que la sorte de fable grivoise et lugubre que la femme mettait tant de fantaisie à raconter appartenait sans doute au romancero funéraire d’Haïti”; the narrator here marks its distance with the Siloé couple, subtly shown as ignorant (“le sentiment que”, “appartenait sans doute” + the erroneous use of the word “romancero”) —illustrating, perhaps, the “unreadability” highlighted above by Stephanie.
Grateful to Marlene for facilitating a wonderful conversation today, and for these brilliant comments. I am a PhD candidate in Art History at Columbia, and am interested in Négritude-era thought and writing primarily as it is filtered through African American writers and artists, so I am relatively new to Depestre. But this book is truly remarkable.
Joel, you bring up a point that I was thinking about today and which resonated in your question about 1938- about the political-economic realities that quietly suffuse the text, but are not explicitly mentioned (except in the letter to Uncle Féfé as folks discussed today). If there are cultural references that would be legible to Jacmelians and Haitians, as Stephanie notes, it is curious too that these are transposed to a world that has been crafted as somewhat distinct or even autonomous save for certain coded references to global politics threaded through (the effigies in the carnival, for instance). This world has everything to do with the creation of rich scenes of carnival, and its legitimation of ‘inversion’ or turning typical conventions inside out, per Bahktin. The hilarious tensions between the Catholic purists and the Vodou practitioners draw this out especially.
The aesthetic language describing the carnival scene, the details of the landscape, and the sensual intimacy among/between bodies consistently pulls me into this text as a visual thinker — and yet the question of the limits or parameters on carnivalesque “transgression” that someone brought up today feels relevant. New modes of world-making outside the constraints of class and colorism seem permissible in the space that Depestre illustrates for us.
Abbe, these are really fascinating points, and connect with our broader exhibit project — all the artists also found the novel, and particularly the carnival scene, to be really striking visually. I like also how you emphasize the way that this kind of swirling visuality also creates a possibility for trangression and “new modes of world-making.” Great to have these thoughts!
So sorry I missed yesterday, but logistics were impossible on my end yesterday. I loved reading your comments, notably from Rafe, and how your students have responded to the novel. Can’t wait to hear more about the conversation and I plan to be present for the third one.
Also, if you expanded on the “opacity of hyper-locality,” as per Stephanie’s last post, I would love to know more. I often wonder about what it means for a novel to be ‘opaque,’ that is to whom? How is readership and perhaps intended readership involved. What I mean here, is how is ‘postcolonial culture industry’ (Sandra Ponzanesi, i.e. a French public sphere in which the novel was published) intended or not? Of course, it should not matter, according to those structuralists phenomenologists; and yet, the novel circulates based on readership. What many of us have found so elusive in the past in speaking about Depestre’s work, is that he seems to perform the elusiveness for everyone… so is it a ‘hyper-local’ opacity… or is it opaque for all readers… **if you spoke about the varying layers of opacity in relationship to the notion of the ‘carnavalesque’ then I am ‘navrée.’**
Till next time. No need to answer at all! Just wanted to say I am present in intention and hopefully there for the December meeting.
Again apologies, just had no childcare yesterday.
You were missed, Alessandra, but we’ll have the video and chat up soon. We were really just getting to these questions around locality and opacity at the end of the conversation (there never seems to be enough time!) but that would definitely be something we can jump right into during the next conversation, and of course something we can continue to explore in this space in the meantime.
And this point about Depestre’s “elusiveness” is really fascinating and spot-on.
I missed the session but have watched the recording of it, so thank you for making that available. I feel a bit timid as I respond to the discussion and to the book, as I am just a reader and not a scholar. All of you have fascinating things to say that make me realize how much I missed in my reading. You all speak of historical and literary allusions that passed right under my nose. I don’t imagine there are many authors who inspire this kind of collaborative effort at interpretation and celebration, and I am grateful to be a fly on this wall. Before taking a class with Professor Glover, all I knew of Caribbean literature was Danticat, Césaire, Walcott, Perse, Kincaid, Fanon, and CLR James, barely enough to count on two hands and not nearly enough to see all that you see. I confess at this point in my life to read almost exclusively for pleasure and so I read Hadriana as a simple love story, almost as the answer to a simple question put to the narrating couple, as if over dinner: how did the two of you meet? And what a wonderful answer! Some pleasures are more complex than others. I read the story of an obsession. There is a sighting, a wedding to the wrong man, a funeral, a carnival, a kidnapping, an escape and adventure, and at last a reunion followed by “ten years as a happy couple” into the present. A man seems to look back on his life from a more quiet future. He tells the story of his obsession with a woman, an obsession that he projects onto a town called Jacmel, a town made of realist bits of the town of his childhood mixed with fantasy and nostalgia. A young boy falls in love with the most beautiful woman in his town, in the world even, as the object of anyone’s infatuation is always the most beautiful person there is. The narrator makes of Hadriana a kind of Bizarro Beatrice, an inverted ideal, whose beauty demands that she take her rightful place in the world as sexual subject and object. When the journalist’s article on Jacmel makes no mention of Hadriana or the wedding, I had to ask myself, are the people keeping a secret? Does no one remember? Or is the whole story a vision of one young man’s passion for his beloved? Hadriana’s version of events spirals into a whole new world of horrific realism. Hers is not quite the same tale of a Haitian community worshiping a French girl. She leaves home. I found my mind wandering to another history, wondering if, despite all the retellings, Iphigenia has ever really written her story from the grave. Here, the adoring narrator makes Hadriana a cosmic sacrifice. She experienced things quite differently. I enjoyed hearing everyone in the discussion talk about carnival and the cosmic stage, and about Depestre’s work connecting Haitian history to world history. Literature is a strange thing. It seems to do different things in different places and times. It is hard for me to imagine a future that does not recognize Haitian history as world history, but who has a crystal ball? Multivalent histories will probably have to condense in oder to survive? Your discussion about carnival makes me wonder if one of the things “it does” while erasing boundaries and inverting identities is create memories. A paradox, perhaps.
Hi all! Another student from Professor Glover’s seminar course here. Unfortunately, I missed the discussion but was able to catch up on the discussion thanks to the video! Hopefully these questions and thoughts will be useful for future conversations, particularly with the next one on Hadriana’s voice, but I found myself thinking of it in terms of carnival as well. Throughout the novel, I kept returning to the exoticization of Hadriana and the carnival, and how these representations were impacted not only by the politics of the time, but also by Depestre’s own relationship with Haiti. Both in his depictions of Hadriana and the carnival, we view through the lens of a tourist, and Depestre provides what feels to me like a relatively exoticized view of his own land. Hadriana is objectified; Depestre reproduces Western tropes of sexuality to create her character. And, she is also idolized, (arguably another form of objectification). In addition, the memories of carnival feel more like an outsider’s nostalgic vision of the past than reality. The tie with exoticism in both of these contexts proved fascinating to me, and I’m not quite sure I’ve worked through my feelings and questions on them. Nonetheless, they absolutely change our traditional views (mostly negative) on exoticism. Especially in relation to this discussion on parody, in which the carnival can be used to deconstruct global structures of power and poverty, I found myself wondering if exoticism was also used as a reaction or supplement to the loss felt by Hadriana’s community when she was zombified, as well as Depestre when leaving Haiti. Can this objectification lead to something positive? Is it possible for the concept of the exotic to remove itself from the objectifying, colonialist framing that we have so long associated with it?
I really like the idea of the zombie as a key representation of instability, especially when someone said that a principle of zombification is that not all memory is lost but that it is instead intermingled with new ones in a sort of chaotic soup. I believe that the idea of instability also manifests itself in the exoticization of Hadriana. I wrote a paper exploring the connection between exoticization and a lack of foundation in the individual in some of the works read in Prof. Glover’s class. In this case, I think that exoticization is a last means of finding a base in the midst of disorder. It’s interesting that, building upon this concept, it is Jacmel –a whole town– doing the exoticization, and not an individual as seen in many other texts in Caribbean literature. The disappearance of Hadriana is believed to tip whatever balance was left as her “sacrifice” is rumored to be the cause of the catastrophe that falls upon Jacmel soon after.
I love what you said about the Carnaval scene Depestre describes. I was overwhelmed by everything. My knowledge surrounding Carnaval is practically zero; My mind is a clean canvas for what Depestre paints. As I was reading, it felt like I was being bombarded with all that was happing. In a sense, it really was as if I was walking through the crowds and enjoying the music, dancing, and games. I was a little confused most of the time? Yes, but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment.
As a student enrolled in Professor Raj Chetty’s Caribbean Literature class at San Diego State University, I also found the concept of the Zombie and the descriptions of Carnival within this particular novel and in various other forms of Haitian Literature to be a signifier of instability and confusion. They are perhaps utilized as a literary technique to depict the complexity of the lives, stories, and relationships of each of the figures present throughout the novel. Within movement one of Hadriana in All My Dreams, I was most drawn to the relationship between Haitian Vodou, Catholicism, and Zombification’s role within this relationship. The two relationships are both incredibly apparent throughout the novel and conflict with each other, but they also appear to complement each other in a sense as well. Vodou spiritual elements and practices are supplemented by Catholic verse and beliefs and I believe this exemplifies the overall religious complexity of Haitian and Creole culture as a whole. I also found the descriptions of the process of zombification to be illuminating. Desparte’s explanation of the role of the Zombie on an industrial sense appears to serve as an allusion to the exploitation of the forced servitude of slaves throughout history in order to benefit the economic and hegemonic growth of white colonists and imperialists.
I am one of Laurent Dubois’ students posting here for our upcoming discussion of the novel.
Like many of the previous posts, I was struck by the lengthy carnival scene Depestre paints. Aside from the unforgettable ping pong paragraph (wow!), there was so much to absorb as we walk through the crowded Lovers Lane with Patrick unfolding around Hadriana’s catafalque. Music, dancing, games of leapfrog, cross-dressing, werewolves, a host of animals, Carib Indians, notable pirates and generals … with each passing description, readers are further immersed in the charivari and ritual of inversion that carnival invokes. Last week (for a different course), I read Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie’s Carnival in Romans which details the 1580 peasant massacre in the small French town as the Catholic Counter-Reformation was underway. The scenes are strikingly similar. Ritual dancing, fighting, costume — even the “crew of devilish boys there to channel Jacmel’s esteemed Mathurin Lys” embodied the same spirit of carnival that characterized early modern France’s carnivals. The figures, rituals and meanings shift though the scene plays out in much the same manner.
Where the charivari of early modern Europe mocked newly married couples (or similar events), in Depestre’s novel, the Jacmelians hoped to ensure safe passage into death for the young bride. From Hadriana’s gaze, she looks down on this scene near the novel’s end, and she describes observing the masked people, the terrified birds, and her own appearances in two windows of the house, a “doubling game that was taking [her] from childhood to death”. Her absence from the action and her reflections on the past — childhood, the Kraft sisters, Hector and Patrick — evoke a sense of longing, of not belonging and of missed opportunity. The same scene feels very different from Hadriana’s eyes.
Hello Clare Marie, I am a student in Professor Raj Chetty’s Caribbean Literature course and like you, I also paid close attention to the fight between Catholicism and the Vodou religion. I thought the whole inclusion of Madame Brevica Losange’s ritual on page 98 was also an acceptance of the Vodou culture. There were many Catholics witnessing the burial of Hadriana, but still the ritual’s effect caught so much attention that the Catholics felt defeated. Many people start to join in on the ritual and they start throwing their belongings into the fire. I do think Jacmel is inclusive of both Catholics and Vodou practioners, but Vodou seems to be more widely embraced. It is part of Jamcel’s history and it appears Vodou outnumbers Catholicism. The narrators says “Jacmel’s good Catholic families… seemed crushed beneath a double sense of shame: first, the blasphemous display of African customs…” (100). The Catholics feel as if they cannot compete with the Vodou practitioners. Their religion is different from theirs and they feel ashamed. Some even leave the place because they do not feel like they are a part of that. So, yes I do think both religions are part of Jamcel but one belongs to their history and better reflects their lively attitude.
Hello everyone, I am a student in Prof. Dubois’s “The Black Atlantic” course.
Like many of the commenters here, I am struck by the amount of work that this carnival scene is doing. I am particularly interested in how the carnival, and the discourse both preceding and following the event, elucidate to the reader how post-colonial Haiti, particularly, Jacmel exists as a contested space. The narrator informs the readers through a discussion with his mother that there was much debate regarding the appropriateness of having a carnival in the wake of Hadriana’s death. While there is this sense that there is a “tug-of-war” over Hadriana’s body, Catholics and Vodouists on each end respectively, present in these sections is a reluctant compromise. Like the imagery of Dessalines playing ping pong with Stalin, the church ceremony following the carnival celebration highlights how Jacmel is a space of hybridity.
Even though the Siloés were practicing Catholics they did not oppose the inclusion of Haitian Vodou in Hadriana’s homegoing ceremonies. Although it is heavily implied that the shock of their daughter’s abrupt death resulted in the Siloés’ passivity, their decision to allow the inclusion of Vodou serves as an acknowledgment that Hadriana was not only their daughter but belonged to the people of Jacmel broadly, including practitioners of Vodou. This, of course, arouses questions regarding agency and the female body. What do we make of residents of Jacmel using this Black religion in order to protect the “innocence” of this white girl’s body and soul?
While reading René Depestre’s Hadriana dans tous mes rêves, I found the relationship between Christianity and Vaudou practices to be telling of the community’s desire to have a mixture of both religions. While Catholics priests, in particular, see Vaudou as a threat and work to deliver Jacmel from it, we can see in the novel that the people consider themselves practitioners of both religions and that even Hadriana’s parents recognize that there is a need for the community to have both a Vaudoo and a Catholic funeral: “ma mère et d’autres personnes proches des Siloé passèrent leur temps à trouver de fragiles compromis entre les rituels catholique et vaudou, frères ennemis qui se disputèrent âprement le corps et l’âme de la jeune fille” (p53). This fight for the body and soul of the deceased comes back later when the Catholic priest père Naélo says his sermon, asking for forgiveness on behalf of Jacmel for having desecrated her death with “les loas guédés, les danses macabres et obscènes” (p89). Depestre brings humor in this sermon by twisting the original ending of Hail Mary from “ Sainte Marie, mère de Dieu, priez pour nous pauvres pécheurs, maintenant et à l’heure de notre mort. Amen” to “ Sainte Marie, mère de Dieu priez pour les pauvres pécheurs de Jacmel maintenant et à l’heure de leur mort délivrez-nous des masques et des tambours du paganisme”(p90). This twisting of the canonic catholic prayer, tailored to Jacmel, shows that the religion’s focus is no longer the salvation of souls but rather the deliverance from “ vaudou evil”.
The role of Carnival as a symbol and facilitator of history and temporality is profound in Hadriana. “Des barons et des marquises de la cour de Louis XIV jouaient a saute-mouton sur le gazon avec des sacerdotes en habit du tires-order des Capucins… Dans la foule bigarrée je reconnus aussi Simon Bolivar en personne… le rois Christophe, en visite officielle a Versailles, faisait majestuesement le cent pas…” (Depestre, 61-62). The juxtaposition of different characters in history who represent both colonial oppression (Christopher Columbus) and liberation (Toussaint Louveture) blends history and creates a situation where characters are engaging with many historical periods at once. This is connected to Dayan’s (1994) notion of memory in which she discusses Bastide and African religions of Brazil. While she references Toni Morisson’s “Beloved” as an example of memory being attached or material place and the ways in which memories survive through this, this is relevant through the use of Carnavale in Hadriana, as well. “This kind of memory… [is] a continuing process of re-habitation, a re-position in terms of locale” (p. 13). The use of historical figures interacting with one another during Carnival allows the characters to explore the legacies of historical memory in a way that is worth further exploration. It would also be interesting to look at the meaning of Carnival in other places in the Americas and the Caribbean (such as New Orleans!) and analyze how meanings of memory and history differ and parallel to the representation of Carnavale in Hadriana. #CUDU
I thought the section of the novel where Hariana’s funeral was taking place was really quite interesting, especially because they chose to do both the Carnavale and the Catholic ceremony. I thought that from my own understanding of the concept of the “carnivalesque” that the novel described it pretty spot on. From what I understand, “carnivalesque” is an ideology that celebrates the human body and forces people to let go of societal norms and unleash the other parts of our souls, to celebrate that we’re dirty, that we’re human, it’s very hyper-erotic as the masks are used physically to represent the different “masks” we all carry inside of us. We all have many aspects that make us complex beings, society tells us to dispel the raunchy desires and to embrace purity and good, but the “carnivalesque” is about celebrating all that makes us who we are. So Hadriana’s Haitian Carnivale funeral, felt more like a celebration of her life. The more Catholic ceremony that took place was formal and begged God to save her soul and to forgive those who had celebrated her during carnival. I don’t know, the whole juxtaposition of the two scenes was really fascinating!
An excerpt that stood out to me during the Carnival scene was, “All over the square, the various masks reconstituted the particular time and space that corresponded with the heroes they represented at the moment of their participation in the planet’s history” (pg. 83). I feel as though Depestre included masks/costumes of these infamous historical figures in the Carnival scene to further connect with the audience. It would make it easier for readers to understand if he ties in people that we most likely know. Which further points out that Haitian history isn’t recognized as much as it should be. So it’s both a teachable moment and a critique on society.
Hello All. My name is Tyler Macilvaine and I am here commenting for an upcoming discussion in Dr. Raj Chetty’s Caribbean Literature course at San Diego State University. I think a particular moment or two that stand out for me is when the Siloés and the Vodou supporters are both arguing back and forth over canceling the festivities, and when Father Naélo gives the catholic version of a funeral for Hadriana. I read several comments about the eroticism of the text and I feel that the eroticism highlights the differences between European and Haitian ways of being. I feel that Father Naélo, in both the scene attempting to cancel Carnival and in the Church during Hadriana’s Catholic funeral, highlights a compartmentalization of human lived experience by those who are not Haitian. Patrick’s mother tells him that “Father Naélo said that an explosion of paganism on the square risked forever compromising the salvation of the angel of love Jacmel was mourning” (86). Father Naélo in the church the next day then proclaims to the mourning group, “the fact is this: by enacting this unseemly ritual, Jacmel has sullied the innocence of its fairy. . . In this horrible January, here in Haiti, dear Lord, we beg Your forgiveness for all those who have soiled the virginal morning of Your beloved flower” (114). I feel that the European religion in Depestre’s depictions compartmentalizes the human experiences of life and seems to alienate those experiences from the person they’re “mourning.” What I am trying to get at is, when we see depictions of Carnival and various other representations of Vodou images in the novel they can be associated with eroticism. I feel that the piety of European religion to preserve the Lord’s “virginal flower” is on the conservative end of the religious spectrum, where the human satisfaction of “the human adventure that God keeps rolling out like a carpet under our feet here in this world” is suppressed in favor of remaining pure and untainted in preparation for ascension (87-88). I think that the Dutch character Henrik Radsen makes an interesting point about what it is that Vodou religious practice values; the everyday surrealism of nature’s mysteries. I feel as though this last reference to nature’s mysteries was brought up in previous class discussion, however, I am unsure of the exact source. In short, I feel that Depestre creates each of these religious systems as being at opposite ends of a spectrum, and it’s interesting when societal circumstance necessitates these two groups coming together in negotiation of values and what traditions should be celebrated or cancelled.
I found the contact between different types of religious and cultural imagery in the wedding ceremony in Chapter 4 to be quite interesting. Depestre places a clear focus on the colonially-imposed Catholic aspects of Creole religion present in the ceremony, “The ceremony began under the direction of Father Naélo and two deacons, with the Saint Rose of Lima choir adding to the contagious excitement.” The presence of the high-ranking members of the church, as well as the choir suggest the atmosphere of a Catholic church. However, when presented with Hadriana’s sudden death upon taking these Christian vows, the crowd reacts in a manner rooted in their own cultural background, rather than the imposed culture of the Church. Depestre specifically tells us that “People shouted questions in Creole with great cries of dismay,” illustrating the Creolized response to colonial cultural imposition when faced with the unexplained.
The clash of Christianity and Vodou in Hadriana In All My Dreams is intriguing to dissect. Christianity and Vodou in Haiti is a conflict central to both real life experiences and in the novel. I found it particularly interesting to read, Chapter 7 on pg. 101, Madame Losange shouts, “‘the flames of redemption demand to be fed!’… with that several of the onlookers began feeding the fire…”. Items that are thrown into the fire include many things but most importantly: Lolita Phillibsbourg’s bra, a garter belt, silk stockings, lingerie, and my personal favorite an enormous gothic dildo. This ritual is all done to ensure safe passage to the spirit realm, I can’t help but to be extremely fascinated on how sexually suggestive and erotic it all is. There is definitely a great deal of importance to include that eroticism which is quick to garner opposition from the Christian church. The distinctness of these two religions are used to emphasize the major contrast, which has been a conflict ever since the creation of Vodou religion, and Depestre writes about it in this poetical, lyrical, magical novel.