Where do Zombie’s Come From?


“One mystery hid a hundred others…”

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 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. As you read, think about 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. Why did he choose to use such a wide variety of literary forms to respond to and frame common interpretations of Haiti? And how should we understand Depestre’s satirical and multi-valent engagement with ethnography and anthropological theories around the zombie?  

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:

A video of our book club meeting held on December 12, 2019 is below.

33 Replies to “Where do Zombie’s Come From?”

  1. Hello to everyone,
    I’m a student in Professor Glover’s class and have been quite interested in how the figure of the zombie interacts with its community; how it is mediated by social forces, but also seems to trouble and destabilize those same structures. Taking from Agamben who theorized the state of exception and “bare life” in ways that I believe harmonize with the zombie’s role in a community (limning the boundary between legitimization and delegitimization within the sociopolitical sphere), I see in Hadriana’s zombification a materialization of the breaks, ruptures, and incoherencies that this configuration relies upon. Particularly, I am interested in the role of ritual in Hadriana, which though not often directly named (except for when Hadriana is referred to as a “victime d’un crime rituel”), seems central to the novel in its triangulation of the rituals of marriage, sacrifice, and zombification. I see zombification as the epitomization of the instability and incompletion of the ritual act, in which each iteration of ritual fails to achieve that ideal that it names. In Hadriana, the ritual of marriage, and the sacrifice implied in her “death” at the altar, both “fail” in that sense. And though the ritual of zombification does initially produce what it names, we find that the possibility for reincarnation in which Hadriana is ultimately reborn from her zombified state, speaks to the potential that can be found through the zombie’s fundamental instability.
    Hopefully I’ll be able to join the conversation today, so I can speak more about this then and look forward to hearing your contributions.

    Julia Arnade-Colwill says:
    1. I really like your observation of how the three rituals of marriage, sacrifice, and zombification in Hadriana are not ultimately successful, or “failed.” Thinking back to the last session, the carnival is certainly a ritual, too, although one whose objective is not quite as clear as the others you’ve identified. I’m curious how you think it fits in with the other ritual acts described here –– in particular the sacrifice, which initially appeared to have achieved what it aimed to.

      Alexandra Lozada says:
    2. These are fascinating meditations, Julia, about the many layers and potential meanings of zombification, which Depestre’s text I think allows us to think through. There’s also a way in which the instability of this Movement 2 of the novel itself, I think, is a kind of structural play on the instability of zombification, of the process of not knowing what is dead and what is alive, what is real and what is not. If you are able to join hopefully you can extend some of these thoughts during the discussion!

      Laurent Dubois says:
    3. Julia, I really appreciated your comments about zombification as a disruption of the rituals of marriage, sacrifice, and zombification. I also found that the zombification of Hadriana was overtly related to her victimization, dispossession, and objectification. Hadriana’s zombification meant that she became victim to a new master, and especially in context with some of the other Caribbean literature read over the semester, it felt to me like it was presented as similar to colonial slavery. Her second life did not necessarily imply a newfound freedom, but instead points to bondage for the zombie. The zombie is a victim, as Julia stated, to a “crime rituel.” What I found especially interesting about this was that the zombification of Hadriana wasn’t a metaphor, but instead a truth that guides the story forward. Hadriana’s zombification changes Jacmel, and because of this, we also see, in some ways, disruptions of race, religion, and culture through these rituals.

      Maya Corral says:
    4. Great insight, Julia! I think you make a really excellent point about the triangulation of the rituals of marriage, sacrifice, and zombification—and how all three fail in the case of Hadriana. In my reading of the first movement, the town discourse surrounding Hadriana’s marriage to Hector parallels the rhetoric of virgin sacrifices. This is as transcultural as it is transhistorical; in ritualistic dress, with ritualistic music, in a house of worship, the beautiful virgin will be sacrificed/married for the sake of the community. The most striking example of this parallel is the public announcement of Hadriana’s marriage (section 1 of the second chapter), which ends with : « En vérité, après la malédiction des derniers mois, le mariage de ces deux êtres d’exception est comme un pacte que Jacmel va signer avec l’espérance et la beauté ». The marriage is a sacrifice is a zombification. And as you note, all three rituals fail. In addition to Hadriana’s ultimate de-zombification/rebirth, I think that the deterioration of Jacmel in the decades following the wedding/funeral is likewise an enactment of that tripartite failure. Rather than helping to ameliorate the situation in Jacmel as the marriage announcement predicts, we see in the opening of lines the second movement that « Une trentaine d’années après l’ ‘évaporation’ d’Hadriana Siloé, les voyageurs qui s’aventuraient jusqu’à son lieu de naissance en revenaient avec une impression unanime : Jacmel est en décrépitude … Avec la beauté de sa fille, le temps l’espoir, le doute, la raison, la compassion, la tendresse, la rage de vivre s’étaient également évaporés de la terre jacmélienne ». Through his telling and retelling of the story of Hadriana, Despestre seems to both subvert and dismantle the narrative framework of such rituals.

      Lyric Bowditch says:
    5. I am particularly fascinated by your observation on the zombification process as relating to Agamben’s concepts of “bare life” and the state of exception. Depestre demonstrates how the bodies of Haitians are zombified at the hands of the Duvalier regime. The zombifier/dictator seeks to control and maim the Haitian population, anesthetizing it to induce “la cessation apparente des principales fonctions vitales” (p. 96). The zombification culminates when the individual “n’ayant plus de volonté propre […] devenait un ‘viens-viens,’ aussi docile qu’un âne, dans un totale dépendance à l’égard du sorcier” (Hadriana 98). The necropolitical goal of the Duvalier regime is thus to forge a docile social body. Under this lense, can the aforementioned rituals be construed as forms of resistance against the violent political realities of the time?

      Iga Szlendak says:
  2. The second movement is a fun section! I enjoyed the academic treatise on zombification, followed by the narrator describing it as “pseudo-Sartrean jargon mixed up in my vengeful and ludicrous third-worldism.” It made me think about what our organizers called the “wide variety of literary forms” the novel uses to explore the zombie, and even more Gina’s point about “why academia needs zombies.”

    A question I wanted to explore (which may get answered later—I haven’t read the last part of the novel since I was an undergrad 20 years ago and don’t remember how it ends): why does the encounter between Hadriana and the narrator take place in Jamaica in 1977? Just as I can’t think about the 1938 setting of the first part without thinking of the US occupation (and the mention of Seabrook on p. 134), I’m really interested in what it is about (Michael Manley-era) Jamaica that makes Hadriana’s return possible.

    Rafe Dalleo says:
    1. This is a great point, Rafe, on the other dates in the novel. I loved the conversation last time about the many layers of meaning around 1938. I don’t think anything in Depestre’s chronology is an accident — it’s as if he is leaving clues for us to think through our own narratives of Caribbean, and global, history.

      Laurent Dubois says:
  3. I am sorry that I was not able to join the conversation, which sounds like it was rich and generative. You may have discussed the narrator’s reference to mid-twentieth-century zombie-themed literature as a “veritable industry,” ranging “from the most frenzied sensationalism to the most erudite scholarship” (166). I found it fascinating that while, as Gina notes, the narrator invokes Lévi-Strauss on “[t]he effectiveness of magic…[as] a phenomenon of social consensus” (163), the novel’s plot turns the tables on one of the anthropologist’s key sources in “The Sorcerer and his Magic,” namely Walter Cannon’s article “Voodoo Death,” which appeared in American Anthropologist in 1942. (Notably, Cannon named the supposed phenomenon in this way without discussing a single case reported from Haiti.) In reading the second and third movements, I was struck by how rather than the supposed “death by imagination” phenomenon that Cannon proposed, Hadriana instead reanimates herself through imagination later in the novel: “my fabulous past cleared a passage from the sea all the way to my shipwrecked consciousness” (234) This looks ahead to the January discussion, but it was really interesting to see how Depestre reworks that trope in the novel.

    Kate Ramsey says:
    1. Hello Kate,

      My name is Alexandra and I am a student in Raj Chetty’s Carribbean literature course. In class, we discussed the notion of the male gaze as well and how it plays a big role in the novel. The women are constantly sexualized. For instance, the whole idea of the character feflowering women against their will. And how the narrator gazes at the women who is wearing a bridal veil that is transparent. He is able to see her body through the veil and sexualizes the whole moment that takes place in the Carnival celebration. My professor brought up despite the fact that the narrator takes part of the male gaze, he is also a very good narrator. It kind of makes you forget that he oversexualizes women such as in the part where he fantasizes about his students.
      As for the question of could the novel have done without the violence? I think it would definitely remove a lot of meaning out of it. I think Depestre utilizes the violence for a reason to showcase that violence does occur but I don’t believe he is condoning it. The butterfly that deflowers women is represented in a comical way. The narrator basically says, the butterfly deflowers the women without their consent but it’s okay because they orgasm. He is presenting a real issue in a light manner just as he is with the colonization topic.

      Alexandra Palomera says:
  4. After reading the introductory comments and the paper, I have a question, still vague but forming, about politics, the erotic, violence and seduction. Gina’s questions seem to imply the possibility that one could write (or that Depestre could have written) about the erotic without the presence of violence, or at least without violence making the erotic seductive. She also asks what kind of politics Depestre’s novel is participating in or performing? Particularly in relation to the politics of feminism? A male gaze, and one of fantastical projective power, creates most of the book’s narrative. It is corrected, altered, supplemented, obliterated? by the object’s—now a subject—own account. The heroine goes from conventional bride/sacrifice to holy relic to almost-a-sex-slave to fugitive to happy partner in a couple.

    And what happens when we place the zombie in the company of its comrades, the other great monsters of our imagination: the vampire, werewolf, mummy, and the singular Frankenstein’s Monster? Is the zombie the most ambivalent of them all? We could place them on a scale of agency, but that scale would need multiple axes. All are compromised in some fundamental way, as we all are, I suppose. All but Frankenstein’s Monster have something to hope for.

    Brad Wahlquist says:
    1. I think it would be an interesting conversation on what would happen if zombies were in the company of their comrades. I believe that both zombies and mummies would be the most ambivalent due to the historical/spiritual practices (I don’t know much about werewolves or vampires). But the zombification and mummification process’ go far in depth of reasoning. Every step has a meaning and once they reach zombie or mummy status, their afterlife journey begins.

      Asia Fuller says:
    2. I’m very interested in your take of the male gaze and its role in this particular novel. This concept really has allowed me to re-think Hadriana’s role as a character and her contribution to the story’s overall plot. Does her character merely serve within the stereotype of a treasure to be recovered by Patrick? Does her zombification objectify her further by stripping her of her humanity and forcing her into a submissive, figure destined to appeal to the desires of all male figures she comes in contact with? The first and second movements seem to focus on Patrick’s perception of Hadriana as a pure, unattainable, almost other-worldly prize. I’m looking forward to gaining more insight into Hadriana and her thought processes (hopefully apparent) within the third movement which will perhaps provide me with some answers to these troubling inquiries.

      Hannah Rose Berman-Schneider says:
  5. Although I was not able to participate in this session real-time as I had planned, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading everybody’s thoughts and responses to the prompt above. Very fruitful discussion. Flipping back through the second movement with it in mind, I find myself curious about the extent to which Depestre’s position of exile in France may lend itself to his use of such a wide variety of literary forms and language registers, as well his engagement of ethnographic and anthropological modes in the second movement. Both Depestre and Patrick were born in Jacmel and both end up leaving the island. Like Depestre, Patrick engages with the global, while nonetheless remaining deeply rooted in the local. (I.e. he brings a muli-facetedly global perspective to a profoundly local story.) Reading this movement is truly an experience of movement—between regular narration, the letter reporting on the state of affairs of Jacmel written by Claude Kiejman, Patrick’s imaginary interview with Kiejman, and then even his own poetry embedded in his narration. With each shift, Patrick constructs and deconstructs different gazes, frameworks, ways to understand the story he laid out in the first movement.

    I’m still not quite sure what to make of the line at the very end of the fifth section: “Laisse tomber la mise en forme de ces propositions faussement férues de mythologie et de sociologie de la décolonisation.” I am also curious about what Patrick’s engagement of multi-valent rhetorical modes and his numerous references to global cultures/histories/thinkers (e.g. “le trio des divinités gréco-romaines : Aglaé, Thalie, Euphrosyne” in section 3, the Goethe citation at the top of section 5, the contents of many propositions in section 5, etc.) say about the novel’s implicit reader, or perhaps target reader. I would love to hear others’ thoughts here.

    I would also like to respond briefly to a line in Gina Ulysse’s very rich reflection above. She notes: “its politics are also deeply in need of feminist analysis (not sure what Depestre was necessarily advocating…)”. Having read the book in its entirety, I think the third movement really clarifies what it is that Depestre is advocating. I don’t want to give any plot spoilers, but I will say that I believe the novel itself can ultimately be read as a feminist analysis/critique of the rituals of marriage/sacrifice that objectify (voire zombify) women. Curious whether other folks who have finished the novel agree.

    Lyric Bowditch says:
    1. I agree with your observation that the regular narration, the letter by Claude Kiejman and Patrick’s imagined interview with Kiejman provide fragments of the truth and layered narrations in the second movement. Depestre draws attention to different perspectives and gazes. Even as he does this, it was not confusing or difficult to understand. Somehow all the narratives fit perfectly, all creating a new layer to what we already know from previous readings.
      What fascinated me most about this movement was the way in which Depestre evoked the state of zombification when referencing Hadriana, Jacmel and even Haiti as a whole. “Haiti, like the other “discovered” lands of the Americas, entered into modern history caught up in this game of masks (white, black, Indian, mulatto, etc.)— that is to say, with a false identity…without a personal life or civil status, registered with the local cemetery, torn from the bosom of the family, of the church, of pleasure, dance, sex, friendship, and life itself; bound day and night by the purely physiological and physical exigencies of harsh labor…” (171,172). In mentioning some of the traits associated with zombification, he writes about the isolation experienced by a person, place or culture that has been brutalized, objectified and become a victim to a master. This signals dispossession— a theme that resurfaces throughout the text.

      Dineo Maine says:
  6. Hi all! I’m a student from Professor Glover’s class as well. I’ve loved going through these comments, and I really appreciated the additional reading that Prof. Glover provided on the exploitation of the zombie in Haitian literature. Something that struck me, as it relates to Hadriana, was the notion of reclamation. In the article, Glover writes, “Both alive and dead, neither alive nor dead, the zombified individual always retains the ability, albeit slim, of reclaiming his or her essence.” Hadriana, as the zombified heroine, is given a particular root through which she can reclaim her essence; she, herself, is allowed to retell her story through her own eyes. During this retelling, she reclaims her sexuality, which had been erased by the town for the sake of the town. Through retelling the events of her zombification, she corrects the exploitative image of the pure virgin bride that had been placed upon her. By retelling this story from her own point of view, she also reclaims some amount of agency from the victimized and powerless un-living being to the self-aware, autonomous narrator. So by reclaiming the narration, does she reclaim her essence, her selfhood? I am also interested in hearing what others think about how zombies allow for reclamation as it relates to exploitation.

    Sarah Hilligoss says:
    1. I like the point you make about Hadarina reclaiming her essence though zombification. I was interested in the nine propositions. I felt like this was a reclamation of zombification. Depestre is correcting what people know about zombies and how outsiders see zombies. It’s similar to how you say Hadarina corrects the exploitive image that had been placed on her.

      Julia Flores says:
    2. Hi Sarah ! In your post you referred to Hadriana’s notion of reclamation, an aspect that I didn’t think about while I was reading the novel. The story the reader is told, is from a male’s perspective who is seduced by Hadriana. So, is the narrator writing from a feministic perspective? What is the role of gender in the novel ? I s the narrator even trustworthy? After reading your post I realized that from the beginning of the novel, there is an unresolved trauma in regards to how Haitian women are treated and what’s their role in society. The preexisting trauma remains unresolved until Hadriana tells the story from her point of view. The role of gender in the book is not revealed until the final chapter where the audience is introduced to the female perspective of the story. This is when the preexisting trauma is acknowledged and solved.

      Anastasia Vontzou says:
  7. Racially Fragmented Truths

    Who has the authority to recount the past, assigning significance to the events that accelerate change, while glossing over others deemed to be ancillary to historical processes? In movement one, chapter two of René Depestre’s Hadriana in All my Dreams, the reader is presented with this problem of truth in perspective, logic, and culture. Previous, supernatural events, such as a womanizer doomed to spend life as a butterfly and a woman born with seven loins, had been heretofore taken for granted based on the narrator’s perspective. Yet now, in chapter two, the narrator acknowledges the racial divide of truth, associating the supernatural with the whispers of “black servants… as they performed their daily tasks or behind the closed doors of [Hadriana’s] bedroom” (Despestre 71). When the narrator confronts Hadriana’s mother and attempts to “jog her memory” with the events of the past, “they felt that this type of darkly salacious tale… was no doubt just part of the fictionalized lore that surrounded any Haitian funeral” (70). What was recounted as narrative previously is now doubted by Haiti’s white elites.

    But as revealed in the second movement, the narrator is troubled to find an article in Le Monde that recounts the history and flora of Jacmel from the French perspective, omitting any allusion to Hadriana’s funeral. “The tragic circumstances of her ‘evaporation’ were given no consideration next to the Great Fire, the hurricanes, and the political intrigues that had been identified, and rightly so, as among the plagues that put an end to Jacmel’s opulence. The unforgettable beauty of the young French girl had not been acknowledged as one of the causes of the nostalgia that consumed the people of Jacmel” (155). The contrast between the official, public truth, and that which was shared among the narrator and his community, speaks to entirely different modes of attaching significance between white French and black Haitians. This divide is linked to social interaction, as the narrator does not blame the Le Monde reporter, instead suggesting that “she simply had not managed to get any intimate details about the Siloé Affair from her interviewees” (156). Nevertheless, he is beset with trauma at the thought of the Hadriana story going unrecorded – potentially rendering his homeland “some sort of collective zombie” (165).

    The myriad narrative voices, the main narrator, the Kraft sisters, the Le Monde reporter, Hadriana herself, and several letters exchanged between Haitians, offer us a fragmented array of possible truths. Yet, we are not left in confusion. Instead, the framing of the narrative is such that we are to believe the main narrator in the face of the invasive “truths” of those who would doubt his narrative and its supernatural features.


  8. Hey y’all!
    Also commenting for Laurent’s Black Atlantic course. #CUDU
    I would love to talk more about the dynamics of race in the zombification narrative. To Artie’s point, the debates about what happened to Hadriana certainly reflect racialized claims to truth and validity; black knowledge mocked as ‘superstition’ by the white members of the community. I’m not sure what to d with this yet, but I was struck throughout the work by the fetishization of Hadriana in a predominately black community. The people of Jacmel claim her as part of their community and planned to ‘sacrifice’ her through marriage for the sake of the town. When she ‘dies,’ not only did they plan her funeral/carnival, they lay her body for viewing in the center of town. According to Patrick, her death caused Jacmel to decay. Thinking about the colonial context, what does it mean that the people of Jacmel claim Hadriana as they do?

  9. Syncretistic Christianity in Jacmel: The Mixing of Christianity with Racism and Classism

    As a theology and ethics student, I was naturally drawn to the religious themes in the novel. In the first place, I was interested in how Christianity (Jacmelian Catholicism) negotiated the structures of racism and classism at play in Jacmel, and more generally, Haiti. Following Hadriana’s “false death” at the wedding altar, the narrator tells us “from that moment on, there began a pitiless battle between the two belief systems that have long gone head-to-head in the Haitian imagination: Christianity and Vodou (pg. 67).” The narrative pertaining to the conflict between the two religions over the appropriate burial rituals for Hadriana gives a snapshot of how Christianity and Vodou are configured in the Haitian imagination. As it turns out, Christianity defines itself as enlightened and debonair over and against Vodou, which is marked out as backward and entirely bereft of theological utility. The Jacmelian elite mostly identified with Christianity, whereas the plebeian’s identified with Vodou. Reacting against this racist and elitist system of classification, Depestre constructs Hadriana as a body who problematizes and subverts this binary. Hadriana’s family belonged to the elite class and therefore worshiped with the Catholic church, yet Hadriana, in her words, proudly proclaims: “even in my coffin I was far closer to a carnival drum than to the tolling of church bells (pg. 207).” Thus, in the figure of Hadriana, the Vodou assumes the fairest, most beautiful, and the most sophisticated.

    Secondly, Depestre’s novel complexifies and upsets the tacit profane/impure and sacred/pure dichotomy in Jacmelian Christianity. We see this complexification in the range of meanings given to Hadriana’s virginity. For Jacmelian Catholics, Hadriana’s saintliness and purity was rooted in her virginity. This is a purity or saintliness that is defined as self-enclosure and the maintenance of the boundary between the pure and impure. The purity as the maintenance-of-boundary logic explains Father Maxitel’s confrontation with Maitre Homaire, whom Maxitel accused of profaning “Saint Hadriana” (pg. 87 and 207). Hence, Hadriana’s virginity had eternal value in the eyes of Jacmelian Catholics. In contrast, for the Vodou devotees, Hadriana’s virginity at the time of death was cause for lament and not celebration. The Vodou devotees, as represented by Homaire, lamented Hadriana’s virginity made her an easy target for preying spirits who may yet defile her beautiful innocence before Hadriana arrives before God (pg. 75). Therefore, they prescribed taking Hadriana’s corpse through the so called “sacred deflowering” ritual. Here we see virginity and purity becomes a means to an end: the purpose of opening oneself up to intimate relations with others. Consequently, for the Vodou devotees, Hadriana’s eternal security did not ultimately depend on her self-enclosure – the maintenance of boundaries – but on her capacity to be open and intimate with others.

    The rigid and unnuanced demarcation between the pure and impure in Jacmelian Catholicism did not just organized female bodies, but it had implications for the missiological understanding and methods of the Catholic church. Because Jacmelian Catholicism defined itself over and against Vodou, the church defined faithfulness as the maintenance of the boundary between Christianity and Vodou. This meant that Jacmelian drums were not welcome into the Christian worship space. A case in point is that Hadriana’s wedding and funeral carnivals were held outside the walls of the Catholic church. Only the bells, which represented a distinctly traditional Euro-American worship experience was welcomed into the Catholic church space. With Jacmelian Catholic authorities regarding the maintenance of boundaries as normative for true faith and faithfulness, Vodou which by its very definition is syncretistic and open to dialogue with other faith practices, was denigrated as faithless and pagan. Ironically, the unprincipled commingling or close association between Jacmelian Catholicism and Jacmelian racist and elitist modes of organizing life meant Jacmelian Catholicism was also profoundly syncretistic. In other words, Jacmelian Catholicism had carefully maintained its boundaries against Vodou, but had uncritically accepted and indeed incorporated the assumptions of Jacmelian racism and classism into its form of Christianity.

    Finally, I was also interested in how theological ideas concerning the afterlife shaped Jacmelian politics. While Christianity guarantees the liberation/resurrection of the oppressed and the dead through a future and apocalyptic closure to history as we know it, there is an immediacy to Jacmelian Vodou which suits the needs of the disenfranchised in Jacmelia. As Martin Luther King Jr. suggested in “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” those in power tend to defer the liberation of the oppressed to an indefinite future because time is their friend. Zombification therefore becomes a polemic against the idea of a disempowering future orientation. Consequently, Hadriana’s zombification instantiates a disruption in the politics of linear time: a fantastical seizing of political agency (the control of the order of life and death) in the here and now.

    Jackson Adamah says:
  10. While reading Depestre’s text, I was particularly interested in the section “Prolégomènes à un essai sans lendemain” (2e mouvement, 5e chapitre, 5e “section”, pp. 134-143), that seemed to epitomize the metaliterary dimension that pervades this multi-layered and hybrid novel. Following the “interview imaginaire”, itself responding to Le Monde’s article “Lettre de Jacmel” quoted earlier in the narrative space itself —two sections that already interfered with the notions of narrative unity or continuity— this sketch of an academic essay, “à égale distance du feuilleton et de la monographie” does borrow from the codes and tone of the “recherche académique la plus savante” (135). After nine “propositions”, though, the narrator himself, behind the persona of the scholar multiplying references without developing them, stops and reflects on his initial project of paying tribute to the loved one (“en hommage à ma bien-aimée”).
    The ending lines of the section thus brutally bring to an end what therefore appears as a parenthetical (and seemingly gratuitous) passage, and I’m wondering how to interpret this “parisian” digression that constitues 5/6th of the novel’s second movement. Should we understand this fifth section (of the 5th chapter of the 2nd movement) as constituting a kind of “exercice de style”, not coincidentally located in a metropolitan France setting (i.e. disconnected with the Haitian events the novel narrates in duplicate)? If so, are we to read this passage as a parody of academic prose, “jargon pseudo-sartrien” (142) — or, rather, to understand that, however valuable these scholars viewpoints are, they don’t belong in the narration itself and should remain in a programatic state? If so, again, what do we make of the fact that the narrator insists on having the readers engage —although partially and in a quickly-dismissed manner— with these important references?

  11. #CUDU
    In my previous post for the First Movement, I was struck by the similarities of the carnival depicted by Depestre to accounts of carnival in early modern France. During the Second Movement, I was again reminded of phenomena that historians of early modernity discuss, specifically witches in this case. In the imaginary interview with the author of the article in Le Monde, Patrick tells the journalist that “the effectiveness of magic … is a phenomenon of social consensus. And that’s what was working against Hadriana Siloé that night. When an entire village, in accordance with its traditions, is convinced that a human being can become undead as a result of a toxic substance and an act of witchcraft.” The social consensus in this case was that Hadriana became a zombie bride, beyond help, and the entire community bought into that notion. Lyndal Roper discusses a similar phenomenon among early modern German towns in her book, Witch Craze, whereby community members individually and collectively accuse particular individuals (often older women) of engaging in witchcraft. Again, the social consensus is engaged, and the individual, branded a witch, is left to his or her fate, much like Hadriana.

    Clare Marie says:
  12. #cudu

    After reading Professor Glover’s piece on zombies, I was fascinated by the starkly different symbolism of the zombie figure in Haitian literature (compared to our American Hollywood stereotypes). The zombification of characters catalyses a sort of social awakening. The zombie, far from being brainless, is forced to reflect on her past life, even if she is unable to re-inhabit it. Zombification and its reversal forces a reckoning with social class and privilege, interrelated to gender and race. This is the case in Jacques-Stephen Alexis’s Chronique d’un Faux Amour, and it is the case in Depestre’s Hadriana in All My Dreams as well.

    Hadriana’s de-zombification and subsequent rejection by Jacmelian society is actually a radical moment of freedom for her, particularly from the sexual objectification that her living and dead body was subjected to. On the one hand, this is a typical reaction of a “near-death experience” — one can appreciate life more fully afterwards. But more strikingly, she feels herself freed from the societal and gendered expectations of purity and sainthood imposed upon her since she was a child. “Dès ces premiers moments de ressaisie de ma liberté de femme, j’ai senti que mes épreuves m’avaient placée plus profondément au-dedans même de la vie.” (p. 203, Gallimard). Even more, Hadriana sees her life-or-death ordeal as making her invisible and thus no longer an object to be surveilled by her society. The zombie figure then offers a possibility for female freedom beyond any type of gaze, male or female. It would have been interesting to hear a little about this free life, between parts 15 and 16 of the third movement. We are left to wonder how much autonomy Hadriana’s movement to Jamaica afforded her, and how she was able to reinvent herself before finding Patrick again.

  13. #CUDU
    As noted at the start of this conversation, Depestre’s novel—particularly in the Second Movement—explores the “connection between zombification and the legacies of colonial racism in the modern world.” The narrator’s ruminations on the topic appear in an interesting format, as he presents to us his own hypotheses regarding zombification/the zombie in the Haitian imaginary through nine propositions. In his fifth proposition, Patrick compares the fate of the zombie to that of the enslaved person on the colonial plantation, likening the fate/destiny of the zombie to the African forcibly brought to the “New World.” He claims here that for the purposes of this study, “to determine whether the idea of the zombie is in fact one of the traps of colonial history—something Haitians might have internalized and integrated into their own worldview.” (169) In the next two propositions he discusses the process of the racialization of humans articulated as a result/through the colonial project, which required the invention of race for the purposes of economic exploitation (and with it what he calls the simultaneous mythical and semiotic vulgarization of human reality). In his seventh proposition regarding “false identity,” the narrator states, “Haiti, like the other “discovered” lands of the Americas, entered into modern history caught up in this game of masks (white, black, Indian, mulatto, etc.)—that is to say, with a false identity.” (171) He refers to the existential time and place of the zombie (without civil status, torn from family, church, pleasure, bound to physiological and physical exigencies of labor), adding a fourth episode to the three classic scenarios of black history.

    In Professor Glover’s article, she notes that the zombie in the Haitian imaginary occupies the status of a victim versus predator, and that as a being without essence (lobotomized, personalized, and reduced to a state of impotence) it possess no memory of the past or future hope, existing only in the present state of its own exploitation (108). Despite the loss of humanity, however, there exists the potentiality of rebirth and the reclamation of essence, albeit slim.

    In light of these observations, I am struck by the potential connection between the experience of zombification and that of enslavement. As a possible communal internalization of the effects of coloniality, the zombie appears to function as a metaphor (not sure about the accuracy of that term here?) for dehumanization, albeit in an extreme or exaggerated form. (By this I mean to compare the process of zombification to enslavement, its intentions, and the means by which it was justified by the oppressors, not that it could/did erase human memory, hope, etc.) Does the status of being both alive and dead with the possibility of rebirth signal a type of potential or resistence? Or perhaps a way of articulating agency through this haunting/haunted status as a way of addressing the colonial wound caused by a history enslavement in the Haitian collective imaginary?

    1. #CUDU

      Hi Serda! I am really interested in your question: “Does the status of being both alive and dead with the possibility of rebirth signal a type of potential or resistance? Or perhaps a way of articulating agency through this haunting/haunted status as a way of addressing the colonial wound caused by a history enslavement in the Haitian collective imaginary?”
      I wanted to look specifically at Hadriana’s story and think about whether this could be true within this particular text.

      Within “Hadriana in all My Dreams,” I think perhaps it does and it doesn’t–Hadriana is the only example we are given of someone who escaped zombification and survived. When zombies are accidentally given (white) salt, they generally return to their cemetery to re-inter themselves into the earth. While salt allows them to escape zombification, this is also a tragic escape…these people are never able to re-connect their “gros bon ange” with their “petit bon ange.”

      Hadriana, however, seems to be an exception. Due to some mistake outside of her control that has occurred in the division of her gros bon ange and petit bon ange, she has the ability to choose to fight for her life. The zombie-makers never fully sever the tie between her soul/spirit and her body.

      So, what distinguishes Hadriana? Why has this mistake occurred for her?
      I think she is probably protected by her whiteness. When her grave is dug up, she is told: “From now on, everything that’s right-side up in your white woman’s existence will be turned upside down and made black, starting with your name: Hadriana Siloé is no good for a zombie; there’s too much white salt in that name.”

      The gravedigger’s statement illuminates that even the zombie-makers identify zombiehood as a particularly black state of being. In addition, the grave-digger reminds us of the whiteness of salt—That which allows all zombies a partial escape from zombification.

      To return to your question, yes I think “the status of being both alive and dead with the possibility of rebirth signal a type of potential or resistance,” —but I think this is a resistance and autonomy only reserved for Hadriana.

      I don’t know if this particular story can be an “articulation of agency addressing the colonial wound caused by a history enslavement in the Haitian collective imaginary”— because I don’t think the story can function with the same hope for autonomy and resistance if we put a black person in Hadriana’s place.

      Zora Casebere says:
  14. Hi all,
    I found this section of the novel pretty interesting in how they talk about zombies, compared to the exposure we all get about zombies through pop culture. Quite often, zombies are looked at as villainous, evil, mindless dead walkers with only the intent to consume human flesh and brains. That is their sole purpose, to scare us, to be made to be seen as evildoers cursed to roam the earth until they have their hunger satiated by living beings. However, in Hadriana’s tale, we get the Vodou perspective and more involvement in what zombies are, how they are made, and what they appear and act like. It is much different, primarily being that they don’t target innocent bystanders like we see in the movies or tv shows. So I found all this new information really informative, helpful, and extremely important because we’re getting to see the truth that’s always been hidden away in order to sell something to all of us consumers.

  15. The Second Movement of this novel read as a grounding point, providing a foundation opening up these conversations of zombification and the zombie in Caribbean literature. It questions the necessity and importance of the zombie figure almost explicitly, what historical events zombify places such as Jacmel, and why such depictions and narratives are seemingly everlasting. The inclusion of these fictional essay sections in the novel are not something common in world literature, which is why its role is a large part of Hadriana’s narrative. Hadriana represents a variety of sociopolitical and epistemological concepts, in conjunction with the existence of Jacmel as this place “living in the past with as much intensity as it doubts its own future.” These characters (Hadriana and Jacmel) embody the very qualities of stagnation, lack of agency, and zombification, by the influence of Creole cultural practices and fear of instability.

  16. I liked what you had to say about Depestre’s use of zombificaiton as commentary on the nature of colonialism and its long-term consequences. I found this most exemplified when the narrator asks “Is it possible that my homeland was some sort of collective zombie?” (165) Imperialism and international conquest necessitate that a group is subordinate and subservient to other in a relationship that is fundamentally exploitative, something that is reflected in the behavior of a zombie. The narrator goes on to explain that “It would make sense, for the purposes of this study, to determine whether the idea of the zombie is in fact one of the traps of colonial history— something Haitians might have internalized and inte- grated into their own worldview.” (169) Depestre uses the narrator as a mouthpiece to discuss the cultural consequences of imperialist exploitation.

    Paul Kalish says:
  17. Hello all,
    After reading the other comments to this discussion board regarding zombification and the potential for freedom after such ritual, as is the case with Hadriana. I think it is interesting to connect zombification with the colonial enslavement of Africans in the Caribbean. One thing that stands out in particular from class discussion in Dr. Raj Chetty’s course at SDSU is a question that we pondered during the opening weeks of the course: What does freedom truly mean if it’s given to you/ are you truly free? I feel that zombification in Vodou ritual is a syncretization of the strategies of the colonizer to create docile bodies to complete laborious tasks. The fact that Haiti is the only successful slave rebellion, I believe, is what causes the syncretization of a “colonial torture,” i.e. zombification. Haiti historically has been accosted by other nations such as the US presence in the 20th Century or France attempting to extort funds from them. Depestre writes that “it would make sense… to determine whether the idea fo the zombie is in fact one of the traps of colonial history—something Haitians might have internalized and integrated into their own worldview” (169). I think the ritual of zombification is the internalization of the world’s view of them. Haitians fought against the French for freedom, but there was the constant threat of recolonization/zombification of the population. It feels as though zombification is a warning to resort to the extremes of punishment that enslaved Africans faced during the colonial period in the Caribbean. If the Haitian culture, since its independence, internally maintains its own connections to individual agency, perhaps the population creates resistance and resiliency through recreating the act of colonization in zombification rituals.

    Tyler Macilvaine says:
  18. The second movement focuses on the zombification process in relation to colonial slavery as mentioned on pg. 169 in the fifth proposition. Depestre writes, “…to determine whether the idea of the zombie is in fact one of the traps of colonial history…It could be a symbol of an imaginary world borne of tobacco, coffee, sugar…”. From what I have researched, Slaves believed that in death they would be be allowed to return to their country in the afterlife. The inception of these beliefs stemming from the brutality and harsh treatment of slaves by the white plantation owners. In Vodou religion, the zombie became known as a deceased person who was then reanimated by a sorcerer and thus controlled by their master. It is interesting to see that in Hadriana in All My Dreams, Hadriana is reanimated by a witch doctor and thus she is has been taken possession of, and as it is emphasized in the story, Hadriana is the beloved beautiful character. I love how Hadriana represents a place, a community, and a religion all in one.

    Christina Aguilera says:
  19. Hi, all! My name is Christina Simmons, and I’m posting for Professor Raj Chetty’s Caribbean Literature course here at SDSU.

    In the Second Movement of “Hadriana in All My Dreams”, I loved that we get more into the “cultural crossroads” mentioned in section six. “French in its tastes, Creole in its ways . . .”, Depestre explores the nuances of a not-real-but-real place such as Jacmel. Jacmel exists not only as the epicenter of the world, but as a testament of the specialness of Caribbean culture. Its existence stands as both a contradiction and assimilation of the world that orbits it, and Depestre explores the way this quality both enhances and adds to the struggles of Haiti. A question is asked in the novel; “Is it possible that my homeland was some sort of collective zombie?” Depestre does not write Jacmel as a paradise but attempts to attain a truth of Jacmel and the condition of Haiti as a land existing in paradox–struggling-yet-thriving, independent-yet-zombified. Through magical realism, surrealism, and hyperrealism, Depestre juggles through different representations, consciousnesses, and narrative modes to not only convey Jacmel in this fashion but for the form of the narrative to mimic Jacmel (i.e., the writing is Jacmel).

    For me, this also explains the puzzling treatment of Hadriana, the white French girl who has been hailed as a goddess in Jacmel. This treatment represents not only Haiti’s resiliency and ability to integrate invading cultures and peoples into an established, celebratory culture but also the aspect of zombification involved in elevating whiteness to such standards. The Fifth Proposition in section five questions “. . . whether the idea of the zombie is in fact one of the traps of colonial history–something Haitians might have internalized and integrated into their own worldview”. I think this aspect is true but not fully representative of Haiti. It’s interesting to follow “Hadriana” as the text searches for the center of Jacmel, of Haiti and their true nature or condition. I don’t think such a thing could be reached, but perhaps the journey of it contains much more value than the elusive reality.

    Christina Simmons says:
  20. By the way, from pg. 120: On the “very popular song” “Sorrowful Sunday” (“Sombre Dimanche,” 1936, by Damia), a nice recording of it is here:


    Bille Holiday’s immortal “Gloomy Sunday” version of the song of course arrived in 1941.

    (A belated comment here from a member of the group who has just read and discussed the novel with Prof. Glover through Brooklyn’s Center for Fiction.)

    Jamie Mowder says:

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