Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution
- Published: May 2004
On 1 January 1804, the revolutionary slaves of Saint Domingue established the first independent black state in the Americas and proclaimed their break with the French Republic. After more than a decade of protracted bloody battles, the only successful slave revolution in world history ended. The richest sugar colony of the New World was reduced to ashes, and of the troops Napoleon had sent with genocidal intent only very few made it back home. But while the bicentennial of the French Revolution in 1989 and quincentennial of the "discovery" of America in 1992 were lavishly celebrated with acts of State, monuments, conferences, and polemics, the Haitian Revolution's anniversary is bound to be passed over in silence in both the halls of power and metropolitan academies. Although few would doubt the profound effect the slave revolution had on the Western Hemisphere, there has until now been no extended study of it, and some describe Haiti as unrelated to any of the worlds' major civilizations. Modernity Disavowed tells a very different story: the Haitian Revolution is at the core of Western modernity in the Age of Revolution, and one of the reasons for subsequent denial or silencing is that Haiti forced the recognition of this fact on slaveholders and imperial powers. At a time when racial taxonomies were beginning to mutate into scientific racism and racist biology, the Haitian revolutionaries recognized the question of colour and race as a political one and placed claims of racial equality squarely on the agenda. Yet, as the cultural records of neighboring Cuba and the Dominican Republic show, the story of the Haitian Revolution has been framed in terms of barbarism unspeakable violence, outside civilization, outside politics, and beyond human language. From the time of the revolution onwards the story has been relegated to the margins of history; to rumors, oral histories confidential letters and secret trials. Focusing on Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti itself in the context of the African Diaspora, Modernity Disavowed argues that we cannot even begin to understand Creole cultures in the Americas unless we understand how they took shape around various forms of denial of the Haitian Revolution.
"Modernity Disavowed "is a superior work. It is not only important but also needed."
-Alicia Rios, coeditor of The Latin American Cultural Studies Reader
- Caribbean Philosophical Association, Frantz Fanon Prize, 2006
- Modern Language Association, Katherine Singer Award, 2006
- Latin American Studies Association, Bryce Wood Award, 2006
- Caribbean Studies Association, Gordon K. and Sybil Farrell Lewis Award, 2007