Friday, January 15, 2010

Carpentier, C. L. R. James, Buck-Morss, and Pat Robertson

First of all, there are, as I hope you've found, a number ways to contribute to the Haiti relief effort (Oxfam is just one of many); please do so if you can.

At Crooked Timber, Scott McLemee gives the history behind Pat Robertson's jaw-droppingly noxious claim of divine retribution against Haiti; citing C. L. R. James's The Black Jacobins, McLemee provides the relevant background behind what Robertson took to be a 'pact with Satan'. The Haitian Revolution did have an important religious grounding, and there was a momentous religious ceremony which inaugurated the uprising. From The Black Jacobins:
Carrying torches to light their way, the leaders of the revolt met in an open space in the thick forests of the Morne Rouge, a mountainside overlooking Le Cap. There Boukman gave the last instructions and, after Voodoo incantations and the sucking of the blood of a stuck pig, he stimulated his followers by a prayer spoken in creole which, like so much spoken on such occasions, has remained. “The god who created the sun which gives us light, who rouses the waves and rules the storm, though hidden in the clouds, he watches us. He sees all that the white man does. The god of the white man inspires him with crime, but our god calls upon us to do good works. Our god who is good to us orders us to revenge our wrongs. He will direct our arms and aid us. Throw away the symbol of the god of the whites who has so often caused us to weep, and listen to the voice of liberty, which speaks in the hearts of us all.” The symbol of the god of the whites was the cross which, as good Catholics, they wore around their necks.
The first comment on the post understands what drives Robertson very well: "to him it makes perfect sense that a deity a small group of revolutionaries invoked in 1791 was The Real Devil, and I think it would sound like nonsense to him to ask what the participants thought. And it makes perfect sense to him that millions today are cursed by that long-dead group. That’s how the universe works, in his mind. His Christianity involves spell-casting and faith in demonic powers . . . kind of like his stereotype of 'voodoo' (as distinct from Vodun, the actual practised religion)."

Alejo Carpentier's novel The Kingdom of This World, often called the founding text of magical realism (or in Carpentier's preferred term, marvelous realism), also depicts the aforementioned events, as well as the rest of the Revolution and its aftermath. While certainly not a historical document, it is a stunning work of imagination and a visceral challenge to the kind of evil jingoism that Robertson practices. I blogged about Kingdom of This World very briefly last year, but it has certainly made a lasting impression.

Another extremely interesting (and really one-of-a-kind) work on the Haitian Revolution is Susan Buck-Morss's Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, which claimed a crucial and hitherto unexplored inspiration for Hegel's master-slave dialectic in the events of 1791. There's a good review of the book here. And you can actually download the original Critical Inquiry article Buck-Morss wrote about Hegel and Haiti here [pdf].

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