115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Rethinking Catastrophe Temporalities and Haitian Earthquake Literature

Stephanie Hankinson, University of Washington

This paper argues that authors of the 2010 Haitian earthquake make creative use of historical catastrophes as symbolic rupture points in forming the modern post-quake Haitian literary identity. Haitian earthquake literature is not about creating artistic coherence from destruction but rather about using the chaos to explore the historical, political and literary formations of catastrophe that precede the event itself. This paper applies the catastrophe temporality analytic in a reading of Dimitry Elias Léger’s novel God Loves Haiti (2015).

Proposal: 

This paper foregrounds catastrophic memory in Haitian literature as a way for Haitian authors to push back against a Westernized centering on postcolonial literary discourses that set strict boundaries for what counts as legitimate storytelling and also against hegemonic Western historical models of catastrophic events in Haitian history. In other words, the use of catastrophic memory in Haitian literature generates creative space for Haitian writers to explore new combinations of alternative historical temporalities and modes of literary expression outside of the Western literary canon. Authors can use their literary products as a means to simultaneously resist the global narrative of the perceived “tragedy of Haitian history”, dating perhaps back to Haitian independence, and create new literary interpretations of the earthquake itself (Loth 125). I draw on the foundational work of scholars like Mark Anderson, David Scott, Martin Munro and Michael Dash that speaks to the expanded sense of historical time required by catastrophe memory; however, these studies do not rely specifically on analysis of earthquake literature as the avenue to speak to the extended histories of Haitian catastrophe.

This paper is broken into two main sections: a theoretical study of Haitian catastrophic temporality, and an application of this analytic of alternative temporality to Dimitry Elias Léger’s novel God Loves Haiti (2015). This paper takes seriously the idea that authors of the 2010 Haitian earthquake make creative use of historical catastrophes as symbolic rupture points in forming the modern post-quake Haitian literary identity. In other words, writing literature of the Haitian earthquake is not so much about creating artistic coherence from destruction, desolation and chaos, but rather about using the chaos to explore the historical, political and literary formations of catastrophe that precede the event itself: the underpinnings of shadow temporalities of catastrophe that construct an exquisitely fractured post-quake Haitian literary identity. Rather than Haitian recovery as a “year zero”, post-earthquake Haitian literary identity rests firmly in past iterations of catastrophe (in all its forms). Léger’s novel offers up a non-linear historicity and ethical memory that must be the at the forefront of grappling with the conscious awareness of time and the tension of history in the context of Haitian catastrophe. I argue that Léger’s novel accomplishes the difficult task of striking a balance between representing and critiquing notions of Ayiti Cheri (Beloved Haiti) and Ayiti Chire (Broken Haiti) in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

 

 

Loth, Laura. “(Re)Reading the Ruins: Yanick Lahens’s Post-Earthquake Narrative Revisions.”

Women in French Studies 23 (2015): 125-142. Web. 15 April 2016.