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Modernity Disavowed

Modernity Disavowed is a path-breaking study of the cultural, political, and philosophical significance of the Haitian revolution (1791-1804). Revealing how the radical antislavery politics of this seminal event have been suppressed and ignored in historical and cultural records over the past two hundred years, Sibylle Fischer contends that revolutionary antislavery and its subsequent disavowal are central to the formation and understanding of Western modernity. She develops a powerful argument that the denial of revolutionary antislavery eventually became a crucial ingredient in a range of hegemonic thought, including Creole nationalism in the Caribbean and G. W. F. Hegel's master-slave dialectic. Fischer draws on history, philosophy, literary theory, and political science to examine a range of material including Haitian political and legal documents and nineteenth-century Cuban and Dominican literature and art. She demonstrates that at time when racial taxonomies were beginning to mutate into scientific racism and racist biology, the Haitian revolutionaries recognized the question of race as political.Yet, as the cultural records of neighbouring Cuba and the Dominican Republic show, the story of the Haitian Revolution has been told as one outside politics and beyond human language, as a tale of barbarism and unspeakable violence. From the time of the revolution onwards, the story has been confined to the margins of history: to rumours, oral histories, and confidential letters. Fischer shows that without accounting for revolutionary antislavery and its subsequent disavowal, Western modernity--including its hierarchy of values, depoliticization of social goals having to do with racial differences, and privileging of claims of national sovereignty--cannot be fully understood.
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A study of the ways that knowledge of the slave revolt in Haiti was denied/repressed/disavowed within the network of slave-owning states and plantation societies of the New World, and the effects and meaning of this disavowal

Table of Contents

Preface ix Introduction: Tuncations of Modernity 1 Part I. Cuba 1. The Deadly Hermenuetics of the Trial of Jose Antonio Aponte 41 2. Civilization and Barbarism: Cuban Wall Painting 57 3. Beyon National Culture, the Abject: The Case of Placido 77 4. Cuban Antislavery Narratives and the Origins of Literary Discourse 107 Part II. Santo Domingo / The Dominican Republic 5. Memory, Trauma, History 131 6. Guilt and Betrayal in Santo Domingo 155 7. What Do the Haitians Want? 169 8. Fictions of Literary History 180 Part III. Saint Domingue / Haiti 9. Literature and the Theater of Revolution 201 10. "General Liberty, or The Planters in Paris" 214 11. Foundational Fictions: Postrevolutionary Constitutions I 227 12. Life in the Kingdom of the North 245 13. Liberty and Reason of State: Postrevolutionary Constitutions II 260 Conclusion 273 Appendix A. Imperial Constitution of Haiti 275 Appendix B. Chronology 283 Notes 287 Index 355

About the Author

Sibylle Fischer is Associate Professor of Literature and Romance Studies at Duke University.


"Modernity Disavowed is a tour de force. This magnificent work is the best book on its subject and at the forefront of a new wave of scholarship that is already transforming both the study of the Caribbean and the study of modernity. I fully expect it to become a classic in its field."--Lewis R. Gordon, author of Existentia Africana: Understanding Africana Existential Thought "Modernity Disavowed is a superior work. It is not only important but also needed."--Alicia Rios, coeditor of The Latin American Cultural Studies Reader

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