The Haitian Gothic: Between Demonisation and Celebration of the Haitian Revolution

5:00pm - 7:00pm / Thursday 11th February 2016 / Venue: The event will take place in the Walbank Room, 12-14 Abercromby Square Abercromby SQ (south)
Type: Seminar / Category: Research / Series: Centre for the Study of International Slavery
  • 0151 794 2653
  • Suitable for: Anyone who is interested in this topic, including members of the public, staff and students.
  • Admission: Admission is free.
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The seminar will be presented by Raphael Hoermann (Institute for Black Atlantic Research, University of Central Lancashire).

Raphael Hoermann holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Glasgow. He is currently Marie-Curie Fellow at the University of Central Lancashire where he is working with Prof. Alan Rice at the Institute for Black Atlantic Research. His research project is dealing with Gothic narratives of the Haitian Revolution. He is author of 'Writing the Revolution: German and English Radical Literature, 1819-1848/49' (2011) and co-editor (together with Gesa Mackenthun) of the essay collection 'Human Bondage in the Cultural Contact Zone: Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Slavery and Its Discourses' (2010). An article on the ‘Haitian Gothic’ has appeared electronically in 'Slavery & Abolition'. Dr Hoermann talks about his work below:

"The Haitian Revolution has posed severe challenges to the North Atlantic world. In a dual revolution, the black revolutionaries liberated the most profitable colony in the Caribbean, Saint-Domingue, from the shackles of both slavery and colonialism. At the heart of the Atlantic plantation economy, a black state emerged that was founded on the rejection of its ideological and economic pillars, among them slavery, racist terror, colonialism and white supremacy.

As I argue, from the onset of the Haitian Revolution tropes of horror and terror have been employed to ideologically combat and contain its fundamental threats. More powerfully than any rational arguments, these Gothic narratives have demonised Haiti and its revolutionaries, luridly painting it as ‘a very hell of horrors,’ as Frederick Douglass satirises their hyperboles. The majority of – what I have termed – the ‘Haitian Gothic’ employs this mode to demonise the Haitian Revolution and to affirm the hegemonic transatlantic order based on the hyper-exploitation of Africans.

However, there also existed a partisan, radical appropriation of the ‘hegemonic Gothic.’ Early Haitian writers and politicians (e.g. Dessalines, Baron de Vastey) turned it against their former colonisers and defended and celebrated Haiti’s radical act of self-emancipation and break with colonialism. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century Black Atlantic protagonists, such as British radical Robert Wedderburn, Frederick Douglass, African American author Langston Hughes, have employed the ‘radical Haitian Gothic’ to further write back to the demonising Haitian Gothic of Haiti’s detractors.

Yet, despite the valiant efforts of these radicals, little has changed in the North Atlantic’s default discourse on Haiti. It continues to employ the same tired horror tropes ad nauseam. Proponents of contemporary hegemonic Haitian Gothic rehash the colonialist ideologies of their forebears, as they keep on casting Haiti and Haitians ‘as manifestation of blackness in its worst form’ (Gina Athena Ulysse)."