Transcript: J. Michael Dash on Disappearing Island | May 01, 2004

In a conference room, Michael takes the stage to address the audience. A caption on screen reads “J. Michael Dash. New York University.”

He’s in his fifties. He’s balding with some dark hair greying on the temples. He’s clean-shaven and wears a beige suit, shocking blue shirt, patterned contrasting tie and glasses.

Michael says TODAY I
WANT TO TALK OF COURSE ABOUT
HAITI.
YOU KNOW THE TITLE, “THE
DESPAIRING ISLAND, HAITI
HISTORY AND THE HEMISPHERE.”
BUT THIS LECTURE IS ACTUALLY
ABOUT HAITI'S SYMBOLIC DESTINY.
AND IT'S SYMBIOTIC DESTINY IN
THE CARIBBEAN IN PARTICULAR
AND IN THE HEMISPHERE AS A
WHOLE.
SO THAT IT'S ABOUT -- IT'S
ABOUT HAITI BUT IT'S ALSO
ABOUT LOOKING BEYOND HAITI AND
LOOKING BEYOND THAT PARTICULAR
DATE AS WELL TO SEE WHAT
HAITI'S LARGER SIGNIFICANCE
MIGHT BE.

The caption changes to “The Disappearing Island: Haiti, history, and the hemisphere. York University, March 20, 2004.”

Michael continues NOW AS FAR
AS THE TITLE IS CONCERNED,
“THE DISAPPEARING ISLAND,”
THIS IS ACTUALLY TAKEN FROM A
POEM BY SEAMUS HEANEY, AN
IRISH POET.
AND I'LL READ THE POEM AS AN
EPIGRAPH.
“THE DISAPPEARING ISLAND.”

The screen shows the poem passages as Michael continues to speak.

It reads “Once we presumed to found ourselves for good,
between its blue hills and those sandless shores,
where we spent our desperate night in prayer and vigil,
Once we had gathered driftwood, made a hearth,
And hung our cauldron like a firmament,
The island broke beneath us like a wave.
The land sustaining us seemed to hold firm
Only when we embraced it in extremis.
All I believe that happened there was vision.
Seamus Heaney.”

Michael continues
YOU MIGHT WELL BE ASKING
YOURSELF WHAT AN IRISH POET'S
ENIGMATIC EVOCATION OF
SUSTAINING ISLAND SPACE AS
HOLDING FIRM ONLY WHEN
EMBRACED IN EXTREMIS HAS TO DO
WITH A TALK ON HAITI?
THE ANSWER COULD EITHER BE
BANAL, FOUNDING OURSELVES FOR
GOOD, AS HEANEY SAYS, COULD
REFER TO GROUNDING IDENTITY ON
THE SPACE BETWEEN THE
CHARACTERISTIC ISLAND
MONUMENTS HILL AND SEA, A
MYSTICAL ROOTEDNESS WHICH
COULD SUSTAIN MEANING ONLY
WHEN EMBRACED IN DESPERATION
OR NOSTALGIA.
I WOULD LIKE TO THINK, THOUGH,
HEANEY'S POEM ENCOURAGE US TO
THINK BEYOND THE ISLAND AS A
MATRIX FOR INDIVIDUAL OR
COLLECTIVE IDENTITIES.
IN THIS REGARD THE
DISAPPEARING ISLAND PERHAPS
HAS A SPECIAL MEANING FOR THE
CARIBBEAN.
IN THAT THE POEM SUGGESTS THAT
THERE'S A NEW CONNECTION TO
ISLAND SPACE WHICH IS NOT
RELATED TO GROUND, TERRITORY
AND ORIGIN, BUT TO A VISION OF
WHAT THE FOUNDATION -- THE
FOUNDATIONAL NOTION OF ISLAND
IDENTITY DENIES.
THAT IS, OUR CARIBBEAN
INVOLVEMENT IN A WORLD OF
EXPANDING NETWORKS OF GLOBAL
CONNECTION.
THE ISLAND DISAPPEARS THEN AS
GROUND OF BELONGING.
THE SYMBOLIC TERRA FIRMA OF
IDENTITY POLITICS.
TO BE RECONSTITUTED AS
ENIGMATIC SPACE CONSTANTLY
CHALLENGING ISOLATION
ENCLOSURE.
IT IS WITH THIS LATTER IMAGE
IN MIND THAT I WOULD LIKE US
TO RETHINK THE MEANING AND
LEGACY OF THAT EVENT WHICH
C.L.R. JAMES DESCRIBED AS THAT
MOMENT WHEN I QUOTE, “WHERE
WEST INDIANS FIRST BECAME
AWARE OF THEMSELVES AS A
PEOPLE.”
END OF QUOTE.
THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION.

A slate on screen shows a black and white picture of a man in his eighties. He’s clean-shaven and thick white hair. The caption next to it reads “Cyril Lionel Robert James, 1901-1989. Author of the book titled The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution.’”

Michael continues JAMES
STILL STANDS AS ONE OF OUR
BEST GUIDES TO THIS REVOLUTION
BECAUSE HE WAS ACUTELY AWARE
OF THE FACT THAT BETWEEN 1791
AND 1804, A REVOLUTIONARY
IDEAL HAD ENTERED THE
CARIBBEAN.

Next, a picture of the book cover appears on screen.

Michael continues THAT THE
CARIBBEAN HAD BECOME ONE OF
THOSE EXPLOSIVE BORDERS OF
ENLIGHTENED MODERNITY.
AS JAMES VIVIDLY REMINDS US IN
“THE BLACK JACOBINS,” THE
HAITIAN REVOLUTION WOULD TAKE
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION FURTHER
THAN THAT REVOLUTION EVER
INTENDED TO GO, TO ITS RADICAL
CONCLUSIONS.
I QUOTE JAMES AGAIN -- “IN
PARIS REACTION TRIUMPHED.
THE SLAVES HOWEVER HAD HEARD
OF THE REVOLUTION AND HAD
CONSTRUED IT IN THEIR OWN
IMAGE.
THE WHITE SLAVES IN FRANCE HAD
RISEN AND KILLED THEIR MASTERS.
AND WERE NOW ENJOYING THE
FRUITS OF THE EARTH.
IT WAS GRAVELY INACCURATE IN
FACT, BUT THEY HAD CAUGHT THE
SPIRIT OF THE THING, LIBERTY,
EQUALITY, FRATERNITY.”
DESPITE JAMES' VIEW THAT THESE
FIRST WEST INDIANS, THE
REVOLTING SLAVES OF SAINT-
DOMINGUE HAD CAUGHT THE SPIRIT
OF THE THING, THAT THE HAITIAN
REVOLUTION WAS A NOTABLE POINT
IN GLOBAL INTERACTIVE HISTORY,
WE CONTINUE TO SEE IT AS
UNIQUE AND EXCEPTIONAL.
A MOMENT IN A SIMPLE, HEROIC
FOUNDATIONAL NARRATIVE FOR
CARIBBEAN ANTI-COLONIAL
RESISTANCE.
AS HEANEY SAYS, ALL THAT
HAPPENED THERE WAS VISION ALL
RIGHT, BUT ONE THAT WAS LOST
TO THE REST OF THE REGION
WHICH EITHER FED ON DREAMS OF
APOCALYPTIC BEGINNINGS OR ON
THE SOLIDARITY OF RACIAL
SUFFERING. BOTH OF
WHICH MAKE THE COSMOPOLITAN
UNIVERSALIST CONTOURS OF THE
CARIBBEAN PAST IDEOLOGICALLY
INACCESSIBLE. I WOULD
LIKE TO THINK IT IS BECAUSE
THIS REVOLUTION SO CHALLENGED
THE PREJUDICES OF ITS TIME,
BECAUSE IT WAS SUCH AN
UNTHINKABLE PHENOMENAL, THAT
THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION HAS
EITHER BEEN CONSPICUOUSLY
CONSIGNED TO THE MARGINS OF
MODERN HISTORY OR SIMPLIFIED
AND ROMANTICIZED AS AN
INSPIRING NARRATIVE OF BLACK
SLAVE RESISTANCE.
HAITI WAS THE SECOND NATION TO
BREAK AWAY FROM ITS EUROPEAN
COLONIZER.
BUT HAITIANS IN THE 19th
CENTURY WERE ACUTELY AWARE
THAT UNLIKE THE U.S. THEY WERE
IN THE PROCESS OF FORGING A
NEW IDENTITY.
THAT THE REVOLUTION WAS ABOUT
THE TOTAL TRANSFORMATION OF
THE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC ORDER
ESTABLISHED THROUGH PLANTATION
SLAVERY.

A picture on screen shows a painting depicting the slavery work in Haiti. Handcuffed men carry heavy wooden pieces along the shore moving towards a big white construction by the sea. By the left corner, a scene portrays a man bending down, facing the ground, being punished with a stick by another man.

Next is a new representation of a confrontation between slaves and civilians. A group of men reduce men, women and children in the streets next to a smoking building on fire.

Michael continues
WHEN THESE FIRST WEST INDIANS,
TO USE JAMES' FORMULATION,
TURNED THEIR PLOWSHARES INTO
SWORDS, THEY DID NOT CHOOSE A
RESTORATIONIST MODEL.
THEY DID NOT CHOOSE TO RETURN
TO CULTURAL ROOTS.
BUT THESE NEW WORLD AFRICANS
ENVISAGED A WORLD BOTH SHAPED
BY THE REALITIES OF THE
ATLANTIC TRADE AS WELL AS
HEMISPHERIC IDENTITY.
WOULD HAITI'S FIRST LEADER,
JEAN-JACQUES DESSALINES, NOT
DECLARE HIMSELF EMPEROR IN THE
MANNER OF HIS ERSTWHILE ENEMY
NAPOLEON, AND ALSO CHANGE THE
NAME OF FRANCE'S RICHEST
COLONY FROM SAINT-DOMINGUE
TO THE TINO NAME HAITI.
IN DECLARING ON JANUARY 1,
1804, I QUOTE, “I HAVE AVENGED
AMERICA.

A new slate shows a portrait of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, 1759-1806. He’s in his late forties with short hair and is clean-shaven. He wears a white and red piece with a prominent collar that covers most of his neck. The ensemble is topped by a particular red hat with details in gold.

Michael continues
DESSALINES FIRMLY LOCATED A
POST COLONIAL HAITI WITHIN A
NEW WORLD REALITY THAT HARKED
BACK TO HISPANIOLA'S ORIGINAL
PRE-COLUMBIAN INHABITANTS.
IN ANTICIPATING FRANCE FANO'S
IDEA OF REVOLUTIONARY
CONSCIOUSNESS BY A CENTURY AND
A HALF, DESSALINES CALLED THE
CITIZENS OF THE NEW STATE
HAITIANS.
AND DECLARED THAT EVERYONE
WOULD BE BLACK INCLUDING THE
POLISH CONTINGENT THAT HAD
REVOLTED AGAINST THE FRENCH
AND SIDED WITH HIS OWN FORCES.
YET IF SAINT-DOMINGUE WAS A
COLONY BASED ON BLACK
PLANTATION SLAVERY IT WAS
BECAUSE THE INDIGENOUS
POPULATION WAS NO LONGER
THERE.

A picture on screen shows a couple of native men playing drums and dancing. They dress costumes made out of feathers and stone pieces along with various ornaments in ankles, wrists and neck.

Michael continues
AN UNBREAKABLE BOND HAD BEEN
ESTABLISHED WITH EUROPE AND
THE WEST WHICH BROUGHT THE
HORRORS OF HUMAN EXPLOITATION
AS WELL AS THE HERITAGE OF
RADICAL ENLIGHTENMENT THOUGHT.
THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION THEN
BECOMES ABOVE ALL ELSE, THE
FIRST AND MOST DRAMATIC
EMERGENCE OF THE IDEAL OF
HUMAN RIGHTS.

Next, a new picture shows Colombus holding a yellow flag. His army stays behind him as ships continue to get to the coasts of the island.

Michael continues
BEYOND RACE, NATION OR GENDER
IN THE MODERN WORLD.
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION WAS
ABOUT SOCIAL JUSTICE, THE
AMERICAN REVOLUTION ABOUT
DECOLONIZATION.
NEITHER SERIOUSLY SOUGHT TO
END SLAVERY.
WHILE WE TEND TO EMPHASIZE THE
VICTORY OF 1804 AND THE DEFEAT
OF EUROPE'S MOST POWERFUL ARMY
AT THE TIME, WE MUST NOT
FORGET THE EARLY YEARS OF THIS
REVOLUTION.
BEFORE NAPOLEON'S RISE TO
POWER IN FRANCE THE SLAVES
FOUGHT FOR FREEDOM IN A LION
SWIFT FRENCH REVOLUTION
AUTHORITY THEREBY DEFEATING
THE COLONISTS IN
SAINT-DOMINGUE WHO WERE
RESISTING REVOLUTIONARY CHANGE.
FOR A WHILE, THE RACIST
CULTURE OF PLANTATION SLAVERY
WAS REVERSED AS EX-SLAVES AND
REPUBLICANS WERE ALLIED IN THE
SAME STRUGGLE.
TOUSSAINT L 'OUVERTURE IN A
LETTER TO HIS ALLY GENERAL
LAVEAU IN 1795 DESCRIBED HIS
DEFEAT OF THE COLONISTS AND
ROYALIST FORCES IN THIS WAY.
AND I QUOTE FROM THIS LETTER
FROM TOUSSAINT.
WHICH INCIDENTALLY IS IN
LIBERTE.

A picture on screen shows a portrait of a man riding a white horse. He’s dressed with an antique military uniform: black boots, white tight trousers, a heavy jacket and a black hat with feathers. The text in it reads “Toussaint, L’Ouverture. 1743-1803.”

Michael continues
TOUSSAINT'S LETTER: “MY VICTORY
HAS BEEN MOST COMPLETE.
AND IF THE CELEBRATED RESOURCE

- THE PERSON HE DEFEATED --
IS LUCKY ENOUGH TO ENTER St.
MARK, IT WILL BE WITHOUT
CANNON, WITHOUT BAGGAGE, IN
SHORT WITHOUT DRUM OR TRUMPET.
HE HAS LOST EVERYTHING EVEN
HONOUR IF VILE ROYALISTS ARE
CAPABLE OF HAVING ANY.
HE WILL REMEMBER THIS
REPUBLICAN LESSON WHICH I HAVE
TAUGHT HIM.”
END OF QUOTE.

A new picture shows the portrait of Napoleon. He has short dark hair and is clean-shaven. He wears white trousers, dark shoes and a fitted black jackets with gold and red details. Following, a new painting shows a military man holding a white sheet as he stand before a crowd of semi-nude men. By his feet, a woman with a long skirt and white turban looks at him.

Michael continues
OF COURSE THE RISE OF NAPOLEON
IN FRANCE WOULD CHANGE ALL
THIS.
AFTER THE IMPRISONMENT OF
TOUSSAINT IN 1803 THE PROJECT
OF TRANSFORMING COLONIAL SAN
DOMINGUE AND DEFEATING THE POWER
OF THE PLUTOCRACY TURNED INTO
A WAR OF NATIONAL INDEPENDENCE.
THE BICENTENARY CELEBRATION
FOCUSES INVARIABLY ON THE
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
AND ALMOST COMPLETELY EFFACES
THE REVOLUTIONARY
TRANSFORMATION OF COLONIAL SAN
DOMINGUE PRIOR TO NAPOLEON'S
DESIRE TO CRUSH BLACK REVOLT
IN THE CARIBBEAN. THE
POSSIBILITY OF A POST COLONIAL
TRANSATLANTIC RELATIONSHIP
BETWEEN FRANCE AND A
NON-EUROPEAN CULTURE TAKING
SHAPE AT THE END OF THE 18th
CENTURY LOST OUT TO AN
ETHNOCENTRIC IDEA OF
UNIVERSALISM. THE FRENCH
STATE WOULD MAKE ITSELF THE
TRUSTEES OF UNIVERSAL VALUES
IN THE NAME OF COLONIAL
ADVENTURES ELSEWHERE AND HAITI
WOULD BE BANISHED TO THE
MARGINS OF HISTORY.
IT IS PROBABLY NOT SURPRISING
THAT HAITI'S SYMBOLIC PRESENCE
IN THE CARIBBEAN IMAGINATION
HAS NEVER BEEN UNDERSTOOD IN
TERMS OF THE PROJECT OF
MODERNITY AND RADICAL
UNIVERSALISM.
RATHER, AS HEANEY SAYS, THE
ISLAND DISAPPEARS.
UNDER IMAGES OF RACIAL
REVENGE, MYSTERIOUS
SINGULARITY AND HEROIC
UNIQUENESS.
I WANT TO ARGUE THAT THE
HAITIAN REVOLUTION WAS BOTH A
FOUNDATIONAL MOMENT IN FRENCH
UNIVERSALIST THOUGHT AND A
POINT OF ORIGIN FOR POST
COLONIAL CARIBBEAN SOCIETIES.
ONE WHICH PRIVILEGED GLOBAL
INTERACTION AND TRANSCENDED
ETHNOCENTRIC MODELS OF NATION,
RACE AND IDENTITY.
TO THIS EXTENT THE HAITIAN
SOCIAL SCIENTIST MICHEL ROV
TONNEAU IS RIGHT TO LABEL IT, I
QUOTE, “THE MOST RADICAL
POLITICAL REVOLUTION OF THAT
AGE.”
AS IT SYMBOLIZED THE
POSSIBILITY OF UNDERSTANDING
HUMAN RIGHTS BEYOND RACE AND
TERRITORY.
AS WELL AS THE UNPREDICTABLE
NATURE OF GLOBALIZING
MODERNITY THAT MADE THE
COLONIAL SYSTEM EVENTUALLY
UNTENABLE.
THE U.S. HISTORIAN EUGENE
GENOVESE CONCURS IN LOCATING
THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION AS WHAT
HE CALLS A TURNING POINT IN
ANTI-SLAVERY REVOLT IN THE
AMERICAS.
AS HE PUT IT, “THE
REVOLUTIONARY IDEOLOGY THAT
EMERGED IN THE 1790'S FED BOTH
SIDES OF THE ATLANTIC.
IT AFRICANIZED FRANCE IN WAYS
THAT HELPED SEND THE
COLONIALIST GIRONDISTS TO
WELL-DESERVED DEFEAT.
IT EUROPEANIZED SAINT-DOMINGUE
IN WAYS THAT POINTED TO THE RISE
OF A MODERN BLACK STATE.
THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION AND
RADICAL HAITIAN THOUGHT IN
GENERAL MAY BE CHARACTERIZED
AS AN EFFORT TO EXERCISE THE
COLONIAL PAST.
YET HAITI'S TRAGEDY IS THAT
THE COLONIAL IS NEVER THAT
EASILY EFFACED.
HAITI'S STORY IS AS MUCH ABOUT
THE UNTHINKABLE, OF
ILLITERATE, CAPTIVE AFRICANS
TAKING HOLD OF THE IDEALS OF
THE ENLIGHTENMENT AND BOLDLY
ENTERING MODERN HISTORY AS IT
IS ABOUT A TERRIBLE AND
PROLONGED EXPERIMENT IN
NEO-COLONIALISM.
NOW, 200 YEARS AFTER THE MOST
RADICAL REVOLUTION IN THE AGE
OF REVOLUTIONS, HAITI STANDS
AS THE POOREST COUNTRY IN THE
WESTERN HEMISPHERE.
INCREASINGLY DESCRIBED AS THE
ONLY FAILED STATE IN THE
AMERICAS.
AND EVEN “THE NEW YORK TIMES”
HAS TAKEN TO CALLING HAITI
FRANCE'S FORMER COLONY.
HAITI WAS AN EARLY TARGET FOR
NEO-COLONIALISM AND ITS
DEPENDENCY WAS SEALED BY THE
MASSIVE INDEMNITY THAT WAS
PAID TO FRANCE IN 1825 IN
EXCHANGE FOR RECOGNITION.
THIS INDEMNITY WAS TO BE PAID
TO FRENCH PLANTATION OWNERS
FROM SAINT-DOMINGUE BY A HAITIAN
ELITE ANXIOUS TO OPEN HAITIAN
PORTS TO TRADE WITH FRANCE.
UNABLE TO PAY THIS INDEMNITY
THE HAITIAN STATE BORROWED THE
MONEY FROM FRENCH BANKS AND
WOULD SPEND THE NEXT CENTURY
TRYING TO PAY BACK THIS DE
UNTIL IT WAS TAKEN OVER BY THE
U.S. DURING THE OCCUPATION OF
HAITI FROM 1915 TO 1934.
THEREBY FIXING HAITI'S
NEO-COLONIAL STATUS IN AN
AMERICAN SPHERE OF INFLUENCE.
NEO-COLONIALISM ALSO SUITED
THE HAITIAN ELITES AS IT
SECURED LOCAL CONTROL OF THE
COUNTRY AS IMPORTERS AND
EXPORTERS, LIVING OFF THE EVER
DWINDLING RESOURCES OF THE
NATION.
THE ELITES FORMED THE STATE
WHO LIVED OFF THE PEASANTRY
WHO FORMED THE NATION.
THE IDEAL OF THE NATION FROM
WHICH THE ELITES DREW THEIR
LEGITIMACY HAD NOTHING TO DO
WITH THE MAJORITY OF HAITIANS
WHO WERE NEVER EVER CONSULTED
OR INCLUDED IN ANY
INSTITUTIONALIZED WAY IN THE
POLITICAL PROCESS.
THE STATE NEGLECTED THE
PEASANTRY AND THE PEASANTRY
HAD NO LEVERAGE AGAINST THE
STATE.

Black and white pictures on screen show a man in his fifties with short hair, clean-shaven, who wears glasses, a dark suit, white shirt and a bowtie followed by a public ceremony with military men.

Michael continues
NOW, AFTER THE END OF
DUVALIERISM, ONE OF THE MOST
VICIOUS MANIFESTATIONS OF THE
HAITIAN STATE, AND 18 YEARS OF
CIVIL STRIFE AND POLITICAL
MACHINATIONS SINCE 1986 WE ARE
NO CLOSER TO BRIDGING THE GAP
BETWEEN HAITIAN ELITES AND THE
HAITIAN MASSES.
RULING CLASSES EVERYWHERE
JEALOUSLY GUARD THEIR
PRIVILEGES.
NOWHERE MORE SO THAN IN HAITI
WHERE THE INTERESTS OF THE
NATION AND THOSE OF THE ELITE
ARE SEEN AS DEEPLY
INCOMPATIBLE.
IN A TELLINGLY ENTITLED RECENT
BOOK CALLED “HAITI'S PREDATORY
REPUBLIC,” ROBERT FATTON PAINTS
A CONVINCING PICTURE OF WHAT
HE SEES AS A HAITIAN POLITICAL
CULTURE DOMINATED BY, I USE
HIS WORDS HERE, “LA POLITIQUE
DUVANT POLITICS
OF THE BELLY, GENERATING A
CLASS OF GRAND MANGER -- BIG
EATERS -- SCRAMBLING TO
ADVANCE THEIR PRIVATE
INTERESTS.”
END OF QUOTE. THE
FRANCOPHILE ELITE OF THE 19th
CENTURY HAS COME A LONG WAY
SINCE THE DAYS OF SAINT-DOMINGUE
THAT ELITE HAS BECOME AN
INSATIABLE OLIGARCHY TO USE
FATTON'S IMAGE, INTENT ON
VORACIOUSLY CONSUMING THE
SCARCE RESOURCES IN THAT
IMPOVERISHED SOCIETY.
ONE CANNOT HELP, THEREFORE,
FEELING THAT OPPOSITION'S TALK
OF ELECTION IRREGULARITIES OR
PRESIDENT ARISTIDE'S CORRUPTION
SEEM TO BE ABOUT ULTIMATELY
HAVING ACCESS TO ABSOLUTE
STATE POWER.
SIMILARLY LAVOURAS'
UNRESTRAINED WIELDING OF STATE
POWER AND ARISTIDE'S ATTEMPT TO
MOBILIZE THE MASSES BEHIND A
PATRIMONIAL LEADER, HIS
REDUCTION OF DEMOCRACY TO
DEMAGOGIC SOUND BITES ALL
SMACK OF THE SAME
WINNER-TAKE-ALL MENTALITY.
IN THE MEANTIME, WE HAVE ARMED
MURDERS AND NARCO TRAFFICKERS
WHO HAVE ENTERED THE COUNTRY
DESCRIBING THEMSELVES
AMAZINGLY AS A LIBERATION ARMY
FREEING HAITI FROM PRESENT DAY
TYRANNY AS THE REVOLUTIONARY
ARMY DID IN 1804.
AS WE ARE INCREASINGLY AWARE
THERE'S NO POSSIBILITY OF
NEGOTIATION AND COMPROMISE IN
SUCH AN ALL-OR-NOTHING-AT-ALL
SITUATION.
THE DUST, NOT TO MENTION BLOOD
AND ASHES OF HAITI'S NEVER
ENDING TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY
WILL NOT SETTLE ANY TIME SOON.
DARKER DAYS LIE AHEAD AS HAITI
SEEMS TO BE OPENLY FLIRTING
WITH ANARCHY.
THERE ARE VARIOUS WAYS OF
CELEBRATING HAITI'S
REVOLUTIONARY PAST.
YOU COULD CYNICALLY EXPLOIT IT
IN THE WAY JEAN BERTRAND
ARISTIDE DOES BY COMPARING HIS,
INVERTED COMMAS, KIDNAPPING
AND EXILE, TO THAT OF
TOUSSAINT L 'OUVERTURE.

A picture shows Jean at a public conference. He’s in his forties. He has short dark hair in a neat cut and a moustache. He wears sunglasses, a grey suit, white shirt and contrasting red tie.

Michael continues
AND TO ACTUALLY MIMIC
TOUSSAINT'S WORDS WHEN HE WAS
CAPTURED, REMEMBER WHEN ARISTIDE
ARRIVED IN BANGUI HIS FIRST
WORDS WERE “THEY HAVE CUT DOWN
THE TREE OF PEACE BUT IT WILL
GROW AGAIN.”
OVER 200 YEARS AGO TOUSSAINT
SAID “THEY HAVE CUT DOWN THE
TREE OF LIBERTY, BUT ITS ROOTS
ARE DEEP AND IT WILL GROW
AGAIN.”
TOUSSAINT MUST BE TURNING IN
HIS GRAVE.
JEAN BERTRAND L 'OUVERTURE, I
THINK NOT.
WE COULD ALSO SOMEHOW,
SOMEHOW, TRY TO LOOK BEYOND
THE PRESENT BACK TO THE IDEALS
AND WORLDVIEW OF THOSE WHO
WERE CALLED BY C.L.R. JAMES
THE FIRST WEST INDIANS.
HAITI IS A CARIBBEAN'S PLACE
OF MEMORY, AN ORIGIN.
AND TOUSSAINT, ARGUABLY, THE
ONLY REGIONAL HERO.
NAPOLEON'S IMPRISONMENT OF
TOUSSAINT IN THE COLD, DARK,
DAMP FORT DE JOUX, WAS MEANT TO
BURY AND EFFACE ALL THAT
HAITIAN REVOLUTIONARY
UNIVERSALISM STOOD FOR.
BUT THIS FATAL IMPRISONMENT
ONLY DEMONSTRATES IRONICALLY
THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THE
PRETENSION TO ENLIGHTENMENT
IDEALS AND THE POST
REVOLUTIONARY PRACTICE OF THE
FRENCH STATE.
TOUSSAINT'S IMPRISONMENT
IRONICALLY, HIS EXILE AND
DEATH, WAS ALSO A FORETASTE
OF THE FATE THAT LAY IN STORE
FOR NAPOLEON HIMSELF.
I WOULD LIKE TO CONCLUDE WITH
AN IMAGE OF TOUSSAINT THAT WE
FIND IN THAT VERY UNUSUAL PLAY
BY THE MARTINICAN WRITER,
EDOUARD GLISSANT,
“MONSIEUR TOUSSAINT.”
THE PLAY IS SET IN TOUSSAINT'S
PRISON CELL IN THE DURA
MOUNTAINS.
BUT TOUSSAINT'S CELL IS NOT
THE SPACE OF THE EXILE AND
DISGRACE.
THE CELL IS CONSTANTLY
DISPLACED IN TIME AND SPACE
BETWEEN FRANCE AND THE
CARIBBEAN.
IT IS NOT A CONFINING SPACE
BUT ONE THAT STAGES THE EVENTS
OF THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION AND
PUTS TOUSSAINT IN CONSTANT
DIALOGUE WITH ALL ITS MAJOR
FIGURES LIVING AND DEAD.
AT THE END OF THE PLAY, IN
RESPONSE TO THE INVITATION BY
MACKANDAL AND BOUKMAN TO RETURN
TO AFRICA TOUSSAINT DECLARES
“I WILL CROSS THE SEAS IN THE
OTHER DIRECTION.” IN THIS
PLAY, TOUSSAINT'S CELL IS
IMAGINED BY GLISSANT AS ANOTHER
ISLAND IN THE CARIBBEAN
ARCHIPELAGO CONNECTING THE
CARIBBEAN ATLANTIC AND
HEMISPHERIC BEGINNINGS.
EMBRACED IN EXTREMIST AS IT
WERE, THIS ISLAND SHOULD NOT
BE QUARANTINED OR ALLOWED TO
DISAPPEAR. PERHAPS
THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION
SHOULD NOT BE TIED TO THE
COUNTRY CALLED HAITI, OR
SIMPLY CONTAINED IN THE DATE
1804 BUT BE UNDERSTOOD AS
WORLD HISTORICAL IN ALL ITS
IMPLICATIONS.
THANK YOU.

Watch: J. Michael Dash on Disappearing Island