« Back

When I was informed that I would be reassigned to this panel, I initially felt a bit nervous for two reasons: first, I was unfamiliar with the term ‘redux’; and second, upon discovering its meaning, I hoped that the keyword of my talk, the Haitian Revolution, hadn’t given to any expectation that I would be discussing the Revolution’s afterlife in the aesthetic-political imaginary of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. That was not the story I was going to tell. The story I wished to share was instead the possibility of non-engagement with the event’s historical-philosophical force in the context of Soviet-Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein and novelist Anatoliǐ Vinogradov, even while ostensibly engaging with the narrative.

I came to this subject when I saw a story to unpack amidst the surge of interest in the Haitian Revolution within Anglophone scholarship, which had earlier presented it as an inherently universal and perpetually unfinished project, prompting in the process a rediscovery and reevaluation of lesser-known Soviet collaborations that utilized revolutionary Haiti as source material. Reading the second wave of studies, I found it peculiar that the original argument—which had employed the history of the Haitian Revolution as a way to expose the blind spots of Western modernity and the hypocrisy inherent in Enlightenment projects—was repurposed by this later scholarship to valorize a period in Soviet history marked by a transient Stalinist campaign of anti-racism and transracial Soviet alliance. I find the critical fault of this reassessment in its general oversight of how imbricated these Soviet artists were within their own agenda and fora of discourse, and in its failing to see how it drew from Cold War narratives and assumptions to paint key Soviet figures in a positive and tragic light.

In making that point clear, I also wanted to call attention to a newer generation of Haitian Revolution scholarship since the seminal publications of the early 2000s. Rooted in rigorous historical examination, literary analysis, and archival research, the work of scholars like Grégory Pierrot, Deborah Jenson, and Marlene Daut unveils the complex web that comprises the Haitian Revolution and its multifaceted cultural-intellectual and political aftermath. Dessalines, whom I discuss in my talk, embodies the kind of complexity that belies any certitude in constructing a singular narrative, and exposes the limitations of historiographical methods to fully render his politics of resistance. This brings to mind the notion of ‘opacity’ described by the Martiniquais poet Édouard Glissant, who suggested that the oppression and trauma of colonization and slavery created a fundamental opacity in postcolonial conditions, which the Western obsession for ‘totality’ and ‘transparency’ fails to respect in its attempt to reductively comprehend. Dessalines’s complexity and irreducible elusiveness seem to demand this attitude, to acknowledge this ‘right to opacity’ when grappling with the intricacies of anti-colonial resistance in late 18th- and early 19th-century Haiti. It is in this general direction that I hoped to contribute with this study.