Questions (303/415)

Dieudonné Cédor, Ceremony at Bois Caiman, 1791. No date given.

One of the things I want to emphasize is that our perception of global events, and the knowledge we may lack about other people’s histories, is a function of our position as citizens of the world’s largest empire.

Living in the imperial center means never needing to learn about other countries except when the US invades them, or when they impede the exercise of American power. Haiti claimed its independence in 1804. The US did not recognize this fact diplomatically until 1864. Over the next 150 years Haiti was invaded, occupied, and lost some of its territory as a result of American foreign policy. The 1856 Guano Islands Act allowed the seizure of uninhabited islands such as Navassa. In 1915 the US began an occupation of Haiti that lasted for eighteen years. In 2004 American forces ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Let’s think about our move into Saint-Domingue during the Age of Revolution, roughly 1770-1830. The great bourgeois revolution of US independence, which created a herrenvolk democracy on the margins of a largely unmapped continent. The deeper-reaching French Revolution which overthrew an existing social order and at its most energetic and radical attempted to restructure society as a whole, prising power and wealth from the aristocracy and the Catholic church. The world-changing Industrial Revolution, fueled by the proceeds of slavery and other forms of primitive accumulation. And the Haitian Revolution, as James says history’s only successful slave revolt, which raised up the lowest and toppled the highest.

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Code Noire (303/415)

An excerpt from the French Code Noire:

Article XXXIII. The slave who has struck his master in the face or has drawn blood, or has similarly struck the wife of his master, his mistress, or their children, shall be punished by death. . . .

Article XXXVIII. The fugitive slave who has been on the run for one month from the day his master reported him to the police, shall have his ears cut off and shall be branded with a fleur de lys on one shoulder. If he commits the same infraction for another month, again counting from the day he is reported, he shall have his hamstring cut and be branded with a fleur de lyson the other shoulder. The third time, he shall be put to death.

Article XXXIX. The masters of freed slaves who have given refuge to fugitive slaves in their homes shall be punished by a fine of three hundred pounds of sugar for each day of refuge.

see https://revolution.chnm.org/items/show/515

Harvests (225)

To some extent, you can judge a book by its cover. The original cover of Red Harvest, first published by Knopf in 1929, exhibits many of the characteristic features of art deco, the dominant design style of the era.

Note the angularity of the lettering. The way the title itself has been squeezed so tightly it forces a break in the word “Harvest.” The bold black on white. The flat, bright patterning of the borders. These are all signifiers of a new cultural phase of modernity. They represent a conscious rejection of the curvilinear font and rich, embellished illustration found in an art nouveau poster like this advertisement for biscuits (what Americans call a cookie):

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Revolution (303/415)

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language. Thus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95. In like manner, the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue.

“The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”

Macandal (303/415)

The horse, stumbling, dropped to its knees. There came a howl so piercing and so prolonged that it reached the neighboring plantations, frightening the pigeons. Macandal’s left hand had been caught with the cane by the sudden tug of the rollers, which had dragged in his arm up to the shoulder. An eye of blood began to widen in the pan catching the juice. Grabbing a knife, Tï Noël cut the traces that fastened the horse to the shaft of the mill. Slaves from the tannery rushed over, following the master, as did the meat-smokers and the cacao-bean-dryers. Now Macandal was pulling at his crushed arm, turning the rollers backward. With his right hand he was trying to move an elbow, a wrist that no longer obeyed him. He had a stupefied look, as though he was not taking in what had happened to him. They began to tie a rope tourniquet under his armpit to stop the bleeding. The master called for the whetstone to sharpen the machete to be used in the amputation.

— Alejo Carpentier, The Kingdom of This World