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Migration and RefugeAn Eco-Archive of Haitian Literature, 1982-2017$

John Patrick Walsh

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781786941633

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781786941633.001.0001

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Introduction Tè glise, Continents à la dérive

Introduction Tè glise, Continents à la dérive

Haiti between Shifting Continents, Past and Present

(p.1) Introduction Tè glise, Continents à la dérive
Migration and Refuge

John Patrick Walsh

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The book opens with analysis of Yanick Lahens’ reflection on the disastrous convergence of geological and political time in the Haitian earthquake of 2010. Lahens contemplates the imbrication of geological, political, and social fault lines to complicate the exceptional image of Haiti as a site of disaster. The introduction considers Lahens’ understanding of fault lines, below and above ground, in light of Rob Nixon’s critique of the slow violence of environmental injustice and Michel Serres’ idea of a natural contract with the planet. It brings together Lahens, Nixon, and Serres to illustrate the different conceptions of time and space that inform the ecological thought of a Haitian writer, an American critic, and a French philosopher. Taking this comparative analysis as its point of departure, the introduction begins to develop a theory of an eco-archive as an ethical and imaginative writing on the environment. It merges ecocriticism with the historical awareness of Haitian studies to argue that Lahens and other Haitian writers challenge the neocolonial and neoliberal political economies that feed the dominant narratives of the Anthropocene.

Keywords:   Haitian earthquake, Yanick Lahens, Fault lines, Slow violence, Natural disaster, Ecological thought

Faille: cassure des couches terrestres accompagnée d’une dénivellation tectonique des blocs séparés. Telle est la définition neutre, froide, classique, d’un phénomène géologique finalement assez fréquent et assez répandu. Phénomène qui pourtant en silence, millimètre après millimètre, fraction de seconde après fraction de seconde, se déroule à des kilomètres sous l’écorce terrestre. Phénomène inconnu pour la grande majorité des Haïtiens mais connu de certains d’entre nous qui avions choisi de l’oublier. Et puis, somme toute, la terre nous paraissait tout à fait ferme sous nos pieds. Alors pourquoi s’inquiéter? Parce que ce métabolisme lointain et silencieux est d’une lenteur telle qu’il peut servir d’alibi à l’oubli, de prétexte à la passivité, d’excuse à l’ignorance.

Yanick Lahens, Failles, 31

Writing in the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, Yanick Lahens contemplates life on fault lines. In the passage cited above, from Failles, the book published later that same year, Lahens comes to terms with the collision of human and geological time and space, and the apparently sudden awareness brought by the earthquake: the Earth moves beneath us. And yet, if the great majority of Haitians were unaware, some knew, Lahens admits. The “distant metabolism” of the (p.2) planet is too slow to appear on human radar, Lahens implies, thus making it easy to forget. In this short chapter, entitled “Continents à la dérive,” Lahens makes a key argument about the consequences of passivity and ignorance. The earthquake exposed a crosshatching of social, economic, and political fault lines. Like shifting tectonic plates, these networked forces are largely invisible, yet their visible effects, she contends, are equally as devastating. The failure to see these rifts is owed, in large part, to the different speeds with which they move. “Si la lenteur des phénomènes souterrains nous a forcé à l’oubli,” she writes, “c’est paradoxalement la vitesse de ceux qui se déroulent en surface qui nous contraint à l’esquive et nous conduit donc au même déni” (Failles, 33). This paradox moves between oubli, or the passive forgetting of geological fault lines, and déni, the willful denial of political fissures. If the earthquake was caused by slow-moving plates that destroyed the natural and built environment, spectacularly, in seconds, political decisions, enacted relatively quickly, have consequences with a long afterlife. In either case, she suggests, the refusal to face up to reality ends in disaster.

Lahens’s reflection on conflicting speeds of geological and political bodies in Haiti can be compared to what Rob Nixon has called “slow violence.” “By slow violence,” he writes,

I mean a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all … [It] is neither spectacular nor instantaneous, but rather incremental and accretive, its calamitous repercussions playing out across a range of temporal scales.

(Slow Violence, 2)

Nixon is concerned here with damage done to natural and built environments by sovereign governments and international coalitions, as well as corporations of national and transnational reach. In the increasingly deregulated age of neoliberal globalization, political and economic powers operate with impunity, and they are largely able to do so, Nixon argues, because the harm is spread out over long periods of time.1 Lahens contemplates political violence in a similar (p.3) way. She argues that the earthquake revealed, in the most brutal way, the aftereffects of political and economic factors that, over time, created conditions of precarity and insecurity for thousands and thousands of people in greater Port-au-Prince. Failles presents a painstaking critique of numerous actors and entities in Haiti, in the larger hemisphere of the Americas, and across the Atlantic in Europe. All bear responsibility for conditions on the ground. Lahens suggests that Port-au-Prince and its environs were already in the grip of an attritional violence that enabled the earthquake to wreak sudden devastation. She finds that the juxtaposition between slow and fast violence also laid bare a moral fault line. As Chapter Three demonstrates, Lahens works through this problem-space in various writings of non-fiction and fiction, thus anticipating a challenge posed by Nixon. “How do we bring home,” he asks, “ … and bring emotionally to life – threats that take time to wreak their havoc, threats that never materialize in one spectacular, explosive, cinematic scene? … How do we both make slow violence visible,” he continues, “yet also challenge the privileging of the visible?” (Slow Violence, 14–15). Lahens’s critique of the slow violence of political power offers a way to answer Nixon’s questions through what I am calling an “eco-archive.” At its most basic, it denotes a body of literary texts that depict ecological change over time and its impact on matters of social and environmental justice. The prefix “eco” refers to the shared, lived space of ecological problems, between humans and non-humans, and “archive” to the accumulation of texts that reveal overlapping histories of past and present. This book develops this idea through each of the chapters below. Failles belongs to the eco-archive because it records the violent clash of sub- and superterranean bodies and considers the ramifications of this disastrous collision.

The most urgent forms of slow violence that Nixon and other environmentally minded postcolonial scholars have addressed in the early twenty-first century are global warming and climate change. So, too, Lahens. Failles brings the reader to view the earthquake and the scandalous conditions in Haiti that it laid bare as a global crisis. In fact, before she laments the “dégradation de la production agricole et de l’environnement [haïtien]” (33), she conceives of these and other deadly fault lines in planetary terms. Crucially, she writes, “Mais cette propension au déni n’est pas seulement haïtienne. A l’échelle de la planète, nous avons oublié que la terre vit. Qu’elle a un âge, qu’elle passe par des cycles. Nous avons perdu la mesure de notre âge géologique. Nous avons perdu la mesure de l’espèce” (32). It is perhaps easy to overlook (p.4) this fleeting reference to “our geological age,” given that so much of the testimony of Failles is focused on the place of Haiti in regional, hemispheric, and global histories. But I suggest that the chapter’s focus on “shifting continents” also extends to the unstable movement that can be read in the pronoun “nous” as it expands and retracts between “we Haitians” and “we humans on the Earth.” When Lahens evokes a living planet and gestures to humans as a species, it is important, I think, to read a tension between Haitian and global experience. In this way, the latter is a collective, if not universal nous. In thinking about local space in the global context of environmental crises, Lahens is in step with a growing number of artists, intellectuals, and scientists who are all coming to terms with the fact that, as Dipesh Chakrabarty has observed, globalization and global warming are now on a collision course.2

In addition to Nixon, another such thinker is the French philosopher Michel Serres. Following the earthquake that struck near San Francisco, California on October 17, 1989, Serres wrote Le contrat naturel. Comparing the geopolitical and cultural assumptions that inflect Serres’s text sharpens the contrast with the historical awareness of Lahens’s critical and creative imaginary in Failles. Furthermore, it sets up a key problem that this study interrogates throughout: Haitian writers contribute in varied ways to debates about the converging paths of human and geological histories, yet at the same time their meditations on the legacies of colonialism, imperialism, and neoliberalism are largely neglected in these very debates about the future of human life on the planet.

Le contrat naturel opens by recognizing the physical autonomy of the planet and closes by describing how the author senses its life and alterity to humanity. In the first section, “Guerre / Paix,” Serres takes another look at classic depictions of battle scenes, in painting (Goya’s “Duelo a garrotazos” of the “black paintings”) and literature (Homer’s The Iliad), and realizes that, beyond the epic combat between men, another, more pernicious battle has long taken place, only one that had been hiding in (p.5) plain sight. “Faut-il distinguer deux batailles,” Serres asks, “la guerre historique qu’Achille livre à ses ennemis et la violence aveugle faite à la rivière? Nouveau déluge: le niveau croît” (Contrat naturel, 15). The inability to see the battle scene of climate change in its entirety, Serres finds, is inherently a failure of vision. Like Nixon, he is deeply unsettled by the accumulation of battles waged against the planet. “Redoutons aussi que les solutions à court terme,” he warns, “ … ne reproduisent, en les renforçant, les causes du problème. Moins évidemment apparaissent les causes à long terme, qu’il faut expliciter maintenant” (20–21). Serres makes an urgent appeal to what might be called “the care of the Earth.”3 As the title makes plain, he does so with the explicit aim of retrofitting Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s social contract. Thinking more globally, Serres envisages an alliance between humankind and the Earth:

Dès lors, dans le monde reviennent les hommes, le mondain dans le mondial, le collectif dans le physique, un peu comme à l’époque du droit naturel classique, mais avec pourtant de grandes différences, qui tiennent toutes au passage récent du local au global et au rapport renouvelé que nous entretenons désormais avec le monde, notre maître jadis et naguère notre esclave, toujours notre hôte en tous cas, maintenant notre symbiote.

(Contrat naturel, 67)

Serres’s argument turns on the conception of radical historical breaks. After the founding of natural law, the new relationship he proposes with the Earth is conceived with a view to a future symbiosis of humans and the planet that depends on a contractual relationship. Interestingly, Serres describes the former relationship in terms of Hegel’s master/slave dialectic. Lahens historicizes the political fault lines of the 2010 earthquake in the failure of eighteenth-century European colonialists and twentieth-century imperialists to “humaniser le Noir” (Failles, 70). For Lahens and other Caribbean thinkers, questions of climate change and the survival of the planet have always been inextricably linked to the foundational problem of slavery. In this historical light, Serres’s (p.6) use of the master/slave narrative to underscore the urgency of climate change is telling of the scotoma, or a kind of historical blind spot that continues to have a deleterious effect on European historical vision.4 Serres’s ambiguous language harks back to the texts of Enlightenment philosophes, including the man that inspired the proposal of a natural contract. In the Social Contract, Rousseau wrote, “Man is born free, yet everywhere lives in chains.” As Christopher Miller observes, “Rousseau … sounds like he recognizes the evil of slavery in this famous opening of the Social Contract, yet he too ignores the Atlantic slave trade, as he does throughout his vast writings, with one tiny exception. He makes slavery a metaphor for the condition of man in modern (which means European) society” (The French Atlantic Triangle, 7; emphasis in original). By “contract,” Serres similarly walks a fine line between metaphor and reality. He describes it at once as a declaration of peace with the Earth, our “host” – an “armistice dans la guerre objective” (Contrat naturel, 67) – and an acknowledgment of the status of humans as parasites.5 As Ian Tucker argues, Serres ponders the “materiality of the human condition” (“Sense and the Limits of Knowledge,” 149). But he also reminds his readers of a relational shift in which the human threatens to destroy the host planet.6 In the end, the philosopher takes on the role of an ecological man, homo ecologicus, who, having felt the earth move beneath him, becomes aware that he is but “une trémulation de néant, vivant dans un séisme permanent” (Contrat naturel, 190). Unlike Lahens, who struggles to write after the earthquake, Serres communes with “la Terre spasmodique” and, in a moment of ecstasy, is ready to sign a pact with the planet (190).

(p.7) Serres and Lahens respond to the planetary power of earthquakes with similar questions, yet they arrive at strikingly different conclusions. Playing on Galileo’s supposed utterance “Eppur si muove! [And yet, it moves],” or the radical proposition that the Earth moves around the sun, Serres mobilizes the Italian’s challenge to papal authority to argue that scientists of today are once again in a similar bind by having to convince contemporary authorities of the looming catastrophe of climate change. Behold, Serres declares, “la Terre s’émeut [the Earth is moved]” (Contrat naturel, 136). As Bruno Latour explains, it “has become – has become again! – an active, local, limited, sensitive, fragile, quaking, and easily tickled envelope” (“Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene,” 3). For some, Serres flirts with what is generally referred to as “deep ecology,” or a vision of the relationship between humanity and nature that is “ecocentric” rather than anthropocentric, or nature mastered by humans.7 As Jonathan Krell demonstrates, this is a simplistic reading of Serres’s position. Furthermore, Maria Assad has argued that it would be a mistake to overemphasize the figurative dimension of Serres’s text. “The Natural Contract,” she writes,

first lays the foundation for a rigorous scientific-judicial appeal to its postmodern reader. Only then does the vision of an as yet unrealized world created on the basis of a natural contract between the Planet Earth and humankind move the author to passionately poetic expressions, equally serious in their intent.

(Reading with Michel Serres, 153)

I would also add Latour’s parenthetical remark that “The Natural Contract is first of all a piece of legal philosophy” (“Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene,” 4). But, while Latour generally praises the earnest originality of Serres’s thought, he signals the fatal flaw of its central proposition of a natural contract. “What seems impossible, however, in Serres’s solution,” Latour continues:

is the quaint idea of establishing a new social compact with all those quasi-subjects. Not that the idea of a contract is odd … but because in a quarter of a century, things have become so urgent and violent that the somewhat pacific project of a contract among parties seems unreachable. War is infinitely more likely than contract. (5)

(p.8) Latour’s reflection on the urgency of the last twenty-five years – nearly the same time as that between Le Contrat naturel and Failles – highlights the divide in literary–philosophical responses to earthquakes in places as far apart as Haiti and California. Both Serres and Lahens ponder the difference of geological time that irrupts during an earthquake, and both consider the relative incapacity of humankind to grasp the slow but devastating problem of climate change. However, if their texts coalesce around the problem of time, they diverge markedly with respect to the political dimension of space. Serres may have laid awake in fear of the aftershocks in Palo Alto, but he did not have to confront the scale of death and destruction that Lahens witnessed in Port-au-Prince. Both Serres and Lahens experienced geological events, yet the earthquake in Haiti was a disaster not solely because of something that happened “naturally” – some act of God or Mother Nature – but because of the social conditions on the ground. Estimates of deaths in the earthquake in Haiti vary widely, with the Haitian government putting the toll at 316,000 and a group commissioned by the U.S. Agency for International Development issuing a report with a much lower number, somewhere between 46,000 and 85,000. However, after calling into question both of these estimates, Robert Muggah and Athena Kolbe conducted several household surveys and came up with the figure of 158,000 fatalities in the six weeks following the quake.8 These important disputes in accounting notwithstanding, all of these figures are unprecedented in Haitian history and pale in comparison to the sixty-three deaths recorded in California. In other words, their man-made fault lines were worlds apart.9

It is unquestionable that certain populations are more vulnerable than others to earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods. The implications of the disparities in the effects of earthquakes in California, Haiti, Chile, and Japan have historically fallen under the critical purview of social scientists attuned to the problem of difference that has also long been a focal point of postcolonial studies. Comparing Serres and Lahens reminds (p.9) us of the gap between the environmentalist concerns of European and North American writers and those in the Caribbean. As many critics have pointed out, after years of a (relative) mutual lack of engagement, environmental and postcolonial critiques have found some common ground.10 In this regard, Mark D. Anderson’s critical perspective in Latin American studies is instructive. In his important study of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, Anderson argues that the concept of “natural disaster” can be understood only in relation to a norm that is socially constructed and then mediated and reappropriated through cultural and political means.11 Failles can similarly be situated as a form of “disaster writing,” in that Lahens considers how the earthquake made visible the social and political norms that have historically colluded to keep Haiti on the edge of precarity. Yet, unlike Serres, who adopts a satellite’s view of the Earth to take in the “plaques humaines immenses et denses” (Contrat naturel, 35), Lahens is moved as much by the global threat of the earthquake as by the scenes of devastation in her local environs. The difference between the Haitian experience of disaster and what it means for the view of the globe from above creates palpable tension in the pages of Failles.

Lahens and Serres grapple with the place of the human in this age of ecological reckoning, but they approach this human/planetary conjuncture from different angles. As Nixon shows, this is the fundamental problem of the Anthropocene, or the name for a new geological epoch, the Age of the Human, first proposed and debated in scientific circles. Given the devastation of the earthquake in Haiti, followed by several others around the globe, a slew of massive hurricanes and five-hundred-year floods, and the increased attention to global warming and climate change, it might appear logical and unquestionable that the Earth has entered a new age. And yet, the growing gulf between the rich and poor, as well as the seemingly unprecedented crisis of migrants and refugees, tells another story about the state of the globe. As Lahens suggests, it is not just continents that are à la dérive. “A crucial imaginative challenge is facing us,” Nixon stated in an address to the Modern Language Association:

(p.10) How do we tell two large stories that seem in tension with each other, a convergent story and a divergent one? Set against the collective story about humanity’s geomorphic impacts that will be legible in the earth’s geophysical systems for millennia to come is the story of the human species, a much more fractured narrative … . In terms of the history of ideas, what does it mean that the Anthropocene as a grand explanatory species story has taken hold during a plutocratic age? How can we counter the centripetal force of that dominant story with centrifugal stories that acknowledge immense disparities in human agency, impacts, and vulnerability?12

In this speech, Nixon at once rehearses and expands upon the questions, cited above, that he had raised earlier in Slow Violence. In Failles, Lahens opens a profound engagement with an accelerating Anthropocene by critiquing generalizing narratives that erase particular histories of different modes of being human and of thinking ecologically.

Taking the comparative analysis of Lahens and Serres as its point of departure, this book argues that Haitian literature has long anticipated epochal thought with stories from the eco-archive that challenge the neocolonial and neoliberal political economies that undergird the dominant narratives of the Anthropocene. A range of texts, fiction and nonfiction, historicizes the intertwining of political and environmental problems brought to the surface by the earthquake by recalling previous disasters and imagining stories in their wake. Along with Lahens, several Haitian writers depict the imbrication of geological, political, and social fault lines to complicate the exceptional image of Haiti as a site of disaster, an ill-fated country with a resilient population. As Sibylle Fischer has demonstrated, Haiti has long been the “modernity disavowed” at the core of Western systems of thought that made grand claims about the enlightenment subject and the promise of capitalism to enable and guarantee democratic freedoms.13 However, as the late Michel-Rolph Trouillot pointed out on numerous occasions, not only did this modernity fall far short of its declared universal reach, it would also define humanity largely in terms of economic value. Furthermore, (p.11) it reduced Haiti and the Caribbean to the “otherwise modern.”14 By drawing on a long history of injustice, the texts examined herein evoke multiple forms and paths of migration and refuge that call into question the universalizing, future-oriented politics of earthquakes, climate change, and other ecological disasters. If the earthquake suddenly exposed scandalous conditions, the global ethical questions it raised concerning poverty, political corruption, and ecological degradation have long been treated in Haitian literature.

Framing a Haitian Eco-Archive: From Duvalier to Haiti After the Earthquake

I said: Haitians like to tell each other that Haiti is tè glise, slippery ground. Even under the best of circumstances, the country can be stable one moment and crumbling the next.

Edwidge Danticat, Create Dangerously, 157

Time, in short, has become less yielding, less promising than we have grown to expect it should be. And what we are left with are aftermaths in which the present seems stricken with immobility and pain and ruin; a certain experience of temporal afterness prevails in which the trace of futures past hangs like the remnant of a voile curtain over what feels uncannily like an endlessly extending present.

David Scott, Omens of Adversity, 6

In the aftermath of the earthquake, Edwidge Danticat recalls the Haitian proverb tè glise. She continues, “Haiti has never been more slippery ground than after this earthquake, with bodies littering the streets, entire communities buried in rubble, homes pancaked to dust” (157). Proverbs are timeless, yet the expression tè glise allows Danticat to situate the earthquake in Haitian history. In fact, Create Dangerously, a collection of essays examined in Chapter Four, runs from the early years (p.12) of François Duvalier to post-earthquake scenes. In this sense, time, too, appears to have collapsed, as the ruins of the earthquake conjure up the devastation of the thirty-year dictatorship. For Danticat and Lahens, the aftermath resurrected old questions that pull them backward and forward in time. David Scott’s insistence on the temporality of the postcolonial era as a “stalled present” (Omens of Adversity, 6) is particularly apt in this context. Create Dangerously and other works taken up in this study exhibit the kind of temporal self-reflexivity that, Scott contends, is compelled by aftermaths, which he theorizes as the lived experience of overlapping temporalities of past and present, with but the illusion of a future. If we are preoccupied with time, Scott argues, it is because we are caught in a present that “seems stricken.” In many ways, the feeling of a vexing, cyclical temporality characterizes Haitian literary representations of the Duvalier era to the present. To draw out the temporal intersections in the texts of Haitian writers, and to engage the historical awareness of this literature, this study examines a corpus that dates back to the publication of Jean-Claude Charles’s writings in the early to mid-1980s and closes with Néhémy Pierre-Dahomey’s Rapatriés, a novel published in 2017 that returns to nearly the same historical period of Charles’s reporting on boat-people to imagine one such unfinished migration and lifelong search for refuge.

Migration and Refuge: An Eco-Archive of Haitian Literature frames a well-defined historical period (1982–2017) but does not isolate its primary sources in the moment of their publication. Rather, it considers the connections to be made between them by treating their abundant and diverse depictions of migration and refuge over time. Écrits d’Haïti: Perspectives sur la littérature contemporaine (1986–2006), a volume of essays edited by Nadève Ménard, covers some of the same period as this book, but the variety of critical approaches taken by its contributors diverges from the Haitianist-informed ecocriticism of my study. However, both insist on a deeper historical background for contemporary Haitian literature. As Ménard asserts, “les textes réunis dans le présent ouvrage … s’inscrivent dans une certaine continuité avec les périodes précédentes” (11). While she recognizes that the fall of Duvalier was a turning point for Haitian literature, Ménard also underscores the play between continuity and discontinuity that keeps an older generation of literature in contact with the next.15 What (p.13) is more, although the earthquake occurred during the production of Écrits d’Haïti, it did not cause Ménard to revise the project. In fact, it only strengthened her resolve: “l’écriture devient encore plus essentielle,” she writes (Écrits d’Haïti, 17). Taking heed of these insights, this book avoids assigning a group of Haitian texts to a sub-genre of “post-earthquake” literature. Even if it were to be used as a term of analysis, “post-earthquake” would have to be understood like “postcolonial,” whose unstable temporality contains a present and future that struggle to break free of the past all the while they constantly refer back to it. The point is not to minimize the devastation caused by the earthquake, but rather to acknowledge that “post” is a deceptive marker. One can refer literally to Haitian literature published after January 12, 2010, but one must also anticipate a past that rises to the surface. From boat-people fleeing the political violence and environmental dispossession of the throes of the Duvalier regime for the beaches of Florida to internal migrations from depleted coastal areas to the rising shantytowns of Port-au-Prince during the Aristide years, and finally to those Haitians displaced internally to tent camps after the earthquake, these diverse experiences of migration and refuge occupy an important place in the Haitian literary imaginary.

The many different causes, modes, and routes of the journeys depicted in Haitian literature complicate received ideas on migration and refuge, beginning with the notion of a departure from one place that has become insecure, broadly defined, to an arrival in another, more secure place. In this apparently simple view, the emigrant becomes an immigrant. Yet the grammar betrays a more complex passage, as the present participle denotes an ongoing movement: the dangerous fleeing (from the Latin fugere) from a center to a re-fleeing (refuge) is an arduous becoming. To have a chance of being included in and, possibly, of transforming the place of arrival, the refugee must endure administrative, juridical, cultural, social, and linguistic barriers and processes. In the texts below, some of the migratory figures seek the rootedness to be found in place-bound forms of refuge, while others desire fluid identities that are located outside of rigid territorial boundaries. Some are brought into the folds of social and political formations and even allowed to transform these spaces, yet others are kept on the periphery (p.14) of societies that restrict the movement of strangers. The texts in question take the reader through and around a range of possible movements between migration and refuge. Throughout, I will have occasion to review histories and theories of migration in Haitian and Caribbean studies, as well as several other fields and disciplines that have developed a stake in the plight of migrants and refugees. In each chapter, close readings are mixed with and accompanied by additional poetic and critical texts. By contextualizing its central thematic pairing across multiple generations of authors and in the array of genres and narrative modes in which they write, this book considers a limited yet representative cross-section of Haitian literature.

Having set up a thematic and historical structure, I would like now to return to the idea of literature as an eco-archive, sketched above, in order to elaborate on the analytical method adopted in this book. By now, it is something of a commonplace in literary studies to borrow from the historian’s toolkit and refer to primary sources as an “archive.” A similar gesture treats literary texts from a previous generation as an “archival” source for a later generation. A slippage occurs in both uses between abstract and concrete meanings of “archive.” Thinking about archives as official institutions, especially in the fields of Caribbean and Haitian studies, it is standard practice to begin with Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, and for good reason. This landmark study on the institutional power of archives is a canonical reference across fields in the social sciences and humanities. The oft-cited premise of Trouillot’s argument is that “any historical narrative is a particular bundle of silences” (Silencing the Past, 27). These silences, or ideas, people, places, and events, can be lost in four linked processes: the making of sources; their assembly in archives; the making of narratives from these sources; and, finally, the making of history. Together, these related components make possible some historical narratives and silence others. My approach to the silences at work in narratives on Haitian history is to examine how literature sounds them out, how it gives voice to characters, places, and stories that go unheard and unseen. Furthermore, in the absence or destruction of the kind of official archives that Trouillot considered, literary texts themselves can function as archives in more than an abstract sense. Building on the work of Lia Brozgal and Rachel Douglas, the chapters below consider the materiality of the text and processes of drafting, revising, publishing, and reprinting as inherently archival. The insights of Brozgal and Douglas have much in common (p.15) with Ada Ferrer’s nuanced revision of Trouillot’s central thesis on the archive as an institution of power. Ferrer writes,

It is worth remembering that not all archives are considered equal, and that such phrases [institution of power] do not take adequate account of the ways in which the contemporary archives that historians rely on in places such as Port-au-Prince or Santiago de Cuba sometimes project insubstantiality as much as power.

(Freedom’s Mirror, 7)

What does the historian do, Ferrer asks, when the archives lose their substance? How does she find what matters? Working in various archives, Ferrer takes note of institutional disparities that lead to incomplete and inconsistent sources and unstable conditions of assembly and retrieval. If Freedom’s Mirror is an outstanding, fine-grained work of scholarship, it is due in no small part to Ferrer’s attention to archival environments around the Caribbean and Europe.

In this light, could one similarly view Haitian writers gleaning narrative truth from their surroundings? When institutions of power disseminate ideological and reductive representations of Haiti, when networks of neoliberal, religious, and humanitarian actors have the combined effect of marginalizing or appropriating local narratives, what sources do creative writers draw from to foreground “ideas of Haiti” that counter older, tired ideas?16 This book argues that many Haitian writers turn to the environment as a source of poiesis, a making of meaning that shapes, and is shaped by, a social language that bears witness to silence and oppression. The texts herein, published between 1982 and 2017, are conceived as a key layer, a textual substratum, of a larger eco-archive. They attest to and reimagine the ecological and environmental settings of experiences of migration and refuge. In these works, “nature” is not taken for granted, nor is it the silent background of human conflict, as Serres wrote. The texts in this archive build on and complicate ideas of migration and refuge; they possess a critical and creative “ecological thought” that interrogates ideological appropriations of the natural world and is a witness to environmental injustice.17

(p.16) In grounding the theory of an eco-archive as an ethical and imaginative writing on the environment in Haitian stories, this book proposes a strategic alliance between ecocriticism and Haitian literary studies. This hybrid approach builds on important work in both fields. While the latter has long underscored the deep connection between literature and environment, the former had been more narrowly focused on environmental concerns of North America and Europe. However, as Ursula Heise and many other postcolonial scholars have shown, ecocriticism has undergone an “international turn” that has opened it to histories of colonial and imperial degradation (“Globality, Difference, and the International Turn in Ecocriticism”).18 Furthermore, Elizabeth DeLoughrey, George Handley, and Renée K. Gosson have co-edited two pioneering collections on the “postcolonial ecologies” of the Caribbean, including contributions on Haitian literature and art.19 In the field of Africana studies, Byron Caminero-Santangelo calls attention, in Different Shades of Green, to the tension between local, regional, and national forms of environmental justice movements as depicted in an array of African texts.20 Finally, in Haitian literary studies, the conclusion of Martin Munro’s Writing on the Fault Line reads like a primer for an ecocritical sequel to his impressive book:

When Haitian novelists and poets write of the body and the soul, they are in fact evoking only two parts of a trinity that has long shaped the development of Haitian literature. The third part is the land, which is in a sense the body of the nation, ravaged and violated by the forces of natural and human history, and which is often represented as the source of the soul of the nation. (222)

By merging postcolonial ecocriticism with Haitian studies, this book pursues a critical dialogue that allows them to question each other and to rethink concepts such as “culture” and “nature,” and “ecology” and “environment” that are central to both. Furthermore, and crucially, (p.17) rather than applying theory to literature in a manner that risks distorting the imaginary, it offers close readings that are attuned to what the Haitian poet René Philoctète called “le langage des arbres et de la terre” (Le peuple des terres mêlées, 23). While ecocriticism has earned something of a reputation as a more activist form of literary criticism, this study remains focused on the literary and poetic dimensions of its corpus.21

Migration and Refuge: An Eco-Archive of Haitian Literature is organized in three parts. The first part, “The Eco-Archive,” develops more fully the book’s conceptual and historical frame by drawing on Haitian and Caribbean thought on the environment, broadly understood, and by situating the primary texts under consideration in Haitian literary history of the twentieth century. By providing this longer historical context it aims to mitigate the pitfalls of periodization, especially the notion that the literary representation of migration or the critique of natural disaster becomes a phenomenon in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. To some extent, it is hard to avoid the tropes of “turns” and “waves,” as evidenced in their prevalence in both literary and historical analysis. At any rate, this is a complex task, and not without controversy.22 Emphasis on the salience of a historical turning (p.18) point – as I will show below, either in attempts to define the magnitude of the earthquake in Haitian history by creative writers and critics alike, or in debates about the onset of the Anthropocene – risks overlooking what earlier periods can teach. And yet, a situated understanding of knowledge serves to call into question universal concepts and powers that marginalize or elide historical events.

After its theoretical and historical prologue, Part One examines several texts of three authors, René Philoctète, Emile Ollivier, and Jean-Claude Charles, all of whom navigated, in Haiti and abroad, the historical transition of the fall of the Duvalier regime and renewed violence in the early years of the Aristide presidency. From three separate geographical positions (Philoctète in Port-au-Prince; Ollivier in Montréal; and Charles between New York and Paris), each writer was caught between two different, though not necessarily conflicting, political movements of this era: the migration of Haitians along Haiti’s growing diaspora and the attempt to rebuild the nation in the wake of dictatorship. While Ollivier and Charles set their fictional writings in the present, Philoctète turns to the past in his novel Le peuple des terres mêlées (1989), which depicts the “Parsley Massacre” of 1937, when the Dominican president Rafael Trujillo ordered the slaughter of Haitians and Haitian–Dominicans at the border of the Dominican Republic. The second half of Chapter One, “For an Eco-Archive,” performs close readings of Philoctète’s novel and a selection of his poetry. A founding member of two influential groups of writers and artists, Haiti Littéraire and the Spiralists, Philoctète was known primarily as a poet, but it is also true that his novelistic and theatrical texts remain largely unknown outside of Haiti. Not long after François Duvalier became president-for-life, Philoctète went into exile in 1966, joining fellow poets in Quebec, notably Anthony Phelps, Serge Legagneur, Roland Morisseau, and Davertige. Unlike his peers, he returned to Haiti after only six months, apparently unable to be away from the Caribbean. For Max Dominique, the collection of poems written during Philoctète’s time in Quebec, Ces îles qui marchent, bears witness to the experience of this “va-et-vient du dedans au dehors, d’Haïti aux îles des îles à l’intérieur” (Esquisses critiques, 161). The attachment to the land and sea and to the wider (p.19) community of islands to which Haiti belonged, but from which it was also historically isolated, is a signature of Philoctète’s writing. Drawing inspiration from his environmental imaginary, the chapter continues to theorize an eco-archive as the accumulation of ecologically based knowledge that gives meaning to the ethos of living with and resisting various forms of oppression. In Le peuple des terres mêlées, the narrator appeals to the environment as a witness to Trujillo’s genocidal transformation of the borderland.

Chapter Two, “Haitian Odysseys,” turns from the possibilities of Philoctète’s emmêlements, or the hope for mixed communities along fluid boundaries, to Ollivier’s and Charles’s depictions of another pairing of migration and refuge in the perilous journeys of boat-people hoping to reach hospitable shores. The chapter opens with a comparison of the authors’ self-reflections on their literature in the context of the larger literary and cultural movements in which they have often been situated. It examines Ollivier’s novel Passages (1991) alongside his non-fictional writing on migration and exile. The second section takes up Charles’s essay De si jolies petites plages (1982), together with the novels Manhattan Blues (1985) and Ferdinand, Je suis à Paris (1987). Charles covered the plight of Haitian refugees who fled the persecution and poverty of the Duvalier era and its aftermath. Published at the height of the Reagan era, when an earlier generation set out to “Make America Great Again,” and when the AIDS epidemic led to key revisions to U.S. immigration and refugee policy, the book blends documentary and autobiographical modes. The chapter puts the fictional and non-fictional texts of each writer in dialogue to build on the analysis of Philoctète’s Le peuple des terres mêlées. All three write of life at the periphery of national and international power. Philoctète plays on the polysemy of mêlées to evoke the harmony sought by border people whose sang-mêlé made them targets of Trujillo’s ideological violence; Ollivier brings out many nuances of passages to treat two different histories of migration; and Charles reports on harrowing journeys to Floridian shorelines that, for many, lead to incarceration.

The texts taken up in Part One raise questions that remain vital to writers grappling with the intertwining of political and natural disasters that resurfaced in the 2010 earthquake. The objective of Parts Two and Three is to examine the ways that several more recent texts put the earthquake in a broader time frame and in the larger field of regional and transatlantic stories. How do contemporary texts approach the border of the literary past of Ollivier, Philoctète, and Charles? If they (p.20) draw from the well of topics and themes addressed in Part One, they also update them by interrogating contemporary forms of collusion between neoliberalism, humanitarianism, and globalization. Part Two, “Literary Witnesses,” considers multiple writings of Lahens, Danticat, and Dany Laferrière. For Jeremy Popkin, the coincidence that several prominent writers and academics were on hand for the Étonnant Voyageurs festival has resulted in an undue significance of their accounts in this “era of the witness” (“Life in the Ruins,” 101). Popkin suggests that the “experiences of ordinary Haitians” (102) get lost in all the attention to the writer’s testimony.23 Yet Popkin offers a reductive idea of testimony to be found in the literary accounts of Lahens, Laferrière, and Rodney Saint-Éloi, which he seemingly marginalizes as “assemblages of fragments … [of an elite] that represent the thoughts of Haiti’s small cosmopolitan educated class rather than the mass of the population” (103).24 And yet, a study that examines the greater implications of this literature does not necessarily discount the importance of the testimony of the Haitian people. In fact, how writers as “literary witnesses” portray “ordinary” lives, along with the attendant ethical questions of representation, are central concerns of this book. Chapter Three, “The Banality of Disaster,” returns to Failles before treating several of Lahens’s works of fiction. It draws out her critique of cultural, social, and political fault lines that existed well before an earthquake that rendered them further apart. Chapter Four, “The Distant Literary Witness and the Ghosts of History in the ‘Other America’,” analyzes Danticat’s Create Dangerously together with her novel, Claire of the Sea Light (2013). For a comparative perspective on the possibilities of testimony to the earthquake from the diaspora, it also considers Laferrière’s Tout bouge autour de moi (2011) and L’Énigme du retour, the novel published in 2009. The chapter then focuses on Danticat’s critique of the marginalization of what she calls the “other America” – places where social and environmental injustice create the illusion of separate spheres of dwelling in the Americas.

Another of Danticat’s critical and creative preoccupations is the role (p.21) of art, historical and contemporary, in making sense of disaster. In fact, both Danticat and Lahens turn to Albert Camus and the postwar scenes of his critical journalism, essays, and theatrical writings. Camus’s public and private reflections on the “artist and his time,” as well as his appeals to justice, inspire them. A complicated figure in his own time, Camus remains so today. Given the archival role of his writings in both Failles and Create Dangerously, Chapters Three and Four re-examine two central ideas – “forging an art of living in a time of catastrophe” and the artistic obligation to “create dangerously” – that Camus reflected on during two speeches in Sweden on the occasion of his Nobel Prize in 1957. Camus is split between two distinct historical moments that complicate the apparent unity of the speeches in Stockholm and Uppsala. As each credo reappears in the writing of Lahens and Danticat, the book provides some necessary context to consider how they were uttered by Camus under different circumstances. In 1945, France begins a period of national reconstruction, only to confront, twelve years later, the Algerian War of Independence.

The intertextual links with Camus reveal the archival function of the texts by the French-Algerian. Haitian writers revisit and renew critiques of an earlier generation, in Haiti and beyond, in the attempt to “forge an art” that deconstructs ideological conceptions of disaster that circumscribe Haiti. At the same time, Lahens and Danticat seek to reconstruct alternative narratives of cultural knowledge and social projects. Moreover, they offer a creative rebuilding of Haiti through an interactive process of writing non-fiction and fiction. Part Two dwells on the recurrence of passages in various texts, from the short story to the chronicle and back to fiction in the more expansive aesthetic of the novel. What happens to central themes and figures as they pass from one form to the next? Both chapters situate the texts of Lahens and Danticat in a broader history of textual forms, including the testimonio and crónica of Latin American traditions; autobiography and autofiction in the Caribbean and its diaspora; and journalistic texts of Haitian writers. The heterogeneity of these archival-type texts means that they do not conform to any one generic type. They transgress conventions of form as readily as they cross historical eras. In this way, Part Two attends to textual mediations of the links between history, politics, culture, and geology.

Part Three, “The Anthropocene from Below” treats a set of writers (Louis-Philippe Dalembert, Gary Victor, and Néhémy Pierre-Dahomey) whose fictions juxtapose the sudden power of earthquakes with the slow (p.22) burn of Haitian history. Chapter Five, “Fictions of Migration and Refuge from the Anthropocene,” explores the ways that these authors (two from the diaspora and one who has remained in Haiti; two established, one newcomer) imagine experiences of migration and refuge in the wake of political and natural disaster, and reflect on the challenges that migrants and refugees pose to imagined communities, especially given the stakes of ecological reckoning for social and political institutions that support life in common. Victor’s Maudite éducation (2012) and its sequel, L’Escalier de mes désillusions (2014), Dalembert’s Ballade d’un amour inachevé (2013), and Pierre-Dahomey’s Rapatriés cast doubt on, if not foreclose, the future of this shared humanity, with depictions of disillusionment that expose what Victor calls “la frêle beauté du présent” (L’Escalier de mes désillusions, 190).

The first part of Chapter Five returns to the key questions of the Anthropocene, raised above in the comparison of Lahens, Nixon, and Serres, in order to frame the ways that Caribbean thinkers have already anticipated the repercussions of debates that now preoccupy scientists around the globe.25 Paul J. Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist and Nobel laureate for his discovery of the ozone hole, first “blurted out” the term “Anthropocene” in 2000, as he recalled in an interview with the journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, at the meeting of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), a major institute for Earth System science – a relatively new field, distinct from ecology and environmental science alike, that emerged some thirty years ago.26 Despite the (p.23) fact that, two years later in an article in Nature, Crutzen would specify what he meant by the human impact on the “whole Earth as a complex system,” others have since “distort[ed] its meaning,” according to Clive Hamilton (“Getting the Anthropocene So Wrong,” 102–103). Hamilton’s article responds scathingly to Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin, who date the shift from the Holocene to the Anthropocene back to the early seventeenth century, a result of European colonization of the Americas.27 Unlike Crutzen, who marks the origins of this human threat by the invention of the steam engine in the late eighteenth century, Lewis and Maslin go back further still, some 175 years to 1610, to set the boundary marker – what is known as the “Golden Spike,” or a “an event in stratigraphic material, such as rock, sediment, or glacier ice” that defines the beginning of an epoch – for the Anthropocene (“Defining the Anthropocene,” 173). As Lewis and Maslin explain, stratigraphic records are used to “delimit major changes in the Earth system and thereby geological time units, for example, the appearance of a new species as fossils within rocks, coupled with other temporally coincident changes” (173). And yet, according to Hamilton, Lewis and Maslin do not find sufficient stratigraphic evidence to support their claim of a dip in the global concentration of carbon dioxide. Instead, Hamilton writes, they weave “a complex story about colonization of South America” (“Getting the Anthropocene So Wrong,” 104). Indeed, Lewis and Maslin argue that “the collision of the Old and New Worlds,” also known as the Columbian Exchange, after the arrival of Columbus in the Caribbean, saw the “first global trade networks … and the resulting mixing of previously separate biotas … the globalization of human foodstuffs … cross-continental movement … of domesticated animals … [all] contributed to a swift, ongoing, radical reorganization of life on Earth without geological precedent” (174). Hamilton remains unconvinced, (p.24) because, he adds, “No attempt is made to show numerically that the dip changed the functioning of the Earth system or was caused by human activity, other than the mention of some historical events that occurred at roughly the same time” (“Getting the Anthropocene So Wrong,” 104). Yet Lewis and Maslin’s conclusion is significant for its attention to the ways in which the European presence in the Americas led to the death of somewhere on the order of sixty million people by war, famine, and exposure to disease. In the language of a scientific article, Lewis and Maslin locate the Anthropocene after the “impacts of the meeting of Old and New World populations” (175), but their data shows that it was nothing less than the most brutal conquest.

The humanist point of view on this scientific quarrel, as a new term seeps into academic and public discourse, is both revealing and necessary. As Steve Mentz has argued, scientific excavation of the past as a means of shoring up a new claim about an unstable future has great implications not only for what this past has meant to different populations but also how it continues to be manipulated today.28 Even if Lewis and Maslin are misguided in their use of stratigraphic markers, the idea that “death, not heat, is humanity’s primary historical driver” is, Mentz suggests, a “story that still needs telling.” In other words, it matters how different disciplines frame the debate, one to which Haitian literature has much to contribute. In fact, Haitian history in between the Old and New Worlds has long been elided, as Trouillot, for one, demonstrated time and again. To declare the radical future trajectory of the Earth system, scientific experts still need to create a narrative that digs up sediment with a fossilized past. Literary eco-archives also record traces of the past, and much is at stake for Haitian stories in a new epoch named for a global force that threatens to erase the history of worlds migrating and colliding. Because of climate change, we may no longer be living in the Holocene. Or perhaps the question will remain unanswered, leaving human lives in transition, between two ages, the Holocene and the Anthropocene. Donna Haraway calls attention to the fact that the debates over the idea of the “Anthropocene obtained purchase in popular and scientific discourse in the context of ubiquitous urgent efforts to find ways of talking about, theorizing, modeling, and managing a Big Thing called Globalization” (Experimental Futures, 45). (p.25) Chapter Five demonstrates how Dalembert, Victor, and Pierre-Dahomey unsettle the notion of a stable coevality, or living “in the same age.”

Informed by models of postcolonial ecocriticism and by ongoing debates about the Anthropocene, the methodological focus of the chapter is to examine the ways that these texts mediate political and social histories within a longer natural history. For Victor and Dalembert, earthquakes do not reveal new insights into the planet’s geological age. Yet their writings have long attended to the fragility of human, plant, and marine life in Haiti. In their latest works, earthquakes catalyze a renewed interrogation of the political oppression of Haitian lives and, in Dalembert’s case, the diaspora in Italy, against the backdrop of ecological migration. In his début novel, Pierre-Dahomey invents the life of Belliqueuse Louissaint, a survivor of a shipwreck who is repatriated to an internally displaced persons camp and the precarious ground of a humanitarian future. All three novels call into question appeals to a unifying, common humanity, so often invoked in the aftermath of catastrophe, with stories that foreground an ethics of vulnerability amidst widespread inequality.

As both Mark Anderson and Marie-Hélène Huet have demonstrated, in different cultural and historical contexts, the idea of a “natural disaster” has undergone numerous semantic shifts, going back as far as the ancient Greeks. If there is a constant to be found in a history of such relative meanings, it is that both Western and non-Western cultures have generally conceived of “nature,” Anderson finds, “in opposition … to the human, the rational, or some other criterion” (Disaster Writing, 4). This definition is central to the process of normalization, or the establishment of religious, political, and social boundaries. A “disaster” transgresses these limits; by negating them, it disorders the norms that structure a given society. By way of an etymological survey, Huet shows that “disaster” is but one of a number of terms, including “calamity,” “catastrophe,” and “peril,” that signify a disruption of the relation between humans and their environment. “Disaster,” Huet writes, “has its own distinctive origins, associating misfortune with the loss of a protective star, with being abandoned by the stars and left to one’s miserable fate among countless perils and calamities” (Culture of Disaster, 3).

Another way to frame the literature of the writers gathered together in Parts Two and Three would be to consider how the earthquake displaced the protective star by which they had oriented their position as Haitian writers. Can literary testimony and fiction be read as “disaster narratives” that relocate and reorganize the social coordinates of literature in (p.26) contemporary Haitian society and its diaspora? This question redirects the central concern of Anderson, who sets out to understand the ways that Latin American literature has historically mediated natural disasters to political ends. To develop this claim, Anderson retraces the historical transition, generally during the European Enlightenment, and specifically following the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon, after which the fundamental issues of “danger and security” that disasters brought to the surface were interpreted less as a sign of divine intervention than as a question of probability and “calculable terms of risk” (Disaster Writing, 15). The rise of the concept of risk meant a decline in the church’s interpretative power, and thus a gradual shift to political and commercial spheres. Risk assessment is fundamentally hierarchical because it assumes an acceptable level of precarity for certain segments of the population. As Anderson argues, “‘natural’ disasters are most often man-made in the sense that their catastrophic effects on human populations depend on social and economic problems of vulnerability and the unequal distribution of risk” (28).

In lieu of considering the political ramifications of the cultural mediation of disaster – that is, how the Haitian state would have reappropriated the literary imagination for its own ends – the chapter examines the ways that Victor, Dalembert, and Pierre-Dahomey contemplate the depths of human vulnerability that are exposed when catastrophe strikes. This book is thus more in line with Huet, in that it inquires how literary culture “thinks through disaster” (Culture of Disaster, 2; emphasis in original), how “implicitly or explicitly, disasters mediate philosophical inquiry and shape creative imagination” (2). Through poetic representations of time and space, each writer ponders the ephemeral beauty of the present, always in flux between past and future, and each brings his readers to imagine the frailty of human lives in increasingly inhospitable climates.


(1) On the invisibility of environmental harm, see Richard Misrach and Kate Orff, Petrochemical America (New York: Aperture, 2014). Misrach and Orff achieve an innovative collaboration between the visual arts and digital mapping technologies to examine the links between industrialization, ecological degradation, and public health. They shed creative and critical light on dangers that seep into land, water, and human bodies over time.

(2) Chakrabarty writes, “… self-conscious discussions of global warming in the public realm began in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the same period in which social scientists and humanists began to discuss globalization. However, these discussions have so far run in parallel to each other. While globalization, once recognized, was of immediate interest to humanists and social scientists, global warming, in spite of a good number of books published in the 1990s, did not become a public concern until the 2000s” (“The Climate of History: Four Theses,” 198–199).

(3) This idea lends planetarity to Michel Foucault’s ethical turn, at the twilight of his career, to the question of subject formation and its “aesthetics of existence,” including the constituent problems of “self-writing”; “technologies of the self”; and “care of the self [le souci de soi]” that complete the second and third volumes of History of Sexuality. Michel Foucault, L’Usage des plaisirs (1984); The Use of Pleasure: The History of Sexuality Volume 2, trans. Robert Hurley (London: Penguin, 1986), and Le souci de soi (1984); The Care of the Self: The History of Sexuality Volume 3, trans. Robert Hurley (London: Penguin, 1988).

(4) I borrow this use of scotoma as an inability to see and acknowledge a traumatic past from Réda Bensmaïa in Experimental Nations: Or, the Invention of the Maghreb (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003). Bensmaïa writes, “It is quite surprising to see just how many taboos still exist when it comes to France’s history of colonization in Africa, the Middle East, and especially the veritable scotoma that exists in relation to the history of the Algerian War” (39).

(5) In the context of preserving and sharing wilderness areas, Gary Snyder also raises idea of natural contract. “The commons,” he writes, “is the contract a people make with their local natural system” (The Practice of the Wild, 31). See also Christopher D. Stone, “Defending the Global Commons,” in Greening International Law, ed. Philippe Sands (New York: New Press, 1994), 34–49.

(6) For an introduction to the interdisciplinary background of Serres, see Stéphanie Posthumus, “Vers une écocritique française: le contrat naturel de Michel Serres.” Mosaic 44.2 (June 2011): 85–100.

(7) See Luc Ferry, Le nouvel ordre écologique. L’Arbre, l’animal et l’homme (Paris: Grasset, 1992). The book includes a sustained critique of Serres. For a concise account of their differences, see Jonathan Krell, “Michel Serres, Luc Ferry, and the Possibility of a Natural Contract,” 1–13.

(8) See Athena R. Kolbe et al., “Mortality, crime and access to basic needs before and after the Haiti earthquake: a random survey of Port-au-Prince households.” Medicine, Conflict and Survival 26.4 (2010): 281–297; see also Robert Muggah and Athena Kolbe, “Haiti: Why an accurate account of civilian deaths matter.” Los Angeles Times, July 12, 2011. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jul/12/opinion/la-oe-muggah-haiti-count-20110712 (accessed September 20, 2017).

(9) In the Chilean earthquake of February 2010, which measured a magnitude of 8.8, 525 people are reported to have perished.

(10) See Graham Huggan, “‘Greening’ Postcolonialism: Ecocritical Perspectives.” Modern Fiction Studies 50.3 (Fall 2004): 701–733; see also Ursula K. Heise, “Globality, Difference, and the International Turn in Ecocriticism.” PMLA 128.3 (2013): 636–643.

(11) Mark D. Anderson, Disaster Writing: The Cultural Politics of Catastrophe in Latin America (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011), 28.

(12) Rob Nixon, “The Great Acceleration and the Great Divergence: Vulnerability in the Anthropocene.” Profession, March 19, 2014. https://profession.mla.hcommons.org/2014/03/19/the-great-acceleration-and-the-great-divergence-vulnerability-in-the-anthropocene/ (accessed November 22, 2018).

(13) Sibylle Fischer, Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004).

(14) Michel-Rolph Trouillot, “The Otherwise Modern: Caribbean Lessons from the Savage Slot,” in Critically Modern, Alternatives, Alterities, Anthropologies, ed. Bruce Knauft (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 220–237.

(15) In the preface to an anthology of Haitian creole poetry, Lyonel Trouillot concurs, “Si, sur le plan politique, la chute de Jean-Claude Duvalier en 1986 n’a abouti jusqu’ici à des espoirs trompés … elle a quand même libéré la parole et changé beaucoup de choses en bien dans l’évolution de la littérature haïtienne” (Anthologie de la poésie créole haïtienne: de 1986 à nos jours, 5).

(16) I borrow this phrase from Millery Polyné, ed., The Idea of Haiti: Rethinking Crisis and Development (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013). As the title suggests, Polyné leans on Walter Mignolo, The Idea of Latin America (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005).

(17) See Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).

(18) As Graham Huggan shows, one could turn this around to argue for the “greening” of Postcolonial studies. See Huggan, “‘Greening’ Postcolonialism.”

(19) See Caribbean Literature and the Environment: Between Nature and Culture (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005) and Postcolonial Ecologies: Literatures of the Environment (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

(20) See Different Shades of Green: African Literature, Environmental Justice, and Political Ecology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014). This work is notably published under Virginia’s imprint, “Under the Sign of Nature, Explorations in Ecocriticism.”

(21) The circuitous path on which ecocriticism has developed, as well as the range of related yet slightly different labels used to identify it, accounts for the multi-directionality contained within what Heise and Lawrence Buell call an “omnibus term”:

an eclectic, pluriform, and cross-disciplinary initiative that aims to explore the environmental dimensions of literature and other creative media in a spirit of environmental concern not limited to any one method or commitment. Ecocriticism begins with the conviction that the arts of imagination and the study thereof – by virtue of their grasp of the power of word, story, and image to reinforce, enliven, and direct environmental concern – can contribute significantly to the understanding of environmental problems: the multiple forms of ecodegradation that afflict planet Earth today.

To be sure, this definition is unwieldy, yet it highlights the interaction between environmentalism and literary criticism. See Lawrence Buell, Ursula K. Heise, and Karen Thornber, “Literature and Environment.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources (August 2011), annualreviews.org (accessed March 15, 2016).

(22) See Steve Mentz’s blog “Swervin’: Modernity is not History,” http://stevementz.com/swervin-modernity-is-not-history/ (accessed September 18, 2016), on the controversy sparked by Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011). See also Steve Mentz, Shipwreck Modernity: Ecologies of Globalization 1550–1719 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015).

(23) Popkin points to Claire Payton’s Haiti Memory Project as a key source of accounts in Kreyol. See www.haitimemoryproject.org (accessed October 15, 2016). Containing over one hundred audio interviews, Payton’s site is indeed an invaluable repository. Another source of Kreyol voices that Popkin does not mention is Trouillot’s edition of the Anthologie bilingue de la poésie créole.

(24) Rodney Saint-Éloi, Haïti, Kenbe là!: 35 secondes et mon pays à reconstruire (Neuilly-sur-Seine: Michel Lafon, 2010).

(25) A working group on the Anthropocene was formed to establish a date by consensus. The Guardian has run a handful of articles on this question. See https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/29/declare-anthropocene-epoch-experts-urge-geological-congress-human-impact-earth (accessed September 16, 2016).

(26) For more information, see Stanford University department page: https://earth.stanford.edu/ess/about; see Clive Hamilton, “Getting the Anthropocene So Wrong.” The Anthropocene Review 2.2 (2015): 102–107. For the derivation of the term Anthropocene and its history see Elizabeth Kolbert (Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change [New York: Bloomsbury, 2006], 181–187). In her latest book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2014), Kolbert reports the interview with Crutzen, who said that “the word ‘Anthropocene’ came to him while he was sitting at a meeting [of the IGBP]. The meeting’s chairman kept referring to the Holocene … ‘Let’s stop it,’ Crutzen recalled blurting out. ‘We are no longer in the Holocene …’” (107–108). However, the article published in the IGBP newsletter lists both Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer as co-authors. See “The Anthropocene.” IGBP Newsletter 41 (2000). As Donna Haraway suggests in Experimental Futures: Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), the publicity surrounding Crutzen overshadowed Stoermer’s role. She writes, “The term seems to have been coined in the early 1980s by University of Michigan ecologist Eugene Stoermer (d. 2012), an expert in freshwater diatoms … . The name Anthropocene made a dramatic star appearance in globalizing discourses in 2000 when the Dutch atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen joined Stoermer…” (44).

(27) See Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin. “Defining the Anthropocene.” Nature 519 (2015): 171–180.

(28) See Steve Mentz, “Enter the Anthropocene, c. 1610.” Arcade: Literature, the Humanities & the World, December 1, 2015. http://arcade.stanford.edu/blogs/enter-anthropocene-c1610 (accessed October 15, 2016).