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Title:Geographies of suffering: the literature of catastrophe in the Francophone Caribbean
Author(s):Brant, Daniel
Director of Research:Murdoch, H. Adlai
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Mathy, Jean-Philippe
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Flinn, Margaret C.; Bray, Patrick M
Department / Program:French and Italian
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract:In the context of climate change and increasing vulnerability to catastrophe across the globe, this dissertation investigates the political, historical, and cultural stakes of disasters in Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Haiti from the nineteenth century to the present. In so doing, it examines how Caribbean writers respond to the political and social challenges that disasters pose using methodologies from literary criticism, cultural studies, and historical analysis. Attending closely to representation, textuality, and shifting historical contexts, this study analyzes major works by French, Martinican, Guadeloupean, and Haitian writers including Voltaire, Victor Schœlcher, Aimé Césaire, Maryse Condé, and Yanick Lahens alongside other primary sources like travelogues and administrative reports. Developed across four chapters, it makes three significant contributions to Caribbean studies while illuminating theoretical discussions in postcolonial studies, ecocriticism, and disaster studies. First, it underscores the role that the continual risk of natural catastrophe has played in Caribbean history and thought. Second, this project demonstrates how Francophone writing since the Haitian Revolution (1791- 1804) has refashioned catastrophe into a valuable critical framework for reconsidering the Caribbean from within and without. Third, it reveals how this “literature of catastrophe” rethinks domination in the region and articulates new discourses on culture, memory, and identity. Starting in the introduction, which outlines the theoretical and critical contexts for studying Caribbean discourses of catastrophe, this dissertation expands on the concern in trauma studies for the subject’s loss of and return to the ordering logic of narrative to argue that representations of suffering also constitute “geographies of suffering” that re-situate the subject in space and geography with respect to world-systems like European colonialism and postmodern globalization. The ensuing four chapters and conclusion examine the contours of this notion in Caribbean discourses on catastrophe at the global, regional, and insular levels. Chapters one and four engage with the cosmopolitan layers of writing about Caribbean catastrophe in which authors including the Guadeloupean novelist Daniel Maximin and the Haitian writer Dany Laferrière among others use worldwide experiences of catastrophe to create new forms of global solidarities. Conversely, chapters two and three focus on the regional and local ripples of catastrophe across the Caribbean as well as in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Martinican literature. In this way, chapter two interrogates cross-island reflections on nineteenth-century earthquakes and ruins in Haiti and Guadeloupe while chapter three explores the place of the 1902 volcanic disaster with regards to shifting discourses on ethnic identity in the work of Aimé Césaire, Édouard Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Suzanne Dracius. The conclusion, which highlights a burgeoning corpus of West Indian science fiction texts, builds on these previous reflections to demonstrate how Caribbean literature is also critically invested in exploring the possibilities of looming global ecological catastrophes. While the effects of climate change and the strains of capitalism augment global vulnerability to catastrophe, the varied responses by intellectuals and writers to catastrophes in this dissertation bespeak Caribbean resiliency against such disruptions and highlight these moments as critical points of departure for rethinking the region’s relations to Northern centers of power. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that reading this literature of catastrophe constitutes a critical practice of destabilizing the very hierarchies of power, cultures, and capital that marginalize the Caribbean and its inhabitants.
Issue Date:2015-04-16
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 Daniel Brant
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-07-22
Date Deposited:May 2015

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