“The Beautiful Ones Are Yet to be Born: Rethinking Haiti’s Literary and Intellectual Traditions”

“The Beautiful Ones Are Yet to be Born: Rethinking Haiti’s Literary and Intellectual Traditions”

I am wrapping up a book review on Haiti for an academic journal. I admire the intellectual rigor and analytical approach of the book, and the writer is a friend. I appreciate the author’s scholarship, especially the significant contributions made to Haitian studies and Haitian literature. Overall, I agree with the general thesis of the book; yet I disagree with the author’s (mis-)interpretation of early nineteenth century Haitian literature and (mis-)representation of early nineteenth century Haitian intellectual history. For example, the writer construes the birth of Haitian literature not as a reaction to French (colonial and intellectual) detractors and Western racism, as well as a protest to the institution of slavery, imperialism, and French colonialism in Saint-Domingue-Haiti; rather, the author argues brilliantly and forcefully (and almost convincingly 😊) that Haitian literature developed in the context of a textual warfare among Haitian writers and intellectuals themselves. This position is integral to what I phrase the “national disunity” and “ideological discord” thesis prevalent in Anglophone scholarship on Haitian thought and literary production.

By any means am I suggesting that Haitian writers and intellectuals have produced a monolithic or homogeneous narrative about Haiti’s national history and intellectual productions since the birth of the state of Haiti (see my books, “From Toussaint to Price-Mars: Rhetoric, Race, and Religion in Haitian Thought” [2013], and “Revolutionary Change and Democratic Religion: Christianity, Vodou, and Secularism” [2020]). By contrary, one could say that Haitian literature is a literature of combat and protest within the Black Atlantic radical literary tradition, and that pluralism and difference in ideas and expression do not necessarily mean or lead to national disunity and intellectual conflict in the nation.

Further, in this excellent book, there is no mention of the birth of Haiti’s robust Patriotic literary tradition in the first half of the nineteenth century nor did the author address the blossoming of a rich intellectual heritage in the nineteenth century in Haiti that challenge the thesis of the book; both traditions anticipated and could be labelled in today’s academic jargons postcolonialism/postcoloniality and decolonialism/decoloniality, as well as anti-racist and anti-imperial. Nonetheless, the book is groundbreaking and well-researched, and I foresee it will generate many scholarly debates in the future. People should take the time to read carefully and responsibly the author’s basic premises and ideological presuppositions to really grasp the author’s bold claims and reading of the relationship between politics and literature in Haiti’s national history.

*** Good books and ideas have a special way to recreate a nation and regenerate citizens. Thus, (published) words on paper have to be written with care and sensibility because language is fragile and human beings are complex entities. The goal of writing is not to achieve fame and heighten one’s reputation in the world of academia. The implications of an idea or a piece of well-written work could produce monsters and good people in society, respectively. Literary and intellectual productions do have both a moral and an ethical aspect, as writers attempt to persuade, inform, entertain, and call people into action in society, as well as transform the order of things in the world so human beings can live peacefully, harmoniously, and in candid relations with each other. Ideas and written works should produce more beauty and sustain better relationships in the world.

In my review of the book, I tried to be ethically honest, charitable, and objective, not harsh and combative toward the writer nor the claims made in this beautifully-written and important text. I despise this model of scholarship that creates alienation and division among scholars and people. I cherish my friendship over ideas. I understand the fragility of losing friends because of competing ideas and perspectives. However, I believe that it is an ethical responsibility of a good and honest scholar and intellectual to refute dangerous and bad ideas that will drive people away from the truth and will not help foster the common good and human flourishing in the world. Also, I understand that ideas have consequences, and they are also both transformative in the negative sense and liberative in the positive sense. I wrote a 12-page-review of the book, which surpassed the required 1,500-word limit. I need to cut a lot of words. So, help me Lord Jesus Christ! 😊

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