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The Idea of Haiti

Rethinking Crisis and Development

2013

Millery Polyné, Editor

The Idea of Haiti

How do prevailing narratives affect a nation’s sense of itself and its possibilities?

An investigation of the notion of newness through the lenses of history and literature, urban planning, religion, and governance, The Idea of Haiti illuminates the politics and the narratives of Haiti’s past and present. The essays, which grow from original research and in-depth interviews, examine how race, class, and national development inform the policies that envision re-creating the country.

After Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010, aid workers and offers of support poured in from around the world. Tellingly, though, news reports on the catastrophe and relief efforts frequently included a pejorative description of the country that outsiders were determined to rebuild: the troubled island nation, a nation plagued by political violence. There was much talk of inventing a “new” Haiti, which would presumably mimic Western modes of development and thus mitigate political instability and crisis.

As contributors to this wide-ranging book reveal, Haiti has long been marginalized as an embodiment of alterity, as the other, and the idea of a new Haiti is actually nothing new. An investigation of the notion of newness through the lenses of history and literature, urban planning, religion, and governance, The Idea of Haiti illuminates the politics and the narratives of Haiti’s past and present. The essays, which grow from original research and in-depth interviews, examine how race, class, and national development inform the policies that envision re-creating the country.

Together the contributors address important questions: How will the present narratives of deviance affect international relief and rebuilding efforts? What do Haitians themselves think about Haiti, old and new? What are the potential complications and weakness of aid strategies during these trying times? And what do we mean by crisis in Haiti?

Contributors: Yveline Alexis, Rutgers U; Wein Weibert Arthus, State U of Haiti; Greg Beckett, Bowdoin College; Alex Dupuy, Wesleyan U; Harley F. Etienne, U of Michigan; Robert Fatton Jr., U of Virginia; Sibylle Fischer, New York U; Elizabeth McAlister, Wesleyan U; Nick Nesbitt, Princeton U; Karen Richman, U of Notre Dame; Mark Schuller, York College (CUNY); Patrick Sylvain, Brown U; Évelyne Trouillot, State U of Haiti; Tatiana Wah, Columbia U.

The Idea of Haiti

Millery Polyné is assistant professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.

The Idea of Haiti

Contents

Introduction. To Make Visible the “Invisible Epistemological Order”: Haiti, Singularity, and Newness
Millery Polyné

I. Revolisyon/Kriz (Revolution/Crisis)

1. Haiti, the Monstrous Anomaly
Nick Nesbitt

2. Rethinking the Haitian Crisis
Greg Beckett

3. Remembering Charlemagne Péralte and His Defense of Haiti’s Revolution
Yveline Alexis

II. Moun/Demoun (Person/Dehumanized)

4. Haiti: Fantasies of Bare Life
Sibylle Fischer

5. The Violence of Executive Silence
Patrick Sylvain

6. Religion at the Epicenter: Agency and Affiliation in Léogâne after the Earthquake
Karen Richman

III. Èd (Aid)

7. The Alliance for Progress: A Case Study of Failure of International Commitments to Haiti
Wien Weibert Arthus

8. Urban Planning and the Rebuilding of Port-au-Prince
Harley F. Etienne

9. Cholera and the Camps: Reaping the Republic of NGOs
Mark Schuller

10. From Slave Revolt to a Blood Pact with Satan: The Evangelical Rewriting of Haitian History
Elizabeth McAlister

11. Twenty-First Century Haiti—A New Normal? A Conversation with Four Scholars of Haiti
Alex Dupuy, Robert Fatton, Jr., Évelyne Trouillot, and Tatiana Wah

Contributors
Index