truncations of modernity
‘‘The Fate of Striking Events’’
This book is about a cultural and political landscape in the Age of
Revolution.∞ Colonialism in the Caribbean had produced societies
where brutality combined with licentiousness in ways unknown in
Europe. The sugar plantations in the New World were expanding
rapidly and had an apparently limitless hunger for slaves.≤ Yet it
was also a time when throughout the Western Hemisphere, radical
change seemed imminent. To many observers, preventing revolu-
tions appeared a greater challenge than bringing them about.≥
In 1804, after more than a decade of protracted battles between
insurgent slaves, their free allies, and colonial armies, Jean-Jacques
Dessalines had declared Saint Domingue independent from France.
Under the name of Haiti, the first black state in the Americas had
realized a complete reversal of imperial hierarchies and social goals:
the territory’s European name had been obliterated; slaves had be-
come masters; and the process of capitalist development through
the industrialization of agriculture had been severely disrupted.∂ It
had become clear to slave owners and government o≈cials in the
Caribbean that unless they established tight demographic and so-
cial controls, slave insurgency might well come to threaten their
states, too.∑
In response to the colonial slaveholders’ structuring of the hemi-
sphere through slave routes and slave markets, a radically hetero-
geneous, transnational cultural network emerged whose political
imaginary mirrored the global scope of the slave trade and whose
projects and fantasies of emancipation converged, at least for a few
years, around Haiti.∏ This interstitial culture cannot be grasped by
the teleological narratives that conventionally dominate postinde-
pendence national literary and cultural histories. The traces and
remnants of radical politics and their attendant cultural practices are
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