Haiti—in a sense the topic of this book—appears most concretely at
its end, not the beginning. This reversal of customary procedure was
a matter neither of choice nor of coincidence. At the core of the story
of the Haitian Revolution and its impact is the fact of its suppression
and denial. These acts of negation need to be accounted for specifi-
cally, in all concreteness and detail. Reductionism—whether of an
economic-deterministic, epistemological, or psychoanalytic kind—
will only further obscure the extent to which the disavowal of revolu-
tionary antislavery became an ingredient in Creole nationalism and,
eventually, in hegemonic conceptions of modernity. Yet simply to
tell the story of the revolution, and then tell the story of its silencing,
would also be to distort the historical landscape: to suggest that
the facts are just there and that the silencing amounted to nothing
more than some gaps in our historical narratives. Approaching Haiti
through the records that have informed Western narratives—the
records of Haiti’s most immediate neighbors, Cuba and the Domini-
can Republic, but also the records in the European metropolises—
allows for the kind of reflection on the operations of suppression
and denial that purely structural or empiricist accounts would most
likely preclude.
It is in light of the intellectual, political, and cultural e√orts that
were necessary to make the slave revolution of 1791 to 1804 vanish
from respectable modernity that we can come to recognize what was
really at stake. The conflicts that took place in the aftermath of the
Haitian Revolution were partly conflicts over the shape and mean-
ing of modernity, and about the kind of emancipation that moder-
nity was supposed to bring about. This book thus also takes issue
with the notion that modernity is an unfinished project that simply
did not fully realize its emancipatory potential. As against that view, I
argue that the modernity that took shape in the Western Hemi-
sphere (in theoretical discourse as well as in cultural and social
institutions) in the course of the nineteenth century contains, as a
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