Synopses & Reviews
is a pathbreaking study of the cultural, political, and philosophical significance of the Haitian Revolution (1791andndash;1804). Revealing how the radical antislavery politics of this seminal event have been suppressed and ignored in historical and cultural records over the past two hundred years, Sibylle Fischer contends that revolutionary antislavery and its subsequent disavowal are central to the formation and understanding of Western modernity. She develops a powerful argument that the denial of revolutionary antislavery eventually became a crucial ingredient in a range of hegemonic thought, including Creole nationalism in the Caribbean and G. W. F. Hegelandrsquo;s master-slave dialectic.
Fischer draws on history, literary scholarship, political theory, philosophy, and psychoanalytic theory to examine a range of material, including Haitian political and legal documents and nineteenth-century Cuban and Dominican literature and art. She demonstrates that at a time when racial taxonomies were beginning to mutate into scientific racism and racist biology, the Haitian revolutionaries recognized the question of race as political. Yet, as the cultural records of neighboring Cuba and the Dominican Republic show, the story of the Haitian Revolution has been told as one outside politics and beyond human language, as a tale of barbarism and unspeakable violence. From the time of the revolution onward, the story has been confined to the margins of history: to rumors, oral histories, and confidential letters. Fischer maintains that without accounting for revolutionary antislavery and its subsequent disavowal, Western modernityandmdash;including its hierarchy of values, depoliticization of social goals having to do with racial differences, and privileging of claims of national sovereigntyandmdash;cannot be fully understood.
andldquo;Modernity Disavowed is a tour de force. This magnificent work is the best book on its subject and at the forefront of a new wave of scholarship that is already transforming both the study of the Caribbean and the study of modernity. I fully expect it to become a classic in its field.andrdquo;andmdash;Lewis R. Gordon, author of Existentia Africana: Understanding Africana Existential Thought
andldquo;Modernity Disavowed is a superior work. It is not only important but also needed.andrdquo;andmdash;Alicia Randiacute;os, coeditor of The Latin American Cultural Studies Reader
and#8220;Freedom as Marronageand#160;is an exciting, well-conceived, and passionately argued work of political theory and Africana thought. Robertsand#8217;s distinctive understanding of freedom is especially welcome in the context of political theory and philosophy, where slavery still appears largely (if at all) as either a metaphor or a signpost of moral and political progress. As he shows, thinking through the legacies of enslavement and the flight from it is essential to understanding freedom in a postcolonial, post-apartheid, post-civil rights moment.and#8221;
and#8220;Could there be a topic in Western political theory as thoroughly analyzedand#8212;indeed as exhaustedand#8212;as freedom? But it all depends on whose liberties have been framing your conceptual investigation. Taking up the perspective of the and#8216;dread historyand#8217; of Afro-modernityand#8212;a history of slavery, revolt, and marronageand#8212;Roberts opens up for us an exciting new conceptual terrain unexplored by the hegemonic Euro-narrative. In the process, he makes irrefutably clear the extent to which modern Western political theory has been constructed on the silencing of the voices of resistance of the Westand#8217;s subordinated racial Others.and#8221;
and#8220;Freedom as Marronage is not only an illuminating exegesis on the self-activity of enslaved people to create free space for living but an utterly brilliant meditation on the fundamental meaning of freedom in the modern world. Political theorists, historians, philosophers, and cultural critics take heed: Roberts is a thinker to be reckoned with.and#8221;
andldquo;In Freedom as Marronage, Roberts insists that a new theory of freedom emerges from the Haitian Revolution, but each instance of formulating this new thought seems to demonstrate, instead, a more rigorousapplication of the tenets of freedom and fraternity in the French Revolution. Where there is a difference is through dynamics of creolization, of African, European, and indigenous American conceptions of legitimating practices in the struggle for freedom. That the Black slaves chose, for example, the Native American name for the island as the one for their republic is a case in point. Roberts responds to and builds on these criticisms through theoretical reflection on the concept of marronage, whose etymology points to the sea, to what it means to be lost at sea from one perspective, stuck on an island in another. It refers to the consciousness of enslaved Africans in the Caribbean, whose hopes to return to Africa (home) were challenged by the sea in every direction. Roberts shows how, in such modern isolation on the one hand and the constant, brutal realities of slavery on the other, the enslavedandrsquo;s conceptions of freedom were affected; would, for example, being marooned, being andlsquo;stranded,andrsquo; lead to a form of stoic resignation as the formulation of freedom or more active forms of resistance, what the revolutionary psychiatrist, political theorist, and philosopher Frantz Fanon refers to as becoming andlsquo;actionalandrsquo;? Roberts works through Hannah Arendt, Phillip Petit, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Frederick Douglass in a debate over such topics as the impact of racialized slavery on conceptions of freedom to problems with the dialectics of recognition as the basis of securing freedom and dignity for the self.and#160; Particularly powerful is Robertsandrsquo;s discussion of Coleridgeandrsquo;s impact on Douglassandrsquo;s thought. Roberts reveals, in Coleridge, a profound existential commitment against bondage and an understanding of freedom that transcends mere liberty. This book, then, is an exemplar of the creolization of theory, of theory from the global south reaching beyond the institutional location of its author in northern provinces, to articulate freedom and the quest for human dignity beyond the confines of Euromodernity to the heart and soul of a human world in need of learning much from its always present dark side. Itandrsquo;s a splendid addition to the bourgeoning movement of creative political thought from Afro-modernity and beyond. A must read for those interested in knowing, proverbially, otherwise.andrdquo;
A study of the ways that knowledge of the slave revolt in Haiti was denied/repressed/disavowed within the network of slave-owning states and plantation societies of the New World, and the effects and meaning of this disavowal.
What is the opposite of freedom? In Freedom as Marronage
, Neil Roberts answers this question with definitive force: slavery, and from there he unveils powerful new insights on the human condition as it has been understood between these poles. Crucial to his investigation is the concept of marronageand#151;a form of slave escape that was an important aspect of Caribbean and Latin American slave systems. Examining this overlooked phenomenonand#151;one of action from slavery and toward freedomand#151;he deepens our understanding of freedom itself and the origin of our political ideals.
Roberts examines the liminal and transitional space of slave escape in order to develop a theory of freedom as marronage, which contends that freedom is fundamentally located within this spaceand#151;that it is a form of perpetual flight. He engages a stunning variety of writers, including Hannah Arendt, W. E. B. Du Bois, Angela Davis, Frederick Douglass, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the Rastafari, among others, to develop a compelling lens through which to interpret the quandaries of slavery, freedom, and politics that still confront us today. The result is a sophisticated, interdisciplinary work that unsettles the ways we think about freedom by always casting it in the light of its critical opposite. and#160;
and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; Freedom as Marronage
deepens our understanding of political freedom not only by situating slavery as freedomand#8217;s opposite condition, but also by investigating the experiential significance of the equally important liminal and transitional social space between
slavery and freedom.and#160; Roberts examines a specific form of flight from slaveryand#151;marronageand#151;
that was fundamental to the experience of Haitian slavery, but is integral to understanding the Haitian Revolution and has widespread application to European, New World, and black Diasporic societies.and#160; He pays close attention to the experience of the process by which people emerge from
freedom, contending that freedom as marronage presents a useful conceptual device for those interested in understanding both normative ideals of political freedom and the origin of those ideals.and#160;
and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; Roberts investigates the dual anti-colonial and anti-slavery Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) and especially the ideas of German-Jewish thinker Hannah Arendt, Irish political theorist Philip Pettit, American fugitive-turned ex-slave Frederick Douglass, and the Martinican philosopher and#201;douard Glissant in developing a theory of freedom that offers a compelling interpretive lens to understand the quandaries of slavery, freedom, and political language that still confront us today.
About the Author
is associate professor of Africana studies and a faculty affiliate in political science at Williams College.