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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: July 2020

1 - For an Eco-Archive

Summary

Ici, au moins, on n’en a qu’avec les cyclones, une

petite secousse de temps en temps, la faim qui avance

à grandes enjambées et finira par nous bouffer tous.

Peut-être même avant l’océan.

Louis-Philippe Dalembert, L’Autre face de la mer, 31

As a point of departure, allow me to illustrate the idea of an “eco-archive” with a brief analysis of the above passage from Louis-Philippe Dalembert's L’Autre face de la mer, one of his earliest works and a stunning novel of twentieth-century Haiti. Dalembert depicts the tight relation between subjective experience and surrounding land and sea as sites of communal struggle against larger political forces. Grannie, the narrator of the first section, tells the story of her family’s journey, during the first U.S. occupation of Haiti (1915–1934), from Port-au-Prince across the border to the Dominican Republic, where her father took up work on a sugarcane plantation. Nearing the end of her life, Grannie marks the historical distance from this period by naming hurricanes, alleged by some, she remarks dismissively, to be “aussi fantasques et imprévisibles que nous” (31). Grannie understands so-called “natural disasters” as much for their periodic disruption of the delicate balance between human populations and non-human nature as for their capacity to delineate social boundaries between order and disorder. Grannie's narration might be read to go against the grain of what Mark Anderson refers to as a “modern grammar of disaster,” or the political mediation of catastrophic events whose syntax of control includes “key concepts such as risk, vulnerability, trauma, and normalization” (Disaster Writing, 20). Over time, Anderson continues, disasters do not so much disrupt the normal order of things as expose historical processes that have long left certain populations vulnerable. Grannie suggests as much when she laments that the Haitian people are said to be as “unpredictable” as hurricanes. In the Caribbean zone, the ferocious convergence of water and wind whips up a two-sided “natural” character in the people who suffer such force: they are helpless and resilient. Grannie is wise to these stereotypes, as she speaks truth to power with her own rhetorical move by personifying hunger and granting it an alarming agency. In her mind, this dire social condition will be more devastating than an angry ocean.