Cryptic Secrets: Phantoms of the Haitian Revolution in the American Imaginary

Willson, Nicole (2016) Cryptic Secrets: Phantoms of the Haitian Revolution in the American Imaginary. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Abstract

Abstract
This thesis explores the Haitian Revolution and its multiple assaults upon the American
imaginary. These assaults are understood to form part of a traumatic cultural inheritance. It
envisages the Haitian Revolution not as one, singular event, but as a complex, multivalent, and
polymorphous phenomenon, with a circular, repeating energy. This ‘circular’ revolution is
shown to resonate with different ‘American’ anxieties—anxieties regarding race, class, gender,
sexuality, creolization, nationhood, and diaspora. Drawing upon Abraham and Torok’s theory of
cryptonymy and the ‘transgenerational phantom’, this thesis traces the roots of these
revolutionary traumas (or ‘phantoms’) and uncovers the ‘encrypted’ secrets that underlie the
multiple layers of myth, obfuscation, and silence that characterize American representations of
Haiti—secrets which reflect both the limits of Haiti’s continual revolutionary power, and the
transgenerational force of American cultural anxiety.
Using the American gothic tradition as a discursive springboard, this thesis sees fiction,
and the creative arts more broadly, as an archive of creative possibilities. Examining a range of
gothic ‘texts’ from the 1790s to the 1930s, including Herman Melville’s ‘Benito Cereno’,
William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, Charles Brockden Brown’s Arthur Mervyn, George
Washington Cable’s The Grandissimes, and the Halperin brothers’ film White Zombie, it
demonstrates the endurance of particular social, political, and cultural anxieties that are often
occluded by the conventional American archive. In this sense, it responds to the concerns of
Haiti scholars such as Michel-Rolph Trouillot, who have highlighted the limitations of the
western archive, and confronts the need to read ‘beyond’ the text, using an assemblage of other
sources that may offer clues into ‘encrypted’ histories. In so doing, it does not propose to offer a
solution to Haiti’s historical erasure, but demonstrates the unimagined revolutionary possibilities
of creative interdisciplinarity.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Vailele Chittock
Date Deposited: 22 Jun 2016 09:20
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2016 09:20
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/59449
DOI:

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