Caribbean Borders: Near and Far

On Novem­ber 29, Robin Derby (His­tory, UCLA) will present a work in progress and a pub­lic lec­ture enti­tled “The Gen­der of the Spell: Explain­ing Demonic Ani­mal Nar­ra­tives on the Hait­ian Domini­can Fron­tier”

On Novem­ber 30, Juan Flo­res (Social and Cul­tural Analy­sis, NYU) will also present a work in progress and a pub­lic lec­ture enti­tled “Salsa Power: The Pol­i­tics in/of Latin Music of the 1960s.”

Sem­i­nar par­tic­i­pants con­sider how these works are expres­sive of aspects of Caribbean borders.

9 thoughts on “Caribbean Borders: Near and Far

  1. Greet­ings! I know this is kinda off topic how­ever I’d fig­ured I’d ask. Would you be inter­ested in trad­ing links or maybe guest author­ing a blog arti­cle or vice-versa? My site dis­cusses a lot of the same top­ics as yours and I believe we could greatly ben­e­fit from each other. If you might be inter­ested feel free to shoot me an email. I look for­ward to hear­ing from you! Fan­tas­tic blog by the way!

  2. I agree with Gibran’s point about the his­tor­i­cal agents, and thought about the way that this affects the per­cep­tions of the rela­tion­ship between ani­mals and humans in a U.S. con­text. The recent work of Claire Kim on the cul­tural clashes between ‘Amer­i­can’ ani­mal treat­ment ver­sus Chi­nese or African Amer­i­can are telling of the way that those rela­tion­ships are coded both as ‘his­tor­i­cal agents’ of par­tic­u­lar rela­tion­ships, both of animal/man and white/non-whites. This is shown in the separation/mystification of Chi­nese mar­kets and food prepa­ra­tion prac­tices from ‘main­stream’ mar­kets and kitchens and the par­al­lel seg­re­ga­tion of Chi­nese her­itage com­mu­ni­ties, as well as the racial­iza­tion of dog fight­ing as a black cul­tural phe­nom­e­non (Michael Vic or hip hop videos). Sim­i­larly, Derby’s work talks about the use of these ani­mals as demon­strat­ing the his­tor­i­cal and hier­ar­chi­cal struc­tures of a soci­ety, and in par­tic­u­lar of how they in some ways acted as fur­ther bound­aries between these seg­ments of soci­ety. Flo­res’ work illus­trates how often those bound­aries are dif­fi­cult to tra­verse or adapt when par­tic­u­lar prac­tices are already in place. The ques­tion posed by Marisa eludes me, though I think that Flores’s use of nar­ra­tive is a great start. Cul­tural remit­tances and poet­ics are use­ful illus­tra­tions of the increas­ingly transna­tional and glob­al­ized world, but cap­tur­ing them empir­i­cally is a challenge.

  3. Robin Derby’s and Juan Flo­res’ essays offer provoca­tive and dis­tinct accounts of the het­ero­ge­neous border-crossing prac­tices in the Caribbean. I found Derby’s piece to be a fas­ci­nat­ing account of the inter­sec­tions of myth, colo­nial vio­lence, anti-black racism, and cul­tures of eman­ci­pa­tion in the “folk­lore” of dogs on His­pañola. Even as it engages a dif­fer­ent cul­tural and the­o­ret­i­cal ter­rain, Flo­res’ piece use­fully lays out the idea of “cul­tural remit­tances” as a way of account­ing for the multi-directional flows of cul­ture and peo­ple in the US and Caribbean.

    The one ques­tion I have is regard­ing Derby’s essay. She states:

    Up until now I have stressed the com­mon­al­ity of Hait­ian and Domini­can pop­u­lar nar­ra­tives of fero­cious canines, and indeed they form part of a com­mon dis­cur­sive gram­mar which is vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal in terms of plot struc­ture and for­mu­laic ele­ments, and thus forms part of a larger shared oral genre of shapeshift­ing tales with its ori­gin in French folk­lore. (21)

    My ques­tion is sim­ply this: are there other Indige­nous or African genealo­gies of shapeshift­ing that also inform the his­tor­i­cal agency of dogs in Hispañola?

  4. A few aspects of Derby’s piece that I espe­cially appre­ci­ated: the exam­i­na­tion of non-humans (dogs) and the myths/stories fea­tur­ing them as his­tor­i­cal agents; the links between “new world” and cur­rent (hi)stories on the one hand, and “old world” and colo­nial expe­ri­ences on the other; the dis­cus­sions of rumors, per­for­mance, and the­atri­cal­ity; and the recog­ni­tion of her own posi­tion of power in rela­tion to the peo­ple she interviewed.

    Some questions/Clarifications/Curiosities: To what extent did the use of dogs (in hunt­ing) dif­fer between mon­teros and colo­nial author­i­ties? How can we unpack the point she makes that the domes­ti­cated dog (once trained) was more sav­age than the feral dog in Cuba? In Haiti and the DR, are there dis­tinc­tions between colo­nial era and Repub­li­can era stories/representations of dogs? And to what extent did the Trujillato’s dis­courses of anti­ha­tian­ism lead to changes in peo­ples’ stories/representations of dogs?

    A cou­ple of aspects of Flores’s piece that I appre­ci­ated were his empha­sis on cul­ture, and the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of rem­i­gra­tion as a move­ment (phys­i­cal and cul­tural) that chal­lenges all sorts of assump­tions and, con­se­quently, can sow seeds of (pos­i­tive) change.

    Ques­tions: Do dis­persed dias­po­ras and rem­i­grants have dif­fer­ent influ­ences and effects on host and home com­mu­ni­ties than more closely-quartered migrants and rem­i­grants (such as camp-based refugees and returnees)? If so, are the dif­fer­ences sig­nif­i­cant for our under­stand­ing of remit­tances, cul­ture, or social change?

  5. In read­ing Derby’s piece, I kept think­ing about Edouard Glissant’s dis­cus­sion of the rela­tion­ships and dis­tinc­tions between myth, history/History, and tale in Caribbean Dis­course (see p. 83, in par­tic­u­lar). While Derby, cit­ing Terry Turner, points to his­tory and myth as “com­par­a­tive cul­tural cat­e­gories,” her essay is rife with ref­er­ences to the orally trans­mit­ted tales that I couldn’t help but read as the nar­ra­tive form through which knowl­edge and his­tory about dogs is trans­mit­ted. Glis­sant prefers the tale over myth, because the for­mer is “trans­par­ent in it struc­tures as in its inten­tion: its sym­bolic value is clear,” while the lat­ter sets the stage for the sort of total­iz­ing His­tory that has been a hall­mark of West­ern strate­gies of dom­i­nance. In putting this idea in con­ver­sa­tion with Derby’s piece, I won­der if relo­cat­ing the tales of dogs “from the domain of myth to that of his­tory” makes to clean a dis­tinc­tion between myth and his­tory. In other words, what hap­pens to the rela­tion­ship between myth and his­tory when the third term, tale, is inserted?

    Flores’s intro­duc­tion to The Dias­pora Strikes Back also fore­grounds the impor­tance of the “tales” that form the archive that he relies on for his own analy­sis and that he leaves for other schol­ars of cul­ture to ana­lyze. As with Derby’s piece, I won­der about what kinds of story–what kinds of histories–can be told with tales. What do these tales do to his­tory, or what can his­tory do with them?

  6. Derby argues that dogs are not sim­ply myth­i­cal metaphors of “state-sponsored repres­sion” but actu­ally func­tion as “his­tor­i­cal agents.” Read­ing the dogs as his­tor­i­cal agents invokes the ter­ror and panic cre­ated by vio­lent regimes in His­pan­iola. Fur­ther, mov­ing beyond the idea of dogs as myth cre­ates the pos­si­bil­ity for reclaim­ing “the emo­tions that were part of the expe­ri­ence of the past” (2). Part of this emo­tion is the anti-Haitian sen­ti­ment char­ac­ter­is­tic of the Tru­jillo era which sought to insti­tu­tion­al­ize the idea that legit­i­mate Domini­can iden­tity is achiev­able only through the posi­tion of anti-blackness. In this regard, Derby argues, the dis­course of the sub­hu­man was used as a repres­sive appa­ra­tus by fig­ur­ing Hait­ian immi­grants as “packs of wild dogs.” Yet images of the “fero­cious canine” are also “part of a larger shared oral genre of shapeshift­ing tales” that when told from a Domini­can per­spec­tive “appear to be foun­da­tional myths of national iden­tity” (18). If these dog nar­ra­tives are part of a “dis­cur­sive gram­mar” was there or have there been efforts by Haitians to appro­pri­ate these nar­ra­tives as an act of resis­tance? In other words, have there been efforts to use dog nar­ra­tives as a form of counter dis­course which chal­lenges the racial­ized cod­i­fi­ca­tion of Haitians as black animals?

  7. Read­ing these works in one sit­ting allows me to con­sider the fol­low­ing:
    a) that boundary-crossers–whether human or not–provoke change;
    b) for those who per­ceive the boundary-crossers as ‘not of this world,’ the antic­i­pa­tion of the mes­sages the boundary-crossers carry can be quite unset­tling, even ter­ri­fy­ing;
    c) the process of adjust­ing local norms to make space for boundary-crossers can feel like ‘tam­ing’ the more wild, bar­baric, unnat­ural, unseemly, or for­eign qual­i­ties of the boundary-crosser;
    d) to be in dias­pora is to con­sis­tently and pro­duc­tively trans­verse polit­i­cal, social, cul­tural, and spir­i­tual bound­aries. Accord­ing to social net­work the­ory (which does not make use of cul­ture), boundary-spanners expe­ri­ence a sig­nif­i­cantly greater amount of stress–due to their con­stant trans­la­tion and translocation–than those who remain rel­a­tively fixed accord­ing to norms and social positions.

    Q: Through what meth­ods can social sci­en­tists account for cul­tural remit­tances and poet­ics in inves­ti­ga­tions and analy­ses of social effects of border-crossing?

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