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.

11 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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