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Cultura International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology

Volume 12, Issue 1, 2015

Allegories of Imperialism: Barbarians and World Cultures

Michaela Keck
Pages 115-128
DOI: 10.5840/cultura20151219

Culture-Crossing in Madison Smartt Bell’s Haitian Trilogy and Neo-Captivity Narrative

This article investigates Madison Smartt Bell’s Haitian trilogy as a neocaptivity narrative that combines in new ways the conventions of the slave (captivity) narrative and the Barbary captivity narrative. Furthermore, it examines the culture-crossing of the character of Doctor Hébert in the course of the successful slave uprising of Saint Domingue (1791-1804). Captivity, I argue, constitutes the central theme and structuring device and also triggers Hébert’s culture-crossing in a reversed Hegelian master-slave dialectic that needs to be read together with Riau’s enslavement. Lacking the social recognition of a free subject, Riau attains his independent self-consciousness through physical resistance and Saint-Domingue’s distinct black culture. Whereas Hébert learns to actively resist slavery as he crosses over into the Haitian society. In their struggles, both undergo the three phases (preliminal, liminal, post-liminal) of rites of passage.