35.2: Life Stories from the Creole City

Life Stories from the Creole City
Guest Editors: Cynthia Dobbs, Daphne Lamothe & Theresa Tensuan
John T. Biggers. Shotguns. 1987. Oil and acrylic on canvas. © Copyright John T. Biggers Estate/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY/Estate Represented by Michael Rosenfeld Gallery.

Between Catastrophe and Carnival: Creolized Identities, Cityspace, and Life Narratives” by Cynthia Dobbs, Daphne Lamothe, and Theresa Tensuan

This cluster of “Life Stories from the Creole City” brings together essays that focus on fi gures negotiating subjectivity within different “creole cities” at specifi c historical junctures, as these urban spaces become compelling sites for narrating subjectivity in negotiation with forces of globalization, diaspora, and cosmopolitanism. The essays variously illuminate the diffi culties and payoffs associated with narrating lives in—and of—porous urban space.

‘Dust to Cleanse Themselves,’ A Survivor’s Ethos: Diasporic Disidentifications in Zeitoun” by Valorie Thomas

Extending Jose Muñoz’s analysis of disidentification, this essay argues that Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun reflects a particular ethos of survival that is both decolonized and disidentified. By revising the master media narrative of Hurricane Katrina as an unfortunate act of God and FEMA’s bad timing, Eggers critiques dominant practices of race, class, gender, nation, and crisis processing to address silences at the core of the narrative.

Urban Silhouettes: Mohand Mounsi’s Creolized Paris” by Dawn Fulton

The literary works of Franco-Algerian writer and singer Mounsi envision Paris as a Creolized space in that they underscore the multiplicity of histories and cultural practices represented by the city’s inhabitants. This essay focuses on the author’s use of the silhouette as an attempt to render the representative impasse of unacknowledged narratives of poverty and disavowed colonial histories in the urban landscape.

Militant Cosmopolitan in a Creole City: The Paradoxes of Jacques Roumain” by Kathy Richman

In Gouverneurs de la Rosée, Jacques Roumain integrates the Creole and cosmopolitan to portray a people suffering at the intersection of international capital, class conflict, and racism. Roumain’s call to international readers inspired politically committed authors Langston Hughes and Nicolás Guillén, resulting in adaptations that extend the impact of Gouverneurs to the US, Cuba, and Duvalierist Haiti.

The Death of Cleopatra / The Birth of Freedom: Edmonia Lewis at the New World’s Fair” by Susanna W. Gold

At Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition, sculptor Edmonia Lewis’s The Death of Cleopatra responded to the ambivalent Centennial culture that celebrated one-hundred years of a nation built on founding principles of unity and liberty, but that was haunted by centuries of African slavery, the recent Civil War, and the rapidly failing efforts of Reconstruction.

Contact Zones and Border Crossings: Writing Deaf Lives” by Kristin A. Lindgren

Pierre Desloges’s 1779 essay “A Deaf Person’s Observations about An Elementary Course of Education for the Deaf” and Emmanuelle Laborit’s 1994 autobiography The Cry of the Gull, both originally published in French, exemplify how life writing by culturally Deaf authors functions as a contact zone between Deaf and hearing worlds. Desloges’s essay challenges the primacy of written and spoken languages and the assumptions of an Enlightenment public fascinated by deafness but uncertain whether deaf people were fully human. Laborit’s autobiography foregrounds the crucial role of sign language in her own development while asserting the continuing value of the written text. Her composition of both self and text entails a cultural hybridity in which elements of two languages and cultures are brought together without eliding their differences.

Carnival in the Creole City: Place, Race, and Identity in the Age of Globalization” by Daphne Lamothe

In this essay I argue that Haitian-American artists Edwidge Danticat and Wyclef Jean employ Carnival symbolism to explore the practices and politics of belonging in “global” cities. While meditating on the cultural and social dynamism produced by transnationalism, they resist the impulse to idealize its effects. In song and nonfi ctional narrative, they refl ect also on the ways that historical and structural violence shape the lives of Haitian migrants in creolized cities.