Claims to Memory: Beyond Slavery and Emancipation in the by Catherine Reinhardt

By Catherine Reinhardt

Why do the folks of the French Caribbean nonetheless stay haunted via the reminiscence in their slave earlier a couple of hundred and fifty years after the abolition of slavery? What procedure resulted in the divorce in their collective reminiscence of slavery and emancipation from France's portrayal of those historic phenomena? How are Martinicans and Guadeloupeans this day reworking the silences of the prior into ancient and cultural manifestations rooted within the Caribbean? This ebook solutions those questions through bearing on the 1998 controversy surrounding the a hundred and fiftieth anniversary of France's abolition of slavery to the interval of the slave regime spanning the overdue Enlightenment and the French Revolution. by way of evaluating a variety of documents-including letters through slaves, unfastened humans of colour, and planters, in addition to writings by way of the philosophes, royal decrees, and court docket cases-the writer untangles the advanced forces of the slave regime that experience formed collective reminiscence. the present nationalization of the reminiscence of slavery in France has grew to become those as soon as peripheral claims into passionate political and cultural debates.

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Additional info for Claims to Memory: Beyond Slavery and Emancipation in the French Caribbean (Polygons)

Sample text

Even Voltaire ([1756] 1878, 13: 177–78), who presumably wrote about slavery from an objective, philosophical standpoint, sided with this line of reasoning: “We only buy domestic slaves from the Negroes. ” This passage illustrates the profoundly ambiguous attitude toward slavery during the Enlightenment. Although the philosophes stood for the principle of liberty, a closer scrutiny of their narrative reveals the limited applicability of this maxim. While it was against a citizen’s right to be enslaved, those who were already slaves and could lay no claims to citizenship did not benefit from this natural right (Ménil 2000).

French schoolchildren, for instance, invariably study Voltaire’s denunciation of slavery in Candide’s “Negro from Suriname” and Montesquieu’s allegedly ironical indictment of the slave regime in De l’esprit des lois. They are not, however, exposed to more ambiguous passages by the same authors, thereby revealing their racial prejudice against Africans. To uncover the full spectrum of memories of enlightened thought, I will fragment the unambiguous memory dominating France’s historical narrative of slavery.

The May 2001 union worker strikes, aimed at instituting the date of the abolition of slavery as an official holiday, are an example of such activism. Other examples are the Martinican, Guadeloupean, and Guianese regional councils’ attempt at redefining the political status of these overseas regions. In the cultural and political atmosphere of Guadeloupe and Martinique today, the eighteenth-century realms of memory have become quite alive again and invested with new meaning. Inspired by Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé’s La Belle Créole (2001), my concluding words suggest an outlook upon the past that constructively envisions the future.

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