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*FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. In Cruel Modernity, Jean Franco examines the conditions under which extreme cruelty became the instrument of armies.
Table of contents

Slave owners not only tortured slaves but did so in particularly cruel ways. The historian P. Women were forced to wear the iron collar.

Human Rights Quarterly

Who, then, were the savages? The colonial powers divided the island, as they did so many other areas of the world, with little thought for the consequences, which in the case of Hispaniola would be devastating.

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In the French-controlled section of the island, the lucrative trade with France in coffee and sugar brought so many slaves that they soon outnumbered the white population, and because of death and desertion, new bodies were constantly needed. Thus many of the slaves were African born, speaking their different languages and bringing their customs to the new land.

There was also a class of gens de couleur , the mulattoes who would have such a decisive impact on the political future of the island. The presence of a majority African-born population became a dangerous situation: the discontent of a growing mulatto population exploded into revolt when news of the French Revolution reached the island. In France, the legacy of the Enlightenment and the Declaration of Rights had produced a clash of values between the universality of rights and the colonial exception.

The debates in the Assembly were as significant for the slaves as those that occurred in Spain after the conquest when the question of the souls of the conquered was debated, though the terrain had shifted from souls to citizens' rights. The gens de couleur had immediately lodged their claim to be French citizens, the slaves were quick to follow, and the black population of Saint Domingue under the leadership of Toussaint L'Ouverture seized the day.

His army repelled a British invasion, and by he was in control of the island, including Spanish Santo Domingo. Napoleon, planning to restore slavery, sent an army to invade the island and eventually deceived Toussaint into surrender. The French atrocities including an early form of the gas chamber spurred the rebels under the command of Jean-Jacques Dessalines to repay "these cannibals, war for war, crime for crime, outrage for outrage.

White men were not allowed to hold property or domain on Haitian soil. As Sybille Fischer argues, the various Haitian constitutions "infuse distinctions of skin colour with political meaning. While Haiti was founded on a revolutionary ideal of emancipation, the history of the Hispanic part of the island took a different turn. It was nominally a Spanish colony before the Spaniards abandoned it in , handing it over to Haitian ruler Jean Pierre Boyer, who instituted a program of agrarian and legal system reform.

The Hispanic territory did not gain independence until Thereafter it staved off five invasions from its neighbor and was briefly reannexed to Spain. It was occupied by US marines in , a year after the marines had invaded Haiti. Though it met with opposition, the US occupation of the Dominican Republic ultimately shaped the future of the island. The US-controlled sugar industry brought in Haitians as laborers and restructured the army that eventually became a power base for General Trujillo.


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The area along the border with Haiti was cattle country, remote from the capital, a multicultural free zone in which Dominicans shopped at Haitian markets and Haitians settled on the Dominican side of the border to work on the cattle ranches or as artisans and where people spoke patois and Spanish. It was easy to cross without papers or identification. But General Trujillo, who took power in , converted the Dominican Republic into a totalitarian state with an efficient secret police, a huge national guard, and a system of citizen identification that required people to carry good conduct passes.

As for the country's historically fluid border with Haiti Gull in From Hell , adopting the creed of the Dionysian Architects, he aspired to become an architect of history, and through a horrifying ritual of silence and blood, machete and perejil, darkness and denial, inflicted a true border on the countries, a border that exists beyond maps, that is carved directly into the histories and imaginaries of a people. The massacre of hardly seems material for a novel. It is difficult to extract pathos from mass murder. There are no intellectual heroes or defiant and ultimately martyred women, only an anonymous mass.

Vargas Llosa slips a brief mention of the massacre into his novel La fiesta del chivo The Feast of the Goat , but as an incident that the dictator regretted rather than one he must have regarded as nation-building.

Cruel Modernity

In the diplomatic correspondence, the massacre is referred to as el insignificante incidente a minor incident provoked by unruly criminal elements crossing the border from Haiti. But the massacre was foretold by Trujillo himself when, visiting the region in October , he abruptly announced that "to Dominicans who were complaining of the depredations by Haitians living among them, thefts of cattle provision, fruit etc.

A state of emergency was declared, and even as Trujillo uttered his threat, the massacre was already in progress, committed, for the most part, by army recruits wielding machetes rather than guns, perhaps because bullets implicated the army while machetes were the silent arms of a farming community. The machete lent credence to the official story of spontaneous vengeance executed by outraged Dominicans, who could then be represented as defending their property.

The Haitian victims were identified by their accents. Cruel Modernity does not shy away from articulating the often grue- some realities of massacres, genocides, torture, revolutionary and counter-revolutionary tactics, enforced involuntary disappearance and sexual violence.

It does so in order to question the failures of transitional justice and dominant human rights discourse, as well as to foreground the necessity of memory work against the callousness of a present that continues to be organised through denial and forgetting, often placing the burden on the survivors of these atrocities to seek just ends. From the massacre of twenty thousand Haitians on the Dominican Republic— Haiti border to the genocide in Guatemala, from the Dirty War in the Southern Cone to the Drug War and the maquiladoras in Mexico, Franco uses these and other examples to interrogate the deeper meaning behind human cruelty, and what drives the inhumane.

What is underneath the willingness to die for a cause? What are the parameters of moral ambiguity for collaborators who are also survivors? How is the beheading of victims not merely spectacle, but an act that reifies power and the production of masculinity in the context of a militarised society?

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Cruel Modernity also examines the links between legacies of colonisation and modern-day racisms that permeate both state and civilian imaginaries. By reviewing an extensive literature surrounding these events, Franco deciphers their official and unofficial narratives, raising questions about the writing of history, and indi- vidual and collective memory.

She asks how remembrance, and therefore historiography, are transfigured through the effect of grotesque violence on the lives of those who sur- vive, victims and perpetrators both. This text mourns the brutality of it all through probing violations both spectacular and everyday, and their implications on memory, imagination, subject formation, resistance, the realm of the possible, processes of truth, justice and reconciliation, human rights and the future of the world.

Such vio- lations, which have been justified in the name of repressing dissent and subversion in a Manichean world, are often rendered mute under the inconceivability of their horror. This book gives language to the unspeakable, in the name of a haunted and contentious justice.

“Cruel Modernity”, Professor Jean Franco

Dutoit and O. Pasanen eds.


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Related Papers. By Arturo Arias. Review of Jean Franco, Cruel Modernity. By Bruno Bosteels. Disturbing Pleasures.

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