Thoughts on Carpentier

Sorry that I’ve procrastinated a lot and therefore this is pretty late, but here are my thoughts:

-Carpentier seems to be writing narratives about things probably not talked much about the Haitian revolution like Macandal and his use of voodoo and the rallying of slaves to rebel against their masters (before all the hubbub about Cristophe, Dessalines, etc. and the actual battles against French forces).  He also goes into quite a bit of detail about the whites, the ‘enemies’ of the revolution like Pauline Bonaparte who isn’t painted with a totally coarse brush, but is made someone we actually sort of sympathize with (she goes mad after the death of Lerclerc to yellow fever).  He also makes Henri Cristophe, the next Haitian tyrant after the fall of the French, sympathetic by focusing a good deal on the end of his life where is sickly and paralyzed and haunted by hallucinations, in the end killing himself.  In a way, Carpentier may be following Troulliot’s path (unknowingly of course) of creating a more all-encompassing ‘history’ of the revolution.

-also related to how we see perspectives from the oppressors and the oppressed, another interesting point is the connections made between the two.  An example is on the topic of sex, more specifically rape, where de Mézy has fantasies about young slave girls and Ti Nöel dreams of raping his master’s second wife.  Here the oppressed are like the oppressors; domination exists amongst all, if you are dominating or being dominated.

-on the magical realism in the book, it seems to be more like magical realism was talked about (like Macandal’s transformations and his supposed escape from his execution) instead of actually happening unlike in The Master and Margherita.  In this way it does show, as said before, the traditional culture of the slaves and its role in helping them to revolt, but it also seems to add much more once one reads Ti Noel’s epiphany on page 179.  Carpentier did say, as said in the novel’s introduction, that he felt the ‘real marvellous’ in Haiti and it was said in lecture that a point of magical realism was to go against the ‘magical’ genres being produced in European art like Surrealism where there is large break with reality.  In this way, as shown in Ti Noel’s epiphany, there is this difference between the Kingdom of this World and the Kingdom of Heaven.  Ti Noel decides to stay in this world because wants to produce a better future and he knows future generations will want to too.  Through Christianity, it is said that doing good your whole life will allow you into Heaven.  With Ti Noel, it shows that struggling with Earthly matters will do good for future generations, thus there is this kind of Heaven on Earth, this magical quality without the presence of a ‘Heaven’.  The novel’s magical realism almost becomes a moralistic message of the ‘magic’—the good—that can be produced on our Earthly plane, through a seemingly banal reality.

1 thought on “Thoughts on Carpentier

  1. Great reflections here (though late, still very good of course!). I really like the last point, especially, because I have been struggling with the significance of the “marvellous real” in this text. I mean, I see it, but I’m not sure what to make of it. I like how you’ve connected the idea of the marvellous being in reality itself to the end of the novel. The end of the novel, the very last line, points back to the meeting that starts the main thrust of the revolution, the meeting in the forest (the Bois Caiman) led by Bouckman. Which, to me, could suggest that Ti Noel is aiming to do good in the sense of fighting back, within the confines of this reality (like Macandal did too, when he was said to be transforming into animals).

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