After Haiti: Race, Empire, and Global Decadent Literary Resistance, 1804-1948

Kwok, Cherrie, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Arata, Stephen, University of Virginia
Dubois, Laurent, University of Virginia
Felski, Rita, University of Virginia
Hamilton, Njelle, University of Virginia

This dissertation draws on Asian Diaspora and Asian North American studies, Black studies, Caribbean theory, Indigenous studies, queer theory, and race studies in order to offer a fresh evaluation of a rich artistic style and political concept called decadence in the global Anglophone and multilingual literatures of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Challenging the Eurocentrism that still shapes much of the scholarship about decadence, this dissertation places decadence in conversation with the topics of race and imperialism in order to pursue two lines of inquiry. First, it writes a new literary history about the birth of decadence that starts with the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804)—the world's first and only successful slave-led rebellion—and its impact on the decadent writers from the American, British, and French imperial metropoles. Second, this dissertation examines how enslaved and colonized peoples and their descendants in the same time period produced their own forms of literary decadence in order to cultivate decolonial thought and develop self-regard within and against the era’s imperial and racial hostilities. This dissertation coins the term “Duvalian decadence” to describe their literatures, after canonical decadent French poet Charles Baudelaire’s oft-overlooked Haitian mistress, Jeanne Duval. In the process, this dissertation compares these diverse manifestations of decadence and demonstrates how they offer new accounts about a key struggle that defined the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and continues to shape the twenty-first: the struggle between imperial oppression on the one hand, and strategies of resistance, survival, and joy crafted against that oppression on the other.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
decadence, race, empire, global anglophone
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