“Arguing around Toussaint”: The Black Jacobin in an Age of Revolutions

Professor Charles Forsdick, James Barrow Professor of French at the University of Liverpool, will present a public lecture on Thursday, May 11, 2017 at 4:00 pm in Carson L01.  His talk draws on Édouard Glissant’s claim—in his Caribbean Discourse—of the need to ‘argue around Toussaint,’ and deploys this idea to explore past and present representations of the Haitian revolutionary. Reflecting on his recent experience of writing a biography of Toussaint Louverture, Prof. Forsdick suggests that those attempting to understand the revolutionary’s life are not only faced with archival gaps, but also forced to negotiate the extensive mythologization by which these have been filled. The paper focuses on the domestication of the revolutionary implications of Louverture’s history by those who have presented him as an ancien régime figure, and detects the renewal of such a strand of thinking in what has been identified as the recent ‘conservative turn’ in global histories of the revolutionary age. Reasserting in response a reading of Louverture as the ‘Black Jacobin’ in an age of revolutions, the concluding sections explore the key role played by C.L.R. James and various versions of The Black Jacobins in situating the Haitian Revolution and its leader in a wider context of debates on Empire, decolonization, and their afterlives.  Professor Forsdick's lecture is sponsored by the Department of French and Italian.