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December 31, 2012 / Lee Skallerup Bessette

#MLA13 Presentation – Background on Dany Laferrière and Performance

I am a part of a roundtable at the 2013 MLA conference in Boston. Because I have less room in a roundtable presentation, I’m including some background information on Laferrière’s more performative aspects here.

I have long suspected that Haitian writer Dany Laferrière’s practice of rewriting, revising, and continually adapting his work stems from his childhood spent in rural Haiti, where storytelling informs his experiences as much as the novels he finds hidden in his grandmother’s house. For example, his experiences in the book Le charme des après-midi sans finwhen he is stuck in his grandmother’s house due to a government crack-down (couvre-feu); Vieux Os (his fictional alter-ego), hears the different versions of why the government has chosen this moment to isolate the people in their houses, who the government is after, and who, ultimately is arrested and why. But this is just one example.

Another clue was his use of Jazz in his first novel, Comment faire l’amour avec un Nègre sans se fatiguer. I’ve written about this before here on this blog, but I think it bears repeating how both the performative aspect, as well as the connection between the aspects of the Haitian culture his grew up with and aspects of African-American culture. Improvisation, collaborations (something that Laferrière himself has practiced in the adaptation of his work for the big and small screen, as well as the children’s books), and performance are are elements that his work has in common with Jazz.

This is what has informed my thinking about Laferrière’s work and my upcoming novel. In Boston, I will be talking about a way DH can bring orality and performance (two elements that are usually ignored in literary studies) back to the forefront and at the same time potentially stoke interest in a long-neglected Haitian tradition of the Lodyansusing tools initially developed to preserve and study oral histories. You can see the Storify I prepared for the presentation here.


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