Walter Rodney Lecture, 2013
‘The Advent of Blackness: The Caribbean and the Birth of Racial Modernity'
Professor Silvio Torres-Saillant (Syrcause University)
Tuesday 29th October 2013
The 2013 Walter Rodney Memorial Lecture was given by Silvio Torres-Saillant, Professor of English and Chair of the Humanities Council at Syracuse University. As well as staff and students from the university, we also welcomed guests from outside.
David Lambert, Director of the Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies
Professor Silvio Torres-Saillant’s thought-provoking Walter Rodney Memorial Lecture navigated around the central idea that blackness – an ontological concept formed out of the transatlantic slave trade system – irrevocably shaped human relations by laying the foundation for racial thinking in the modern age. In a tour de force presentation that wove together such composite elements as Shakespeare’s Othello, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, black-on-black crime in the USA, the English Romantic poets, Halle Berry, and maroon slaves, the speaker set out the challenging argument that blackness has, throughout modern history, counterpoised and even neutralised the rules and norms of reason. Drawing upon the absurdist example of the lynching ‘party,’ he set out the case that blackness operates to disrupt all human solidarities. Although pan-Caribbean in scope, the complicated racial history of the divided Caribbean island of Hispaniola served as a salient case study for Torres-Saillant’s analysis. Drawing on the model of independence in Saint-Domingue, he provided an interesting assessment of the repercussions of this first black revolution for political and economic relations both with the metropole as well as in the regional context. Asserting the view that ‘negrophobia’ spread from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, the paper outlined the implications for racial dynamics shaping relations between Haiti and the speaker’s native Dominican Republic. In forthcoming research, Professor Torres-Saillant’s builds on these insights to explore Hispaniola as the birthplace of modern blackness in the Americas. The talk was followed by a reception to celebrate the launch of a newly revised edition by Peepal Press of Professor Torres-Saillant’s 1997 monograph Caribbean Poetics: Toward an Aesthetic of West Indian Literature.
Christabelle Peters, IAS Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Hispanic Studies