HONORS Fellowship 2018: Vodou Subjectivities: Maya Deren, Katherine Dunham, and Zora Neale Hurston in Haiti
My project explores the representational failures of three female American ethnographers in/on Haiti in the 20th century through the analysis of literary form: Afro-modernist novelist Zora Neale Hurston (18911960); African American dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham (19092006); and Russian American experimental filmmaker Maya Deren (19171961). Positioning their texts as sites of colonizing/decolonized discourse, the project explores their establishment of a dialectic that helped refashion the cultural representation of Haiti within the United States. The failures and fractures within each text are critically re-assessed as the essential response of colonizing literary and ethnographic practices to the resistant, decolonializing, and revolutionary forms of knowledge production embedded within the sacred spaces and ritual discourses of Haitian Vodou. Historically a tool of resistance against colonialism and a revolutionary medium (Laguerre), Vodou offered an emblem for alterity and a mirror for the writers contested subject positions as nomadic subjects, women, African Americans, and ethnographers. Each found in Vodou a formal and symbolic system of knowledge production and preservation that actively decolonized ethnographic forms (Meehan) by assimilating external forms and figures within itself (Deren).