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2016, Thu, Jul 21

Haiti — Pearl and False Paradise

With Hans-Christoph Buch, Louis-Philippe Dalembert, Eric Sarner and Elisabeth Wandeler-Deck

Map: Nicolas de Fer, Le golfe de Mexique, 1717 (detail)

Map: Nicolas de Fer, Le golfe de Mexique, 1717 (detail)

Time travel, leaps through space and polyphonic incantations: the “pearl of the Antilles” that André Breton called the “homeland of surrealism,” the site of the first successful slave revolts, of dictatorial regimes, and natural catastrophes, is a symbol of inexhaustible resistance.

One of the country’s most important writers today is Louis Philippe Dalembert. His The Other Side of the Sea (published in English translation in 2014) spanning three generations tells a polyphonic narrative of abduction and exile, a longing for the faraway and migration. Hans Christoph Buch in 1990 held a Frankfurter Poetikvorlesung entitled The Near and the Distant: Components for a Poetics of the Colonial Gaze, and is the author of several travel guides, reportages, historical essays, and novels dealing with Haiti. Eric Sarner wrote the chronicle of a death unsolved during the dictatorship of François Duvalier in La Passe du vent (1994), following the traces of the writer and political activist Jacques Stéphen Alexis. Elisabeth Wandeler-Deck’s Piraten. Haitianische Topographien (2004) moves between prose and poetry, between Haiti and Zurich, through historical, social, and poetic realities with the island as a sight of longing for a space free of domination.

Curated by Aurélie Maurin and Eric Sarner, moderated by Cornelius Wüllenkemper

The journalist, poet and novelist Louis-Philippe Dalembert was born in Port-au-Prince in 1962. After early journalistic work in Haiti, he went to Paris in 1986 to study journalism and comparative literature. He wrote his doctoral thesis there on the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier in 1996. Today, Dalembert, who describes himself as a “vagabond,” divides his time between Paris, Rome and Port-au-Prince. In addition to Les dieux voyagent la nuit (2006), his major works include the Haitian family saga L'autre face de la mer (1998; The Other Side of the Sea, 2014) about the migrations of a family over three generations from the beginning of colonization through to their escape in the canoes of the boat people. Dalembert’s many honors include the Prix RFO du Livre and the Premio Casa de las Américas.

Hans Christoph Buch, born in Wetzlar in 1944, is a literary theorist, essayist and journalist. He studied German and Slavic languages in Berlin and wrote his doctorate under Walter Höllerer. He then held guest lectureships, for example in San Diego, New York and Hong Kong. In 1990 he received widespread acclaim for his poetics lecture at the University of Frankfurt, Die Nähe und die Ferne – Bausteine zu einer Poetik des kolonialen Blicks. In the 1990s he gained particular attention with reports from crisis areas. Since the 1980s Buch has had ties with the Caribbean and especially Haiti, which was the backdrop among others for his essay novel Tanzende Schatten oder der Zombie bin ich (2004), his historical and political analysis Haiti – Nachruf auf einen gescheiterten Staat (2010) and the novel Baron Samstag oder Das Leben nach dem Tod (2013).

Aurélie Maurin, born 1975 in Paris, studied Literature and Linguistics in Paris. Since 2000 she lives and works in Berlin as curator for various instittutions and author’s initiatives, since 2002 also as project head at the Literaturwerkstatt Berlin. She is co-editor of the book series VERSschmuggel (Verlag das Wunderhorn) and of La mer gelée, a German-French journal for arts and literature and also translates poetry; among her latest translations:
Christian Prigent: Die Seele (with Christian Filips); roughbooks 2014;
Thomas Brasch: Belles sont les rimes Les rimes te mentent (with Bernard Banoun); hochroth paris 2015.
Since 2016 she is a member of the board of the Netzwerk freie Literaturszene Berlin (NFLB) e.V.

Eric Sarner is a poet, journalist and filmmaker. He now lives in Berlin, Montevideo and Paris. In 2014 he received the prestigious Prix Max Jacob for his book of poems Coeur chronique. In 1990 Sarner went to Haiti in search of the writer and activist Jacques Stephen Alexis, who in 1961 wanted to liberate the island from the dictatorship under François Duvalier and disappeared. His 1994 book La Passe du Vent: une histoire haïtienne (published in German by Klett-Cotta as Windpassage. Eine Reise nach Haiti in 1998) interweaves the futile search for the missing person into a chronicle of the bloody circumstances of an unsolved murder with colonial ghost stories and a young revolutionary’s hopes for a miracle.

Elisabeth Wandeler-Deck, born in 1939 and originally an architect, sociologist and psychotherapist, has been publishing written works regularly since 1975. Her writing also is incorporated in her work as an improvisational musician with composers, visual artists and performers such as the duo KRAK. A visit to Haiti in 1993 and her participation in a symposium on postcolonial German literature at Washington University in 1997 inspired Piraten – Haitianische Topografien published by bilgerverlag Zürich in 2004. She has received such awards as the Anerkennungspreis of the City of Zurich in 2012 and Basel Lyrikpreis in 2013. Her latest releases include the prose volume Das Heimweh der Meeresschildkröten (2015) and the poetry collection Arioso – Archive des Zukommens(2016).