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Orality, Performance, Race, and DH

My Presentation for #MLA13 #s584 on Dany Laferrière


  1. The Information for the time and location of our panel below.
  2. The Website for the roundtable.
  3. In the interest of time, you can read some background on my thoughts about Laferrière and performance on my blog. 
  4. My suspicions about orality, performance and Laferrière were confirmed when reading Christiane N'Diaye's short work Comprendre l’énigme littéraire de Dany Laferrière. 
  5. In it, she connects Laferrière's unconventional writing style to the Haitian tradition of the Lodyans (from the French word, l'audience). It is a form of oral storytelling (or, oraliterature), in which lying is celebrated, because as put by George Anglade, the contemporary father of the genre, it is "mentir pour dire plus vrai que vrai," [lying to reveal a more real truth]. 
  6. For more information on the tradition of the Lodyans, you can see his introduction his book Rire Haïtien: Les Lodyans de Georges Anglade, available in Google Books, as well as two other of his works available for free through UQAC.
  7. What Anglade describes, with the idea of "miniatures" and stories that are supposed to get at a larger truth through artful lying, accurately describes Laferrière's "autobiographical" project, which he has often described as being more interested in emotional truth, rather than factual truth (discussed at-length in the prologue to his novel Le Goût des jeunes filles, among other places). But this form of storytelling, which takes into consideration the audience, circumstances, and ever-shifting goals of the Lodyanseur, also brings us also back to the element of orality and performance (see pages 14-15 of N'Diaye's book in particular). 
  8. N'Diaye also highlights the critical silence, if not ignorance, of the art of the Lodyans (which Anglade calls as important to the Haitian culture as Vodou) which she connects to the long-standing bias of written over oral literature (page 11) by critics and academics more generally, but also within Haitian society, where that which that which exists outside of the city is somewhat derisively called "pays en dehors." This prioritization of the written over the oral is filled with the bias of Western (or "civilized") culture over the less civilized, non-white, colonized cultures. 
  9. So what does this have to do with Digital Humanities? 
  10. "Digital technologies are opening up new ways of working directly and easily with audio and video interviews. This is welcome news. Analogue audio or video recordings are so ponderous and inaccessible that historians have come to rely on transcriptions. Much is lost in translation. Whereas spoken language is lively; effective prose is systematic, relevant and spare.  For Michael Frisch, the more we “completely strive to make the voice audible on the page, the more we risk making it illegible.” Ultimately, digitization has the potential to put the “oral” back into “oral history” by keeping the focus on the original audio-visual record."
  11. "We live surrounded by screens and images, and visual, film, and media studies have been at the forefront of the analysis of this rich multimedia environment. However, the transformation of the Internet and other digital forms in the last decade into visualized mass media offers a further opportunity for our fields to advance by engaging with these formats simultaneously as communication environments and objects of study."
  12. Why can't we use the technology currently being developed for oral histories to enrich and preserve oral traditions, such as Lodyans?
  13. For example, what could we envision doing with the multiple iterations of Laferrière's Chronique de la dérive douce?

    A television special from January 1989, detailing much of Laferrière's experience during his first year in Montreal.
  14. Are You RACIST ? YES ! Quiz AWARDS
  15. Another recently archived video of the author's arrival in Montreal.