The Faculty Research Colloquium
One and One is Three: Edwidge Danticat’s Vodou Transnationalism
by Gwen Bergner
The dynamic religion of Vodou in Haiti indicates the modern character of this island nation formed at the crossroads of cultural and economic exchange in the Black Atlantic. Yet ever since the Haitian Revolution produced the Atlantic world’s first free black nation in 1804, U.S. commentary persistently invokes a savage and sinister “voodoo” as shorthand for and evidence of Haiti’s political incompetence and cultural barbarism. Such fantasies of voodoo have worked to rationalize U.S. interventions in a presumably failed state while simultaneously preserving the illusion that Haiti remains isolated from modern civilization. In her novel Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Danticat reclaims Vodou to imagine a new geography of transnational citizenship that bridges the imagined distance between Haiti and the U.S. opened by this primitivizing voodoo discourse. Danticat deploys the Marasa, the spirit twins of Vodou, not only to characterize the paradoxical dualities of diasporic citizenship but also to connect the ordinarily untold “social” history of sexual violence against women to the politics of the nation. In this way, the novel’s Vodou sensibility reconfigures the transnational feminist approach to framing sexual violence against women within the discourse of human rights.