La muerte del presidente haitiano

(This reflection was published about a week after it was first written.)

I awoke this morning in a half-daze to read that the President of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, had been murdered in his home the night before by men who spoke both Spanish and perhaps also English.

Never having read the news in Creole, incapable of such a feat, I looked for some time and began to read this afternoon. If there is such a thing as a Haitian ‘news function,’ it is absent on the island. There is nothing of the sort that is written for a petit bourgeoise, reading public: a documentary mill, constituting the values of its readers and looping back to affirm their prejudices. The “news” largely circulates over private channels here, both in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, relays owned by Facebook and its allied brands, like WhatsApp and Instagram. (Though, I am not sure how one might even begin to delimit this sprawling genre of investigative, fact-finding and opinionated articles, ready to come apart at any moment, held together by little more than a paper crease.)

Again, that ‘function,’ in the sense we English-speaking Americans conceive of it, is largely carried out by Haitian expatriates, voices of human rights activists that issue from abroad: that, or, perception is outsourced entirely. Indeed, el Listín Diario and el Diario Libre, both far quicker than the Times’ international coverage, spoke briefly, for example, of Dominicans’ experiences on the ground of Port-au-Prince, but there was little if any mention of Haitians alone, other than the withdrawal into their homes and silence, intimated by that telling headline “pendiente de informaciones”. (The Haitian public is acted upon and perceived for: whether they are “actors” at all, French, Spanish, and English-language sources largely fail to say. This afterthought especially comes now with the rise of protests in La Habana this week: Cubans reportedly took to the streets to proclaim, No tenemos miedo. It seems Cubans are able to take fate into their own hands.)

Alejo Carpentier’s El reino de este mundo occurs to me today, a reactionary work published in the late 40s. It sought to inscribe novelistically–that is, re-present–the economic and political palimpsest that is North Haitian life. The foreword to that novella is perhaps one of the most widely anthologized in Caribbean literature and originates the term lo real maravilloso (just nearly “magical realism”) that endlessly circulates in American literature classrooms. That the absurd and the marvelous and the horrible, the violence, the traumatic are all intermixed–and that this is the lived reality of the Caribbean–is likely an observation not yet fully appreciated by (our) news sources & ideologues.

The Transposition of Names, Faces, Places and Things

I awoke to find myself in your room today. It was a corner space, as if at the back of a cramped office space. I could not follow you there however. You were moving too fast. We were still friends, it would appear. We were in college housing: I had come to visit you because the light in my room had gone out. We spent some time together that night looking for light bulbs. In fact, we were both there in college housing and in your cramped apartment.

You retired to your room more quickly than I could follow. I stood behind because I could not bear the mixture of yellow and white. The flickering iridescence of the halogen bulbs. The steadily blinding whites of the LEDs. The pock marks of the autopista leading away from the capital. When I finally caught up to you, and we were together in your room, there was talk of dates. The filing cabinets climbing upward. Names. An antibiotic that could only treat for anaerobic bacteria.

You were almost nude on the bed. You lied there in your underwear. The filing cabinets stopped just short of reaching the ceiling. Some of them appeared affixed to the walls, as if by mounting brackets, to prevent them from tipping over, as if their top heaviness could bring them crashing down at any moment.

Your bed was an alcove among them. You were lying in repose. Above, at some distance, the letters began: A-Ab, Ab-Ac, Ac-Dq, Dq-Dr, Dr-Eb. I was arrested by fear. I was nervous and could not bear to ask you if these were the names of your past lovers. I was afraid to look and to find myself among them, to be found among them, to be neatly filed away.

In a state of breathlessness, my anxiety grew so as to consume me. It seemed like your body there fed on and inhaled the vacuity and the silence, the airless air, your resting place, this empty cocoon, barren and unyielding. The room suffocated and began to collapse inward, an exhalation without end.

A God among Men? Glaucon on Acting with Impunity

Now no one, it seems, would be so incorruptible that he would stay on the path of justice, or bring himself to keep away from other people’s possessions and not touch them, when he could take whatever he wanted from the marketplace with impunity, go into people’s houses and have sex with anyone he wished, kill or release from prison anyone he wished, and do all the other things that would make him like a god among humans.

Glaucon in The Republic (Book II, 359a-b, Reeve translation)

Glaucon is seen here, only a little ways into Book II, laying the groundwork for his and Socrates’ later argument over the nature of justice.

What he describes here is a self-pronounced mockery of justice. It is meant to be a caricature, so over the top that it can only leave a listener incredulous, all this in the service of strengthening the deposition to follow.

Indeed, at one point, Glaucon distances himself, finding it hard to believe that anyone could adopt a bolstered version of Thracymachus’ account: “It isn’t, Socrates, that I believe any of that myself. I am perplexed, indeed, and my ears are deafened listening to Thrasymachus and countless others.” Later also saying: “And if what I say sounds crude, Socrates, remember that it is not I who speak, but those who praise injustice at the expense of justice.”

If it had been easy in undergrad to shut out the world, look at texts for ‘what they were,’ then it is truly a challenge today not to read these lines of The Republic anew (recall: a dialogue with the ambitious project of realizing the ideal “republic”), especially in the waning days of the Trump presidency.

Edit: Insurrectionist Trump supporters have stormed the U.S. Capitol.