Lyonel Trouillot hopes to build cohesive identity

Feb. 11, 2011, 2:03 a.m.

Writer in residence Lyonel Trouillot presented the “Everlasting Struggle Between ‘We’ and ‘I’” in Levinthal Hall yesterday evening. Trouillot spoke about current challenges in Haiti and how these challenges manifest themselves in Haitian literature.

The Research Unit of the Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages (DLCL) hosted the lecture.

Born in Port-au-Prince in 1956, Trouillot studied law before becoming a journalist and novelist. He was active in campaigning for democracy in Haiti and wrote about how culture functions within a nation. He is a professor of literature and poetry in Port-au-Prince and has written several novels, including “Les Enfants des Beros” and “Therese en Mille Morceaux.” Trouillot was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in June 2010.

At Thursday’s lecture, Trouillot described Haiti’s current state as catastrophic, attributing this, in part, to his belief that “Haiti never felt the necessity to replicate principles of the French Revolution.”

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, thinkers explored strategies for developing a successful republic in their writing. It was believed that Haiti had to follow the model of Western states and, in doing so, serve as the model for Africa and other nations.

Today, one of the defining aspects of Haitian society is a lack of a cohesive national identity, Trouillot said. Haitian society is made up of a collection of distinct groups of “others” that often interact with hostility.

According to Trouillot, this divisiveness has been reflected in literature time and time again. The result is a “Haitian novel” that consistently lacks a sense of “we.”

Novelists now are addressing this lack of community in their art in order to encourage togetherness. The poet-author said Haitian poetry often focuses on illustrations of power and the role of the individual. The country, he noted, is often depicted as a place of each man for himself, a republic of puppets destined to unravel.

“Our country is still waiting to come out of text to be reality,” Trouillot said, referring to dreams for Haiti that are imagined in literature.

Trouillot said he examined the struggle between the “I” and the “we” as well as the quest for individuality in each of his texts. From his perspective, the most important aspect of the writing process is “to disappear, to let the character develop his or her voice,” and to let different voices expose the tension in polyphony.

Trouillot said his ultimate goal is to “try to add a few verses to the history of Haiti. By doing so, I want to contribute to the larger poem of the world.”

In his novel “Street of Lost Footsteps,” Trouillot described Haiti’s landscape as “27,000 kilometers of hatred and desolation.”

However, he closed his lecture yesterday on an uplifting note that showed his pride for his land of origin.

“Today, my 27,000 kilometers are good enough for me,” Trouillot said.

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