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ALEJO CARPENTER'S THE KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD AND THE SPECTRAL
VOICE OF COMMUNAL CONSCIOUSNESS
LINDA DARNELL STANLEY
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Linda Damell Stanley
This document is dedicated to my husband, Michael, without whom I could not continue
to realize my dreams.
I wish to convey my sincerest appreciation to all the dedicated professionals at the
University of Florida, who have contributed immeasurably to my academic efforts. I
particularly want to acknowledge the support and encouragement of my committee
members, Dr. Leah Rosenberg and Dr. Apollo Amoko, without whom I could not have
brought this project to fruition. They have my boundless gratitude and respect.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
ABSTRACT ............... ...................................... vi
1 IN T R O D U C T IO N ............................................................................... .............. ..
2 SPECTRAL VOICE AND MAGICAL REALISM................. .............................5
3 CARPENTIER' S REGIONAL VISION ...... ................. .............23
4 C O N C L U SIO N ......... ......................................................................... ......... ........52
WORKS CITED .................................. ................................ 55
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E TCH ...................................................................... ..................60
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
ALEJO CARPENTER'S THE KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD AND THE SPECTRAL
VOICE OF COMMUNAL CONSCIOUSNESS
Linda Darnell Stanley
Chair: Leah Rosenberg
Major Department: English
Alejo Carpentier's foundational Latin American text, The Kingdom of This World,
is of critical importance in part because of its historical account of the Haitian
Revolution. But its enduring value derives more from its function as a site of literary
intervention in Western Enlightenment discourses, an intervention that firmly places the
Haitian people at the text's ontological center. In the text, Carpentier uses the form of
Latin American magical realism to tell the story of the Haitian Revolution through the
lens of a distinctly Latin American regional sensibility, a concept he was personally
invested in. Focused around figures previously obscured in Western historical accounts,
The Kingdom of This World rejects the Enlightenment viewpoint inherent in those
accounts and proffers alternative definitions of "truth" and "reality."
In that process, it appropriates and disrupts the discursive fields arising from
Western scopic drive, an epistemic insistence on the primacy of vision/observation for
both defining "truth" and possessing the seen. Western scopic drive colonizes through the
gaze. Furthermore, because it asserts its field of vision and thus its authority to define -
as absolute, it maps the totalizing narratives and universalizing impulses of Western
Rationalism onto colonized spaces and functions to establish and sustain European
hegemony. Consequently, by contesting Western scopic drive, The Kingdom of This
World models specific strategies of resistance to European hegemony.
As a mechanism for analyzing those strategies of resistance, this paper introduces a
new concept, spectral voice. In The Kingdom of This World, spectral voice operates
within the framework of the genre of magical realism and operates to deconstruct the
claim to totality that empowers scopic drive. It manifests in several modalities, ranging
from the symbolic "voice" of Haitian drums functioning as a "calling forth" of communal
will, to the literal voice of a specter whose presence provides a powerful disclaimer of
Western Rationalism's linear and temporal frameworks. In these modalities, spectral
voice rejects the defining authority of Western scopic drive and therefore provides a
discursive space where the risks of using "the Master's tools" for the project of self-
determination are diffused. In that space, the previously silenced stories of the
marginalized emerge from the suffocating silence imposed by Western insistence on
"truth" and "reality" as unequivocal absolutes. The site of production for "truth,"
"reality," and spiritual value is effectively shifted, revealing the voids in those totalities
and demonstrating finally the strength and validity of the subaltern's voice.
At its surface, Alejo Carpentier's The Kingdom of This World (1957) is a chronicle
of the Haitian Revolution. In its content, Carpentier scrupulously adheres to accepted
chronologies of historical events surrounding that moment (Young 12). Consequently, the
novel merits consideration as "the only sustained account of the Haitian Revolution in
Spanish-Caribbean literature" (Paravisini-Gebert 115). But on a more fundamental level,
the novel's value arises not from its historical accuracy but from its positioning of Haiti
and its people at its ontological center. While in form the novel is historical narrative, in
spirit it is a recuperation of elements such narratives elide. The novel rejects the value
markers of European History and redefines value through a Latin American lens,
replacing the vision of Europe with the voices of the New World.
This positioning reflects two central premises of Carpentier's perspective as both a
writer and as a Latin American1 subject. First, Carpentier demonstrates that, while Latin
America is a space formed from and reflecting many divergent influences, it is not a
space of mere imitation or assimilation. Although it conscripts and transforms external
forms and discourses and creates from them uniquely Latin American articulations, it
resists definition by those forms and discourses. Specifically, it contests the imposed
identities levied upon it by European colonial domination. That imposition
overwhelmingly coincides with the salaciously intrusive Western scopic drive (Stanley
1 Latin America herein is understood to embrace the Caribbean.
293, Marazzi 89), a gaze that seeks to instill in its subject a "state of conscious and
permanent visibility" (Foucault 201). As Frederic Regard tells us, "Knowing begins with
seeing," (79) and Western scopic drive seeks to "know" in order to colonize. So
Carpentier counters that gaze that relentless desire to know and consume through a
mechanism that I have termed herein "spectral voice."
Spectral voice emanates from a source that resists identification by Rationalist
means and thereby evades or confuses Western scopic drive it emanates from "the
hidden." It manifests at times as complexly nuanced "possessions," "reincarnations," or
symbolic representations but more often it is quite literally the voice of a "specter." But
whatever modality it takes, it is a critical concept because its spectral nature its
origination from beyond the penetration of Western scopic drive allows Carpentier to
represent the liminality of those spaces from which his story emerges, the interstices of
History in which the agency of the Other is hidden. Yet its spectral nature also repudiates
the desire inherent in Western scopic drive, the desire to know, possess, and define.
Spectral voice makes possible transgression and resistance without submission because to
speak need not mean to be seen, and when spectral voice coincides with vision, it is the
vision evoked by the voice, not by Western scopic drive that consumes. Spectral voice
evokes the power of hidden knowledge.
This investment of power and control in spectral voice diffuses much of the danger
of appropriation, the danger that using the discourse of the master will invite the master's
gaze and thereby validate the master's authority. Thus, spectral voice powerfully
articulates the silenced narratives of alterity and resistance. It subordinates the story of
the slave owner de Mezy to the story of his slave, Ti Noel; it shows us Ti Noel's exile
from and return to Haiti as more relevant than the impoverishment and death of de Mezy
or the collapse of the Napoleonic Empire. It tells us that the failure of King Christophe of
Haiti is not because he fails in the ways of Western rule, but because he embraces them
and fails in the eyes of Haiti. It calls King Christophe to account for his failure not
through the devises of Western authority, but through the thundering liturgy of a dead
priest resurrected by communal will. Thus, Carpentier uses spectral voice to forefront the
power, vitality, and durability of Haitian community and destabilize the narrative of
The second premise apparent in this novel is that Carpentier views Latin America
from a regional rather than a strictly national perspective. He strives to show not only the
appropriative powers at play in creating a uniquely Latin American sensibility, but to
express that sensibility as a communal consciousness (meaning those shared elements of
identity that situate the individual within the history, traditions, and beliefs of a people)
that transcends traditional boundaries of space and time. Community becomes an
interconnectedness forged from shared values and traumas that cannot be delimited by
arbitrary boundaries of nation. However, in this endeavor, Carpentier undermines the
transgressive powers of spectral voice. In his desire to develop a Latin American unity
capable of refuting European hegemony, he appropriates the Western discourses of
anthropology, discourses in which the inherent desires of Western scopic drive are
tenaciously embedded. This manifests most prominently in Carpentier's portrayal of
Vodoun, a portrayal that reflects the West's "perennial attachment to an occult Haiti"
(Dayan 32). Consequently, while spectral voice powerfully refutes the authority of
Western scopic drive and allows for constructive appropriation, the anthropological
traces of the novel reinscribe that authority and once again render appropriation
dangerous. The result is a subtle but pervasive tone of romantic primitivism that insists
on differentiating Latin American identity from its correlative Western image, but fails to
confer on that identity any internal specificity. Characters that loom large in The
Kingdom of This World function not only to resist the yoke of European hegemony, but
also to monolithically assert Latin American subjectivity. The Latin American space of
Carpentier's vision is "flattened out" and undifferentiated, and the implications of
spectral voice become tenuous.
But even though Carpentier oversteps his aims in his appropriative strategy, he
develops in spectral voice an explosively powerful tool that continues to hold relevance
today, not just in Latin America but anywhere resistance to Western hegemony is of
critical importance. Erna Brodber' s Louisiana and Myal, Ana Castillo' s So Far From
God, and Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo all use spectral voice in at least one modality.
Thus, a new examination of The Kingdom of This World and its use of spectral voice are
overdue. A close analysis of spectral voice, which has to date gone without critical
comment, can deepen understandings of the ways in which literature today seeks to
confront and refute Western scopic drive. Since that drive underpins much of the West's
aggression and possessiveness, spectral voice is poised at a threshold of change, a
threshold on which our world hovers dramatically as previously colonized peoples
struggle to redefine it, to recuperate their stories of old and tell their stories anew, to raise
their voices in a clarion call for acknowledgement in the emerging world order.
SPECTRAL VOICE AND MAGICAL REALISM
The first appropriative move evident in The Kingdom of This World is Carpentier's
use of a literary form known as magical realism, a form adapted from Franz Roh's
European art aesthetic (Zamora and Faris, Editor's Note, Magical 15). This appropriation
is not the work solely of Carpentier, but also of a number of his contemporaries such as
Gabriel Garcia Marquez. However, the Latin American magical realism that arose from
this appropriation is implemented somewhat differently in The Kingdom of This World
than in most other Latin American magical realist texts. While Carpentier utilizes Latin
American magical realism, he juxtaposes it with a literary rendering of Roh's magical
realism. Carpentier refers to his approach as "lo maravilloso real," or the marvelous real
(Carpentier, "Baroque" 102). This juxtaposition, which will be the focus of more in-
depth analysis shortly, plays a large role in how effectively magical realism functions
with spectral voice in The Kingdom of This World.
Magical realism lends itself to the use of spectral voice because magical realism
contains what Wendy B. Faris identifies as an "irreducible element of magic" (Faris
7).This "irreducible element" represents the incursion of the phenomenal world into the
material world, producing a shadow region between faith and fact that blurs or dismantles
perceptual boundaries and produces "unsettling doubts" about the very nature of reality.
An excellent example of this in The Kingdom of This World is a pair of scenes that focus
on King Henri Christophe and a Capuchin monk named Breille. The first scene depicts
Breille's death, and the second depicts his resurrection and the beginning of the end for
Christophe. The two scenes function together in multiple ways. They delineate a concept
of communal consciousness that privileges Haitian ways of knowing, and they shift the
lens of history to focus on Christophe's failure in those ways of knowing. They also
clearly juxtapose the two forms of magical realism, Roh's aesthetic and Latin American
magical realism. That juxtaposition creates an indeterminacy that allows spectral voice to
operate through a critical permeability of boundaries in the text.
The first scene details the rather gruesome manner in which Christophe executes
Breille, "immur[ing him] in the Archbishop's Palace, buried alive in its oratory ... for
the crime of having wanted to go to France knowing all the secrets of the King"
(Carpentier, Kingdom 131). The monk's death and the community's reaction to it mark
Breille as a figure representative of and constituted from communal consciousness,
despite his European origins. This connection becomes evident in the way voice
functions in the description of Breille's death. It both marks Breille's demise and
prophesies his resurrection through a dual inscription of "silence" as at once the material
absence of corporeal voice and the metaphysical presence of voice. The monk's death is a
passage from the world in which voice coincides with Western scopic drive to the world
in which voice arises from hidden knowledge: "After a week of incarceration, the
Capuchin's voice had become almost inaudible, fading away to a death-rattle rather
sensed than heard. And then silence came at the corner of the Archbishop's Palace"
(Carpentier, Kingdom 132, italics mine). The monk's death-rattle is the place of
conjunction for the two inscriptions. It is at once a voice and not a voice, inaudible in the
material world but sensed heard- in the phenomenal world of the hidden.
Consequently, the silence that follows Breille's death signals colonial presence, as
analysis will show Christophe to be, but also signals the falling away of the fetters of
Western scopic drive.
The clearest indicator of this scene's importance is the means by which that silence
is broken. It is "the over-prolonged silence of a city that had ceased to believe in silence
and which only a newborn infant dared to break with its whimper of ignorance"
(Carpentier, Kingdom 132, italics mine). Here, the community's rejection of the silence
marked by Breille's death rattle is a rejection of death and a harbinger of Breille's
resurrection, That rejection is embodied in the infant's cry, a vibrant marker of communal
continuity. By counterpoising the renewal of life with the eminence of death, it
"reroute[s] life toward its customary sonority of street-cries, greetings, gossip, and songs
sung while hanging clothes out in the sun" (132) and calls into play the history,
traditions, and beliefs of the community. This clearly associates Breille's impending
resurrection with communal consciousness. What Christophe has done the community
undoes in its refusal to believe in the boundaries that shape Christophe's world. As a
result, the infant's voice becomes "spectral" because it arises from the hidden, from the
will and knowledge of the people that Western scopic drive is incapable of penetrating.
Breille becomes a signifier of that will, and of the silenced narratives of the enslaved and
oppressed masked over by the totalizing claims of Western hegemony.
Breille's signification of communal consciousness manifests as spectral voice in
the second scene of this pair. That scene signals the fall of Christophe, a freed former
slave who has taken control of Haiti following the revolution. He subsequently tries to
replicate a European system of aristocracy in the revolution's aftermath, assuming the
role of colonial presence. Significantly, Carpentier elides from The Kingdom of This
World the role of two revolutionary leaders, Dessalines and Toussaint L'Ouverture, who
are central to Western accounts of the Haitian Revolution. He also ignores Christophe's
rise to power through his role in the assassination of Dessalines, who had declared
himself emperor after the revolution. These elisions are critical because they clearly
decenter Western narratives of the revolution and put at center instead Christophe's
failure in the eyes of the Haitian people. The second scene highlights this failure by
focusing on Christophe's relationship with Comeille Breille.
Christophe attends the Mass of the Assumption shortly after Breille's death. During
the Mass, the Capuchin, "whose death and decay were known to all," (Carpentier,
Kingdom 137), appears before the congregation and Christophe is subsequently
paralyzed. His affliction foreshadows his eminent overthrow, death by suicide, and
internment in the very concrete of his own Citadel. But even before Breille's appearance,
the account of the Mass assumes an air of the unusual with the description of the morning
as a "mysterious harmony" (136). Yet this harmony resonates from the mundane
elements of "the fragrance of the orange trees in the near-by patio, and certain words of
the liturgy of the day which referred to perfumes whose names were inscribed on the
porcelain jars of the apothecary's shop of Sans Souci" (136). Repeatedly, concrete details
like orange trees oscillate with the unusual, such as Christophe's inexplicable mood,
which makes him "unable to follow the service with due attention, for his breast was
oppressed by an anxiety he could not account for" (136). Christophe's discomfort,
because of its unidentifiable origin, is part of the "irreducible element" leading us closer
to the "magical" appearance of the Capuchin. Yet we are offered even more details of the
ordinary to ground us in the material world before this remarkable event. The "delicately
veined gray marble" and the "delightful impression of coolness" in the cathedral contrast
viscerally with the highly sensory image of "the tightly buttoned swallowtailed coat and
the weight of decorations" in which Christophe perspires uncomfortably. The tickle of
the sweat and the cloying itchiness of "Sunday best" clothing heighten the appeal of the
calm and cool atmosphere in the cathedral. That sensory contrast grounds the reader in
the moment with Christophe, anchored to the material world by the physical sensations
even as the magical world unfolds. Like the details offered in the scene of the Capuchin's
demise the "newly plastered wall," the red towers, and the number of lightening strikes
associated with his place of entombment (131) the attention to the ordinary in the
description of the Mass inspires those "unsettling doubts" as the reader tries to reconcile
the presence of a dead and decaying monk with the very concrete world of fruit trees and
Breille's presence creates a disturbing juxtaposition of two distinct contexts; one is
the "rational," viscerally experienced, material world (a world favored by Roh's
aesthetic) and the other is the phenomenal, irrational world of the spirit from which
Christophe's nemesis appears (a world favored by Latin American magical realism). The
presence of both contexts serves to unsettle concepts of real and imagined, leaving open
to question how concrete the reader should understand Corneille Breille's phantom to be.
Is it a part of the "real" world of cathedrals and perfume, or is it a manifestation of
Christophe's agonized psyche? Does the answer to this question even matter? After all,
the sense of smell and the aesthetic appreciation of music, both of which are evoked in
this passage, are not objectively measurable qualities. So those very elements that ground
the passage in the material also point to the perceptual as the stronger context.
The tension between modes of reality here is heightened by the contrast between
"the Latin intoned by Juan de Dios Gonzales" (Carpentier, Kingdom 136) in the Mass,
which Queen Marie-Louise finds incomprehensible, and the impact of the phantom
Breille's voice: "When, thundering like the roll of a kettledrum, there arose the words
Coget omnes ante thronus, Juan de Dios Gonzales fell moaning at the feet of the Queen"
(136). Breille's voice similarly impacts Christophe: "his eyes starting from his head, [he]
bore it until the Rex tremende majestatis. At that moment a thunderbolt that deafened
only his ears struck the church tower, shivering all the bells at once" (Carpentier,
Kingdom 138). Breille's presence and the contrast between the two priest's voices
unsettle rationalist ideals of truth and demonstrate the permeability of boundaries.
Certainly, a psychological mechanism of guilt might explain Christophe's paralysis, and
the lightening strike suggested by the thunderbolt may be the cause of other material
manifestations in the passage. However, the details that allow such a rational analysis can
also be linked dramatically with spectral voice. For instance, Breille's words are clarion
sharp, precipitating (and perhaps constituting) the thunderbolt. That thunderbolt, as
Christophe's punishment, links directly to the reason for Breille's immurement the
Capuchin's knowledge of the "truth" about Christophe and his citadel. So the
precipitating event to this scene is an attempt by Christophe to silence Breille and hide
his knowledge, to silence the voice that now speaks out with spectral force to condemn
him. Because of this connection, regardless of whether Breille is a concrete, "real"
presence in the citadel, his perceived presence is more eventful and significant in the
text's reality than Gonzales' presence. Thus, Breille subverts the rational the living
priest Gonzales- to the irrational the dramatic impact of a knowing and "truthful"
spectral voice. Its spectral nature its origination from beyond the categorical boundary
of death lends it a validity denied the words of the living priest.
Just as the power of Breille's voice correlates to his relationship to truth (his
knowledge about Christophe), this same kind of correlation exists between the
incomprehensibility of Gonzales' liturgy, his rise to favor with Christophe, and his fate in
the cathedral: "Tired of the chick-peas and dried beef across the mountains, the sly friar
found the Haitian court to his liking ... It was rumored that certain words of his, spoken,
as though offhand, before Henri Christophe one day .. were the cause of Corneille
Breille's terrible disgrace" (Carpentier, Kingdom 132). Gonzales' deceptiveness
correlates with a transformation reflected once again in voice. The "fine bass voice"
(131) he arrives at Christophe's court with becomes "baritone inflections of unfailing
effect" (138) that are nevertheless impossible for Queen Marie-Louise to comprehend.
The contrast of "unfailing effect" and incomprehensibility identifies Gonzales as a point
where rational modes of understanding unravel and the "magical" intercedes. His "effect"
(and therefore his power) is illusory in nature. It is hollow ritual, a form that attempts to
bridge the gap between material and phenomenal but fails because it is incomprehensible
to the people. This is in direct contrast to the idea of "the hidden," in which underlying
the obscuring veil of "reality" lies content and validity that is not only comprehensible
but vital to the people. Gonzales' ritual is hopelessly devoid of meaning, leaving him
powerless against the force of truth in the spectral voice. This interpretation gains merit
from Gonzales' reaction to the appearance of his disenfranchised counterpart, Breille;
Gonzales is struck prostrate at the queen's feet, incapable of anything more articulate
than a moan. Gonzales and all he stands for become ineffective and irrelevant to the
reality of the text, and Queen Marie-Louise adheres to the ritual he proffers despite its
irrelevance is symptomatic of a larger bankruptcy within the Rationalist paradigm.
Like Queen Marie-Louise's blind allegiance, Gonzales' infatuation with the
European fineries of Christophe's court makes him emblematic of Western value
systems. Similarly, Christophe's obsession with creating a Haitian class of nobility in the
European model marks Christophe as such an emblem as well. Additionally, both men
are eventually left prostrate in the presence of Breille, who is in contrast elevated above
them: "Now, with a great bound, the specter had seated himself on one of these beams, in
the very line of Henri Christophe's vision, spreading wide arms and legs as thought the
better to display his bloodstained brocades" (Carpentier, Kingdom 138, italics mine). The
preeminence of Western scopic drive, represented here by Christophe's vision, is struck
aside by spectral voice and its visible manifestation. Breille's image, emanating from
beyond the boundary of death and beyond the penetrating Western scopic drive,
commands Christophe's vision, denying the prostrate king access to the rational
constructs upon which he has built his kingdom. Christophe's undoing is his faith in the
forms of Europe and his failure to recognize their irrelevance to Haiti.
Struck down as well in this scene are the concrete symbols of European domination
(qua the domination of European religious systems). Breille's thunderbolt levels the
precentors, the thuribles, the choristers' stand, and the pulpit, and like Gonzales and
Christophe, these symbols correlate to European domination and the colonial presence.
The effect of Breille's voice on them thus represents an inversion of colonial power
dynamics because the manifest forces of the colonized dominate or destroy the Rational
forces of the colonizer via the spectral voice. It reasserts the vitality of the silenced and
hidden, and challenges the authority of Western scopic drive.
Breille's death and his subsequent presence in the cathedral, then, precipitate a
crisis of reality in which an inherent ambivalence in Western scopic drive and Western
discourse becomes apparent. This ambivalence has its root in what might best be
termed "the anxiety of spectacle." This anxiety arises from the dual registers of reality
that spectacle makes manifest. With Breille's appearance, the surety of Western scopic
drive is called into question, but because the reader can never be quite certain how
"literally" to read Breille's appearance, the text refuses to situate him unequivocally in
the material world. Thus, the question itself is questionable. The resulting indeterminacy
of reality gives rise to a tension similar to what Homi Bhabha terms "mimicry," which he
describes as "the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference
that is almost the same, but not quite ... the sign of a double articulation; a complex
strategy of reform, regulation, and discipline, which 'appropriates' the Other as it
visualizes power" (Bhabha 86). Like mimicry, the anxiety of spectacle pivots on the
desire of Western scopic drive to fix and define its subject on Western terms. That desire
surfaces as discourses of "fixity" that attempt to claim a subject by naming it. For
example, the Western discourse of superstition and the occult comes into in an
overwhelming number of discussions concerning "voodoo"; the deliberate choice herein
to refer to the religion as Vodoun is an attempt to mediate that discourse. However, the
term "spectral voice" borrows from that same discourse. It "mimics" the fixity the
dominant discourse signifies with "spectre" in the attempt to subvert that discourse.
This attempt relies on the idea that co-emergent with that fixity is the irremediable
otherness of the Other, the difference that is increasingly marked as the perceived identity
of the named subject approaches the vision of Western scopic drive. Here, that drive
desires knowledge of Breille's specter, but that knowledge means situating the specter in
the material world. This results in paradox, because such a placement demands the
identification of the specter as Breille, an identification that assaults the very boundaries
of Western Rationalism with which the identification is made. The response to that
paradox is ambivalence, a stance that allows the dual inscription of Breille to stand. In
fact, it acknowledges his very nature as dual inscription. Instead of exhibiting the "almost
the same, but not quite" of Bhabha's mimicry that "conceals no presence or identity
behind its mask" (Bhabha 88), Breille exhibits the anxiety of spectacle as "the same
obscuring the different;" Breille's spectacle his "specter" does serve as a "mask," or
more accurately as a shield. Whereas Bhabha's mimicry makes no endeavor to preserve
the hidden because it hides nothing, the ambivalence arising from the anxiety of spectacle
is important precisely because it does preserve the hidden as a place of enunciatory power
and transgression. That power arises in part from a hyper-awareness in Western scopic
drive of an impenetrable space beyond the spectacle of the totally hidden. Only in the
presence of such awareness is the drama of spectral voice fully realized. This is a subtle
yet critical difference.
The preservation of the ambivalence of dual inscription lends power to the
spectral voice by sustaining the hidden as hidden while simultaneously calling attention
to its power as knowledge. It is the preservation of ambivalence that drives Carpentier's
application of magical realism. Because the form embraces the incommensurable, it
provides an ideal frame for spectral voice to function in ways discontinuous with other
literary forms. Consequently, an understanding of how Carpentier contributed to magical
realism's transformation and how magical realism facilitates spectral voice brings into
sharper focus the critical import of The Kingdom of This World. Such an understanding
also forefronts the novel's relevance to the continuing project of examining inter- and
intra-communal relationships in the region today.
The inception of Latin American magical realism is located in European Surrealism
and visual art aesthetics. Consequently, it shares with Surrealism an impulse to co-
represent divergent perceptions of"reality" as one unified vision (Zamora and Faris,
Introduction 11). However, Carpentier's application of magical realism significantly
changes the form. In fact, as Bobs. M. Tusa notes, while the novel arises from
Carpentier's "enhancing experiences of Surrealism" during his time in Europe, it is also
"his rebellion against Surrealism and his counter-challenge" (25). Thus his application of
magical realism demonstrates the conscription and transformation of a European form as
repudiation and resistance, and as a means of explicating Latin American identity. Since
his role in developing Latin American magical realism so clearly illustrates his
philosophy of appropriation and adaptation, it is central to most discussions of
Carpentier's work today. Just as he appropriates historical narrative to display its voids,
so too does he change magical realism to accommodate the Latin American context.
His efforts in this area coincide with the efforts of other writers of Latin America's
"El Boom" of the mid-1900s (Zamora and Faris 1; Janney 9), and together those efforts
constitute a major Latin American literary influence. During that era authors such as
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Miguel Angel Asturias, and Jorge Luis Borges shared
Carpentier's concern for developing a literary form that focused on Latin American
experiences from inside that space, in contrast to imposed European forms and narratives
that had previously defined it. Their success is apparent not only in the impact their
efforts had on Latin American literary traditions, but also in the number of writers around
the world they influenced then and now. Today such authors as Salman Rushdie, Toni
Morrison, and Haruki Murakami continue to use the form, and other traditions of magical
realism have arisen that, if not derived from,1 are at least in dialogue with the work of
Carpentier and his contemporaries.
However, some critics argue that The Kingdom of This World does not fit the model
of a magical realist text. This assertion is based on a binary formulation of magical
realism as either the aesthetic vision of art critic Franz Roh, who coined the term in 1925
to apply to Surrealist painting (Evans 3; Faris 15; Roh 15), or magical realism as it
appears in Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude (perhaps the most
critically examined magical realist text of all). But this is a false binary for several
reasons. First, The Kingdom of This World was first published in Spain in 1949, whereas
One Hundred Years of Solitude first appeared in 1967, nearly two decades later. This
alone makes a comparison of their literary forms anachronistic, as Latin American
magical realism was undergoing rapid transformation in those decades. Comparing
Carpentier's novel to Marquez's is tantamount to comparing the Theory of Relativity to
quantum physics. Additionally, as Richard A. Young explains in his discussion of the two
novels, Marquez's conception of magical realism takes the prerogative of altering
1 One example of this is the emergence of a literary tradition in West Africa that some theorists identify as
Magical Realism. Some authors who deploy this form, however, object to its identification by that name.
For an extended discussion of this, see Brenda Cooper's Magical Realism in West African Fiction: Seeing
With a Third Eye and Olatubosun Ogunsanwo's review of the same.
material reality, whereas Carentier's "lo maravilloso real" focuses ostensibly on
phenomenological differences, similar to Roh's conception. However, it is critical to note
that Carpentier presents phenomenological difference as an effective force in the material
world, which is a clear departure from Roh's aesthetic. Also, as Young further points out,
the final two chapters of The Kingdom of This World present in material terms the
metamorphic transformations of the slave Ti Noel. This makes apparent Carpentier's
cognizance of magical realism's potential to produce a coherent, "alternative" reality, and
indeed Marquez's later effort may in fact owe its perspective to Carpentier's vision. But
more importantly, The Kingdom of This World brings together both poles of magical
realism's potential and inserts the European form into the New World context. The result
is a text that insists on the reality of perspective and the illusion of reality.
This distinction is critical in understanding Carpentier's use of spectral voice. Used
alone, Roh's formulation of magical realism would deny the effective impact of such a
phenomenon on the material world. Roh uses the term ("Magischer Realismus") to
describe a form of visual art in which traditional realism is overlaid with elements of
surrealism and the fantastical (Evans 3; Faris 15; Roh 15). In the term's application Roh
emphasizes the "realism" of the art, and he viewed that realism as a rebuttal to
Expressionism's "exaggerated preference for fantastic, extraterrestrial, remote objects"
and "shocking exoticism" (Roh 16). In the works of such artists as Schottz, Nebel, and
Picasso, Roh sees "a new style that is thoroughly of this world, that celebrates the
"The mundane" that Roh speaks of is in direct contrast to Expressionism's dramatic
deviation from "accurate" and "objective" representation of the world and nature. The
importance of realistic representation for Roh becomes more evident when we examine
how he defines "magic" in the following passage: "The clash of true reality and apparent
reality has always had an elemental attraction Such ajuxtaposition of reality and
appearance was not possible until the recuperation of the objective world, which was
largely lacking in Expressionism"(Roh 20). Roh goes on to explain how magical realist
art recuperates the objective: "We could say that in this new painting the very system of
categories has been refined, gaining in clarity, richness, and precision" (Roh 29). We can
draw from these passages that for Roh the magical element of the art is not in any sense
an element of transcendent or supernatural agency, but rather arises from the space
between "true reality" and individual perspectives or representations of that reality. Roh's
magical realism does not arise from an exalted state nor presuppose faith as does
Carpentier's. It is a fervent embrace of the objective while simultaneously acknowledging
the irreducible multiplicity of representation. Consequently, the "magical" depends on
and is a function of a startling contrast between objective reality and subjective judgment,
and that contrast reinforces rather than challenges the "system of categories," the "true
reality," by which Rationalism defines the concrete world.
But Roh's emphasis on a definable, concrete reality differs significantly from ideals
of magical realism that grow out of its Latin American formulation. As Zamora and Faris
explain, "Roh praises Post-Expressionism's realistic, figural representation, a critical
move that contrasts with our contemporary use of the term [magical realism] to signal the
contrary tendency, that is, a text's departure from realism rather than its reengagement of
it" (15). A fundamental shift in perspectives separates today's magical realism and its
ideological Latin American parent from the aesthetic Roh sought to define in 1925.
That shift occurs in part because of a distinctive narrative approach that rejects
Roh's privileging of the objective world and differentiates Latin American and
contemporary magical realism from other literary forms. Wendy B. Faris terms this
approach "defocalization," (43) or a narrative given from an indeterminate, unlocatable
perspective. The defocalized narrative voice arises from the hidden, and in this respect it
is "spectral." Like spectral voice it has the power of knowledge, but only at the expense
of inverted paradigms, since one effect of defocalization is to record as empirically true
elements that in fact depart from rational or empirical standards. Defocalization thereby
mimics the empirical dependency that realist texts derive from a more determinate
narrative perspective, like an omniscient narrator, but allows the text to leave unfixed the
categorical boundaries of "truth" and "reality." For example, in The Kingdom of This
World, we more readily consider the idea that Breille's appearance at the Mass of the
Assumption is "fact" rather than simply Christophe's hallucination because we are not
invested in any single narrative perspective. Therefore we have the broad scope of the
omniscient narrator, but not the certainty. Because our narrator remains ideologically
unformed, meaning we cannot determine from which viewpoint of reality the narrator
speaks, we have no clearly defined framework for determining the narrator's reliability or
the text's interpretive parameters. We must therefore retain some discomfort about
anything we accept in the text as "real." If we accept the narrative judgment that Breille
does indeed appear at the Mass, we must also accept the implicit challenge to the
authority of objective history. In what "official" historical record will we find a spectral
Breille? Yet the defocalized narrative lends his appearance the ontological weight of
The unsettling doubts that defocalization produces set apart both Carpentier's and
Marquez's approach to magical realism from Roh's. Both Latin American authors resist
the reinscription of material reality with the appellative "true" with which Roh marks it.
But in another respect Carpentier and Marquez use magical realism quite differently, and
had Carpentier adhered to Gabriel Garcia Marquez' magical realism, this would have
placed spectral voice too solidly in the realm of the fantastical. Whereas Roh privileges
material reality, Marquez's formulation of it does little to preserve the demarcation
between realities. For example, in One Hundred Years of Solitude "Macondoans ride
magi carpets, Remedios the Beauty rises up to the heavens, a pot in Ursula's kitchen
spontaneously creeps to the edge of the table and falls, Jose Arcadio and Amarant give
birth to an infant with a pig's tail, Melquiades foretells the family history" (Faris 121).
Throughout Marquez's novel, the magical asserts itself in ways that transform the
material world. As a result, we gain a sense of being constantly in a world that is almost,
but not quite, the one in which we reside. That world is different but cohesive.
But for Carpentier in The Kingdom of This World, the challenge to Rationalist
values and hegemony arises in part from the disjunction between perspectives, a
disjunction that partially disappears in Marquez's novel. Carpentier deploys both forms
of magical realism to achieve an effect distinctly different from either. Because he
juxtaposes the two, we gain from The Kingdom of This Worldthe sense that reality is
layered, and the fabric of one layer is rent to reveal what lies beneath. We can never be
certain whether the differences we see are phenomenological or material because the
level of incoherence in the text is greater than that in Marquez's. Consequently, we catch
a glimpse of the hidden while retaining a heightened awareness of its hidden status. We
hear the voices of the silenced and remain aware they have been silenced. This makes
brutally obvious the violence of colonial oppression as more than a physical violence. It
reveals it as a colonization of the spirit and calls into question the categorical boundaries
that make that colonization possible. Consequently, when spectral voice intercedes to
mark a given moment as significant, it provides a place to which the reader can anchor
the desire for truth and knowledge. Spectral voice simultaneously becomes the
manifestation of instability while serving as the point of coherence in the text.
Yet spectral voice also illuminates a will to resistance, a will that the narrative of
Western hegemony must elide for the sake of totality. It accomplishes this by revealing
those moments when Rationalist categorical boundaries such as "the magical" and "the
real," "past" and "present," or "body" and "spirit" collapse (as we see in Breille's case).
Magical realism as Carpentier reconfigures it provides an ideal frame for this revelation,
since magical realism is adapted to the dissolution or transgression of such boundaries.
As Zamora and Faris express it, "magical realism is a mode suited to exploring and
transgressing boundaries, whether the boundaries are ontological, political,
geographical, or generic ... [It] often facilitates the fusion or coexistence, of possible
worlds, spaces, systems that would be irreconcilable in other modes of fiction" (Zamora
and Faris 6). Breille's death and resurrection are preeminent examples of this in The
Kingdom of This World because in Western ideologies death is arguably the ultimate
marker of Rationalist order. It is an impermeable boundary whose monumental weight
marks the centrality of the individual and signals the absolute linearity of time and
progress2. Consequently, by challenging this boundary the spectral voice carves out a
2For extended discussion on the categorical imperative of death in European systems of belief, see
Deborah Gorman's The Victorian Girl and the Feminine Ideal, which discusses the significant change in
space for the hidden by bringing under scrutiny perceptual voids in the Western
Rationalist body of knowledge. That challenge explains why the manifestation of
spectral voice as "ghostly" is the prevalent mode, and why magical realism as a form is
so conducive to the function of spectral voice. Magical realism helps validate this
function because it accepts the "reality" of spectral voice and of resistance a priori,
regardless of the ambiguities that may surround any particular instance of its
manifestation. This allows spectral voice to refine its focus, putting aside the question, "Is
it real?" and bringing under examination instead those categorical boundaries that insist
the question be posed at all.
mortality rates among children in 19" century England. Additionally, see "'She Cried a Very Little': Death,
Grief and Mourning in Working-class Culture, c. 1880-1914*," in which author Julie-Marie Strange takes a
slightly different view with regard to the working class, yet on the whole supports the idea that perceptions
of death were changing and the categorical divide between life and death becoming more insurmountable.
Finally, social scientist Pat Jalland "argues that the middle and upper classes had begun to retreat from
death some decades earlier," (qtd in Strange 143). Cumulatively, these sources point to death as the
ultimate categorical boundary in dominant Western ideologies, serving to separate not only the dead from
the living, but also the rational or "scientific" from the irrational or "superstitious."
CARPENTER' S REGIONAL VISION
As the analyses of Breille's connection to Haitian communal consciousness and
Christophe's connection to European values demonstrate, spectral voice challenges ideas
of communal "belonging" the European Breille "belongs" to Haiti whereas the Haitian
Christophe "belongs" to Europe. With the cry of an infant, spectral voice collapses
polarities of identity and replaces them with a circular, discursive relationship between
past, present and future; it fundamentally alters ideals of community, identity, and
individuality. These strategies redefine community in a way that effectively decenters
Europe (as the seat of rationalist and objective thought) and forefronts the syncretic
qualities of Latin America.
This focus on syncretism is the indicator of the text's second major premise, which
concerns Carpentier's view of Latin America from a regional rather than a strictly
national perspective. While Carpentier was very active in the nationalist project of Cuba,
he ultimately came to insist on situating cultural production simultaneously within both a
national and a broader regional sensibility (Young 34; Smith 65). He conceived of Latin
American identity and community as functions of shared experiences that transcend
artificially imposed boundaries. He accordingly viewed syncretism as the disclosure of
that regional sensibility.
His desire to privilege syncretism results in several strategies that contest the
artificial circumscription of community and identity by nationalist boundaries.
Particularly, in The Kingdom of This World he refocuses the lens of history to cameo
connections and events quite different from those usually placed at center by Western
historiography. He also focuses on the syncretic elements in Vodoun as a unifying thread
between disparate times and places. But it is this last strategy that brings to light a critical
problem in the novel; it engages in an essentialist view of Vodoun that reinscribes
problematic European discourses on the novel's representational space.
Syncretism finds expression in The Kingdom of This World most frequently when
Carpentier explores what Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert calls "the seamless flow between
the life of the body and the life of the spirit that characterizes Vodou" (116). Breille's
appearance in the cathedral is such an exploration. Because of this "seamless flow,"
Breille's physical demise does not foreclose his continuing resistance. The power of faith
arising from shared trauma at the hands of the colonizer facilitates his transition from a
corporeal being to one of spirit and communal will. Additionally, Breille's role as priest
aligns him with modes of religious expression, and his transformation into the world of
spirit further reinforces this alignment. As a result, his emerges as a socio-religious
signifier of Haitian communal consciousness. Similarly, his destructive power over
emblems of European power, and specifically over European religious practices,
powerfully marks him as representative of Vodoun, the Haitian "religion of resistance
and revolution [that] gives collective strength and identity to the disenfranchised" (Dayan
39). Through his death and transformation, Breille becomes a model for religious
That syncretism appealed to Carpentier's interest in Afro-Cubanism (Edison 54;
Janney 10), 1 a term coined by Cuban ethnologist and social scientist Fernando Ortiz. As
1 Frank Janney notes particularly the overarching presence of animism in Carpentier's early fiction, and
also notes, "According to J. C. Froelich animism is the basic element of all Black religions in Africa:" (53).
Ortiz's term suggests, one of the movement's primary concerns was highlighting the
indigenous and African components of Cuban and Latin American culture, and as Donald
L. Shaw explains, early in Carpentier's career the author adopted much of Ortiz'
philosophy (3-6). Gonzales Echevarria identifies that philosophy as part of the struggle to
disentangle Latin America from a culturally bankrupt Europe and assert authenticity and
independence for Latin American cultural production (55-57). As loci of the African
presence in Latin America, syncretic religions such as Vodoun and Santeria., which arose
from West African religions in close and continuous contact with Catholicism, are
integral to that struggle (Gonzalez-Wippler, Powers 1; Rituals 8; Turlington 15),
Accordingly, Carpentier's focus on Vodoun in The Kingdom of This World logically
follows his interest.
The significance for Carpentier of Vodoun and syncretism in developing a
regional sensibility cannot be overstated. This becomes evident in The Kingdom of This
World with an analysis of Ti Noel's experiences immediately after the Haitian
Revolution. This analysis reveals both the critical role of Vodoun in communal identity
and Carpentier's strategic use of the historic lens to relocate the center of meaning to
Latin America. After the revolution, the story of Ti Noel shifts away from Haiti and leads
us to Cuba during moments in which European historical accounts forefront events in
Haiti. This move, in establishing Ti Noel and his social context as a thread of continuity,
Janney's observation highlights Carpentier's interest in recuperating the Black heritage of the Caribbean
and thus suggests that interest plays a large part in Carpentier's literary focus. However, Janney's analysis
of Carpentier's animism also inheres a problematic categorization of such religions as emanating from
"primitive cultures," (53) which reflects an ongoing practice of imposing Western ethnographic views on
non-Western cultural practices. Janney assumes Carpentier shares this characterization of such cultures, an
assumption with merit the text will demonstrate.
challenges Western historical narratives and rejects the idea that community (and
identity) is geographically or nationally bounded.
Ti Noel's master M. Lenormand de Mezy seeks refuge in Cuba, taking Ti Noel
with him. While in Cuba, the two men find themselves in a Catholic cathedral, and the
importance of the scene rests in Ti Noel's experience of that space. Because of its
location, the scene echoes the Mass of the Assumption, and issues of power, voice, and
vision appropriately come into play.
De Mezy goes to the cathedral after "seeing in the mirror how the marks of age
deepened with every passing week, [and he] began to fear the approaching summons of
God .... And so, accompanied by Ti Noel, he took to spending long hours groaning and
rasping out ejaculatories in the Santiago Cathedral" (Carpentier, Kingdom 85). The slave
owner's sudden bout of piety is precipitated by a disabling malaise that accompanies a
sharp downturn of his fortunes at the card tables. Like Gonzales, his piety is hollow,
based on self-interest and material concerns, disconnected from communal values or any
concordant sense of identity.
In sharp contrast, Ti Noel finds in the cathedral a strong tie to his home and past.
The passage describing his experience is highly visual and verges on structural
fragmentation as it weaves from disparate elements a remarkable discovery for the slave
in his exile: "the Negro found in the Spanish churches a Voodoo warmth" that has "an
attraction, a power of seduction in presence" that emanates from "The baroque golds, the
human hair of the Christs, the mystery of the richly carved confessionals, the guardian
dog of the Dominicans, the dragons crushed under saintly feet, the pig of St. Anthony, the
dubious color of St. Benedict, the black Virgins, the St. Georges with the buskins and
corselets of actors in French tragedies, the shepherd's instruments played on Christmas
Eve" (Carpentier, Kingdom 87). This passage demonstrates in both content and form the
composite nature of the church's interior. Its list-like structure amidst conventional prose
is disjunctive, and its contents abound with disjunctions as well. The rich imagery injects
into the overarching European milieu elements rendered uniquely Latin American by the
synthesis of their parts. The emblems of Christian ceremony and tradition become instead
the emblems of appropriation and transformation. The list and the scene thereby serve as
an effective metaphor for Carpentier's vision of Latin American identity.
Contrasted with the cathedral setting of the Mass of Assumption, the scene's
syncretic elements are heightened and its invocation of Vodoun practices forefronted.
Whereas the Mass of the Assumption occurs amidst the signs of Catholicism and the
colonial presence, the Cuban cathedral abounds with "symbols, attributes and signs
similar to those of the alters of the houmforts [sic] consecrated to Damballah, the Snake
god. Besides, St. James is Ogon Fai, marshall of the storms, under whose spell
Bouckman's followers had risen" (87). The conventional markers of Catholicism are shot
through and through with dominating markers of the African gods, and these elements of
religious syncretism collapse for Ti Noel the distance between home and Cuba, between
community and exile. National boundaries succumb to the unity of shared history,
traditions, and beliefs.
Notably, voice and vision function in this scene to invert the thrust of Western
scopic drive, giving authority of sight to Ti Noel and rendering European voice
incomprehensible,. This is evident in "these discordant symphonies, which Don Esteban
Salas enriched with bassoons, horns, and boy sopranos" (Carpentier, Kingdom 87). As in
the case of Gonzales' liturgy, European voice is here associated with the superfluous,
with the irrelevant droning of "discordant symphonies." Ti Noel ponders the purpose of
the noise, noting "It was really impossible to understand why this choirmaster .. was
determined that the singers should enter the chorus one after the other, part of them
singing what the others had sung before, and setting up a confusion of voices fit to
exasperate anyone" (Carpentier, Kingdom 85-86). The imposed and to Ti Noel illogical
- structure the choirmaster strives for, like the hollow ceremonial gestures of Gonzales,
have no underlying meaning in the syncretic world of Latin America. In the presence of
guardian spirit-dogs and St. Anthony's pig, his efforts are worthless.
So while the scene lacks the revelatory clarity of spectral voice, we find its
antithesis signaling the bankruptcy of European forms and values. The focus turns away
from hollow, incomprehensible ceremony because Ti Noel draws meaning not from the
babble of the functionaries and the European musical forms but from the points of
intersection between realities, between the African gods and the saints of Europe,
between the Son of God and the son of war. These points of intersection highlight the
syncretic origins of Vodoun, and in turn, Vodoun provides continuity between Ti Noel's
experience of community in Haiti and his experience in the Cuban church. Ti Noel's
revelation anchors community and identity to shared practices arising from a syncretic
heritage and rejects the idea that community is always geographically bounded. While the
routed Europeans may be devastated by their exile and find little reassurance in the
hollow forms of normalcy, Ti Noel finds comfort and warmth. In his exile he discovers
the far-reaching embrace of community in the chocolate tones of a black Madonna. .
Another important aspect of this passage is its reference to "the baroque golds" of
the cathedral because the idea of the baroque is central to Carpentier's concept of Latin
America. He sees the Latin American space as inherently baroque, as a place where "the
fantastic inheres in the natural and human realities of time and place" (Zamora and Faris,
Editor's Note "On the Marvelous" 75). Consequently, in his search for Latin American
authenticity, Carpentier again uses an appropriative strategy. He transforms the European
notion of the baroque into a distinctly Latin American configuration, one that strives for
an overall balance of disparate parts and "steep[s] the reader in whatever atmosphere he
[Carpentier] is evoking" (Smith 64). Carpentier's Latin American "neo- baroque," as
Cesar Augusto Salgado explains, is a critical redefinition of European baroque that
"refocus[es] on the hybrid refigurations that European baroque paradigms have
undergone when transplanted into the colonial arena [. .] 'New World Baroque' cultural
artifacts of the colonial period could be read as instances of discontinuity rather than as
application of European aesthetic norms despite their visible allegiance to a metropolitan
school of style" (317). The baroque in Latin America, then, marks those points of
divergence at which syncretic formations depart from European norms.
By using this "neo-Baroque" within the framework of magical realism, Carpentier
challenges the putative success of European Rationalism and the Enlightenment within
the Caribbean space. He shifts the view of artifacts in the Caribbean we might interpret as
European baroque to one that shows us incongruities wrought by the irresistible forces of
the New World: "angels playing the bassoon, the theorbo, the organ, and the maracas"
perched atop a burned church overrun by jungle growth in The Lost Steps (116); a "Ceres
with a broken nose and discolored peplum" holding court from "a fountain of crumbling
grotesques" in War of Time (105); Christophe's Citadel in The Kingdom of This World,
built on the energies of sacrificial blood, of "the mighty bellowing of bulls, bleeding,
their testicles to the sun (125). All are transformed in that shift to images whose principle
characteristic is their incongruous melding of Old World and New. They are European
baroque in form but American in spirit, and the emphasis in that melding for Carpentier is
the transformative power of creolization/metizaje. So the overarching baroque tone of Ti
Noel's cathedral experience works with the refocused historical lens to mark the moment
as a remarkable instance of creolite.
But Ti Noel's experience also points to a critical problem in the text. That problem
arises from Carpentier's intention to illustrate a unified Latin American sensibility
capable of shaking off the fetters of Europe and claiming authenticity for the Latin
American creole subject. By tuning the lens of history to show Vodoun's importance in
The Kingdom of This World, Carpentier seeks to recontextualize historical, social, and
moral relevance by shifting critical focus from distant Europe to America. As Robert
Gonzales Echevarria suggests, this goal is evident throughout the corpus of Carpentier's
work as "a search for origins, the recovery of history and tradition. The foundation of an
autonomous American consciousness serving as the basis for a literature faithful to the
New World," (qtd in Paravisini-Gebert). Barbara Webb expands on this, saying "Lo
maravilloso real, with its emphasis on the mythohistorical heritage of the Americas,
represents the beginning of a dialogue .. concerned with establishing a New World
cultural identity based on the shared heritage of all of its peoples" (Webb 13, italics
mine). That emphasis on the shared heritage of all, however, leads Carpentier (like many
other authors before him and since) into an unintended essentialization. In The Kingdom
of This World, a monolithic representation of Vodoun blunts the otherwise razor-sharp
effects of spectral voice. It invites in Western scopic drive and grants its authority to
define and circumscribe.
In his eagerness to portray Vodoun as a unifying influence, Carpentier adapts the
methodologies of Western anthropology and ethnography even as he tries to diffuse their
negative impact. These academic discourses are arguably inextricable from Western
scopic drive, since their primary purpose is to produce knowledge of cultures through
penetration, observation, and categorization. The problematic influence of these
discourses is apparent in Ti Noel's experience in the Cuban cathedral, which exhibits a
difficulty symptomatic of Vodoun's representation in the text. The features of the
cathedral's iconography that appeal to Ti Noel are features he associates with Vodoun,
made evident by his invocation of the hounfort. As Joan Dayan explains, the hounfort is
the alter around which the Vodoun community "articulates itself' (40). The cathedral
scene contains nothing to contradict Ti Noel's identification.
However, the prevailing religion of syncretic origins in Cuba is not Vodoun,
which is uniquely associated in its specificity with Haiti. Rather, in Cuba Vodoun's
counterpart is La Religi6n Lucumi, often referred to as Santeria (Gonzalez-Wippler,
Powers 1, Gonzalez-Wippler Santeria 3, Perez 18). Certainly, Ti Noel's association of
these elements with Vodoun is understandable; his prior experiences make it a reasonable
identification. Also, Carpentier's intent was clearly to draw attention to the shared
African origins of these two faiths. But because the text imposes one upon the other with
no clarification, both of them lose specificity. They become flattened out into a
monolithic representation of syncretism. This move reflects the influence in Carpentier's
writing of Cuban ethnographer and social scientist Femando Ortiz, who "identified the
end result of syncretism as 'transculturation' and saw it as similar to the Anglo-American
paradigm of acculturation and assimilation" (Perez 16).Such a flattening may well serve
to highlight common bonds of shared heritage and traumas, but does little to
acknowledge the unique elements imbedded in every faith by the agency of its
practitioners. To suggest that syncretism follows the same pathways everywhere is to
deny that agency.
Anthropology, ethnography, and related social science discourses also have
another impact, indirect yet equally negative, on perceptions of Vodoun. They spawned
in their early years popular discourses that titillated Western audiences by fetishizing
elements "peripheral to the more basic beliefs and practices that articulate the multiple
and ambiguous versions of the Haitian socio-religious life" (Dayan 33). These discourses,
both academic and popular, find their way into The Kingdom of This World as another
manifestation of Carpentier's appropriative tendencies, but not the conscious
manipulation evident with magical realism. They manifest most noticeably as the urge to
homogenize identified above, and in an unintended or at least unexamined -
reactionary pattern evident in Breille's example. This pattern nearly always associates
Vodoun with supernatural or supranatural forces. Even in Ti Noel's Cuban cathedral
experience, although no supernatural or supranatural elements emerge, the overall tone
and ambiance of the scene is highly suggestive of them. While this association facilitates
the power of spectral voice, it also reinforces an early anthropological discourse that
makes a distinction between "modern" religions and "primitive" religions, a distinction
that hinges on "the so-called primitive-mentality problem" (Geertz 110). In these
discourses, "primitive" is inextricably connected to "superstition," "shamanism," or as
in this case "blood ritual." As such, the primitive religion is cast as the under-evolved
precursor of modern religion, and as in other such polarities, is almost inevitably
racialized. Consequently, the association of Vodoun with super- or supranatural
phenomena in The Kingdom of This World in the absence of any offsetting
representations renders a troubling view of the religion. That view is just as reductive as
Hollywood horror films featuring bloodthirsty rites of black magic and zombified
monsters bent on the destruction of humanity.
Popular discourses on Vodoun such as the horror film genre are not alone in their
reductionism. For example, in the early decades of the twentieth century, ethnographic
interpretations of "primitive" cultures abounded, and in fact colonial expansionism had
prospered from the Rationalist notion of cultural evolution2. Even well-intentioned
anthropological efforts to explicate the role of Vodoun and its socio-religious function
typically fell short of their intentions. Consequently, in the decades that followed, authors
such as Carpentier had to contend with the perceived legitimacy that the science of
evolution and early cultural anthropology lent the colonial endeavor. However,
countering such legitimacy often results in accepting unaware any number of the
premises on which it is founded. Consequently, Rationalist notions like the idea of
"primitive" cultures as less evolved and therefore closer to "a state of nature" or a
2 Cultural evolution adapts LaMarckian and Darwinian notions of evolution to cultural development.
Colonialism used the concept to shift justification of the colonial endeavor from a strictly religious claim
(saving the souls of the "savages") to one that also incorporated the notion of "saving the savages" from
their evolutionary backwaters and "civilizing" them for their own good. For a more detailed analysis of
cultural evolution and its relevance to colonialism and post colonialism, see Sander A. Gilman's
"Sexology, Psychoanalysis, and Degeneration: From a Theory of Race to a Race to Theory." Also see
Sandra Siegel's "Literature and Degeneration: The Representation of 'Decadence'" and Joe Roucloux's
"Can Democracy Survive the Disgust of Man for Man? From Social Darwinism to Eugenics."
"childlike" state creep into otherwise resistant texts. Some aspects of The Kingdom of
This World suggest that Carpentier may have been influenced by such endeavors, such as
W. B. Seabrook's 1929 ethnography of Haiti, The Magic Island.
Seabrook's agenda in The Magic Island is to challenge previous, deleterious
assumptions about Haiti and the practice of Vodoun, but his perspective is so
unquestioningly accepting of Rationalism's civilized/savage dichotomy that his intended
altruism toward his subject becomes milquetoast condescension. Passages such as this
one from The Magic Island reveal his attitudes toward the Haitian people: "the mass of
the populace, possessing childlike traits often naive and lovable as well as laughable,
have also a powerful underlying streak of primitive, atavistic savagery" (Seabrook 276).
This image of "primitive" peoples as childlike and naive yet capable of explosive
violence pervades early ethnographic studies, reinforcing the ideal of white Eurocentric
superiority even when it is intended to condemn the "mature and jaded West," like this
statement of Seabrook's related by Joan Dayan:
[He] told his blase readers back in New York to get some passion into
their lives by putting blood in their Fifth Avenue cocktails: "Perhaps if we
mixed a little true sacrificial blood in our synthetic cocktails and flavored
them prayerfully with holy fire, our night clubs would be more
orgiastically successful and become sacred as temples were in the days of
Priapus and Aphrodite." (32)
The "back to nature" message in this passage is unmistakable. Urban imagery
counterpoises the dark spirituality of "true sacrificial blood" to firmly demarcate the
primitive/modern divide, and builds on a scene in The Magic Island in which Seabrook
witnesses a vodoun ceremony: "The blood .. spurted in a hard, small stream from the
bull's pierced side, where the mamaloi knelt with her bowl to receive it and transferred it
bowl by bowl to the great common trough. The papaloi and mamaloi now drank
ceremonially of the holy blood" (Seabrook 40). The relative truth of Seabrook's
description aside, this passage panders to a rapacious desire for titillation in his audience
and exacerbates problematic views in the West of Haitians and Vodoun. By focusing on
such "blood rites," Seabrook perpetuates a formulation of Vodoun that obscures the more
pervasive and overarching functions of the religion, such as promoting communal
cohesion, regulating social behavior, and providing a sense of"pastness" to a people
denied a history throughout the tenure of colonialism.
Comparing Seabrook's passage with the following passage in The Kingdom of This
World arouses at least a suspicion that Carpentier is aware of Seabrook's work and
incorporates some of it into his own novel: "Every day in the middle of the parade square
several bulls had their throats cut so that their blood could be added to the mortar to make
the fortress impregnable" (Carpentier, Kingdom 120). The passage describes ritual
sacrifices Christophe implements during the construction of the Citadel La Ferriere. The
blood of the bulls sanctifies the structure as the sacrificial blood purifies the participants
in Seabrook's reported ceremony. While this example is complexly nuanced because
ultimately Christophe fails, it is still problematic. Granted, the text suggests through
Christophe's fate that his relationship to Vodoun and his understanding of it are flawed.
His entombment in the very walls the sacrifices are meant to fortify illustrates his faith as
"fixed" and "dead," in sharp contrast to the faith that animates Breille. The supernatural
protections the sacrifices are meant to confer fail to materialize. Still, in that very failure
is the implicit and unyielding correlation of Vodoun with blood rites and supernatural
This pattern is likely unintended. On a conscious level, Carpentier professes to
privilege syncretism because it mirrors creolization, the merging of indigenous, European
and African elements that produces, for Carpentier, the "authentic" Latin American
subject. More specifically, he expresses a desire to recuperate the African influences in
Latin America (Cheuse 21). But his position reflects the same problem inherent in certain
ethnological attitudes because it reflects an unquestioning acceptance of the discourse of
race-based superiority. In his desire to contest white Eurocentric privilege, Carpentier
envisions the black Latin American subject as "closer to nature" or "more natural," a
vision implicit in his treatment of Vodoun. While the example of Breille mediates this to
a degree, and is clearly intended to serve as an ideal of creolization, it is worth noting that
Breille attains his "authentic" status only through death and resurrection. Other examples
of Vodoun in the text are all racially marked; for instance, the color consciousness
inherent in "the dubious color of St. Benedict" (86) in Ti Noel's Cuban cathedral
experience. Carpentier attempts through this color consciousness to recuperate the
African presence and grant superiority to the creolized Latin American subject. He
thereby strives to relocate the wellspring of spiritual and moral value to Latin America.
But in so doing he reinscribes the racialized Eurocentric discourses that give rise to
claims of white superiority in the first place.
The Kingdom of This World contains other examples that may also manifest such
unexamined reactions to anthropological discourses. For example, the novel is an
overwhelmingly masculinized text. Women in the novel are either hysterical white
women, like Pauline Bonaparte or the second Madame de Mezy, or objects of male
sexual desire, like Ti Noel's kitchen wench: "Twenty years had gone by in all this
[waiting for Macandal's resurrection]. Ti Noel had fathered twelve children by one of the
cooks" (Carpentier, Kingdom 60). This is one of several references to Ti Noel's
reproductive potency, and in each the recipient of his urges remains nameless,
insignificant to the demonstration of his fecundity. Some might argue this is because
Carpentier has no awareness of gender issues that problematize these representations. But
given his already demonstrated engagement with other anthropological discourses and
their popular offshoots, the overarching masculinity of the text may well be a response to
Western discourses that routinely constructed the Afro-Caribbean Creole male as
alternatively either hypersexual or impotent, and either animalistic or effeminate.
Unfortunately, the reactionary portrayal of Afro-Caribbean masculinity in The Kingdom
of This World does as much to reinforce the oversexed, animalistic vision of these
discourses as to refute the vision of impotence and effeminacy.
Another example of this occurs during the text's portrayal of a slave insurrection.
This insurrection marks the onset of a thirteen year period that culminates in the Haitian
Revolution and is led by a slave and Vodoun priest named Boukman. During the
insurrection, Ti Noel's sexual exploits take a cruel turn: "For a long time now he [Ti
Noel] had dreamed of raping Mlle Floridor. On those nights of tragic declamations she
had displayed beneath the tunic with its Greek-key border breasts undamaged by the
irreversible outrage of the years" (Carpentier, Kingdom 74). The "irreversible outrage" in
this passage is a double entendre signaling both the inevitable effects of time on a body
that Mlle Floridor's breasts have apparently escaped, and the irremediable impact of
years of slavery on the Haitian people. Ti Noel's actions are overtly manifestations of
physical lust, but on a deeper, far more fundamental level they are a scream against the
injustices of slavery and colonization. By framing that protest in terms of Ti Noel's
sexual prowess and reproductive energy, Carpentier articulates that scream through the
creative force of the strong and forceful Afro-Caribbean male. Unfortunately, with this
assault (which leads to Mlle Floridor's death) Carpentier also at least partially validates
the image of him as animalistic and hypersexual.
Notably, Ti Noel gains his intimate knowledge of Mlle Floridor's anatomy in a way
that forefronts the functions of voice and vision, again demonstrating that the
transgressive mechanisms of the novel and its problematic points often coincide. Mlle
Floridor is a failed Parisian actress who marries M. Lenormand de Mezy after his second
wife's death. But her failures in Paris do not prevent her from imposing her questionable
talents on her slaves: "There were nights when she took to the bottle [and ordered] all
the slaves to turn out ... [she would] declaim before her captive audience the great roles
she had never been allowed to interpret this player of bit parts attacked with quavering
voice the familiar bravura passages" (Carpentier, Kingdom 60). As in Ti Noel's
experience in the Cuban cathedral, Mlle Floridor's drunken performances upend the
dynamic of Western scopic drive. Instead of seeing and claiming/naming, she yields her
body to the sight of slaves while her words lack the power to shape her reality. Much like
the priest Gonzales, her voice is irrelevant in the context of Haiti.
Voice and vision also play into the insurrection as a whole because of the Vodoun
ceremony that marks its inception, a ceremony that again demonstrates the problematic
use of Vodoun in the novel. Boukman's leadership and the impending revolt are augured
by "claps of thunder .. echoing like avalanches over the rocky ridges of Morne Rouge"
(Carpentier, Kingdom 66). The thunder here and Boukman's role as priest tie him to
Breille and connote Boukman's words as spectral: "Suddenly a mighty voice arose in the
midst of the congress of shadows, a mighty voice whose ability to pass without
intermediate stages from a deep to a shrill register gave a strange emphasis to its words.
There was much of invocation and much of spell in that speech filled with angry
inflections and shouts" (66).Again, the power of spectral voice to initiate dramatic
changes in the material world functions transgressively, articulating a unity amongst the
slaves that supersedes the expectations of the slave-owners' rationalist worldview. But
Vodoun is directly linked to the super- or supranatural, with no counterbalancing
evidence that it plays a more pervasive and mundane role in the lives of the slaves. As
Joan Dayan explains, Vodoun is a religion in which the people have a "close, reciprocal,
even palpable relation" with their gods. Given the scope and depth it has in their lives,
followers of Vodoun would hardly be capable of functioning in the material world if
every instance in which their faith was relevant was a dramatic and catastrophic event.
Yet the novel presents Vodoun as dramatic spectacle, narrowing its scope and promoting
a view of its followers as overly emotional and aggressive.
Another excellent example that demonstrates the double-edged role of Vodoun in
The Kingdom of This World is a pair of scenes focusing on Macandal, an escaped slave
and leader of a slave revolt around which Carpentier focuses much of his narrative.
Macandal is the character that most clearly represents the African presence in Latin
America. He is the purveyor of preserved African knowledge, and through a process of
physical and spiritual transformation, he incorporates that knowledge into the material
and phenomenal realities of the Haitian people. He is, in many respects, the embodiment
of Vodoun, and he marks it even more clearly than Breille as the affirmation of
communal consciousness. His life and ultimately his death becomes a powerful
articulation of resistance and subjectivity, recovering the pastnesss" of Africa elided by
Western domination. Here again, in this example, the monolithic view of Vodoun is
present, but the function of Macandal in the text is so powerful that it demonstrates
convincingly how spectral voice can ultimately overcome such problems and effectively
give presence to the hidden without succumbing to Western scopic drive.
The first scene narrates the return of Macandal from a self-imposed exile after his
escape from de Mezy's plantation. It builds on accounts of shape-shifting abilities the
Haitian slaves ascribe to Macandal. The slaves' stories transform him into a symbol of
resistance, giving him legendary (or even mythic) status. This transformation finds
expression in tales of physical metamophoses that "the Negroes communicated to one
another, with great rejoicing" (Carpentier Kingdom 41). In their stories, Macandal shape
shifts from a man to "a green lizard [that] had warmed its back on the roof of the tobacco
barn," "a night moth flying at noon, or "a big dog, with bristling hair, had dashed through
the house, carrying off a haunch of venison," or even "a gannet so far from the sea! -
[that] had shaken lice from its wings over the arbor of the back patio" (41). Through
these stories, the slaves refine a powerful legend of Macandal as a figure who in his
myriad forms, "continually visited the plantations of the Plaine to watch over his faithful
and find out if they still had faith in his return. (41). Macandal has been transformed in
the imagination of the people to a savior.
This role arises from Macandal's powerful connection with and sustenance of
African faith and tradition. From the novel's beginning, he articulates the African roots
glossed over by the amnesiac conditions of colonialism: "[He] would tell of things that
had happened in the great kingdoms of Popo, of Arada, of the Nagos, or the Fulah ... But,
above all, it was with the tale of Kankan Muza that he achieved the gift of tongues, the
fierce Muza, founder of the invincible empire of the Mandingues"(Carpentier, Kingdom
13 italics mine). The italicized phrase above is heavily laden with implications. It evokes
a phrase attached to charismatic and pentacostal Christian practices, and thereby
constitutes another appropriation from the West. Like the cathedral scenes, this
appropriation directly juxtaposes systems of belief because Macandal is also the purveyor
of African faith: "He knew the story of Adonhueso, of the King of Angola, of King Da,
the incarnation of the Serpent, which is the eternal beginning, never ending, who took his
pleasure mystically with a queen who was the Rainbow, patroness of the Waters and all
Bringing Forth" (Carpentier, Kingdom 13). This places Macandal on a level with Breille,
and the paralleling of figures, one European and one African, constitute a powerful
manifestation of Caribbean creolization and syncretism in which Macandal is the spiritual
anchor to Africa.
Accordingly, the slaves' faith in Macandal is a preservation of their pastness and
sustenance of their African roots as a basis for community. The strength of their faith not
only sustains Macandal's legend, but lends material power to it as well. The text does not
assert Macandal's abilities on anything more than an imaginative level; it allows the
transformations to remain an element of the slaves' belief alone. Yet that belief in the
fluidity of spirit and flesh ultimately has dramatic impact in the material world, since the
slaves follow Macandal in a revolt against the white colonists. This is the central contrast
between Carpentier's magical realism and Roh's, which would acknowledge the
coexistence of different perspectives but stop short of engaging "the magical" as an
effective force in material reality.
But in contrast, magical realism as Marquez constructs it would not provide for the
double register here of phenomenal incursion into material events. It would instead erase
the distinction that allows Macandal's importance to so clearly arise from faith. Only by
maintaining the tension between material and metaphorical can Carpentier demonstrate
that faith resides in the space of slippage between layers of reality. In this instance it is
the tool of regeneration, of another "resurrection" from a metaphorical death that deepens
the resonance between Breille and Macandal.
Whereas Breille's death is literal, Macandal's "death" is a traumatic maiming.
Injured in a milling accident on de Mezy's plantation, he looses his arm: "With his right
hand he was trying to move an elbow, a wrist that no longer obeyed him ... The master
called for the whetstone to sharpen the machete to be used in the amputation"
(Carpentier, Kingdom 21). It is fitting that de Mezy performs the amputation, because his
enslavement of Macandal is also an amputation of power and self-determination. The
physical loss of Macandal's arm stands in for the spiritual loss of all he has known before
his captivity. His inability to control his arm's movements, even with his uninjured hand,
demonstrates the totally debilitating effects of slavery, an "amputation" of independence
and a severance from origins. Because the changes wrought in Macandal by these dual
amputations fundamentally change who he is, they are tantamount to a death in which his
old self is destroyed and a new one reborn.
Like Breille, Macandal is "resurrected," transformed by his ordeal and called forth
by the will of the people. But because Macandal's death is not literal but figurative, that
return is a dramatic double inscription: "Behind the Mother Drum rose the human figure
of Macandal. The Mandingue Macandal. The One-Armed. The Restored" (47). This
passage's culminating phrase, "The Restored," inarguably demonstrates Macandal's
return from exile as regeneration. He has been reconstituted as "The Mandingue
Macandal," the spirit of Africa in the communal consciousness. Yet he still bears the
mark of his maiming as evidence of his materiality and of the inescapable impact of the
colonial presence. It also marks him as distinct from the Mandingue Macandal. Like
Haiti, he is irremediably altered by the traumas of colonialism, at once restored but
changed. He hovers between two worlds, that of Africa and that of Europe, and in his
indeterminacy he captures the essence of the Creole dilemma at once both and yet
Unlike Breille, Macandal's reappearance is not fleeting; he remains among the
slaves inciting unrest and resistance until he is captured and killed. So his reappearance
might more accurately be called a metaphorical "reincarnation," since his corporeality
after his return is never at issue as it is with Breille. And just as Macandal has
imaginatively possessed the forms of animals during his transformation, he is in turn
"possessed" by the will of the people, given over to the function of resistance in the battle
for deliverance. The people still reside in that space of "natal alienation" that Orlando
Patterson identifies as "social death" (Patterson 8-9). Because they do not own their own
bodies ... or history ... or destiny they are as dead as Macandal before his sojourn in
the mountains. Consequently, when Macandal takes on the mantle of their will, of
communal consciousness, it is a possession of the living by the "dead."
Macandal's escape and return consequently marks him as "spectral" like Breille,
and his voice accordingly has the power, relevance, and knowledge of spectral voice.
This is doubly so because in his storytelling he speaks from a place hidden from Western
scopic drive through erasure. The Western perspective cannot conceive of that space
represented by the memories and traditions he preserves. It is incommensurable with the
totalizing narratives of History, Rationalism, and Enlightenment. That
incommensurability is manifest in the "Mother Drum" Macandal emerges from behind.
Drums in The Kingdom of This World mark the hidden, and thereby mark the space
from which spectral voice arises. The hidden knowledge they connote is best exhibited by
a moment of troubled observation by M. Lenormand de Mezy:: "It [the sound of drums]
filled him with uneasiness, making him realize that, in certain cases, a drum might be
more than just a goatskin stretched across a hollow log. The slaves evidently had a secret
religion that upheld and united them in their revolts" (Carpentier, Kingdom 79).
DeMezy's unease at the sound of the drums results from his realization that they vocalize
hidden knowledge. He acknowledges that "Possibly they [the slaves] had been carrying
on the rites of this religion under his very nose for years and years, talking with one
another on the festival drums without his suspecting a thing"(79). But even this belated
suspicion is just that a suspicion, a "possibility." Despite the testimonial the drums
offer, de Mezy still resists the admission that his gaze Western scopic drive has been
turned aside. He cannot even bring himself to consider his own ignorance as a symptom
of critical absence in his worldview: "But could a civilized person have been expected to
concern himself with the savage beliefs of people who worshipped snakes?" (79). De
Mezy's shock at the realization the slaves could share a spiritual unity makes obvious the
hidden and silenced status of the slaves' social practices. So too does his rejection of the
idea that he, as a "civilized" (read also as "rational") man, should have perceived such a
possibility or even cared about it. The idea of the slaves as a functioning, believing, and
knowing social unit is too far outside the scope of his mindset. Consequently, the
symbolic function of the drums is to signal the spectral, and Macandal's emergence from
behind the Mother Drum fundamentally alters the way his voice in the text can be
Such a reading of Macandal's metamorphosis engages in the discourse of
superstition that is so problematic in The Kingdom of This World. But it does so
necessarily, because Carpentier has invested Macandal's return with an ambiance of
reductive spiritualism. The dramatic spectacle of Vodoun is again the site of that
investment. But this approach will also demonstrate, when carried through to the second
scene in this pair, why Macandal serves as recuperation for the text despite these
problems. Because spectral voice's success in diffusing the dangers of appropriation rests
on its ability to preserve hidden knowledge, Macandal's death is the most effective use of
spectral voice in The Kingdom of This World. But revealing this effectiveness depends on
fully appreciating the spectral nature of Macandal, and therefore of his voice. So in this
instance, the appropriative impulse that risks reducing him to a caricature of "voodoo
primitive" invests him with the power that ultimately redeems him. In weighing the
effects of anthropological influence in the first scene against the effects of spectral voice
in the second, spectral voice carries the day.
Ultimately, Macandal dies martyred to the cause of freedom, but his legend persists
in the imaginative forces of the community, a detail Carpentier draws from his visit to
Haiti in 1943. He notes in his essay "On the Marvelous Real in America" that "The
American Mackandal ... leaves an entire mythology, preserved by an entire people and
accompanied by magic hymns still sung today during voodoo ceremonies" (Carpentier,
"On the Marvelous Real" 88). The durability of Macandal's legend attests to his symbolic
power in the struggle for freedom in Haiti. He is a savior every bit as redemptive as the
Christian Christ, and the details of his death in The Kingdom of This World make that
The scene of Macandal's death is often read to signal the narrator's disbelief in the
slaves' perceptions of Macandal, but reading the passage through the lens of spectral
voice reveals again a double register of reality that resists defining either register as
"real." This resistance is successful because spectral voice makes of Macandal's death a
final metamorphosis, one that commutes him, like Breille, entirely into the space of the
hidden. That space, one of "spirits" and specterss," lays completely beyond the reach of
Western scopic drive ... it is accessible only through the power of faith, and it manifests
as spectral voice and the vision that voice evokes. Consequently, the hidden remains
hidden by appropriating the very discourse intended to reveal it to Western scopic drive.
The term "spectral" counts on the connotations of superstition it evokes in the Western
mind to render it truly spectral, not in the sense of false beliefs, but in the sense of hidden
knowledge. By presenting Macandal as specter, as reincarnate, as possessed, the text
renders him totally hidden. This quality of the hidden makes Macandal's death a place at
which competing realities collide. In the end, it is the material reality of Rational world
view that "flinches."
Macandal's final transformation is set in motion when he is captured by colonial
forces after they have tortured a betrayal from another slave. He is sentenced to burn at
the stake for his role in the slaves' campaign of terror, and his execution is spectacle in
both conception and implementation: "Macandal was now lashed to the post. The
executioner had picked up an ember with the tongs. With a gesture rehearsed the evening
before in front of a mirror, the Governor unsheathed his dress sword and gave the order
for the sentence to be carried out" (Carpentier, Kingdom 51). The Governor's intentional
drama here betrays his unwillingness or inability to acknowledge the gravity of what is
about to happen. His near-comic theatricalism compares gruesomely to the events that
follow: "The fire began to rise toward the Mandingue, licking his legs. At that moment
Macandal moved the stump of his arm, which they had been unable to tie up, in a
threatening gesture which was none the less terrible for being partial, howling unknown
spells and violently thrusting his torso forward" (51). Macandal's actions are a startling
contrast to the vision of authoritative state ceremony evoked so blatantly by the Governor's
ritualizing gestures. The precision and intentionality of the governor's signal provides the exact
antithesis of Macandal's flailing, truncated limb, yet despite the fatal implications of the
Governor's gesture, Macandal's signification is far more potent and empowering. His actions
energize the slave population, directly refuting the intent of the execution by refusing to allow his
death to become a tool of subjugation: "The bonds fell off and the body of the Negro rose in
the air, flying overhead, until it plunged into the black waves of the sea of slaves. A
single cry filled the square: "Macandal saved!" (Carpentier, Kingdom 52). Macandal's
momentary freedom marks a sustaining moment in which the magical, the marvelous, trumps the
logic and order of Western rationalism.
That final cry is a crystalline expression of hope that presages Macandal's continuity in
the minds and hearts of the slaves. It is also the most powerful instance of spectral voice
in the text.
Because Macandal is the spectral double of Breille, the embodiment of Mama
Drum, and the agent of resistance possessed and empowered by the hopes and desires of
the people, the cry is the spectral voice of communal consciousness. Like the crying
infant that signaled Breille's transformation, it is the harbinger of Macandal's
transformation as well. As in other instances, the enunciatory power of spectral voice
denies Western scopic drive and instead invests scopic power in the people.
Consequently, although Macandal is recaptured and the execution continues, his death is
never validated by that scopic power: "When the slaves were restored to order, the fire
was burning normally like any fire of good wood, and the breeze blowing from the sea
was lifting the smoke toward the windows where more than one lady who had fainted had
recovered consciousness. There was no longer anything more to see" (Carpentier,
Kingdom 52). Since the confusion of Macandal's escape prevents the slaves from seeing
Macandal recaptured and thrust into the flames, this is the moment often read as signaling
a narrative investment in the material registry of reality. In short, critics often insist the
narrator simply does not believe the slaves' perceptions of Macandal.
But this interpretation ignores the dynamics of voice and vision diagramed
herein. Because spectral voice has the power to render its subject totally hidden, and
because it divests Western scopic drive of its truth claims, the material reality the
Europeans see -Macandal incinerated in the flames has no relevance. The "truth" about
Macandal, like Macandal himself, is hidden from the predatory Western scopic drive. As
a result, the Europeans present at the execution are confounded by the subsequent
behavior of the slaves: "That afternoon the slaves returned to their plantations laughing
all the way. Macandal had kept his word, remaining in the Kingdom of This World. Once
more the whites had been outwitted by the Mighty Powers of the Other Shore"
(Carpentier, Kingdom 52 italics mine). Here the narrator relates the slaves' perceptions as
knowledge, with nothing to indicate the reader should take it otherwise. It tells the reader
"the whites had been outwitted," presenting this as an unequivocal statement in the same
defocalized manner as it presents Macandal's recapture and death. Reality is still
functioning in that double registry, and that allows ambivalence to mediate the
contradiction between Macandal's material death and his continuing existence in the
phenomenal world of the slaves. The slaves know what spectral voice has obscured from
the Europeans. Macandal remains an effective force in their communal consciousness,
and inasmuch as it informs their lives, he remains an effective force in their material
As in the case of Breille's transformation, Macandal's perpetuity is augured by a
procreative moment. In a passage resonant of the infant's cry, the text discloses that "Ti
Noel got one of the kitchen wenches with twins, taking her three times in a manger of the
stables. (Carpentier, Kingdom 53). Ti Noel's response effectively "twins" Breille and Macandal,
doubling the power and implications of spectral voice in community continuity. Like the infant's
cry, his reaction calls upon the energy of renewal in the face of death. It blurs the boundary
between the two and evokes once again the history, traditions, and beliefs of the community.
Ti Noel is proclaiming his rejection of the "reality" imposed by Western scopic drive, and his
fecundity validates the power of his disbelief.
Like Carpentier's appropriation of Roh's magical realist aesthetic, Macandal
presents reality as a double registry. He is both dead and alive, both the past and the
future of Africa in the Haitian communal consciousness. He is a categorical anomaly that
defies boundaries. So later on the evening of Macandal's execution, when "M.
Lenormand de Mezy in his nightcap commented with his devout wife on the Negroes'
lack of feelings at the torture of one of their own" (Carpentier, Kingdom 52), he is
attempting to diffuse an unease akin to what the voice of the drums instilled in him. His
response to that unease illustrates the most significant effect of spectral voice. It can turn
Western scopic drive back upon itself and preserve the hidden inplain sight. De Mezy
copes with his confusion by wrapping it in the rhetoric of colonial domination: "drawing
therefrom [the execution] a number of philosophical considerations on the inequality of
the human races which he planned to develop in a speech larded with Latin quotations"
(52). De Mezy explains the slaves' behavior as evidence of their savagery, but it is his
fear of that perceived savagery and his certainty of his knowledge of it that will
forever obscure the "truth" from him. In the context of Haiti, Macandal lives on.
Reading that communal shout, "Macandal saved!" as knowledge borne of spectral
voice demonstrates that he has indeed transcended the boundary between the kingdom of
heaven and the kingdom of this world. Like any good savior, he lives on to redeem his
people and inform/be informed by their traditions, practices, and beliefs, and the shout
attests to his transcendence. That communal impulse is not an error; it is the discursive
equivalent of the infant's cry. Macandal is saved through the perpetuation of his legend
and the body of knowledge it entails. Just like Breille's resurrection, his vitality belies the
Western, linear construction of life and death and insists instead on an enduring
circularity, one in which the people find renewal in their past, and phenomenal reality is
not separate from, but an integral part of the material conditions in which they live.
The example of Macandal in The Kingdom of This World demonstrates one reason
why Carpentier's work continues to hold relevance today for Latin American scholars.
Alejo Carpentier's use of spectral voice and communal consciousness permits him to
assault European narratives of truth and totality that underpinned the colonial enterprise.
The case of Macandal and Ti Noel is only one example of this, but it is a powerful one.
So too are the cases of Breille and Gonzales. Each demonstrates the permeability of the
fundamental categorical boundaries and challenges conventional perceptions of Latin
American and European identity. They bring into focus the social and spiritual elements
that constitute such identity, and consequently serve to illuminate the critical work
Carpentier undertakes. Through appropriation and transformation, Carpentier makes of
magical realism a uniquely American approach capable of capturing a uniquely American
reality, a reality in which "improbable juxtapositions and marvelous mixtures exist by
virtue of Latin America's varied history, geography, demography, and politics not by
manifesto" (Zamora and Faris, Editor's Note "On the Marvelous Real" 75).Yet,
Carpentier rejects the idea this appropriation is merely imitative. The Kingdom of This
World condemns such imitation as it strikes down both Gonzales and Christophe and
celebrates the spiritual vitality of Latin American community in Breille's resurrection. It
rejects hollow form in favor of locating individual relevance in communal links.
Carpentier envisioned those links as a regional bond. That vision, while plagued with
certain difficulties, had a profound and lasting effect on the direction of Latin American
Spectral voice is an excellent example of that impact. It contributes to a larger
project of critical analysis and introspection Carpentier and many of his contemporaries
set in motion, and the momentum of that analysis still reverberates today. Syncretism,
regionalism, and the recuperation of African roots remain major topics of discussion in
the aftermath of decolonization. Any attempt to understand the peoples of Latin America
must necessarily ground itself in an examination of these issues. Because spectral voice
impinges the boundaries that categorize the Rationalist world that delineate logical
from illogical, real from imagined, truth from fiction it lends itself to this work. It
renders audible those peoples, cultural practices, and experiences that resist containment
without ceding to the consuming desire of Western scopic drive. Such resistance belies
the seamless totality of the Rationalist narrative, insisting instead on in-between spaces
populated by the Other. Spectral voice's eminence from those liminal spaces can liberate
hidden knowledge and empower the re-imagination of colonized spaces. Thus, it can
function as a powerful political tool for destabilization and recuperation by challenging
the very foundation on which Western expansionism and global domination has been
built the claim of Rationalism to totality, objectivity, and truth. While the term
"spectral voice," like the anthropological traces of The Kingdom of This World, on one
level invokes the discourses that construct those claims, on a higher level it rejects them.
It brings to center the importance of community, faith, and shared experiences in a
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Linda Damell Stanley graduated suma cum laude in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts
in English from the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida. In May, 2006
she will receive a Master of Arts in English with a focus in postcolonial Caribbean
studies from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. She continues her studies at
the University of Florida as a Ph.D. student whose primary area of interest is the
application of postcolonial and neocolonial theory to literature of the Americas. She is a
member of the Golden Key honor society and recipient of the Kirkland Fellowship for
master's students at the University of Florida.