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Catastrophe and Catastrophism: Trying Times in Caribbean Cultural Production

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Organizer: Emily Maguire

Co-Organizer: Guillermina De Ferrari

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The Caribbean has had a long, intimate relationship with catastrophe. As Martin Munro points out in his study of Haitian apocalypse(s), some of the founding elements of modern Caribbean societies – European colonization, indigenous genocide, and the African slave trade – were cataclysmic, world-ending events for the individuals that experienced them. In addition to the role of apocalyptic processes in the historical formation of the Caribbean, modern events, particularly those related to climate change, have given Caribbean societies plenty of contemporary experiences of catastrophe. The last decade alone has witnessed the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, as well as some of the worst hurricanes the region has seen: Hurricane Irma, which caused catastrophic damage to Barbuda, St. Barthélemy, St. Martin, and Anguilla (among others); and Hurricane Maria, which leveled Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Dominica in the Fall of 2017. These events are in addition to daily experiences of poverty and environmental degradation; both Lauren Berlant’s idea of “crisis ordinariness” and Rob Nixon’s work on what he terms “slow violence” suggest that these conditions produce their own kind of crisis state, even if this is experienced less as a single catastrophic event than as an extended, painful status quo.
This seminar proposes to explore in a comparative, interdisciplinary framework the particular ways in which Caribbean cultural production has engaged with, responded to, and shaped our understanding of the region’s diverse crises. At the same time, we are interested in exploring the ways in which notions of crisis and catastrophe might present new and novel interventions into ideas of Caribbean aesthetics, history and even time. We would like to encourage presentations addressing ecosocial disasters within a variety of regions, disciplines, and media.

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