17 January 2010

"Building a New Country"

*Note: Obviously, first and foremost, when talking about Haiti today, we need to think first about what we can do to help. Please go to www.clintonbushhaitifund.org or the American Red Cross to help...

In an interview this morning on Meet the Press, Bill Clinton (alongside W.) stated that what our project (or perhaps 'their project') in Haiti really is, is not so much "rebuilding their nation" after this most recent disaster, but more about "building a new nation". This distinction gets washed out in parsing out the term 'nation-building'. Given Haiti's unique history, from its founding, its early isolation, the crippling "debt" it incurred for revolting against French Slavery the idea of the United States imposing on Haiti any kind of political plan for moving forward is at best problematic. I'm not sure Haiti can fit into traditional models of 'development', 'democratizing', or 'nation-building' and attempts to apply cookie-cutter methods have resulted in (and will continue to result in) an undermining (an erosion, I suppose) of what is essentially Haitian.

It seems what's troubling, perhaps moreso in Haiti than elsewhere, is the familiar post-colonial critique of developing determinism, that is, the idea of a developed nation helping a less developed nation become more like the developed nation. With critiques of Haiti's very culture (from both the certifiably insane & purportedly credible) coming swiftly on the heels of unimaginable devastation,

During the interview, Bush was smiling way too much. And he used the word "Scheister"... He said that the advice that he'd pass on to the Obama is to not be discouraged by the fact that you can't always get aid moving quickly.

Meet the Press' historical setup of the U.S.' relationship with Haiti started in 1934, at the end of the U.S. occupation. It then goes on to 1994 when Clinton sent troops in to Haiti to re-instate Jean Bertrand-Aristide to power, skipping over 60 years of intentional ignorance - most of which involved the Pop & Jr. Duvalier regimes, which the US allowed to exist because it generally allowed us to institute our contemporary agricultural bill, which created favorable tariffs (for us, not them, natch) and convinced Haiti that its future was in 1) tourism 2) sugar cane (i.e. rum) 3) coffee or cotton or some crop that the US doesn't want to grow and sell you and heavily inflated prices (i.e. rice).

06 January 2010

Untold Richness: A Knee-Jerk Review of Alan Lomax in Haiti

Even on picking up this 10-disc, 2-book boxed set of the music of Haiti recorded in 1936-7 by folklorist Alan Lomax you are impressed by its weight (both literally and figuratively). The front cover sports the statement "Recordings for the Library of Congress". On the back, a sticker on the shrink wrap is the promise of the box' contents, books, music discs, a map with Lomax' original travel notes, and film footage of their visit.

But as with all good boxed sets, it is in the actual opening and exploring that you get most of your value. The first thing you notice opening the over-sized cigar box is the smell. There is a scent of sweet tobacco (already, unfortunately fading in mine) as if the box had been found and repurposed by Lomax himself and sent straight to you from 1937. The Notebook: Haiti 1936-1937 is attached to the cover, in a separate sleeve. The title is handwritten and the book looks like a bound notebook. It is a collection of letters, notes, and commentaries written by (and to) Lomax during his travels.

The second book contains the liner notes, written by Gage Averill and consists of lyrics (translated and in the original Creole), notes and pictures. A foreword is written by Lomax' daughter (?), Anna Lomax Wood and the entire project is impressively intricate and rigorous. The map (as well as two mini-photos, which seem tossed in as an afterthought) provide an oddly exciting tactility to the experience of listening to the lo-fi recordings.

On the whole, the set is an invitation to a lost time, just a few years after the U.S. Occupation ended (1934), and in being transported, you're also given the opportunity to understand that world thanks to the copious notes and commentaries.