Brooklyn, NY. Having only recently discovered Franketienne – in the way that Columbus “discovered” America — I feel like a Johnny Come Lately to the cultural feast. This brilliant Haitian author and artist is hopefully about to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. I missed him because this incredible feast has only been served in Creole and French. This begs the question: Which American publisher will discover this genius and introduce him to the rest of us? When can we all sit at his table?
Franketienne at the Brooklyn Public Library, August 2010.
Copyright Thomas C. Spear for Ile en ile.
I first met this author, poet, playwright, musician, and painter over the summer in his home in Port-au-Prince. Recently I saw him perform at the Brooklyn Public Library, with his spectacular presence living witness to the Chaos Theory he helped create. He also references everyday life in Haiti, including Vodou. He performs, as he writes, in French and Creole. Perhaps, until his works and his world are published here in the U.S., his painting is more approachable by the English speaker.
I have met many of the academic experts around the world who help explain the depth of Franketienne’s soul. Dr. Rachel Douglas of the French Section, School of Cultures, Languages & Area Studies, University of Liverpool, is one of these. She has recently authored the brilliant scholarly treatise, Franketienne and Rewriting; A Work in Progress. Rachel told me from her base in the U.K.:
Franketienne thoroughly deserves the Nobel prize for literature. It would be fantastic because his personal and writing/publishing trajectory have been extremely unusual. Unlike the vast majority of Haitian writers, Franketienne is not originally from Haiti’s tiny educated elite. One of very few Haitian writers to remain in Haiti during the grim Duvalierist period, he self-published works which served as a political barometer of the situation in Haiti.
Despite growing international recognition of his work, much of which is currently being published or republished by publishers particularly in France, self-publication is a practice which Franketienne continues to this day for the first editions of his texts as a means of experimenting freely with the appearance and contents of the book.
Responsible for the forging of a radically new literary aesthetic known as the Spiral, Franketienne has in both his Francophone and Creolophone works, joined literary text with visual image and crossed generic boundaries in a manner unlike anything seen before.
His visually and linguistically inventive pangeneric works increasingly (particularly since the 1990s) attempt to outwit the confines of the book. Drawing on the resources of visual arts and linguistic innovation, Franketienne, who is also one of Haiti’s best-known visual artists, includes his own Indian ink drawings, paintings, fragments of newspaper headlines, reworked photographs, the author’s own handwriting, and color—requiring the reader to see the page as well as to read it.
In linguistic terms, Franketienne has single-handedly raised the profile of the Haitian Kreyol language through literary texts such as Dezafi (1975) and Adjanoumelezo (1987) and his theatre. In both French and Creole, he creates a vast range of neologisms—creative combinations of French and Creole—resulting often in monstrous agglutinated words which are not even recognizably French or Creole any longer.
Franketienne is prodigious. His many works include:
Au Fil du Temps. Compilation of poems.
Pelin Tet. Play (written in Haitian Creole).
Dezafi. Novel (first novel written in Haitian Creole).
Mur a Crever. Novel.
Les Affres d’un Defi. Novel.
Kaiama L. Glover, Assistant Professor in the French Department Africana Studies Program of Barnard College at Columbia University told me:
As a person – a personage – Franketienne certainly holds a symbolic value for his countrymen and women. He is the embodiment of resilience and courage, and of a joy that will not be diminished. And through his writings and paintings he has touched not only Haiti but the wider world as well – concretely, viscerally, essentially.
In the case of Franketienne’s writing, language is an event; a single word can be an anthem. It is a language fabricated by Franketienne — a language that has never before been uttered. It refuses the satisfaction of decoding or understanding, allowing only for an experiential contact with the text.
Franketienne’s emphasis on the visual aspect of language — on words as emotion-inspiring or god-summoning objects rather than transparent vehicles for meaning — proposes a means of fully experiencing the written while always preserving its opacity.
For whatever his lofty inclinations, the poet in Franketienne’s work has no more than a tenuous hold on narrative authority. He sows disorder and exposes fissures; he is an inconsistent and multilayered being who accepts the responsibilities that come with his talents.
Franketienne’s perspective and the texts it produces are, in fact, testaments to the inextricability of the political and the creative.
His philosophy parallels extra-insular discourses of aesthetic engagement from Barthes to Glissant while relying on the specifically Haitian worldviews reflected in vodou and, of course, the whole of his Spiralist aesthetic.
A new friend of mine, Beatrice Coron, explores Franketienne’s vision in her fantastic papercutting art book by entitled Fleur d’Insomnie, written with Spiralism in mind. Through her book, she hopes to inspire each reader to make their own book of his words. Only three books were made, two of which reside with the Bibliotheque du Luxembourg and the Library of the University of Miami Florida.
In a later work, Ayiti Cheri, she uses papercutting to show Spiralism as a journey from the earthquake to the reconstruction of Haiti. Using different symbols such as the Potomitan andBaron Samedi, the work represents a small country with a great people.
I have decided to open the Global Citizens Center in Leogane, Haiti – the epicenter of the earthquake – to do what I can to help make Haiti’s south a Mecca for the arts. I envision a museum of Haitian art and even an international university there. It will be my privilege to focus on the works of human beings as deep and wide, as universal, as intellectual and down-to-earth as the great Haitian poet, playwright and visionary – the truly Renaissance man – the legendary Franketienne.
The Luce Index™ – Individuals
97 – Franketienne
The Island to Island Website (Ile en ile) of the City University of New York
For sound recordings and archival video on Franketienne + 101 other Haitian writers
Journal of Haitian Studies, University of California SB Center for Black Studies Research
For a number of pieces of Franketienne translated into English
See also by Jim Luce:
Originally published int The Daily Kos, September 11, 2010.