The Aesthetics of Catastrophe Time: Constructing Transhistorical and Artistic Archives of Disaster in Haiti and the Gulf Coast

Hankinson, Stephanie K. The Aesthetics of Catastrophe Time: Constructing Transhistorical and Artistic Archives of Disaster in Haiti and the Gulf Coast. 2023. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

This dissertation explores the intertwined relationship between catastrophe storytelling and history-making, arguing for their inherent connection. Through an examination of the complex nature of catastrophes, this project delves into narrative archives of catastrophe spanning diverse art forms, including dance, film, music, visual art, novels, drama, and live performances. These artistic mediums serve as crucial avenues for perceiving and comprehending the recurring patterns within catastrophe histories, bridging the gap between environmental contexts and artistic expression.

By emphasizing the legacies of coloniality and enslavement as foundational elements of each examined catastrophe, this dissertation urges a reevaluation of how we metabolize and comprehend such incidents and their impacts on the modern world. Employing catastrophe time as a heuristic, in conjunction with alternative historical and artistic archives, opens a new dialogue that recognizes storytelling as the central mechanism for truth-telling, cultural reclamation, and the reinterpretation of catastrophes as spaces imbued with radical transformative social, cultural, and political possibilities.

The heuristic of catastrophic time encompasses both the enduring aftermath of colonialism and slavery and the potential for envisioning futures that surpass historical constraints and material realities. Marginalized communities, often bearing the brunt of catastrophes, experience catastrophe time most acutely. This invites artistic interpretations that foster a necessary double-consciousness of catastrophe—an understanding of the immediate and visceral effects of catastrophic events, combined with a recognition of alternative modes of embodied, historical, and psychological experiences that transcend the limitations of conventional historical time.

This dissertation analyzes alternative historical and artistic archives of catastrophe that extend beyond immediate events and linear timelines of progress commonly favored by modernity's frameworks. The project acknowledges the significance of artistic archives, particularly literature, theater, film, and the performative aspects of religion tied to land and ancestral practices, as potent tools that validate the profound humanity, suffering, and cultural reclamation inherent in minoritized stories and experiences of catastrophe.

Through an exploration of these alternative archives, the dissertation aims to reshape our understanding of catastrophes, unveiling their broader historical, environmental, and political implications. Recognizing the transformative power of artistic narratives in reclaiming and humanizing marginalized experiences, this dissertation honors storytelling as a crucial means of cultural and historical reclamation, underscoring catastrophe narratives as texts ripe with radical possibilities for communal transformation and cultural healing.

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