Colin Dayan Lecture


Monday, November 21, 2011
Sulzburger Parlor
Barnard Hall, 3rd Floor
3009 Broadway, Barnard College

“What is less easy to understand is how this religion resists manipulation, how its practices set limits to any universal trope or symbol, and finally, how its rituals confront, absorb, and reconstitute the extremes of idealization or denigration. In thinking about Vodou we must inhabit–even if risking that fashionable postmodern device—an indeterminate place, not vague so much as very particularized in its many conversions. We must move to a middle ground where laws of identity and contradiction no longer work, where local and sometimes erratic gods summon and urge an insistent ideology or world of reference.”

Colin Dayan, “Vodou, or the Voice of the Gods”

Reflecting on both the productive and the dangerous convergences of the spiritual and the political in Haitian author Marie Vieux Chauvet’s fiction, scholar, journalist, and activist Dayan offers an exploration of “the wrinkle in the business of divinity” – the revealing interplay of matter and not-matter, of defilement and exaltation at the crux of personhood. With Chauvet as her prompt, Dayan moves to rethink our understanding of the “supernatural” by questioning the context of the sacred and the meaning of accursed objects.


Colin Dayan, Robert Penn Warren Professor in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University, is the author of Haiti, History, and the Gods(1995, 1998). Her recent books include The Story of Cruel and Unusual and The Law is a White Dog, How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons (Princeton UP, 2011). She is currently at work on a memoir and a book called Melville’s Creatures. Dayan received her B.A. summa cum laude, phi beta kappa from Smith College and her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the City University of New York Graduate Center. Before coming to Vanderbilt in 2004, she taught at Yale University, the City University of New York Graduate Center, and the University of Pennsylvania. Her publications include A Rainbow for the Christian West: Introducing René Depestre’s Poetry (1977) and Fables of Mind: An Inquiry into Poe’s Fiction (1987). Her book Haiti, History, and the Gods (1995, 1998) brings history, literature, and religion into dialogue through an examination of Haitian historiography and vodou. The Story of Cruel and Unusual (MIT Press, 2007) gives the legal history of the worst excesses of the current war on terror. Her articles have appeared in dozens of scholarly books and journals, among which Research in African Literatures, World Literature Today, Raritan, Southwest Review, Yale French Studies, and The Yale Review. Professor Dayan received an NEH fellowship in 1985-1986 and a Guggenheim fellowship in law for her project on slavery, incarceration, and the law of persons. She was a Davis Center fellow in the Department of History at Princeton in 1990-1991 and a fellow in the Program in Law and Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton in 2000-2001.

Date: Monday, November 21, 2011

Time: 7PM

Sulzburger Parlor
Barnard Hall, 3rd Floor
3009 Broadway
Barnard College
Columbia University
New York, NY 10027

Subways: 1 to 116th Street

Sponsors and Special Thanks:
This event is co-sponsored by the Barnard College Center for Research on Women, the Africana Studies Program at Barnard College, the Critical Consortium for Interdisciplinary Studies at Barnard College, and the City SEEDS Award at the City College of New York. We acknowledge major support from the City College of New York at the City University of New York (CCNY, CUNY). Funding was provided by the City SEEDS Award, with special thanks to the Offices of the President and Provost and President Lisa Staiano-Coico. We would also like to acknowledge support at CCNY from the Division of Interdisciplinary Studies at the Center for Worker Education, the Department of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, the M.A. in the Study of the Americas, and the Department of Media and Communication Arts. Additional thanks go to the Willen Seminar Initiative Committee for Faculty Diversity and Development at Barnard College, Columbia University, and to the Transnational and Transcolonial Caribbean Studies Research Group (TTCSRG).