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Scott serves up a trenchant rehearsal of C.L.R. James' historical, moral, and political imagination and what these qualities mean for the project of doing history.
Briefly, Scott takes James' "Black Jacobins" as a point of departure to talk about the work of history. Employing Hayden White's scholarship, Scott understands James' initial release of the "Black Jacobins," in 1938, to be an anti-colonial historical Romance, a telling of the Haitian Revolution that plots Toussaint Louverture as the heroic symbol of indomitable freedom on the march. Scott then views the 1963 re-release as of the "Black Jacobins" as a post-colonial Tragedy. He sees James as making key changes in the narrative to reflect the growing ambivalence about the moral probity of post-colonial politics and life.
Scott argues that the anti-colonial "problem spaces" that yielded the vibrate Romance of The Black Jacobins in 1938 is substantively different from the post-colonial "problem space" of 1963, due to the growing understanding of modern material, political, and cultural conditions. These changes are reflected in the two editions of "Black Jacobins." The balance of the book concerns the question, what kind of things are history, politics, and narrative prose discourse, such that 25 five years in the twentieth century can drastically change the telling of a revolution that happened in the 18th and 19th Century?
In discussing this shift in historical plot from Romance to Tragedy, Scott draws ably from Aristotle, Hegel, James, White, and Shakespeare among others to craft a beautiful and compelling narrative about what we do when we do history. I don't agree with him every step of the way, and I found the prose at the beginning to be slightly affected in trying to lead the reader through his project, but once he gets going, the journey is a delight.