Volume 6 2004
The Journal of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars
ACWWS Founded in 1995, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
and Helen PYNE TIMOTHY
Linda M. RODRIGUEZ -GUGLIELMONI
Elena CUETO ASIN
Elizabeth A. WILSON
Special Thanks: Velma POLLARD, Elizabeth BRADFORD, Nicole MELAS, Lyubitza
GERASIMOVA, Elliott CASTILLO
Published by Bowdoin College
Copyright 2004 by Han6tha Dup6-V6t6-Congolo
All rights reserved
Submission Criteria for MaComere
MaComnre is a refereed journal which is devoted to the scholarly studies and creative works by and about
Caribbean women in the Americas, Europe, and the Caribbean diaspora. It is the journal of the
Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars, an organization founded in 1995.
All writers and scholars who are members of ACWWS are invited to submit scholarly papers, creative
works, interviews or book reviews to the journal in Dutch, English, French, and Spanish. The webpage for
MaComere is www.macomere.com and the e-mail address is MaComere2aiaol.com
All submissions should include the following:
1. Manuscripts (in triplicate). All material should follow MLA style.
2. An electronic file diskette in WordPerfect 6.1 (or higher) or Word 6.0 (or higher) with two hard
3. A data sheet listing home address, home phone and fax number, office address, office and fax
number, and e-mail address.
4. The contributor's name is given on the first page of the manuscript only; the identity of the
contributor will be removed before the manuscript is sent to the reviewers.
5. All material typed and double-spaced throughout including quotations and endnotes. Type
endnote numbers as superscript and list endnote information in "Notes," following the text and preceding
the "Works Cited" page.
6. A brief biographical statement of no more than fifty words.
Send all material to Hyacinth Simpson, Department of English, Ryerson University, 350 Victoria Street,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5B 2K3, or e-mail at MaComere2@aol.com.
Subscriptions to MaComere are available. The current rates are $30 for one-year institution subscriptions,
$100 for four-year institution subscriptions, and $20 for individual subscriptions. All orders should be
directed to the Treasurer, Australia Tarver, Department of English, Texas Christian University, 4754
Youngtree Ct., TX 76123. E-mail at A.Tarver( itcu.edu or telephone at 817-263-0515.
To join ACWWS, membership dues are $100 for US professionals, $50 for graduate students, $50 for
Caribbean/African professionals and $25 for graduate students. Members of ACWWS receive a single
issue of MaConmere with their yearly membership. Send checks, payable to ACWWS Treasurer,
Australia Tarver, Department of English, Texas Christian University, 4754 Youngtree Ct., TX 76123. E-
mail at A.Tarver(atcu.edu or telephone at 817-263-0515.
For all other inquiries, contact the President, Evelyn Hawthome, Department of English, Howard
University, Washington, DC 20059, or email at Ehawthome03@aol.com, or ehawthomeeTlhoward.edu: or
telephone at 202-806-4221.
Cover logo by Marcia L. Spidell
Table of Contents
Vol. 6 2004
Helen Pyne Timothy
A bout the N am e.......:................................................................................................................. 1
Han6tha Dup6-V6t6-Congolo and Helen Pyne Timothy
F orew ord ............................................................................. ................................................ 2
A vant propos................................................................................................................ ........... 3
Prefacio ................................................................................................................................... 4
D voilem ent .............................................................................................................................. 5
Unveiling .................................................................................................................................. 8
D escubrim iento...................................................................................................................... 10
Corning Home to Mama's Garden: Creative Fellowship in Jane and Louisa
will Soon Come Home ..................................................................................................... 13
Ages of a Woman. Jamaica kincaid's My Brother......................................... ............. 19
Maryse Cond6's Desirada: The Myth of an Origin......................................................... 30
Sites/Sights of Difference: Danticat's "New York Day Women," Haitian Immigrant
.Subjectivity, and Postmodernist Strategies........................... ....................................... 40
Sandra C. Duvivier
(Re)Writing Haiti and its "brave women" into Existence: Edwidge Danticat
and the Concept of M6tissage.......................................................................................... 49
Jennifer Margaret Wilks
La mul&tresse n6gre: Exoticism and the Gaze in Suzanne Lacascade's Claire solange,
dme africaine.......................................................................................................................... 57
Derrilyn E. Morrison
Reading the Zombi in Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea ................................... ............. 63
Ezili the Subversive: The Erotics ofMaryse Cond6's Cilanire cou-coup............................ 70
La "malemort" dans Ton beau capitaine de Simone Schwar-Bart ....................................... 78
Visages de la femme salvatrice dans Tropique Blues d'Annick Justin Joseph................... 89
Robert H. McCormick, Jr.
Maryse Cond6's Cdlanire cou-coupd: Celanire ou Cl6anrire?......................................... ... 95
Les relations "intra-raciales" dans l'ceuvre de Maryse Cond6: du mythe & la ralit6 ........... 102
Spirituality, rituels et croyances dans I'ceuvre de Jamaica Kincaid .................................... 127
Linda Maria Rodriguez Guglielmoni
Zapatero Tale ....................................................................................................................... 133
The House on the Beach ....................................................................................................... 136
The Campus Underneath ...................................................................................................... 141
Ogounferraille et le crime de l'ananas............................................................................. 151
Annick Justin Joseph
Le petit monde d'Adam et de Louisia ............................................................................... 160
F icciones.............................................................................................................................. 165
Thinking re-thinking Baths, Virgin Gorda....................................................................... 166
M artinique............................................................................................................................ 169
My Kinky Hair ...................................................................................................................... 170
Just a Blues....................................................... .......................................................................... 172
The Country of H ere Now ..................................................................................................... 174
Opal Palmer Adisa
What Says the M oment?................................................................................................... 175
Aunty Nansi............................................................................................... .......... ........ 176
M y Country is not an Island ................................................................................................. 179
Je ai vu........... .............................................................................................. ......... 184
Pleurements .......................................................................................................................... 189
Bleu amer.............................................................................................................................. 193
N otes on Contributors............................................................................................................ 194
About the Name
Helen Pyne Timothy
About the Name
The word MaComrre is widely used in the Caribbean to mean "my child's
godmother"; "my best friend and close female confidante"; "my bridesmaid, or another female
member of a wedding party of which I was bridesmaid"; "the godmother of the child to whom I
am also godmother"; "the woman who, by virtue of the depth of her friendship, has rights and
privileges over my child and whom I see as surrogate mother."
This name seemed appropriate because it so clearly expresses the intimate relations
which women in the Caribbean share, is so firmly gendered and honors the importance of
friendship in relation to the important rituals of marriage, birth, and (implied) death.
Moreover, MaComere is a French Creole word which though related to the French
language, has taken on a structure and a meaning which is indigenous to the Caribbean. The
word is spelled in this way instead of in the clearly Creole manner (macumd, or makumeh, or
macoomg, macomeh or any other variant), so that the female connotations of the word are
highlighted and those meanings which apply to males ("a womanish or gossipy man"; "a
homosexual") are less obvious. In those islands where Kreol (linguistic term for the French
patois) is the first language, the same term is used for both females and males with meaning
determined by context In islands like Trinidad, however, where English has overlain Kr6ol, the
Creole (linguistic term used for the English patois) has incorporated the redundant: "mv
macomere," "macom6 man." thus reinforcing both perceptions of intimacy and the female
quality of the term.
Interestingly enough, Richard Allsopp, in The Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage
(OUP 1996) has indicated the possibility that maku in Belize with the meaning "midwife" is
also derived from this word. Hence, the word forces us to recall the continuities and
correspondences in Caribbean language and culture, as well as the dynamic, creative and
transforming power of Creoles.
In the purely English-speaking islands, the only comparable term is godmother
(usually the mother's best friend). In the Hispanophone Caribbean there is the similar comadre,
although, as we would expect, some of the connotations are different.
Join me in continuing to interrogate all the connotations of meaning inherent in this
culturally rich lexical item from the Caribbean Creoles.
Han6tba Dup-VEt6-Congolo and Helen Pyne Timothy
Held in Martinique in 2002 and entitled "Unveiling the Caribbean: from Diversity to
Coherence," the 8th International Conference of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers
and Scholars was truly a success.
English, French and Spanish speaking Caribbean women writers and artists as well as
Caribbean scholars throughout the world gathered together to reflect on the critical problematic
posed by the conference themes.
The diversity of origin- Europe, the United-States, South America and the Caribbean
-, of languages French, Spanish, English and French based Creole and of creativity -
literature, painting, photography, dance, theater all contributed to the unveiling of the quality,
rigour and the scope of the reflection on Caribbean female achievements as critical participants
of the enrichment and development of the region's rich tradition. But even given this successful
intellectual exchange during the conference, it is evident how much further work remains to be
done on this wide scope of Caribbean female achievements.
We are proud to share with the readership some of the finest critical pieces as well as
a selection from the exciting creative works read during the conference. This selected criticism
includes astute analyses on Edwidge Danticat, Maryse Cond6, Gisele Pineau, Jamaica Kincaid,
Suzanne Lacascade, Annick Justin Joseph, Jean Rhys, and Simone Schwarz-Bart. We have also
included in this issue of MaComare two criticisms that were not presented at the conference but
that add insighful input to the reflections that were evidenced there.Along with the creative
writings from talented Caribbean writers we have published some stunning work from
Martinique photographer Monik Kromwell.
We are also particularly pleased to publish the address by Roger Toumson entitled
"Unveiling" since it reflects the spirit and achievements of the Conference. Noteworthy also is
the inclusion of an excerpt from Linda Rodriguez's and Suzanne Dracius' forthcoming novels.
All three languages of papers given at the conference in Efiglish, French and Spanish
- are represented in this collection of criticism and creative writing, as it is our commitment to
articulate the Caribbean language diversity and permit the expression of each Caribbean voice
We chose not to proffer translations since, one language might inevitably be granted
more consideration than the others and translating each piece in the several languages would
have required an effort beyond our present means. We hope that you will understand that
limitation placed on us. We sincerely hope that, from this experience, the reader will
appreciate another of the complexities which confront the scholar who seeks to reveal the
meanings inherent in Caribbean space.
We end with sincere thanks to all contributors to this volume as well as to the Dean of
Academic Affairs of Bowdoin College without whom the publication of this collection of
criticisms and creative works would not have been possible.
Hanttha Dup6V6t6-Congolo and Helen Pyne Timothy
Traduction d'Han6tha Dup6-V6t6-Congolo
Intitul6 D6voilons la Carabie : de la diversity a la coherence >, le 86'" congress
international de 1'Association des 6crivains femmes et critiques litt6raires de la Caraibe qui
s'est tenu en Martinique en 2002 fut un veritable succes.
Des 6crivains et artistes femmes de la Caraibe anglophone, francophone et hispanophone de
meme que des carib6anistes du monde entier se sont r6unis pour mener la r6flexion autour des
probl6matiques poses par les diff6rents themes du congress.
La diversity d'origine 1'Europe, les Etats-Unis, l'Ambrique du Sud et la Caraibe -, la
diversity linguistique le frangais, l'espagnol, l'anglais et le creole et la diversity artistique -
la litterature, la peinture, la photographic, la danse et le th6etre ont permis de d6voiler la
quality, la rigueur et la port6e de la r6flexion sur les accomplissements des femmes de la
Caraibe en tant que moteurs essentiels dans l'enrichissement et le d6veloppement coherent de
Quoique fructueux, le travail et la r6flexion sur les accomplissements des femmes de
la CaraTbe doivent encore continue.
Nous sommes par consequent fibres de presenter au lectorat parmi les meilleures analyses et
oeuvres litt6raires lues durant le congres. Les analyses ont trait aux 6crits d'Edwidge Danticat,
Maryse Cond6, Gisele Pineau, Jamaica Kincaid, Suzanne Lacascade, Annick Justin Joseph et
Simone Schawrz-Bart. Nous avons ajout6 a ce volume de MaCombre deux articles qui bien
qu'ils n'aient pas 6t6 pr6sent6s au congres participent de la r6flexion qui y a 6t6 men6e.Le
lectorat pourra aussi appr6cier les photographies de la photograph martiniquaise Monik
Nous sommes 6galement particuli&ement enchant6es de fire figure a ce num6ro de
MaComere l'allocution de Roger Toumson intitul6 D6voilement car elle reflete 1'esprit et
les accomplissement du congrbs. II faut aussi noter les extraits tir6s des romans in6dits de Linda
Rodriguez et de Suzanne Dracius.
Les trois langues de travail du congress A savoir, l'anglais, le frangais et l'espagnol
sont repr6sent6es dans ce numero de MaComere puisque nous avons pour but de bien montrer
la diversity carib6enne et de permettre l'expression de chaque voix carib6enne.
Nous avons choisi de ne pas traduire les articles car nous pensions qu'aucune langue ne
devrait 8tre favoris6e par rapport a une autre. Chacune de ces langues est le reflet de voix
carib6ennes authentiques. De plus, nous aurions eu A traduire chaque article dans chacune des
trois langues de travail du congres ce qui nous aurait et6 mat6riellement impossible. Nous
esparons donc, qu'ainsi, le lecteur appr6ciera une autre des complexit6s auquel l'universitaire
doit fire face pour r6veler les significations inh6rentes A l'espace caribben.
Nous terminons en remerciant vivement tous ceux qui nous ont aid6 a preparer ce
num6ro de MaComere ainsi que le doyen des affaires acad6miques de Bowdoin College sans
qui ce num6ro n'aurait pu voir le jour.
Han6tha Dup-V6t6- Congolo y Helen Pyne Timothy
Traducci6n de Elena Cueto Asin
La octava Conferencia Intemacional de la Asociaci6n de escritoras y critics literarios
del Caribe que tuvo lugar en Martinica, en 2002, bajo el titulo "Desvelando el Caribe: de la
diversidad a la coherencia," fue un verdadero 6xito.
Escritoras, artists y estudiosas de habla inglesa, francesa y espafola, representantes
de todo el mundo, se reunieron para reflexionar sobre cuestiones critics planteadas por los
diferentes temas de la conferencia.
La diversidad de origen Europa, Los Estados Unidos, America del Sur y el Caribe -
de idioma ingles, francs, criollo y espafiol y de creatividad literature, pintura, fotografia,
danza, teatro contribuyeron a desvelar la calidad, el rigor y la amplitud de reflexi6n sobre los
logros de mujeres caribefas como participants cruciales en el coherente enriquecimiento y
desarrollo de la region.
Aunque exitoso durante la conferencia, el trabajo y la reflexi6n sobre tales logros
femeninos en el Caribe no se pueden dar aun por terminados. Piden aun mayor esclarecimiento.
Asi pues estamos orgullosas de compartir con nuestros lectores algunos de los mejores
comentarios, junto con estimulantes trabajos creativos leidos durante la conferencia. La labor
critical seleccionada incluye anlisis sobre Edwidge Danticat, Maryse Cond6, Gisele Pineau,
Jamaica Kincaid, Suzanne Lacascade, Annick Justin Joseph, Jean Rhys y Simone Schwarz-
Bart. Junto con escritos de autoras del Caribe se publican fotografias de la fot6grafa de
Martinica Monik Kromwell.
Tambi6n nos alegramos especialmente de publicar la ponencia de Roger Toumson
titulada "Descubrimiento," que refleja el espiritu de logro de la conferencia. Queremos sefalar
igualmente la inclusion de un fragmento de las novelas in6ditas de Linda Rodriguez y Suzanne
Los tres idiomas- ingl6s, francs y espafiol- de la conferencia estin presents en la
colecci6n de escritos critics y creativos ya que nuestro compromise reside en articular la
diversidad del Caribe y facilitar la expresi6n de cada voz caribefia.
Optamos por la propuesta de no traducir, puesto que, desde nuestro punto de vista,
ning~n idioma deberia erigirse sobre otro. Todos son repositories de autinticas voces del
Caribe. En Altima instancia, la traducci6n exigiria, de forma just, iUevarse a cabo en los tres
idiomas, para lo cual se requieren mayores recursos. Sinceramente esperamos que, a partir de
esta experiencia, el lector se percate de una complejidad mns a la que se enfrenta el estudioso
que se propone revelar los significados inherentes en el espacio caribefo.
Nos queda, por iltimo, dar nuestro sincere agradecimiento a todos y cada uno de los
contribuyentes a este volume, asi como al Decano de Bowdoin College, sin los cuales esta
colecci6n de escritos no hubiese sido possible.
La premiere vertu de ce congres de l' Association des Femmes Ecrivains et Critiques
Littgraires de la Cararbe > est de proposer un theme commun de r6flexion nous invitant tous,
de quelque bord, de la c6te atlantique ou de la c6te caraibe, et de quelque genre soyons-nous,
masculin ou f6minin, A discerner la question elle-m8me, en elle-meme, telle que la pose le
g6n6rique : Divoilons la Caraibe ), en francais ; < Unveiling the Caribbean ), en anglais ;
o Desvelando el Caribe >, en espagnol. Ainsi libell6, a la fois sous la forme d'un paradigme et
sons la forme d'une m6taphore, c'est-a-dire du dicton et de la devinette, translinguistique et
transhistorique, ce g6n6rique assigned done A nos journ6es d'6tude, dans une logique
d'ensemble, herm6neutique et heuristique, un objet de premiere importance.
Je ne crois pas inutile d'observer que le choix de ce titre s'induit d'une attention
soutenue A une difficult premiere, d'ordre terminologique et d'ordre axiologique, d'ordre
analytique et d'ordre anthropologique, puisqu'il s'agit d'examiner IA les rapports entire
l'id6ologique et le symbolique, dans cet space discursif, historique et mythique, a la fois, que
nous appelons, par exces autant que par d6faut la < CARAIBE ). Car cette denomination, en
effet, fait probleme. < DEVOILONS LA CARA'BE : c'est un 6nonc6 critique qui n'est pas
sans signaler que delib&r6ment ironique, il subvertit l'6nonc6 premier auquel il fait
implicitement r6f6rence, celui de la d dicouverte de l'Amerique ), par Christophe COLOMB, A
savoir, celui du parcours initial de < la carriere des Indes ).
I y a 1l bien mieux qu'une astuce. I1 y a 1l, dans la substitution du terme
< divoilement ) au terme << decouverte ) un changement de paradigme. Tel est 1'enjeu
thlorique de notre r6flexion : < la dicouverte de 1'Amerique ). Et c'est parce qu'elle fait bel et
bien probl6me que les organisatrices de ce congress ont raison de soumettre l'ainsi dite
<< dcouverte >> l'6preuve d'une analyse critique.
Qu'il soit done dit, pour m6moire, sans restriction mental aucune, que Christophe
COLOMB n'a point d6couvert l'Ambfique. 11 ne l'a pu, ne l'ayant pas voulu. La preuve en est,
par I'absurde, que l'F AMERIQUE - pour mieux dire, les << AMERIQUES >, puisqu'il y faut,
pour une plus exacte comprehension des faits, une saisie conceptuelle de la singularity dans la
plurality, de l'homog6n6it6 dans I'h6t6rog6n6it6, tant A l'6chelle des < AMERIQUES >> qu'A
celle des CARAIBES n'a point &6t pourvue d'une identity reconnue par la mediation du
nom paterel, du patronyme de qui l'a d6couverte, qu'elle s'est affubl6e du pr6nom de son
decouvreur postiche, AMERIGO VESPUCI. Ainsi l'Am6rique demeure-t-elle innomm6e. Son.
patronyme n'est qu'un pseudonyme. I imported de discerner la complexity des jeux et enjeux,
des figures de mots, de pens6e ou d'expression, des tautologies et des antinomies inherentes
aux denominations qui d6signent 1'espace historic anthropologique carib6en. En frangais,
trois locutions d6signatives sont ordinairement utilis6es : les < Indes Occidentales >, les
( Antilles >>, les (f les Cararbes >. Rappelons brievement que la designation,
chronologiquement premiere, <( Indes Occidentales ), est A rattacher A un r6f6rent proprement
mythique, que, voulant 6quivaloir, par mer, la voie de terre qu'avait trace Marco Polo jusqu'a
1'empire du GRAND KHAN, Christophe COLOMB ne s'est jamais fait, arrivant a
GUANAHANI puis A CUBA, A l'id6e qu'il flit ailleurs qu'en CHINE ou au JAPON. D'oA
l'insurmontable difficult que nous 6prouvons A passer ou repasser du mythe A 1'histoire on de
I'histoire au mythe lorsque celle-ci a l'exemple de celle-la commence i Pappui d'une
representation < fant6matique ), ofantasmatique ), don't les couches s6dimentaires,
g6ologiques, topographiques, id6ologiques on symboliques, sont encore aujourd'hui
La terminologie des << ANTILLES ) n'est pas moins probl6matique quoiqu'elle ne soit
pas r6f6r6e a une mythologie de l'ailleurs mais a une contre-mythologie de 1'<< ici et du
< meme >. Cette locution est a rattacher aux r6ferents technologiques et aux codes socio-
id6ologiques de la navigation a voile. Venus d'Europe, par la Mer des SARGASSES, accostant
aux miles, les navigateurs d6nommerent celles-ci, en latin, < ANTE INSULAE , en frangais, les
Antilles, c'est-i-dire, les lies de 1' < avant ,, < ci-devant )>, d'
L'autre denomination, < les Iles Cararbes ), des trois, la plus probl6matique, sans
doute, est de type anthropologique au sens oi, c'est le r6f6rent ultime, hyperbolique au moyen
duquel peut se d6finir tant bien que mal les seuls universaux homog6n6isants de cet space
irr6mediablement h6t6rogene. L'homog6n6it6 n'6tant IM que de l'ordre de l'imaginaire sachant
qu'il n'y a li de facteur unifiant que par le truchement d'une image posthume de qui fut lI mais
qui n'est plus tout en 6tant present, occupant la place du mort, celui A qui, seule la m6moire
commune puisse rendre le culte common, m6moire commune de l'6pisode historique premier
de la d6couverte et de la colonisation. Indes Occidentales >, v Iles Antilles > ou Iles
Cararbes >, ces miles sont au debut et sont une fin. Pr6faces aux continents amnricains elles sont
l'Am6rique proprement dite, l'Amerique vraie, celle de Christophe COLOMB. Paradoxe de la
g6ographie et de l'histoire oiu s'instaure de l'une a l'autre des rapports contradictoires : la
gbographie y 6tant une m6taphore concrete, incarne de la dialectique de la nature et de
l'histoire, du language et de la pens6e, du moi personnel et de l'autre personnel, du ((je > et de
son < tiers exclu >. Espace conflictuel, cliv6, space triplice, space archip6lique de la double
entente, du non contredit, r6gi par la loi de la duplication sans reduplication, soumis aux r6gles
de 'it6ration et de la r6it6ration contradictoire et non contradictoire. Miles, archipels et continents
s'articulent l1 en des syntheses alternatives non exclusives et non conclusives que configurent
les sympt6mes de la probl6matique identitaire, sympt6mes qui sont autant d'effets d'une
experience traumatique de l'identification impossible de soi a soi.
Bref, l'ensemble des travaux d'analyse que nous sommes appel6s a effectuer ont pour
objet des ceuvres litteraires et des creations artistiques de divers types peinture, cinema,
photographic, thietre, musique qui sont autant de t6moignages sur cette experience du mal
identitaire, quel qu'en soit l'6chelle, << mal itre > ou < ddsitre ). Autant d'6nonc6s introspectifs
oiu se pose et oii se repose inlassablement la question ontologique ou ph6nom6nologique de
l'identit6, qui remettent en cause radicalement les categories anthropologiques 16gu6es par la
philosophies europ6enne classique du sujet, de l'histoire, de l'histoire du sujet. Trois
contradictions cardinals faut-il le rappeler, ont d6termin6 le parcours de la pens6e europ6enne
et en ont fait constamment l'objet: la difference naturelle, la difference social, la difference
culturelle. C'est dans le syst6me ainsi constitu6 qu'interviennent la difference sexuelle et la
difference racial en tant que differences catalytiques compl6mentaires, differences alternatives
qui, aux lies d'Am6rique, dans le champ historique de la domination colonial esclavagiste,
prennent function, par hyperbole, de d6nominateur commun aux trois differences cardinals.
Ces contradictions sont a examiner sous tous leurs rapports. Les contributions proposees nous
invitent a interroger la difference sexuelle ainsi que les modalit6s variables continues ou
discontinues de la difference des genres. Pour autant que les ties, comme le veut le mythe,
sont du sexe f6minin et le continent, & l'inverse, du sexe masculine, tell est bien, s'agissant des
Iles de la CARAtBE, la v6rit6 a d6voiler. Enlever le voile : acqu6rir la faculty critique,
d6mythifiante et d6mystifiante d'articuler l'un a l'autre, de faire coop6rer a cette fin toutes les
pratiques de creation, tous les discours, a l'exemple de Nicolas GUILLEN : en anglais, < WEST
INDIES > ; en espagnol, ( LAS ANTILLAS en franiais ( LES ANTILLES >.
Trans. by Han6tha Dup6-V6te-Congolo and Helen Pyne Timothy
The first advantage of this conference of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers
and Scholars is that it has allowed to pose a common theme for reflection, inviting both females
and males from the Atlantic or the Caribbean coast to consider this significant issue, as
articulated by the conference theme : Ddvoilons la Caraibe in French, Unveiling the Caribbean
in English and Develante el Caribe in Spanish. Thus labeled, both as dictum and riddle,
translinguistic and transhistoric, this theme indicates that we are going to reflect, in an
hermeneutic and heuristic logic, on a subject of critical importance.
I should mention that the choice for such a title amounts to a major terminological,
axiological, analytical and anthropological difficulty since we have to examine the relationships
between the ideology and symbolism in this discursive, historical and mythical space that we,
as much by excess as by default, call the "CARIBBEAN." It is true that this term is
problematic. "Unveiling the Caribbean" is a critical and ironical statement that subverts the first
claim to which it refers implicitly, that of the "discovery of America" by Christopher
There is much more than a simple astuteness in this title. By substituting the term
"unveiling" for "discovery," one changes the paradigm. This is at the theoretical core of our
reflection: "the discovery of America." The organizers of this conference have rightfully
submitted the so-called "discovery" to a critical analysis.
Let it be said, without any mental reservation, that Christopher Columbus did not
discover America. He could not do so as he did not want to. For one, the better way would be
to say the "AMERICAS," since we need to grasp the concept of the "plurality" that does not
exist with the "singularity," or put another way, the homogeneity within heterogeneity.
(Ironically, "AMERICA" was not even given an identity acknowledged by way of the paternal
name, the patronymic name of the paternal name Columbus, but given the patronymic name of
Amerigo Vespuci). It is important to note the complexity pertaining to the way the Caribbean
historico-anthropological space is named. In French three terms are generally used: the "West
Indies," the "Antilles," and the "Caribbean islands." Let me briefly say that the very first term,
"West Indies" is to be related to a mythical referent Desirous to match, by way of the sea, the
land way that Marco Polo had taken to the Khan Empire, Christopher Columbus never got over
the idea of being elsewhere than in China or Japan while he actually arrived in Guanahani and
then proceeded to Cuba. From this derives the inextricable difficulty that we have to go from
the myth to history or from history to the myth when, one, thanks to the other, starts with a
"ghostly" and "fantastical" representation on which sedimentary, geological, topographical,
ideological or symbolic layers are until today, superposed and intertwined.
The term "Antilles" is as problematic though it is not related to a mythology of
"elsewhere" but to a counter mythology of the "here" and the "same." This phrase is bound to
technological referents and to the socio-ideological codes of sailing. Coming to the islands
from Europe by the Sargasso Sea the navigators named the islands in Latin "Ante Insulae" in
French "the Antilles," that is, the islands that are "before," or, "in front of," those that the
vessels came across before getting to the shores of the American continent. The other term,
"the Caribbean Islands," is probably more problematic than the other labels. It is
anthropological in that it is the ultimate and hyperbolic referent thanks to which the only
homogenizing universals of this irremediably heterogeneous space can be more or less defined.
The homogeneity is imaginary since we know that the unifying factors are obtained by the trick
of a posthumous image of what people were there but are no longer there while being there at
the same time. The one who being dead, can be commonly honored but only by common
memory. This common memory is the first historical episode of the discovery and colonisation.
Be they "West Indies," "Antilles," or "Caribbean Islands," these islands are at the beginning
and are an end at the same time. They are prefaces to the American continent, they are
America, the true America, that of Christopher Columbus. This is a paradox of geography and
history with the contradictory relationships. Geography is a concrete metaphor that is inspired
by the dialectic of history and nature, language and thoughts, the personal self and the other,
the "I" and its "excluded other." It is a space of conflicts; it is a cleaved space, an archipelago
of a double alliance regulated by the law of duplication without reduplication, the rules of
iteration and contradictory and non-contradictory reiteration. Islands, archipelagoes and.
continents are there in synthetic, non-exclusive and non-conclusive alternatives that the
symptoms of the identity problematic configure. The symptoms are the effects of the traumatic
experience of the impossible self-identification.
We are to analyse literary and diverse artistic creations such as painting, cinema,
photography, theater and music. They are the testimony of the identity crisis on whatever scale
the latter may be, "mal 6tre" or "desstre. They are introspective statements in which the
ontological or phenomenological question of identity is posed. The statements radically
question the anthropological categories of the classic European philosophy on the subject,
history or the history of the subject. Three cardinal contradictions determined the course of the
European mind: natural difference, social difference, and cultural difference. It is in this system
that gender and racial differences come into play as catalytic and complementary differences,
alternative differences that, in the American islands and in the historical context of colonial
domination and slavery; become, by hyperboles, common denominator to the three cardinal
differences. These contradictions must be analysed throughout. These contradictions invite us
to wonder about sexual differences as well as about the modalities continuous or
discontinuous variables for gender differences. In so far as the myth holds that the islands are
feminine and the continent masculine, this is the truth to unveil as far as the Carribbean islands
are concerned. Taking off the veil: acquiring the critical ability, demythifying as well as
demystifying so as to articulate one to the other, and to create a new discourse of cooperation as
did Nicolas Guillen, bringing achievements in English, Spanish and French (from the "West
Indies," "Las Antillas," or Les Antilles") is the goal and vision of this conference.
Traducci6n de Elena Cueto Asin
El primer punto a favor del congress de la Asociaci6n de escritoras y critics literarios
del Caribe es el de plantear un tema comtin de reflexi6n que invita a todos, sean de la costa
atlAntica o de la caribefia, sea cual sea el g6nero, masculine o femenino, a indagar en la
cuesti6n planteada ya por sus titulo: DNvoilons la Cararbe en francs, Unveiling the Caribbean
en ingl6s y Desvelando eLCaribe en espafiol. Etiquetada asi, ambos como dicho y como
adivinanza, de manera translingiiistica y transhit6rica, con dicho titulo se indica que las
joradas de studio abordarin un tema de mayor importancia desde una 16gica hermen6utica y
No esta de mis mencionar que la elecci6n del titulo apunta a una gran dificultad en el
orden terminol6gico, axiol6gico, antropol6gico y analitico, pues se trata de examiner las
relaciones entire ideologia y simbolismo en ese espacio hist6rico, mitico y discursive que
lamamos, por exceso y por defect, "Caribe." Cierto que el termino es problemitico.
"Desvelando el Caribe": es un enunciado critic e ir6nico que subvierte el primer
enunciado al que se refiere implicitamente, aqul6 del "Descubrimiento de America" por
Crist6bal Col6n, al que se atribuye el recorrido initial "la carrera de las Indias."
Hay mis que astucia en este titulo. Al cambiar el t6rmino "desvelar" por el de "descubrir" se
cambia el paradigma. Tal es el n6cleo te6rico de nuestra reflexi6n: "el descubrimiento de
Am6rica." Los organizadores de esta conferencia tienen raz6n, pues, al someter el llamado
"descubrimiento" a un analisis critic.
Vamos a decir, a raz6n de memorial y sin restricciones mentales, que Crist6bal Col6n
no descubri6 America. No pudo hacerlo ya que no quiso. Efectivamente, result absurdo que -
habria que decir "las Ambricas," puesto que es precise entender el concept de singularidad
dentro de la pluralidad, homogeneidad dentro de la heterogeneidad, tanto a la escala de las las
"Ambricas"como de los "Caribes" Amrica no recibiese ni siquiera la identidad reconocida
en el patronimico del que la descubri6, que se le adjudicase el nombre de su falso descubridor,
Amerigo Vespuci. Asi que Am6rica permanece sin nombre. Su patronimico no es sino un
seud6nimo. Es important reconocer la complejidad enjuego, la complejidad asi mismo de la
estilistica, del pensamiento, de la expresi6n, de las tautologias y los antini6micos inherentes a
las denominaciones que designan el espacio hist6rico-antropol6gico caribeffo. En francs se
utilizan normalmente tres locuciones: Las "Indias Occidentales," las "Antillas," y "las Islas
Caribes." Recordemos brevemente que la primera designaci6n, cronol6gicamente hablando,
"Indias Occidentales," corresponde a un referente mitico con idea de corresponder por via
maritima la terrestre trazada por Marco Polo hasta el imperio de Gran Khan; Crist6bal Col6n
nunca imagine que llegando a Guanahani y luego a Cuba, estaba en otro lugar de China o
Jap6n. De alli la dificultad insuperable que experimentamos al pasar del mito a la historic o de
la historic al mito cuando el uno, gracias al otro, se apoya en una representaci6n
"fantasmag6rica" y "fantasmal" donde las capas sedimentarias, geol6gicas, topograficas,
ideol6gicas o simb61icas, se encuentran hasta hoy interpuestas y entrelazadas.
El t6rmino "Antillas" es problemitico aunque no relacionado a una mitologia de otro
lugar, sino por una contra-mitologia de "aqui" y del "mismo." Esta frase se vincula a los
c6digos t6cnicos y sociol6gicos de la navegaci6n. Viniendo a las islas desde Europa por el Mar
de los Sargazos, los navegantes llamaron a las islas en latin "Ante Insulae," en francs las
Antillas, las islas que estin "antes," "delante de "aqu6llas que las naves cruzaron antes de
arribar a las costas del continent americano. El otro t6rmino, "Islas Caribes" es probablemente
mns problematico que los anteriores. Es antropol6gico en cuanto a ser un referente hiperb61ico
y final gracias al cual se pueden definir mas o menos los universales homogeneizadores de este
espacio irremediablemente heterog6neo. La homogeneidad es imaginaria, pues sabemos que los
factors unificadores se obtienen a partir de la imagen p6stuma y engafiosa de quien estuvo
pero ya no esta, estando al mismo tiempo; el que, una vez muerto, puede ser honorado por la
memorial colectiva. Esta memorial colectiva es el primer episodio hist6rico del descubrimiento y
la colonizaci6n. Sean "Indias Occidentales," "Antillas" o "Islas Caribes," estas islas son un
principio y un final al mismo tiempo. Prefacios al continent americano son, pues, Am6rica, la
verdadera Am6rica, aqu6lla de Crist6bal Col6n. Se trata de paroxismos en geografia e historic
donde se juntan relaciones contradictorias: siendo alli la geografia una metifora concrete,
inspirada por la dial6ctica de la naturaleza y la historic, del lenguaje y el pensamiento, del "yo"
y de la otra persona, su "otro excluido." Espacio de conflicts, fragmentado, archipi6lago de
double alianza regulado por la ley de duplicaci6n sin reduplicaci6n, las normas de reiteraci6n
contradictoria y no contradictoria. Islas, archipi6lagos y continents estin alli en alternatives
que, no conclusivas y no exclusivas, configuran los sintomas de identidad problemAtica;
sintomas que son efecto de una experiencia traumatica de auto-identificaci6n impossible.
En fin, el conjunto de los trabajos de anflisis que nos disponemos a hacer tienen por
objeto obras literarias y creaciones artisticas de diversos tipos pintura, cine, fotografia,
teatro, misica que son asi mismo testimonies sobre la experiencia del mal identitario, sea
cual sea su escala "mal etre"o "d6setre." Son arguments introspectivos donde se plantea la
cuesti6n ontol6gica o fenomenol6gica. Los enunciados cuestionan radicalmente las categories
antropol6gicas de la filosofia europea clisica sobre el tema. Tres contradicciones cruciales
determinan el curso de la mentalidad europea: la diferencia natural, la diferencia social y la
diferencia cultural. Es en este sistema donde las diferencias de g6nero y raza entran enjuego
como diferencias cataliticas y complementarias, diferencias alternatives que en las islas
americanas y en el context hist6rico de la dominaci6n colonial y la esclavitud, se convierten,
hiperb6licamente, en comuin denominador de las tres cruciales diferencias. Las contradicciones
deben ser analizadas de forma exhaustive. Nos invitan a preguntarnos por las diferencias
sexuales como por las modalidades_continuas o discontinuas variables_ de diferencia de
g6nero. Puesto que el mito mantiene que las islas son femeninas y el continent masculine, esta
es la verdad que desvelar con respect a las islas del Caribe. Quitando el velo: adquiriendo la
habilidad critical, desmitificando a la vez que "desmistificando" su articulaci6n entire si, poner
al servicio de tal fin todas las practices de creaci6n, todos los discursos, a la manera de NicolAs
Guill6n: en ingl6s "West Indies"; en espaflol "Las Antillas," en francs "Les Antilles".
Seme Congres de I'A.I
"Devoilons la Carai
Fron right to left: Elizabeth Nuicz, Nicole Cage-orentiny, Maryo
iMaryvone Charlery, Christiane Frali,.
Coming Home to Mama's Garden: Creative Fellowship in Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come
Coming Home to Mama's Garden: Creative Fellowship in Jane and Louisa
Will Soon Come Home
I don't believe that we (black people) were sent there in the Caribbean, that
millions of us were taken from our place for nothing; it has a reason. We have
something to teach the world. Something that is our own experience,
something that others don't have. For me the business is to find what that is.
In his Nobel Laureate Lecture, Derek Walcott speaks of the need to reconcile the
shards of history and to the ways in which the reconstitution of Antillean memory allows for
the creation of new performative clearing spaces-ones that are outside the sighs and groans of
colonial history. Brodber, to my mind, has been similarly engaged with the idea of making
sense of the fragments that constitute our diasporic experience. Without succumbing to
romanticized or essentialized portraitures, Brodber in Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home
suggests that it is through the exploration of the ways in which the past connects to and evolves
into our present that we discover the means to shape our future. The tactics of intervention that
she deploys speak to an ideological positioning that celebrates her participation in a hitherto-
silenced, largely intuitive folk world while at the same time evoking creative fellowship within
a Caribbean intellectual community. Ultimately, the past, both historical and scholarly, shapes
her artistic voice and becomes for Brodber a community activity that links her theoretical
engagements to those of other Caribbean theorists; be they self-conscious intellectuals who are
committed to the formulation of new world poetics, or persons whose daily practices enact
Brodber's varying iterations of community constitute both a critical and a creative
fellowship, one that expands to accommodate various discursive positions. Her literary voice
blends with those of Caribbean writers such as Sylvia Wynter, Edward Brathwaite, and Wilson
Harris and together they affirm critical fellowship. Moreover, this often-noted intertextuality
moves Brodber to the creative transformation of these modalities in so far as she brings to these
conversations on the constitution of diasporic subjectivity, her experiences of race, class,
gender and education. Superimposed on these are her testimonies on the importance of folk
ways of being as core to the psycho-social and political development of diasporic people.
Brodber's writing insists that it is through creative fellowship with an Afro-Caribbean folk
world--site of accreted ancestral memory-that she is mothered into voice. And it is this folk
world-a kumbla rich in myths, in songs, in stories, in rhythm, in dances-that gives resonance
to the narrative interventions employed in Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home.
Interested not only in the issue of identity formation but also in the various ways in
which we seek to authorize ourselves as subjects, Brodber, in Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come
Home, is advocating that in diasporic contexts, such authorization needs to take place outside of
privileged Eurocentric paradigms and patterns of hegemony. Learnt methodologies, what
Patricia J. Wiliams has described as "rationalism walled against chaos" need to be disrupted so
as to make space for "inductive empiricism, borrowed from-and parodying-systems
analysis, in order to enliven thought about complex social problems" (7). This is the larger
polemic agenda driving Brodber-how to infuse largely inadequate systems of thought with
social responsibility and relevance, creating in the process a pedagogy of healing. Core to such
transformations is the creation of a meditative and intercessionary space-a kumbla-where
Caribbean people can privately and quietly explore and understand the history of their
enslavement and from this space of understanding, can enter into productive conversations with
other groups who have had similar diasporic experiences. Moreover, the ways in which this
narrative modality shapes the novel are crucial to Brodber's identity politics and to her
theorizing of an ethos of healing love and social responsibility as integral to a Caribbean
As a writer, Brodber is both weaver and occupant of this kumbla. She creates it so
that she can escape the Nietzschean prison house of Language that is so deeply imbricated with
historical malaise and so ably reinforced by her formal education. She enters into this kumbla
so as to engage with a folk dialectics-a mother tongue that will bring her to voice, that will
teach her another way of thinking and speaking about her experiences, that will deepen her
voice, that will allow her to talk back to traditions that had previously silenced her. In finding
her voice, what Brathwaite has referred to as her "nation language" (260), Brodber re-emerges
not so much as a creative writer but as a literary activist. Writing becomes an act of
emancipation, a sociological effort that is directed at improving the lives of survivors of the
Black Diaspora in particular, and Diasporic survivors in general. As a regenerative location,
the kumbla-contoured as it is by the cadences of "nation language"-affords Brodber a space
to explore the notion of diasporic creativity, the various forms it assumes, and its utility as a
Accordingly, Brodber is able to achieve in Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home a
narrative of pain and loss, overlaid with a celebration of the redemptive healing power of the
Caribbean folk community. Nellie, the fictional protagonist in this narrative, has to deal with
and find solutions to her personal psychological traumas. Brodber, the symbolic protagonist in
this narrative is working through her historical and personal past, and is trying to make sense of
the role that she as an educated Jamaican occupies both in her rural community and within the
larger academic community. On yet another level, an ideological healing is taking place.
Where formerly Caribbean studies, modeled as it was on Anglo-Victorian traditions of
scholarship, had privileged certain kinds of knowledge and had valorized productions of
knowledge that tended to be presumptive and divorced from a Caribbean psycho-social reality,
now this breach is being repaired. The discursive ruptures created by these processes are
healed through Brodber's artistic intervention. Breaking away from a fundamentalism of
thought, she offers, in the words of Franz Fanon, "dialect as a way of thinking," (188) in the
process reinforcing the potential of this folk-based discursive mode as a transmitter of personal
history. Such representation allows for a simultaneity of interpretive experiences, ones related
not only to race, class and gender but also of culture. Literary forms are made to express a
social reality with Brodber functioning as a community griot whose cultural performance is
directed at critique, resistance and amelioration. Ultimately, the use of writing as a way of
ordering the experiences of a people is being valorized, but its endorsement is contextualized
within a story-telling tradition, an activity that Honor Ford Smith has in her introduction to
Lionheart Gal, described as indicative of "the possibility of a unity between the aesthetic
imagination and the social and processes" (xv).
Accordingly, in negotiating the spaces between literacy and orality, Brodber
establishes correspondences between social behavior and narrative representation. In Jane and
Louisa Will Soon Come Home, she chooses a mode of writing that eschews the dominant
Coming Home to Mama's Garden: Creative Fellowship in Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come
linear model which her own education as trained sociologist had validated. Brodber's choice of
this discursive mode relates to what Barbara Christian describes as the recurring struggle "to
use the range of one's voice, to attempt to express the totality of self' (317). In her use of
narrative techniques that regardless of their recuperative potential are not typically valorized as
proper discursive modalities, Brodber, through creative fellowship, gives prominence to the
suppressed stories of the Caribbean subaltern. Moreover, in rendering this sociological data
relevant to her audience, Brodber chooses as a discursive mode, the circularity of expression
and the symbolism of folk wisdom over the traditional linearity of scientific procedures. Her
deliberate location of her work within an Afro-Jamaica creole sensibility is defended as the
most adequate medium through which her subjects can be explained and analyzed. It is also
cultural nexus at which healing of ancestral wounds of history can occur.
The language used in Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home provides a ready
example. Typically, for the post colonial intellectual, Queen's English is the language of
exegesis. In this instance, Brodber brings various speech communities into linguistic play.
Shifting continually between standard and non-standard Jamaican English, Brodber evokes the
many social contexts of language performance. This mode of representation allows for the
staging of the linguistic variations that best define a rural Jamaican community. Nellie, the
protagonist of Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home displays a similar proficiency in code-
switching: her traveling along through the basilectal to acrolectal registers dependent on her
social situations. At her rural home she speaks one way, as a schoolgirl living in Kingston with
her socially-aspiring aunt, she speaks another, and as the university educated woman yet
another. Brodber uses Nellie's distance from the basilect to mark her psychological separation
from a nurturing community, while the indiscriminate shifts of register evoke Nellie's psychic
deterioration: For Brodber, return to basilectal language is reconnection to a sustainable
community base, one whose folk rhythms and practices provide connective healing.
This linguistic reconstitution also relates to Brobder's emergence as artist. As a
product of her formal education, Brodber finds herself divided both in language and in
consciousness. She is a Western-educated, Afro-Jamaican woman and a member of a
marginalized and under-represented folk community whose ideological perspectives have yet to
be valorized. Thus, in belonging to two groups simultaneously, writing for Brodber becomes
her dialogue with herself, and with her society: what she explains as a way of reassuring herself
that she can write, and that she has something important to say to and about her society.
Rupturing epistemological hegemonies, Brodber inscribes an oral poetics that, while giving
cognizance to Brathwaite's national language, enlarges this to postulate on the power of the
survival strategies that Caribbean folk tales celebrate.
Appropriately, Brodber's use of the folk tale of Anancy's escape after he has been
caught poaching on Dryhead's property speaks to the power of linguistic masking as a strategy
of psycho-sociological and literary intervention. Through a cleverly-crafted rhetoric of
dissembling, Anancy is able to explain his presence in Dryhead's kingdom as the recognition of
and the acquiescing to the hegemony of Dryhead's tyranny: "I bow to you. You is King" (125-
6). Anancy then negotiates his freedom in the bartering of all but one of his children.
However, Dryhead is unaware that Anancy-"a born lia, a spinner of white cocoons, protector
of his children" and "maker of finely-crafted kumblas," (124) has only brought with him one
child: his son, Tucuma. Anancy's kumbla of deception and escape herein is a linguistic one.
His use of the refrain phrase "go eena Kumbla" means one thing to Dryhead but another to
Tucuma. For Dryhead, it is the public disavowal of kinship; for Tecuma, it is the signal to
deploy yet another disguise so as to fool Dryhead into believing that he is another of Anancy's
children, thus securing their escape.
This folk tale is relevant to the strategies of intervention which Brodber makes use of
in her writerly activities. Claiming in an interview with Nadia Ellis Russell that her "status is
not so much one of writer but instead one who is beginning to take the name writer, but who
recognizes that it carries a lot of things which [she does] not have," Brodber goes into a
protective kumbla. From there, she emerges in the various guises dictated by her social,
education and ideological positioning. Brodber is aware that survival for the Caribbean
intellectual assumes various modalities. Like Tucuma's performance of multiple subjectivities,
she presents herself as the uneasy writer, a sociology professor, community activist and self-
labeled intellectual worker.
Strategically, the kumbla within which Brodber locates herself is one where she is
allowed a similar protective retreat lest she, as sociologist doing creative writing, should be
weighed in the literary critical balance and found wanting. At the end of her essay, "Fiction in
the Scientific procedure," Brodber is careful to establish that her activism precludes her from
the self-definition of writer:
"If tomorrow someone managed to convince me that all is hunky-dory with those who
look like me, I would indulge myself in long Fieldingsque works because I love to
play with words and to use my imagination, and with that before me and behind me, I
would call myself a writer" (168).
That Fielding is the measure of artistry, the marker of literary authority, is itself
Brodber's 'anancy' intervention in a Caribbean aesthetic. Her interaction with her circle of
'artist' friends, like Brathwaite and Campbell, would have taught her that, in spite of the weight
of Victorian literary tradition, Caribbean writers were demonstrating aesthetic sensibilities that
paid respect to indigenous traditions. Nor is word play peculiarly British-these rhetorical
maneuvering are part of a Caribbean folk tradition that is shaped by both African and European
linguistic performances. However, in the absence of data on Caribbean folk practices, one was
yet to know that play on words was very much part of the Caribbean folk.tradition of tea
meetings and the like. Indeed, much of what Brodber describes as the coming to literary voice,
reveals and problematizes the intellectual elitism that had once defined literature in the
Amoldian terms of high culture, an elitism that had devalued folk kumblas.
The kumbla is a harbor and healing space. As a folk device made to serve metaphoric
ends, it offers emotional reconstitution of the subject in the same way that it offers the
constitution of Erna Brodber as creative writer. The kumbla's multivalent configuration is
important in so far as it offers retreat and entrapment: "The kumbla is an egg shell.... It does
not crack if it is hit. It is pliable as sail cloth. Your kumbla will not open unless you rip its
seams open. It is a round seamless calabash that protects you without caring" (123). The
kumbla also limits Nellie from full participation in community. "But the trouble with the
kumbla is the getting out of the kumbla. It is a protective device. If you dwell too long in it,
makes you delicate" (130) Psychologically damaged by accumulated experiences of
unbelonging, Nellie finds a kumbla of safety in Baba-a child-hood friend, and with his
mentoring, comes to understand the power and limitation of this haven and is accordingly able
to guide herself out. Indeed, kumblas protect but prolonged protection is as debilitating as the
unsafe space outside of society's kumblas. In spite of its shifting identifications the kumbla
Coming Home to Mama's Garden: Creative Fellowship in Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come
never denies its occupant agency.
Ultimately this conferral of agency is the power of the kumbla. And it is this
agency that empowers Brodber into a creativity, a Tucuma performance which because of its
folk camouflage gets read by Dryhead intellectuals as examples of what Cryderman has
described as "the Derridean tradition of undermining language's essential connection to
reality," and "the Lyotardian skepticism of modernist grand narratives." Like Tucuma, Jane
and Louisa Will Soon Come Home remains a polyvalent narrative: one that weaves together
scribal and oral forms, that blends folk tales with folk songs, proverbs with psalms, in a lively
form that evokes folk dances.
Finally, Brodber uses the Quadrille to shape her narrative-the book taking its name
from a type of a popular ring game to which the square dance movement is applied. The
narrative is structured along the four movements typical to this quadrille, but where this
eighteenth century courtly dance had relied on repetition of particular routines, in its literary
adaptations, creative improvisations enliven and expand the dance. Moreover, this quadrille re-
inscribes the notion of the mutability of high western culture into what is considered low folk
culture. The function of dance as a source of integrative community helps further sustain this
trope. In the novel, dance is a major community activity and one's ability to dance is
intimately related to maneuverability and adaptability. Brodber' discussion on Nellie's
dysfunctional behavior tropes on her inability to dance, and by extension, her inability to
participate in the community. "Dancing but you haven't moved a foot... Keep spinning your
circles dear; but you'll see the day when you bind your feet so close that you will trip at your
own pirouette"(18-19). The spinning out of control becomes the fate similar to what Anancy
endures after the accidental destruction of fellowship occasioned by Tumbletud's death.
Nellie's unwitting destruction of fellowship with her folk community put her into the same
spin: "Mye or Nancy spinning around in the woods.. .Searching for a familiar face. In the
woods searching for my place. In the spying glass. In the spinning mass of crystals. Nothing.
Twirling madly in a still life. Poor Nancy. Poor me"(38). Nellie is out of step with her society
and its impatience with her psychic fragility is part of the negative aspects of this kumbla. In a
space that valorizes resilience, that does not seek to problematize contradiction, but merely to
accept them, Nellie has to also learn how to operate within the ambivalent rhythms of this
society. It is no accident that the best quadrille dancer in the text is Mass Stanley, the one who
together with his grandson Baba helps reconstitute Nellie. Mas Stanley provides her with
access to past family history, while Baba prepares her for a future that pays cognizance to that
history. From these men, Nellie learns that while she can find safety in her community's
rhythms, this safety can be dangerous because it does not allow her space to be a free-thinking
individual. It is the quadrille that offers movement out of these kumblas.
In conclusion, Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home in its melding of orality and
literacy, contributes to a Caribbean feminist poetics. In her theorizing of the role of oral
traditions in the Caribbean story of healing through self-actualization, Brodber is relating her
lived experiences to the constitution of a Caribbean poetics, in the process reminding us that
such practices gather more relevance and applicability when they are rooted with social reality.
To return to the quotation that introduced this paper, Brodber's art has a strong didactic
component-the something that Brodber has to teach the world is indeed a powerful lesson
about the non-productiveness of dichotomies. Finally, the multivalency of the Caribbean folk
world within which Brodber lodges herself allows us to recognize her as a cultural worker and
an intellectual worker, as an artist and as an activist.
Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. "History of The Voice," In Roots. Havana, Cuba: Ediciones Casa
de Las Americas, 1986.
Brodber, Erna. Jane and Louisa will Soon Come Home. London: New Beacon Books, 1980.
--. Myal. London: New Beacon Books, 1988.
-----. "Fiction in The Scientific Procedure" Caribbean Women Writers: Essays from the First
International Conference. Massachusetts: Calaloux Publications, 1990. pp 164-168.
Christian, Barbara. "Trajectories of Self-Definition: Placing Contemporary Afro-American
Women's Fiction," in Feminisms: An Anthology ofLiteraly theory and Criticism, ed.
Robin Warhol and Diane Price Herndl, New Brunswich, New Jersey: Rutgers
University Press, 1991.
Cryderman, Kevin Arthur. "My Dear Will you Allow me to Discuss the Politics of Reading
and Writing: An Exploration of Language and Narrative Architecture in Erna
Brodber's Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home in the Context of Postmodernism
and Postcolonialism." www.postcolonialweb.org/Caribbean/Brodber/kcrv2.html., 2000,
February 28, 2002.
Bakhtin, M. M. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Trans. Michael Holquist et al.
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Ellis Russell, Nadia. "Crossing Borders: An interview with Writer, Scholar, and Activist Erna
Brodber." Woodside. Jamaica: May 7, 2001.
www.inthefrav.com/200105/imagine/brodber2/brodber2.html March 4, 2002
Fanon, Franz. Black Skin. White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove
Press denfeld, 1967.
Ford-Smith, Honor. Lionheart Gal: Life Stories ofJamaican Women. London: The Woman's
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Williams, Patricia J. The Alchemy ofRace and Rights: Diary ofa Law Professor. Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1991.
Ages of a Woman. Jamaica Kincaid's My Brother
Ages of a Woman. Jamaica Kincaid's My Brother
In a 1994 interview, Jamaica Kincaid declared, "There is no reason for me to be a
writer without autobiography."' This assertion regarding her acute interest in autobiography
hardly surprised critics since the figures of Jamaica, Annie John and Lucy are often collapsible.
Her work has indeed been defined as a "serial autobiography" and Alison Donnell writes that
"When asked how much of her work is autobiographical, Jamaica Kincaid's stock response is
'All of it, even the punctuation'."2 The punctuation, however, is Kincaid's and is part of her
endeavor to break the form.3 Indeed, if her work were read solely in terms of its architecture
and style, a single thread would connect the short story "Girl,"her first experimental story i
her first book, to My Brother, where her writing reaches its aesthetic peak.4 My Brother, her
1997 memoir, is the first text in which Kincaid is the avowed author, narrator, and protagonist
- along with her brother mentioned in the title and her mother who is present in all her texts to
date.5 Autobiographical writing is, after all, never about a single individual.
From the outset three bodies interact in the narrative: a female body, which is Jamaica's; a
male body, her brother, Devon's, and the maternal body of their mother; three bodies, which
had shared the same space thirty years earlier for three years after Devon's birth. Devon, Mrs.
Drew, and Jamaica can be seen as representing the contemporary West Indian subjects:
Jamaica's brother born, raised, and living in the Caribbean;.their mother who has migrated to
Antigua from another island, Dominica; and Jamaica herself who was raised in the Caribbean
and has, as she herself affirms "purposefully and gratefully" migrated to the United States.
(142)6 Following Devon's infection with the HIV virus, the seriousness of his illness, and the
stigma attached to it, the three protagonists have to reconfigure their relations. They are once
again together, now interacting in restricted spaces, mainly that of the mother's home and of
the hospital grounds.
As Jamaica, the writer, focuses on her contradictory feelings before the event of death,
there emerges once again a dialectic of love and hate, rootedness and displacement, distance
and rapprochement, typical of her work. However, several elements in the text indicate that her
writing has taken on a new turn: hate, displacement, and distance are forcefully acknowledged
and acted upon. In My Brother there are repeated shifts from the abstract to the concrete as
Jamaica's thoughts and speculations about her mother, family relations, and death, all sources
of great anxiety in previous texts, are anchored in the material world.
Jamaica is declaredly writing a book about herself and her family. As author and
narrator, the familial drama is represented by her, as her memory serves her. As Starobinski has
pointed out, in autobiographical texts, it is not the accuracy of facts that matters, but accuracy
of the emotions in relation to the past7 The migrant, the exile Jamaica who left Antigua as a
young woman, is now middle-aged, has acquired literary fame, has married into a famous U.S.
family, and has published five successful books. Her perception of the places she returns to
transforms them into spaces. "Space occurs as the effect produced by the operations that orient
it, situate it, temporalize it, and make it function in a polyvalent unity of conflictual programs
or contractual proximities."8 The geographical distance between her and her family, created by
her departure from Antigua, has widened into an economic, intellectual, cultural and emotional
Jamaica's different economic destiny, her different material circumstances, become
the starting point for her reflections on the construction of both her and her brother's identity in
relation to Antigua and their mother. "I shall never forget him because his life is the one I did
not have, the life that, for reasons I hope shall never be too clear to me, I avoided or escaped"
(176). She has escaped a life of poverty, familial tensions, and maternal oppression. The new
home she has made for herself in Vermont is the desired location out of which she can create.
"I was so happy to reach my home, the home of my adult life..."(98). She is happy to live in
an all white town, amid the snow, the hills, the maple trees of Bennington, where she relishes
the luxury of her large house dedicating herself to middle-class pursuits like taking her children
to the bus stop, going hiking, and planting and weeding her garden. "Gardening must be a
function of wealth. Gardening for no other reason than how it looks cannot be a function of
SProud of her new economic status, Kincaid consciously feeds the rag to riches myth
when she speaks of herself. She has recently described her material achievements (a big house
and a garden), but at the same time underlined that she "came off the banana boat,"choosing a
metaphor which indicates the long way she has traveled. Today, indeed, she can affirm that
"There's nothing like a martini in the garden in the afternoon."'1 My Brother, thus, becomes a
self-acclamatory text in which Jamaica is represented as the provider, the one who pays for her
brother's medicine, bed, and coffin, who can rent a car to take her family to the beach. Partly
because of her new role, Jamaica is able to come to terms with her past life in a sort of
emotional catharsis which allows her to definitely affirm her presence in the United States
On several occasions throughout the text, she reveals that she is no longer in tune with
the Caribbean, disclosing unfamiliarity with things Caribbean. In the new geography she now
inhabits, she does not believe that drafts can exist in the Caribbean- "what kind of draft exists
in a place that is hot all the time" (54). She has adopted a restricted vision of family (as
opposed to the Caribbean extended family): "Love is the word I would use to describe my
feelings about my family, the people I have made my own: my husband, my children, my
friends..." (149). She even expresses contempt for the Caribbean: "And I remembered this
woman, superior and slightly contemptuous of her general surroundings (but I did not fault her
for that, I had felt the same way, only more)..."(158). "
As her brother and mother come to stand for what she refuses, the familiar which
causes disgust, the abject,.she distances herself from them spatially. To reach Antigua, she has
to make two stop-overs, in Puerto Rico and Miami, southern U.S. spaces, ports of entry for
South American migrants. Through her descriptions, the airports are transformed into foreign
worlds, which she crosses during her trips. Miami resembles neither the Caribbean, nor
Vermont; it is the place where she can buy exotic plants to take back home to Vermont. She
recounts one of her trips as having lasted fourteen and a half hours, instead of the usual eight,
giving a sense of the enormous distance between St. John's and Vermont, which she
geographically places on different continents as in the following examples: "...my possessions
were stored in a continent far away from where he lived" (93). "At the time he was dying, all
through that night, all through the night I was a continent away..." (176). 12 The metaphorical
meaning becomes literal as she builds a continental distance between herself and "the people
she comes from," and at the same time claims her place in the West.
In her day to day contact with her family, this divide is translated into a physical
distance between their bodies. The relationships between the different members of the family
Ages of a Woman: Jamaica Kincaid's My Brother
are polarized: there is no dialogue between more than two members of the family at a time and
each child interacts singly with the mother. In these one-to-one encounters, their bodies never
touch. Seated or lying on Devon's bed, sitting on a chair next to him in the hospital gardens,
taking a walk with him, Jamaica gives no indication of any physical contact. As Devon himself
notices when she is about to leave him to go back to Vermont: "So this is it, no hug no
nothing? (and he said it in that way, in conventional English, not in the English that instantly
reveals the humiliation of history, the humiliations of the past not remade into art);" (108)
The mother is the only family member who touches Devon's AIDS-infected body. She
bathes him, dresses him, feeds him,(15) rubs cream into his parched shin (16), rubs his head
(74) and swims with him when he has some respite from his illness.(70) Instead, the mother is
separated from Jamaica. When in Antigua Jamaica does not stay at her mother's, but at an inn.
As "observed" and "practiced," this intimately familiar place, which is a mother's home,
becomes a space, extraneous to her desires, where "all things foreign were done" (114). It is
also a hierarchical space, where the mother exerts her rule. Jamaica is careful to point out that it
is her brothers who live with their mother and that the reverse would beinconceivable. The
interior of her mother's house is not depicted, while the outside is. It is where her mother cooks
the food her own children will stop eating. Not only does Jamaica's matrophobia, the fear of
becoming her mother, make her dissociate herself from her, but when the three of them are
together in the same location, Jamaica, Devon and their mother are not a threesome. Their
outing at the beach is a case in point. While Devon and his mother swim, Jamaica and her
children are on the beach:
One afternoon I had taken him to swim at a place where when I was a child many
church picnics were held. It is now a beach with a hotel for tourists; he was swimming
with.my mother and they looked so beautiful.... I could see them, I was standing on
the sand, the beach, my children near me building structures out of the sand.... This
was my mother and this was my brother, my mother's youngest child.... (70)
There is no description of the entire family in the car together. Jamaica withholds this
information, for she has come to the realization that emotionally the three of them do not exist
as a family. She deletes any situation that may make them appear as such. "I had never been a
part of the tapestry, so to speak, of Patches, Styles, and Muds" (175). As a child, Jamaica had
lived in a nuclear family with her mother and her brothers' biological father. Mr. Drew worked
as a carpenter. Mrs. Drew was a pleasant housewife and mother a setting her brothers have
never known. But the place she once occupied in the family was taken over by her brothers; so
the mother is either her mother or their mother, as she herself writes, "Our mother and
sometimes I think of her as my mother only, and then sometimes she is the mother of my
brothers also, and when she's our mother, she's another entity altogether..." (114).
The other entity that is their mother is portrayed only in relation to Jamaica and
Devon's way with plants: "I know now that it is from our mother that we, he and I, get this
love ofplants"(l 1). Painful as it is, she has come to accept that she is the outsider. When
Devon calls his mother's and brothers' names on his deathbed, he sanctions her
exclusion. As much as she may grieve Devon's death, it is this definitive realization of her
extraneousness to the family unit that she mourns in My Brother. The family she could have
could be composed of her children and her mother, her children who love their grandmother
and who eat everything she cooks (63). However, Jamaica still resists her mother, for she
belittles the relation between grandmother and grandchildren, describing it as common and
inevitable. But the bitterness against her mother is gone- she concedes that her children love
Unlike her mother and brother, Jamaica represents herself as a decolonized subject By
separating herself from them, she avenges herself. She is the cosmopolitan writer who can look
down upon those who have never left the West Indian cultural context, or who, like Devon, has
not even left his mother's home. 13
Devon is an untraveled man whom she represents as a pitiful male who has interiorized
maleness as defined by patriarchy. Clearly his geographical fixity fares poorly compared to her
mobility. Confined to his island with its attached prejudices, with its limited definition of
masculinity, Devon defines his identity through his genitalia employed in heterosexual
activities. As bell hooks has written, "What the male does with his penis becomes a greater and
certainly a more accessible way to assert masculine status." 14 This is what Jamaica criticizes
most harshly, "This compulsion to express himself through his penis, his imagination passing
between his legs, not through his hands, is something I am not qualified to understand,"(70) she
Unable to perform through his genitals, Devon can no longer be defined a male in the
Caribbean context. First of all, the stigma attached to Aids patients, cuts him off from his
friends. Then the lack of sexual relations means his death: deprived of his primary means of
identity, he will live in death. As Kincaid writes: "He had been dead for a long time. I saw him
two months before he was actually dead"(87).
A vengeful Kincaid takes Devon as the absolute insignia of maleness." He was the
direct cause of the two great tragedies in her adolescence, the burning of her books and her
being taken out of school. 6 These events, which had signaled a dramatic turn in her life, which
had been silenced in Annie John, are repeated many times over in My Brother. Devon was the
privileged male, so he comes to stand for patriarchy in the text Jamaica willingly debunks the
myth of the West Indian macho her brother impersonates like the "axeman" described by Earl
Lovelace or the "Great Fucker" sung in calypso songs.
It is an angry Kincaid who exposes her brother's genitalia, for she has not yet learned
of his alternative sexuality. He has always passed, hidden his interest in men behind a hyper-
sexuality. Not only does he tell his sister that he "cannot go two weeks without having sex"
(67), but no sooner does he feel the benefits of the medicine AZT and leave the hospital, he
looks for his prostitute friend, a girl from Guyana with whom he has unprotected sex. Before
his recklessness, Jamaica is ruthless. She does not avert her eyes when Devon exposes his
genitalia. She takes the opportunity to depict his penis as a piece of undesirable flesh.
I stood looking at him for a long time before he realized I was there. And then when
he did, he suddenly threw the sheets away from himself, tore his pajama bottoms away
from his waist, revealing his penis, and then grabbed his penis in his hand and held it
up, and his penis looked like a bruised flower that had been cut short on the stem; it
was covered with sores, and on the sores was a white substance, almost creamy,
almost floury, a fungus. When he grabbed his penis in his hand, he suddenly pointed it
at me, a sort of thrusting gesture, and he said in a voice that was full of deep panic and
deep fear, "Jamaica, look at this, just look at this...' I did not want to see his penis; at
Ages of a Woman. Jamaica Kincaid's My Brother
that moment I did not want to see any penis at all. (91)
She does not limit herself to exposing her brother to the reader's voyeuristic gaze, she
represents his "dry, rotting, shriveling body" (117) as a West Indian, post-independence body.
Devon's is not a colonial body on which the scars of history are inscribed. In My Brother, there
is neither the body of a Harry/Harriet marked by a British officer, nor the many female bodies
seen through the lens of historical victimisation. 7 Two decades have passed since the islands
became independent (nineteen years in the case of Antigua, but thirty-five in the case of
Jamaica) and Jamaica Kincaid who has never shown "an uncritical and unproblematized
acceptance of Caribbean identity" dismisses racism, dismisses the social and economic
circumstances of Antigua and for the first time a Caribbean female writer tells a man in pain,
her brother, whose sufferings she has refused to erase that he has no one to blame for his fate,
not colonialism, not neo-colonialism, no one but himself. She asserts that he is part of the "self-
destructive people" of the world (79). '8
But it was not racism that made my brother lie dying of an incurable disease in a
hospital in the country in which he was born; it was the sheer accident of life, it was
his own fault.... It was the fact that he lived in a place in which a government, made
up of people with his own complexion, his own race, was corrupt and did not care
whether he or other people like him lived or died (49-50).
But in deconstructing phallocentric power, she utilizes codified representations of the
black body. When she describes her brother's illness, she speaks of the disease as having
darkened his skin. "His skin was a deep black color. I noticed that, but many days later my
mother said to me, He has gotten so black, the disease has made him so black"(9) even if, as
she asserts, "he was descended from Africans mostly" (150).
As Sander Gilman has shown "the Other's pathology is revealed in anatomy," the
black, the prostitute are "bearers of the stigmata of sexual difference" and ....revert[s] to the
blackness of the earth, to assume the horrible grotesque countenance perceived as belonging to
the world of the black, the world of the 'primitive', the world of disease." 2 Jamaica's brother's
black skin becomes blacker: "His mouth [is] so white, abloom with thrush; his lips so red,
glowing, shiny from fever; his skin blackened as if his normal quotient of pigment had
increased from some frightening source..."(149).
Much like the outsiders, prostitutes, blacks, the insane, in nineteenth century
iconography which were-drawn from the pseudo-science of physiognomy or from earlier
polygenist theories, Devon's illness is associated with blackness and with sexual deviancy, as if
outer skin reflected his sins. Jamaica confirms the chain of associations: blackness-illness-
This is part of her strategy of representing herself as a decolonized subject, as when
she depicts herself as a strong black woman. Heedless of the battle conducted against
stereotyping of the black female, of the struggle to undo the image of the superstrongg black
mother," she declares that she would give her life for her husband: "I would rather bad things
or unpleasant things happen to me...I believe that I am better at handling bad things than he"
(100). 20 Her body is therefore not a colonized female body; she constructs it as 'normal',
distancing it from Devon's and from the oversexed and licentious ones of traditional
iconography.2 She indeed writes that she "grew up alienated from her own sexuality" (69) and
that her own sexual life in Vermont is a "monument to boring conventionality"(41).
At the same time the mother's body is represented as the devouring body, the mother
who smothers her own children. The brother "who sells food in the market", later called Joe,
and Jamaica have managed a life away from her, while Devon has not. Joe has stopped
speaking to his mother, stopped eating her food, and started to call her Mrs. Drew, depriving
her of the title of mother and of the function of a mother, as she understands it to be. Devon
also refuses her food, but then will become entangled once again in his mother's snares. "At
that point in his life, that moment in 1986...he too no longer ate the food she cooked; this was
part of a separation he wished to make between himself and his family" (117). In imitation of
her brothers, Jamaica also stops eating her mother's food, divesting her of her role as nurturer.
The meaning of food becomes both literal and metaphorical as the mother has provided the
wrong spiritual nourishment for her children.
The quarrels between Jamaica and her mother fill many pages in her books and My
Brother is no exception. "Ifelt I hated my mother, and even worse, I felt she hated me,
too;"(141) was a consideration Jamaica made once in.her youth; now as a middle-aged woman
she can affirm without hesitation that her mother hates her children (italics mine,)
I once did not see my mother for twenty years, even though I thought of her first thing
in the morning and last thing at night, and almost all my thoughts of her were full of
intense hatred, but she was alive and not in my sight and I could so well remember her
hatred toward me I will not add a qualifier to that, her hatred toward me, or modify
it, this was just so: my mother hates her children (154).
This outburst, the acknowledgement of the hatred existing between mother and
daughter, has given the tormented relation with her mother a concreteness it did not have
earlier. It sets Jamaica on a different course: she can now move forward with her life and
writing, and enter into a different dynamics with her mother.
In the case of her brother, it is the revelation of his sexuality in a Chicago airport
which changes her outlook towards him: her anger and contempt turn into anger and
compassion for the Devon who never came out, who has been trapped, whose full development
has been thwarted by imposed gender norms. The Devon who did not come out was unable to
follow his female ascendancy and develop his interest and talent with plants which he had
inherited from his mother: "And when I picked up that book again, The Education of a
Gardener, I looked at my brother, for he was a gardener also, and I wondered, if his life had
taken a certain turn, if he had caused.his life to take a different turn, might he have written a
book with such a title?"(1 1)
At the same time, however, Devon could not totally follow the male path to self-
fulfillment. Unable to hold a job, unable to channel his energy in any constructive activity, his
life was withering away, even before he got infected with the HIV virus: "He doesn't make
anything, no one depends on him, he is not a father to anyone, no one finds him indispensable.
He cannot make a table, his father could make a table and a chair, and a house; his father was
the father of many children" (70).
Thus the denunciation of Devon's recklessness turns-now that she has a more concrete
sense of the reasons for the shape his life has taken-into empathy for the man who has had to
repress his sexuality in the Antiguan context. She is sympathetic to the youth who was not free,
who had been imprisoned in the Antiguan culture, who hid his frustration behind his brashness.
Ages of a Woman. Jamaica Kincaid's My Brother
This is when Jamaica's writing reaches its highest point: form and content become
one, her voice turns elegiacal. 2 The sentences become longer, a page long (163); they turn into
an endless lament, and Jamaica is able to produce the poetic prose she has been pursuing, the
perfect style to mourn her losses: she weeps for her brother, but also for her father, Mr. Drew,
whom she had not sufficiently mourned, for Mr.Shawn for whom she wrote, and for the family
she thought she had:
A great sadness overcame me, and the source of the sadness was the deep feeling I had
always had about him: that he had died without ever understanding or knowing, or
being able to let the world in which he lived know, who he was; that who he really
was -not a single sense of identity but all the complexities of who he was he could
not express fully: his fear of being laughed at, his fear of meeting with the scorn of
people he knew best were overwhelming and he could not live with all of it openly
In Kincaid, death defies the imagination. As a young girl Jamaica had had a morbid
attraction to the dead. Later, she had rationalized death as "being somewhere else," but in the
text she comes to terms with its inevitability:
In spite of all the people I had been close to who had died, I never believed in it, the
very fact that they had died; I now know that I thought of them as being somewhere
else, someplace that I now no longer visited, or had never visited and would never
visit, for they were there and I was here and had chosen to be here and not to join them
at all; they had not died, they were someplace else (154).
In her fifties now, no longer the young rebel of previous texts, Jamaica needs a
different explanation for dea The mature Jamaica has to bury her ghosts, lay their souls to
rest, thus she finds the final death in its materiality. There is no sacredness in her
descriptions, no religiosity, r er her attention is focused on the body bag with the zipper, on
the pinewood coffin, on the burial ground, on the behavior of the mourners. This materiality
gives a substance to death and makes her exorcize it. That is why she takes her young children
to see Devon's body at the funeral parlor. That's why she looks for Mr. Drew's grave which
neither she nor her mother can find. 2
Derrida has theorized autobiography as thanatography: while the 'I' who writes thinks
he/she is dealing with life, he/she is actually drawing closer to death. This, because the proper
name, the signature, which will survive the author, announces his/her death.24
In the cemetery, in the house of the dead, Jamaica and her mother are together for the first time
as two women looking for the grave of a loved one, as two living bodies united against the
dead: "She and I together"(121) "She and I, I and my mother, walked through the graveyard
looking for my father's, her husband's grave..."(122) There are no winners in the fierce
competition Jamaica and her mother have carried out throughout their lives" "When once she
was complaining to me about her health, I jokingly said, "Oh, Mother, you will bury us all";
she said in reply, "You think so," and she laughed, but I did not laugh, I could not laugh, I was
-am- one of the "us"" (189).
The cemetery becomes the space for a reconciliation with her own
mortality/immortality. To reassure herself, she repeats insistently, "The dead never die"(122).
If her mother has engendered her, she, the intellectual, with a strong sense of self, has
had the power to give her a literary life. While her mother's body is already preserved in her
daughter's words; Jamaica herself will live through her own signature. Both will survive or die
through Jamaica's work which is always autobiography and thanatography.
Ferguson Moira, "A Lot of Memory: An Interview with Jamaica Kincaid," The Kenyon
Review 16.1 (winter 1994): 176.
2 Gilmore Leigh, "Endless Autobiography? Jamaica Kincaid and Serial Autobiography" in
Alfred Homung and Erspeter Ruhe eds. Postcolonialism and Autobiography, (Amsterdam and
Atlanta: Rodopi, 1998). 213.
S"Whatever a novel is, I'm not it, and whatever a short story is, I'm not it. If I had to follow
these forms, I couldn't write. I'm really interested in breaking the form."Kay Bonetti
4 Kincaid Jamaica, "Girl" inAt the Bottom of the River, (New York: Farrar Straus and
s As Alison Donnell has written "...for Kincaid the figure of the mother is implicated in the
central relationship between writing and the self around which autobiographical works are
structured," and "When writing the Other is Being True to the Self, Jamaica Kincaid's The
Autobiography of my Mother" in Pauline Polkey ed. Women's Lives into Print. The Theory,
Practice and Writing ofFeminist Autobiography (New York, St. Martin's Press, 1999): 123.
6 Kincaid Jamaica, My Brother. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997). All references
are to this edition.
7 Starobinski Jean, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction, (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1988):198.
8 Certeau Michel (de), The Practice of Everyday Life, (Berkeley: University of California Press,
9 Ferguson, "A Lot of Memory," 167.
0 The Martha Stewart Show, February 16, 1999.
" See Laforest, Diasporic Encounters. Remapping the Caribbean, (Naples: Liguori, 2000).
SIn A Small Place there are several unpropitious references to the Caribbean reality which
have been overlooked by critics because of the strength of her decrial of the Eurocentric value
system. Yet she has written: "...The people in a small place reveal themselves to be like
children being shown the secrets of a magic trick" (54). In identifying Antiguans as children
Kincaid reproduces one of Europe's most enduring stereotypes about dark-skinned peoples.
Likewise, her assertion that "to the people in a small place, the division of Time into the Past,
the Present, and the Future does not exist"(54) evokes the European imperial positioning of
Africans in a different time, outside the linear one of progress and civilization. Kincaid
Jamaica, A Small Place (New York, Plume, 1988).
" From a Eurocentric perspective, 'ethnic' subjects appear as fixed in time and space.
Kincaid's consciousness, here as in other cases, operates according to western codes and
14 Hooks Bell, Black Looks. Race and Representation, (Boston: South End Press, 1992): 94.
Ages of a Woman: Jamaica Kincaid's My Brother
"1 Annie John was published in 1985, but it is only with the publication of Lucy (1991),that the
.reader discovers that Annie was not an only child and that she had three brothers, reason for
which she was marginalized by her mother at their birth. Lucy also remembers that her parents
made plans for the future of their male children: "Why did someone not think that I would
make a good doctor or a good magistrate or a good someone who runs things?" Kincaid
Jamaica, Lucy (New York: Plume, 1991): 92.
1 "And it's not that I care about people knowing it or not knowing it, but more for me to
acknowledge this thing in my life: that the person who brought me into the world had at one
point almost extinguished my life. Those books were my life. I don't mean to overdramatize it,
but it really did feel like an attempt at murder. My books were the only thing that connected me
to a world apart from the cesspool I was in, and then they were just ashes. It felt murderous."
Goldfarb, Brad. "Interview with writer Jamaica Kincaid." Interview October 1997
http:www.findarticles.com. Anne Rice also sees the burning of the books as the central trauma
in Jamaica's life. Rice Anne, "Burning Connections: maternal betrayal in Jamaica Kincaid's
My Brother," A/B: Auto/Biography Studies, 14.1 (1999): 23-37.
7 Harry/Harriet is the homosexual character in Michelle Cliff's No Telephone To Heaven,
London, Minerva, 1989. Female sexual oppression has been the subject of many novels
published in the 1980's and 1990's, for instance those by Joan Riley, Zee Edgell, and
" In Carole Boyce Davies's view, Kincaid "has always shown a critical and problematic
acceptance of Caribbean identity." Boyce Davies Carole, Black Women, Writing and Identity
(London and New York: Routledge, 1994):124.
' Gilman Sander, "Black Bodies, White Bodies" in James Donald and Ali Rattansi, 'Race,
Culture and Difference (London: Sage,1992):193.
0 "African American women need an Afrocentric feminist analysis of motherhood that
debunks the image of 'happy slave', whether the white-male created 'matriarch' or the Black-
male-perpetuated superstrongg Black mother'." Hill Collins Patricia, Black Feminist Thought
(New York and London: Routledge, 1991):117.
21 "People in the place that I am from are quite comfortable with the shame of sex, the
inexplicable need for it, and enjoyment of it that seems beyond the ordinary..." (184)
Statements like these, indicate that she is judging "the people she is from" with the yardstick of
the people she is not from.
SKincaid's words evoke the themes of elegies as in "Some mute inglorious Milton here may
rest....A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown..." Thomas Gray, "Elegy in a country church-
yard". Sandra Pouchet Paquet in a recent volume has linked My Brother to the AIDS elegy
genre which flourished in the U.S. in the 1980's. Pouchet Paquet Sandra, Caribbean
Autobiography. Cultural Identity and Self-Representation (Wisconsin: The University of
Wisconsin Press, 2002):252.
- The absence of graves for New World Africans is a recurring motif in many writers of the
diaspora, from Walcott to Morrisson. Unlike them, Kincaid does not link the missing grave of
her father to colonial history.
" Derrida Jacques, The Ear of the Other. Otobiography, Transference, Translation, (Lincoln
and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1988): 1-40.
Bonetti, Kay. http:/webdelsol.com/Missouri Review/interviews/Kincaid.html.
Boyce Davies, Carole. Black Women, Writing and Identity. London and New York: Routledge,
Certeau, Michel (de). The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press,
Derrida, Jacques. The Ear of the Other. Otobiography, Transference, Translation. Lincoln and
London: University of Nebraska Press, 1988,1-40.
Donnell, Alison. "When writing the Other is Being True to the Self: Jamaica Kincaid's The
Autobiography of my Mother" in Pauline.Polkey ed. Women's Lives into Print. The
Theory, Practice and Writing ofFeminist Autobiography. New York: St. Martin's
Gilman, Sander. "Black Bodies, White Bodies" in James Donald and Ali Rattansi,
'Race',Culture and Difference. London: Sage, 1992.
Hill Collins, Patricia. Black Feminist Thought. New York and London: Routledge, 1991: 117.
Hooks, Bell. Black Looks. Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press, 1992: 94.
Kincaid, Jamaica. "Girl" inAt the Bottom of the River. New.York: Farrar Straus and Giroux,
--------A Small Place. New York: Plume, 1988.
-------Lucy. New York: Plume, 1991:92.
------- My Brother. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. New York: 1997.
Laforest, Marie-H616ne. Diasporic Encounters. Remapping the Caribbean. Naples: Liguori,
Leigh, Gilmore. "Endless Autobiography? Jamaica Kincaid and Serial Autobiography" in
Alfred Hornung and Erspeter Ruhe eds. Postcolonialism and Autobiography.
Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi, 1998.
Pouchet Paquet, Sandra. Caribbean Autobiography. Cultural Identity and Self-Representation.
Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2002: 252.
Rice, Anne. "Burning Connections: Maternal Betrayal in Jamaica Kincaid's My Brother." A/B:
Auto/Biography Studies, 14.1 (1999): 23-37.
Starobinski, Jean. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1988.
The Martha Stewart Show, February 16, 1999.
Kassav Zouk Diva, .ocelyn B6roar
Maryse Condg 's Desirada: The Myth of an Origin
Je ne veuxjamais l'oublier
Ma colombe ma blanche rade
O marguerite exfoli6e
Mon ile au loin ma D6sirade
Ma rose mon giroflier
About six miles off the east coast of Guadeloupe lies the rocky island of La D6sirade.
A mere eleven kilometers long and two kilometers wide the island has been described as
looking like "une barque renvers6e battue par les flots."2 What could be a more inauspicious
image, conjuring up shipwreck and devastation? And, indeed, descriptions of the island (which
consists for the most part of a series of limestone mornes and a chalky central plateau) tend to
insist upon its arid and inhospitable nature. The bleak history of La D6sirade contributes to this
reputation. In 1649 after the Compagnie des miles d'Am.rique which owned the island went
bankrupt, it sold La D6sirade and the other islands of the Guadeloupe archipelago to private
owners Jean de Boisseret d'Herblay and Charles Houdl. But drought and poor soil quality made
crop cultivation difficult on La D6sirade and efforts to establish agricultural production on the
island were soon abandoned. Indeed, except for the native Carib population, La D6sirade
remained virtually deserted until 1725. That year, a leprosy epidemic struck nearby Guadeloupe
and the governor of the Windward Islands decided to establish a leper colony on La D6sirade.
When a prison was built in Les Galets towards the middle of the eighteenth century,
the island became for several years a kind of penal colony and dumping ground for
undesirables from both Guadeloupe and France. One account notes that young men from the
Metropole were shipped off to La D6sirade when they had fallen into "des cas de derangement
de conduite capable d'exposer 'honneur et la tranquillity des families."' Another writes
colorfully that: "tout ce que la Guadeloupe comptait comme mauvais gargons, voyous, fils
naturels, gentilhommes indignes...furent parks&" a La Desirade."4 By the time the prison
closed in 1767, La D6sirade's reputation as a holding tank for society's outcasts was firmly
established. The lIproserie continued to flourish until 1954. Over the years, there were
occasional attempts to use the island for cultivation, most notably before the abolition of
slavery and then again at the beginning of the 20' century, but none were successful.
It is the isolated and desolate island of La D6sirade that constitutes the displaced
center of Maryse Cond6's 1997 novel Desirada. The island's centrality derives from the fact
that it is revealed to be both a point of departure (the birthplace of the protagonist Marie-
Noelle's mother and grandmother) and a point of return (the place to which the grandmother
Nina returns after a long absence and the final destination in Marie-Noelle's journey back to
the islands of her childhood in search of her lineage). Furthermore, by virtue of its explicit and
singular designation in the novel's title, Desirada lays insistent claim to being a final or
definitive point of reference. And yet, paradoxically, this island remains forever at the margins
of the story. Marie-Noelle's "return" to La D6sirade is to a place she has never been before -
Maryse Cond6's Disirada: The Myth of an Origin
and she does not stay. Furthermore, the story does not end with this return, and when Marie-
Noelle continues her journey, she leaves La D6sirade behind. The island of origin ultimately
fails to provide the protagonist, in her search for identity, with the authentic, coherent and
authoritative source that she seeks. Instead of continuity, Marie-Noelle finds contradiction and
rupture. The island remains what its name suggests that which is desired, something
remembered or anticipated but never realizable in the present moment.
It is my contention that Maryse Cond6 uses the island that she calls Desirada to call
into question mythologies of origin, to highlight the shifting nature of both individual and
cultural identities, and to suggest the transformative potential of exile.
The pairing of island and exile has been a familiar paradigm in work on the Caribbean
for quite some time. In his 1998 book Islands and Exiles, Chris Bongie reminds us that Kamau
Brathwaite used the pairing as a chapter heading in his 1967 Rights of Passage and that George
Lamming likewise remarked of islands that there was "no geography more appropriate to the
study of exile."5 Bongie also recalls C6saire's famous lines: "Toute ile appelle/toute hle est
veuve. 6 At the heart of all of these fle/exil relations is, of course, a history of slavery, but also
a dialectic of possession and loss, a dialectic of desire.7 Having and wanting both exclude and
contain one another. Island contains exile as exile contains island. Bongie describes the island
as a "site of double identity." He elaborates:
The island is a figure that can and must be read in more than one way: on the one
hand, as the absolutely particular, a space complete unto itself and thus an ideal
metaphor for a traditionally conceived, unified and unitary, identity; on the other, as a
fragment, a part of some greater whole from which it is in exile and to which it must
be related--in an act of (never completed) completion that is always also, as it were, an
ex-isle, a loss of the particular. (18)
Perhaps the most useful elaboration for our purposes of the dialectical relationship of
isle and exile is, however, that of Elaine Savory in her article "Ex/Isle: Separation, Memory,
and Desire in Caribbean Women's Writing." Savory's analysis, much like Bongie's,
underscores the symbolic force of the lexical and conceptual coupling of island and exile. The
slash that Savory puts between the "Ex" and the "Isle" of her title clearly marks the
simultaneous connection and separation of the two terms. But Savory's reading explicitly
undoes the myths of origin that informed earlier articulations of the island as an amputated
fragment of a greater whole. Savory's island is its own (displaced) place of origin. Thus, she
insists on a personal and fluid Caribbean geography whereby "wherever you live in the world,
if you live in a space which is connected to the Caribbean and you recognize Caribbean cultural
sovereignty, you write within Caribbean space" (170). Savory then elucidates her "Caribbean-
centered" use of the term ex/isle:
[I]sle is not only the literal island but original cultural identity and connection [...]
Ex/isle is the condition of separation from that identity, a separation in which,
however, a new identity is reconstituted.[...] [Ex/isle is] a creative if painful space in
which women's writing becomes a means to construct images of progressively
developing subjectivities. (170, 176)
In her insistence on the creative potential of "ex/isle," especially for women, Savory
offers a useful way of looking at the relationship between exile and identity in Cond6's
Desirada. If, for a certain generation of Caribbean writers, Africa constituted the missing
homeland, in the context of the Caribbean diaspora, "the islands" often represent a place of
origin and a world either abandoned or lost that is now missed and longed for. For one in exile,
the island becomes an obsession, object of both nostalgia and desire. But, as Savory has
suggested, one carries one's island into exile in ways that may ultimately reconfigure scenarios
of displacement and loss.
In Cond6's Desirada, the search for origins as a means of uncovering or constructing
identity is clearly called into question. Marie-Noelle's mother Reynalda was ten years old when
she left La D6sirade with her own mother Nina to move into the home of Gian Carlo Coppino
in La Pointe in Guadeloupe. Nina had accepted to work as a servant in Coppino's household so
that her daughter could receive the benefits of an education in La Pointe. But every night Gian
Carlo entered the room that mother and daughter shared and climbed into Nina's bed. These are
undisputed details in the story. So are the following: somehow, 15-year-old Reynalda became
pregnant; she tried unsuccessfully to drown herself; after she was fished out of the river, she
gave birth to Marie-Noelle; shortly thereafter she left the baby with her friend Ran6lise and
moved to France. Marie-Noelle spent ten happy years in the care of Ran6lise before her mother
Reynalda sent for her. When she arrived in Paris, Marie-Noelle found Reynalda living with
Ludovic and their year-old son Garvey. But this was no tender reunion, for Reynalda proved to
be a strangely distant and unloving mother. Marie-Noelle could not help wondering why she
had been summoned to Paris: "[P]ourquoi [Reynalda] avait-elle brisd le coeur de Randlise et
l'avait-ellefait chercher a la Guadeloupe lh oz elle itait si bien?" (40).
But as she grew older, the question most insistently haunting Marie-Noelle was that of
the identity of her father: "...le secret de sa naissance. Quels 6v6nements s'y 6taient-ils passes
quelques ann6es auparavant, assez terrible pour que sa maman d'a peine quinze ans se jette &
1'eau et fasse le choix de la mort? (22). Marie-Noelle's attempts to determine a definitive
version of her personal history are, however, doomed to failure: her mother's and her
grandmother's accounts are diametrically opposed and there is finally no way of determining
which is true. Indeed, each one's story essentially annihilates the other's. Reynalda's version
not only accuses Gian Carlo of having raped and impregnated her, it also identifies Nina as a
willing accomplice in the abuse of her daughter. Nina's version, on the other hand, insists upon
the impossibility of Gian Carlo's having committed such a crime: "[il] n'ajamais mis la main
sur elle. Qu'est-ce qu'il aurait fait avec une enfant pareille (.,.)?" (202). Instead, Nina firmly
declares Reynalda to be a manipulative, jealous liar: "menteuse, personnelle, sournoise" and
"vicieuse" (183, 193).
Nina's "ricit" marks the climax of Marie-Noelle's journey back to the source. When
she appears at her grandmother's isolated cabin on La Desirade, stammering that she is "lafille
de Reynalda et...et de Gian Carlo," Marie-Nolle has expectations of a conclusive and
satisfying denouement to the story:
Sa voix tremblait comme celle d'une enfant. Etpourtant, elle sentait en elle un
surgissement de confiance. C'dtait la premierefois qu 'elle ddclinait sa gindalogie,
qu'elle nommait au grandjour le nom de ceux qui I'avait engendrde. Et c'dtait comme
si enfin, elle prenait possession d'elle-mime et qu'elle marqudt sa trace sur la terre.
Maryse Cond6's Ddsirada: The Myth of an Origin
But there will be no self-possession, no leaving of traces on that land. Nina bursts out
laughing and her story then undermines everything that Marie-Noelle thought she knew. In the
end Nina sums up for her granddaughter: "Je nepeux t'offrir que la vdritM. Je nepeux te
raconter que ce qui est arrive. Gian Carlo n 'ajamais dt& ton papa. Qui c'est? Seule Reynalda
le connaft etpeut te dire" (202). Significantly, Nina does not present her version as a truth that
Marie-Noelle must embrace.8 Rather she counsels the young woman to move on and away:
Sij 'ai un conseil & te donner, c 'est d'oublier tout cela et de retourner li d 'o tu es
sortie. En Amdrique? l n'y a pas de place pour toi ici. Tu es une terre rapportge. Ici,
chacun depuis la naissance connait le chemin dans lequel il doit marcher et la place
oi, a lafin, ilfaudra qu'il se couche. Ne demand plus rien i ta maman, cette
menteuse de premiere. Laisse-la avec ses contest c dormir debout. D 'ailleurs, ne
demand plus rien i personnel.
Tu as 1 'instruction. Tu as I'education. Tu as ta belle santi. Vis ta vie.
Qu'est-ce qui te mqnqud? (202)
Nina's final words indicate her refusal to recognize the validity of Marie-Noelle's
quest. La D6sirade is not the young woman's home and therefore her "return" is futile,
pointless. Besides, from Nina's point of view, her granddaughter has advantages that easily
outweigh whatever lacks and losses the girl claims to be suffering. The past is history, and
beside the point.
Following this encounter, Marie-Noelle is forced to accept the fact that there is no
objective truth to be uncovered and no privileged place to which to return. This reality is
further dramatized by what Nina's story confirms about a family legacy of maternal absence
and inadequacy. After first describing her own mother's early death, Nina had then revealed her
lack of any maternal feelings towards Reynalda: '"e n 'aijamais aimed cette enfant-ld" (190). In
her own "rdcit," Reynalda had made a similar observation about her inability to be a good
mother to her children: 'je nepeuxpas vous donner ce queje n 'aijamais recu moi-meme"
(101). The mother-daughter relationships so lacking in tenderness in the novel radically
challenge genealogy's ability to provide a common thread of identity and identification and
instead install loss and desire at the center of the story.
But let us look more closely at the place of the island of La D6sirade in Cond6's novel.
We have already suggested its association with the maternal line. Indeed, it first appears in the
novel at the point when Reynalda begins to tell her story to her daughter and in this telling are
juxtaposed two very different visions of the island:
... C'est a la Desirade queje suis nee. Les gens de la Guadeloupe ont une mauvaise
idde de la Desirade a cause des sacripants et des lipreux qu 'on y envoyait dans le
temps et aussi, parce que rien n 'y pousse. Rien. Ni canne i sucre. Ni cafe. Ni coton. Ni
igname. Ni patate douce. Mais pour moi, petite fille, c'"tait vraiment (Ddsiradax, I ile
desire surgie sur la mer devant les yeux des marines de Christoph Colomb apres des
jours et des.jours. Je possidais tous les recoins. (62)
The idea of possession is likewise a key component in Nina's relationship to her island
of birth although she does not idealize the place as Reynalda does. After Gian Carlo's death,
she returns to La D6sirade because it is there that she was born and there she finds her place:
"En dipit de toutes mes annees d'absence, ma case tenait debout a la mmbe place. Je n'ai eu
qu'd turner la cl dans le trou de la serrure pour que la porte s'ouvre sur toute la solitude qui
m 'attendait" (201). As these remarks indicate, Nina's return home is not triumphant or happy:
it looks more like an exile. She lives alone and apart, waiting for death: Malgri mon souhait,
je suis encore vivante sur la terre" (201). Indeed, she has also returned to the place where "a la
fin, ilfaudra qu '[elle] se couche."
The island is, however, likewise associated (and in similar terms) with the paternal
line and more precisely with the exile of the father. In one of the versions of the past that
Marie-Noelle uncovers, it appears that the priest confessor Mondicelli may have been her
missing father. And it comes to light in several accounts that after the death of Gian Carlo's
wife, Father Mondicelli went off suddenly to become a chaplain in the new liproserie at Pointe
Noire on La D6sirade. Thus the island represents both point of departure and point of return in
the family drama--but with returns transforming the island into a place of final exile.
It is Reynalda's story that situates the island of La D6sirade within a mythology.of
origins. La D6sirade was, for her, Desirada, the evocation of this name an explicit reference to
the island that Columbus's sailors had purportedly discovered and named.9 Desirada signified a
land desired, a promised land, a new beginning, a possession--something claimed. When Cond6
uses this name in the supposedly original Spanish as her novel's title, she places Marie-
Noelle's story in the context of a (historically based) mythology of origins.10
We have already suggested that La D6sirade is both central and marginal to the story in
Cond6's novel and that it therefore decenters and refocuses the quest for identity and origin.
But what does it mean to bring Columbus into this picture? Obviously a reference to the
"discovery" of the island by Columbus suggests a moment of origin and places a father there, a
father who possesses by naming. The naming of the island as "ile desirde" further makes this
father one who desires (allowing us then to associate the island with the mother, but also
perhaps with the violated daughter). We are well aware, as is of course Cond6, of the problems
associated with the Columbus patrimony. Therefore, it is not surprising that as we look a little
more closely at this story of origins it begins to come apart.
In fact, in Columbus's journal from his second voyage, he makes no mention of the
island of Desirada. And in those references that do appear in later chronicles of the voyage by
other writers (those upon which the legend of the island's origin is based) the name used to
describe the desired island is of course not "desirada" but the Spanish word "deseada." One
cannot help imagining that a false etymology provides an appropriate front for a false
genealogy. And indeed, there are several very different versions of this story (much as there are
different versions of Marie-Noalle's conception). If Gonzalo Fernindez de Oviedo (in 1851) is
largely responsible for the legend that the island today known as La D6sirade is the one found
and named by Columbus during his second voyage,'" others like Paolo Taviani (in 1985)
suggest that the idea that Columbus singled out and named this particular island is highly
problematic. Taviani notes that only two contemporary chroniclers mention the island at all:
Oviedo and Santa Cruz who "repeats [Oviedo's] words, almost literally" (520). Taviani further
points out that perhaps moreoe significant than anything else is the attitude ofMichele da
Cuneo," a chronicler who was actually a member of Columbus's second expedition and who
"mentions, with abundant detail, the discovery of Dominica, Marie Galante and Guadeloupe,
[but] says nothing about la Deseada" (520-21). Having stressed that earlyry chronicles point to
the scant importance of this island," Taviani even appends a footnote in which he mentions that
Maryse Cond6's Disirada: The Myth of an Origin
he himself visited the island and "was able to see first hand what a depressing place it is" (521).
He further relates that several inhabitants of the island even told him an entirely different
(though hardly more creditable) version of the history of the island's name: they insisted that
the name first given to the island was Desecada (arid) and that only later had Columbus
renamed it Deseada in order not to discourage possible settlement there. Even as he relates it,
Taviani acknowledges that there is no evidence to support this story and that on the oldest maps
one only finds the name Deseada or sometimes the Portuguese Desejada.
Where then is the source for this word Desirada in Cond6's title? As a word of
unknown provenance, it seems to represent quite marvelously the shifting of truth and reference
at the heart of this story as well as the essential mitissage of Caribbean identity. In tracing the
evolution of the island's name from the Spanish La Deseada to the French La D6sirade (and
why not La D6sir&e?), we have to wonder what other influences were brought to bear and
when? Perhaps the most plausible explanation is that La D6sirade resulted from a process of
linguistic overlap, (common in Creolization), in this instance of the influence of the Spanish
deseada on the French ddsirde. It may even be possible to hear resonances of another word,
desiderata (from the Latin desideratum, designating a thing desired) that may have left its
traces in this etymological shifting.'2 Whatever the case may be, Desirada is clearly a name
that recalls all manner of uncertain etymologies and therefore unstable or shifting identities.
Marie-Nodlle's physical approach to the island of La D6sirade is emblematic of the
instability and deceptiveness of origins as well as of the persistence of desire. The chapter in
which her visit to Nina is recounted begins: "Au bout du bout de la mer, c 'est un rocher disold.
Une terre marginale et ddshdritde. Une terre d'exil." (175). But as the boat gets closer the bad
associations give way to a new vision:
Il semblait au contraire que I 71e aride se coloriait sous le soleil, se mettait & sourire.
Elle sortait sa tate hors de 'eau pour pier 'arrivante et lui addresser avec son
bonjour un reproche comme a un parent ingrate: <
But the fantasy of a welcoming relative (a mother?) will not hold. Marie-Noelle is
suddenly blinded by all the blue around her and sees nothing: "Son cacur s 'alourdissait tandis
qu'elle regardait se dessiner de plus en plus net centre le ciel, 1 '7et inhospitalier oit sa race
avait lev. (175). The "terre desheritde" will not welcome the returning daughter. All it can
reflect back to Marie-Noelle is the projection of her own desire and the reality of her own
disinheritance. I suggested earlier that Cond6's Desirada has something to say about the
transformative potential of exile. Towards the end of the novel, Marie-Noelle embarks on a
final quest, travelling to Belgium to visit Ludovic, the father she has somehow missed in her
search for the missing father. Ludovic immediately warns her not to expect answers from him:
"Ne compete pas sur moi pour mettre la dernigre piece au puzzle et te nommer le nom de ton
papa" (269). Yet, Ludovic does in a sense ultimately offer her another way of reading her
history, perhaps filling in one of the holes, for near the end of his own "ricit," he explicitly
claims a father's place: "Tu ne serasjamais que mafille. la premiere-nee. Celle queje ne
savais pas quej 'avais" (278). Still, in giving Marie-Noelle this connection and this piece of
history Ludovic seeks not to hold on to Marie-Noelle but rather to free her. He finally gives her
essentially the same advice that both Reynalda and Nina had given: "Je te rep&te, sij 'ai un
conseil pour toi, c'est d'aller enfin de 1 'avant' (278). But the terms in which Ludovic puts this
counsel are telling: "I te reste a ddcouvrir ton Amerique que tu n'as pas encore decouverte"
(278). In this way Ludovic declares that Desirada (and the official history and family
genealogy to which it points) is no longer, for Marie-Noelle, the land of origin. There is no
founding father, no guaranteed possession. There is no motherland. Marie-Noelle will need to
construct her own story and history.
And yes, Desirada is at the center of this story of loss and desire just as Marie-
Noelle's journey is at key moments defined in terms of exile and islands: "elle se demandait
pourquoi le bonheur est une ile qu 'elle n 'aborderaitjamais" (96). But in the end, exile seems
not only to be a transformative experience for the wanderer, it also has the potential to
transform itself. Exile becomes a place from which to be, even from which, perhaps, to become.
We recall the words of grandmother Nina, telling Marie-Noelle that she is "une terre
rapportee." She is the piece of home carried away somewhere else. She is the island in exile,
the ile desirde that she carries inside her. Her place, her land will be where she takes herself and
where she sets herself down, where she chooses to find or to invent her own Ddsirade, her own
Lest we read this as a satisfying conclusion marking a triumphant and definitive return
from exile, however, let us recall that even as Marie-Noelle speaks in her own voice at the end
of Desirada (the last chapter being the only one in which she narrates in the first person), the
ending is characteristically double. The inscription of agency implicit in this first-person
narration is complicated by what Anne Malena calls the protagonist's "silent, sad, and
disillusioned monologue" (94). In the course of the book's final three pages, Marie-Noelle
describes both her depression and the tentative beginning of her "healing": "Je me sens comme
une personnel qui relive d'une grave maladie. (...) J'Ytais aveugle, muette et sourde. Puis, un
martin, mes sens me sont revenues. (279)14. But can her cynical acquiescence really be
considered healing? Her reflections on Ludovic's advice reveal that the encounter has been
perhaps more damaging than restorative: "En rdaliti, ce n 'tait qu 'un coureur come les
autres. (...) J'admets a present qu 'il n 'a pas voulu de moi, c 'est tout. (...) 1 pritendait que tout
mon malheur venait de ce queje n'avais aucun but dans la vie. Je ne sais pas de quoi il
In addition, she affirms her unique identity but persists in considering it monstrous:
Ludovic s'irritait quandjeparlais de ma monstruositr. (...) Il ne comprenait pas
qu 'en fin de compete, rielle ou imaginaire, cette identitd-l& avaitfini par me plaire.
D 'une certain maniere, ma monstruosite me rend unique. Grace a elle,je nepossede
ni nationality ni pays ni langue. (280, 281)
And finally, although she speaks, her words anticipate that she will soon fall silent "en
attendant qu mon tour j'apprenne a inventor des vies" (281).15 Indeed, even as it challenges
mythologies of origin and resolutely focuses on the future, the end of Desirada continues to
bear its legacy of loss and longing. The final lines of the novel evoke the unfamiliar darkness
and cold of winter in the foreign land where Marie-Noelle has chosen to settle and where she
finds herself dreaming of and hoping for the return of spring:
Voila que, sans crier gare, tout s 'est assombri au-dela desfentres. La neige a
recommence de tomber. Une neige lIgbre qui s 'parpille dans 'air et s'effrite sous les
Maryse Cond6's Ddsirada: The Myth of an Origin
pieds des passants.
C'est, nous l'espirons, une des dernigres neiges de la saison. (281)
The end is uncertain, but one thing is clear: Marie-Noelle's Amerique will always be her
Ddsirade as well.
SThis stanza from Apollinaire's "Chanson du Mal-Aim6" evokes a traditionally idealized Western view
of the faraway exotic island. In her introduction to Daniel Maximin's 1989 novel Lone Sun, Clarisse
Zimra comments on Apollinaire's D6sirade: "Within the poem, [D6sirade] encompasses the poet's
imaginary island of desire. In this, it stands for a Western tradition that has always envisioned foreign
lands as prey and described the colonial enterprise as sexual conquest, whatever the reality" (liv). Zimra
points out how Maximin's novel uses and explicitly contests the romanticized trope of the island of
2 See http://guadlouptour.ifrance.com/guadlouptour/desirade.html
" See http://www.desirade-sante.com/presentation.htm
4 See http://www.guadeloupe-fr.com/at. l/accueilPatrimoine/ [Link: Site et Lieu Historique / La
5 Lamming, 96 (cited in Bongie, 18).
SC6saire, 256-7 (cited in Bongie 19).
7 The history of slavery and the memory of violent and irreparable rupture from the place of origin lie
behind the conceptualization of the Caribbean island as a figure of isolation and loss. As Benitez-Rojo
remarked: "Every Caribbean person, after an attempt has been made to reach his culture's origins, will
find himself on a deserted beach, naked and alone, coming out of the water as though shivering and
8 Though Reynalda seems more concerned that her daughter accept her version, the terms in which she
expresses her motivation for telling are strikingly similar to Nina's: "Je vais essayer de continue en te
passant les details. Sinon, tu croiras quej'en rajoute. C'est tout ce quejepeux te donner. La vdrit. Dans
l'espoir que tu comprendras et, que de cette manire, tu commenceras a vivre ta vie" (102, my
9 In Cond6's text, when Reynalda refers to the island as
accent appears in the novel's title. Such discrepancies suggest uncertain etymological chronologies and
contribute to what I argue is a fundamental instability of reference regarding the island.
o1 Let me note as an aside that the story of the island's origin as repeated by Reynalda in Cond6's novel
has been widely credited and disseminated elsewhere as well. For instance, the entry for the island of La
D6sirade in the Larousse Encyclopddie du XXe sidcle reads: "D6couyerte en novembre 1493 par
Colomb qui d6sirait rencontrer la terre, de 1a son nom."
" "Y la primer tierra que hall6 e reconoci6 fu6 una isla que 61 nombr6, asi como la vio, la Deseada,
conforme al deseo que 61 y todos los de su flota trafan de ver la tierra" (Fernmndez de Oviedo, 34).
Paolo Emilio Taviani further notes that Juan Manzano Manzano, in Coldn y su secret (1976),
contributes to the legendary status of the island by suggesting that its exact location was part of a
supposedly "great secret" communicated to Columbus by "an unknown pilot" (Taviani, 520). Taviani
considers Manzano's hypotheses absurd and rebuts them in the strongest terms.
12 And again it is interesting to recall that the provenance of the famous poem Desiderata was also
obscured and contested. Though sources show it was written by Max Ehrmann en 1921, it gained a
widespread reputation for being a much older, anonymous, found text originally written in Latin.
'3 In her interview with Robert H. McCormick, Jr., Cond6 describes her protagonist as "want[ing] to be
liberated from all the constructions others make of her" and as rejecting the "so-called determinisms" of
identity (paternity, country, language) (523, 524). Dominique Licops similarly argues that Desirada
"propose une cartographie migratoire oi les m6galopoles apparaissent comme home of the homeless."
Remarking that Cond6 calls into question "la famille et la g6n6alogie comme principles identitaires,"
Licops suggests that "les movements des personnages vers les villes impliquent un oubli qui est
essential & la nouvelle identity de l'6rnigr6 ou mieux, du migrant" (115). Insofar as identity is newly
defined in relation to both geography and history, the contours and implications of"exile" must be
rethought as well.
14 On page 281 she is even more explicit: "Ma depression. Le d6but de ma gu6rison."
15 Malena stresses the irony of the final scene in which Marie-Noelle shows little ability to empathize
with her students or to take pleasure in the life she has chosen for herself (94, 102).
Apollinaire, Guillaume. "La Chanson du Mal-Aim6" ("Voie lact6e 6 soeur lumineuse").
Euvres Poitiques d'Apollinaire. Paris: Gallimard (Bibliothoque de la Pleaide), 1956.
Benitez-Rojo, Antonio. The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective.
Trans. James E. Maraniss. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1996 .
Bongie, Chris. Islands and Exiles: The Creole Identities ofPost/Colonial Literature. Stanford,
CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.
Brathwaite, Kamau. Rights ofPassage (1967) reprinted in The Arrivants: A New World
Trilogy. London, New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.
C6saire, Aimr. "Dit d'errance." The Collected Poetry. Trans. Clayton Eshleman and Annette
Smith. Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 1983.
Cond6, Maryse. Desirada. Paris: Ed. Robert Laffont, 1997.
Femnndez de Oviedo y Vald6s, Gonzalo. Historia Generaly Natural de la Indias. Madrid:
Ediciones Atlas, 1959 .
Lamming, George. The Pleasures of Exile. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press,
Licops, Dominique. "Experiences diasporiques et migratoires des villes dans La Vie sceldrate
et Desirada de Maryse Cond6," Nottingham French Studies, 39:1 (spring 2000):110-
Malena, Anne. "The Figure of the Critic in Cond6's Novels: The Use of Irony for
Dialogism,"MaCombre, Vol. 3 (2000):94-106.
Manzano, Juan Manzano. Col6n y su secret. Madrid: Ediciones de Cultura Hispinica. 1976.
McCormick Jr., Robert H. "Desirada-A New Conception of Identity: An Interview with Maryse
Cond6," World Literature Today 74:3 (summer 2000):519-528.
Savory, Elaine. "Ex/Isle: Separation, Memory, and Desire in Caribbean Women's Writing."
Winds of Change: The Transforming Voices of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars. Eds.
Adele S. Newson and Linda Strong-Leek. New York: Peter Lang, 1998, 169-177.
Taviani, Paolo Emilio. Christopher Columbus: The Grand Design. London: Orbis, 1985.
Zimra, Clarisse. "Introduction" to Daniel Maximin, Lone Sun. Charlottesville. VA: University
Press of Virginia. 1989, xi-lix.
From left to right: Lionel Davidas, Opal Adisa Palmer, Han6tha Dup-VWtd-Congolo
Sites/Sights of Difference: Danticat's "New York Day Women,"
Haitian Immigrant Subjectivity, and Postmodernist Strategies
Since the Hart-Celler Act (1965) removed racial quotas in immigration, hundreds of
thousands of Caribbean people have migrated to the US, far exceeding their total previous
numbers. By the 1990's, New York, the destination for the majority of Caribbean immigrants,
showed that "35.1% of [its] black households was headed by a foreign-born person-the vast
majority from the Caribbean," as the sociologist Mary C. Waters reports (Black Identities: West
Indian Immigrant Dreams andAmerican Realities, 37). Waters argues that these immigrants
"are different from the immigrant identity and culture of previous waves of European
immigrants because of the unique history of the origin countries and because of the changed
contexts of reception the immigrants face in the United States" (6-7). These new immigrants
constitute "a new type of immigration," according to the well-known scholar of Caribbean
immigration, Roy S. Bryce-Laporte, citing that it is majority female, and resists an "Ellisonian-
like invisibility" (Female Immigrants to the United States: Caribbean, Latin American, and
African Experiences x). Waters and Laporte's claims have purport for the study of an evolving
immigrant discourse, and the literature being produced by immigrant women provides the
clearest delineation of its scope.
The paradigmatic model of immigrant identity construction-acculturation/
assimilation-has undergone, in the late twentieth-century, serious transformations as the
authority of its perspective that served to privilege white ethnicity has waned. Caribbein
women writers have been in the vanguard in challenging the traditional model, employing
cultural matrices and empowering racial and linguistic 'difference' to configure their identities
in the new space. Historically, a black Caribbean/US immigrant discourse begins with Paule
Marshall, who, in her novel Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959) challenged the dominant
discourse, bringing the immigrant experience of a minority culture into prominent visibility.
The work also sharply critiqued the ingrained myth of the American Dream, questioning its
materialism and racially hierarchic system. Subsequent Anglophone Caribbean writers such as
Jamaica Kincaid and Audre Lorde have continued the critical assertiveness of Marshall,
scrutinizing the norms and traditions that militate against self-empowering identity
constructions. But does the most recent writing manifest any differences with this tradition? I
pose this question since this writing emerges from Caribbean.immigrants who share a common
historical experience of slavery and colonialism, but differ in formative linguistic, cultural, and
political circumstances. The contemporary black Caribbean writers hail, for example, from
Francophone islands--Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe--and from Hispanophone ones-Puerto
Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic. I contend that the perceptual tradition of immigrant
subjectivity has been revised significantly in the imaginative constructions of the new women
writers. I will address, in particular, the work of Edwidge Danticat, focusing in particular on the
fecund short story, "New York Day Women" in the collection of short stories Krik? Krak!
Waters generalizes that the Caribbean offers a "unique history" that impacts black
Caribbean immigrant identity construction. Her speculation would seem to reference mainly the
conventional historiography of external domination; thus she specifies that there are ". .. three
commonalities in Caribbean history that influence the society and their people today: the
legacies of European colonialism, the legacies of slavery, and the domination of the island
Sites/Sights of Difference: Danticat's "New York Day Women," Haitian Immigrant
Subjectivity, and Postmodernist Strategies
economies and cultures in recent times by the United States" (19). But the Caribbean's "unique
history" is far more complex today than her presumptions allow. In contemporary times, the
phenomena of internally-originating oppression and struggle-the French island of Haiti, and
Hispanophone islands of Cuba and the Dominican Republic serve as examples-add a unique
dimension to the new immigrants' self-constructions in the US space. The new narratives of
immigration manifest a 'political unconscious'-to weak Jameson's famous concept marked
by a devastating experience of violence and displacement, and of internal origination. The
earlier writing, then, reflected upon a history of economic oppression from which the
immigrant escaped, while the new writing foregrounds a different affective oppression-that of
internally-generated political trauma. The new immigrants are, many of them, more nearly
"political exiles" or "refugees."
The Haitian writer, Edwidge Danticat, is a preeminent example of the shifting
discourse in Caribbean writing. Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994}-a literary tour deforce that has
rightly won universal acclaim-enacts the political terror and anxiety that become
determinative for the Caco family, and particularly for the protagonist Sophie Caco and her
mother, Martine. The twelve-year-old 6migr6, Sophie, is already severely affected by the
experience of political violence even before she encounters its psychological ravaging of her
mother. On the plane to the U.S., she becomes briefly acquainted with a boy forced to leave
Haiti. Disconsolate, he weeps to a point of a tantrum. When she tried to console him he
"grabbed [her] hand and dug his teeth into my fingers" (37). Sophie then learns that his father
"died in that fire out front. His father was some kind of old government official, tres corrupt..
.. Tres guilty of crimes against the people" (37-38). But it is from her mother, Martine, that
she inherits the full burden of Haitian history. The young daughter begins to learn its corrosive
effects as she witnesses Martine's nightly distress:
Late that night, I heard that same voice [mother's] screaming as though someone was
trying to kill her. I rushed over, but my mother was alone thrashing against the sheets.
I shook her and finally woke her up. When she saw me, she quickly covered her face
with her hands and turned away. .... 'It is the night.... Sometimes I see horrible
visions in my sleep.... The nightmares, they come and go." (48)
The mother's psychic disintegration is the result of the violence and rape by the
Haitian secret police, the Ton-Ton Macoutes. As Sophie will later discern, her unknown father
"might have been a Macoute. He was a stranger who, when my mother was sixteen years old,
grabbed her on her way back from school. He dragged her into the cane fields, and pinned her
down on the ground" (139).
What we are given in texts such as Danticat's is not a mythic or nostalgic viewing of
past history and culture, but one fraught with contradictions: Haiti is simultaneously the source
of cultural wealth, but as well, of burden and nightmare. In earlier Caribbean immigrant
narratives, the "return" to home was often for the purpose of recovering an empowering
cultural past, as Marshall's Brown Girl Brownstones and Praisesongfor the Widow evidence.
The journey home in the contemporary work, Breath. Eyes, Memory, serves a vastly different
purpose: to expurgate the demons of the past that haunt. The return is used to re-enact a
trauma, an act with transforming potential:
There were only a few men working in the cane fields. I ran through the field,
attacking the cane. I took off my shoes and began to beat a cane stalk. I pounded it
until it began to lean over. I pushed over the cane stalk. It snapped back, striking my
shoulder. I pulled at it, yanking it from the ground. My palm was bleeding. (233)
Sophie's revenge upon the canefields of her mother's humiliation is a means by which she
seeks to liberate herself from the psycho-sexual dysfunctionality that mars her life. This turn in
the memorialization of "home" produces a distinctly different Caribbean narrative of
immigration, and pronounces a less familiar story of identity formation.
In the collection of short stories, Krik? Krak! Danticat provides a disturbing set of
narratives that thematize political violence and victimhood. Set in Haiti, the early stories give
witness to the brutal and invidious misrule that plagues the society, and that become the
"political unconscious" that surfaces in the immigrant narrative of "New York Day Women"
that is the focus of my study. I discuss several of the earlier stories of Krik? Krak! so as to
show the nature of the cultural memory that Danticat infuses into a later story such as "Day
"Children of the Sea," the first story of the collection, enacts the harrowing experience
of young Haitians under dictatorship. Danticat strategically employs a split narrative
structure-letters from a young male student escaping by boat to the US written to the lover he
has left behind in Haiti, that alternate with "conversations" directed at him from the female
lover left in Haiti. The structure thus serves to metaphorically dramatize the rupture of
experience that the demonic political conditions bring about. Both major characters give
"witness" to a devastating series of political atrocities. The stark prose produces urgency and
immediacy, and pulls the reader into the maelstrom of political insanity. From the female
protagonist the reader learns of continuous victimization practiced by the Duvalier regime: "a
group of students got shot in front of fort dimanche prison today. they were demonstrating for
the bodies of the radio six. that is what they are calling you all. the radio six. you have a name.
you have a reputation, a lot of people think you are dead like the others" (7). She is an
aggressive and relentless recorder of the atrocities, her passionate and fearless outbursts making
her the fitting carrier of denied histories. The male protagonist/student, now a member of the
class of "boat-people," also un-silences a fearful history: "bullets day and night. same hole.
same everything" Caps?(4). He is in process of escape, but his narrative is not optimistic and he
seems resigned to a tragic end. Stoically, he writes: "I got some relief from the seawater
coming. The captain used the last of his tar, and most of the water is staying out for a while"
(25). The text's economies--narrative tautness, tight linguistic control, sharply telescoped
characters, exacting imagery-heightens the story's realism. Its closure points to an inevitable
end at sea, foreshadowed in the female's final account:
... and then there it was, the black butterfly floating around us. I began to run and run
so it wouldn't land on me, but it had already carried its news. I know what must have
happened. Tonight I listened to manman's transistor under the banyan tree. All I hear
from the radio is more killing in port-au-prince ... now there are always butterflies
around me, black ones that I refuse to let find my hand. I throw big rocks at them, but
they are always too fast. Last night on the radio, I heard that another boat sank off the
coast of the Bahamas.(28)
Sites/Sights of Difference: Danticat's "New York Day Women," Haitian Immigrant
Subjectivity, and Postmodernist Strategies
Of course, it could be argued that Danticat's construct is narratologically unsound: the
text's logic cannot explain how the "diary" of the male protagonist, lost at sea, is retrieved for
the story. Writers such as Danticat would appear to have narrative 'desires' un-accommodated
under the strict regime of literary convention. As the critic Linda Hutcheon has argued, there is
a "borderland between art and the world" that writers contest by challenging disciplinary
strictures through such postmodern modes as narrative indeterminacy (A Poetics of
Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction 23). Her theorization holds explanatory possibilities
for fictions such as "Children of the Sea," which break conventional expectations to open
discretionary spaces for their more urgent concerns. Like the Guatemalan author of Rigoberto
Menchu (1984), Danticat is motivated by the need to testify and witness, historical
experiencing of trauma superseding the orthodoxies of literary traditions. Danticat will
typically continue to manipulate traditions, managing to speak within and against them.
The story also serves to subvert myths and stereotypes of the Haitian immigrants. Not
uncommonly referred to as "boat people"-the term itself is dehumanizing-Haitians are
constructed in negativity: typed as illiterate, superstitious, criminal, and worse, carriers of
AIDS. But "Children of the Sea" presents antithetical types: the protagonist/exile is educated
and middle-class, as is his lover. Without the life-threatening conditions of their nation, neither
would seem to have compelling reasons to leave their places of birth. Such protagonists, forced
to leave their countries because of political exigencies, are more clearly "exiles" or "refugees,"
and they challenge the dominant view that refuses to acknowledge them in this status-role.
The second story of the collection, "Nineteen Thirty-Seven," centers upon a mother-daughter
relationship, a characteristic of many of Danticat's fiction. Here, political oppression is again
the triggering force of narrative conflict, framed by two political times of crisis, the 1937
massacre of thousands of Haitians during the dictatorship of Generalissimo Dies Trujillo (the
subject of her novel The Farming ofBones, 1998), and that of Papa Doc Duvalier. Manman,
the mother-figure, ironically is condemned in Haiti for spiritual powers that had helped her to
evade death in the Dominican Republic. For during the 1937 massacre she had used her
cultural legacy of empowerment to save her--she had "wings of flames" by which she escaped.
Now under the regime of Duvalier, Manman is scapegoated for having these powers of sorcery,
and demonized as "Lougarou, witch, criminal" she is beaten by the soldiers and thrown into
prison. The fiction serves to expose both the oppressive gender discrimination of the patriarchal
regime, as well as its general inhumanity. The later stories "Between the Pool and the
Gardenias" and "The Missing Peace" also indict national politics and its dictator for tolerating,
if not sanctioning, the rampant gender abuse that characters endure.
Myriam J. A. Chancy has argued that Haitian women are "searching for safe spaces,"
unwilling "to suppress or subordinate to narratives of national autonomy" (Framing Silence:
Revolutionary Novels by Haitian Women 117). Danticat seems profoundly aware of her
responsibility as writer to make audible the voices of the women who struggle towards
wholeness. The immigration narrative, "New York Day Women," is especially suited for
viewing from this perspective. An overview of the narrative might be helpful at this point. The
story is constituted by a collage of camera-like viewings and memories, with paired narratives
that afford distinctly different versions of an immigrant mother told from a daughter's first-
person point-of-view. The latter seems undoubtedly middle-class (employed by a Manhattan
advertising agency) and she shows some surprise when she sees her mother--a Brooklyn
resident who is "afraid to take subways" (145)-walking at mid-day in mid-town Manhattan.
In curiosity, she follows the maternal figure along the busy streets, by the posh stores,
as she buys drink and food from a street-vendor, and finally rendezvous with her "mistress"
whose child she will baby-sit.
We can examine the subtle ploys at work in "Day Women" as Danticat seeks to re-
historicize "burdens" of history, un-silencing them so as to ensure their remembrance. As the
daughter watches her mother walk in the unfamiliar environment she records:
As my mother stands in front of Carnegie Hall, one taxi driver yells to another, "What
do you think this is, a dance floor?"
My mother waits patiently for this dispute to be settled before crossing the street.
This anecdotal reportage is immediately interfaced with the coupled text, in bold
lettering, that presents the daughter's recollection of her mother's characteristic opinions and
reflections: "In Haiti when you get hit by a car, the owner of the car gets out and kicks you for
getting blood on his bumper. "(146)
From the point of view of un-silencing history, these two passages advance a narrative
purpose of giving voice to the nightmare that haunts the Haitian-American. The subtext
implicates the concern with "safe space." Physically, the mother would seem to be in the safest
of places, the culturally-distinctive environment of "Carnegie Hall." Even in this setting,
however, there is the potential for violence; male violence lurks as the cabdriver combatively
confronts another driver. He assaults the other through linguistic violence that signifies upon
the other's manliness; the reference to "dance floor" conjures a space of feminization and
frivolity. Despite the potential for violence, however, verbal aggression may have acted to
displace physical assault. The mother has learned the codes of the new culture that will help to
ensure her relative safety: she protects herself by her own avoidance strategies as she "waits
patiently for this dispute to be settled" and only then "attempts to cross the street."
Contrastingly, the second passage presents the mother's Haitian voice that has
pronounced on the harshness and injustice experienced in Haiti. The presence of class and
gender abuse seem impressed upon the mother's consciousness, unmistakably insisted on in
details that refer to the "owner" class that "kicks" the injured who bloodies his vehicle as he
would a dog. This scribal record serves the larger narrative intent by making the immigrant's
problematic historical experience real and not be to forgotten.
The two alternating structures operate interrogatively, since they produce two varying
representations of the Haitian woman that serve to call into question the identity construct of
the Haitian immigrant. They delineate the tensions and contradictions between the two
cultures, one of domination and the other generally marginalized. But Danticat's positioning
also thus constructs a more complex rendering of immigrant sensibility that functions to
critique stereotypes of the Haitian. The second of the passages reflects a culturally-informed
version of the mother lost in the disciplining Americanized perspective that the first utterance
Later in the fiction, the daughter reports matter-of-factly that her mother "has now
lost six of her seven sisters in Ville Rose and has never had the strength to return for their
funerals" (151). The searing nature of this history is particularly represented in the terseness of
the mother's language when we are allowed to overhear her voice. According to the daughter,
Sites/Sights of Difference: Danticat's "New York Day Women," Haitian Immigrant
Subjectivity, and Postmoderist Strategies
her mother has not undertaken a return to her homeland for as she reflects darkly: "Many
graves to kiss when I go back. Many graves to kiss" (151). The mother's voice, presented in
bold-face print, in its prescience and forthrightness articulates Haitian subjectivity, while also
forcing attention to the 'political unconscious' of traumatic historical experience.
"New York Day Women," however, also prompts consideration of its literary
strategies, since its post-modem tendencies promote some unease. One problem that this text
courts is a perception that, through the use of culturally-valenced western techniques, it is
complicitous with power. Because visual practice has been so compelling theorized by
contemporary scholars (Edward Said and colonial visualization; Mary-Louise Pratt and the
imperial-eye; Michel Foucault and panopticism; Laura Mulvey and the gaze), it is difficult for
the critic to by-pass looking at the text from the vantage of the new critical scrim. Danticat's
use of optics of visualism and voyeurism as tools of textual construction, as well as her reliance
on a spatial discourse (e.g., the utilization of classed spaces such as Manhattan versus
Brooklyn), could represent a reinscripting of hegemonic assumptions of race, gender, and class,
serving to specularize and thus marginalize the immigrant woman. For example, the daughter
watches and objectifies the woman, indulging a "gaze" that reveals her mother in both trivial
and serious endeavors: she gawks at windows of expensive stores; she buys a hotdog, judged
by the daughter as a dietary impropriety. In contrast to the mother, the daughter/photographer
is constituted in power: she is an unviewed presence, protected and sovereign; she is authority,
interpreter and documenter. While the mother/body is made public for scrutiny, the daughter's
is respected as private. Marginal sub-culture (work status as blue collar) versus empowered
majority culture (work status is white collar with employment at an advertising agency) are
binaries that earmark use of a hegemonic, hierarchic value system.
In the camera-eye view narration that begins the text, space takes on familiar
ideological meanings also, so that perceptions of the mother seem influenced by a lens of the
dominant culture. The daughter, concealed in the bustling city-life, is shielded in invisibility,
but the mother becomes the object of scrutiny and documentation. The mother, in this viewing,
often appears out-of-place; she is the foreign presence, the stranger who is Haitian and
Brooklynite. The daughter begins the story with objectifying factuality:
Today, walking down the street, I see my mother. She is strolling with a happy gait,
her body thrust toward the DON'T WALK sign and the yellow taxicabs that make
forty-five-degree turns on the corer of Madison and Fifty-seventh Street.
I have never seen her in this kind of neighborhood, peering into Chanel and Tiffany's
and gawking at the jewels glowing in the Bulgari windows. My mother never shops
outside of Brooklyn. She has never seen the advertising office where I work. (145)
The excerpt marks the mother in ways that are interesting to examine. The first part
begins in some neutrality; her gender, class and ethnicity hardly matter. The daughter would
appear to exult in her mother's capabilities: she is capable and confident, strolling: like a
regular habitu6 and appearing happy. Gradually, however, the daughter's vision becomes more
ambivalent and critical: now the mother is described as "peering" and "gawking," language that
renders her behavior inappropriate, even childish. The narrator appears to use a "lens" effected
by the conceits of class and status, so that places of distinction such as Chanel, Tiffany's,
Bulgari-in short, "this kind of neighborhood"-re-mark the mother's difference as sub-
cultural. She describes: "I follow my mother, mesmerized by the many possibilities of her
journey. Even in a flowered dress, she is lost in a sea of pinstripes and gray suits, high heels
and elegant skirts .. ." This axiological "lens" shaped by (US) values continues to produce
information about the mother that reflect the daughter's own potential for an internalized
division. From this critical landscape, the visualization in "Day Women" gives appearances of
class-determinism, and disciplining, voyeuristic surveillance.
Likewise, Danticat's appropriations of spatial metaphors carry a discursive tradition
that could also imbricate her in hegemonic ideological practice. Spaces--"places seen in
relation to their perception" (Bal 1985, 93)--are valenced. Danticat's spatial opposition,
Brooklyn with mid-town Manhattan, rely on cultural perceptions with specific and recognizable
significations. The text thus interjects the mother-body into a coded discourse of space where
she is determined as "different"; a normalizing space through which she becomes inferiorized
by class and culture.
On the other hand, does this use of the tradition enable Danticat to signify in new
ways? I would argue that Danticat revises upon convention by cannily pitting two
representational systems against each other to shape a new meaning. Women critics "read"
seemingly problematic texts in ways that are useful in exploring the issues that this text may
seem to pose. Donna Haraway argues: "I would like to insist on the embodied nature of all
vision, and to reclaim the sensory system that has been used to signify a leap out of the marked
body and into a conquering gaze from nowhere" ("The Persistence of Vision" 191). One can,
she suggests, intervene in the signifying practice by designating optics "as a politics of
positioning" (195). Danticat's text, using this critical lens, might be seen as revising, and
inverting the values of, discourses and tropes common to the dominant aesthetic regime.
Rather than optics as necessarily 'disciplining,' one could proceed "otherwise" in seeing her as
using vision/space to expose class bias, in particular by empowering the values of immigrant
"workers" and their empowering cultural traditions.
Danticat's strategy positions the objectivity (photographic) and truth claims of one
viewing against the "subjective" knowledge inscribed in the remembered voicing of her mother
that constitutes the alternate passages. The latter inscribe cultural and family values. The
daughter remembers injunctions of a morally unambiguous maternal figure-- "In this state of
mind, I bet you don't even give up your seat to a pregnant lady" (146)-and her independence
and personality--"If they want to eat with me, let them come to my house, even if I boil water
and give it to them" (148). These alternative utterances thus serve to provide a different angle
that signifies upon the primary story of perverted, status-conscious viewing.
In some instances, the visualizations are themselves ambiguously presented, as if the author
intends some irony. For example, the daughter displays her worldly materialism when she
describes the mother's appearance: "I trail the red orchids in her dress and the heavy faux
leather bag on her shoulders" (149). The details of "red orchids" and "heavy faux leather bag"
indicate a sensibility much attuned to worldly values. Even in this ideologized viewing,
however, the mother already exhibits the empowered resilience and independence that the
alternate passages dramatize. Here the daughter's voyeurism is followed by an ambiguous
commentary: "My mother keeps on walking as though she owns the sidewalk under her feet."
The utterance might serve as a further criticism of the immigrant mother's foreignness in this
environment of distinction, but it also can be viewed as a deconstruction of hegemonic logic: it
ruptures its unassailability, premising the immigrant's self-confidence that is denied in the
Sites/Sights of Difference: Danticat's "New York Day Women," Haitian Immigrant
Subjectivity, and Postmodernist Strategies
Danticat re-valences "space," since her immigrants are able, in fact, to configure
meaningful identities partly in their ability to manipulate multiple places/positions, to avoid
severance from each other, and to re-empower family connectedness. From the space of this
elsewhere of mid-town Manhattan, a mother/daughter relationship is transformed. The story
thus advances the discourse of Haitian subjectivity by illustrating how becoming an
American-as the daughter represents in her materialist, classist, and individualistic striving-
is a complex coming to terms with family, culture, and national history. Danticat would also
seem to subvert the imperializing power of the post-modern technique by reversing its textual
authority. The daughter's text is finally overwhelmed by the power of the mother's moral and
cultural authority; it is indestructible and undefeatable. Thus she undermines her acquired self-
centered, individualistic value structure; while early in the fiction she dismisses the mother's
moral concerns-"Would you get up and give an old lady like me your subway seat?" (145-
146)--she evolves an understanding of her 'self' that enables her to yield to the maternal
spiritual authority. Transformed by a new understanding of her immigrant experience, she
concludes: "Tonight on the subway, I will get up and give my seat to a pregnant woman or a
day? about Ma's age" (153). The text has thus demonstrated the process of negotiation
between the traditions and mores of Haitian culture and the new culture. Thus Danticat
mediates cultural authority by deconstructing the class-conscious discourse against which the
immigrant struggles and empowering an under-acknowledged immigrant discourse of self
It could be argued, then, that in this story Danticat, while using mainstream strategies
and modes, undercuts their regimes of aesthetic authority. Black female subjectivity, Carole.
Boyce-Davies has reminded, is "conceived not primarily in terms of domination, subordination
or 'subalterization,' but in terms of slipperiness, elsewhereness" (Carole Boyce-Davies, Black
Women, Writing, and Identity 36). In this rich and innovative story, Danticat manipulates
readerly expectations, devaluates classism, and empowers an "other" tongue. By such
gendered, post-modernist utilizations, Danticat produces a "difference" in the telling and
enactment of ethnic identity formulation. "Day Women come out when nobody expects them,"
as the mother predicts (153)-as she becomes the major force in the potentially transformative
space of mid-town Manhattan.
Through manipulation of traditions, Danticat constructs a site of possibility for a less
conflictive and more integrated Haitian (Caribbean) immigrant identity. Danticat clearly moves
the discourse along as she posits a model toward Haitian self-figuration in the US context
"Unique history" such as violence and political oppression now bear greater significance in the
new writing, while the Caribbean writer appropriates but subverts Eurocentric traditions that
thus allows her to speak her difference.
Alexander, Simone A. James. Mother Jmagery in the Novels ofAfro-Caribbean Women.
Columbia: .U of Missouri P, 2001.
Boyce-Davies, Carole. Black Women, Writing, and Identity: Migrations of the Subject. London:
Chancy, Myriam J. A. Searchingfor Safe Spaces: Afro-Caribbean Women Writers in Exile.
Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1997.
-------Framing Silence: Revolutionary Novels by Haitian Women. New Brunswick: Rutgers
Danticat, Edwidge. "A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat." Behind the Books,
www:randomhouse.com/vintage4/danticat.htmL 9/15/2003, 1.
----------Breath, Eyes, Memory. New York: Soho P, Inc. 1994.
.------.-Krik? Krak! New York: Soho P, 1995.
Foucault, Michel. "Text/Context of Other Space." Diacritics 16.1 (1986): 22-27.
Hall, Stuart, ed. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London:
Haraway, Donna. "The Persistence of Vision." Visual Culture Reader, ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff.
London: Routledge, 1998.
Harney, Stefano. Nationalism and Identity: Culture and Imagination in a Caribbean Diaspora.
London: Zed Books. U W.I., Kingston, 1996.
Hoving, Isabel. In Praise ofNew Travelers: Reading Caribbean Migrant Women Writers. Palo Alto:
Stanford UP, 2001.
Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics ofPostmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. New York:
Levitt, P. and Waters, M., eds. Changing Face of Home: The Transnational Lives of the Second
Generation. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2002.
Marshall, Paule. -Brown Girl, Brownstones. New York: Random House, 1959.
--------- Praisesong for the Widow. New York: Putnam's, 1983.
Mortimer, Delores M. and Roy S. Bryce-Laporte, eds. Female Immigrants to the United States:
Caribbean, Latin American, and African Experiences. RIIES Occasional Papers No. 2,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. 1981.
Muller, Gilbert H. New Strangers in Paradise: The Immigrant Experience and Contemporary
American Fiction. U of Kentucky, 1999.
Waters, Mary C. Black Identities: West Indian Immigrant Dreams and American Realities.
New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1999.
(Re)Writing Haiti and its "brave women" into Existence: Edwidge Danticat and the Concept of
Sandra C. Duvivier
(Re) Writing Haiti and its "brave women" into Existence: Edwidge Danticat
and the Concept of Mtissage
What kind of literary response does Haiti merit? The topic has become so politicized that the
question sounds odd, even dangerous.[ ...] An answer is suggested by Wendell Berry, who
writes: "Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public
success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one's own heart and spirit that would be
destroyed by acquiescence..... What we do need to worry about is the possibility that we will
be reduced, in the face of the enormities of our time, to silence or to mere protest."'
The name "Haiti," in modern American public discourse, unfortunately evokes a
barrage of hackneyed images of a politically unstable, disease-infested, direly destitute country
with uneducated, heathenish inhabitants. Whether portrayed sympathetically, as poor,
struggling people in need of Western, Christian assistance and uplift; or unfavorably, as carriers
of the AIDS virus and perpetuators of political unrest, the Haitian experience in Haiti and the
Diaspora has been relegated mainly to that of an inferior, one-dimensional "other" lacking the
humanity and complexities of the multifaceted "self." The country and its people not only
remain underrepresented in modern American discourse, but they are misrepresented as well.
Haiti's complexities and ambivalences lie in both its accomplishments and
shortcomings. Its current status as the "poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere" has taken
precedence over its eminence as the first black republic. Haiti's notoriety has been certainly
exacerbated by the Duvalier regime (1957-1986), which further corrupted the country and
exploited its residents, and, more recently, by the 2000 coup d'dtat of (former president) Jean-
Bertrand Aristide (1991-1994), which sent thousands of Haitians fleeing to America by the
overly-crammed boatload, only to be rejected by the Bush administration. .Despite poverty and
politics, however, Haiti's inhabitants have proven successful in survival and adaptation to their
country's conditions, though many have remained poor and with a rudimentary education.
In her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994), Haitian-American writer Edwidge
Danticat delineates a family of Haitian/Haitian-American women, whose lives, much like their
("mother") country, are complex and replete with ambivalences. In "Haitian Women's
Fiction," Marie Denise Shelton asserts, "Whether [Haitian women] write romantic or realistic
fiction, autobiographical or historical tales, they record experiences, personal and collective,
which inform on many dimensions of life in Haiti" (776). By presenting the complexities of
the country and its inhabitants, Danticat effectively accomplishes her task. She neither
romanticizes nor demonizes Haiti and Haitian life, nor does she remain invested in presenting
binaries-victimizer/victimized, colonizer/colonized, good/evil-in her text. Instead, she
collapses dichotomies as she presents the ambivalences of the Haitian experience.
In this essay, I will analyze the ways in which Danticat renders cultural, political,
gender and sexual ambivalences, and their continual overlapping in Breath, Eyes. Memory. In
the novel, Haitian culture is neither purely African nor distinctly French; instead, it represents
hybridity, a mitissage, or mixture, of the cultures of the (former) European colonizers and the
enslaved Africans and their descendants. Mitissage is an important concept that, as Haitian
scholar Myriam J. A. Chancy avers, "...problematizes the notion of the bipolarization of
cultures into positive and negative spheres [...] and confirms that 'even before colonial times,
the interrelations of cultures was the norm."2. I will appropriate the term "mitissage and also
utilize it to elucidate the novel's political, gender, and sexual ambivalences. For, the mitissage
of politics, gender, and sexuality challenge the bipolarization of Haiti's political figures,
patriarchal society, and sexual violators as victimizer(s), and Haiti's inhabitants, particularly its
female inhabitants, as victimized.
Danticat portrays cultural metissage in Breath, Eyes, Memory through her depiction of
the daffodil (the symbol of both the colonial French presence and Haitian influences). More
concretely, she employs language in such a way as to reveal the seamless blend between
Kreybl, French, and occasionally, even English, and couples these with faith. 'Faith' becomes a
belief-system which inculcates selected tenets of Roman Catholicism, as well as the structures
of the African-based Vodou. Furthermore, she utilizes the Vodou concept of "doubling" to
explore the metissage of Haiti's political figures, many of them culpable of arbitrarily inflicting
harm and terror against the population, but also capable of humane behavior. Acts of malice
notwithstanding, Danticat avoids stereotyping all politicians as unequivocally evil.
Political, gender, and sexual ambivalences overlap in the text: A(n) (alleged) member
of the Tontons Macoutes-the police force created by Frangois "Papa Doc" Duvalier to instill
terror amongst the population and to capture or assassinate those who openly castigated his
regime-rapes and impregnates Martine. The rapist's government position qualifies Martine's
sexual violation as a political act, and is arguably Danticat's "political" contestation of a
patriarchal society which marginalizes women. Martine "violates" her daughter Sophie as she
"tests" Sophie's virginity: but Sophie, though victimized, nevertheless exhibits agency when
she violates herself as a means of escape from the horror of her mother's testing. Atie,
Martine's sister further represents the mdtissage of gender and sexuality. She rejects the
oppression towards which she had earlier been complicit as she engages in a homoerotic
relationship which defies her society's mores of sexual conduct. Atie, Martine, and Sophie
typify Rhonda Cobham's assertion that patriarchy "may be the [bogeyman], but the [narrative
makes] it clear that the women themselves have participated in reproducing the system [...]'"3
In the opening scene of Breath, Eyes, Memory, Danticat immediately introduces the
daffodil to the reader as narrator Sophie Caco recalls attaching her favorite flower to her aunt
Atie's Mother's Day card. Sophie's beloved daffodil epitomizes the metissage of the colonial
French presence and Haitian influence:
They were really European flowers, French buds and stems, meant for colder climates.
A long time ago, a French woman had brought them to Croix-des-Rosets and planted
them there. A strain of daffodils had grown that could withstand the heat, but they.
were the color of pumpkins and golden summer squash, as though they had acquired a
bronze tinge from the skin of the natives who had adopted them. (21)
Danticat's daffodil may also be read as an exemplification of 'socialized ambivalence'
a term invented by anthropologist Melville J. Herskovitz to represent the Haitian's adjustment
to the "contradictory cultural imperatives of European colonialism and African traditions."4
Nevertheless, with the daffodil's elucidation, the adjustment to these seemingly paradoxical
exigencies also lie with the (post)colonial French: the French flower acclimated to the Haitian
climate; and, the inhabitants, in turn, appropriated European culture, which "darkened" in the
sense that it became part of an uniquely Haitian culture which reflects the merger or co-existence
of the two influences, one European, the other African, on equal terms.
(Re)Writing Haiti and its "brave women" into Existence: Edwidge Danticat and the Concept of
Like the color of the daffodil, the language of the French colonizers unquestionably
darkened in Haiti. Although Breath, Eyes, Memory is written in English, Krey6l is the primary
language spoken by the characters-unless otherwise indicated. Moreover, there is an "implicit
presence of Creole underneath [Danticat's] English sentences."5 In her novel, analogous to the
larger Haitian society, Kreybl embodies cultural mmtissage because of its combination of
French, Spanish, and African words, and usage of African-style pronunciation and sentence
structure. African/Haitian beliefs and customs undoubtedly influence the language. Breath,
Eyes, Memory is replete with Kreybl expressions, such as "granmoun" ("old woman")-a title
of respect for the elderly whixh the community uses to greet Sophie's Grandm6 If6-. African-
based belief and traditions that permeate the Krey6l lexicon are also extant in its sayings, as
evidenced by the following:
[There is] a group of people in Guinea who carry the sky on their heads. They are the
people of Creation. Strong, tall, and mighty people who can bear anything. [...] These
people do not know who they are, but if you see a lot of trouble in your life, it is
because you were chosen to carry that part of the sky on your head. (25).
The characters' utilization of Kreyol, French, and, in Sophie's and Martine's cases,
English are also indicative of cultural mitissage. Danticat's listing of the young children's
names at the beginning of the text illustrates the mixture of French and Kreybl7: "Foi, Hope,
Faith, Esp&rance, Beloved, God-Given, My Joy, First Born, As6fi, Enough-Girls, Enough-
Boys, Deliverance, Small-Misery, Big Misery, No Misery. Names as bright and colorful as the
giant poincianas in Madame Augustin's garden" (emphasis mine, 6). In fact, once Sophie
departs Haiti to be (re)united with Martine in Brooklyn, New York, Atie becomes literate and,
subsequently, she appropriates French language through Kreybl.8 Her friend Louise helps her
paraphrase a French poem, demonstrating this appropriation and amalgamation of both
languages: "She speaks in silent voices, my love./ Like the cardinal bird, kissing its own
image/Li pale vwa mwin" [she speaks my voice] (135).
As (some of) the Haitian characters speak English, they invoke Kreybl and French
sayings and expressions, further evidencing cultural ambivalence. Kreybl actually aids Sophie
as she learns English:
The first English words I read sounded like rocks falling in a stream. Then very
slowly things began to take on some meaning. There were words that I heard often.
Words that jump out of New York Creole conversations [ .]. Mwin gin yon feeling.
I have a feeling Haiti will get back on its feet one day, but I'll be dead before it
Martine's answering machine message additionally symbolizes this cultural
doubleness: "'S'il vous plait, laissez-moi un message. Please leave me a message.' Impeccable
French and English [...]" (223). Moreover, none of the languages in the novel are spoken in
isolation from each other; instead, they are often merged or blended together.
Danticat employs religion as another signifier of cultural metissage in Breath, Eyes,
Memory. The Caco family practices Roman Catholicism and Vodou, two complementary forms
of worship: the holistic, self-celebrating African-based faith complements the self-abnegating
European religion. Danticat juxtaposes the Virgin Mary with Vodou goddess Erzulie, the
"quintessence of sensuous allure and romance."9 In the novel, Erzulie is referred to as "the
lavish Virgin Mother" and "the healer of all women and the desire of all men" (59). Danticat
invokes the "Hail Mary" as Martine tests Sophie's virginity, reinforcing the correlation
between Roman Catholicism and sexual repression. However, as Sophie recites a "serenity
prayer" to liberate herself from her "sexual phobia" and enable her to accept and celebrate her
sexuality, she prays to Erzulie.
Vodou serves, then, as Roman Catholicism's "twin" or marassa. Marassas, twin
deities in the Vodou tradition, possess supernatural power which makes them exceptional
human beings.'1 In an interview with Renee H. Shea, Danticat explains that with the marassas,
"the idea is that two people are one, but not quite; they might look alike and talk alike but are,
in essence, different people."" Both Vodou and Catholicism function as "twin" entities, then,
as exemplified by the Virgin Mary and her Vodou counterpart Erzulie; the loas (gods) in Vodou
also parallel the Roman Catholic saints. Nevertheless, they contain diverging ideologies, which
allow them to complement each other. After Sophie's decision to bury Martine in red, a "hot-
blooded" color, she informs Martine's boyfriend, Marc, who argues that Saint Peter would
prohibit Martine from entering the "pearly gates" because of her red attire, that Martine is
"'going to Guinea'" (228). Though both heaven and Guinea clearly represent the final
destination for the human soul, Danticat implicates an essential difference between the
principles of both faiths.
The marassas were an impetus for Danticat's interpretation of"doubling." In fact,
like the marassas, doubling is the "idea [...] that someone is doubly a person but really one
person-as opposed to the twins who are really two people. [...] Doubling acknowledges that
people make separations within themselves to allow very painful experiences, but also the
separation allows people to do very cruel things."12 She renders this concept as she investigates
the metissage of Haiti's political figures. For instance, a young boy is sent to New York after
the death of his politically-active father who had single-handedly raised his son: "'His father
died in that fire out front. His father was some kind of old government official, trbs corrupt,'
[the stewardess] whispered. Tres guilty of crimes against the people'" (38). In fact, Danticat
further explains, through Sophie, how doubling represents the ambivalences of Haiti's corrupt
political figures, demonstrating her refusal to relegate them and her characters to dichotomous
There were many cases in our history where-our ancestors had doubled. Following the
vaudou tradition, most of our presidents were actually one body split in two: part flesh
and part shadow. That was the only way they could murder and rape so many people
and still go home to play with their children and make love to their wives. (156-157)
Danticat's depiction of the Tontons Macoutes imbricates the metissage of politics,
gender and sexuality:
When they entered a house, they asked to be fed, demanded the woman of the house,
and forced her into her own bedroom. Then all you heard was screams until it was her
daughter's turn. If a mother refused, they would make her sleep with her son and brother or
even her own father" (139).
As previously stated, Danticat intentionally merges political, gender, and sexual
ambivalences as a form of resistance to Haiti's patriarchal marginalization of women, who are
(Re)Writing Haiti and its "brave women" into Existence: Edwidge Danticat and the Concept of
not only expected to be virtuous and submissive, but are also often stigmatized and castigated
for rejecting their gender and sexual circumscriptions. The story Sophie hears as she walks
through the cane fields-the site of her mother's rape-of the husband who kills his wife, the
lougarou, who "flew without her skin at night" is an extreme example of Haitian male
domination. The lougarou, a woman who becomes a werewolf at night according to Vodou, is
rewritten by Danticat as "a woman who does not abide by male 'rules.'"3 Her skin represents
conformity to her society's women-repressive rules and mores; however, it-her conformity-
is extracted, causing her husband to murder her in order to exert his authority.
Allegedly, a Macoute officer violates and impregnates Martine, resulting in Sophie's
birth. When Martine was sixteen years old, the supposed Macoute attacked her on her way
back from school, dragging her into the cane fields, pinning her to the ground, and raping her;
and, when he was finished, he threatened to murder her if she got up from the ground (139).
The "violeur" is not only the source of Martine's unbearable nightmares, but he also triggers
her self-inflicted stabbing and subsequent death. Because her rape leaves her "impure,"
Martine no longer fits her ascribed gender role as virginal woman. It becomes highly
implausible for her to get married because of Haitian men's insistence on female virginity;
therefore, she leaves Haiti and flees to the United States, attempting to rebuild her life.
Though raped and subjugated by her patriarchal society, Martine also oppresses and
violates Sophie as she tests Sophie's virginity. As a result, Sophie, who feels dehumanized,
becomes despondent. Martine perpetuates the tradition of testing, which is likened to a
"virginity cult," because, as If6 states, "'if your child is disgraced, you are disgraced'" (156).
By voicing the tales of those women who are tested to preserve their virginity, Danticat protests
the patriarchal customs of Haiti that provide for this practice's occurrence.
When Martine first tests Sophie, she tells Sophie the story of the marassas, equating
their relationship with the twins, the "two inseparable lovers": "'The love between a mother
and daughter is deeper than sea. You would leave me for an old man who you didn't know the
year before. You and I we could be like Marassas'" (85). Though not inseparable, Sophie
unfortunately becomes Martine's marassa as she inherits her mother's legacy of sexual
violation, which, similar to Martine, plagues her throughout the novel. The Macoute officer
rapes Martine, who, in compliance with her society's emphasis on female chastity (though she
is in the United States at this point), later violates Sophie; and, Sophie continues this legacy as
she violates herself. Feeling dehumanized by her testing, she resists her mother's practice by
eliminating the object in question: "My flesh ripped apart as I pressed the pestle into it. I could
see the blood slowly dripping onto the bed sheet. I took the pestle and bloody sheet and stuffed
them into a bag. It was gone, the veil that always held my mother's finger back every time she
tested me" (88). As a result, she develops sexual phobia and a hatred of her body, later
becoming bulimic, from her "revolutionary" act. Furthermore, both women "flee" as a result of
their traumatic experiences, further evidencing their parallel responses: Martine flees to the
United States; whereas Sophie flees from her husband Joseph and her own attempts to achieve a
satisfying sexual relationship within marriage.
Atie's means of coping with oppressive Haitian patriarchy differs from that of Martine
and Sophie. She adheres to her community's two requirements as she preserves her chastity and
maintains the "ten fingers":
According to Tante Atie, each finger had a purpose. It was the way she had been
taught to prepare herself to become a woman. Mothering. Boiling. Loving. Baking.
Nursing. Frying. Healing. Washing. Ironing. Scrubbing. It wasn't her fault, she said.
Her ten fingers had been named for her even before she was born. Sometimes she
even wished she had six fingers on each hand so she could have two left for herself.
However, because of her (lack of) social status-admittedly referring to herself as a
poor, uneducated, rural "daughter of the hills"--, her only love, Donald Augustin, rejects her,
and she is left husbandless. Atie later defies her society by "creating" the extra finger on each
hand, thereby engaging in a homoerotic relationship with Louise, a market woman. Both
Louise, whose mother (Man Grace) passes away, and Atie, who returns to La Nouvelle Dame
Marie to care for the aging If6 once Martine sends for Sophie, discover friendship and solace
through their loneliness. Although Danticat does not present an explicitly homosexual
relationship between the women, their relationship is "suffused with an erotic romanticism."'1
When Sophie visits Haiti, Atie explains Louise's condition after Man Grace's death:
'It was very hard on Louise when her manman died. Louise and Grace, they slept in
the same bed all her life. Louise was in the bed when Grace went to Guinea. To this
day, it tears her open to sleep alone' (104).
Danticat implicates Atie as the new "man" who "graces" Louise's bed at night. Atie's
"sleeping" with Louise can be interpreted literally and figuratively; after all, they "strolled in to
the night, like silhouettes on a picture postcard" (135). Louise reciprocates the relationship; she
also helps alleviate Atie's loneliness, even as she teaches her to read and write.
If6, as a representative of the "old ways," the traditional patriarchal society,
disapproves of Atie and Louise's relationship, complaining about Atie's change of behavior
once she returns to La Nouvelle Dame Marie, and even insists that the gods would punish her
for Atie's ways (167). Atie's return and the drinking problem she develops coincide with Man
Grace's death, the beginning of her relationship with Louise. Atie, representing the metissage
of gender and sexuality, rebels against her mother and society with both her homoerotic
relationship and alcohol consumption; and, she illustrates Danticat's refusal to relegate her
characters to mere victim status. As a form of resistance to sexism and patriarchy, Atie also
symbolizes Danticat's advocacy of Haitian women's sexual agency and autonomy.
In Framing Silence: Revolutionary Novels by Haitian Women (1997), Myriam J. A.
Chancy insists on the importance of recognizing Haitian women writers' articulation of their
Haitian women writers have been forced to articulate their marginalization on multiple
fronts: the experience of the Haitian woman is defined by exile within her own
country, for she is alienated from the means to assert at once feminine and feminist
identities at the same time that she undergoes the same colonial experiences of her
male counterparts. Because women have consistently been written out of both the
historical and literary records of Haiti, it is necessary to scrutinize the representation
of women's roles [in Haitian women's literature]. (13)
(Re)Writing Haiti and its "brave women" into Existence: Edwidge Danticat and the Concept of
Through Edwidge Danticat's presentation of the mdtissage of culture, politics, gender
and sexuality in Breath, Eyes, Memory, she not only explores Haiti in its complexity, but also
examines the multifaceted experiences of Haitian women. Her novel proves a worthy addition
to the heavily male Haitian literary canon, giving voice to Haitian women, who have often been
silenced, marginalized, and rendered invisible in Haitian society and literature.
Danticat's ability to reach a mainstream audience allows her to contest stereotypical
characterizations of Haitians on an international forefront. Breath, Eyes, Memory, in particular,
challenges America's deeming of Haiti as "just another mixed-up Third World country which,
because of its great poverty and backward political system, drives thousands of refugees to flee
to U.S. shores every year."'s It is a seminal novel that explores the ambivalences of a people
constantly stereotyped, as well as a pioneer work about the Haitian-American experience. It
anticipates further rich and complex literary representations of Haiti and Haitian-America.
1 Casey Ethan, "Remembering Haiti: Breath, Eyes, Memory," Callaloo 18.2 (Spring 1995):
- Chancy Myriam J. A., Framing Silence: Revolutionary Novels by Haitian Women, (New
Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1997) 117.
SCobham Rhonda, "Revisioning Our Kumblas: Transforming Feminist and Nationalist
Agendas in Three Caribbean Women's Texts," Callaloo 16.1 (Winter 1993): 51.
4Bell Bernard, "Beloved: A Womanist Neo-Slave Narrative; or Multivocal Remembrances of
Things Past,"African American Review 26.1 (1992): 7.
5 N'Zengou-Tayo Marie-Jos6, "Rewriting Folklore: Traditional Beliefs and Popular Culture in
Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory and Krik? Krak!" MaComare 3 (2000): 136.
SAnthony Susan, Haiti. (Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999) 85.
9 Wexler Anna, "The Flags of Clotaire Bazile: A Description," Callaloo 20.2 (1997): 373.
'o M6traux Alfred, Voodoo in Haiti, (New York: Shocken, 1972).146.
" Shea Renee H., "The Dangerous Job of Edwidge Danticat: An Interview." Callaloo 19.2.
(Spring 1996) 385.
" N' Zengou-Tayo, 128.
14 Smith Barbara, "Toward a Black Feminist Criticism," African American Literary Theory: A
Reader. ed. Winston Napier, (New York. New York UP. 2000) 139.
s James Ridgeway, "Preface" to The Haiti Files: Decoding the Crisis. ed. James Ridgeway,
(Washington D.C. : Essential, v., 1994).
Anthony, Susan. Haiti. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999.
Bell, Bernard. "Beloved: A Womahist Neo-Slave Narrative; or Multivocal Remembrances of
Things Past,"African American Review 26.1 (1992), 7 Casey, Ethan. "Remembering
Haiti: Breath, Eyes, Memory" Callaloo 18.2 (Spring 1995): 524.
Chancy, Myriam J. A. Framing Silence: Revolutionary Novels by Haitian Women. New
Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1997. 117.
Cobham, Rhonda. "Revisioning Our Kumblas: Transforming Feminist and Nationalist Agendas
in "Three Caribbean Women's Texts," Callaloo 16.1 (Winter 1993): 51.
M6traux, Alfred: Voodoo in Haiti. New York: Shocken, 1972. 146.
N'Zengou-Tayo, Marie-Jose. "Rewriting Folklore: Traditional Beliefs and Popular Culture in
Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory and Krik? Krak!" MaComere 3 (2000):
Ridgeway, James. "Preface" to The Haiti Files: Decoding the Crisis. ed. James Ridgeway.
Washington D.C.: Essential, 1994.
Shea, Renee H. "The Dangerous Job of Edwidge Danticat: An Interview." Callaloo 19.2.
(Spring 1996): 385.
Smith, Barbara. "Toward a Black Feminist Criticism," African American Literary Theory: A
Reader. ed. Winston Napier. New York. New York University Press. 2000. 139.
Wexler, Anna. "The Flags of Clotaire.Bazile: A Description" Callaloo 20.2 (1997): 373.
La mulatresse n6gre : Exoticism and the Gaze in suzanne Lacascade's Claire-Solange, ame
Jennifer Margaret Wilks
La muldtresse negre: Exoticism and the Gaze in Suzanne Lacascade's Claire-
Solange, 6me africaine
Nous sommes avertis, c 'est vers la lactification que tend Mayotte. Car enfin ilfaut blanchir la
race; cela toutes les Martiniquaises le savent, le disent, le rdpdtent. -Frantz Fanon, Peau
noire, masques blancs (Black Skin, White Masks, 1952)'
Qu 'est-ce apres tout que I'engagement sinon la restitution de quelque aspect de la vgritd que
l'on a choisi d 'illustrer? -Maryse Cond6, "La litterature feminine de la Guadeloupe" (1976)2
Published in 1924, Suzanne Lacascade's novel Claire-Solange, tme africaine is a text
which disrupts any number of literary genealogies and generic expectations. Fluent in the
rhetoric of exoticism, the novel nevertheless advances a project of racial valorization which
foreshadows (Aim6) C6sairean Negritude's reclamation of the Caribbean's African heritage.
Yet in a departure from both the exoticist and Negritude canons, Lacascade's novel invests
discursive power in neither a mythologized geographic space nor a heroic male intermediary.
On the contrary, Lacascade inserts the voice of a politicized young woman into early twentieth-
century discussions of race, culture, and identity. A twenty-year-old French-Martinican
mitisse, Claire-Solange not only boldly asserts a self-determined identity, but, conscious of
others' desire to define her, also positions herself as a living tableau to be read critically rather
than through the lens of exoticist stereotypes. Out of this characterization grows the title
character's, and by extension, Suzanne Lacascade's, nascent Negritude.
As exoticism and the colonization it paralleled developed, its rhetoric idealized at best,
and stereotyped at worst, not only the natural landscape of the Caribbean, but also the lived
reality of its population of color. Using Frangoise Lionnet's interpretation of how the West
imagines islands, one can read these two pursuits as complementary parts of a rhetorical whole:
"[islands] are mythical, seem unreal, and tend to be seen as places of escape and rest,
hideaways onto which an infinite number of desires can be projected."' As exoticism
transformed the Caribbean into an idealized "elsewhere,"4 a mythologized space offering
wonders and opportunities unavailable in Europe, so, too, it transformed the archipelago's
"other" residents, particularly the Carib Indian and the woman of color, into mythical figures
whose depiction facilitated the reconstructionn of colonial narratives.5 Rather than
acknowledge the problematic history and power dynamics of colonial-era interracial relations,
exoticist texts more often portrayed the woman of color, and more precisely, la muldtresse, as
the heiress to a pleasing blend of African and European traits.6 While the "inherent" tenderness
of the woman of color manifested itself in the figure of the da, the beloved wet nurse,7 her
"natural" sensuality was embodied in the figure of the doudou, the submissive romantic partner
not of the man of color but of his white counterpart.8 Thus, exoticist discourse at once defined
and decontextualized, celebrated and silenced the woman of color.
One finds a similar silencing and decontextualization in the now infamouss "La
femme de couleur et le Blanc" chapter of Frantz Fanon's Peau noire, masques blancs. In an
incisive reading of Mayotte Cap6cia's 1948 novel Je suis Martiniquaise, Fanon concludes:
"[t]outes cesfemmes de couleur dcheveldes, en quite du Blanc, attendent. Et
certainement un de ces jours elles se surprendront a ne pas vouloir se retourner [...]" (39).
Although Fanon later introduces a mea culpa in which he admits "[la] tentative de
mystification" inherent in reading the woman of color through a single literary character (65), it
is his castigation of Cap6cia, not this admission, which has indelibly marked the critique of
Francophone Caribbean women's literature. In his analysis, Fanon defies the reader to interpret
literary representations of woman of color-white male relationships as anything other than
narratives of lactification. This critical legacy, I would argue, renders Lacascade's Claire-
Solange, tme africaine all the more remarkable, for in the creative mind of this Francophone
Caribbean woman writer, to be muldtresse is proudly to declare one's Negritude.
Set in pre-World War I Paris, Claire-Solange follows the metropolitan adventures of
the title character, daughter of a deceased Martinican muldtresse and a white Frenchman.9
Claire-Solange, her father, and her mother's family settle into the Parisian home of Jeanne
Hucquart, a widow.whose hospitality masks plans to seduce Claire-Solange's father. To ensure
success, Jeanne enlists her godson to persuade Claire-Solange to remain in France. Claire-
Solange, however, repeatedly distances herself from the metropole and from whiteness by
insistently identifying herself as negre, africaine, and muldtresse.'0 To her cousins' teasing
prediction that she will marry Jacques Danzel (the godson), Claire-Solange responds: "Jamais
je n 'pouserai un blanc,jamais pas,jamais pas" ( Lacascade 28).
Despite this very determined resistance, Claire-Solange finds herself increasingly
seduced by Jacques, and by extension, France. Yet it is only after a series of increasingly
monumental events-the departure of her maternal family, the experience of meeting her
paternal family, and the intervention of World War I-that Claire-Solange acknowledges a
change in her emotions. The novel casts her eventual union with Jacques Danzel as a triumph
of love over pride, as Lacascade's heroine at last recognizes the European heritage intermingled
with her "African blood" and her suitor, wounded during the war, trusts that it is love, not pity,
which has won Claire-Solange's heart. With this conclusion, the prodigal Frenchman returns
home in the person of his muldtresse daughter: as her father once exiled himself from France
for her mother, so Claire-Solange accepts exile from Martinique to remain with Jacques
Most of the familiar tropes of exoticism can be found in Lacascade's novel. Whereas
Europe connotes "order" and "regularity" (75), Martinique, with its botanical profusion,
exemplifies "[un] ddsordre dddnique" ("[an] paradisiac disorder"; 76). The primary bearer of
the novel's exoticist mantle is Jacques Danzel, the romantic foil. As he finds himself
alternately exasperated and charmed by Claire-Solange, his perception of her vis-a-vis
Martinique shifts from simple association, as in his description of her as "[unejfemme des iles"
(45), to narrative collapse, as demonstrated in the following passage:
L'amour de Claire-Solange, il [Jacques Danzel] se l'imaginait merveilleux: de
l'ardeur, de la spontan6it6, des silences inattendus; et quelle douceur, quelle s6curit6,
en d6pit des orages; toute la brusquerie d'une floraison enivrante, le mystere d'une
fort vierge. L'amour chez la femme, vous le savez? reproduit la nature de son pays.
Here the key referents "Claire-Solange," "l'amour," and "son pays" are at once
correlated, interchanged, and, eventually, collapsed, and "le theme de la duality de la nature
antillaise... Gdndreuse et destructrice a lafois, tendre et cruelle" surfaces in the contrasting
qualities attributed to Claire-Solange's love." As in the script of conventional exoticism, it is
La mulatresse n6gre : Exoticism and the Gaze in suzanne Lacascade's Claire-Solange, dime
not simply the woman's love, but the woman herself who embodies her country. Claire-
Solange ceases to be a.conscious subject and becomes instead the substitute for a stereotypical
ideal larger than herself, in this particular instance that of Martinique as tropical paradise. Like
her island and her mother before her, she seems poised to bring warmth, tenderness, and color
to the m6tropole. 2
As if aware that future critics might critique such formulations as "grandiloquent 6
souhait" (Conde, "La literature feminine" 157), Lacascade enlists the poetry of Baudelaire to
convey the mysteries of Claire-Solange's coiffure:
Da hoche la tte pour approuver; lassie, le cou de lajeunefille ploie de c6te; et
Jacques songe que Baudelaire aussi avait su voir, avait aimed la nonchalance de ces
La brune enchanteresse
A, dans le col, des airs noblement manieres... (Lacascade 49)
Drawn from Baudelaire's poem "A une dame cr6ole", this verse invites the
comparison of the exoticist images at play in Lacascade with those in Baudelaire. As if
providing a model for Jacques Danzel's depiction of Claire-Solange, in "A une dame cr6ole"
Baudelaire places the portrait of his Creole beauty between descriptions of her island and
descriptions of the reception her beauty would elicit in France. Thus, in both Lacascade and
Baudelaire, the portrayal of woman as exotic Other functions as part of a larger project of
depicting her native land and of exploring the relationship between an Elsewhere, the Other,
and the metropole. The seamlessness with which these Elsewheres and Others are interchanged
speaks further to the exoticist conception of islands (and, I would also argue, their inhabitants)
as "tabulae rasae" rather than as distinct entities.14
Yet rather than become lost amidst these exoticist images, Claire-Solange seizes upon
the "to-be-look-at-ness" doubly inherent in being a woman of color in Europe and invites-all
the better to control-what I call the metropolitan gaze (Mulvey 63). Whereas Fanon's
persona-of-color-in-the-metropole is racially marked by another (<
of her Negritude:
Voyez mes cheveux cripus, je ne saurais les lisser en cadenettes centre mesjoues,
comme les Juifs d'Aden, je nepourrais les reliever en chignon 1830...Mes cheveux de
negre, ilfaut les sdparer en bandeaux, les tordre tant bien que mal sur la
nuque...coiffure qui exagere le prognathisme. Mesurez mon angle facial! Regardez-
moi bien... (Lacascade 36)
As the imperatives voyez, mesurez, and regarded indicate, Claire-Solange's apparently
earnest self-declarations are in fact conscious re-presentations through which she defines as
well as declares her blackness. Jacques Danzel only witnesses Claire-Solange's coiffure at her
express invitation: "Oh! une idee: voulez-vous venir au spectacle?..." (48). With these
gestures, Claire-Solange claims an agency traditionally denied the exotic Other in literature.
Unlike the woman of color in canonical exoticist texts, who, as R6gis Antoine notes, "n existede
que dans le discours de I hommee d 'Europe qui parole d'elle" (344), the muldtresse heroine of
Claire-Solange speaks and looks back.
It is significant that, in a continuation of her intertextual exchange with Baudelaire,
Lacascade builds Claire-Solange's post-exoticism on a synecdochic relationship between the
character and her hair: at the intersection of representation, exoticism, and excess, the rhetorical
uncontainability of Claire-Solange's difference mirrors the literal uncontainability of her hair;
which, when wet, "resists," "revolts," and "swells" (128). 6 Claire-Solange likewise proves to
be excessive, more than, unassimilable into various European models of exoticism. She is
neither the silenced Baudelairean ideal cherished by her suitor nor the almost-Spaniard that
others would have her be. On the contrary, Claire-Solange exceeds these images constructed as
part of and in response to literary representation and, in the process, offers an alternative, self-
If the delineation of a Lacascadean Negritude or proto-Negritude facilitates the
contextualization-if not justification-of the at times problematic engagement of exoticist
tropes in Claire-Solange, inme africaine, it does not provide as clear an explanation for the
novel's conclusion, in which Lacascade appears to forego the political and theoretical potential
of the preceding two hundred pages in favor of a return to the safe harbors of the romance plot:
Jacques Danzel returns from World War I; Claire-Solange professes her love; the couple
marries. Identifying this ending as perhaps the most profound disappointment of the novel,
critic Brent Edwards writes that, in the end, Claire-Solange "transforms itself into no more than
an inversion of the doudou myth." 7 Indeed, the heroine's discourse loses all traces of irony as,
adopting language used in Jacques' exoticist portrait of her, Claire-Solange resolves, quite
literally, to be the sunlight needed to nurse him back to health and to sustain her life of
metropolitan exile (Lacascade 205).
Yet even amidst this narrative tidiness, there exists an alternative, more complicated
reading of Lacascade's conclusion. Maryse Conde suggests as much in her analysis, in which
she observes that by novel's end, Claire-Solange's desired audience is neither Jeanne nor
Jacques, but Europe. 18 would argue that, given the novel's earlier association of Claire-
Solange with Martinique and its tendency to reverse exoticist tropes, one can modify Cond6's
reading to allow for the identification of Jacques with Europe and, more specifically, with
France. That is to say, it is France as embodied by Jacques that Claire-Solange targets in
attempts to prove her worth. To extrapolate further, Claire-Solange exhorts Jacques-as-France
to see her Negritude-inspired vision of Martinique, a vision which rests beyond the limits of
exoticist rhetoric. I propose this interpretation not to rehearse the shortcomings of Lacascade's
novel, but rather to shift the discussion from the text's literary shortcomings to its political
possibilities. If, as critic Elizabeth Ezra contends, it was France's colonies which reaffirmed
the nation's "status as a world power" in the aftermath of World War I, L9 we might recast the
union of Claire-Solange and Jacques Danzel as a union between colony and metropole. It is
significant that this marriage occurs only after Danzel's literal and figurative force have been
neutralized by war injuries; coupled with the casting of Claire-Solange as the mobile partner-
it is she who must decide whether to remain or depart-this timing further disrupts the balance
of power in the conventional Blanc-doudou relationship.
By way of conclusion, and as a means of placing Lacascade's writing, imperfections
and all, in what I feel to be proper perspective, I would like to return to the Cond6 epigraph
La mulitresse n6gre : Exoticism and the Gaze in suzanne Lacascade's Claire-Solange, dime
with which the paper began: "Qu'est-ce apres tout que l'engagement sinon la
restitution de quelque aspect de la v6rit6 que l'on a choisi d'illustrer?" (165). With this query
Conde not only broadens the notion of literary engagement, but also challenges the theoretical
grounds on which critiques of Caribbean women's writing have been built. It is in this vein
that Claire-Solange, &me africaine, an apparently lighthearted, exoticist romance, can be read
as a post-exoticist, pre-Negritude text. In its dissection of exoticist paradigms, appropriation of
the European gaze, and embrace of nigre as an identifier and an identity, Claire-Solange
restores the voice of the silenced woman of color where once there existed only the revered
motherland) of Negritude and the desexualized da or hypersexualized doudou of exoticism.
Perhaps more importantly, no longer must the examination of early Francophone Caribbean
women's writing begin with Mayotte Cap6cia's overburdened Je suis Martiniquaise nor end
with Fanon's important but nonetheless overtaxed reading of lactification.
' Fanon Frantz, Peau noire, masques blancs, (Paris: Seuil, 1952). 38. Translated as Black Skin, White
Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann, (New York: Grove P, 1967). 47.
" Cond6 Maryse, "La littdrature feminine de la Guadeloupe: recherche d'une identity," Prsence
Africaine, 99-100 (1976): 165.
3 Lionnet Francoise, "Refraining Baudelaire: Literary History, Biography, Postcolonial Theory, and
Vernacular Languages," Diacritics 28.3 (1998): 65.
4 Dash J. Michael, The Other America: Caribbean Literature in a New World Context, (Charlottesville:
UP of Virginia, 1998). 34-35.
5 Dash attributes the "invention of the New World" to this reconstructive impulse: "By extension, writing
about reality is no longer an innocent activity. Indeed, writing about reality is seen as constituting
meaning rather than reflecting objective reality. This reconstructive power of narrative has had profound
effects on such fields as history and anthropology." Dash, The Other America, 22.
6 For an unromanticized portrayal of a mulatresse heroine and her family history, see Andr6 Schwarz-
Bart, La mulhtresse Solitude (Paris: Seuil, 1972). Conceived during la parade, or the period
"g6n6ralement un mois avant l'arriv6e aux ports antillais des bateaux n6griers,.lorsque les femmes
esclaves 6taient livr&es aux marines dans les mel6es reproductrices forces" (Rice-Maximin 52), the title
character-and mythic figure in Guadeloupean history-joins the 1802 rebellion (against Napoleon's
reinstatement of slavery) led by Louis Delgr6s in Guadeloupe. Rice-Maximin Micheline,Karukdra:
presence littiraire de la Guadeloupe, New York: Peter Lang, 1998.
In Le discours antillais Edouard Glissant writes that the da "[a] son equivalent dans toute la region
caraibe et dans le Sud des Etats-Unis". One might say that the da is comparable to the figure of the
mammy in Southern history and folklore. Glissant, Le discours antillais,(1981). (Paris: Gallimard, 1997).
826. Translated as Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays, trans. J. Michael Dash, (Charlottesville:
CARAF Books/UP of Virginia, 1989). 264.
8 Antoine R6gis, Les 6crivains frangais et les Antilles: des premiers Pares blancs aux surr6alistes noirs,
(Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 1978). 343.
SIn Martinique and Guadeloupe, the terms muldtre and muldtresse can refer to an individual who is the
child of an interracial (Black-White) union or to an individual who, because of his/her descent from gens
de couleur (people of color) of a certain social standing, belongs to the social category mulatre. In
Aurore's case, Lacascade uses muldtresse in the latter sense: Claire-Solange refers to her "grands-parents
mulftres" (36). For more on socio-racial categories in Martinique and Guadeloupe, see Leiris Michel,
Contacts de civilisations en Martinique et en Guadeloupe, (Paris: Gallimard/UNESCO, 1955) particularly
the section "Les relations entire categories fond6es sur I'origine."
"o Claire-Solange declares her Africanness three chapters after identifying herself as negre. Lacascade
Suzanne, Claire-Solange, ime africaine, (Paris: Eugene Figuibre, 1924). 66. Subsequent references will
be noted parenthetically in the text Both declarations are significant because the metis figure so brazenly
transgressing socio-racial boundaries is in fact une mdtisse, a mixed-race woman. The conflicted heroines
of Mayotte Cap6cia's Je suis Martiniquaise (1948) and La nigresse blanche (1950)--and Fanon's
subsequent critique of them in Peau noire, masques blancs (1952)-remain the predominant images of
mixed-race women in early- to mid-twentieth-century Francophone Caribbean literature. Claire-
Solange's self-identification as negre and africaine is also important because it contradicts the prevailing
disposition of her social class.
' Cond6, La Parole desfemmes: essai sur des romancieres des Antilles de languefranFaise, (1979).
(Paris: L'Harmattan, 1993). 61.
12 The name Claire-Solange signifies "light" (clair) and "earth" (sol) "angel" (ange) while Aurore, that of
the heroine's similarly named mother, is French for "Aurora," the Roman goddess of the dawn. In a
similar vein, Jacques Danzel christens Claire-Solange "ma clart6 sauvage" (Lacascade 101). Upon his
return from the war, a wounded Danzel calls the heroine "mon clair soleil" ("my bright sun"; 200).
"3 All subsequent French-language citations from Les Fleurs du Mal are from Baudelaire Charles, Les
Fleurs du Mal., ed. John E. Jackson. 1857; (Paris: Librairie G6n6rale Fran9aise). 1999.
L4 The poem was inspired by Emmeline Autard de Bragard and initially sent to her husband Gustave-
Adolphe Autard de Bragard. The Autard de Bragards were wealthy Creoles who hosted Baudelaire during
his 1841 visit to the island of Mauritius. Lionnet 66.
"6 Claire-Solange characterizes her hair as resistant and laborious, characteristics which contrast sharply
with the images of fluidity found in Baudelaire's poem "La Chevelure" and to which Lacascade returns
later in the novel.
17 Brent Edwards, "Black Globality: The International Shape of Black intellectual Culture," Ph.D. diss.,
(Columbia U, 1998). 228.
" Cond6, La Parole des femmes 31.
'9 Ezra Elizabeth, The Colonial Unconscious: Race and Culture in Interwar France, (Ithaca: Cornell UP,
20 For an extended discussion of such critiques, see Cond6, "Order, Disorder, Freedom and the West
Indian Writer," Yale French Studies 83 (1993): 121-35.
Baudelaire, Charles. Les Fleurs du Mal. ed. John E. Jackson.1857; Paris: Librairie G6n6rale
Cond6, Maryse. La Parole desfemmes: essai sur des romancieres des Antilles de langue
.francaise. 1979; Paris: L'Harmattan, 1993.
Dash, J. Michael. The Other America: Caribbean Literature in a New World Context.
Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1998.
Edwards, Brent. "Black Globality: The International Shape of Black Intellectual Culture,"
Ph.D.diss., Columbia U, 1998.
Ezra, Elizabeth. The Colonial Unconscious: Race and Culture in Interwar France. Ithaca:
Comell UP, 2000.
Lionnet, Frangoise. "Refraining Baudelaire: Literary History, Biography, Postcolonial Theory,
and Vernacular Languages." Diacritics 28.3 (1998).
Reading the Zombi in Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea
Derrilyn E. Morrison
Reading the Zombi in Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea
Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Seal presents the particular problematic of locating the
Creole figure, which is characterized as a zombi within the world of the novel. Rhys's
presentation of the white Creole woman, Antoinette, as a zombi raises issues of race, class, and
gender that are Caribbean specific, inviting the reader to examine the dynamics of power
relations in the specific geopolitical space of the Caribbean. In that respect, the mother-
daughter paradigm of feminist criticism does not sufficiently explain Antoinette's
zombification. Nor does her powerlessness as a woman under British patriarchal Law. But it is
easy for foreign students, who lack exposure to Caribbean studies, to read the zombi in that
way, purely as a gender construct, and thereby overlook the significance of her positioning
within the discourse on race/class power relations in the Caribbean. Reading this text in a
course prescribed primarily for writing composition, in an American college, creates a further
handicap for teacher and student. The process of reading the literary text, always already a
problematic, is complicated by the culturally alienating space of the American classroom,
where the average student encounters the Caribbean novel for the first time, and then, only as
an object that is peripheral to his/her studies. The challenge for the teacher is to engage the
student's interest in the text in such a way that moves the text from the margins of the learning
experience. This paper presents the problematic of reading the zombi in Jean Rhys's Wide
Sargasso Sea as a figure of cultural alienation in the Caribbean, as part of an exercise in an
American college composition class. It explores the possibility of negotiating the difficulties of
reading the zombi as a direct product of the plantation societies that existed in the Caribbean
and examines ways of moving the gender specific discourse into its wider relation to the
postcolonial discourse on race/class power relations in the Caribbean. The main focus is
therefore on teaching strategies that seek to create time and space and context for articulating
the text's engagement with postcolonial discourses on representation and power.
Elaine Savory's mapping out of the interesting critical discourse around Rhys, puts a
handle on the difficulty of teaching Rhys' texts in American classrooms. She makes two points
that are important to our discussion of Wide Sargasso Sea. First, that the novel came to
prominence just as the international feminist movement was beginning to gain ground in the
1970's (Elaine Savory, Jean Rhys 58). This puts the novel (published in 1966) into
conversation with feminist concerns, which all but erase the Caribbean discourse. According to
Elaine Savory, "only a few northern feminists have [recognized] that the political identity of
Rhys was shaped as much by Dominican racial and class culture as by gender issues" (Savory
59). High northern feminism has avoided the uncomfortable question of race that Rhys's Wide
Sargasso Sea willingly embraces. In my experience, American College students quickly grasp
the feminist concerns in the novel, linking the zombi figure to the idea of woman as object or
powerless icon. One strategy available to the teacher is therefore to first acknowledge the
feminist discourse within the text and then translate it onto the field of Caribbean discourse.
How to do that within a course prescribed for composition which leaves little or no time for
discussions that are related to literary studies? To bring literary studies into conversation with
the art of writing, the literary text can helpfully be first examined as a product of writing.
Creating writing exercises that focus on articulating a problematic within the literary text can
effect a reconciliation of sorts between the two polar aims of such a course. In our case, the
question for the class to write on becomes: "Reading the zombi figure in Rhys's Wide Sargasso
Critical discourse on race location in the Caribbean society is one area in which the zombi
figure of Wide Sargasso Sea can be positioned, since Antoinette's dilemma springs from the
complexity of her position as a white Creole. Speaking to her English husband about the
alienation caused by the fact of her racial and class positioning in the society, Antoinette says:
It was a song about a white cockroach. That's me. That's what they call us who were
here before their own people in Africa sold them to the slave traders. And I've heard
English women call us white niggers. So between you I often wonder who I am and
where is my country and where do-I belong and why was I ever born at all. (WSS
Here, Antoinette defines her racial and class status in the Caribbean society. As a
white woman born on the island she is lower on the social scale than an English woman. She is
Creole white but not English. As "poor white" her status is furthered lowered, and in the eyes
of the English Plantation society she is barely above the level of the black ex-slaves, the
"niggers." In the latter's eyes Antoinette is further reduced, for to the blacks she is less than
human, a "white cockroach", so her place is at the bottom of the social ladder. Analyzing this
passage as a class exercise allows the teacher to introduce the need for a cultural or social and
historical context. Two interesting options, that may further be combined, are available to the
teacher: Creating mini lectures dealing specifically with the cultural signification of the zombi,
and/or providing small packets of well chosen articles on literary criticism by Caribbean writers
who include information on the cultural significance of the text. Posting the lectures or the
packets of criticism, ahead of time, on learn links/internet teaching links makes good economic
sense since the time available for teaching the text is severely limited to two or three 1- hour
sessions at the most. The writing assignment must then carefully pose a question that requires
the use of this body of critical material. Time can further be culled by pointing students directly
to sections of the criticism that can most usefully inform their written responses.
With this in mind we turn our attention to a brief overview of literary articles that are
available for use in these classes. For example, Carolyn Cooper's essay, "'Something ancestral
Recaptured': Spirit possession as Trope in Selected Feminist Fictions of the African Diaspora"
(Motherlands 64) 2, speaks to spirit possession as a trope. It has a short reference to the zombi
in African culture, as well as a footnote reference to the way this figure has changed in
significance with the passing of time. Cooper's article works well with Mary Lou Emery's
"Wide Sargasso Sea: Obeah Nights" 3 which offers a discussion on the central role that
Christophine and obeah play in locating Antoinette's position in the society. Useful also is
Judith Raiskin's Snow on the Canefields which has a section on "Race and Literary Culture"
that offers a discussion on the cultural significance of the zombi figure in Rhys's novel.4 This
article helps to establish the cultural significance of Antoinette as a white Creole and creates
space for interrogating her subsequent complete reduction to a zombi, a figure whose physical
dislocation parallels her psychic ambivalence. Veronica Gregg's, Jean Rhys's Historical
Imagination: Reading and Writing the Creole provides a reading of the dynamics of
black/white relationships in the novel, highlighting the "roles that have been historically and
Reading the Zombi in Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea
discursively assigned to black and white people in the West Indies"5. Additionally, Sue
Thomas' The Worlding ofJean Rhys 6 and Bev E. L. Brown's "Mansong and Matrix" 7 which
complicate the construction of Antoinette as the white Creole figure the racial and cultural
other in the novel. These articles which position Rhys's novel within a specifically Caribbean
context, have proven useful for guiding the students into a discussion on the cultural
significance of the zombi. Having thus prepared a body of additional reading for the students,
we arrive at the next stage of the strategy to teach Wide Sargasso Sea: Setting the students to
work. Working as groups, the students are asked to locate and connect moments in the text
that shed light on why Antoinette becomes a zombi. By putting together the group responses,
the class will have accomplished the first stage of reading the zombi as a figure of cultural
alienation. To do this, we may enlist the students' participation in locating the novel's first
mention of Antoinette as a zombi (WSS 49-50). This passage can then be evaluated in light of
Antoinette's dreams of England (WSS 80, 111 and 187), and her desire for death (WSS 92,94).
The latter would, of course, necessarily include Antoinette's own description of the "two
deaths, the real one and the one people know about" (WSS 128). As a follow up to this lesson,
the writing assignment to be done at home requires the students to make further connections
with the help of the supplementary reading list discussed above.
As a teaching strategy, helping students trace the references in the text that link
Antoinette to the zombi is also a way of approaching a discussion of the internal structure of
the text, which may actually be introduced as an oral exercise in another class period. In this
exercise we note that Antoinette's first recollection of herself as a zombi comes out of several
unhappy encounters that she had with the black children on the island what Gregg calls
""black violence" against the Creoles" (Gregg, 23). Noting that Antoinette's clear delineation
of relationships in the family, on the plantation, and within the island marks the process of
alienation she experiences, students can then be asked to discuss how this alienation assumes
cultural significance. At this point students may be directed to the passage on page 22 where
These were all the people in my life my mother and Pierre, Christophine, Godfrey,
and Sass who had left us. I never looked at any strange negro. They hated us. They
called us white cockroaches. Let sleeping dogs lie. One day a little girl followed me
singing, "Go away white cockroach, go away, go away." I walked fast, but she
walked faster. "White cockroach, go away, go away. Nobody want you. Go away"
Veronica Gregg points out that by this the narrative text has already established the
historicity of this white Creole woman's position. Gregg states:
When Antoinette says "These were all the people in my life" the text has already
folded into the substance of the character's life centuries of West Indian history,
calling attention to the continuity between slavery and post-slavery conditions the
presence of the past. The narrative also demonstrates that to "write her life" does not
mean to write Antoinette's singular life, but to write into being the life of the Creole
woman.... (Gregg 86)
The next narrative moment we examine should then show that the alienation
Antoinette suffered from most has its ethos in race and class differences. To that end,
Antoinette tells us: "The black people did not hate us so much when we were poor. We were
white but we had not escaped and soon we would be dead for we had no money left. What was
there to hate?" (WSS 34) In the same vein, Mr. Mason, Antoinette's new stepfather, "did not
approve of Aunt Cora," primarily due to class prejudice and jealousy she was "an ex-slave-
owner who had escaped misery, a flier in the face of Providence" (WSS 30).
Another direct reference to Antoinette's state of alienation as a cultural phenomenon is given in
her account of her confrontation with the black children while she was attending the convent
Half-way up they closed in on me and started talking. The girl said, "Look the crazy
girl, you crazy like your mother. Your aunt frightened to have you in the house. She
send you for the nuns to lock up. Your mother walk about with no shoes and
stockings on her feet, she sans culottes. She try to kill her husband and she try to kill
you too that day you go to see her. She have eyes like zombi and you have eyes like
zombie too...." (WSS 49-50)
By analyzing this passage in class, the students are helped to recognize that
Antoinette's description here, as the "crazy girl" with the "eyes like zombie," identifies her
position as that of the socially and historically alienated within the Caribbean society, by virtue
of her race. The white Creole's imposed self-isolation stirs the curiosity of the black children
whose imagination is excited by the stories of madness and liberal sexuality that become
associated with the Creole woman. Later, after her marriage to the English man, his
description of Antoinette reminds us of the children's. He describes her eyes as being too
large ... and disconcerting" and then he says:
She never blinks at all it seems to me. Long, sad, dark, alien eyes. Creole of pure
English descent she may be, but they are not English or European either. (WSS 67;
Antoinette's eyes might have revealed her inner feelings somewhat, but it is the
alienation imposed by others that lies at the heart of this passage, and others in the text. Note
the distinction her husband draws between white Creole, English and European in this passage.
An earlier recollection of his also describes her in terms that suggest that she is more dead than
I remember little of the actual ceremony. Marble memorial tablets on The walls
commemorating the virtues of the last generation of planters. All Benevolent, All
slave-owners, All resting in peace. When we came out of the church I took her hand.
It was cold as ice in the hot sun. (WSS 77)
His reference here is to their wedding, and his description of the "marble memorial
tablets" in the church, and the dead "slave owners. All resting in peace," is given in the same
breath that he uses to describe Antoinette's hand "It was cold as ice in the hot sun." At this
point students begin to see that Antoinette, and by inference others like her (such as her
mother), experience a kind of death within life that fits the category of the zombi, described in
Reading the Zombi in Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea
the Cooper article earlier cited. They can now see also that this figure is directly located within
the specific geopolitical space of the Caribbean.
A further connection would be to focus on Antoinette's relationship with Tia, the daughter of
the cook who worked at Coulibri. Christophene had brought the children together in an attempt
to provide companionship for Antoinette, when her mother rejected her. It did not work
because the race dynamics under the colonial institution would not permit a normal friendship.
We note how the ending of the relationship is couched in language that is colored with racial
insinuations. Angered by the fact that Tia had stolen her pennies that Christophine had given
her, Antoinette screams abusively:
"Keep them, then, you cheating nigger," I said, for I was tired, and the water I had
swallowed made me feel sick. "I can get more if I want to."
That's not what I hear, she said. She hear all we poor like beggar. We ate salt fish
no money for fresh fish. The old house so leaky, you run with calabash to catch rain
water when it rain. Plenty white people in Jamaica. Real white people, they got gold
money. They didn't look at us, nobody see them come near us. Old time white people
nothing but white nigger now, and black nigger better than white nigger. (WSS 24)
With this, Tia switches clothes with Antoinette, and left her to find her way home.
Gregg's analysis of this scene focuses on the colonial superstructure that negates the possibility
of any real friendship between white Creoles and blacks:
The relationship between Tia and Antoinette is a'direct engagement with the roles that
have been historically and discursively assigned to black and white people in the West
Indies. The relationship exposes the precarious, unstable, yet powerfully destructive
mechanisms of the colonial structure. The name-calling, the verbal abuse, and the
theft / switch dramatize the violence that inheres in the system of domination upon
which the West Indian plantation society was constructed. (Gregg 91)
Rhys's depiction of the violence Tia does Antoinette portrays the inability of the white
Creole to assimilate blackness despite any narrative suggestion of the desire to do so. Gregg
points out that it would have been impossible for Tia to embrace Antoinette, for that would
have meant, "among other things, an acceptance of her "thingness", her role as chattel -
socially dead and nothing more than a container for the Creole's unbroken self-image" (Gregg
96). Instead, it is Antoinette's "thingness" that becomes the focus of the scene and indeed of
the entire narrative.
The novel also shows that any attempt on Antoinette's part to identify with blacks can
only do her harm, as such a move is outside of the parameters drawn by the colonial society.
Asking the students to examine how the novel does this enables them to recognize that, on one
level, antoinette's insistence on dabbling in obeah when she goes to Christophene for the love
potion backfires because, as the old woman tells her, she is "bek6", white Creole. Antoinette's
zombification is thus linked to the obeah scene in the novel, which structure suggests that the
end for Antoinette can only be increasing silence and eventual death. The novel links
Antoinette's silence with her talk of death, and her husband could understand neither. He says:
"Why do you hug and kiss Christophine?" I'd say.
"I wouldn't hug and kiss them." I'd say, "I couldn't." She'd be silent, or angry for no
reason, and chatter to Christophine in patois.
At this she'd laugh for a long time and never tell me why she laughed.
But at night how different, even her voice was changed. Always this talk of death.
Here, her silence marks a moment of psychic ambivalence, and as a quality of the
zombi it is linked to sleep and death. It thereby becomes also a sign or symbol of cultural
alienation, which her husband comes close to identifying:
...and her ideas were fixed. About England, and about Europe I could not change
them and probably nothing would. Reality might disconcert her bewilder her, hurt
her, but it would not be reality. It would be only a mistake, a misfortune, a wrong path
taken, her fixed ideas would never change. Nothing that I told her influenced her at all.
Examining this passage can help students to read the failure of Antoinette's marriage
as a symbol also of this cultural alienation. We see that Antoinette is completely cut
off from any identification with her husband's England and English reality. And he
cannot understand her talk of the Dream of England which she associates with a cold
dark dream that haunts her, or her love of the island (c.f. WSS 80-81).
The foregoing presents Wide Sargasso Sea as a novel that examines the physical and
psychic displacement of the Creole figure in the Caribbean society, where Antoinette grows up
to believe in, and embrace, the zombi identity imposed upon her by others within the society.
The psychological statelessness of the Creole woman is tied to the historical as well as the
political placelessness, the novel exploring "both the politics of shifting social locations and the
confused psychology that results from it" (Raiskin 109). Conscious of already being dead as a
social figure in relation to the symbolic order, Antoinette grows to long for physical death, and
in the African usage of the word, she is truly a zombi one possessed by a spirit. For her it is
the spirit of death, for she cannot be a live participant in the life of the island, on or off the
plantation to which she.is-cultural heir. Antoinette is doubly marginalized as a Creole woman,
on the one hand, being alienated from the high-class English culture of rich whites in the island,
on the other hand, recognizing that she is also excluded from the culture of the blacks, which is
the only alternative she sees. In any case the blacks reject her and her ilk because, as Tia points
out, racial superiority of the whites depended upon economic ascendancy and poor whites are
considered white niggers" inferior to the rich, white English settlers, and more importantly,
inferior to the blacks. The teaching strategy suggested by this paper offers the teacher effective
means of buying out the time in a college composition class for literary studies of the
Caribbean text. It privileges discussions and writing exercises that focus on cultural readings
associated with race, class and gender issues in the text at the expense of traditional eurocentric
readings of gender and history. Careful preparation is central to the entire teaching project and
instructor and students must be willing to work as a team for the successful execution of the
Reading the Zombi in Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea
' Rhys Jean, Wide Sargasso Sea, (New York and London: Norton, 1982) hereafter cited as WSS.
SMotherlands: Black Women's Writing from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia (Susheila Nasta, ed.,
The Women's Press)
3 Emery Mary Lou, Jean Rhys at World's End: Novels of Colonial and Sexual Exile (Austin: University of
Texas Press, 1990).35-62.
4 Raiskin Judith L., Snow on the Cane Fields: Women's Writing and Creole Subjectivity (Minneapolis and
London: U of Minnesota Press, 1996). 112-115 for a discussion on Race and Literary Culture.
' Gregg Veronica Marie, Jean Rhys's Historical Imagination: Reading and Writing the Creole, (Chapel
Hill and London: U of North Carolina Press, 1995).87-96 which discusses the improbability of any
friendship between Creoles and blacks in the post-slavery Caribbean society.
6 Thomas Sue, The Worlding ofJean Rhys, (Westport, Connecticut and London: Greenwood Press, 1999).
155-187 for a discussion on the relationship between Antoinette and Christophene as a way of reading the
issues of race and class within the Caribbean society.
7 Brown Bev E. L., "Mansong and Matrix: A Radical experiment," Kunapipi 7. 2 -3 (1985): 68-80. The
article addresses the masculine bias in Edward Brathwaite's Creolization theory and positions Rhys's
characters as women within a specifically Caribbean context.
Brown, Bev E. L. "Mansong and Matrix: A Radical experiment". Kunapipi 7. 2-3 (1985).
Emery, Mary Lou. Jean Rhys at World's End: Novels of Colonial and Sexual Exile. Austin:
University of Texas Press, 1990.
Gregg, Veronica Marie. Jean Rhys's Historical Imagination: Reading and Writing the Creole.
Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.
Motherlands: Black Women's Writing from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia. Susheila
Nasta, ed., The Women's Press, 1991.
Raiskin, Judith L. Snow on the Cane Fields: Women's Writing and Creole
Subjectivity.Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York and London: Norton, 1982.
Thomas, Sue. The Worlding ofJean Rhys. Westport, Connecticut and London: Greenwood
Ezili the Subversive: The Erotics ofMaryse Conde 's Celanire cou-coupv
Maryse Cond6 subtitles her recent (2000) novel, Cdlanire cou-coupe, "un roman
fantastique. "1 This work she notes in her epigraph was inspired by a fait divers in the
Guadeloupean press in 1995 which recounted how "un bb6b fut trouv6, la gorge tranch6e, sur
un tas d'ordures". Like her 1996 novel Moi, Tituba, sorcigre ... Noire de Salem, which, of all
of her other works, this novel may be said to most resemble, Cond6 is here reconstructing the
story of a lost or demeaned feminine life in a manner that can certainly be labeled "fantastique.
" In doing so, she again counters what she claims has been the restrictive model for West
Indian literature, that proclaimed by writers like Patrick Chamoiseau and Edouard Glissant to
be centered around the heterosexual male peasant hero, following in the lineage of Jacques
Roumain's Gouverneurs de la rosde.2 C61anire, the beautiful protagonist of Conde' work,
desired by both men and women, who travels in unusual ways in the highest colonialist circles
at the turn of the twentieth century, and who is never seen without a stylish foulard encircling
her neck, is the re-creation "fantastique" of that murdered baby left on the pile of garbage. She
was meant to be sacrificed for the career of a b6k6 politician from Basse-Terre in Guadeloupe
at the end of the nineteenth century with all the echoes of slavery days which idea evokes;
nevertheless, it was via the African knowledge of a Guadeloupean quimboiseur that such a
sacrifice was to have been carried out, and her various fathers of complex ancestry were also
complicit in the sacrifice. This novel is then the story of C61anire's response, and the "ire"
(anger) within her name is her constant subtext. As she voyages in the reverse diaspora of the
Caribbean intellectual: Paris, Africa, (to C6te d'Ivoire), and finally back to Guadeloupe, and
then to Peru, a la Flora Tristan,3 she archly and continuously repeats that "la vengeance est un
plat qui se mange froid" (18).
In order to show how such vengeance is to be had, Cond6 appears to be calling upon
one of the most well known figures in the Caribbean imaginary who is prominent in so many
oral tales: the diablesse. Ina Csaire speaks of this diablesse as "Unejeune et belle muldtresse
vitue a I 'ancienne d une 'douillette' don't la trainefr6lant le sol a I'avantage de masquer son
piedfourchu". Within these stories the diablesse often harms a presumably innocent and
defenseless man.4 From Cond6's Guadeloupe, Dany B6bel-Gisler, in her Ldonara: L 'Histoire
enfouie de la Guadeloupe, speaks of "La Diablesse" as a beautiful, light-skinned woman with a
scarf on her head who would come to dance on a moonlit night and lead those men who were
taken with her into the woods, never to be seen again.5 Similarly in Le Quimboiseur 'avait dit
by Guadeloupean Myriam Warner-Vieyra, she is a light-skinned she-devil with silky hair who
comes close to leading a young man into pools of boiling water on a mountain top.6 The much
desired Cl6anire certainly fits some parts of the diablesse role, and any number of young men
are clearly in some serious danger from her. But for the kind of complex and elaborate response
to her past that this character envisions, it is evident that Cond6 prefers to turn to a different
though somewhat related figure, the most powerful and ambivalent of the Haitian vodou lwa,
the goddess Ezili, known throughout the Caribbean. It is her ambiguous manifestations of
sexuality, possession, or revenge which can better illuminate C61anire's journey. Ivette
Romero-Cesareo notes how in the Spanish speaking Caribbean, the female gods of Santeria,
such as Yemayd, Goddess of the sea and maternity, and Osin and Oyd, river goddesses of death
and love respectively, when in combination, come close to filling the roles of Ezili. And
Ezili the Subversive: The Erotics ofMaryse Cond6's Cdlanire cou-coupe
somewhat similarly, the loving and dangerous figure of the Guadeloupean quimbois sorceress
Man Cia, represented by Simone Schwarz-Bart in Pluie et vent sur Tdlumde Miracle, (who is
loving to women and dangerous to men), plays out this same kind of feminine spiritual and
social power.7 Nevertheless, it is the multiplicity of the seductive Ezili figure that allows for the
performance of revenge on the scale demanded by Conde's C61anire
Among the many manifestations of this vodou Iwa, whose syncretic and contradictory
links to the Virgin Mary are legion, are the following roles (and these are only a few among
many): Ezili Freda, the pale elegant lady of love, likened to the Mater Dolotosa, neck encircled
with pearls and gold and heart pierced with a golden sword; Ezili Dantd, the passionate black
woman whose heart is also pierced, but with a dagger, who is allied to the Mater Salvatoris of
Catholic iconography; and the angry Ezili-je-wouj, know also as either Ezili Mapin, or Ezili
nwa-ki of the militant Petwo Iwa. Joan Dayan notes how most ethnographers, both Haitians
and Europeans, have divided the figure of Ezili into binary roles, virtually Mary and Mary
Magdalene. And even Maya Deren in The Divine Horsemen and Zora Neale Hurston in Tell
My Horse split this goddess between the "good" Ezili Freda and the "evil" Ezilije-wouj.s In
Dayan's far more nuanced and historicized analysis, Ezili moves quickly between and around
any idealized lady of love with her maternal protective qualities and the betrayed, prostituted,
or raging other woman. While some scholars of vodou have looked to her as a symbol of
fecundity, leading to the link with the Catholic Virgin Mary, her connection with maternity is
perhaps the most tenuous.9 Her unusual seductive powers seem instead to be more frequently
underscored. Ambiguous both in terms of sexuality and class, Ezili can enter into mystic
marriages with either women or men and desires both, and she can be almost simultaneously
Gran Ezili (another aspect of this Iwa), the aged, broken down matron of prostitutes, and the
beautiful yet volatile mulitresse Ezili Freda, (similar to the diablesse of the oral tales),
demanding gifts and service from her lovers. This mutablilty can best be seen as Ezili is
experienced in ritual vodou ceremonies. As Dayan comments, during the services, "the pale
'lady' alternately sweet and voracious, enters into the head of the black devotee, and together
they re-create and re-interpret a history of mastery and servitude."10
It is in Dayan's reading of the contradictions of this figure as they developed
historically out of the volatile erotics of plantation society in Saint-Domingue, (along with the
complexities of race and revolution there, which were consequently all encoded in vodou
practices), that Cond6's choice of the faces of Ezili for Celanire becomes clear. Numerous
Haitian historians like Jean Fouchard have argued for the link between the Haitian Revolution
and the practice of vodou. 11 And it should be said that in other regions of the Caribbean, like
Trinidad, where the syncretic African and European religion was Shango, the subversive
political power of such spiritual practices, popularly called 'obeah', was feared as well; the
Trinidadian Slave Ordinance of 1800, for example, made the practice of obeah punishable by
imprisonment.2 Because of the particular history of Haiti's thoroughgoing Revolution,
however, and its larger slave population with a greater percentage of bossale slaves, vodou can
be said to have been rather more developed as a practice in Haiti than were the religions of
Santeria, Obeah, or Quimbois in other Caribbean islands, and thus has been more influential,
both politically and culturally, then and now. In the pre-revolutionary days, the African basis
for much of this religion and the fact that vodou ceremonies were communal rites held in secret
areas of the plantation or in maroon regions added to its subversive potential. (And here,
because of the complexity of vodou's entanglement in later Haitian politics, I want to stress that
I'm referring to the late eighteenth century.) Dayan points out that in making contact with the
Iwa who traverse the world of the dead to respond to the suppliant, "mounting" or "riding" him
or her, (in the language of vodou), the transformation, though potentially terrifying, implied
tremendous liberation. Submission to these spirits was not another form of slavery; because
"instead of being turned into a thing, you became a god."13 And women, despite their under-
representation in historical accounts, did partake in the transformative link between the spiritual
and the political at this time. When Boukman, the revolutionary Haitian maroon leader and
vodou houngan, reached Cap Frangais in August 1791 with a band of 15,000, women were
with him. According to letters by nuns of the CommunautW des Religieuses Filles de Notre-
Dame du Cap-Frangais, when looking out their windows at the arrival of Boukman, they saw
their former pupil, a mulatresse known as Princesse Am6thyste, who had been initiated into a
vodou cult. She was leading a group of young women, all wearing red sashes and shaking
rattles garnished with balls, as they entered the city with the band in revolt. 14
So Ezili certainly developed within this context of revolt and transformation which, as
we will see, is borrowed by Cl6anire, but as goddess of love, she also represented the
extraordinarily convoluted feelings about desire, possession, and pleasure created in the
unnatural plantation society where humans became property. This was of course the situation
throughout the Caribbean, certainly including Guadeloupe though again Haiti as the largest
sugar producing island, the lucrative center of the French colonial empire, offered extremes of
this plantation society culture. Moreau de St M6ry in his 1797 Description ... de la parties
frangaise de l'isle Saint Domingue wrote of Creole society where opulence and greed were
paramount, and mixed blood or mulitresse mistresses of white men were seen as being
"priestesses of Venus" who were lavished with gifts.15 Often in response the white Creole
wives acted out their jealous fury with terrible cruelty on their women slaves suspected of
sleeping with their husbands. Oddly, Pierre de Vassiare, writing about the late seventeenth and
mid-eighteenth century, mentions that there was in addition, a curious intimacy at times
between the white Creole wife and the women she owned, that is, between her and "a young
mulatresse or quarteronne, and sometimes even a young n6gresse whom [she] makes [her]
cocotte," her confidante to discuss her loves.16 The construction of Ezili in this matrix is
consequently well described by Dayan's term "mimicry of excess."17 The goddess plays out
the awful contradictions of bondage and service in slave society when they are appropriated to
the language of love. Her arbitrary behavior, alternately loving or abusive, can thus destabilize
or subvert the master/slave dynamic and undermine the entire system of domination.
This is why Conde is choosing the figure of Ezili here. She is an historically
convoluted and dense response to the way racism and women's sexuality have been linked in
the Caribbean, but also a formulation for revolt, perhaps of a different kind. Now, Cond6
introduces her C61anire/Ezili as an immediately destabilizing force to the post-slavery era
colonialism of Africa when she arrives as a madonna-like oblat from a Paris convent in
Adjame-Santey, the colonial capital of Cote d'Ivoire, in 1901. Undoing both the political and
sexual power of the colonial administration, she is early on mysteriously implicated in the
death of the French administrator of the local Foyer des metis, (which leaves her in charge of
the school) as he dies bizarrely when he is about to enter the bed of his new sixteen year-old
native mistress. He is killed at that moment when "une mygale gdante ... I'avait mordu i la
verge"(18). From that time on, in a characteristically iconoclastic and (sometimes)
anachronistic way, Cond6 constructs her C61anire in the shape of what Christiane Makward
calls "unfeu d'artifice ludique,"l8 with her subversiveness directed at the taboos of African
Ezili the Subversive: The Erotics of Maryse Conde's Cdlanire cou-coupd
and Guadeloupean society and the systems of masculine power, be they colonialist or
traditional, which impose them. This Ezili leaves no patriarchal stone unturned as she avenges
the baby who was almost sacrificed and she becomes the desired and desiring center of this
Quickly, and what seems magically, she turns the Foyer into a lovely flower-filled
sanctuary as she, elegantly dressed with lace and ribbons around her throat, presides over
gatherings with delicacies not previously seen. Koffi Ndizi, the tribal king of the area,
nervously wonders about the new presence of a chevall," an unstable or malevolent spirit,
.nearby, as a result of the omens of his f6ticheur. And Cl6anire is clearly that chevall," as she
begins to move through the various incarnations of Ezili. At first she is Ezili Freda, the
beautiful lady of love with her seductive presence at the Foyer. This is even more evident as
she rapidly becomes the mistress of the colonial governor, Thomas de Brabant, who supplies
her with luxuries of all kinds; she seems St. MWry's "priestess of Venus," especially as rumors
of sexual activities at the girls' school, its "borde'"-like possibilities, start to circulate. It is
whispered that the Foyer has become "Le paradise pour lesfemmes" (paradise for women) in an
African community where they have been treated as "bites de some et chair a plaisir (32).
However, C61anire, the director of this paradise, is never just the so-called pale lady
of love; Cond6 stresses her exquisite blackness throughout: which is complicated because she is
"mitisse qu'on ne savait combien de races"(14) (mixed race, a combination of an unknown
number of races). In any event, the passionate black Ezili Dant6 or the furious Ezilije-wouj are
always close by the elegant Ezili Freda. In a marked departure from expectations, rather than
play out the mistress to the white man role, Cl6anire manages to marry the governor after
poisoning his wife who wanders into the bush to be eaten unpleasantly by animals. As for the
unfortunate wife Charlotte, le spectacle dtait terrible. On aurait dit que desfauves, mangeurs
de chair humaine et buveurs de sang frais, avaient eu affaire d'elle" (62) (The scene was
terrible. Seeing it, one would have said that wild beasts, which eat human flesh and drink fresh
blood, had polished her off). Wild beasts, or of course the shape-shifting Ezili. Cl6anire next
arranges for Thomas to become addicted to laudanum so that she is free to pursue other loves
and interests while maintaining her official position of power. She then switches her anger in
an anachronistic sleight of hand in this first decade of the twentieth century to the African
practices of l'excision and l'infibulation, telling her uncomfortable male listener, "Savait-il que
les peuples africains mutilaient le sexe fminine?" (34), and makes her Foyer a sanctuary for
wives fleeing beatings in their polygamous marriages. One young wife who murders her
abusive husband, the uncle of Koffi Ndizi, is protected in the Foyer and later becomes
C61anire's flaunted lover; even in public the shameless headmistress calls her young conquest,
'ma cocotte' and 'ma chdrie doudou' (84).
But just when she is the avenging angel for feminine justice, Ezili in revolt, her
arbitrary cruelty, as the betrayed love goddess, comes into play. She engineers the demise of
Hakim, an unfairly targeted young man uninterested in women, who dares to resist her appeal
even as he feels "ensorcel6," by her. He unfortunately is the only one to see her secret scar,
similar to the hapless young men in Antillean folktales who see the cloven hoof of the
diablesse. If he seems arbitrarily punished by her, he is joined in his death in a penal colony in
Cayenne by her adoptive father, also put there by Cl6anire who has more specific designs of
revenge in this case. The latter, called "Papa Doc," certainly with its Duvalierist connotations,
was, not unlike the infamous Haitian dictator, the first Guadeloupean descendant of slaves to
graduate from a French medical school. Nevertheless, in one of Cond6's playful intertextual
moves, he was also a devotee of Shelley's Frankenstein, and his ability to bring the almost-
sacrificed baby back to life was simply a testament to his own self-glorification. (And again
the Duvalier echo is apparent as the latter's tonton macoutes used vodou and played with the
living death threat of the zombie to terrorize the Haitian countryside and consolidate Duvalier's
power.) Like Victor Frankenstein, this Guadeloupean "Papa Doc" ignored and disliked his
creation, but unlike Shelley's monster, Cl6anire responded in kind. As an adolescent in
Guadeloupe she had tried to seduce this womanizing adoptive father who had neglected his
own wife, and then had him imprisoned for child abuse. At his trial, he mused, "comment une
innocent aurait-elle pu inventerpareilles horreurs? "(125), commenting finally, "En fin de
compete, peut-6tre n 'avait-elle besoin d'un peu de mon amour" (126).
Ultimately both of these men who betray her in love die in Cayenne when Cl6anire's
evident cohort, Maman D16, devours them, throwing what's left in the river. A water goddess,
who has crossed from Africa over to the Caribbean, she, like Cl6anire, is a seductress, virtually
a force of nature who plays with masculine self-deception. She sings to attract men and
consumes them in her "palais humide" (131). Having finished off these two betrayers, on her
triumphant return to Guadeloupe as the wife of the governor of the colony, C61anire begins a
dizzying series of subversions of that society as her revenge intensifies. After dispatching the
quimboiseur who directed her botched sacrifice and the b6k6 who commissioned it, she then
seduces the wife of a young lawyer determined to clear Papa Doc's name. This transpired as
another part of Cl6anire's vengeful project; on her return she was determined to improve the
educational, cultural, and even medical lives of Guadeloupean women. Through her music
school, the "Gai Rossignol," with its bi-lingual double entendre, her seduction of the young
wife succeeds via Vivaldi duets. Then when Celanire leaves her, having eliminated the latter's
husband's threat by being the Ezili who manipulates lovers of both sexes, the broken-hearted
Amaranthe returns to her neg-mawon community, refusing both her dominating husband and
then her equally domineering neg-mawon suitor as a result of C61anire's lessons. In the
mountainside community when her suitor tells her the story of C61anire's malevolent past
which involves the neg-mawon wife of "Papa Doc," Amaranthe "savait bien que ce rdcit
n 'tait qu 'unefable que l'on raconte auxfilles afin qu 'elles ne se mettentpas dans I 'idde de
choisir un maria et de vivre i leur covenance" (182) (knew quite well that this story was only a
fable that was told to girls so that they wouldn't think of choosing their own husbands and
living as they wished): She starts a music school alone and finally "elle ktait libre et gurie"
(182). And in Cond6's sly joke, Amaranthe teaches the classical Regina coeli in syncretic
combination with traditional music to the neg-mawon, who have been idealized for their
independence from European influences and their revolutionary zeal, even as the historical
record of maroon communities' relationships to the plantations was more complex and
Becoming even more outrageous, C61anire joins a militant lesbian organization called
"Zanmi," creole for "friend," and Caribbean slang for "lesbian,"20 creating a virtual island of
Lesbos with her new "presque blanche" poetesse lover Elissa as this organization (in 1907) sets
up Krdyol poetry contests. With the Dido echoes in her name, this lover is soon to be
abandoned as well, perhaps pointing to C61anire as a kind of"other" Aeneas. After discovering
the identity of her dead mother for whom she creates a cathedral, C6lanire finishes her revenge
in a wild Ezilije-wouj act. Yang Ting, her Chinese Guadeloupean father is finally located in
Peru. He is a pariah himself for his lack of African origins, (and Cond6 stresses his unfair
Ezili the Subversive: The Erotics of Maryse Cond6's Cdlanire cou-coupd
exclusion from Caribbean authenticity). This, however, made him no more sympathetic to the
positions of his mistress and baby girl, as he stole the latter from the former, (causing her
mother subsequently to go insane), and then sold C61anire to the bikd. So in a shape-shifting
furious finale, C61anire feigns a seduction of him as an adolescent South American beauty, and
then cuts him to ribbons. What shocked the neighbors most was finding "le sexe avait dtd
arrachd etplacd tel un cigare, dans la bouche entrouverte" (224). Finally, her piece de
resistance at the very end, perhaps as she nods ironically to the Virgin hovering around the
Ezili figure, is to ask for a baby from the hapless and quite shocked Thomas de Brabant, who is
still her husband, saying there is nothing left for her to be now but "une bonne m&re,"
obviously continuing her destabilizing lineage.21
To sum up, this novel demonstrates one of Conde's great skills when she is funniest
and rather sardonic she is often the most serious. The text was inspired by a real situation
similar to those mentioned by Mme. George Arnaud of the Union des Femmes Martiniquaises
et le Parti Communiste de la Martinique at the 2002 ACWWS conference when she discussed
the very difficult actuality of women throughout the Caribbean and asked for a renewed
commitment to a littgrature engagee. In this novel (as elsewhere) Cond6 does just that. She
exaggerates a traditional figure who is already mimicking the excesses produced by the linkage
between racism and sexism in the Caribbean history of slavery and colonialism. She does this
even as she shows how sexism was not purely a European creation. But she does so to reveal
how the lives of Caribbean women and girls are still at risk and how they may perhaps still
borrow from Ezili to resist.
SCond6 Maryse, Cdlanire cou-coupd, (Paris: Editions Robert Laffont, 2000).
2 "Order, Disorder, Freedom, and the West Indian Writer," Yale French Studies 83. 2
3 In this episode Cond6 seems to be evoking Flora Tristan, the nineteenth century feminist social critic and
writer who traveled to Peru for complex family reasons and wrote of her journey in Pdrigrinations d'une
paria, 1833-1834 2 vols. (Paris: 1838).
4 C6saire Ina, "La trade humaine dans le conte antillais, Prdsence Africaine,. 121-122 (1982): 144.
5 B6bel-Gisler Dany, Lionara: L 'Histoire enfouie de la Guadeloupe, (Paris: Editions Seghers, 1985). cited
by Ivette Romero-Cesareo, "Sorcerers, She-Devils, and Shipwrecked Women: Writing Religion in
French Caribbean Literature," Sacred Possession: Vodou, Santeria, Obeah and the Caribbean, ed.
Margaret Femindez-Olmos and Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, (New Brunswick: R6tgers UP, 2000). 254.
6 Warner-Vieyra Myriam, Le Quimboiseur I'avait dit. (Paris: Pr6sence Africaine, 1980). See Romero-
Cesareo's discussion of Warner-Vieyra's rendition of the diablesse, 254-55.
7 Romero-Cesareo, 253.
8 Dayan Joan, Haiti, History and the Gods, (Berkeley: UC Press, 1995). 59.
' See Leslie G. Desmangles, The Face of the Gods: Vodou and Roman Catholicism in Hait,. (Chapel Hill:
North Carolina UP, 1992). 131-145. Desmangles argues that Ezili is perceived as the "cosmic womb" and
in a more literal sense, she is invoked when women sing, 'Ezili you are the venerable one, oh!/Extend
your hand, give us children, oh!' (132). But the emphasis on the sexualized, vengeful, and beautiful
mulatresse in so many accounts of this lwa suggest perhaps that her maternal qualities may stem from the
Catholic desire to position her power within the framework of the Virgin. Dayan, for example, doesn't see
this fertility aspect of Ezili as significant (63).
" Fouchard Jean, The Haitian Maroons, trans. A. Faulkner Watts, (New York: Edward W. Blyden Press,
1981). for his discussion ofvodou adept Francois Makandal (320-21) and vodou priest Boukman Dutty
(339-343) and their role in the Haitian Revolution. That revolutionary hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines was
later said to have become a Iwa, the god Ogou Desalin, supports this link as well. See M6traux,Alfred, Le
Vaudou haitien, (Paris: Gallimard, 1958). 40-41.
12 See Karla Y. E. Frye," 'An Article of Faith:' Obeah and Hybrid Identities in Elizabeth Nunez-Harrell's
When Rocks Dance," Sacred Possession: Vodou, Santeria, Obeah and the Caribbean, ed. Fernindez-
Olmos and Paravisini-Gebert, 199.
13 Dayan, 72.
14 Fick Carolyn E., The Making ofHaiti: the Saint Domingue Revolution from Below, (Knoxville:
Tennessee UP, 1990). Appendix B, 265-266. She takes this material from the Lettre annuelle de L'Ordre
de Notre Dame.
15 Dayan, 56, note 127 re: St M&ry.
16 Dayan, 37, note 30.
1' Christiane Makward's comment is from her paper entitled "Ne coupez pas! On joue! Celanire, sujet
sexuel de Maryse Cond6," given at the 2001 Modem Language Association Conference in New Orleans,
in the Francophone Literatures and Cultures panel entitled, "Sexualit6s rebelles."
19 Fick comments on the maroon settlements in Jamaica, Cuba, Dutch Guyana and Brazil which were all
to some degree dependent on the colonial plantation society for recruits, arms, and ammunition, and often
agreed by treaty to cooperate with that society. In Saint-Domingue, however, marronage was somewhat
different and maroons did remain resistant to French offers, 54-55. Also see her account of the debate
between historians and sociologists from Fouchard, to Gabriel Debien, to Leslie Manigat, and Eugene
Genovese re: the role of marronage and its revolutionary effects in the Caribbean, 5-7.
Cond6's own Moi, Tituba,.sorciere ... Noire de Salem. Paris: Mercure de France, 1986. treats the maroon!
in a rather revisionary way, particularly regarding male behavior in maroon communities.
20 At the ACWWS conference (April 2002) this was mentioned a number of times by presenters on the
panel on "The 'Lesbian' in Caribbean Literature."
' Cl6anire does have some oddly maternal interactions with Ludivine, Thomas' daughter with Charlotte,
the unfortunate wife whom Cdlanire had dispatched earlier. Ludivine had heartily despised her
stepmother, yet when the latter almost dies after her wild Peruvian parricide, the adolescent girl considers
that it was Cl6anire who had introduced her to poetry and music and significantly, had taught her that "ce
n 'est pas malidiction d 'tre ndefemme" (232). As for this character's legacy, or maternal lineage, it is
interesting to note that "Cdlanire" was the name of Cond6's grandmother, with all the implications that
evokes. I am grateful to Christiane Makward for this information.
B6bel-Gisler, Dany. Lonara: L 'Histoire enfouie de la Guadeloupe. Paris: Editions Seghers,
Cesaire, Ina. La trade humaine dans le conte antillais. Prdsence Africaine. 121-122, 1982 :
CondO, Maryse. Moi, Tituba, sorcidre ... Noire de Salem. Paris: Mercure de France, 1986.
----- "Order, Disorder, Freedom, and the West Indian Writer." Yale French Studies 83, 2
------- Cdlanire cou-coupd. Paris: Editions Robert Laffont, 2000.
Dayan, Joan. Haiti, History and the Gods. Berkeley: UC Press, 1995.
Desmangles, Leslie G. The Face ofthe Gods: Vodou and Roman Catholicism in Haiti.Chapel
Hill: North Carolina UP, 1992.
Fick, Carolyn E. The Making ofHaiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below.
Ezili the Subversive: The Erotics ofMaryse Cond6's C6lanire cou-coupd
Knoxville: Tennessee UP, 1990.
Fouchard, Jean. The Haitian Maroons. Trans. A. Faulkner Watts. New York: Edward W.
Blyden Press, 1981.
Frye, Karla Y. E. 'An Article of Faith:' Obeah and Hybrid Identities in Elizabeth Nunez-
Harrell's When Rocks Dance." Sacred Possession: Vodou, Santeria, Obeah and the Caribbean.
Ed. Margaret Fernindez-Olmos and Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP,
M6traux, Alfred. Le Vaudou haitien. Paris: Gallimard, 1958.
Romero-Cesareo, Ivette. "Sorcerers, She-Devils, and Shipwrecked Women: Writing Religion
in French Caribbean Literature." Sacred Possession: Vodou, Santeria, Obeah and the
Caribbean. Ed. Margaret Fernandez-Olmos and Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert. New Brunswick:
Rutgers UP, 2000. 248-266.
Warner-Vieyra, Myriam. Le Quimboiseur l'avait dit. Paris: Presence Africaine, 1980.
La < malemort ) dans
Ton beau capitaine de Simone Schwarz-Bart
0 Mort, vieux capitaine, il est temps, levons 1'ancre !
Ce pays nous ennuie, 6 Mort, appareillons !
Si le ciel et la mer sont noirs comme de l'encre,
Nos coeurs que tu connais sont remplis de rayons !
Verse-nous ton poison pour qu'il nous r6conforte!
Nous voulons, tant ce feu brtle le cerveau,
Plonger au fond du gouffre, Enfer ou Ciel, qu'importe ?
Au fond de 1'Inconnu pour trouver du nouveau !
Par ce ponme de Charles Baudelaire, nous voulons border une lecture particulibre de
Ton beau capitaine (1987), illuminant sa dimension spirituelle. En effet, come Roger
Toumson I'a fait remarquer lors d'une session au huitibme congres de I'ACWW, la m6taphore
de la mort traverse la piece d'un bout a l'autre. Dans Les Fleurs du mal (1857), la Mort prend
l'apparition d'un bateau, image symbolique s'il en est dans l'imaginaire afro-carib6en. Le
Middle Passage se solda tres souvent par la mort de l'Africain. Dans les meilleurs des cas, il
s'agissait d'une d6possession total de tous ses biens, d'une mise A mort de son identity social,
familiale, religieuse, linguistique et culturelle, comme le rappela a l'instar d'Orlando Patterson,
Claude Meillassoux dans son Anthropologie de l'esclavage (106). Dans son Cahier d'un retour
au pays natal (1939), Aim6 C6saire 6grene une pl6thore d'images de morts, et l'agonie de la
cargaison comme la d6cr6pitude physique et psychique y sont < analyses o dans tous leurs
Nous vomissure de n6grier
Nous v6nerie de Calebars
Quoi, se boucher les oreilles ?
J'entends de la cale monter les mal6dictions enchainies, les hoquettements des
mourants, le bruit d'un qu'onjette a la mer... les abois d'une femme en g6sine... des
raclements d'ongles cherchant des gorges... des ricanements de fouet;.. des farfouillis
de vermine parmi des lassitudes... (62-64)
Le ph6nomene des boat-people et des r6fugi6s, probl6matique qui touche toute la
plankte aujourd'hui', comme l'illustre e.a. un num6ro special de la Revue bilingue Mots
Pluriels, est particulierement intense dan la Caralbe. 11 y connait une expansion inqui6tante qu
cependant fait rarement la une de la press outre-atlantique, voire des journaux du premier
monde. Cuba et Haiti souffrent d'un exode massif qui ne r6sout pas les soucis des immigr6s
une fois d6barqu6s dans leur < nouveau monde >. Das ces miles oi l'6conomie et la soci6t6 son
en crise, oh les regimes politiques sont instables ou invivables, plusieurs milliers de gens
d6sertent leurs pays pour aller A la decouverte d'un Eldorado qui se r6vele 8tre un pis-aller, un
enfer (Gyssels 2002).
La malemort dans Ton beau capitaine de Simone Schwarz-Bart
Face au desint6r&t des m6dias, il devient d'autant plus important que femmes et
homes de la Caraibe et des zones limitrophes se chargent de d6noncer cette traite n6griere
version modere, et que ce soit en plusieurs langues. Drames postcoloniaux, les noyades en
haute mer, les departs sur des embarcations de fortune sont pr6texte A des nouvelles (Edwidge
Danticat et son magnifique < Children of the Sea > dans Krik ? Krak!, 1995 et
Encancaranublado d'Ana Lydia Vega, 1983), des r6cits pour enfants (Harti-chgrie, de Maryse
Conde, 1991), du theatre (Simone Schwarz-Bart), de la po6sie (Rive-d'Haiti de Kamau
Brathwaite, 1995), roman-testimonio (Passages d'Emile Ollivier, 1992) et un road-movie o
maritime, le plus touchant que je connaisse sur les boat-people haltien, Continental Drift de
Russell Banks, 1985). Tous devoilent les ( affres du d6fi > (Frank6tienne) et autres gouffres
Quoique Ton beau capitaine soit une piece d'amour, come le soutiennent diff6rents
critiques et diff6rents metteurs en sc6ne don'tt Guy Lenoir), je d6voilerai le symbolisme
mortuaire particulibrement dense des quatre tableaux de la pibce. La dermire suvre schwarz-
bartienne, du moins jusqu'a cette date, confirmerait la nature profond6ment pessimiste d'une
6criture qui n'en finit pas de sonder la mort.
Aux Antilles, dans la mentality antillaise, la malemort d6signe la mauvaise mort.
Le romancier, philosophy et essayiste martiniquais Edouard Glissant intitulait pour cause son
deuxieme roman, le plus d6sesp6r6 Malemort (1975), constatant la ( drive > de la soci6t6
martiniquaise. La d6partementalisation de 1946, pourtant propose par le deputy C6saire, fait
des trois vieilles de l'empire francais colonial des colonies A vie. Ses habitants (les
Martiniquais, les Guadeloupeens et les Guyanais) sont depuis des assist6s o. II y aurait
beaucoup a dire sur ce mot d'assistanat measuress sociales, pareilles a celles en vigueur dans
l'hexagone), mais qui pour ma part a un relent d'accompagnement A la mort, ou du moins,
recelAnt une infirmit6, un d6clin. La < malemort > est aussi un 6tat d'Ame suite A l'inapaisable
mort, suite A une disparition tellement brusque que le travail du deuil n'a pas pu s'accomplir.
Une perte abrupte, intensifiee par I'absence de tombe, voire de cadavre, font que l'ame du
ddfunt est condamn6e a errer, au point de pers6cuter de jour et de nuit les parents et les
proches, tel qu' < aux temps anciens >> de l'esclavage.
Que peut cette notion conque au fondement de la soci6t6 creole, nourrie de mythes et
de l6gendes ayant trait au puissant culte des morts, comme l'ont montr6 les anthropologues
(Francis Affergan, 1983, Christian Lesne, 1995) ? L'impossibilit6 du deuil est un ph6nom6ne
societal r6el en des temps postmodemes: pensions aux g6nocides rwandais, pour lequel une
littirature d'ossuaire a 6t6 miSe en place, afin de faire oeuvre de deuil, de lieux de m6moire,
livesrs des ossements >. Dans des catastrophes oui les victims n'ont pas pu etre enterr6es,
reconnus, r6clam6es, la malemort rSde comme une blessure qui se cicatrise mal.
L'esclavage et la vie dans ce qu'Andr6 Schwarz-Bart appela des son premier roman
des universe concentrationnaires d6shumanise l'homme au point de semer la mort dans la
vie, de le transformer en zombis ou demi-morts. Ceux qu'on abjecte, A qui on d6nie la quality
d'homme, ont WtA au cceur des preoccupations des auteurs, et Wilnor, comme je l'ai montr6
ailleurs (Gyssels 2003), semble A maints 6gards A son tour un mort-vivant.
Dans le premier roman des Schwarz-Bart, une co-dcriture, les auteurs ont A dessein
choisi une Martiniquaise qui se meurt dans un asile A Paris. Elle est aussi alihnde que la
protagoniste de Mayotte Cap6cia qui publia en 1948 sa fameuse < pibce d'identit6 , intitul6e
Je suis.Martiniquaise. De plus, derriere l'histoire de Mariotte/Mayotte, entremel6e A la
description des derniers mois dans l'antichambre de la mort, se trouve une autre morte, Man
Louise. L'aleule n6grophobe symbolise < la vieille n6gritude qui progressivement se
cadav6rise , pour parler encore avec C6saire qui appela a en finir avec la gratitude et la
subaltemit6s n6gres. Par la disparition de cette grand-mre qui n'a fait que r6pandre le
complex d'inf6riorit6, instiller le venin des pr6jug6s de couleur dans sa propre famille, les
Schwarz-Bart, de concert avec Aim6 C6saire a qui ils ont demand son < avis de publication ,
exhortent a en finir avec 1'6ducation ali6nante et la politique assimilationniste qui fait des
Antillais des 6corches vifs, des agonisants tiraill6s entire des composantes identitaires et
culturelles que le colonisateur leur a inculqu6es comme incompatible et contraires.
Dans ce premier roman, plusieurs paragraphes d6noncent la banalisation de la
souffrance des personnel ages dans nos soci6t6s modemes, la d6sacralisation et
l'instrumentalisation de la mort dans un asile de vieillards parisien. Cela a 6t6 notamment
accompli & large 6chelle, comme l'ose rappeler une co-pensionnaire a la seule Noire de
I'hospice, par le < gazage > des << youpins > (77-8)! Andr6 Schwarz-Bart tisse les malemorts
juifs et antillais, t6moignant au nom de sa famille d'origine polonaise et de tous ceux perdus
dans l'autre holocaust.
Dans Pluie et vent sur T6lumde Miracle, c'est encore une femme qui se sait mourante
qui nous relate I'histoire de sa vie. Compar6 & Un plat deporc aux bananes vertes, ce roman
parait beaucoup plus optimiste : fibre <( aristocrate >>, la dernigre Lougandor met toutefois elle
aussi en relief l'insoutenable solitude d'Antillaises a l'heure de la mort. Aussi, c'est toute
l'incertitude quant a la continuity, quant a la transmission des savoirs et des croyances magico-
religieuses que les auteurs remettent en question.
L'ombre de la Mort plane encore dans Ti Jean L 'Horizon, oeuvre bien diffirente,
moins sociologique que bnythologique. Le h6ros voyage au Royaume des Ombres, ce qui n'est
autre que le s6jour des limbes, I'exact reflet du monde r6el habit d'esprits errants. (Modenesi,
2001 : 31-42). Quete initiatique, le parcours du dernier descendant du v6n6rable v congre
vert >, Wademba, sera pass par la quasi mort, avant de rentrer en Guadeloupe et de sauver les
ames errantes des < Egar6s >>.
Bref, cette solitude semble le lot des protagonistes schwarz-bartiens s'expliquerait en
parties par de profondes mutations dans la soci6t6 antillaise : la d6partementalisation 6tant le
ratage de la vraie voie d'6mancipation, la d6colonisation et l'ind6pendance, la famille (6tendue)
qui se d6sagrege sous les tensions externes ((nQo-) colonialisme, e.a.) et internes (violence
engendr6e par l'in6galit6 dans les rapports homme-femme, e.a).
Dan Ton beau capitaine, il est question de plusieurs morts et de diff6rents types de
morts mortt de l'amour, enfant mort-n6, mort des clandestins, etc). Tout inspire du th6itre n6,
la piece d6signe d'abord les transformations profondes qui se produisent dam un seul et meme
homme. La mutation non pas superficielle mais significative, le passage de la vie a la mort
sont sugg6r6s par la mascarade, meme si l'accessoire du masque n'entre pas en ligne de
compete. Etrangement, la premiere didascalie nous apprend tout de suite que le seul acteur en
scene, Wilnor, < peut 6ventuellement ftre jou6 par un homme blanc, teint6 ou porteur d'un
masque assez souple pour permettre de visualiser les movements de la bouche ; le corps de cet
home resterait blanc > (7). En 6liminant le masque et le maquillage blanc, la lecture du
symbolisme mortuaire a du coup 6t6 exclue. Dans 1'Afrique traditionnelle, le blanc est la
couleur du deuil et de la mort, ce qui nous sugg6rerait d6ji que Wilnor est un mort en sursis, un
< zombie > qui se parole a lui seul. De plus, le fait que Schwarz-Bart precise que, s'il porte un
masque, celui-ci devrait permettre de visualiser les movements de la bouche, entraine
automatiquement que l'accent soit mis sur la voix. Marie-Ange est << dsincam6e > sur sc6ne;
La analemort dans Ton beau capitaine de Simone Schwarz-Bart
elle n'est qu'une voix off,2 et elle arrive cependant A envofiter et A poss6der celui qui a
o toujours 6t6 consider par ceux d'en haut , par << Legba, Damballa Ou6do, ou peut-8tre
meme Erzulie Freda Dahomey, la bonne, la chhre, la si bonne et si chere (54), c'est-i-dire par
les loas. Etrangement, dans les representations (par UBU-Theater, A New York, par MC2a, a
Bordeaux), les metteurs en scene n'ont pas respect& cette indication sc6nique, et Wilnor a
toujours e6t joue par un acteur noir. Parfois meme, Marie-Ange 6tait sur sc6ne, interpretation
du texte qui ne satisfaisait non plus Simone Schwarz-Bart. Car toute la spirituality de la
sc6nographie, toute la croyance syncr6tique des personnages (vaudou et catholicisme) a etW
sacrifiCe au profit d'une dramaturgie plus terre A terre, drame des immigr6s, de families bris6es
Banni de sa propre soci6t6, vilipend6 dans une communaut6 inhospitalitre, m6pris6
m8me par les v balseros > cubains qui ont droit a un meilleur ( traitement > s'ils sont rep8ch6s
par la police c8tiere, 1'HaYtien est ( le moins que rien , come Wilnor se moque de lui-mAme,
avec beaucoup d'autod6rision. II est condamn6 A une existence sinistrement semblable A celle
de ses aieux, < res meuble >, comme le rappelle 1'article 1 du Code noir. L'existence miserable
que vivent les saisonniers dans c los bateyes > dominicains, les conditions pr6caires et
franchement scandaleuses dans lesquelles sont logs et nourris ces < migrants nus >, comme
appela Glissant les transbord6s (66), pouss6s A une migration clandestine sont une matiere
difficile pour des propos esth6tiques. Pourtant, Schwarz-Bart nous meuble dans la position
inconfortable de voyeurs, 6piant celui qui soliloque pour se donner l'illusion d'unbrin de
conversation. Wilnor se retrouve seul, de nuit, en Guadeloupe : il profit de ce r6pit pour
6couter la voix etheree de sa femme, une voix qui semble venir d'ondes surr6elles. II resemble
en cela A Francis Sancher ou Sanchez, on ne sait trop, dans le roman de v la traverse > (autre
allusion a un passage d'une vie A une autre ?) de Maryse Cond6 : d6test6 de tous, ce Colombien
ou Cubain, assassin ou trafiquant de drogues ou d'armes, meurt la tAte dans la boue, son livre
inachev6. Sa mort accidentee ne done pas moins lieu A une strange o veill6e mortuaire >. Le
lecteur se rend compete que les habitants de Riviere au Sel, r6unis par cet intrus, d6testent leur
bouc emissaire en inme temps qu'ils lui vouent des sentiments ambigus, tendres, voire
amoureux. Maryse Cond6 nous d6voile done, deux ans apres Ton beau capitaine la mentality
hargneuse et mesquine des Antillais A l'egard d'6trangers. Elle d6nonce une o insularity
insoutenable >> qui leur rend la vie scel6rate et ingrate dans son roman faulknerien qu'est
Traverse de la mangrove.
De meme, Ton beau capitaine pourrait bien 6tre un autre o tandis qu'il agonise :
nous voyons comment, en ce court laps de temps, Wilnor traverse des 6tats d'Ame tout A fait
opposes, qu'il endosse en quelque sorte plusieurs identit6s, avant de se d6masquer.
Accompagn6 du silence, de musique et de chor6graphie, ce masque n8 nous met face A l'in6dit
et l'indicible de la condition postcoloniale carib6enne aujourd'hui. L'extreme desolation et la
profonde d6tresse des immigr6s haltiens dans leurs pays d'accueil est palpable et en m8me
temps invisible, tant l'audition de la piece est un monologue double auquel le public n'a assisted
malgr6 lui, oblige dans la posture encombrante du voyeur qui aurait pr6f6r6 ne pas (sa-)voir.
Tableau I: L'annonciation de 1'Ange
En guise de salutation, la femme de Wilnor, ouvrier venu couper la canne depuis
bient6t trois ans en Guadeloupe, s'empresse de lui donner les toutes dernires nouvelles du
voisinage. Communiquant avec son maria A travers des cassettes parce qu'ils n'ont pas les sous
pour se thl6phoner et ne savent s'6crire des lettres, Marie-Ange est pourtant rest6e silencieuse
depuis trois mois. Lorsqu'il rentre fatigue de sa corv6e d'esclave, Wilnor 1'6coute pieusement.
Or, bien qu'elle prenne une voix gaie et qu'elle lui chante leur chanson i eux, Marie-Ange le
plonge dans de sinistres nouvelles. D'embl6e, le spectateur est inform d'une brflante
actualitW, a laquelle il aurait pu s'attendre non dans une salle de spectacles mais dans son
fauteuil devant la tl16. II s'agit de nous confronter des le premier acte aux p6rip6ties et aux
p6riples des boat-people, de leur disparition en haute mer. Voici done la d6peche ) de la
noyade de v compare Petrus > :
Cependant, je dois te le dire, h6las seigneur : ton ami Petrus s'est pour ainsi dire noy6,
perdu corps et biens, avec une trentaine d'ames qui essayaient de gagner les
Am6riques sur un radeau. Maman Petrus quand elle a appris la nouvelle, la vieille, le
sang lui a bouch6 les cordes vocales et elle est tomb6e par terre, soufflant comme un
La-dessus, Marie-Ange s'enquiert sur I'etat moral et physique de celui qu'elle
surnomme affectueusement ( beau capitaine > : en fait, le titre renvoie au masque, a une image
qu'on aimerait pouvoir coller sur quelqu'un. Ton beau capitaine ) est le titre que Marie-
Ange aimerait tant garder pour son homme, le masque qu'elle continue de vouloir poser sur le
visage de son home 6prouv6. Or, elle le devine abattu et pauvre, bien qu'il pr6tende le
contraire. Le paraitre des immigr6s parties travailler dans le premier monde est d6mystifi6 :
Je ne voudrais pas te contrarier, Wilnor, (...). Mais 1'homme qui m'a apport6 tes
commissions -merci pour 1'argent, Wilnor, merci (...), ce jeune homme-li m'a dit
que nos freres exil6s en Guadeloupe n'habitent pas des demeures a colonnades et
portail, mais plut6t, r6v6rence parler, des pots de chambre. (15)
Lui ayant appris la perte tragique de son ami, elle lui confie avoir fait un cauchemar
qui se lit comme un pressentiment de sa fin funeste, de sa mort proche:
Et cette mrme nuit-laj'ai fait un rave. D'abordje me suis vue en rivibre A laver ta
chemise de flanelle (...). Et tout a coup, je m'apergois qui suis en train de laver ton
corps vivant. (...) tu fondais entire mes bras et bient6t il n'y a plus rien eu dans la
chemise, Wilnor: elle 6tait vide, vide...
L'onirique n'est rien d'autre qu'un pressentiment de la disparition de son conjoint:
r6tr6ci du dehors > et r r6tr6ci du dedans >, tel est ce corps amaigri, momifi6, ce cadavre, ou
cet homme mis en biere dans la terre 6trangere, sans s6pulture autre qu'un drap blanc sur un
<< plancher>>, autre mot cr6olisant dans la pibce, lieu de la case qui replace le lit, et don't on fait
un cercueil. Dans le romanesque schwarz-bartien, la chemise mortuaire est omnipr6sente. Dans
Un plat deporc aux bananes vertes, Man Louise exige qu'elle soit habill6e o comme un
ange >, prate a partir au cieL Hortensia La Lune, la mere de la narratrice s'efforce d'acheter
cette chemise pour sa mere qui veut mourir < propre et blanche comme un flocon de neige >,
sous peine d'une < malemort >. Dans Pluie et vent sur Thlumge Miracle, T6lum6e lave elle-
m8me ses hardes, sentant que sa mort est proche. Se faisant toute propre, elle l'attend
sereinement, debout dans sonjardin. Elle s'habille de sa chemise mortuaire pour transiter vers
une vie meilleure oiu les affres ne l'atteindront plus.
Premiere tape pour tr6passer, le rituel de la chemise est done le dernier costume d'apparat, le
dernier rituel vestimentaire pour entamer l'autre vie, pour en finir avec les soucis et les d6boires
d'une vie terrestre miserable. En plus de la veill6e mortuaire, la chemise garantit une mort
serene apres la << d6veine du negre > et < les pluies et les vents ).
De m6me, dans la conscience collective antillaise, les reves sont toujours pris au
s6rieux, au point qu'on consulate un quimboiseur ou une sgancibre (Man Cia dans Pluie et vent)
pour se les faire interpreter comme de bones ou mauvaises augures. 11 est frappant que Marie-
Ange devine l'6tat de d6tresse et la profonde affliction qui frappe son mari. Exil6 depuis des
ann6es dans une ile pourtant voisine, mais peu fraternelle, Wilnor ne cesse pas moins d'etre
transparent pour sa femme. << Devineresse ), terme semi-spirituel pour la femme-pr8tre, Marie-
Ange est dou6e pour s'enquerir du bien-8tre physique et psychique de celui qui vit comme un
zombi dans une v ti-case >, qui se parole seul a lui-meme dans une nuit d'insomnie. Voulant le
gu6rir de cette zombification, Marie-Ange le prie de revenir. Elle emprunte l'image bien
schwarz-bartienne de la femme-barque qui embarque son homme pour un ailleurs, qui se laisse
gouverner par < son beau capitaine > :
Wilnor, je voudrais 8tre un bateau qui s'en va vers la Guadeloupe. La-bas j'arrive et
tu montes a l'int6rieur de moi, tu marches sur mon plancher, tu poses ta main sur mes
membrures, tu me visits de la cale a la cime du mit. Et puis tu mets la voile etje t'emmene
dans un pays loin, loin, tr6s loin. (19)
Dans a Etroits sont les vaisseaux > (chant IX, Amers), Saint-John Perse r6partit le mnme r6le
sensuel a l'amant (actif) et l'amante (passive), empruntant la voix feminine qui chante son
<< maitre de navire :
Mes dents sont pures sous ta langue. Tu peses sur mon coeur et gouverne mes
membres. Maitre du lit, 6 mon amour, come le Maitre du navire. Douce la barre
la pression du maitre, douce la vague en sa puissance. Et c'est une autre, en moi, qui
geint avec le gr6ement...
(...) Ah ne me soyez pas un maitre dur par le silence et par l'absence : pilote tres
habilement, trop soucieux amant Ayez, ayez de moi plus que don du vous-meme (...)
Bien que I'imploration de Marie-Ange se lise comme une expression d'un d6sir et
d'une invitation au voyage sensuel et a l'6change de caresses, Marie-Ange 6voque aussi un
ailleurs vague, un quelque part moins idyllique. Ainsi, I'expression cr6olisante < pays loin,
loin, trbs loin > pourrait designer la mort. D'ailleurs, a la fin de la pi6ce, Wilnor avoue i son
tour rever de partir pour des pays de plus en plus l6oign6s, de plus en plus 6tranges, 6tranges,
... > et qu'il a peur un de ces quatre chemins de ne plus retrouver le chemin du retour. > (50)
Ce pays loin, loin, tres loin est Guinee, le pays mythique des origins auquel il faut revenir.
Priant Erzulie Freda Dahomey et Damballa Ou6do, les loas, Wilnor veut retrouver le chemin
pour ce dernier voyage.
Eros et Thanatos sont inextricablement lies dans cette piece d'exil et de separation.
Voici ce que l'amour pourrait etre pour eux, si seulement ils pouvaient le vivre, dans la chair.
Moyen de transportation >, de transe, de depart: une barque qui les sauverait de la noyade, un
bateau qui les entrainerait vers des rives certes temporaires, mais toutefois idylliques.
Tableau II: v la consolation du nigre ,
Dans le deuxieme acte, Wilnor, sentant intuitivement que quelque chose de bizarre se
produit, report l'6coute de la cassette. II prend quelques lamp6es de rhum et
prononce une formule exorciste : o Si c'est une mauvaise nouvelle, elle ne perd rien i
attendre un petit peu; et si la nouvelle est bonne, elle n'en sera que meilleure. >> ( 23)
Marie-Ange lui avoue sa liaison avec le message, mais laisse planer le doute quant A
ses vrais sentiments. Car A vrai dire, I'homme l'a menace de ne pas lui donner l'argent de
Wilnor si elle se refusait A ses v volont6s >. L'allusion au chantage nous confront au tourism
de sexe, autte fl6au dans la Caraibe : les Dominicaines et les Ha'itiennes se prostituent a
Cayenne ou a Fort-de-France; le tourism de sexe prosptre A La Havane (voir le dernier
Houellebecq, Plateforme) et a Port-au-Prince (voir Eric Saner, texte public dans L 'Humaniti,
1999). Schwarz-Bart d6nonce cette << mise A mort de commares qui sont forces de vivre de
leurs corps3, de tuer toute aspiration a une passion vraie et constant, de tuer m8me ce qui
pousse dans leurs < ventures a credit >, image employee par la mere de T6lum6e.
Avec sa voix angl6ique, qui semble venir d'un autre monde, Marie-Ange lui apprendra
tous les details : tout dire, tout enfermer dans un linceul, c'est-a-dire la piece de toile avec
laquelle on ensevelit les morts. Dans la mise en scene par Guy Lenoir (< MC2a >, au GLOB-
thietre a Bordeaux du 3 au 6 juin 2003), ce detail fut particulierement mis en relief en couchant
Wilnor sous un drap blanc. Au debut du Tableau m, le spectateur a le regard sur le corps
enseveli de Wilnor qui, lentement, semble sortir du sommeil en 6coutant le ( testament > de sa
femme. Elle ose tout devoiler afin de s'expliquer et d'implorer le pardon de Wilnor. En m8me
temps, I'enveloppe que constitute le drap blanc peut 8tre associ6e a l'enveloppe en paper dans
laquelle on envoie d'habitude des missives, des mots doux et des mots d'adieux. Marie-Ange
dit des paroles d'adieu car elle se r6alise que pareille confession signe inevitablement la mort
de leur couple.
Tableau III: Jugement dernier
C'est dans une atmosphere d'apocalypse que Marie-Ange announce la fm de leur
concubinage. Les forces de la Nature venant A son secours, elle announce la v6rit6 fatidique
avec des resonances bibliques. Elle s'enhardit A lui rev6ler la fin de 1'histoire car Wilnor ne sait
Wilnor, beau capitaine, c'est aujourd'hui 17 mars, jour de la Saint-Valentin, midi au
ciel, mais on dirait minuit sur la terre, tout d'un coup on dirait. (Pause) C'est
aujourd'hui que notre chemin se termine, que notre manger brfile, que le toit de notre
case s'envole. (Pause) Et puisque nous allons nous s6parer, si, si, ne dis pas le
contraire, tu en as d6ej d6cid6 ainsi (...) me faut quand mAme raconter la suite...(36)
Non seulement elle a 6t6 dans le lit de ce parfait stranger, mais elle en porte l'enfant.
Ayant tent6 d'avorter elle-mame, Marie-Ange doit maintenant annoncer I'affreuse nouvelle
qu'elle attend un bitard. Schwarz-Bart a trait d'un seul movement quelques tabous de la
soci6et carib6enne et plus particulierement de la diaspora. L'immigration entrarme la discorde et
souvent le divorce de couples et la separation des families. L'immigration explique aussi le
grand nombre d'enfants qui grandissent dans des families d6cousues, et qui grandissent avec le
sentiment d'etre mal-aime.
Or, le sortilege de l'amour n'a pas dur6, et avec le depart de 1'amant, Marie-Ange a d6sir6 la
mort de l'enfant qui pousse dans son venture :
(...) le mardi 17 (...) ton image est tomb6e comme une 6caille de son front etje l'ai
chass6, je lui ai dit de quitter mon plancher. Je n'ai rien vu depuis lors. (Pause) J'ai
fait tout ce qui se doit pour fatiguer mon venture. (Pause) Finalement j'ai perdu la
moiti6 de mon sang et on m'a emmen6e a l'h6pital. (Pause) mais l'enfant n'est pas
parti avec mon sang, il n'est pas parti, Wilnor, il n'est pas. (Pause). Adieu (37)
Dupe de son aveuglement, ayant superpose sur le visage de son maria, tel un masque,
celui de 1'Ntranger, elle s'apergoit A present qu'elle s'est trompe. Le mot ( 6caille >, masque
16ger en plitre, renvoie une fois de plus A la fausse identity, au leurre, au parattre. Comme saint
Paul, apres avoir 6t aveugle, Marie-Ange comme Wilnor recouvriront pourtant la vue : < les
6cailles leur sont tomb6es des yeux >> et ils sont illumin6s. Apres avoir bu du rhum, < la
consolation du n6gre >, Wilnor se met a danser des danses de plantation (quadrille) ainsi que
des danses plus africaines (16roz). En m8me temps, il sublime par et dan son corps tout le
malheur qui vient de lui arriver. Tel un oiseau bless, il advance sur la scene et semble prier et
invoquer des esprits invisibles, des forces magiques. MC2a >> traduit trAs bien cette chute de
Wilnor: apres avoirjoyeusement dans6 le quadrille, apres s'6tre amus6 (imaginairement), il
s'envole pour tout A coup tomber violemment par terre. Le r6gisseur Guy Lenoir pensa
effectivement a l'allusion biblique (entretien, Bordeaux, le 5 juin 2003), et cette interpretation
spirituelle est done tout A fait pertinente.
S'6tant rendu compete de son erreur, Marie-Ange d6masque ce charmeur et le chasse
de sa case. Mais il reste de cette liaison more un appel a la vie, un enfant ill6gitime, v6cu
comme irreparable d6chirure entire les partenaires. L'Antillaise sait qu'elle ne dolt attendre de
l'homme le pardon pour une infraction A la fidilit6 conjugale, alors que les homes ( driven >
A droite et a gauche. Dramaturge qui ose le th6itre social, Schwarz-Bart sugg6re un nouvel
homme, comme elle l'avait fait dans Ti Jean L 'horizon (1979), puisque Ti Jean retourne, fiddle
A son premier amour, aupres de sa petite Eg6e Kaya.
Wilnor semble revenir sur sa decision. Ii se ravise et comprend les mobiles comme les d6sirs
de sa femme volage.
Tableau IV : Le tombeau du capitaine
Dans le dernier tableau, on assisted a une mutation profonde de l'homme trahi; de la
colere, reaction logique, il passe A la meditation et A l'illumination. Comme Mishima, Schwarz-
Bart met en scene << la confession d'un masque >. Dans Confession d'un masque, il 6tait
question de d6voiler son homosexuality. Dans Ton beau capitaine, il s'agit de d6voiler l'6tat
d6solant dans lequel v6getent les Haltiens, et comment ils sont traits par leurs o hntes o, et
encore comment 1'homme et la femme des communaut6s carib6ennes risquent de se mentir l'un
l'autre, sur leurs conquates amoureuses et sexuelles, sur leur aisance, etc, s'ils ne finissent pas
les vies d'emprunt qu'ils menent trop souvent, celles dict6es par la vision et le monde de l'ex-
ou du n6o-colonisateur.
Wilnor entame done A son tour ses aveux quant aux ventures et aux liaisons avec les
<< n6gresses falbala > et les << mulatresses zinzins > qui le < piquent comme des moustiques >. I1
n'en 6tait rien Bien qu'illes ait d6sir6es, aucune d'elles n'a voulu de lui, car il est: < leur
n6gre A eux, le nagre des nigres, si tu veux savoir, Marie-Ange. >(40)
Ayant tout dit, les mots < enferm6s dans un linceul >> (36), Wilnor brile la part de a ses
economies >> qu'il n'avait pas envoy6e. Ainsi, rendant plus qu'incertain son rapatriement,
mettant en cause la << survive ) de l'ouvrier, la dramaturge donnerait un denouement
malheureux. Car par cet acte d6sespr6, le retour en Haiti devient improbable, et Wilnor tue
dans 1'ceufle project d'agrandissement de leur petite case, l'achat d'une vache laitiere. Cet acte
commis dans un 6tat paroxystique, s'interpr6te comme l'exorcisation des valeurs capitalistes
que le premier monde et la colonisation frangaise lui ont inculqu6es. Sur cet autel-la, il a
sacrifi6 son amour pour Marie-Ange. C'est la fin de leur couple, la mort de leur amour. Ses
derniires paroles, enregistr6es sur cassette, sont des conseils de pere et des doux mots d'6poux:
Encore un mot, just une petite recommendation. Repose-toi maintenant au long des
jours que Dieu nous done. Ne te mets pas 1'ime en peine, si tu veux que l'enfant
rentre l'Ame en peine, et si tu veux que l'enfant rentre dans la vie du bon pied. (56)
Wilnor, apparemment fataliste, semble remettre Marie-Ange aux mains de Dieu qui
seul compete les jours de chacun. I1 signe ) cette dernisre lettre auditive par le titre affectif
que lui pretait sa femme: << ton beau capitaine > r6p6te-t-il sur un ton de plus en plus dubitatif.
En meme temps, le spectateur entend < tombeau capitaine : est-ce a dire qu'il faut enterrer
l'homme macho et le << capitaine o que les Antillaises ont toujours accepts, voire mime que
certaines continent de mythifier, au detriment de leur propre bien-Stre ? La piece aurait aussi
un message quant a l'6pineuse question de < gender > qui d6chire toujours les vies de couples
et de families aux Antilles: Wilnor devrait enterrer ce masque d'homme hroique, de
protecteur A tout prix, de s6ducteur et < paroleur o.
L'h6sitation grandissante avec laquelle il r6pete le titre exprimerait un abandon de
cette fausse identity que lui imposait la culture haitienne qui veut qu'a la cat6gorie biologique
du sexe corresponde une attitude dominant, un comportement machiste. Le visage cramponn6,
Wilnor se tord les bras et l'expression du visage est celle d'un mort, nous apprend encore la
dernire didascalie: le visage de l'homme est devenu pareil a un masque. Obscurity total.
On entend une derniere fois dans la nuit : Ton beau capitaine ? >
Est-ce un refus radical de jouer ce r1le ? Impossible de trancher, et tel est le g6nie de
cette piece masque : extr8mement polyvalente et polyrythmique (silences et paroles saccad6es,
chants et formules proverbiales s'enchainent et se succedent), elle se refuse a tout dire.
A l'heure oL je regois des brochures pour de luxueuses croisieres dans la Caraibe, a
destination de Key West et des Bahamas, lieux a forte immigration clandestine haitienne,
Schwarz-Bart part en croisade centre la dissemination des Haitiens qui se sentent deplac6s
(displaced). Marie-Ange se lamente dans une autre formule 6voquant un lieu qui n'est pas sur
ce monde : y a-t-il done pas un pays sur la terre oi nous Haiti on peut travailler, envoyer
quelque argent chez soi, de temps en temps, sans se transformer en courant d'air ? >> (19)
Travaillant pr6cis6ment souvent dans ces r6seaux de tourism, les Haitiens patient
souvent leur tentative de survive, par la destruction de leurs raves et de leur couple. Ton beau
capitaine est une piece d'amour et de d6samour, d'aveu et de d6saveu, de vie et de mort. Elle
laisse transparaltre l'echec d'une solidarity pan-carib6enne, tellement les stereotypes A 1'6gard
des HaYtiens restent forts. Que ce soit dans le bassin carib6en ou aux Etats-Unis, l'int6gration
de 1'Haitien bute centre des pr6jug6s, si bien qu'une identity transnationale se met en place4,
La (malemort> dans Ton beau capitaine de Simone Schwarz-Bart
constatent Glick Schiller et Feudon.
La fin ouverte souligne a quel point nous (lecteurs et spectateurs europ6ens et
amnricains) ignorons l'issue de ces drames, combien 1'existence difficile des Haitiens reste un
sujet in6cout6, combien on se voile la face. C'est la raison pour laquelle Russell Banks intitule
son dernier chapitre v Envoi n, un mot frangais par lequel, d6ji, il jette un pont entire le monde
anglophone (le continent amnricain, le premier monde, celui des lecteurs) et le monde
francophone d'Hafti, et qu'il nous exhorte A changer ce monde r6gi par le gain & tout prix :
-m8me si les HaYtiens continent d'arriver, et si un grand nombre d'entre eux sont
noyes, brutalis6s, escroqu6s, exploits, si le lieu d'oi ils viennent demeure plus
affreux que le lieu oit ils vont ; (...). Le monde tel qu'il est continue d'etre lui-meme.
On 6crit des livres romans, r6cits et po6mes bourr6s de details qui essaient de nous
expliquer ce qu'est le monde, (...) [Leur histoire] n'y changera rien. (...) Notre
c616bration de [leur] vie, la complaint que nous pouvons lever sur sa mort, en
revanche, le peuvent. (565-6)
Les tragedies restent caches, noy6es au fond de l'oc6an, les faces restent masques, A
moins que la litt6rature, telle que nous l'offrent Banks et Schwarz-Bart, produise ce
sabotage >> et cette subversion > (566) n6cessaires pour changer la face du monde et sauver
les boat people d'une malemort.
SVoir pour la zone maghr6bine Les clandestins de Youssouf Amine Elalamy (2000), Marocain qui vit &
New York et qui t6moigne des naufrag6s dans le detroit de Gibraltar. (voir le num6ro de la revue
bilingue Mots Pluriels, 2002)
2 Comme l'emploie aussi Marguerite Duras dans India Song et L Amante anglaise. Schwarz-Bart se
soustrait a une chosification de son personnage. Elle 6vite que la femme carib6enne ou hatienne
devienne une fois de plus objet du regard (voyeuriste, blanc et/ou noir), et qu'elle se r6duise a une voix,
seule, sortant ainsi de la subalterniti dans laquelle les auteurs I'ont trop longtemps enferm6e.
3 Pour une 6tude sociologique, on consultera Sun, Sex, and Gold: Tourism and Sex Work in the
Caribbean, (Kamala Kempadoo, ed, NY: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999).
4 Glick Schiller, Nina, Georges Eugene Fouron, eds, Georges Woke Up Laughing: Long-Distance
Nationalism and the Search for Home, (Durham: Duke UP, 2001).
Affergan, Francis. Anthropologie a la Martinique. Paris: Presses de la Fondation national de
Banks, Russell. Continental Drift. London : Hamilton, 1985. trad frangaise Continents a la
drive. Traduction par Marc Ch6netier, Lecture de Pierre Furlan. M6jean: Actes Sud. 1994,
Coll. > Babel >.
Baudelaire, Charles. Lesfleurs du mal. Paris: Ed de la Table Ronde, 1996.
Brathwaite, Kamau. Rive d'Harti. Trad frangaise par Christine Pagnoulle, ms. Dream Haiti,
Caribana no 3 (s.a.), New York: Savacou North, 1995.
Capicia, Mayotte. Je suis Martiniquaise. Paris: Correa, 1948.
C6saire, Aim6. Terugkeer naar mijn geboorteland. Cahier d'un retour au pays natal.
Amsterdam: Knipscheer, Ed Bilingue (frangais/n6erlandais), 1985.
Cond6, Maryse. Traverse de la mangrove. Paris: Mercure de France, 1989.
---------Haiti cherie. Paris: Bayard, 1991.
Danticat, Edwidge. Krik ? Krak New York: Vintage Books, 1996.
Glick Schiller, Nina, Georges Eugene Fouron, eds,. Georges Wake Up Laughing: Long-
Distance Nationalism and the Search for Home. Durham: Duke UP, 2001.
Glissant, Edouard. Malemort. Paris: Seuil, 1975.
-------Le discours antillais. Paris: Seuil, 1981.
Etudes Francophones 11.2 (1996) : 75-92.
----------< Krik ? Krak I d'E. Danticat: une litt6rature haitienne doublement exile o,
Ruptures, Revista de las 3 Amiricas 13 (1997): 187-194.
---- ~ Haitians in the City: Two Modem Day Trickster Tales %. Jouvert 7.1(2002),
---------- <'I talked to a Zombie': Displacement and Distance in Simone Schwarz-Bart's Ton
beau capitaine>, lci/la: Place and displacement in Caribbean Writing in French.
Mary Gallagher, ed, Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 2003: 227-251. "Cross/Cultures"
Houellebecq, Michel. Plateforme. Paris: Flammarion, 2001.
Lesne, Christian. Cinq essais d'ethno-anthropologie. Paris: L'Harmattan, 1995.
Kampado, Kamala, ed. Sun, Sex, and Gold: Tourism and Sex Work in the Caribbean. New
York:Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.
Meillassoux, Claude. Anthropologie de 'esclavage. Le venture defer el d'argent. Paris : PUF,
Modenesi, Marco. < Passage au pays des vaches bleues: la traverse du Royaume des Ombres
dans Ti Jean L'Horizon n, Ponti/Ponts: Langues et litt6ratures des pays francophones 1(2001):
Mots Pluriels. 4 R6fugi6s et clandestins ), 21, mai 2002, 6d Jean-Marie Volet
Ollivier, Emile. Passages. Montr6al: Hexagone, 1992.
Perse, Saint-John. Amers. Paris: Gallimard, Coll < Posie >, 1957.
Sarner, Eric. <( Le Nom de Dieu en Hadti %. L 'Humanitg. le 12 avril 1999,
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Visages de la femme salvatrice dans Tropiques Blues d'annick Justin Joesph
Visages de la femme salvatrice dans Tropiques Blues d'Annick Justin Joseph
L'exp6rience traumatique du people noir d6port6 sur l'autre rive de 1'Atlantique, par
del l'espace du Milieu, et 1'exp6rience de 1'esclavage projetant son ombre mal6fique sur cette
diaspora qu'Amiri Baraka d6signait come < le people du Blues >, ont amen6 nombre
d'icrivains issues de cette tribu de Cham a r6actualiser, avec une grande force expressive, des
figures litt6raires que le Romantisme europ6en avait projet6es hors de la conscience
individuelle des artistes : images du d6sastre ou du d61uge primordial, < soleils noirs > de l'exil
et de la m6lancolie, trag6die de la passion christique, d6faillances de l'histoire contrebalanc6es
par des mythes messianiques et salvateurs.
Dans Tropiques Blues (toutes les citations dans ce texte sont de Tropiques Blues.
Paris : Ed. du G.E.P.,1991) recueil po6tique d'Annick Justin Joseph paru en 1991, sont ainsi
rendus lisibles les signes annonciateurs d'une nouvelle ere, d'une nouvelle Eve, i travers les
indices reliant en pointill6s une suite de representations mises en abyme selon la perspective
suivante : la blessure intime de 1'etre, d6saccord6 d'avec lui-mnme, s'approfondit dans la
c6sure de 1'histoire; une histoire actuelle et universelle percue comme la fin d'un cycle -fin de
saison, fin de partie- permettant d'interroger les chances d'un renouvellement human:
L'6re adamique fat debout
N6e du sommeil du premier coeur.
Quand le soleil se cachera de nouveau
Jusqu'a bannir pour un temps tres long
Le calendrier du deuxibme ccur
Qui nous rendra complices de 1'amour de nous-memes ? (30)
Par-dela le desastre
La mort du vieux monde, pr6alable a toute renaissance, se decline avec la fin de tous
les alibis, avec le d6pouillement des oripeaux don't la modernit: a revetu ses fantasmes : la
raison qui blesse la r6alit6 sensible, ou la d6tourne d'elle-meme, si bien que < La terre r6sonne
de nous-memes plus intelligent que clairvoyants > (5); les vaines prises du d6sir fix6 sur un
objet que colorie et magnifie la fievre colonisatrice : << Les lines rousses de l'occident
encadrent un ob6lisque (24) ; le nihilisme bavard impuissant ai combler 1'amer d6sastre /
D'un sablier ) (19) ; l'absurde guerre don't la saison < s'achave en l'6treinte suicidaire de deux
araignies voraces ) (5).
L'auteur de Tropiques Blues prend d'embl6e ses distances par rapport au topos
litteraire antillais du guerrier ou du rebelle, don't Patrick Chamoiseau nous donne l'ultime
avatar dans Biblique des derniers gestes. Chez elle nul besoin de ruser avec l'histoire, fQt-ce en
spiritualisant la violence aggressive ou en m6taphorisant les representations des combats, des
revolutions ou des conqu6tes. Dans le monde in6dit d'une 6criture feminine parturiante, les
puissants sont cong6di6s par le rire et les Grands Navigateurs de jadis ramen6s a leur d6risoire
royaut6 semblable a une enfance sans joie, malgr6 ses privileges:
Les petits princes d'un matin sec
Apprivoisent une boussole...
En vain. (20)
Ne reste, face au chaos et a l'6parpillement des signes, qu'une presence feminine
imm6moriale, < une femme / Aux allures de statue ancienne ) (31), une femme salvatrice
6voqu6e dans sa dimension inaugural :
La n6cropole des visages doubles
Le sourire immobile
D'une femme qui salue le matin (19)
Cette Eve nouvelle ne surgit pas dans l'oubli des Iges pr6c6dents, mais garde la
memoire opaque et sensible des homes disparus, de ceux du moins qui refuserent de se laisser
envelopper dans le linceul de pourpre du soleil d6clinant:
En la monte cr6pusculaire de mille morts
Des dessins neufs
Des musiques sans rives
Qui hanteront le duvet magique
D'un soleil d'or (23)
La voix que l'on entend ici fait 6cho i celle que Rimbaud nous laisse entendre dans son poeme
< Barbare > des Illuminations : < O Douceurs, 6 monde, 6 musique [...] et la voix feminine
arrive au fond des volcans et des grottes arctiques ). (Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations).
Mais la po6tesse antillaise, tout en renouant avec les mythes humanitaires du XIXe
siecle; c6l6brant par example le < chiffre de race > d'une commune destine entire << citoyens
d'une terre d'6change > (18), n'h6site pas a pr6cipiter son lecteur, par une ellipse temporelle et
une dissonance stylistique, au coeur de l'histoire contemporaine :
Le caid a sa m6me
Et la rue ses lois.
Les vendeurs de crack au soleil
Ont trouv6 la mer.
Tout le long d'un passage oblige
A l'ombre des strateges et des publicit6s (20).
Visages de la femme salvatrice dans Tropiques Blues d'Annick Justin Joseph
La violence de Pintime
A 1'espace symbolique de la femme, situ6 en limited des lieux de la guerre, sont
annex6s tous les territoires de l'art et des traditions oi << marronne > l'esprit cr6ateur, oi la
sagesse rejoint le savoir-faire des Antilles : de < nos orfevres et musicians, tailleurs de pierre et
comediens, nos conteurs, nos tambouy6s > (4).
Annick Justin Joseph d6finit ainsi un monde don't sont bannis les armes et les peurs, oiu
sont admis les etres poss6dant la clairvoyance du cceur, < 6pris de tact depuis toujours > (26),
un monde d'heureuses synesth6sies :
Les voix se touchent
Dessinent des paysages
La lumiere se pose
Of elle doit
Sur la gorge ou le cceur
Comme un insecte l6ger. (12)
Seuls s'en excluent les mendiants d'illusion 6pris d'inessentiel : < tant pis pour les faux
giants > (4) II suffit de presque rien pour que les valeurs s'inversent ou se d6precient. Les
6clats de rire peuvent traduire l'euphorie du < guerrier sanguinaire >, ou bien lib6rer toute
l'intensit6 intdrieure, cette violence de l'intime a quoi se rapporte toute la po6tique de
Tropiques Blues : < L'instant de rire est un gu6pard >> (6).
Dans ce recueil, la < Barbaric > qui d6signe m6taphoriquement, comme chez de nombreux
pontes du XXe siecle successeurs de Claudel, l'insurrection de la sensibility, 1'irr6pressible 61an
vers l'absolu, la violence d'aimer et la force pure dissolvant toutes formes de complaisance, est
lihe par oxymore a l'extreme fragility :
La barbaric se drape de lichens aussi fins
que les cils d'un nouveau-ne.
Elle observe les fronts hauts
De ceux qui bavardent d'amour (9).
Dans cette alliance des contraires se constitute le noyau de l'ceuvre : une g6n6rosit6 du
don telle que s'en voient absous les erreurs et les exces. De la procede un 6loge des ventures et
des errements du cceur, <
Les masques de la v6rite
Actrice, metteur en sc6ne, femme de theatre, Annick Justin Joseph sait d'expdrience
que la sinc6rit6 des emotions transit par la mediation du corps et du paraitre ; et cela dans un
jeu d'6change entire les diff6rents plans de l'espace, comme si la totality du monde 6tait co-
pr6sente en chacun de ses 616ments. La th6itralit6 du monde n'est plus alors interpr6table
comme un simple miroitement des surfaces, mais telle une provisoire v6rit6, un mentir vrai
aussi fugace que poignant:
La fragility sensuelle du mensonge
Telle une queue de 16zard bl8me
La poudre des loges
Le masque et la v6rit6
Entrent en scene
Chaque parole se choisit un gite
Une fois le rideau tomb6
Au lieu secret de sa naissance (36)
Dans ce lieu po6tique ou le paradigme th6itral fait foi et oi le sens est immanent aux
formes, dans ce lieu magique, les gestes, les postures, les actes transforment le corps en un
significant pur :
Que le feu
Protege (39) 2
11 s'agit done d'un corps metamorphos6, 6th6rique, habit par l'esprit:
Corps segment de lumiere
Une pens6e model6e
Ardente et droite
Beau navire secret
Dujour fragile de la parole (32)
Le rythme, indissociable d'une musicality qui est elle-meme ( measure de l'essence >
(13), fait oublier la representation grace A une illusion -illumination, ou, selon la formule de
Ren6 Char, < 1'6motion instantan6ment reine >. Ainsi se retrouvent en 6troite collusion
l'imaginaire et la sensibility morale, pour une recomposition de 1'8tre:
Une A une
Les v6rit6s s'ordonnent
Au d6clic de 1'image (13)
La marque antillaise de ce donner A voir est lisible dans l'intime felure qui,
projet6e dans le drame et sur la scene, devient une difficult d'8tre et un scandal ontologique
quintessence du << blues ). A la revendication existentielle, inconsol6e, de CUsaire : < J'habite
une blessure sacr6e ) (Moi Laminaire), semble r6pondre 1'aveu suivant, sous forme
L'acteur vient A la sc6ne