Suk, Jeannie. Postcolonial
Paradoxes in French Caribbean Writing. Oxford: Clarendon Press,
2001. 206 pp.
work on postcolonial theory and literature represents a major
undertaking. Situating her study in postcoloniality's margins,
Jeannie Suk endeavors to explore the paradoxes of Caribbean,
francophone literature as well as to trace its evolution and
supporting theories through various works by Aimé Césaire,
Édouard Glissant and Maryse Condé.
Writers of the French Antilles,
who inhabit a cultural mid-point between France and Africa, lend
themselves, argues Suk, to Homi Bhabhas emphasis on the
liminal space of encounter between self and other. Suk thus focuses
on three such spaces geographical, tropological and psychic
as well as on the importance of allegory to postcolonial
expressions of border crossing and nostalgic longing. According
to Suk, allegory's dual strategy of masking and revealing is harnessed
to an effort to reconstruct the gaps and lost voices in postcolonial
history. She thereby offers fresh
and insightful alternatives for addressing the crisis of
representation of those who live and write in the in-between
spaces of postcoloniality.
Suk begins her study by drawing connections between Baudelaires
poetics of distance, difference and return and the interconnectedness
of authenticity, alterity and anteriority in Antillean allegory.
Basing her analysis on the seminal works of Césaire and
Glissant and the Suk draws on the central themes of departure,
crossing, and a return to origins. For example, in Césaires
"Cahier dun retour au pays natal," Suk examines
the paradox of "retour" as a means of establishing identity
and recovering history. The impossibility of return intersects
with the necessity of border-crossings both literal and
metaphorical and both engenders and hinders creativity
in a space often characterized by failure, discontinuity and trauma.
A thesis that Suk supports throughout the book is that the successful
Antillean writer needs the alterity, externality--a perpsective
from "a necessary elsewhere" offered by crossing and
returning. That is, distance engenders nostalgia and fosters a
notion of authenticity. Departure implies arrival elsewhere, providing
a vantage point from which to contemplate. Crossing itself becomes
the creative space in which identity is formed.
Suk goes on to examine the Antillean identity, drawing on Glissants
Le Discours antillais for an epistemological model based
on missing origins, indirect approaches and repeated departures.
Glissant's "antillanité" as an in-between space
leads to reflections on the absences and discontinuties of Antillean
history. Suk also follows the evolution of négritude
to antillanité by moving from the Retour
of Césaire, to Glissants idea of "détour,"
which shifts focus away from "origins" (or the loss
thereof) to a "point d'intrication" where ancestry,
languages and cultures have converged. That is, Glissant makes
use of these historical gaps in a productive rather than
negative way. Suk develops the idea of traumas a paradoxical model
because horrific events are both suppressed and ever-present.
Glissant's notion of "détour" thus offers a process
for the painful but necessary reconstruction of memory in the
absence of a collective one. The détour is characterized
not by arrival, but by the in-between space of repeated departures.
The paradoxical rupture of departures leads to a connection with
others, permitting Antilleans to learn of their history through
referential relationships with the histories of other Caribbean
Moving from theoretical works to the creative expression of créolité,
Suk focuses on archetypal returns in two works by Maryse Condé.
Both novels offer scenarios of female travelers from Guadeloupe
to Africa via France. Each feels alienated in African culture
and disillusioned by the independence of the 60s. Suk thus examines
division, distancing, and failed returns as well as the role of
Africa as the (failed) space of "retour." In Hérémakhonon,
for example, the protagonist, Véronica, seeks a pre-slavery
people without traumatic history to remind her of her fragile
identity and discontinuous history. Her return to Africa fails,
however, because she cannot control the boundaries of time. Her
return is haunted by both the present and past.
Marie-Hélène, the protagonist in Condés
Une saison à Rihata, remains in Africa. Like Veronicas
painful memories constantly invading the present, Marie-Hélènes
past and present sins and tragedies plague her family and generate
feelings of guilt and blame. Colonization emasculated men, but
decolonisation brought the double result of freedom and a rupture
with tradition. Suk argues that Condé's Africa is the site
of both a preoccupation with origins and an anxiety about discontinuity.
She develops Derridas claim that trauma, followed by rupture,
creates the necessity and possibility for writing and history.
In Allegory, Sorcery, and Historical Rewriting: Moi, Tituba,
Noire de Salem, Suk examines Condés
historical novel about a Barbadian slave who was tried during
the Salem witch trials. The novel attempts to fill in the gaps
of history caused by the displacement of slavery and the biased
accounts of the colonizer. Suks focus is again on the use
of allegory as a means of approaching historical truth. The autobiographical
style gives voice and power to Tituba, who was previously silenced
from history. Condés self-erasure from the narrative
effectively reverses the role of traditional historians who speak
from an authoritative position; her use of allegory permits a
rewriting the symbolic boundaries imposed by the colonizer.
In the last chapter, Representing Caribbean Crossings: Traversée
de la mangrove, Suk studies the Antillean literary use of
the individual to represent of the collectivity as well as Condé's
innovative themes, writing style and gender politics. Suk challenges
Françoise Lionnets remark that Antillean writing
is developing a rootedness. Although the crossing
in this novel is the mangrove with its twisting roots rich in
metaphors, Suk illustrates that Condés work is filled
with irony, distance and renewed departure. Suk also questions
the logic of Chamoiseaus Eloge de la créolité,
which functions on the binary of male-female hierarchy and privileges
the male: We will always be the sons of Aimé Césaire.
If créolité is gendered masculine, Suk counters,
then it confronts the feminine in the form of traumatic space.
This unreadable space needs to be explored; the voices need to
be heard to become a part of the Antillean historical narrative.
Suks provocative study moves between theory and literature
with clarity and ease. Students of francophone, postcolonial,
and African and Caribbean studies will appreciate her direct and
systematic approach to the complexity of the paradoxes Suk examines.
Experts in the field will find excellent notes and references
as well as helpful suggestions for further study. The
paradoxes identified by Suk will no doubt generate further scholarly
interest in Antillean as well as postcolonial studies.
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