3 / Rhythm, Music, and Identity in L'appel des arènes and Ti Jean L'horizon
As we travel through space and time, rhythm and music provide us with meaningful points of reference and relation. Although we remain physically grounded in a perpetually shifting present time frame, such suggestive sounding phenomena mentally transport us to alternate temporal and spatial contexts. I experience this in my own life on a regular basis. Last Saturday, for example, I was at a bon voyage party for a very dear friend when Craig David's 2001 single “Walking Away” came on the sound system. Although I was enjoying a very present moment with friends, sharing experiences and creating memories in a specific time and place, David's single reminded me of my time spent in Keur Momar Sarr, Senegal, in the summer of 2001. It was a song I had heard many times over the course of that summer and, upon hearing it, I was struck by a flurry of memory impressions.
In particular, the song reminded me of an enjoyable yet ill-fated weekend I had spent in Louga, the setting for Aminata Sow Fall's L'appel des arènes. Since it was the closest city to Keur Momar Sarr (about 50 kilometers away), I traveled to Louga every now and again to buy supplies that weren't readily available in the village. I liked the feel of Louga—it was unlike any other city I had ever visited before. It had a really working-class feel, and it reminded me of Detroit in many ways (my family is from southeastern Michigan), albeit much hotter and less desolate. Craving interaction and activity, I found myself drawn to the bustling marketplace in the heart of the city where shoppers could buy pretty much anything—foodstuffs, fabric, car parts, cosmetics, household items, livestock, electronics, and bootleg cassettes and CDs—as long as the price was right. Near the marketplace, there was a tiny nightclub called Le Millionnaire whose name still makes me smile every time I say it. When I first came upon Le Millionnaire, it had been a while since I had enjoyed urban nightlife, so I made it my personal mission to go there.
One weekend, Soda Diouf, a woman from my village, invited me and another woman to spend the weekend with her family in Louga. I gladly accepted her invitation. That Friday, we all piled into the back of a cramped makeshift public transport truck and started off on the road to Louga. Upon our arrival in Louga, we traveled the short distance to Soda's family compound. Once there, we were greeted with two heaping plates of ceebujën prepared by the co-wives of the family and some water. The ceebujën was delicious, but of course, more than I could possibly eat. It was a hot, dry day, and I remember drinking plenty of water from the family's water pump. I was under the (mistaken) impression that Louga was serviced by the same water treatment facility as Keur Momar Sarr.
Later that night, I went out to eat with Soda and some friends at a dibiterie.1 As we enjoyed a delicious meal of grilled lamb with a mustard sauce and fried potatoes, I heard Craig David's voice singing “Walking Away” over a crackling radio. A few of us even sang along to the familiar refrain. The song is sad but hopeful, narrating David's decision to move on in the wake of an unhappy relationship. Nevertheless, the story of the song wasn't what resonated to me at the time. Rather, it was a combination of David's strong and beautiful voice and the plaintive yet hopeful life-is-hard-but-beautiful tone of the song that appealed to me. I was really enjoying the moment—an ideal combination of good food, good company, and good music—but that didn't last long. At some point in the dinner, it suddenly felt as if the room was starting to spin. I felt dizzy and nauseous. Concerned, Soda and her friends accompanied me back to the compound. It didn't take long for me to realize that I was falling terribly ill, so I took some high-octane medicine and spent much of the night in bed.
The next morning, I was still feeling down and out, but I wanted to make the most of my weekend with Soda and her family. I laid low for most of the day, sharing stories in French and practicing my elementary-level Wolof with Soda's relatives in between frequent naps. I was trying my best to recuperate in time for the “pinnacle” event of the weekend—a night out at Le Millionnaire. Still feeling I bit shaky, I somehow managed to gather my forces for a night of music and dancing with friends, and I'm so glad I did. We danced for much of the night as the DJ played a great variety of music, ranging from Senegalese mbalax2 artists like Youssou N'Dour, Coumba Gawlo, and Viviane; Senegalese rap and hip hop artists like Postive Black Soul, Bideew Bou Bess, and Daara J; and American, French, and British rap and R & B artists like Snoop Dogg, Eve, MC Solaar, and Craig David. This time when I heard “Walking Away,” I was smiling and dancing, enjoying a memorable night out with friends.
I heard David's song so many times that summer that I have now come to associate it with my 2001 Senegalese experiences. Of course, “Walking Away” is not the only song that brings me back to northern Senegal in 2001. There are others, like Youssou N'Dour's “Birima,” Wyclef Jean's “911,” and just about any song with a dialgaty rhythm.3 Although the mbalax and dialgaty songs are born of Senegalese musical traditions and innovations, Craig David's and Wyclef Jean's songs represent influences from Europe and the Americas. The ensemble of songs—each individually associated with its own set of subjective memory impressions and emotions—conveys the multiplicity of musical styles and influences operating in twenty-firstcentury Senegalese popular culture. When I hear them, something kicks in my mind that brings me back to that particular place and time.
As we travel through space and time, sound-and song-associated memory impressions serve as meaningful points of reference, connecting the distant spaces and epochs of past memories and experiences to our present frames of reference. Effectively orienting us in the present while linking us to past, these sounding cues help us come to understand who we are and how we relate to other people and the world. In the two novels we explore in this chapter, Aminata Sow Fall's L'appel des arènes and Simone Schwarz-Bart's Ti Jean L'horizon, rhythmic and musical phenomena serve as important elements in shaping the struggle to negotiate autonomous identity configurations in the respective zones of twentieth-century Senegal and Guadeloupe. Filled with the sonorities of instrumental and vocal music, the rhythms of drumbeats, the sounds of quotidian work and chores, and the random noises of everydayness, both novels resonate with intricate layers of sonorous polyphony. For Nalla, a young Senegalese boy trying to gain a sense of self in a changing Senegal, and Ti Jean, a young Guadeloupean man who struggles to find himself as he embarks on a quest of epic proportions, rhythm and music operate as important agents of identification. Often functioning as audible points of reference, divergent rhythmic and musical signals contribute to the fluctuating senses of malaise and uncertainty both protagonists experience as they attempt to navigate identificatory divides separated by distant spaces and disparate epochs.
In analyzing the relationships among rhythm, music, and identity in L'appel des arènes and Ti Jean L'horizon, we introduce but also revisit a number of important theoretical elements in this chapter. Following a brief discussion of theories regarding rhythm, music, and subjectivity, we also examine the importance of dialogism in the novel in light of the various linguistic, oral, and musical elements that Sow Fall and Schwarz-Bart incorporate into their respective texts. We direct further attention toward developing the conception of the novel as a transpoetic transcultural space, a texted space in which diverse aesthetic, linguistic, and sociocultural elements intermingle. In these imaginative conceptual spaces, Sow Fall and Schwarz-Bart open zones for communication and exchange in which dominance hierarchies are deconstructed, and where autonomous identities are (re)negotiated, (re)configured, (re)appropriated, and (re)affirmed. A space of pure possibility, the transpoetic transcultural space draws inspiration from a variety of theoretical models, namely Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's Rhizome, Édouard Glissant's Relation, and Paul Gilroy's Black Atlantic, all of which are reconsidered in addressing questions of identity in L'appel des arènes and Ti Jean L'horizon. In exploring the implications of the simultaneous quest for and questioning of identity experienced by both Nalla and Ti Jean, it is important to examine sounding linguistic, rhythmic, and musical elements, and determine how they operate as agents of identification with implications both inside and outside the space of the text.
For Ti Jean, the young hero of Schwarz-Bart's text, rhythmic and musical cues serve as meaningful signposts, marking significant points along his path throughout his epic journey. After a beast with seven heads swallows the sun and the island of Guadeloupe, keeping local residents and landmarks captive in its belly, Ti Jean sets off to save his homeland, his mother, and his beloved Égée. Simultaneously searching for a sense of self while disoriented in space and time, Ti Jean wanders through disconnected spaces and disjointed epochs. Indiscernibly sliding among the realms of reverie and reality, Ti Jean travels to faraway places—both lands and dreamlands—and witnesses multiple histories—both actual and alternate—through the course of his journey. As he makes his way to an unknown destination, losing himself in a seemingly endless series of real and imaginary spaces, a sense of complete confusion results, as everything Ti Jean knows or believes to know is called into question. Unwittingly thrust into a quest for identity, Ti Jean is compelled to question the very nature of identity itself. Lost amidst the blurry boundaries that distinguish the self from the other, the past from the present, and fact from fiction, in embarking on his quest to save the people and places he knows and loves, Ti Jean must also renegotiate a sense of self.
Traveling to Africa, Europe, and the Antilles during the course of his journey, Ti Jean's voyages parallel those of Schwarz-Bart's own life, which led her to spend time in France, Senegal, and Switzerland in addition to her family's native Guadeloupe. Born in 1938 in Charentes, France, to a teacher mother and a soldier father, Schwarz-Bart returned with her family to Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, at the age of three. After spending her childhood in Guadeloupe, she relocated to Paris, where she completed her university studies and met her husband, André Schwarz-Bart, who encouraged her to write. After co-authoring Un plat de porc aux bananes vertes (1967) (A Plate of Pork with Green Bananas) with her husband, Schwarz-Bart published two novels independently, Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle (1972) (The Bridge of Beyond) and Ti Jean L'horizon (1979) (Between Two Worlds). Resonating with the sonorities of Antillean music and orality, both texts approach questions of identity in Guadeloupean cultural contexts. Schwarz-Bart has also written Ton beau capitaine (1987) (Your Beautiful Captain), a one-act play that deals with the problems of racism, migration, exile, and longing, and Hommage à la femme noire (1989) (In Praise of Black Women), a multivolume encyclopedic work she co-authored with her husband. Her most recent work appears in the anthology Nouvelles de Guadeloupe (2009) (Short Stories from Guadeloupe), in which stories by Schwarz-Bart, Gisèle Pineau, Ernest Pépin, and Fortuné Chalumeau explore complicated dimensions of Guadeloupean identities in twentieth- and twenty-first-century contexts.
Drawing upon Antillean oral traditions, Schwarz-Bart's title character, Ti Jean, is inspired by and named for a prominent figure in Afro-Antillean folklore, Ti Jean. Like another protagonist of Creole folktales, Compère Lapin (Brother Rabbit), Ti Jean is a cunning character who uses ruseful tactics to subvert the authority of those who try to oppress him. As Raphaël Confiant describes, unlike their African counterparts including the Wolof Leuk (Rabbit), who typically works “à préserver et à renforcer la cohésion du groupe, du village ou de la tribu” (to preserve and reinforce the cohesion of the group, of the village, or of the tribe), prominent Antillean protagonists like Compère Lapin and Ti Jean “développe tout au contraire une philosophie du ‘chacun pour soi’ faite de ruse, d'hypocrisie et de cynisme” (Confiant 1995, 8) (develop on the contrary a philosophy of “every man for himself” made of ruse, hypocrisy, and cynicism). Although there are multiple oral and transcribed renderings of the Ti Jean cycle of tales, as Fanta Toureh explains, there are points of commonality that connect the varying accounts of Ti Jean's exploits: “Les contes, textes oraux indépendants les uns des autres, renferment des points communs…Ti Jean, dans l'imaginaire populaire, incarne la ressource individuelle face à l'ordre répressif” (Toureh 1986, 180) (Folktales, oral texts independent from one another contain common points…Ti Jean, in the popular imaginary, incarnates individual resourcefulness in view of repressive order).
In Creole Folktales, Patrick Chamoiseau presents his own rendering of a popular Ti Jean story, a transcribed version of the oral folktale.4 In Chamoiseau's adaptation of the folktale “Ti Jean L'horizon,” Ti Jean tricks his cruel béké (a Creole term historically used to designate a wealthy white landowner born in the Antilles) “godfather”5 into accepting a death by way of drowning in a sack in the ocean after escaping a similar fate himself. Ti Jean's close call happens at the beginning of Chamoiseau's rendering of the tale, when his béké “godfather” attempts to dispose of the clever and rebellious young man by convincing him to travel to the bottom of the ocean tied up in a cloth sack in search of great riches. Suspecting his godfather's nefarious intentions, Ti Jean cuts a hole in the sack and manages to escape after being left to die in the ocean. Upon his surprising return, Ti Jean fabricates a story to tell his “godfather” about the bountiful treasures he found in the depths of the ocean. Seeking to secure the wealth for himself, the greedy and gullible béké volunteers to be bound up in a sack and thrown into the ocean—where he dies—freeing Ti Jean, his family, and his community from his tyranny.
The motif of the crafty and revolutionary individual who fights injustice for the greater good of himself, his family, and his community is common to Chamoiseau's rendering of the “Ti Jean L'horizon” folktale and Simone Schwarz-Bart's novel. For her part, Schwarz-Bart acknowledges the influence of local storytelling traditions on her writing. In an interview with Isabelle Constant, Schwarz-Bart explains how her novel was born out of the folktales her family told her when she was a child:
Ah, Ti Jean L'horizon est un conte créole très court. Mon oncle me racontait toujours l'histoire. Tous les soirs il aimait nous effrayer, quand nous étions enfants, enfin moi il m'effrayait, c'était réussi, il me racontait toujours l'histoire de la vie qui s'achève et l'histoire de l'enfant qui s'en va à la recherche du soleil…Il était suffisamment persuasif pour nous faire douter même de la réapparition du soleil du lendemain. Et je suis partie de ce petit noyau là pour faire mon conte à ma façon. (Constant 2002, 112)
[Ah, Ti Jean L'horizon is, in short, a Creole folktale. My uncle used to always tell me the story. Every night, he loved to frighten us, when we were children, he ended up scaring me, he succeeded, he always told me the story of life that is ending and the story of a child who goes out in search of the sun…He was sufficiently persuasive in making us even doubt the reappearance of the sun the next day. And I took off from this little kernel in making the story my own.]
Although she credits Antillean oral traditions as a source of inspiration for her novel, in crafting her version of the Ti Jean story, Schwarz-Bart accords her Ti Jean with positive, altruistic character traits. Although clever like his folktale counterpart, the Ti Jean of Schwarz-Bart's novel uses the power of ruse to achieve a positive result for his family, his community, and his island, much like the Senegalese Leuk.
A timeless struggle, the quest of the individual to displace an oppressive authoritarian presence as a means of gaining personal autonomy and reconciling questions of identity is a theme that translates well across time and space, regardless of oral or written genre distinctions. As Kathleen Gyssels suggests, although Schwarz-Bart's Ti Jean L'horizon is born out of a rich tradition of orally transmitted tales, she nonetheless succeeds in crafting “un roman prolifique…qui pose des questions modernes, voire modernistes, à l'audience” (Gyssels 1996, 10) (a prolific novel…that poses modern, even modernist questions to the audience). In writing about Ti Jean L'horizon, Schwarz-Bart acknowledges the complicated dimensions of the questions she presents, characterizing her novel as “une aventure extraordinaire, une histoire d'amour, une histoire de sorcellerie, un ouvrage de science fiction…mais…aussi une quête de l'identité, un voyage que j'aurais fait au bout de ma nuit antillaise pour tenter de l'exorciser” (Ti Jean, back cover) (an extraordinary adventure, a love story, a magic story, a work of science fiction…but also a quest for identity, a voyage that I would have made at the edge of my Antillean night in an attempt to exorcise it.)
Invoking the shrill screams of the ghosts of the islands as a means of confronting questions of identity in Antillean contexts, Ti Jean's hallucinatory quest, equally nightmarish and dreamlike, seeks to negotiate the protagonist's pursuit of an autonomous sense of identity in an ever-changing world. Guided by unknown forces, Ti Jean's voyage leads him across vast distances and disparate times, obscuring the domains of reverie and reality as he attempts to discern some sense of self, some sense of truth amidst the prevailing climate of confusion and crisis. Ultimately creating what Bernadette Cailler refers to as “une H(h)istoire nouvelle” (Cailler 1982, 289) (a new [his]story), Ti Jean must negotiate the distances that separate real and imaginary spaces as well as the intervals that dissociate past, present, and parallel times to establish his own frames of reference and develop his own hopes for the future. Throughout the course of his travels, rhythmic and musical cues play important roles, serving as signposts that help to orient the young hero in familiar and unfamiliar territories as he aimlessly wanders on his quest for (and consequent questioning of) identity.
Although manifest in a different text and context, Sow Fall also explores questions of identity through the motif of voyage in L'appel des arènes. For Nalla, the young protagonist of Sow Fall's novel, journeys through space and time are primarily configured through oral stories told to him by and about the people in his life. As relatives and friends share their memories and experiences with him, Nalla is compelled to confront the conflicting perspectives and problems of the adult world. An only child born to parents who repatriated to Senegal after spending several years in Europe, Nalla suffers from feelings of isolation, particularly after his mother forbids him from playing with neighborhood children she finds distasteful. When Nalla later finds companionship and guidance through Malaw, a national wrestling hero, his parents are quick to scorn his growing interest in the culture and traditions of one of Senegal's primary sporting pastimes. Divided among his love and respect for his unyielding parents, his affinity for Senegalese customs and history, and his desire to arrive at some sense of identity—to feel some sense of belonging—Nalla must negotiate the spaces and times etched in his imagination by the words of others.
Described by Madeleine Borgomano as “une émouvante quête pour réintégrer le paradis perdu” (Borgomano 1984, 55) (a moving quest to return to paradise lost), Lappel des arènes traces Nalla's path as he travels about the city from day to day in search of a sense of self and a sense of belonging in postcolonial Senegal. Written in 1973, in the decade succeeding Senegalese independence, the novel presents conflicting visions of a changing country, as seen through the eyes of the young protagonist and his parents. Set in Louga, an important trading crossroads in the brushlands of northeastern Senegal, the novel attempts to reconcile divergent philosophies, perspectives, and cultural practices in constructing new visions of individual and regional or national identities. Strongly driven by representations of rhythmic and musical phenomena, particularly by repeated references to the intricate rhythms of drumbeats, Nalla's identificatory quest causes his father, Ndiougou, and his mother, Diattou, to reassess their own attitudes and experiences, which effectively plunges them both into a state of identity crisis. In the end, one parent emerges with a renewed sense of self, while the other ends up on the brink of self-destruction. Not surprisingly, it is the one who opens his ears, his mind, and his heart to the rhythms of the tam-tams who finds happiness, and the one who closes her ears, her mind, and her heart to the vibrant drumbeats who meets with despair.
Like Schwarz-Bart, Sow Fall draws upon local popular culture and oral traditions in crafting the story of Nalla and his simultaneous quest for and questioning of identity in postcolonial Senegal. Prominently incorporating representations of vocal and musical performances in her descriptions of Senegalese wrestling, and evocations of oral storytelling traditions in her characterizations of familiar and friendly interactions, Sow Fall insists on the importance of rhythm, music, and orality throughout L'appel des arènes. Such motifs resurface in Sow Fall's larger body of literary works, which includes the novels La grève des bàttu (1979) (The Beggar's Strike), L'Ex-pére de la nation (1987) (The Ex-Father of the Nation), Douceurs du bercail (1998) (Sweetness from Home), and Festins de la détresse (2005) (Banquets of Distress). In these novels, Sow Fall explores dimensions of identity and authority while examining cultural traditions, language practices, and social problems in an ever-changing Senegal. In a more recent text, Un grain de vie et d'espérance (2002) (A Speck of Life and Hope), Sow Fall considers cultural perspectives and practices in essay form, reflecting on the art and joy of cooking and eating in present-day Senegal.
Born in Saint-Louis, Senegal, in 1941, Sow Fall spent her childhood in Saint-Louis and then Dakar, where she completed her secondary education. Although she completed her licence de lettres modernes in Paris, she returned to Senegal in 1963, where she resides today. In addition to her career as a writer, Sow Fall has worked in education, been involved in local organizations, and served on multiple advisory boards, including, but not limited to, the Commission Nationale de Réforme de l'Enseignement du Français (National Commission to Reform the Teaching of French), the Bureau Africain pour la Défense des Libertés de l'Écrivain (BADLE) (African Office for the Defense of Writer's Liberties), and the Centre International d'Études, de Recherches et de Réactivation sur la Littérature, les Arts et la Culture (CIRLAC) (The International Center for Studies, Research and Reactivation on Literature, Arts and Culture). Sow Fall founded the Centre Africain d'Animation et d'Échanges Culturels (CAEC) (The African Commission of Cultural Activities and Exchange), an organization that seeks to promote education, discussion, and debate on cultural, literary, and intellectual topics and that houses subsidiary organizations for African writers, anthropologists, interpreters, and translators. Committed to culture, education, and the arts, Sow Fall's work as a writer, an educator, and an activist demonstrates her lifelong engagement to serve as an advocate for Senegalese political, linguistic, and cultural policy issues on local and international levels. This commitment is readily apparent in L'appel des arènes, in which Sow Fall examines personal and social dimensions of identity as Nalla struggles to negotiate a sense of self in postcolonial Senegal.
Rhythm, Music, Subjectivity, and the Novel
In exploring the roles of rhythm and music in the novel, let us return to the idea that rhythm and music can operate as languages in their own right. Whether characterized as explicit, encoded systems classified as drum languages and literatures, or abstract, expressive compositions that suggest rather than describe, the expressive capacities of music should not be overlooked, particularly within the frame of the novel. Returning to Jacques Derrida's view of écriture, one that is open to “oral, vocal, musical, rhythmic or prosodic” phenomena (Derrida 1996, 124), the complex interrelationships between writing, language, and identity take on new dimensions. In this respect, Derrida shatters the rigid binary categories that attempt to polarize and oversimplify notions of written and oral, Occidental and Oriental, and the self and the other, among others, freeing subjects to negotiate the complicated conceptual spaces situated in-between and beyond limiting binary constructs. Reminding readers, “Notre question, c'est toujours l'identité” (31) (Our question is always identity), Derrida later characterizes his conception of écriture as a transgressive “mode of appropriation”:
L‘“écriture”, oui, on désignerait ainsi, entre autres choses, un certain mode d'appropriation aimante et désespérée de la langue, et à travers elle de tout idiome interdit, la vengeance amoureuse et jalouse d'un nouveau dressage qui tente de restaurer la langue, et croit à la fois la réinventer, lui donner enfin une forme (d'abord la déformer, réformer, transformer), lui faisant ainsi payer le tribut de l'interdit ou, ce qui revient sans doute au même, s'acquittant auprès d'elle du prix de l'interdit. (59–60)
[“Écriture,” yes, we will designate it as such, among other things, a certain mode of loving and hopeless appropriation of the language, and through it of every forbidden idiom, the loving and jealous vengeance of a new dressage that attempts to restore language, and believes at the same time to reinvent it, to finally give it a form (first to deform, reform, transform it) making it also pay the toll of the forbidden or, that which no doubt returns to the same, repaying to it the price of the forbidden.]
Filled with the freedom of possibility, for Derrida, rhythm, music, and other forms of what he refers to as écriture are subversive primarily in their capacity to approach that which is forbidden, that which escapes the confines and conventions of language. Whether written, recounted, sung, drummed, or played on instruments, such écriture is fundamental to the process of identification, transferring the authority of language to the écrivain—the writer, the storyteller, the singer, the drummer, or the musician. Typically defined as the French term for writer, in this context the term écrivain designates an individual who practices écriture, regardless of its genre or form. Whether manifest in the prise de parole, the prise de plume, or the prise de pilon, écriture is always a prise de pouvoir. When considered in this light, a prise de parole involves the act of speaking, a prise de plume the act of writing, and a prise de pilon the act of producing percussive rhythmic phenomena. Each act is also a prise de pouvoir, an act of empowerment with the potential to disrupt hegemonic authority by opening zones in which existing dominance hierarchies are neutralized and deconstructed, spaces in which autonomous identity configurations are conceived and negotiated.
Accessible by both the écrivain and his or her readers, viewers, or listeners, the space of écriture initiates, and even necessitates, dialogue. Whether transmitted and received through an audio mechanism, a visual medium, or a combination of the two, écriture serves as a two-sided interface, bridging the divide that traditionally separates the écrivain from his or her audience. As such, through écriture, in all of its various shapes and formats, the écrivain solicits the involvement and engagement of audience members. Regardless of the conditions of performance or mode of production—whether a reader is seated in front of a text, or a spectator is standing in front of a live performance—the audience is compelled to act upon perceiving and receiving écriture. In following with Maurice Merleau Ponty's assertion, “Perception est toujours action” (Merleau Ponty 1969, 90) (Perception is always action), an écrivain‘s reader, viewer, or listener is always active so long as he or she remains engaged with the écriture in question. The activity of the audience, whether implicit or explicit, serves to magnify the impact of the écrivain’s initial prise de pouvoir, perpetuating the cycle of communication, exchange, and negotiation in the time and/or space of écriture as well as in the extratextual realms of boundless possibility it creates.
When transposed in the frame of the text, rhythm and music are placed in a fixed context, both spatial and temporal. Even so, despite the contextual permanence implied by the set blocks of type on the written page, the fluid, ephemeral qualities of rhythmic and musical elements clearly resonate from the writer through the text to the reader, promoting a polyphonic aesthetic, the exemplification of what Mikhail Bakhtin refers to as “orchestration.” In this respect, in crafting a polyphonic narrative, the writer serves as a composer-conductor, interspersing the multiple layers of rhythms, voices, music, and noises that resonate in the minds and the ears of the readers. As Michael Holquist explains: “Bakhtin's most famous borrowing from musical terminology is the ‘polyphonic’ novel, but orchestration is the means for achieving it. Music is the metaphor for moving from seeing…to hearing…For Bakhtin this is a crucial shift. In oral/aural arts, the “overtones” of a communication act individualize it…The possibilities of orchestration make any segment of text almost infinitely variable” (Holquist 1981, 430–31). As Holquist affirms, the process of orchestration opens the text to a seemingly limitless range of possibilities. Since the activation and interpretation of an orchestrated text depend on the active involvement of its reader(s)—a double engagement implicating the processes of seeing and hearing—the possible readings of texted sounding phenomena are multiple and manifest. Varying in speed, volume, pitch, intensity, and complexity, among other categories, texted rhythmic and musical representations undeniably differ from one reading to the next, even in instances when the reader remains constant.
Bakhtin's implication of the reader in the multiple processes of reading, hearing, interpreting, and individualizing a polyphonic text corresponds with Henri Meschonnic and Gérard Desson's theory of intersubjectivity based on rhythmic analysis. An elaboration upon Meschonnic's theory of lecture-écriture, a method by which the reader “writes” his or her interpretation of a particular text through the active process of reading, intersubjectivity involves the reader in the interconnected tasks of rhythmic analysis and interpretation. Asserting that, upon reading a text, the reader encounters two interrelated subjectivities, that of the text-as-subject and that of the reader-as-subject, Meschonnic and Dessons argue that rhythm provides a primary basis for the interconnected text-based and reader-based systems of subjectivity. Thus, for Meschonnic and Dessons, in the space of the text, the task of rhythmic analysis plays an integral role in the negotiation of meaning:
Une analyse de rythme n'est donc pas n'importe quoi. Conduite dans le texte, mais par lui, elle se fonde sur une réalité intersubjective (une relation entre un texte-sujet et un lecteur-sujet) qui peut être, chaque fois, décrite concrètement. Cette réalité, qui appartient au texte dans le moment de la relation qu'il suscite n'est pas un sens caché, qu'il s'agirait de découvrir, mais une valeur qui s'invente, d'une invention qui révèle le texte a sa propre inventivité, à sa propre capacité d'invention, c'est-à-dire à sa capacité d'inventer la lecture qu'on en a. Cette inventivité est la part d'infini historique qui fait qu'un texte est une oeuvre, et continue d'agir comme une oeuvre, bien après qu'elle a été écrite. (Dessons and Meschonnic 1998, 188–89)
[An analysis of rhythm is therefore not just anything. Driven in the text, but by it, it is based on an intersubjective reality (a connection between a text-subject and a reader-subject) that can be, each time, concretely described. This reality, which belongs to the text in the moment of the connection it sparks, is not a hidden meaning that must be discovered but a value that invents itself, of an invention that reveals the texts in its own inventivity, in its own capacity for invention, that is to say, in its capacity to invent the reading that one has. This inventiveness is the part of historical infinity that establishes that the text is a work, and continues to act as a work well after it has been written.]
For Meschonnic and Dessons, rhythmic elements, by way of their flexibility and variability, escape the static rigidity of fixed one-to-one interpretations. The reading(s) of the rhythm of the text and the rhythms in the text are completely dependent on the activity of the reader. As he or she engages in the capacity of a reader-subject with the text-subject, the reader is transported by the rhythm, not toward some predetermined meaning, but rather, toward innovation and inventiveness. Thus, a reader's willingness to engage with the text and the rhythm of the text contributes to the overall experience of reading, receiving, and interpreting a polyphonic written work.
Rhythm and Identity in L'appel des arènes
Inextricably bound up with notions of identity and the politics of identification, the representational capacities of rhythm and music seem limitless. Extending into the domains of politics, religion, language, culture, and ethnicity, rhythmic and musical phenomena often serve as audible cues that signal group affiliations and aspirations of belonging. Charged with multiple nuances and messages, a single melody or cadence is laden with the potential to speak volumes. Since this capacity is common to both vocal and instrumental musical styles, it is not necessarily the voice that communicates the message, as Derrida affirms through his vast designation for the term écriture. Although song lyrics comprise an important component of many musical styles and can be interpreted much like prose or poetry, the instrumental and rhythmic components of songs are filled with expressive elements that evoke emotions and communicate messages in their own right. While such sounding phenomena are subjectively received and processed by individual listeners who each interpret audible cues according to their unique set of experiences, impressions, and relationships, at times, rhythmic and musical elements are invoked to indicate group affiliations, audibly fortifying the ties that connect individuals to the collective whole of a group. Affirming group associations in a variety of domains including, but not limited to, politics, nationalities, religions, ethnicities, cultures, and subcultures, rhythmic and musical cues play significant roles in shaping the politics of identity. Even so, just as familiar music and rhythms have the power to include, unfamiliar rhythms and songs have the power to exclude cultural and/or subcultural outsiders. Whether used to include or exclude, in both L'appel des arènes and Ti Jean L'horizon, such audible elements prominently figure into the texts, serving as meaningful points of reference as Nalla and Ti Jean embark on their respective identificatory quests.
For Nalla, who marvels at the thought of everything related to wrestling—the history, the lore, and the excitement of battle—the recognizable rhythms of the arena's tam-tams mentally transport him to the space of the arena. The mere sound of drumbeats in the distance creates a heightened state of distraction for Nalla, as all of his thoughts are directed toward the total sensorial experience of the arena and its rhythms. Abandoning himself to the faraway rhythms, at times, “Nalla se sent vibrer comme le tamtam fou, fou, fou” (Appel, 15) (Nalla feels himself vibrating like the crazy, crazy, crazy tam-tam). At other times, he feels as if he “vi[t] au rythme des arènes, et se grisant de l'air des arènes” (15) (is living to the rhythm of the arena, and intoxicating himself with the air of the arena). So filled with respect and admiration for the wrestlers and their craft, not just in combat but also in crafting and performing bàkk—boastful verses in which the wrestlers sing about their familial lineage and their skills in battle—Nalla dreams of one day becoming a great wrestler like Malaw, his friend and mentor.
For Nalla's parents, the echoes of tam-tams also elicit the sounds of the arena, although their impression of the wrestling subculture is far from favorable. When confronted with his son's apparent obsession with the call of the arena, Nalla's father, Ndiougou, refers to the tam-tams as “frivolités” (frivolities), and Nalla's interest in wrestling as a “caprice d'enfant” (child's caprice) (70). Later, when Nalla reveals his desire to become a great wrestler, his father tries to dissuade him, offering the young boy a bicycle, a motorcycle, and even a car, provided that he abandon his newfound interest in wrestling (112–13). Unlike Nalla, who idealizes the wrestling subculture evoked by the echoing rhythms of tam-tams, his father, Ndiougou, and his mother, Diattou, frown upon the music and everything it represents—the traditions, the sport, the athletes, and the fans.
While for those outside of the arena, the rhythms of tam-tams act as audible signals that announce the inevitable rise and fall of wrestlers on a dusty battlefield, for those inside of the arena, the driving drumbeats serve a greater purpose, fortifying spectators and combatants alike. An integral part of the rites and rituals of wrestling, the rumbling tam-tams represent the “call of the arena,” where the wrestlers dance and sing before engaging in battle in front of a crowd of cheering spectators. Also described as the “appel de la terre” (139) (call of the earth), the vibrant drumbeats summon spectators to the space of the arena, inviting them to participate in an important social ritual with implications that extend well beyond the range of sport. More than a mere accompaniment to the actions taking place therein, the tam-tam serves a multiplicity of purposes in the space of the arena. Aside from the initial announcement or invocation, performed as a means of welcoming spectators and competitors to the big event, a variety of drums including tamas (28) and tam-tams carried on shoulder straps (37) resound throughout the day.6 Effectively narrating the drama taking place on the playing field, musicians frequently shift the mood of the music, at times playing “morceau[x] mélancolique[s]” (150) (melancholy piece[s]), and at others, beating out harsh, “rauque” (raucous) rhythms (151) on their instruments. As the long hours between the first and final matches wear on, musicians direct and maintain the energy of the audience, varying the volume, style, and intensity of their performances in view of heightening the level of excitement in the moments before each match begins. Similarly, for the wrestlers, the ever-present tam-tams of the arena seem to provide a source of strength, like a powerfully charged superhuman pulse.
In L'appel des arènes, Sow Fall most effectively demonstrates the significance of rhythm and music in Senegalese wrestling through her portrayal of Ndiougou's experience as a member of the crowd. Emphasizing the dual importance of vocal and instrumental genres, Sow Fall fills the space of the arena with multiple layers of sonorous polyphony, infusing the text with a resonant sensibility. Far from ornamental, these prominent rhythmic and musical elements play a fundamental role, not only in directing the energy and activity inside the arena, but also in raising questions of identity with implications both inside and outside the space of the arena.
Resistant to wrestling and the proletarian subculture that surrounds it, Ndiougou, a prominent physician, reluctantly enters the arena in the hopes of salvaging his relationship with Nalla, his only child. Completely unprepared for all of the sights, sounds, sensations, and emotions the day has in store for him, Ndiougou enters the arena with the sole intention of observing Nalla, if only to assure himself that the boy is still capable of enjoying himself in spite of his deep and lingering depression (147). Ticket in hand, Ndiougou is instantly overwhelmed by the size of the crowd and the heat of the midday sun. As he searches for a place amidst the oversize crowd, his initial sensation is one of intense physical discomfort:
Prenant son courage à deux mains, il s'est engagé dans la bousculade et, tel un navire en perdition, il a suivi passivement les bonds et les ressacs de la foule. Il a échoué dans les arènes. Elles sont pleines à craquer. Impensable de chercher à monter sur la tribune couverte. Il a eu la vertige: la grande foule et la chaleur accablante. Il a fermé un moment les yeux, le temps que son étourdissment passe. (149)
[Taking his courage with two hands, he went in to get knocked about, like a ship in distress, he passively followed the back and forth motion of the crowd. He was stranded in the arena. It was so full it was bursting. Unthinkable to try to go up to the covered stand. He felt dizzy: the large crowd and the oppressive heat. He closed his eyes a moment, the time for his dizziness to pass.]
As Ndiougou enters the arena, Sow Fall privileges tactile sensorial elements, insisting on the physical malaise he experiences as he seeks to find his place in the crowd. Later, as Ndiougou wanders about, completely disoriented, sensorial elements remain at the forefront, emphasizing his physical and psychological discomfort amidst the sea of bodies that fill the arena. It is only after he finds a seat next to one of his colleagues, a nurse named Sogui, that he begins to relax, opening himself up to the power of the music in spite of his attempt to maintain a detached, objective air.
Throughout the day, music fills the space of the arena, washing over the crowd like sonorous ocean waves. Despite variations in genre and style, the rising and falling swell of music builds in size and strength from one match to the next, serving to heighten the level of energy and enthusiasm both in the crowd and on the playing field. By the time the much-anticipated final match between Malaw and Tonnerre is set to begin, the level of excitement and anticipation has reached a fever pitch. As Ndiougou sits, anxiously awaiting the onset of the main event, he is jarred by the sound of a flurry of thundering drumbeats:
[T]out à coup, Ndiougou s'est demandé s'il n'était pas victime d'une hallucination. Les tambours rauques du Sud ont roulé comme une tornade et il a vu se dresser simultanément des milliers et des milliers de branches d'arbres portant leur feuillage touffu, au milieu des hourras. Comme une fôret qui se lève et qui danse. Le spectacle est fascinant. Ndiougou en a senti son souffle s'accélérer. (151) [Suddenly, Ndiougou wondered if he wasn't the victim of a hallucination. The raucous drums of the South rolled in like a tornado and he simultaneously saw thousands and thousands of tree branches standing up, wearing their leafy foliage, amidst cheers. Like a forest rising and dancing. The sight is fascinating. Ndiougou felt his breath quicken.]
As the sounds of drumbeats fill the space of the arena, the crowd rises to its feet, immediately responding to the “call of the arena,” the “call of the earth,” with a frenzied barrage of cries and cheers. In the blink of an eye, in the beat of a drum, the crowd has completely transformed. The jubilant crowd dances and cheers, exchanging the restlessness of anticipation for the joy of celebration, simultaneously adding resonant layers of sounding voices and body movements to the infectious rhythms of tam-tams. At first, Ndiougou is so stunned by the spectacle that he doesn't believe his eyes and ears. When he realizes that he is not the “victim of a hallucination,” Ndiougou surrenders himself to the rhythms of the drums and the movements of the crowd. Imbibed with the energy of the arena, Ndiougou's breathing accelerates. The physiological shift bears psychological implications as well, marking an important turning point in Ndiougou's character development. Impacted by his experience of music in the arena, Ndiougou abruptly abandons his status of observer-outsider and makes the transition to participant-insider, despite his initial disdain for the sport. Ndiougou maintains his participant status after the final match, staying on to partake in a festive celebration. When he finally rejoins Nalla around two o'clock in the morning, he promises they will return to the arena together. At the end of the day, Ndiougou leaves the arena irremediably changed by the sights, sensations, and sounds that contributed to his experience. No longer limited by his preconceived disdain for popular sport and local traditions, Ndiougou has opened his heart, his ears, and his mind to a richer, more complex performance of identity and experience of life.
In addition to the rhythms and music generated by musicians and spectators, the space of the arena is filled with other rhythms and other voices—those of the wrestlers themselves. As pairs of wrestlers prepare to square off before crowds of cheering fans, they are given the opportunity to boast about their fighting records, their wrestling skills, and their family lineages. Such performances, also referred to as bàkk, are defined by Sada Niang as follows:
Le bàkk est un tagg7 dont l'interprétant est en même temps le bénéficiaire. Il se déclame en public, au son du tam-tam, lors d'une séance de lutte et tente d'intimider l'adversaire par la liste, généralement longue, de tous les braves hommes dont il a déjà été le vainqueur. (Niang 1992, 113)
[The bàkk is a tagg in which the performer is simultaneously the beneficiary. It is declaimed in public, to the sound of the tam-tam, during a wrestling session and attempts to intimidate the adversary with the list, generally long, of all the brave men he has already conquered.]
Steeped in a rich tradition of Senegalese orality, bàkk constitute an important component of the social performance of wrestling. Typically accompanied by the rhythms of drumbeats, bàkk effectively combine vocal and instrumental elements, promoting an audibly resonant sensibility, both on and off the playing field. Transposed in the frame of the francophone novel, bàkk reflect local aesthetic perspectives that contribute to the transpoetic and transcultural qualities of the text.
Sow Fall incorporates bàkk throughout L'appel des arènes, interspersing blocks of narration and dialogue with rhythmically charged vocal performances. In each representation, the bàkk are visually distinct, presented in italicized print with each line indented. They are further set apart from the body of the text, disconnected above and below by blank lines. The presentation and spacing provides a frame for the text, showcasing each bàkk, but also allowing readers to shift gears as they make the transition from narrative to oral modes of discourse within the space of the text. Prominently featured in scenes taking place in the arena, bàkk play an important role in representing the experience of Senegalese wrestling. A meaningful cultural activity in Senegalese social contexts, the sport of wrestling involves more than the just physical struggle between two athletes. In fact, the wrestling matches themselves are often over in the blink of an eye. Just as significant are the intricate social performance rituals surrounding the sport, including the rhythms, the music, and the movements of bàkk.
Although bàkk comprise a key component of Sow Fall's portrayals of major wrestling events, their performance is not limited to the space of the la noblesse de sa généalogie, les exploits de ses ancêtres et le somme implicitement de faire honneur a son rang en se montrant généreux à l'égard du locuteur” (Niang 1992, 112). (An elegiac speech whose function is to elevate the interlocutor, while flattering his honor and his dignity. The tagg reminds the interlocutor of the nobility of his genealogy, the exploits of his ancestors, and the implicit sum of honoring his rank while proving himself generous toward the speaker.) arena. Bàkk are also pronounced by wrestlers in other public and private venues, inspiring the students and fans of the sport who endeavor to commit them to memory. As an avid supporter of the sport, Nalla has memorized several bàkk that he eagerly shares with friends and family members. The animated performance pieces represent a significant part of Nalla's understanding and appreciation of the sport, and he often includes them in his discussions about wrestling. In one passage, Nalla pays tribute to his favorite wrestler, Malaw, by interpreting one of Malaw's signature bàkk as he describes his love of wrestling to his parents:
Tu vois maman, il y pénètre comme un tigre échappé d'une cage, tout couvert de lait caillé, de la tête jusqu'aux pieds. Brandissant une longue bande d'étoffe blanche dans laquelle sont cousus beaucoup de gris-gris, il sautille pesamment en chantant:
Malaw Lô fils de Ndiaga Lô
Qui me bravera dans Louga Lô
À Diaminar où lon ne dit que Lô
Moi Malaw Lô ‘Kor’ Madjiguene Lô
Le plus fort le plus brave le plus beau…(28)
[You see, Mom, he gets into it like a tiger escaped from a cage, all covered with lait caillé (milk curds), from head to toe. Brandishing a long band of white fabric in with lots of gris-gris (amulets worn for good luck or protection) sewn inside, he jumps around with heavy steps while singing:
Malaw Lô son of Ndiaga Lô
Who will defy me in Louga Lô
ÀDiaminar where they only say Lô
Moi Malaw Lô
“Kor” Madjiguene Lô
The strongest the bravest the handsomest…]8
As Nalla relates Malaw's prematch practices, he is careful to report a combination of audio and visual elements. While his observant eye focuses on the wrestler's movement, watching as he jumps about like a tiger brandishing a white stole covered with spiritually charged gris-gris, his attentive ears concentrate on the wrestler's song, seizing upon the significance of his omnipotent lyrics. In this respect, Nalla accords Malaw's actions and words with equal importance—so much that—as he proudly sings the wrestler's bàkk for his mother and father, he begins to imitate Malaw's movements. Dancing and jumping around as he sings, Nalla catches a glimpse of him self in the mirror, and instead of seeing himself, he sees the wrestling hero he wants to become:
“Nalla danse, sautille, lourdement, les deux bras en l'air, se regardant dans la glace. Sa respiration est haletante. Métamorphosé. Il est Malaw Lô, le lutteur hors classe, le lion du Kajoor “ (28). (Nalla dances, jumps around, clumsily, his two arms in the air, watching himself in the mirror. He is breathless. Metamorphosed. He is Malaw Lô, the wrestler in a class of his own, the lion of Kajoor.) Through the repetition of his bàkk, Nalla pays tribute to Malaw, praising his impressive accomplishments and cultivating his developing status as a national hero. Much like the griots, who praise distinguished citizens and preserve historical information through tagg and other oral modes of contextualization, Nalla perpetuates the significance of the oral tradition through his performance of the bàkk, demonstrating its relevance to contemporary histories and social practices.
When transposed in the space of the text, Malaw's bàkk is decidedly different from its original version. Translated into French and transcribed on the written page, the transposed performance piece takes on transpoetic and transcultural dimensions, opening spaces for negotiation and appropriation. Although the majority of Malaw's bàkk are presented in French, respecting French lexical, morphological, and syntactic conventions, segments of the performance piece are left untranslated. A practice Sow Fall describes as a “wink” directed toward her Senegalese readers (Gadjigo 1987, 224), designed to create a sense of national and cultural complicity, the inclusion of Wolof lexical elements serves to orient the text in a localized cultural context while promoting Wolof linguistic and aesthetic conventions. Of particular interest in the aforementioned bàkk is the verse “Moi Malaw Lô ‘Kor’ Madjiguene Lô” (28). Although the word Kor is translated in a footnote as “aimé de” (loved by), the word Madjiguène is left unexplained, leaving space for ambiguity and confusion. For those unfamiliar with the Wolof language, the word Madjiguène might only be interpreted as a name, the name of a woman who loves Malaw. Quickly glossed over without further scrutiny, uninitiated readers typically jump to the next line, “Le plus fort le plus brave le plus beau…,” without giving Madjiguène further thought. Presented in standard French, the last line of the Malaw's bàkk stands in sharp contrast with the preceding line, which contains only one French lexical element—the pronoun moi, which morphologically resembles its Wolof equivalent man. To a Wolofophone reader, the line could just as easily read completely in Wolof: “Man Malaw Lô ‘Kor’ Madjiguène Lô,” emphasizing the distinction between the two lines of text.
Although, in passing from Wolof to French, uninitiated readers are able to return to a linguistic comfort zone, they miss out on lexical subtleties Wolof-speaking readers do not. In the case of Madjiguène, for example, the name conveys special meaning to readers familiar with Senegalese naming practices and traditions. When interpreted from a Wolofphone perspective, Moi Malaw Lô “Kor” Madjiguène Lô takes on subtle but meaningul dimensions. In Senegalese naming practices, the last name Lô indicates someone of Pular origin, whereas Madjiguène is a first name typically used by Wolof and Serer groups. In this respect, Madjiguène Lo represents a marriage between the Pular and Serer peoples or the Pular and Wolof peoples. The ambiguity in the name Madjiguène leaves room for interpretation, effectively connecting northern Senegal's three main ethnic groups, which may be a wink on Sow Fall's part at Senegalese unity. Moreover, the name Madjiguène conveys certain character connotations, as immigration activist Madjiguène Cissé explains:
Je suis d'une ethnie sérère, mon prénom est typiquement oualof, et c'est un prénom tiado.9…Un prénom tiado, c'est le prénom de quelqu'un qui n'est ni chrétien, ni musulman. Nous avons résisté à toutes les entreprises de conversion, que ce soit au christianisme ou à l'islam. Notre résistance est à ce point légendaire…Bref, nous sommes des récalcitrants. (Cissé 1996)
[I am of Serer origin, my first name is typically Wolof and it's a Tiado first name…A Tiado first name is the first name of someone who is neither Christian nor Muslim. We have resisted all attempts to convert us, whether to Christianity or to Islam. Our resistance is at this point legendary…Simply put, we are nonconformists.]
As Cissé explains, the first name Madjiguène is associated with legendary resistance and nonconformity in Senegalese cultural contexts. Although subtle, Sow Fall's wink here seems to suggest that Madjigène and Malaw's passion and appreciation for traditional Senegalese music, sports, and the arts represents a nonconformist perspective in late twentieth-century Senegal, particularly in the face of pop culture influences and trends imported to Senegal from Northern or Western nations. When read in this light, readers come to appreciate how Malaw Lô is loved not just by Madjiguène, but by all of the nonconformists who negotiate their own ways of being in the world in relation to other peoples, practices, and perspectives.
Similarly, a bolder interpretation could be derived in following with the second line of the bàkk, “Qui me bravera dans Louga Lô,” in which Lô's family name is used to add extra emphasis, connoting Malaw's possession of or power over the city. In this light, Malaw's bàkk takes on a brasher dimension, one that is not readily apparent from the French. Far from ornamental, Sow Fall's Wolof wink adds layers of meaning to the bombastic oration while simultaneously infusing the French text with the rhythmic musicality of Wolof language and orality. As Malaw proclaims his prowess throughout the bàkk, he incorporates his family name Lô as a powerful vocal percussive device, punctuating each line of the performance piece in dialogue with the drums and with his dance steps.
Although the vocal components of the bàkk play a considerable role in shaping Sow Fall's resonant transpoetic work, the musico-rhythmic elements she presents in association with the oral performances are not to be overlooked. In developing this idea, it is useful to return to Niang's definition of bàkk, which, through the incorporation of the qualifier “au son du tam-tam” (Niang 1992, 113) (to the sound of the tam-tam), insists on the equal importance of vocal and instrumental phenomena in characterizing the genre. Like Niang, Sow Fall insists on the audible interplay between coexisting voices and drumbeats in her texted representations of bàkk in L'appel des arènes. In many passages, Sow Fall explicitly evokes the rhythms of tam-tams in the blocks of text directly preceding and succeeding the transposed bàkk. This augments the effect of the aforementioned visual framing techniques Sow Fall employs as a means of accentuating the performance pieces. As such, in addition to the visual frame, Sow Fall effectively constructs a sonorous rhythmic frame that privileges an audio aesthetic sensibility. She accomplishes this through vivid descriptions of rhythms, drumbeats, and the instruments used to produce them. The audio frame is further enhanced by texted representations of the boisterous crowd responses surrounding the performances, as Sow Fall expressly elicits an array of audibly resonant reactions including cheers, cries, dancing, and applause.
In one example, Nalla listens as his friend André recounts the exploits of Mahanta Bally, a legendary wrestler who was undefeated in battle. Before and after reciting Mahanta's bàkk, André vividly describes the sounds of the arena, invoking an audio frame that resonates to readers as well as the characters in the text:
Des acclamations délirantes l'accueillaient lorsque, dans les arènes, il évoluait deux pas du pied droit, un du pied gauche, pointant tour à tour l'index vers les quatre points cardinaux et mugissant sous le timbre solennel des tambours:
Dioung Dioung Dioung à l'est
Dioung Dioung Dioung à l'ouest
Dioung Dioung Dioung au nord
Dioung Dioung Dioung au sud
Mahanta Bally ici debout
Fils de Karaman Bally toujours debout.
Un vacarme fracassant envahissait alors les arènes…“ (46)
[Delirious cheering welcomed him when, in the arena, he glided two steps with the right foot, one with the left foot, pointing in turn his index finger toward the four cardinal points and roaring under the solemn pitch of the drums:
Dioung Dioung Dioung to the east
Dioung Dioung Dioung to the west
Dioung Dioung Dioung to the north
Dioung Dioung Dioung to the south
Mahanta Bally here standing
Son of Karaman Bally always standing.
A deafening noise then flooded the arena…]
In the paragraph preceding the bàkk, André elicits three distinct percussive sounds—the cheering crowd, the solemn drumbeats, and the dancing footsteps of Mahanta—setting the tone for his oral performance. André also insists on relating Mahanta's movements as he dances before the crowd, specifying “two steps with the right foot, one with the left foot, pointing in turn his index finger toward the four cardinal points.” More than mere gestures, Mahanta's movements communicate without words—much like the drumbeats—in this instance foreshadowing the content of his bàkk. As Robert Farris Thompson explains: “West African dances are talking dances, and the point of the conversation is the expression of percussive concepts” (Thompson 1999, 76). Connecting the rhythms of drumbeats with the deliberate movements of the wrestler and the cacophonous cries of the crowd, Sow Fall masterfully crafts an audiovisual narrative frame, setting the stage for Mahanta's performance.
As Mahanta performs his bàkk, he vocalizes the percussive elements—the combined rhythms of drumbeats and dance steps—that preface his oration. Referencing his hand motions, he summons the four cardinal directions in the first four lines of his bàkk. As he sings, he introduces each of the cardinal points with the phrase dioung dioung dioung, an onomatopoeia used to designate the sound of the tam-tam. The phrase dioung dioung dioung also suggests a Wolof word—dioung dioung— a large, double-headed drum played with a heavy stick traditionally used in Senegalese contexts to announce the arrival of royalty. Senegalese writer Mariama Bâ uses an orthographic variant in presenting the royal tam-tam in her novel Une si longue letter (So Long a Letter): “Elle avait un masque tragique, dans ces lieux de grandeur qui chantaient le passé, au son des ‘djou-djoung’ “ (Si longue lettre, 45) (She had a tragic mask, in these places of greatness that sang the past to the sound of “djou-djoungs”). Not limited to the sounds of regal drumbeats, the onomatopoeia doubly invokes the percussive sounds produced by Mahanta's feet, “two steps with the right foot, one with the left foot.” Generating percussive elements with his body and with his voice, Mahanta channels the enigmatic force of the drum, an instrument accorded potent supernatural powers in many West African oral traditions (see Kamanda 1996, 197–200). Infused with the rhythms of drumbeats and dancesteps, it is as if Mahanta becomes a drum in his own right, to such an extent that, when Nalla makes reference to the wrestler, he identifies him as “faisant son Dioung Dioung” (Appel, 46–47) (doing/making his Dioung Dioung). Fueled by multiple layers of rhythmic polyphony in the space of the arena, Mahanta is an undeniable force to be reckoned with as a performer and an athlete, leaving amazed spectators and fallen opponents in his wake.
While, in L'appel des arènes, the rhythms of tam-tams are repeatedly associated with wrestling and the subculture that surrounds it, it is important to recognize that the drumbeats and songs performed and appropriated by the wrestling community are by no means exclusive to the wrestling arena. For Sow Fall, there are greater questions at hand, questions of representation and identification in a changing postcolonial Senegal. Writing to expose rather than to justify Senegalese cultural phenomena, as Sow Fall explains, the process of writing is an act through which she reveals herself, her country, and its people: “[L]a création romanesque…[n'est] pas un besoin de justification mais un acte par lequel on se révèle, on révèle son pays à l'autre. On révèle son environnement, on révèle son peuple” (Gadjigo 1987, 220). (Fictional creation…[is] not a need for justification but an act through which we reveal ourselves, we reveal our country to the other. We reveal our environment, we reveal our people.) As her characters struggle to orient themselves as individuals, citizens, and community members amidst a social climate charged with transformation and uncertainty, rhythmic and musical phenomena play an instrumental role in directing their respective paths toward self-discovery or self-destruction. In this respect, the rhythms and rituals of the wrestlers and their fans have implications outside the physical space of the arena, and beyond the context of wrestling.
As Tim Edensor points out in National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life, popular sporting events and the cultural forms and social rituals that surround them play an important role in developing and maintaining national identity constructs: “Sport is increasingly situated in the mediatised matrix of national life, is institutionalized in schools, widely represented in a host of cultural forms and is an everyday practice for millions of national subjects. These everyday and spectacular contexts provide one of the most popular ways in which national identity is grounded” (Edensor 2002, 78). For Edensor, the significance of popular sport lies beyond the thrill of the game, the excitement of the crowd, and the dynamics of the sport itself. Operating on a national level, the dramas unfolding in the space of the arena foster a spirit of togetherness among athletes and spectators alike, one that ultimately transcends the intensity of competition. In a world where successful professional athletes are elevated to the status of national heroes, popular sport acts as a collectivizing agent, promoting a sense of patriotism and community among fans. In this capacity, popular sport, much like popular music, has the power to bring diverse peoples together, creating a sense of group cohesion, regardless of differences in age, gender, religion, and ethnicity.
Masterfully combining the binding elements of popular sport and popular music, all the while texting them in the frame of the novel, Sow Fall sets the stage for an exploration of questions of collectivity and nationalism in late twentieth-century Senegal. Vividly portraying the complexity of an important national pastime, she infuses the text with the vibrant rhythms and music of the wrestling arena—multisensorial swirls of sights and sounds—and connects them with larger questions of identity. In Sow Fall's texted realm, the space of the arena becomes a site for equivocation, negotiation, and innovation, a place where spectators momentarily lose themselves as anonymous parts of a collective whole only to emerge with a greater understanding of themselves and each other. As Suzanne Crosta explains, the arena represents a space where individuals are “called to blend” together, or even “to melt” together: “Les arènes et les luttes qui s'ensuivent représentent une présence et une activité collective où l'individu est appelé à s'y fondre” (Crosta 1988, 62). (The arena and the wrestling matches that unfold there represent a presence and a collective activity where the individual is called to blend in.)
The blending process Crosta describes is readily apparent during Ndiougou's very first visit to the arena. As he finds a seat alongside a nurse named Sogui and his friends, important questions of identity emerge. As the group, already crammed together “comme des sardines” (150) (like sardines), makes room for the respected doctor, Ndiougou becomes just another member of the crowd and momentarily loses his elevated social status. The ensuing sense of instability unleashes an identity crisis of sorts, as the doctor is called to question his sense of self and his relationships with others. Somewhat ill at ease among the masses assembled in the arena, Ndiougou struggles with his own identificatory malaise, manifest in his inability to reconcile his unwavering belief in the superiority of European cultural practices and his bitter disdain for Senegalese social customs. As he sits, lost in the sea of the mosaic crowd, Ndiougou, who finds himself surrounded by strange and familiar faces representing a variety of social groups and divergent ideological perspectives, is compelled to reconsider his divisive attitudes. As the day wears on, he scans the blur of faces in the crowd and is surprised to recognize several prominent figures, all imbibed with the excitement of the arena. Among them, he sees Saer—a prominent psychiatrist who spent twenty-five years in Europe and is married to a white woman, Fara, one of the most maligned state inspectors, who is said to be heartless, and Monsieur Gartinet, a white university professor known for his racist attitudes. He also recognizes Anthiou—a trial lawyer known for his charisma and eloquence, along with Nalla and his benevolent tutor Monsieur Niang. Gathered together in the space of the arena and united through a common interest in music and sport, the spectators experience a momentary breakdown of socioeconomic, linguistic, cultural, and ideological dividing lines during the wrestling events. Whether or not these relational transformations will endure after the end of the match is up to the spectators themselves. In this capacity, those who choose to open their ears, hearts, and minds to the rhythms of the drums and the music of the bàkk possess the power to contribute to the breakdown of operative social hierarchies existing outside the space of the arena. Even so, this breakdown will not happen automatically or immediately. Rather, as Sow Fall maintains, intentional and persistent engagement is required on the part of those seeking to promote social change.
Moved by the sights, sounds, and sensations of the arena, Ndiougou emerges a changed man. His newfound appreciation for the music and movement of the wrestling arena not only provides him the chance to reconnect with his only son, but also invigorates a sense of respect for local cultural practices and traditions. As Odile Cazenave affirms: “[M]oving from the intimate inner space, to the open and public space, enables him to rediscover his origins and identity” (Cazenave 1991, 58). By opening his ears, his mind, his body, and his heart to the sounding realm of the arena, Ndiougou reintroduces meaningful cultural elements into his life. He no longer denies himself the opportunity to enjoy the sounds of Seneglese musical traditions and innovations such as “melodious voices” singing xalams (lullabies) and dancing girls “flirting with the tama” (talking drums) (Appel, 108). Now receptive to the rhythms, songs, and dances of everyday life, Ndiougou begins to develop a sense of belonging, both as a citizen of the city Louga and the nation of Senegal. This is a sense his son Nalla has already started to cultivate on his own. Through their shared experience of wrestling and its rhythms—their mutual response to the “call of the arena,” “the call of the earth”—Ndiougou and Nalla successfully reconfigure their respective understandings of each other, themselves, and their relationships with others and the world. Although the paths of their respective physical and psychological journeys differ greatly, through a mutual enjoyment of wrestling and the musico-social rituals that surround it, the father and son are able to arrive at a point of understanding, one that will serve as a meaningful frame of reference and forum for dialogue in the future.
While Nalla and Ndiougou are able to find peace with themselves and reconcile their relationship with each other, Nalla's mother, Diattou, is not so fortunate. Unwilling to be moved by the rhythm of the tam-tams, Diattou refuses to enter the space of the arena and remains disdainful of her family's and neighbors’ interest in the sport. By stubbornly maintaining her disapproval, she not only denies herself the opportunity to bond with her son, her husband, and members of the community, but she also disavows an occasion for self-discovery: “[Elle] ne pourr[a] jamais savoir ce qui se passe en [Nalla] lorsque résonne le tam-tam et que la voix limpide des griotes célèbre la force, le courage et l'honneur des dieux des arènes. L'extase des sons, des couleurs et du mouvement, [elle] ne la sentir[a] jamais” (108). (She could never know what happens to [Nalla] when the tam-tam resounds and that the lucid voice of the griotes10 celebrates the strength, the courage and the honor of the gods of the arena. The ecstasy of sounds, of colors and of movement, [she] would never feel it.) Deprived of the intense sensorial experience of the arena, the physical and emotional rush generated by polyphonic swirls of drumbeats and singing, Diattou loses the chance to resolve her feelings of loneliness and isolation. Unlike Nalla and Ndiougou, who share a newfound understanding of one another due in part to a common rhythmic point of reference, Diattou, who blocks her ears from and remains unaffected by the call of the arena, is left suffering in silence and solitude, her future uncertain, at the end of Sow Fall's novel.
Rhythm and Identity in Ti Jean L'horizon
Rhythmic and musical elements also play a prominent role in Ti Jean L'horizon, shaping the protagonist's identificatory quest across disparate spaces and disjointed epochs. As he wanders through indiscernible realms of reverie and experience, rhythmic and musical cues provide important reference points that serve to orient the young hero in unfamiliar places and times. Unlike Nalla, who travels around his city in search of a sense of self and a sense of community, Ti Jean unwittingly embarks on his epic journey after an unlikely set of circumstances arises. When a giant beast with seven heads swallows the sun and the island of Guadeloupe, Ti Jean is compelled to act. Driven by his desire to rescue his beloved, Égée, and his mother, Éloise, from their uncertain fates inside the belly of the giant beast, Ti Jean sets off in search of something unknown. Unaware that his voyage will lead him to wander across, beneath, and beyond the ocean, and to err through immemorial, alternate, and unforeseeable times, Ti Jean ardently takes the first steps of his voyage. More than an attempt to be reunited with his loved ones, Ti Jean's journey immediately becomes a simultaneous quest for and questioning of Antillean identity, one through which truths will be constructed, shattered, and transformed.
After deciding to combat the beast with seven heads from the inside out, Ti Jean creeps inside the mouth of the giant, sliding down its esophagus, softly landing somewhere in the creature's entrails. The scene that awaits Ti Jean deep inside the belly of the beast is completely unexpected. Not only is there is no Égée, no mother Éloise, and no island of Guadeloupe, but the insides of the beast are like nothing anatomically conceivable. Instead of the glistening pinks, reds, and grays of the beast's internal organs, Ti Jean finds himself surrounded by a breathtaking landscape, one that appears paradoxically enigmatic yet familiar:
Toutes les choses avaient une allure à la fois insolite et familière. Palmiers et cocotiers, fromagers qu'il avait reconnus dans sa chute ne lui offraient plus le même visage. Vus de terre, ils semblaient plus grands que ceux de Guadeloupe, avec quelque chose de rude et de heurté qui n'existait pas là-bas. Quant a l'air âcre et chaud, à l'espace qui l'entourait, à la disposition des étoiles dans le ciel, ils étaient étrangers au pays, bien que Ti Jean éprouvât au fond de luimême qu'ils ne lui étaient pas tout a fait étrangers, à lui, considéré dans l'intime de son estomac: n'avait-il pas déjà respiré cet air, ressenti l'angoisse de cet horizon, contemplé la disposition mystérieuse des étoiles dans un ciel non pas transparent, comme celui de Fond-Zombi, mais éclaboussé par endroits d'une encre très noire. (Ti Jean, 140-41)
[Everything had a familiar yet unusual appearance. Palm trees and coconut trees, kapok trees that he recognized in his fall no longer offered him the same face. Seen from earth, they seemed larger than those of Guadeloupe, with something rough and uneven that was not found there. As for the acrid, warm air, the space that surrounded him, the position of the stars in the sky, they were foreign to the country, even though Ti Jean felt deep inside himself that they were not completely foreign to him, considered in the pit of his stomach: hadn't he already breathed this air, felt the anxiety of this horizon, contemplated the mysterious position of the stars in a sky not transparent, like that of Fond-Zombi, but spattered in spots with a very black ink.]
Although, in describing his initial descent, Schwarz-Bart privileges Ti Jean's gaze as he surveys the unusual yet familiar landscape, she later evokes the realm of sensation by narrating Ti Jean's emotional and physical responses to his new surroundings. Her characterizations of the “acrid, warm air” he inhales and the strange, anxious feeling he detects in the pit of his stomach create a climate of physical unease, which corresponds with the young hero's feelings of frustration and confusion during his wayward voyage. Favoring visual and tactile elements, Schwarz-Bart avoids eliciting audible cues, perhaps as a means of heightening Ti Jean's disorientation and confusion as he stands lost in a parallel universe and an alternate time, left to negotiate an alternative history in the land of his ancestors. In later passages, the author prominently incorporates resonant rhythmic and musical elements, which serve to emphasize familiar and unfamiliar aspects of Ti Jean's experience, accentuating his coinciding feelings of connection and isolation in the land of his ancestors, in the Niger River Valley.
As he struggles to get his bearings in his new location, Ti Jean soon encounters a young boy, Maïri, who is trapped in a dangerous situation. As the terrified boy stands cornered by a lion positioned to attack, Ti Jean springs into action and successfully rescues the boy. The grateful boy invites Ti Jean to accompany him to his village, which happens to be situated near the birthplace of Ti Jean's grandfather, a powerful sorcerer known as Wademba. As Maïri and his rescuer walk along the path leading to the village, the young boy claims to recognize Ti Jean from somewhere. Confounded by the allegation, Ti Jean immediately responds to the charge, assuring Maïri that he has never before set foot in the region, neither in the realms of reverie or reality. An astonished Maïri finds it difficult to believe Ti Jean, particularly since he is at a loss to believe that a man could proficiently express himself in a foreign language he claims to have never heard before.
Although the first sounds she presents in the land of the ancestors are those of vocal dialogue, in the passage following Ti Jean and Maïri's conversation, Schwarz-Bart fills the space of the text with the resonant rhythms of drumbeats. As the pair travels toward Maïri's village, the rumblings of tam-tams erupt in the distance. While Maïri efficiently receives and comprehends the message contained in the drumbeats, the communication remains unintelligible to Ti Jean's uninitiated ears, revealing his status as an outsider. Disassociated from his surprising communicative competency in the local spoken language, the intricate patterns of the local drum language effectively construct an audible barrier, distinguishing Ti Jean as an outlander, a nonmember of the local village community, in spite of his local linguistic capacities and his striking physical resemblance to his late grandfather.
Although, upon perceiving the faraway tam-tams, Ti Jean realizes that the drumbeats in question are not intended for dancing, the meaning of the intricate rhythm escapes him. This prompts him to ask Maïri for a translated version of the drummed message: “Que dit le tam-tam?” (149) (What is the tam-tam saying?). The first message, emitted near the territory of Maïri's people, takes on hospitable dimensions, proclaiming, “un ami est sur le chemin” (149) (a friend is on the way). Nevertheless, as the communiqué is transmitted across the distances that separate neighboring villages, the message subtly transforms, taking on a more menacing tone as it is disseminated from village to village. By the time it reaches the village of the rival Sonaqués, the drummed communication, increasingly volatile, warns, “un étranger qui a la face de Wademba est sur le chemin” (149) (a stranger with the face of Wademba is on the way). Unbeknownst to Ti Jean, who is as unfamiliar with the local history as he is with the local drum language, the Sonaqué transmission leaves room for alternative interpretations, but only to those who know the story of Wademba's tragic fate. Since he is unaware of the series of unfortunate events that befell Wademba in his homeland at some point in a past, present, parallel, or alternate time, Ti Jean fails to conceive the gravity of the Sonaqué announcement. Unversed in reports that narrate Wademba's assassination in the region by a shot from an enemy arrow, Ti Jean is deceived by the duplicitous message that suggests an enemy has returned to the region.
As Urbain Amoa explains in Poétique de la poésie des tambours (Poetics of the Poetry of Drums), drummed messages transmit “proverbes, sentences, circonlocutions, [et] devises” (Amoa 2002, 121) (proverbs, maxims, circumlocutions, [and] mottos), rather than speaking in direct terms. Although achieved in a nonverbal manner, relying on the rhythm and tonality of drumbeats rather than written or spoken language, such forms of drummed discourse demonstrate undeniable parallels with the musico-vocal stylings of West African griot traditions. Kofi Agawu affirms Amoa's assertion in arguing for the study of African languages as a key to understanding and interpreting African musics (Agawu 2001). In his description, Amoa further characterizes drum languages as an “initiated” discourse in so far as “dans ce discours [tambouriné] la phrase équivaut au mot” (Amoa 2002, 121) (in [drummed] discourse, the phrase is the equivalent of the word). Elaborating on Frédéric Titinga Pacere's notion of bendrology, which Pacere defines as “la science, les études méthodiques, les figures de rhéthorique relatives au tam-tam bendré, et la culture de ce tam-tam, voire les messages tambourinés” (Pacere 1991, 12) (the science, methodical studies, the rhetorical figures relative to the bendré tam-tam, even drummed messages), Amoa figuratively implicates both the eyes and ears of the receptor of drummed discourse: “Le langage du tam-tam est, comme le dit Pacere, un discours; pour le comprendre il faut avoir trois yeux pour voir ce qui n'est pas écrit et comprendre le non-dit auquel renvoie le silence que le tam-tam observe dans sa communication avec son entourage” (Amoa 2002, 121). [The language of the drum is, as Pacere says, a discourse; in order to understand it, one must have three eyes to see what is not written and to understand the unsaid to which echoes the silence the tam-tam observes in its communication with its entourage.] In his discussion, Amoa underscores the importance of the interpretive mode in analyzing drummed discourse. Not simply a question of translating encoded drumbeats into words, Amoa likens the process of interpreting drummed information to the practice of reading a text, but with an added dimension, a third eye to focus on the silent, “untold” or “unsaid” spaces.
Given the complexities of drummed discourse and the equal importance accorded to sounding and silent phenomena, Ti Jean's inability to comprehend the tam-tam's message despite his communicative competency in the local spoken language reveals itself as more than a question of language, which in turn, raises larger questions of identity. Although he looks and speaks like a Ba'Sonaqué, Ti Jean's outsider status is visibly apparent, due in part to his unfamiliarity with drummed discourse, but also his unawareness of the oral histories and traditions referenced by the sounds and silences of drumbeats. His unease is further augmented as he accompanies Maïri en route to the Ba'Sonaqué village. As he listens to the young boy's rendition of the “Histoire de la flèche qui atteignit Wademba” (Story of the Arrow That Hit Wademba), Ti Jean vocally responds to a rhetorical question contained in the story: “[E]nfants, entendezvous la flèche voler dans le ciel?” (Ti Jean, 154). ([C]hildren, do you hear the arrow flying in the sky?) As the sole audience member, Ti Jean effectively interrupts Maïri's story with his reply, taking a moment to engage him in direct dialogue. “Je vois bien cette flèche dans le ciel, mais je ne comprends pas du tout sa trajectoire : hélas, le nègre peutil se mettre lui-même dans les chames?” (155). (I see that arrow in the sky, but I do not understand its trajectory at all: alas, the black man can he put himself in chains?). During their conversation, Ti Jean once again discloses his foreign status, when he utters a word unfamiliar to Maïri's ears—nègre (155) (black man). Instantly aware of Maïri's discomfort, communicated through the nondit—the unsaid—of his abrupt and prolonged silence, Ti Jean attempts to remedy the situation by calling the young boy “frère” (brother), and importuning him to continue with his story, but this only ends up complicating things further. Before resuming his story, Maïri rejects the label of “brother,” incredulously addressing the implications of the affiliation by transforming Ti Jean's affirmation into a question, “frère?” (155).
Disoriented and perplexed, Ti Jean longs to be reunited with his beloved Égée and mother Éloise, wherever and whenever they are. Nevertheless, with no way of reconnecting with them in sight, Ti Jean resigns himself to adjust to his new surroundings despite his feelings of apprehension and isolation. Upon arriving in the first village, Ti Jean immediately takes a sensorial inventory of the village environment, mentally cataloguing the sights, sounds, and smells into groupings of familiar and unfamiliar. In her narration of events, Schwarz-Bart once again privileges the visual, later insisting on Ti Jean's olfactory, auditory, and physio-emotional responses. With his eyes, Ti Jean observes that the huts, which, from afar, resemble that of Wademba, are much different, much more magnificent, when viewed from up close. As he wanders about, admiring the colorful huts, Ti Jean compares them to the rundown lodgings of his grandfather's village in Guadeloupe: “Errant parmi toutes ces merveilles, Ti Jean les comparaît involontairement aux cases du plateau d'En-haut, pauvres papillons défraîchis, sans couleur, réduits à la carcasse pour s'être trop débattus dans les ronces d'un autre monde” (162). (Wandering amidst all of these marvels, Ti Jean involuntarily compared them to the huts of the plateau Up-above, poor faded butterflies, without color, reduced to carcasses after struggling too much in the brambles of another world.)
Although his visual recollections of his grandfather's home in Guadeloupe pale in comparison to his first visual impressions of the Ba'Sonaqué village, Ti Jean is immediately struck by the scent of a familiar aroma, that of “un plat de gombos aux boyaux salés, avec un bouchon d'herbes nageant pardessus…tel exactement que le préparaient les gens de Fond-Zombi, tel” (162) (a dish of okra with salted tripe with a plug of herbs swimming on top…exactly how people of Fond-Zombi prepared it, exactly). As he indulges in a dish common to the inhabitants of Guadeloupe and the Niger River Valley, Ti Jean momentarily loses himself in the sensorial experience of the meal. As he savors the meal, the echoes of the clicks, clacks, and thumps of the preceding meal preparation resonate in his subconscious mind, reminding him of the effort and care that go into each dish, which reminds him of home—wherever and whenever that is. Looking inward rather than outward, Ti Jean reflects on all that he has seen and heard since his arrival in the land of his ancestors. Familiar with the local spoken language and cuisine, yet unfamiliar with the local drummed language, oral traditions, and histories, Ti Jean is frustrated with his inability to negotiate an insider status in the land of the Ba'Sonaqué. Still in a state of disbelief, he is overcome in the middle of the meal by his emotions, causing him to cry out “Je ne suis pas un étranger, pas un étranger…. ”(162) (I am not a stranger, not a stranger) in a fit of rage.
In a later passage, Ti Jean's ears detect the resonantly intricate rhythms of women working, the sounds of which generate a strange sense of nostalgic recognition. Vibrantly manifest in the everyday clicks, clacks, smacks, and thumps of pestles against mortars or laundry against rocks, the polyphonic rhythms brought forth by the Ba'Sonaqué women bear an eerie resemblance to the quotidian cadences produced by the mothers, sisters, and daughters of his native Fond-Zombi:
À l'entrée du village, deux femmes écrasaient du grain dans un mortier de bois, leurs rondes épaules tout illuminées de sueur. Un coup elles chantaient au rythme du pilon, et un coup elles pilonnaient au rythme variable de leur chant, en une sorte de danse subtile, aérienne, ainsi que faisaient les commerès de Fond-Zombi en pilant café, cacao, farine de manioc, ou en voltigeant linge contre les roches blanches de la rivière; et le coeur de nostr'homme se serra, se serra devant ces images familierès, comme si les deux mondes s'etaient tendu la main sans se voir, siècle apres siècle, pardessus l'océan. (177–78)
[At the entrance of the village, two women were crushing grain in a wooden mortar, their round shoulders all illuminated with sweat. With one blow they sang to the rhythm of the pestle, and one blow they pounded to the variable rhythm of their singing, in a sort of subtle, aerial dance, just like the commères of Fond-Zombi did in crushing coffee, cocoa, manioc flour, or in fluttering laundry against the white rocks of the river, and our man's heart tightened up, tightened up before these familiar images, as if the two worlds had been holding hands without seeing each other, century after century, above the ocean.]
Moved by the strangely similar rhythms of women working on both sides of the Atlantic, Ti Jean finds a point of connection with the Ba'Sonaqué people. This marks an important turning point in Ti Jean's African experience, signaling his transition from outsider to insider, in spite of his earlier failures to recognize the intricate communicative patterns of drummed discourse. In this respect, soon after finding a nonvocal rhythmic point of commonality, Ti Jean is welcomed into the Ba'Sonaqué village, where he will spend the equivalent of a lifetime. In tune with the rhythms of everydayness, in this instance, Ti Jean's ability to successfully identify (with) and interpret the nonvocal dimensions of the sounds of women working is significant, particularly since, traditionally, drums and other talking instruments are invested with an agency that, according to Meki Nzewi, Israel Anyahuru, and Tom Ohiaraumunna, “carries a more neutral and commanding authority than vocal music communication by a performer with human identity” (Nzewi, Anyahuru, and Ohiaraumunna 2001, 92). On that fateful day, Ti Jean's acceptance is solidified when Ba'Sonaqué villagers give him the name Ifu'umwâmi, which means “Il-dit-oui-à-la-mort-et-non-à-la-vie” (He-says-yes-to-death-and-no-to-life) in the ancient Ba'Sonaqué language (179).
As the villagers celebrate Ti Jean's newfound inclusion in Ba'Sonaqué society, Ti Jean notices yet another rhythmic parallel connecting the disparate spaces of Fond-Zombi and the Niger River Valley, which he perceives through the familiar rhythms and movements of dancing. The dance, described as “un pas vif et heurté qui rappelait, oui, la danse des mouchoirs, à la fin de la saison des cannes” (180) (a lively, uneven step, that recalled, yes, the dance of the handkerchiefs, at the end of the cane season), serves to fortify Ti Jean's sense of belonging as a new member of the Ba'Sonaqué community. Providing an additional point of rhythmic commonality, the strikingly familiar dance strengthens Ti Jean's relationship with the villagers, promoting a spirit of collectivity. Operating much like a language, the sight and sensation of familiar dance steps engages Ti Jean in rhythmic dialogue with the citizens of his newfound community. As Judith Lynne Hanna suggests, engaging in common dance steps, much like conversing in a shared language, engenders social cohesion: “Dance is a social phenomenon. As is the case with much linguistic behavior, it sometimes operates without people being aware of it…As individuals create verbal language and respond to it without being conscious of how they do it, so may they create and respond to dance. In this sense it lives, develops, and persists as a collective phenomenon” (Hanna 1979, 29).
For Ti Jean, the recognizable rhythms of familiar dance steps forge stronger bonds than those created through his knowledge of the local spoken language. This is attributable to the memories Ti Jean associates with the sensorial experience of watching the dancers and participating as a spectator in the event. Unlike the local language, which fails to access Ti Jean's domain of past experiences, the dance evokes the familiar sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of specific moments and locations in timespace—in this instance, the annual celebrations that mark the end of the sugar cane harvest in the village of Fond-Zombi.
In considering the importance of rhythmic and musical phenomena in Ti Jean's ever-changing world, Schwarz-Bart incorporates the organic, ephemeral qualities of individual performances as well as the seemingly boundless possibilities for rhythmic and musical composition and improvisation. Nonetheless, despite variations and innovations across styles and genres, Schwarz-Bart maintains that the affective experience of rhythm and music is one possible constant in a highly variable equation, for performers and spectators alike: “C'est comme les chansons de gros ka, à un moment donné on a pu penser que la veine était tarie et puis maintenant il y a des tas de jeunes qui font des chansons absolumment extraordinaires avec le même talent, le même désespoir” (Constant 2002, 110). [It's like the gros ka (gwo ka) songs, at a given moment one could have thought that the vein had dried up and then now there are lots of young people who make absolutely extraordinary songs with the same talent, the same despair.]
For Schwarz-Bart, the sensorial qualities of rhythm and music are intrinsically connected to the realm of emotive experience, which may explain why Ti Jean is so affected upon perceiving the familiar rhythms of quotidian events and momentous celebrations during his voyage to the land of his ancestors. By insisting on the emotional effects of rhythm and music rather than their aesthetic impressions, Schwarz-Bart places particular emphasis on the expressive and communicative dimensions of sounds and silences. In this respect, both incidental everyday cadences and structured rhythmic compositions operate much like the encoded rhythms of drummed discourse. Nevertheless, unlike drummed discourse, which functions as a language and requires a degree of fluency or proficiency on the part of the drummer and his or her listener, musico-rhythmic genres have the capacity to communicate something to each and every listener, regardless of language, culture, knowledge, or experience. Through the shared experience of rhythm or music, performers and perceivers create points of connection and correspondence, allowing for communication and exchange across cultures and generations.
Through the representation of strangely similar rhythmic phenomena—both the variable melodic cadences of women working and the vivacious, irregular rhythms of dance steps—Schwarz-Bart establishes a transcultural link that connects the peoples of West Africa and the Caribbean, despite the passage of distance and time. This is a point the author herself suggests through the personified image of two worlds imperceptibly holding hands “century after century beneath the ocean.” Nevertheless, in representing undeniable transcultural parallels between the peoples of Fond-Zombi and the Niger River Valley, Schwarz-Bart carefully maintains the differences that distinguish the two groups, in spite of their transcultural connections and rhythmic points of commonality. In this respect, the two cultures are decidedly different, as evidenced by Ti Jean's difficulties adjusting to his new sociocultural setting. Without connoting inherent homogeneity or rootedness, in designating a transatlantic link that connects Ti Jean's Guadeloupe and Wademba's Niger River Valley, Schwarz-Bart opens a realm of boundless possibility in which communication takes place across vast distances and disparate epochs, allowing for negotiation, innovation, and exchange in sounding forums.
Although Ti Jean finds comfort in the rhythmic similarities that bridge the gaps between distant spaces and disparate epochs—linking the Niger River Valley of an alternate past to the Guadeloupe of Ti Jean's faraway present—he is ultimately disappointed by his voyage to the land of his ancestors. After spending many decades as a member of Ba'Sonaqué society and marrying four women—one of whom resembles his beloved Égée—Ti Jean is left feeling disillusioned and unfulfilled. This is a point Schwarz-Bart illustrates, once again, through rhythmic representations and associations. In one such passage, Schwarz-Bart elicits Ti Jean's memories of the rhythms and music that filled his faraway past as a means of demonstrating his failure to psychologically assimilate himself as a member of Ba'Sonaqué society.
Alors il se levait, accompagnait le roi vers la place du village, sous le baobab de palabres, où les conversations faisaient immédiatement place à la danse. Chaque fois, nostr'homme se promettait d'en rester aux figures traditionnelles des Ba'Sonaqués. Mais la voix du tambour le mystifiait, l'emportait insidieusement vers un autre temps, un autre lieu, une autre musique intérieure; et le voilà qui se mettait à battre l'espace à mouliner la nuit de grands gestes qui disaient, parlaient ce qui s'appelle, chantaient les mondes et les arrière-mondes, les bois qui sont derrière les bois, les tremblements et les éboulis, les chutes…. (204)
[Then he got up, accompanied the king toward the village square, beneath the baobab of discussions, where conversations immediately gave way to dancing. Each time, our man promised himself to remain with the traditional figures of the Ba'Sonaqués. But the voice of the drum mystified him, carried him insidiously toward another time, another place, another interior music; and it was there that he began to beat the milling space the night of great movements that told, spoke what is named, sang worlds and nether-worlds, woods that lie behind the woods, tremors and landslides, waterfalls…]
While outward appearances suggest Ti Jean's successful integration as a member of Ba'Sonaqué society, in his mind and in his heart, he unwittingly maintains the status of outsider. As he sits surrounded by festive swirls of music and dancing, Ti Jean denies himself the collectivity of the shared rhythmic experience, effectively isolating himself from the members of his community. Despite his efforts to concentrate on Ba'Sonaqué traditions, the voice of an allegorical drum intervenes, mentally transporting him to other places and other times. As his thoughts drift toward his own interior struggle, Ti Jean reproaches his own idealizations of a utopic ancestral Africa, in a process Elisabeth Mudimbe-Boyi describes as “an invitation to reject, or at least to relativise, the homogenizing discourse of an immutable and eternal African past” (Mudimbe-Boyi 1993, 212). Disillusioned, Ti Jean equally reprimands his own failure to appreciate his native Guadeloupe for what it was (or what it is), born out of what Mudimbe-Boyi characterizes as the “necessity for a reconciliation with one's interiority” (212). Unable to reconcile his African present and his Antillean past, Ti Jean's identificatory anguish is amplified when he is ultimately betrayed by the Ba'Sonaqué. Tried as a sorcerer after having transformed himself into a raven in an attempt to flee from an unhappy marriage and an uncomfortable existence among the Ba'Sonaqué, Ti Jean is convicted and stoned to death. Notably, it is Maïri, the young man whose life he saved upon his arrival in the Niger River Valley, who throws the first stone.
Ti Jean's death at the hands of Maïri can be read as a critique of la Négritude, a literary, cultural, and political movement headed by Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Léon Damas in the 1930s. Hailing from Martinique, Senegal, and French Guyana respectively, the poets sought to encourage transatlantic solidarity in promoting writers from Africa and the African Diaspora. In particular, the writers advocated Pan African unity as a means of confronting the problems and injustices of colonialism, racism, discrimination, and xenophobia in France, its colonies, and around the world. Whereas la Négritude provided a starting point for African and Afro-Caribbean writers to gain visibility and increase awareness in political, sociocultural, linguistic, and aesthetic domains during the final decades of colonialism, many writers soon found the essentializing moniker Négritude limiting. In Caribbean contexts, many writers responded by developing critical and literary works that supported the notion of Antillanité, rooting identities in the geographic spaces of the Antilles, all the while recognizing the global network of influences in operation through migration, communication, travel, and exile. Although Édouard Glissant is best known for his endorsement of Antillanité, Simone Schwarz-Bart also explores dimensions of the specificities of Antillean identities in her works. For Schwarz-Bart, the rejection of Négritude emerges as she acknowledges the importance of looking inward to the spaces of the islands before looking to exterior points of reference in Africa, Europe, or other parts of the world. This motif is apparent in the case of the Ba'Sonaqué's ultimate rejection of and assault on Ti Jean. In this respect, his initial gaze outward to a faraway space situated in an ancestral past leads to an incomplete and inauthentic sense of collective and individual identity, which brings about his initial demise during his epic journey.
Through his death, Ti Jean unknowingly embarks upon another journey, as he travels from the ancestral lands of the Niger River Valley to the cavernous realm of the Kingdom of the Dead. Existing somewhere unknown, beyond the ephemeral and shifting spaces of dreams, nightmares, and hallucinations, Ti Jean finds himself in an obscure, cavernous universe. Devoid of the quotidian sonorities that fill the lands of the living, the Kingdom of the Dead is both silent and imposing. As Ti Jean wanders, lost for several eternities in the vast and solemn realm, rhythm and music take on sacred dimensions, and Dawa the “divine drummer” is revered as a messiah. Condemned to repeat their “danse sans musique” (218) (dance without music) day after day in the Kingdom of the Dead, Ti Jean and the other lost souls incessantly wait for the day when Dawa will take up his drum, simultaneously breaking the oppressive silence and illuminating the darkened sky.
After a lengthy period of introspection in the Kingdom of the Dead where he ends up living as the lover-captive of its monstrous queen, Ti Jean is liberated. Left, once again, to wander the earth “au risque de [s]e perdre” (236) (at the risk of losing [him]self), Ti Jean returns to Guadeloupe, only to find himself the target of arrows fired by Guadeloupeans of another time, whether it be past, present, future, or parallel. Alone and disoriented, Ti Jean begs for information, crying out “en quel temps sommesnous?…en quel siecle?…siècle?…siècle?…. ”(248) (in what time are we? in what century?…century?…century?…) as the terrified locals flee the scene. Upon finding himself a stranger among his own people, Ti Jean's sense of identificatory anguish is amplified. In narrating Ti Jean's moment of panic and incertitude as he stands lost in a familiar location at an unknown time, Schwarz-Bart emphasizes his isolation by creating an echo effect through the repetition of the word siècle. This audible echo effect is accentuated by graphic elements on the written page—the question marks that punctuate each frantic interrogation, and the ellipses that indicate the silence Ti Jean encounters when no one responds to his frantically repeated question.
Uncertain and scared after a disheartening homecoming, Ti Jean decides to transform himself into a birdlike creature so that he may fly back to the shores of Africa. Half-man, half-bird, the young hero completes his journey across the Atlantic Ocean, although when he arrives, he discovers himself not in Africa but in France. There, he encounters yet another horrific and hallucinatory landscape, one that is filled with “vieilles rues malséantes, malodorantes” and “blancs, osseux et pouilleux” (252) (old unseemly, foul-smelling streets [and] bony and flea-ridden whites). Contemplating what he sees in disbelief, Ti Jean is once again fired upon in his liminal state, this time by machine guns. Alone and in exile, he experiences a heightened sense of identity crisis that is heightened by the lack of familiar rhythmic points of reference, both in Guadeloupe and in France. Instead of being greeted by the everyday rhythms of people working or the recognizable patterns of lively dance steps, during his post-mortem travels to Guadeloupe and to France, Ti Jean is confronted with the harsh sonorities of gunfire and arrows piercing flesh. The violence evoked by these hostile noises recalls the sounds of the stones thrown by the Ba'Sonaqué people thumping against flesh, bone, and sand in the moments preceding Ti-Jean's brutal death as a condemned man in Africa. Equally malevolent, the sonic variations produced by piercing arrows and calamitous machine guns return Ti Jean to a traumatic sounding space in which the noises of death unleash an excruciating series of emotional and sensory reactions. Devoid of memory impressions and contextual cues, these traumatic sounding moments amplify Ti Jean's identificatory anguish. Received as an enemy in the land of his ancestors, the land of his home, and the land of his governance, Ti Jean is left once again to wander, lost in space and in time. Unable to identify with the hostile sonorities of his surrounding environments, Ti Jean continues to search for that which escapes him, not only his home and his family, but also his sense of self.
As Ti Jean struggles to negotiate an autonomous sense of identity amidst the prevailing atmosphere of chaos and confusion, he gains insight from conversations he shares with the spirit of Eusèbe the Elder, one of his grandfather Wademba's friends. During the course of their dialogue, Schwarz-Bart evokes rhythmic and musical sonorities, which provide important sonic reference points and also serve as meaningful resonant signals of inevitable transformation and change. In a passage that will prove itself key to Ti Jean's understanding of himself, Eusèbe encourages the young hero to summon the power of the drum by slowly reciting an incantation:
Esprit de la terre
Vaste vaste vaste
Je m'adresse à toi
Et tu me comprendras
Oiseau qui passes dans la nuit
Et parles la langue des hommes
Je m'adresse à toi
Et tu me comprendras. (264–65)
[Spirit of the earth
Vast vast vast
I speak to you
And you will understand me
Bird that passes in the night
And speaks the language of men
I speak to you
And you will understand me.]
As Ti Jean calmly summons the spirit of the earth, he incorporates percussive vocal techniques through the repetition of the words “vaste vaste vaste.” By invoking the power, authority, and transcendence of drumming and drum languages, Ti Jean succeeds in connecting with the spirit of the earth, which subtly announces its presence through “une musique sereine” and “des sonorités voilées de tam-tam” (265) (a serene music [and] veiled tam-tam sonorities). Before gently fading off into the distance, the voice of the spirit “ouvrait son âme d'enfant à d'autres mondes, irrémédiablement” with its “chant plein de gloire, de tristesse et de gloire” (265) (open[s] [Ti Jean's] child soul to other worlds, irremediably [with its] song full of glory, of sadness and glory). Once again, Schwarz-Bart summons the resonant power of music to signal an important turning point in the text, leading up to the moment when Ti Jean develops a strong sense of self, both as an individual and as a member of the Antillean and global communities. For Schwarz-Bart, this identificatory process is by no means definitive, by no means complete. A constant performance in progress, the work of identification involves a complicated series of overlapping beginnings, endings, and reference points beyond and in between origination and completion. Schwarz-Bart emphasizes this point in the final chapter of Ti Jean L'horizon, “La fin et le commencement” (The End and the Beginning), in which we find Ti Jean reflecting on the successful yet unpredictable completion of his quest to slay the giant beast with seven heads:
Durant toutes ces années, qui avaient eu pour lui la durée d'une vie, rêvant à Fond-Zombi, il avait toujours envisagé son retour comme une fin, comme le terme de l'histoire que lui avait annoncé Wademba, au soir de sa mort, une histoire qui se nomme tristesse, obscurité, malheur et sang avait dit le vieillard sur un ton étrange, navré peut-être, cependant que l'enfant posait sur lui des yeux brûlants d'impatience. Mais il voyait maintenant, nostr'homme, que cette fin ne serait qu'un commencement ; le commencement d'une chose qui l'attendait là, parmi ces groupes de cases éboulées, ces huttes, ces abris de fortune sous lesquels on se racontait à voix basse et l'on rêvait, déjà on réinventait la vie, fiévreusement, à la lueur de torches, simplement plantées dans la terre…(314)
[During all those years, that had lasted for him the duration of a lifetime, dreaming of Fond-Zombi, he had always envisioned his return as an end, like the term of the story that Wademba had foretold to him, on the evening of his death, a story named sadness, obscurity, unhappiness, and blood that the old man had told in a strange tone, heartbroken perhaps, while the child laid on him his eyes burning with impatience. But he saw now, our man, that this end would only be a beginning; the beginning of something that awaited him there, among these groups of ramshackle huts, these shanties, these shelters of fortune under which they were telling tales in low voices and they were dreaming, already they were reinventing life, feverishly, under the glimmer of torches, simply planted in the earth…]
In this light, for Ti Jean, each moment represents a possible beginning, ending or point in between or beyond, in which his understanding of himself and his relationships with others and the world is constantly shifting, open to a vast domain of possibilities. This is the lesson Schwarz-Bart shares with her readers as they reach the ending-beginning of Ti Jean L'horizon.
Before squaring off with the beast with seven heads and successfully reuniting with his beloved Égée, Ti Jean must first negotiate an autonomous identity construct that reconciles the distant spaces and disjointed epochs visited during the course of his unlikely journey. Prompted by the assertion “Ce que tu es, toi seul peux le savoir, toi seul” (268) (That which you are, only you can understand it, only you), through Ti Jean's journey, Schwarz-Bart formulates a roots-revision model comparable to Deleuze and Guattari's Rhizome, Glissant's Relation, and Gilroy's Black Atlantic as a means of addressing questions and configurations of individual and collective identities.11 Revealed by Ti Jean in his final conversation with Eusebe the Elder, Schwarz-Bart's model reclaims the symbol of the allegorical ancestral tree, transforming it to reflect Antillean historical, sociocultural, and aesthetic considerations. Formulated as a final message from Ti Jean to the deceased Wademba, Schwarz-Bart's model negotiates multiple interactive influences from geographical, historical, linguistic, and sociocultural sources.
Nous sommes peut-être la branche coupée de l'arbre, une branche emportée par le vent, oubliée; mais tout cela aurait bien fini par envoyer des racines, un jour, et puis un tronc et de nouvelles branches avec des feuilles, des fruits,…des fruits qui ne ressembleraient à personne. (274)
[We are perhaps the branch cut from the tree, a branch carried by the wind, forgotten; but all of that would have ended by sending roots, one day, and then a trunk and new branches with leaves, fruits…fruits that would not resemble anyone.]
In her roots-revision model, Schwarz-Bart favors the image of a wayward and solitary branch, one that was separated from an ancestral tree long ago. Transported a great distance across the ocean, the displaced branch eventually develops roots of its own and begins to produce its own unique flora. Emphasized through the use of the first-person plural we, Schwarz-Bart affirms a sense of historical and sociocultural collectivity among the diverse peoples of the Antilles, connecting Ti Jean's timeless quest for identity to contemporary questions of Antillean identity. Moreover, Schwarz-Bart simultaneously celebrates the diversity of the Caribbean peoples and asserts a sense of localized cultural autonomy, manifest in the representation of the distinctive character of the wayward tree's fruits and flora. Although autonomous, the Antillean tree is by no means isolated. Rather, the new plant reflects the multicultural heritage of the Caribbean, recognizing the complicated network of transcultural ties to Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas in the past and the present.
Through the appropriation of the image of the ancestral tree in a written literary format—a symbol that, according to Deleuze and Guattari, “dominates Occidental reality” and “Occidental thought” (Deleuze and Guattari 1980, 27)—Schwarz-Bart succeeds in displacing occidental authority, shifting the balance of power to autonomous Antillean sources who also claim the tree as an important symbol in folklore, identification, and relationality. Unlike single-source roots models that limit subjects to identify with a single point of geographical or cultural reference, Schwarz Bart's model permits subjects to negotiate interconnected systems of influences in shaping identities. Like Deleuze and Guattari's Rhizome, which acknowledges “all sorts of becomings” (Deleuze and Guattari 1980, 32), Schwarz-Bart's roots-revision model affirms a multiplicity of possible identifications on collective and individual levels.
Although in form, Schwarz-Bart's roots-revision model more nearly resembles the organic shapes of the Rhizome, in purpose, it more closely corresponds to the localized focus of Glissant's Relation, an outgrowth of his notion of creolization. Described by Glissant as “des contacts de cultures en un lieu donné du monde et qui ne produisent pas un simple métissage, mais une résultante imprévisible” (Clermont and Casamayor 1998) (culture contacts in a given place in the world and that do not produce a simple métissage but an unpredictable result), creolization is inextricably connected to the Relation, the dynamic network of historical, linguistic, and sociocultural influences that interact in shaping identities. Although based in the Antilles and designed to address the specificity of Antillean identity, the principles of creolization and the Relation are applicable in other geographical settings and social contexts. As Glissant posits, “Le monde se créolise” (The world is creolizing):
Quand je dis que le monde se créolise, toute création culturelle ne devient pas créole pour autant, mais elle devient surprenante, compliquée et inextricablement mélangée aux autres cultures. La créolisation du monde, c'est la création d'une culture ouverte et inextricable, et elle se fait dans tous les domaines, musiques, arts plastiques, littérature, cinéma, cuisine, à une allure vertigineuse. (Joignot 2004, 27)
[When I say that the world is creolizing, each cultural creation does not become Creole as such, but it becomes surprising, complicated and inextricably mixed with other cultures. The creolization of the world, it is the creation of an open and inextricable culture, and it fashions itself in every domain, music, visual arts, literature, cinema, cuisine, at a vertiginous pace.]
Similarly, in designing the roots-revision model that she presents in the narrative frame of Ti Jean L'horizon, Schwarz-Bart looks first to the spaces of the Caribbean islands, insisting on an Antilles-centered identificatory model in which identities are performed, recounted, (re)negotiated, and (re)configured. Nonetheless, much like Glissant's Relation, Schwarz-Bart's roots-revision model could be extrapolated in considering questions of identity in multiple contexts, particularly in view of the motifs and processes of immigration, communication, wandering, and exile in communities around the world.
In developing her dynamic, roots-revision configuration, Schwarz-Bart rejects the single-source ideal set forth by conventional notions of rootedness, allowing for transformation across distance and time, a point Paul Gilroy insists on in designing his theoretical model the Black Atlantic. Asserting that cultural capital is neither stable nor immutable, Gilroy argues that even remarkably similar cultural and transcultural phenomena are inevitably transformed with the passage of distance or time: “How are we to think critically about artistic products and aesthetic codes which, though they may be traceable back to one distinct location, have been changed either by the passage of time or by their displacement, relocation or dissemination through networks of communication and cultural exchange?” (Gilroy 1983, 80).
Insisting on complex systems of transcultural communication and exchange rather than a single point of origin, Gilroy, like Schwarz-Bart, recognizes the constant interplay between collective and individual modes of identification as necessitated by roots-revision models. Although at first glance, this strategy may seem to favor collective identity over that of the individual, Schwarz-Bart repeatedly acknowledges the ever-changing network of interactions and interdependencies that influence individuals and cultures at large. This is a point she accentuates in representing Ti Jean's sensorial impressions and his rhythmic and musical reference points over the course of his simultaneous quest for and questioning of identity. Similarly, throughout Ti Jean's wanderings, Schwarz-Bart maintains the equal importance of introspection and observation, the inward and outward gazes that contribute to a balanced sense of subjective identification. Such autonomy, according to Michel Giraud, is essential to resolving problems of identification in Antillean sociocultural contexts: “Seule doit être conquise, puis préservée, la liberté des choix collectifs mais aussi individuels d'identification, en assurant au plus grand nombre possible les conditions matérielles, symboliques et intellectuelles de son exercice” (Giraud 1997, 809). (Only must be conquered, then preserved, the freedom of collective but also individual identification choices, assuring to the largest possible number the material, symbolic and intellectual conditions of their exercise.) By focusing on Ti Jean's individual experiences rather than those of a larger social group, Schwarz-Bart insists on the role of the individual as the primary negotiator in configuring identities in the transcultural transpoetic space of the text. In this respect, she aligns herself with thinkers like Giraud in asserting the importance of autonomously appropriated notions of identity, particularly in working toward finding operative and cooperative solutions for often problematized questions of Antillean identity.12
Through her revision of the ancestral tree metaphor, Schwarz-Bart opens questions of Antillean identity to infinite influences and possibilities, successfully negotiating the divide Christine Chivallon refers to as “Territoire-racine versus réseau-errance” (Chivallon 1997, 769) (Territory-root versus network-wandering). In Schwarz-Bart's view, Antillean, Diasporic, and migrant subjects cannot be limited to identify with a single point of geographic, cultural, or ancestral origin. Rather, they are encouraged to negotiate autonomous identities that respect and reflect a multiplicity of influences from a variety of spaces and epochs, including the sounds and sensations that fill the everyday resonant worlds of their respective pasts, presents, and futures. For Schwarz-Bart, the framework of the novel provides an important interface through which readers are compelled to revisit problematic dimensions of identifications and identities. Open to unlimited communication and exchange, the transcultural transpoetic space of the text offers a point of interaction in which aesthetic, linguistic, and sociocultural conventions are blurred, challenging subjects to revise and reconfigure limiting identity constructs as prescribed by nations, cultures, and communities.
Similarly, in L'appel des arènes, Aminata Sow Fall incorporates comparable organic imagery as a means of representing the complexities of Nalla's search for identity in a changing postcolonial Senegal. Nevertheless, unlike Schwarz-Bart, who prefers a modified version of the ancestral tree metaphor to more accurately reflect the experiences of the Antillean Diaspora, Sow Fall presents a somewhat conventional roots-model in approaching questions of Senegalese identity. Designating the tree as a symbol of local history and traditions, Sow Fall maintains the importance of localized influences, which, in her view, serve as the primary basis in establishing individual and collective identity constructs. Sow Fall's model is particularly relevant in postcolonial West Africa as its nations vie for increased autonomy and authority in the face of continued political interference, economic exploitation, and cultural imperialist influences from European and other Northern nations.
Aside from differences in form, there are other important distinctions that separate Schwarz-Bart's and Sow Fall's theoretical constructs. Unlike Schwarz-Bart, who presents her roots-revision model near the culmination of Ti Jean's journey as a means of predicting the successful completion of his quest, Sow Fall's roots model appears in the midst of Nalla's and his family's identificatory anguish, foreshadowing further conflicts and confusion as Nalla and Ndiougou move to embrace local traditions and (re)incorporate them into their lives, while Diattou remains rigid in her refusal to consider or accept meaningful Senegalese cultural practices. Another important distinction lies in the presentation of the models. While Schwarz-Bart's model is vocalized by Ti Jean, signaling his success in negotiating an autonomously contructed identity, Sow Fall's model is written in a journal by Nalla's teacher Mr. Niang, giving the impression of criticism rather than realization. In this respect, Mr. Niang implicates Nalla's parents—who seem just as lost as Nalla—in failing to promote the importance of connecting with local traditions to their son:
L'homme perd ses racines et l'homme sans racines est pareil à un arbre sans racines: il se dessèche et il meurt. (Un homme qui a perdu son identité est un homme mort…) Le refus de Diattou et Ndiougou, leur obstination à vouloir détourner Nalla des tam-tams, c'est le rejet d'une partie de leurs racines. Peutêtre n'en ontils pas conscience…Et ils renieront progressivement d'autres parties de leurs racines sans jamais réussir à les compenser par des racines appartenant a d'autres. Ils se trouveront alors dans la position inconfortable de celui qui trébuche éternellement sur un fil suspendu dans le vide, ne pouvant poser le pied ni à droite, ni à gauche…C'est cela l'aliénation…Déséquilibre physique…Deséquilibre spirituel…Déséquilibre mental. (Appel, 72-73)
[Man loses his roots and the man without roots is similar to a tree without roots: it dries up and it dies. (A man who has lost his identity is a dead man…) Diattou's and Ndiougou's refusal, their obstinacy in wanting to divert Nalla from the tam-tams, it is the rejection of a part of their roots. Perhaps they are not aware of it…And they will progressively deny other parts of their roots without ever succeeding in compensating them with roots belonging to others. They will then find themselves in the awkward position of the one who eternally stumbles on a string suspended in space, unable to set his foot down neither to the right nor to the left…That is what alienation is…Physical imbalance…Spiritual imbalance…Mental imbalance.]
Decrying the failure of Nalla's parents to connect with Senegalese traditions, perspectives, and cultural practices, Mr. Niang insists on the importance of first embracing local cultures and histories while negotiating autonomous identity configurations, only later considering influences from international and intercultural sources. By characterizing a person without identity as dead, he emphasizes the urgency of embracing local linguistic, historical, and sociocultural phenomena as a means of gaining a sense of purpose and insight in view of questions of identity. Although Sow Fall recognizes the importance of multiple linguistic and cultural influences from international and transcultural points of origin, transition, and interaction, she maintains the significance of comprising a core of identificatory values rooted in local ideologies, traditions, and innovations. For Sow Fall, the longing identificatory gaze to Northern points of cultural influence is highly problematic in African contexts. By presenting her model in the guise of a criticism, Sow Fall acknowledges the problems that Nalla and his parents face, but also indicates the steps necessary to remedy their identificatory precariousness.
In describing her model, Sow Fall further designates rhythmic and musical phenomena as key components in negotiating Senegalese identity in late twentieth century contexts. Through the explicit evocation of the vibrant rumblings of tam-tams in association with notions of rootedness, Sow Fall affirms that it is not only past cultural histories and traditions that shape identity, but also the present sonorities and rhythms of the everyday world. In this respect, by depriving themselves and their son of the sociocultural experience of local cultural rhythms, Sow Fall argues that Diattou and Ndiougou are disrupting the process of identification, both for Nalla and for themselves. Only after reconciling themselves with the rhythms, opening their ears to the “call of the earth,” will they be able to appropriate autonomous identity constructs that reflect the multiplicity of diverse influences in their lives. This notion is evident throughout the text, as Nalla begins to explore questions of identity after responding to the percussive “call of the arena.” His ensuing pursuit of and obsession with the rhythms and music of the wrestling subculture lead him to assemble the various sounding influences in his life and to ground them in a Senegalese historico-cultural context. Readers witness a similar process at work in the final pages of the novel, as Ndiougou emerges from the space of the wrestling arena—evidently affected by the rhythms of tam-tams—with a new sense of self and an improved relationship with his community after reconnecting with Senegalese traditions and cultural practices. As for Diattou, who remains rigid in her unwillingness to partake in collective rhythmic or musical manifestations, she risks a future of alienation, characterized by the prospect of physical, mental, and spiritual disequilibrium.
In presenting their respective conceptions of roots and rootedness, both Schwarz-Bart and Sow Fall insist on the importance of establishing a single point of local origin, a localized base upon which exterior elements and influences can later be added as branches, fruits, and flora. Without this grounded foundation in a local cultural context, for Sow Fall and Schwarz-Bart, the identificatory process remains incomplete, leaving individuals unable to identify with collective groups (at home or abroad), or to negotiate operative identity constructs. Moreover, in promoting and reworking the traditional symbol of the tree, Schwarz-Bart and Sow Fall equally recognize its mutable organic nature, manifest in the necessity to balance multiple influences from different cultures, locations, and epochs. Strongly rooted in one's homeland, but free to wander across real and imaginary spaces, to traverse past, present, future, and parallel epochs, and to gather multiple transcultural influences, subjects in Schwarz-Bart and Sow Fall's organic model systems possess the skills and the tools necessary to develop a strong sense of autonomy in confronting complicated questions of collective and individual identities.
Balancing inward and outward gazes, Aminata Sow Fall's and Simone Schwarz-Bart's respective tree models present practical yet intuitive approaches to questions of identity in the Francophone world, particularly as performed in the political and sociocultural contexts of the 1970s and 1980s. In looking to natural, organic motifs for inspiration, both writers open questions of identity to a multiplicity of sensorial and experiential possibilities as mediated through encounters with rhythmic, musical, and otherwise noisy phenomena. In this respect, by filling their novels with seemingly limitless resonant possibilities, both Schwarz-Bart and Sow Fall designate the sounding spaces of their texts as dynamic interfaces in which questions of identity are explored, communicated, untangled, and (re)negotiated. Sounding off on the ways identities are conceived, perceived, (de/re)constructed, and (re)configured, Sow Fall and Schwarz-Bart invite readers to reconsider and question their approaches to conceptualizing individual identities, community affiliations, and global networks in local and international relational contexts.
1. A dibiterie is like a butcher shop and restaurant in one, where diners enjoy meat (usually lamb) grilled over a wooden fire.
2. Mbalax is used to characterize a genre in which rhythms and instrumentation from traditional Senegalese music are incorporated into modern jazz, rock, and/or pop ensembles.
3. The dialgaty is a popular dance rhythm in Senegal that is often played at celebrations and sometimes just for fun.
4. It is important to note that the devouring beast with seven heads that also appears in Ti Jean L'horizon also figures into Chamoiseau's Creole Folktales collection in the “L'il Fellow the Musician” story (Chamoiseau 1994).
5. In Chamoiseau's version of the tale, Ti Jean's Caucasian “godfather” is really his biological father. After denying sanguinary affiliation with his illegitimate child, Ti Jean's biological father designates the title of “godfather” for himself.
6. Also known as the “talking drum,” the tama is a drum with a variable pitch held in the crux between the arm and the ribs and played with a small curved stick. It is common to many Senegalese ethnic groups including the Wolof, Serer, Malinké, Toucouleur, and Mandinko.
7. Niang defines a tagg as : “Un discours élégiaque dont la fonction est de rehausser l'interlocuteur, en flattant son honneur et sa dignité. Le tagg rappelle à l'interlocuteurla noblesse de sa généalogie, les exploits de ses ancêtres et le somme implicitement de faire honneur à son rang en se montrant généreux à l'égard du locuteur” (Niang 1992, 112). (An elegiac speech whose function is to elevate the interlocutor, while flattering his honor and his dignity. The tagg reminds the interlocutor of the nobility of his genealogy, the exploits of his ancestors, and the implicit sum of honoring his rank while proving himself generous toward the speaker.)
8. In translating the bàkk, I have left the Wolof words untranslated as a means of imitating the bilingual effect created by Sow Fall.
9. Tiado (also spelled ceddo) is a term used to indicate animist believers in Senegal who refuse to align themselves with the dominant religions in Senegal—Islam and Christianity.
10. In French, griote is a word that designates a female griot who practices her art through a combination of music, storytelling, and dance.
11. This notion is further discussed in my article “Rethinking Rootedness in Simone Schwarz-Bart's Ti Jean L'horizon” (Huntington 2007).
12. For an expansion of the problematization of Caribbean identities, see also De Souza and Murdoch 2005; and Heady 2005.