4 / Music and Mourning in Crossing the Mangrove and Solibo Magnificent
The question of how to identity oneself and to whom is always a tricky one, involving an intricate process of communication on the part of the subject, recognition on the part of the other(s), and plays for positionality among the subject, the other(s), and multiple external agents, factors and circumstances. Questions of identity are further complicated since they tend to involve many separate but overlapping categories including but not limited to geography, nationality, ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, age, gender, and cultural and subcultural group affiliations. While this identity problematic operates in every sociocultural context, for the purposes of this chapter, we will focus on dimensions of identity in Martinique and Guadeloupe, the respective settings for Patrick Chamoiseau's Solibo Magnificent and Maryse Condé's Crossing the Mangrove.
In characterizing the islands themselves, it is difficult to choose the appropriate words without offending the taxonomic sensibilities of someone who calls Martinique or Guadeloupe home. Perhaps some of the most heated exchanges I have witnessed in academia have emerged from the question-and-answer sessions following lectures or panel discussions on Caribbean identity by prominent writers and scholars. For example, in April 2003 at the Frontières: Un festival d'écrivains franco-britanniques sur l'identité (Frontiers: A Festival of Franco-British Writers on Identity) in Paris, Guadeloupean writer Ernest Pépin discussed his ideas about Antillean identity, which rely on the notion of créolité (creoleness), a word that incites controversy on both sides of the Atlantic. The controversy behind the word seems to lie in its “creole” component, a term that has been firmly rooted in discussions of language, race, and social class in the Caribbean islands.1 In Pépin's view, the “creole” of créolité is not a limiting construct or category, but rather a dynamic process through which multiple mosaic identities are configured and respected. In an interview with David Cadasse, Pépin defined his view of créolité.
C'est la prise de conscience de la diversité du monde caribéen. C'est également la volonté de repenser la notion d'identité. Parce qu'on ne peut réduire la créolité à la langue créole. Il ne s'agit pas que de ça. Il s'agit fondamentalement d'une théorie de l'identité mosaïque. Il existe une conception de l'identité en terme de propriété ma langue, ma terre, ma religion. Mais elle nous enferme dans une logique d'exclusion. Il vaudrait mieux raisonner sur la base d'une identité mosaïque mes terres, mes langues, mes religions. (Cadasse and Pépin 2004)
[It is the acknowledgment of the diversity of the Caribbean world. It is equally the willingness to rethink the notion of identity. Because one cannot reduce creoleness to the Creole language. It is not a question of that. Fundamentally, it is a question of a theory of mosaic identity. There exists a conception of identity in terms of propriety. my language, my land, my religion. But it confines us in a logic of exclusion. It would be better to reason on the basis of a mosaic identity. my lands, my languages, my religions.]
Although Pépin is seeking to appropriate the term creolité to respect what he views as the mosaic identities of the Caribbean islands,2 not everyone agrees with that use of the term, especially the Martinicans and Guadeloupeans, who prefer to align themselves with France.3
At the Frontieres discussion, there was one woman in particular who began shouting at Pépin during the question-and-answer session. The Guadeloupean-born woman screamed, “I am French!” and then accused him of being an old man who was out of touch with the younger French-defined generation of Guadeloupean and Martinican youth. If the woman in question would have read or listened to Pépin's work, she may have arrived at a different conclusion. For Pépin, identity is not an either-or type of construct, but rather a process through which individuals constantly (re) negotiate and (re)configure multiple linguistic, historical, aesthetic, and cultural influences from disparate locations in past and present frames of reference. What Pépin takes issue with, however, is the operative hierarchical positioning that attempts to place France in a position of political, economic, linguistic, sociocultural, and aesthetic authority over its former colonial subjects in the Antilles and around the world. In his novel Tambour Babel, Pépin posits the n'goka (an alternate spelling of gwo ka—a drum used in traditional Guadeloupean drumming ensembles) as a powerful expressive device capable of shattering such operative hierarchies, leveling the playing field as it were and freeing subjects to configure autonomous identities in sounding spaces beyond the confines of Northern or Western critical paradigms. In this capacity, the drum language performed by a skilled tanbouyé on his gwo ka serves as a language to replace all other languages. For Pépin, the gwo ka, born out of the musical traditions and the physical spaces of the islands, has the power to topple existing power structures and to transform the ways in which individuals and cultures relate to and interact with one another. Echoing the invitation extended by Aimé Césaire in his Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (Return to My Native Land), “il est place pour tous au rendezvous de la conquête” (Césaire 1983, 57) (there is room for all at the gathering of the conquest), Pépin asks his listeners to open their ears, bodies, hearts, and minds to the rhythms of the gwo ka as a means of resisting continued discrimination and inequality, opening spaces for transcultural innovation and communication, and promoting autonomous identity (re)appropriation and (re)configuration in communities located in the Caribbean and around the world.
Although very vocal at the Frontières discussion forum, the Guadeloupean-born, French-defined woman does not necessarily speak for an entire generation of Antillean youth. When I was in Martinique in March of 2007, I spoke with a group of students who informed me of a growing separatist movement in Martinique through which Martinicans are seeking independence from French political and linguistic authority. In fact, near the bus stop on the Schoelcher campus of the Université des Antilles et de la Guyane, I found a series of spray-painted stenciled black, red, and green graffiti blocks that read “MARTINIQUE, UN PEUPLE, UNE NATION, UN État” (Martinique, one people, one nation, one state). The two very different youth perspectives provide insight into the complicated dimensions of twenty-first-century Martinican and Guadeloupean identity. There are no easy answers here, only questions and possibilities.
During my informal inquiries about Antillean identity, the best (and perhaps most diplomatic) response I received came from a taxi driver from Anse-Mitan, Martinique. When I asked him if I could interview him about Martinique and identity, he smiled and invited me to ride in the front seat passenger side of the taxi. We then shared an insightful conversation while stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the airport. The most striking thing he said to me during that ride was his response to my question, “How do you identify yourself?” His frank reply—”Well that depends on who you ask. If you ask my passport, it will tell you that I am French first and then Martinican and then Caribbean, but if you ask my heart, it will tell you that I am Martinican first and then Caribbean and then French…and even then maybe not French”—seemed to put everything I had read, heard, experienced, and observed into perspective for me. In this light, identity is not simply a question of me, you, him, her, or them. Rather, it is a question of us and how we navigate distinct but overlapping rhythmically mediated interfaces in political, linguistic, geographic, historical, socioeconomic, and sociocultural spheres to negotiate meaning and identities for ourselves, for others, and with each other.
In both Solibo Magnificent and Crossing the Mangrove, questions of Antillean identity are explored through the investigation of the life and death of a deceased central character whose identity is configured through the memories and experiences of surviving community members. In each work, death is narrated in disjointed fragments through a series of audible stories, songs, and conversations as well as flashes of perceptible memories, dreams, and nightmares. Faced with a jumble of disconnected impressions and anecdotes presented from a multiplicity of perspectives, the reader is left to construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct a posthumous identity for the deceased. In both novels, the death of the subject is narrated through the thoughts and experiences of the Others—the cast of surviving characters—and interpreted in the mind of another (or an Other)—the reader—in another place, at another time. In this respect, it is not only the identity of the deceased that is called into question, but also the identities of the supporting characters inside the frame of the novel and the identity of the reader(s) outside the space of the text. Moreover, in contemplating questions of death and identity in the two novels, larger questions of Antillean, Creolophone, and Francophone identity emerge, as both Chamoiseau and Condé consider the problematic interface of language(s), culture(s), and identities in their narratives.
In Solibo Magnificent, readers immediately learn of Solibo's death in Chamoiseau's fictional police report, in a section entitled “Avant la parole, L'écrit du malheur” (Before the Word. The Writing of Misfortune). As a self-proclaimed “marqueur de paroles” (Solibo, 25) (word scratcher)—a transcriber of stories, songs, and speech, a describer of sounds, silences, and sensations—Chamoiseau is careful to distinguish the written document from the story he is about to tell. Viewed through the observing eyes of Officer Évariste Pilon, the police report clinically inventories a death scene where “le cadavre d'un homme environ cinquante ans” (18) (the corpse of a man of about fifty years old) lies cold and rigid. Devoid of references to sounds and sensations, Pilon's report privileges the officer's sense of sight, detailing the appearance of the anonymous corpse, its condition and position, as well as the objects surrounding him. One notable olfactory description stands out among otherwise visual information in Pilon's rendering: “Une forte odeur d'urine s'y perçoit” (20) (A strong odor of urine was perceptible). The representation of the offensive odor of human body waste further dehumanizes the deceased, who lies on the ground encircled by scattered trash and debris. Objectified and anonymous much like “une ordure de vie” (25) (a piece of life's trash), the corpse presented in the novel's prologue is only identifiable by his frozen physical characteristics and the random objects in the vicinity.
As the story or “parole” section of Solibo Magnificent begins, Chamoiseau immediately shifts narrative perspectives, changing from the fact-based visual observations of a policeman to the dynamic multisensorial musings of a storyteller. This transformation is immediately evident as the first chapter of the novel is announced in the style and language of a traditional Martinican storyteller. Transposed into a written French-language format, in what Milan Kundera refers to as a “chamoisized” French (Kundera 1991), or what Marie-José N'Zengou-Tayo describes as a “chamoisification” of French (N'Zengou-Tayo 1996, 155), the voice of the storyteller laments the passing of a fellow storyteller or “Maltre de la parole”:
Le Maître de la parole
Prend ici le virage du destin
Et nous plonge Dans la déveine…
Pour qui pleurer?
Pour Solibo) (23)
The Master of the word
Takes here the curve of destiny
And plunges us
In bad luck…
(Crying for whom?
Unlike the police report, which provides a clinical account of an anonymous death scene, the introduction to Chamoiseau's first chapter lyrically mourns the loss of Solibo the storyteller before the chapter even begins. Negotiating the divide that often separates oral discourse and written texts as well as the craft of storytelling from that of writing, Chamoiseau immediately draws the readers/listeners into the narrative, implicating their engagement in the unfolding of events through the incorporation of apostrophe “mes amis!” (my friends!) and the use of the first-person plural pronoun nous (us). Like the novel's characters—the survivors and witnesses who are left to unravel the mystery of Solibo's death—Chamoiseau instantly plunges the readers/listeners into the ensuing confusion and misfortune.
As chapter 1 of Solibo Magnificent begins, Chamoiseau further establishes the complicity between writer and readers, storyteller and listeners, insisting on their active imaginative participation as Solibo Magnifique's story unfolds: “[D']abord, ô mes amis, avant l'atrocité, accordez une faveur: n'imaginez Solibo Magnifique qu'à la verticale, dans ses jours les plus beaux” (25). (First, oh my friends, before the atrocity, grant one favor: imagine Solibo only in the vertical, in his most beautiful days.) Directing his readers through the use of the imperative, Chamoiseau clearly identifies his expectations for his readers, explicitly involving them in the narration and negotiation of Solibo's posthumous identity. In crafting the ensuing narrative, Chamoiseau presents readers with a series of fragmented memories, conversations, and experiences as observed, overheard, and transcribed by the word scratcher-narrator. Acting as writer, transcriber, storyteller, ethnographer, and narrator, Chamoiseau inserts himself into the frame of his narrative as a character who participates in the acts of mourning and remembering in the aftermath of Solibo's death. In the police inventory of witnesses included in Chamoiseau's narrative, Chamoiseau's character is identified as “Patrick Chamoiseau, surnommeé Chamzibié, Ti-Cham or Oiseau de Cham, se disant ‘marqueur de paroles’, en réalité sans profession, demeurant 90 rue François-Arago” (30) (Patrick Chamoiseau, nicknamed Chamzibié, Lil-Cham, or Cham Bird, a self-proclaimed ‘word scratcher,’ in reality without profession, living at 90 François-Arago Street). Acting as a character-participant and narrator-transcriber throughout the noisy investigation, Chamoiseau engages his readers on multiple levels—as observers, accomplices, and confidants. Much like investigators or audience members, the readers/listeners are compelled to reconcile the disconnected evocations of sounds, silences, and sensations revealed through shared reminiscences and police interrogations as well as the rhythms, songs, and stories presented in the text. Nevertheless, unlike the novel's police investigator characters, who initially seek to uncover how Solibo died, the reader is ultimately driven to discover who Solibo was and, more importantly, how he shall be remembered. In this respect, as Chamoiseau invites his readers to lose themselves and find themselves in the clamorous realm of Solibo Magnificent, he challenges them to confront dimensions of linguistic, sociocultural, geographical, and political identity in ways that go beyond the parameters of cultural norms and aesthetic conventions.
Born in 1953 in Fort de France, Martinique, Patrick Chamoiseau has written a significant body of critical and literary texts, much of which deals with discussing questions of Caribbean identity, particularly in view of notions of créolité. Central to much of Chamoiseau's theoretical and fictional works, créolité is a process by which Caribbean identities are configured through explorations of Creole folklore, languages, and oral traditions. The product of a multiplicity of influences from Africa, Europe, Asia, the Americas, and the Caribbean, Chamoiseau's notion of créolité results in a mosaic Antillean identity with manifestations in linguistic, aesthetic, political, sociocultural, and ontological domains. Chamoiseau elaborates upon this notion of créolité in two theoretical works, Éloge de la créolité (1989) (In Praise of Creoleness), which he co-authored with Jean Bernabé and Raphaël Confiant, and Écrire en pays dominé (1997) (Writing in a Dominated Land), in which he prominently incorporates oral, rhythmic, and musical elements. Chamoiseau co-authored the philosophical treatises Quand les murs tombent: L'identité nationale hors-la-loi? (2007) (Raze the Walls: The Case for Outlawing Nationalism), and L'intraitable beauté du monde: Adresse à Barack Obama (2009) (The Intractable Beauty of the World. Address to Barack Obama) with Édouard Glissant. Chamoiseau's fictional works include the novels Chronique des sept misères (1986) (Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows); Texaco (1992); Biblique des derniers gestes (2002) (Biblical of the Last Acts); Un Dimanche au cachot (2007) (A Sunday in the Dungeon); and Les neuf consciences du Malfini (2009) (The Nine Consciences of Malfini).4 He has also published a collection of Creole folktales—Au temps de l'antan (1988) (Creole Folktales); a theatrical piece, Manman Dlo contre la fée Carabosse (1981) (Water Mama versus the Fairy Carabosse); and three volumes of memoirs. Antan d'enfance (1993) (Childhood); Chemin d'école (1994) (School Days); and À bout d'enfance (2005) (The End of Childhood). Although Chamoiseau spent time in Paris as a law student, he has spent most of his life in Martinique, where he lives today.
Unlike Chamoiseau, Maryse Condé has spent much of her life away from Guadeloupe, where she was born in Pointe-à-Pitre in 1937. After completing a portion of her secondary studies in Pointe-à-Pitre, she relocated to Paris, where she went on to study at the Sorbonne. Later, Condé traveled to West Africa, where she spent twelve years teaching in Guinea, Ghana, and Senegal. She then returned to Paris, where she completed her doctorate at the Sorbonne Nouvelle and later served as a university professor in France and in the United States. Although many of her novels address themes of travel and wandering in view of questions of identity, Crossing the Mangrove (1989) represents a homecoming of sorts in that it deals with questions of Antillean identity from within the geographical specificity of Guadeloupean cultural contexts. A prolific writer, over the course of her career Condé has published many works, including the novels Heremakhonon (1976); Ségou (1985); Moi, Tituba sorciére… (1986) (I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem…); Les derniers rois mages (1992) (The Last of the African Kings); Célanire cou coupé (2000) (Who Slashed Célanire's Throat? A Fantastical Tale); Histoire de la femme cannibale (2003) (The Story of the Cannibal Woman); and Les belles ténébreuses (The Beautiful Dark Women). In addition to writing many essays considering questions of Caribbean identity and notions of Francophone community, Condé has also published a theatrical piece—Pension les alizés (1988) (Trade Winds Boardinghouse) and two memoirs: Le coeur à rire et à pleurer (1999) (Tales from the Heart: True Stories from my Childhood); and Victoire, des saveurs et des mots (2006) (Victory, Flavors and Words).5 Condé currently resides primarily in New York City, where she serves as Professor Emeritus at Columbia University.
Like Solibo Magnificent, Maryse Condé's Crossing the Mangrove opens with an eyewitness account of a mysterious death scene, setting the stage for an exploration of questions of identity operating both inside and outside the frame of the text. Upon discovering the corpse of Francis Sancher lying face down in the mud, retired schoolteacher Mademoiselle Léocadie Timothée is immediately overcome by a flurry of emotional and physical responses. Overwhelmed by the sight and smell of the corpse, she uncontrollably vomits in the tall grass alongside his body. Despite her disdain for the dead man and her discomfort with the death scene, she makes three signs of the cross and recites a prayer in Francis Sancher's honor. As she runs to alert her fellow villagers, her ears filled with the frantic pulsing rhythms of her heartbeat, she pushes thoughts of the dead man out of her mind and second-guesses her decision to take an alternate route on that fateful day.
In presenting the ensuing series of events in the first chapter, Condé spends little time discussing the deceased himself, and instead focuses on introducing the novel's diverse cast of characters—all local inhabitants of Guadeloupe's Riviere au Sel. In the few instances when his name is brought up in the first chapter, the initial mentions of Francis Sancher cast an unfavorable light on him. Described as the “implacable ennemi” (implacable enemy) of Moïse dit Maringoin (Mangrove, 18) (Moses aka Mosquito), Francis Sancher is disliked and even hated by many of his neighbors in Rivière au Sel, as the following passages suggest:
Comme tous les habitants de Rivière au Sel, [Mademoiselle Léocadie Timothée] avait haï celui qui gisait là à ses pieds. (14)
[Like all of the inhabitants of Rivière au sel, (Mademoiselle Léocadie Timothée) had hated the one who was lying there at her feet.]
[I]l s'agissait d'un homme sur lequel pas un oeil, excepté celui de Vilma et de Mira, qui sait? ne verserait une larme. (17)
[(He) was man for whom not one eye, except for those of Vilma and of Mira, who knows? would shed a tear.]
Reviled by the men and women of the local community, Francis Sancher has few known friends or allies at the time of his death. Although Condé repeatedly indicates that Francis Sancher is despised by most of the Rivière au Sel residents, she provides little biographical or background information about him. Aside from physical descriptions as to how he appears in death, Condé reveals little more than the words “Pain, Vin, [and] Misere” (24) (bread, wine, [and] misery) in reference to the deceased. Consequently, at the end of the first chapter of Crossing the Mangrove, the identity of Francis Sancher is just as mysterious as his seemingly inexplicable death. In the chapters that follow, readers are left to piece together fragmentary bits of music, memory, and dialogue presented in chapters named for individual characters that explore Sancher's histories and relationships with his lovers, enemies, and secret allies. Plunging her readers into the thicket of an allusive mangrove, Condé compels them each to navigate the complexities of intricately interconnected memories, histories, and emotions as presented from a multiplicity of divergent perspectives. As they work their way through the complex jumble of narrative twists and turns, readers figuratively undertake the perilous crossing of the mangrove, as they struggle to piece together the fragmented story of Francis Sancher's life, and subsequently negotiate a posthumous identity for the deceased.
As Édouard Glissant explains in Traité du tout-monde (Treaty of the Whole-World), the intricate organic structure of the mangrove does not lend itself to facile navigation. Upon entering the complex network of inextricably intertwined roots and branches, wandering subjects are immediately overtaken by the mangrove's complicated physical construction. Like an immensely enigmatic three-dimensional labyrinth, the mangrove presents subjects with a perpetual series of obstacles, twists, and turns that confound the search for depth, the quest to find meaning:
[N]ous nous en sommes emparés…Toujours cette odeur de boue rouillée, de détritus organique—toujours ce battement d'eau qui chauffe. Nous sillonnons la mangrove, nous la traçons de pistes et de routes. Nous la fouillons d'excavations, nous la remblayons. Nous tâchons mais en vain d'en atteindre les profondeurs. Elle s'est retirée derrière son mystère d'ordures. (Glissant 1997b, 69–70)
[We have taken a hold of it…Always that odor of rusty mud, of organic garbage—always the beating of warming water. We crisscross the mangrove, we trace its paths and routes. We dig through it, we fill it in. We try but in vain to reach its depths. It is withdrawn behind its mystery of filth.]
In describing his conception of the mangrove, Glissant relies on multisensorial imagery, privileging olfactory, auditory, and tactile sensations over visual representations. As subjects work their way through the interlocking network of roots and branches, digging through the muck in search of something unknown, the smell of the mangrove fills their nostrils and the sound of water reverberates in their ears. Enigmatic by design, Glissant's mangrove presents itself as a perpetually shifting organic maze, one that fosters ambiguity and uncertainty. As subjects attempt to negotiate the impenetrable tangle of mangrove in search of what Glissant refers to as depth, they soon resign themselves to the impossibility of tangibility in the thick of the mangrove. Immersed in a space where definitions are ephemeral and fleeting, subjects emerge from the mangrove with equivocal responses to questions of identity, which in turn yields further questions, further questioning, further moments to recognize identity in process and identity as process.
This is where the importance of the hyphen in the title Traité du tout-monde comes into play. For Glissant, the hyphen comes to represent an abstract space of in-between-ness and beyond-ness, one in which multiple identificatory possibilities are activated.6 In this respect, it is not sufficient to focus on the mangrove as an identificatory model for Antillean subjects. Rather, for Glissant, it is important to recognize the physical, abstract, linguistic, and musical spaces situated beyond and in between the geographic fixedness of the mangrove-rhizome:
Mais aussi, partout dans les espaces d'ailleurs. les Hauts de ciel qui s'égarent en galaxies, les brousses qui encombrent leur propre profondeur, les saveurs affolées des terres en culture, les savanes qui couvent des ombres compresses comme des bonsais, les sables au désert qui vous grandissent en esprit, les salines où étudier la géométrie pure, les mangroves qui lacent l'inextricable, les glaciers débordants, les fonds de mer d'où monte le soir qui vient, les toundras qui vous chavirent à l'infini, les mornes qui vous plantent tout dru. Singuliers et semblables, avec pour chacun d'eux non pas seulement son mot, mais son langage. Non pas seulement sa langue, mais sa musique. (Glissant 1997b, 240–41)
[But also, throughout the faraway spaces. the Heights of the sky that wander off in galaxies, the brushes that obstruct their own depth, the panicked savors of agricultural lands, the savannahs that brood over shadows compressed like bonsais, the desert sands that magnify you in spirit, the salines where pure geography is studied, the mangroves that tie up the inextricable, the overactive glaciers, the depths of the sea from which the coming night arises, the tundras that infinitely capsize you, the hills that thickly plant you. Singular and similar, each with not just its word, but its language. Not only its tongue but its music.]
In this respect, for Glissant, it is no longer feasible to stay rooted in one's physical, linguistic, rhythmic, and/or musical domain. Rather, as “le monde se créolise” (the world creolizes), subjects must open themselves up to a multiplicity of transcultural influences, interactions, communications, and exchanges. Resonant with the possibilities of numerous and diverse languages, landscapes, and ways of being in the world, the boundless possibilities connoted through the transcending, mediating, sharing, and/or binding hyphen of the tout-monde creates opportunities for transcultural invention, communication, negotiation, and innovation that unpredictably manifest themselves in cultural practices, products, and perspectives, but most significantly in the performances and processes of autonomous identity configuration.
Memory, Mourning, and Mosaic Identities
In dealing with death in both Solibo Magnificent and Crossing the Mangrove, the fragmentary view of identity and identities is reinforced through a reliance on memory. Since readers are faced with a mysterious death scene in the opening chapters of both works, the two narratives are primarily driven by the compulsion to configure a posthumous identity for the deceased characters. Silenced by death, the lives and experiences of the dead are represented through the thoughts and words of those left behind. Unlike life experience, which allows for a perpetual process of subjective identification and redefinition, death transfers identificatory autonomy to an intersubjective community of surviving others who deconstruct and reconstruct identities for the deceased by assembling jumbled fragments of memory and lore. As Walter Benjamin explains, memory is problematic in that it shatters the stability of the present by recalling fragmentary elements—disconnected thoughts and sensations—and disintegrating impressions (Benjamin 1969, 160). Since memory relegates past predicaments and irresolution to the present, in dealing with death, survivors and witnesses open themselves up to precariousness and instability as they endeavor to reconcile the disjointed fragments of the past with the mazy complexities of an ever-changing present. Through the activity of reading, this process is transferred to readers, who become complicit witnesses to the memories, events, and experiences unfolding in the frame of the novel. Once implicated in the process, readers must in turn negotiate narrated fragments of memory and sensations to derive a sense of meaning as they work their way through the mysterious and disconcerting text.
In Solibo Magnificent, Chamoiseau explicitly addresses the problem of memory, particularly in view of questions of posthumous identity. Ephemeral and unreliable, as Chamoiseau explains, memory impressions of recollections, stories, riddles, and jokes are limited in that they yield an incomplete or fragmentary portrait of the deceased:
Car, si de son vivant il était une énigme, aujourd'hui c'est bien pire: il n'existe (comme s'en apercevra l'inspecteur principal au delà de l'enquête) que dans une mosaïque de souvenirs, et ses contes, ses devinettes, ses blagues de vie et de mort, se sont dissous dans des consciences trop souvent enivrées. (Solibo, 26)
[For, if in his lifetime he was an enigma, today it is even worse: he only exists (as the principal inspector will realize beyond the investigation) in a mosaic of memories, and his stories, his riddles, his jokes in life and in death, were dissolved in all too often drunken consciences.]
Further denigrated by the blurry lenses of conditions like drunkenness and forgetfulness, for Chamoiseau, fragments of memory are problematic in that they typically result in more questions than answers. In the case of Solibo, this dilemma of memory is exacerbated. Already an enigma in life, in death, Solibo leaves behind an unfathomable legacy of mysteries and unanswered questions. As characters present a disconnected series of memory fragments, filled with the sonorities of resonance, dissonance, and silence, readers are left to piece together the jagged pieces in assembling a composite mosaic identity for the deceased. While Chamoiseau uses the term “mosaic” in his characterization of Solibo's posthumous identity, it is important to distinguish the implications of the multiple interpretations of that term in view of identity configurations. Read within the specificity of the aforementioned citation, “mosaic” represents an incomplete composite identity, the result of piecing together memory impressions and stories as remembered and recounted by the community of witnesses and survivors in the aftermath of Solibo's death. In other works, including the Éloge de la créolité (In Praise of Creoleness), Chamoiseau further posits the term “mosaic” as a reflection of the coconfiguration of coexisting multiple identities staged within the physical or ideological spaces of a common cultural context. In this sense, the different pieces of the mosaic come to represent the diverse individuals who comprise the cultural community. Simultaneously separated and connected by the spaces that bridge the gaps between mosaic pieces, members of the collective mosaic community constantly negotiate and renegotiate their positions and identities, perpetually changing the appearance of the mosaic. In the context of Solibo Magnificent, this collective mosaic identity as experienced by the community of witnesses, survivors, and mourners complements the idea of individual mosaic identity as created for Solibo.
In Crossing the Mangrove, Condé also evokes the problem of memory, as Rivière au Sel residents struggle with questions about Francis Sancher's identity in the aftermath of his suspicious death:
Devant ce bouleversement, des interrogations superstitieuses naissaient en leur esprit. Qui était-il en réalité cet homme qui avait choi-si de mourir parmi eux? N'étaitil pas un envoyé, le messager de quelque force surnaturelle? Ne l'avait-il pas répété encore et encore. ‘Je reviendrai chaque saison avec un oiseau vert et bavard sur le poing’? Alors, personne ne prêtait attention a ses paroles qui se perdaient dans le tumulte du rhum. (Mangrove, 251)
[In the face of this upheaval, superstitious interrogations arose in their spirits. Who was he really, this man who had chosen to die among them? Was he not an envoy, the messenger of some supernatural force? Had he not repeated again and again. “I will return each season with a green and chatty bird on my fist”? Then, no one paid attention to his words that got lost in the tumult of the rum.]
In framing questions about the mysterious identity and uncertain intentions of Francis Sancher, Condé echoes Chamoiseau's concerns about the fallibility of memory, particularly under the influences of alcohol and forgetting. Enigmatic in life and in death, Francis Sancher bequeaths few objects to surviving community members. Instead, he confers mostly questions and paranoia in the minds of his neighbors, who struggle to connect disparate memory fragments in constructing his posthumous identity. For some, the most haunting dimension of the reconciliatory process lies in the uncertainty of the wayward echoes of Francis Sancher's words, which now resound as a ghostly message from beyond the grave. Depending on the recipient, his pledge to return each year to Rivière au Sel, even after his death, may be perceived as a promise or a threat, depending on the state of their relationship in the days leading up to his mysterious death. Lost for many “in the tumult of the rum,” the sonorities of Francis Sancher's recurrent words provide an isolated fragment, a fractional component to be incorporated with other memory fragments in forming a composite mosaic identity for the deceased.
Rhythm, Music, and Identity as Process
As with the novels discussed in chapters 2 and 3—God's Bits of Wood, The Suns of Independence, L'appel des arenes, and Ti Jean L'horizon— rhythmic and musical elements operate as important identificatory agents in Solibo Magnificent and Crossing the Mangrove, providing audible points of reference and reflection to characters and readers alike. Filling the pages of the texts with resonant layers of harmony and cacophony, texted rhythmic, musical, and otherwise noisy phenomena promote a transpoetic transcultural aesthetic, opening spaces for communication, exchange, and invention in which identity constructs are negotiated and (re)configured on both individual and collective levels. Repeatedly performed in the space of the novel with each and every reading, such sounding phenomena are effective not only in shaping the sonorous realm inhabited by its characters, but also in staging the aesthetic experience undertaken by the reader each time s/he engages with the text.
In view of questions of identity, the experience of rhythm and music in the novel, which we may also refer to as the reading experience, imitates that of a rhythmic or musical listening experience. In this respect, rather than effectuating a mode of performing a static or preexisting identity construct, rhythmic and musical phenomena effectively activate an ongoing process of identification, with implications inside and outside the frame of the text. Although the reception and perception of music in the reading experience is processed differently than that of the listening experience, the identificatory implications are analogous, since both conditions engage the listener or reader in a continuous process of transformation and negotiation. This dynamic is clearly explained by Simon Frith in his essay “Music and Identity,” in which he maintains that music serves as a resonant catalyst for musicians and listeners alike, transforming their personal experience(s) of identity on individual and collective levels.
[T]he issue is not how a particular piece of music or a performance reflects the people, but how it produces them, how it creates and constructs an experience—a musical experience, an aesthetic experience—that we can only make sense of by taking on both a subjective and a collective identity. The aesthetic, to put this another way, describes the quality of an experience (not the quality of an object); it means experiencing ourselves (not just the world) in a different way. My argument here, in short, rests on two premises. first, that identity is mobile, a process not a thing, a becoming not a being; second, that our experience of music—of music making and music listening—is best understood as an experience of this self-in-process. Music, like identity, is both performance and story, describes the social in the individual and the individual in the social, the mind in the body and the body in the mind. (Frith 1996, 109)
“Both performance and story,” in Frith's view, music shapes the ways in which identity is narrated and subsequently constructed on both individual and collective levels. Implicating both transmitters and receivers of musical information, as Frith suggests, the acts of music making and music listening engage performers and listeners in a fluid and ongoing process of identification negotiation. In this respect, both music makers and music listeners share in a subjective developmental experience through which relationships among individuals and groups are (re)considered and (re)configured, and through which self-appropriated identity constructs are (re)evaluated and (re)established. Although, in his characterization of musically mediated identity as process, Frith does not explicitly address the experience of music in literature, his insistence on the affinities among music, narration, and identity effectively connects the realms of sound, vision, imagination, and sensation. By relating music with performance and narrative strategies, Frith's ideas push the experience of music beyond auditory parameters, encouraging a broader understanding of music and its possibilities, one that certainly lends itself to the reading experience of music. Like the listening experience, in which music makers and music listeners engage in a subjective process of identification and transformation, in the reading experience, writers and readers partake in a similar experience of self-in-process through the experience of texted rhythmic and musical phenomena.
As Glissant suggests, the Antilles are “filled with the noise of the ‘universe’” (Glissant 1969, 62), imbued with the resonant possibilities of polyphony, euphony, and cacophony. Transposed in the frame of the novel, the noises, rhythms, and musics of the Antilles take on important dimensions, promoting local sociocultural conventions and aesthetic innovations to an international audience. Fluid rather than fixed, representations of sonorous rhythmic and musical phenomena emphasize identity as process rather than product. Moreover, as Charles L. Briggs and Richard Bauman explain, music, “can provide a powerful resource” in “creating intertextuality” (Briggs and Bauman 1995, 594). Read in view of Bakhtin's concept of intertextuality, which emphasizes the role of the text as interface, transposed rhythmic and musical phenomena foster communication among the writer, the reader, and the text itself, activating a dialogue of sorts. As Julia Kristeva notes in her discussion of Bakhtin, intertextuality involves “an intersection of textual surfaces rather than a point (a fixed meaning), as a dialogue among several writings: that of the writer, the addressee (or the character), and the contemporary or earlier cultural context” (Kristeva 1980, 64–65). Like the concepts of the transpoetic and transcultural, Bakhtin's notion of intertextuality favors a seemingly limitless field of possibilities, allowing for multiple combinations of resonance and dissonance, manifest in a boundless series of shifting harmonious and cacophonous configurations.
In exploring questions of Antillean identity in their respective texts, both Condé and Chamoiseau incorporate overlapping layers of intertextual elements, effectively connecting the imaginative realm of the novel with cultural, historical, and aesthetic domains. For example, in Crossing the Mangrove, Condé makes intertextual references to French magazines such as Maisons et jardins (46) (Houses and Gardens), French catalogs like La Redoute (30), Antillean newspapers including France-Antilles (43), and American periodicals such as Playboy (177). She also makes mention of the French surrealist poet Saint-John Perse, who was born in Guadeloupe and had family ties in the Antilles (45). In another passage, Condé includes an intertextual reference to Patrick Chamoiseau during a conversation between two characters, Lucien Évariste and Francis Sancher. While inquiring about Lucien's writing, Francis asks him, “As-tu comme le talentueux Martiniquais Patrick Chamoiseau, déconstruit le français-français?” (228) (Have you, like the talented Martinican Patrick Chamoiseau, deconstructed French-French?). Through her evocation of Chamoiseau's Creole-infused deconstructed French-French writing, Condé promotes Antillean literature while also exposing her readers to the politicized aspects of language, writing, and identity in the Francophone Antilles.
Critics including Nicole Jenette Simek have characterized Condé's use of intertextuality as a form of cannibalism through which Condé challenges the preconceived and received notions of identity and identification, particularly in view of Caribbean identity configurations. As Simek explains, in Condé's view, cannibalism is indicative of the double bind through which one comes “to tell someone's story…to consume and transform it, to place it within one's own history and assimilate it to oneself” (Simek 2008, 199). Cast through another lens, for Condé, cannibalism is a way of communicating in the language, literature, or music of another and appropriating it. As Simek asserts, Condé's literary cannibalism is significant in that it calls into question the idea of cannibalism as inherent acceptance or assimilation. In her view, through cannibalism, even in indeterminate settings, ingestion and digestion are unpredictable processes through which multiple potential outcomes emerge. “Rather than simply accentuating the freedom of the writer to cannibalize texts as he or she wishes, Condé's novels deploy indeterminacy as a means of questioning a certain form of cannibalistic reading, a certain way of digesting a text that leaves no room for ambiguity or opacity” (Simek 2008, 177). As such, Condé's use of intertextuality creates spaces for negotiation and interpretation as each reader engages with or digests the text and intertexts. In this way, through the use of intertextual strategies, Condé encourages a multiplicity of interpretive strategies and outcomes, effectively challenging political, aesthetic, sociocultural, and linguistic hierarchies at work inside and outside the frame of the text.
As for Chamoiseau, he, like Condé, provides intertexual references to the Antillean newspaper France-Antilles (Solibo, 101). In other passages, Chamoiseau incorporates intertextual strategies in referencing noteworthy texts connected to his narration of events in footnotes, namely his own novel Chronique des sept misères (43) (Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows) and his collection of folktales Manman Dlo contre la fée Carabosse (52) (Water Mama versus the Fairy Carabosse). In another passage, he pays tribute to Martinican poet Aimé Césaire. In mentioning Césaire, who, along with Senegalese poet Léopold Sédar Senghor and Guyanan writer Léon Damas, served as founding members of the Négritude movement in Paris from the 1930s to the 1950s, Chamoiseau hints at some of Césaire's important contributions to postcolonial Francophone literature. “[À] cette heure il devrait être en réunion avec les camarades du balisier pour discuter de la distinction fondamentale qu'établissait Césaire entre un indépendance et une a-dépendance” (188–89). ([A]t that hour, he should be meeting with his comrades of the baliser [a Martinican progressive party political group] to discuss the fundamental distinction that Césaire established between an independance and an a-dependance.)
At another moment, Chamoiseau pays homage to Césaire in a more subtle manner, by opening the narration of his second chapter with the intertextual phrase “Au bout du petit matin” (At the edge of little morning, or, At the edge of dawn), the same phrase Césaire uses to commence his legendary poem Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (Return to My Native Land). Written in 1939, Césaire's poem decries the injustices of racial prejudice and discrimination. Filled with imagery and impressions of Martinique, Césaire's poem is unflinching in its critique of European imperialism and racism in the mid-twentieth century. Moreover, as a seminal poem of the Négritude movement, Césaire's poem celebrates a Pan African aesthetic while inviting all citizens of the world to unite against racism, xenophobia, hegemony, and injustice.
Although Chamoiseau's critical texts Éloge de la créolité (In Praise of Creoleness); Écrire au pays dominé (Writing in a Dominated Land); and Quand les murs tombent: L'identité nationale hors-la-loi? (Raze the Walls: The Case for Outlawing Nationalism) represent a theoretical departure from Césaire's Négritude, through his intertextual evocations, Chamoiseau nonetheless pays homage to Césaire's philosophical, critical, poetic, and political contributions. More importantly, however, the intertextual references to Césaire and the Négritude movement spark contemporary conversations about Martinican identity conceptions and configurations, which consequently extend to questions of identity in the Americas and throughout the world. Chamoiseau's main concern is to challenge the tendency to oversimplify complicated dimensions of identification through essentializing models like Négritude and to encourage people to embrace the complexities of Creolization as identity-in-process. As Chamoiseau explains:
Today, for example, many Martinicans are more attracted by the theory of negritude which simplifies the problem, rather than by the idea of Creolisation. And black Americans, when we speak to them about Creolisation, they call themselves African Americans, that is to say it's almost as if they consider Africa to have moved to America whereas no, that isn't it at all. Therefore, we see all these different modalities, these modalities are different ways of conceptualizing the unity-diversity encounter and this makes all of us young when facing the new Chaos-World. (Morgan 2008, 451)
Through his incorporation of intertextual elements, particularly in reference to Aimé Césaire, Chamoiseau plays the multiple roles of storyteller-historian, narrator-ethnographer, and activist-agitator. While recognizing the merits of Césaire's legacy and influence, Chamoiseau compels his readers/listeners to reread, reconsider, and reconfigure the relevance of Césaire's work in view of contemporary identity configurations in process operating within a dynamic global network of shifting sociocultural contexts.
In another intertextual passage from Crossing the Mangrove, Condé presents a classroom recitation of a poem written by Dominique Guesde, a Guadeloupean poet who published her works in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century (148). Unlike Césaire's politicized poems, Guesde's poems shy away from controversial issues, focusing instead on the beauty of Antillean landscapes. As Jacques Corzani explains in his essay “Poetry before Negritude,” Guesde and her bourgeois contemporaries exercised a sort of self-censorship, avoiding mention of social problems so as to not inflame racial tensions in the early years after the abolition of slavery in the French Antilles (Corzani 1994, 472). Although devoid of a discussion of the historical context and the social conditions operating during Guesde's literary career, the presence of Guesde's verses in Condé's novel is nonetheless significant, as revealed in teacher Mademoiselle Léocadie Timothée's explanation as to why she chose the poem. “[J']apprenais à mes élevès une récitation que j'avais découpée dans La Guadeloupe Pittoresque, car tout de méme, je trouvais drôle qu'on n'apprenne jamais aux petits Guadeloupéens des choses de leur pays” (148). (I was teaching my students a recitation that I had cut out of Picturesque Guadeloupe, since in any event, I found it funny that we never teach little Guadeloupeans things about their country.)
As Léocadie Timothée points out, references to Guadeloupean art, literature, and history were formerly omitted from public school curricula in Guadeloupe. Instead, primary school lessons focused on metropolitan France in studies of language, literature, history, and culture. Léocadie Timothée includes Guesde's poem in a decided effort to promote a balance of perspectives from Guadeloupe and France in her classroom.
On a deeper level, Condé's inclusion of Guesde's poem also hints at one of her sources of inspiration. Presented in the frame of the text, Guesde's four-line poem praises the natural beauty of Guadeloupe in the structure of a French-language poem. Similarly, Condé's vivid descriptions of the natural features of the island juxtapose the sensorial experience of Guadeloupe's landscapes and the poetic aesthetic of her francophone novel. Nevertheless, unlike Guesde, whose poem avoids controversial themes, Condé does not shy away from political and social criticism. In her intertextual homage to Guesde, Condé demonstrates how far Antillean writers have come in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in terms of voice, visibility, and empowerment, while also insisting that there is still much work to be done toward achieving autonomy and equality in sociocultural and political domains in present-day Guadeloupe.
In addition to referencing Caribbean literature and periodicals, Condé and Chamoiseau represent a multiplicity of intertextual rhythms, musics, and movements in their narratives. In Crossing the Mangrove, Condé makes mention of popular Antillean dances such as the biguine (an Antillean musical genre often described as folk-jazz) and the mazurka (a dance of Polish origin that became popular in the Antilles) (143), as well as representations of Antillean folklore. Such references are most prevalent in the chapter “Cyrille le conteur” (Cyrille the Storyteller), in which Condé presents Cyrille's version of events in the form of a traditional Antillean folktale. The opening lines “Yé krik, yé krak!”—the former being the storyteller's call and the latter being the listener's response—signal the start of Cyrille's oral storytelling protocol, effectively implicating the readers as listeners in Condé's text. From the onset, Cyrille welcomes his readers/listeners into the space of the transposed tale, extending formal greetings to his reading or listening audience members and accompanying performers: “Mesdames, messieurs, je vous dis bonsoir; je vous dis bien le bonsoir. La compagnie, bonsoir!” (153) (Ladies and gentlemen, I bid you good evening; I bid you good evening. The company, good evening!) In his tale, Cyrille gives a brief synopsis of his life story, punctuated with exclamations and questions directed toward the readers/ listeners. He describes a vagabond life of wandering and wondering during which he travels to Marseille, France, and Dakar, Senegal, at different points in his life before returning to Guadeloupe. As Cyrille recounts his return to the island, he merges African and Antillean folkloric traditions by incorporating animal characters from African folklore in a narrative frame inspired by Antillean orality:
Je serais bien resté là, moi, en Afrique. Mais les Africains m'ont donné un grand coup de pied au cul en hurlant : ‘Retourne chez toi !’ et je me suis retrouvé ici devant vous, pour vous raconter ce conte que, quand même j'ai eu le temps d'entendre chez eux. ‘Un jour, l'hyene, le singe et le lion…‘ (154)
[I would have stayed there, in Africa. But the Africans gave me a big kick in the butt while yelling: “Go back to your home!” and I found myself here before you, to tell you this tale that, in spite of everything I had the time to hear in their home. “One day, the hyena, the monkey and the lion…”]
In Cyrille's tale, the juxtaposition of African folkloric imagery and Antillean oral stylings constitutes an intertextual moment in itself which simultaneously promotes a transcultural aesthetic, establishing points of connection between the diverse peoples of Africa and the Caribbean, while sparking a multiplicity of questions regarding identity negotiation and configuration in Caribbean locations and around the world. Informed and impacted by his travels to France and to Senegal, through his tale, Cyrille endorses a mosaic identity configuration model in which the fragmented bits of multiple cultural, linguistic, aesthetic, and experiential influences at home (wherever that happens to be) and abroad are configured (and perpetually reconfigured) to constitute a working sense of identity in-process or in-progress.
Condé extends the intertextual stylistic dimensions of Cyrille's tale in the following chapter, in which Vilma's mother, Rosa, takes on the voice of the storyteller-narrator in telling her own tale and in negotiating her own mosaic identity configuration. In doing so, Condé spurs further questions about and questionings of subjective yet ephemeral memories, perspectives, emotions, and experiences as recounted in stories in view of individual identities and community affiliations on local and global levels. As Renée Larrier explains, the move to position characters as witnesses, storytellers, narrators, and performers is significant in that it changes the ways in which perceptions about Caribbean communities are configured from insider and outsider perspectives: “Negotiating the spaces between creativity and advocacy, Francophone Caribbean authors position the I as a witness and or/performer who articulates and transmits what he or she saw, heard, experienced, or endured for posterity. In so doing, they restore subjectivity, construct a much-needed archive, disrupt conventional literary and cinematic representations, and change our understanding of Martinican, Guadeloupean and Haitian communities” (Larrier 2006, 148). This move is significant particularly in view of the multiple narrative strategies used to incorporate resonant intertextual songs, stories, drumbeats, and dance steps in both Condé's and Chamoiseau's novels. As the communities of witnesses and survivors in Crossing the Mangrove and Solibo Magnificent remember, recount, perform, and testify in a sounding texted forum, they change the ways in which identities are perceived and negotiated both inside and outside the frame of the text.
In Solibo Magnificent, Chamoiseau consistently incorporates sonorous intertextual phenomena, which add multiple layers of meaning to his novel. In some passages, he references specific Caribbean songs including “Ti-Manman chérie” (Dear L'il Mama), “Ginette,” and “Dimanche matin” (Sunday Morning) (Solibo, 60–61), which situate events in specific temporal and spatial contexts and also contribute to the overall noisy aesthetic of the text. In the case of “Ti-Manman chérie,” “Ginette,” and “Dimanche matin,” Chamoiseau sets up the dramatic soundtrack in characterizing police officer Bouaffesse's seduction of Lolita Boidevan (aka Doudou Ménar) in a dance hall years prior to the investigation of Solibo's death. On the night in question, as Bouaffesse and Lolita come to know each other and each other's bodies on the dance floor, Chamoiseau sonically heightens the drama and the energy of Bouaffesse's seduction plot with a calypso-mambo, a cha-chacha, a lafouka (a hip-driven dance in which dancers find themselves in very close proximity to one another), and an Otis Redding slow dance in which sweet nothings are whispered from ear to ear. Although the musical cues provide pathways to memory impressions of the one-night encounter between Bouaffesse and Lolita, the seduction-night soundtrack stands in sharp contrast to the noisy events that unfold in the wake of Solibo's mysterious death. For Bouaffesse and Lolita, who is now known as Doudou Ménar, the sweet music of past memory impressions is all too quickly replaced by the unfeeling noises of police brutality against herself, Sucette, Congo, and many of the other witnesses who run the risk of injury, imprisonment, and even death as the corrupt investigation unfolds. As for Doudou Ménar, who dies after being assaulted by a group of police officers at the scene of Solibo's death, her memories of the delightful seduction songs evoked through a chance encounter with her long-lost lover are displaced by the final sounds she hears in the moments before her death—the thumps of a club against her body and skull. In the aftermath of her brutal and unjust killing, the sweet and sensual melodies of the seduction songs take on bitter dimensions in characterizing the tragic situation.
Furthermore, at multiple points throughout the text, Chamoiseau incorporates the oral stylings of Solibo Magnifique, featuring intercalated blocks of narration (in which Chamoiseau serves as the storyteller-narrator) and transcriptions of conversations with Solibo (in which Chamoiseau serves as the historian-ethnographer). Presented as an ensemble, the interwoven intertextual strata enhance the resonant quality of the text, opening spaces for transpoetic dialogue and expression. Moreover, by design, the transcribed conversations also spark a series of multiple negotiations and discussions across languages, cultures, genres, and generations. In one passage in particular, Chamoiseau includes Solibo's half of an exchange in which the two men discuss their creative processes and the implications therein:
Oiseau de Cham, tu écris. Bon. Moi, Solibo, je parle. Tu vois la distance ? Dans ton livre Manman Dlo, tu veux capturer la parole a l'écriture, je vois le rythme que tu veux donner, comment tu veux serrer les mots pour qu'ils sonnent à la langue. Tu me dis. Est-ce que j'ai raison, Papa ? Moi, je dis. On n'écrit jamais la parole, mais des mots, tu aurais dû parler. Écrire, c'est comme sortir le lambi de la mer pour dire . voici le lambi! La parole répond. où est la mer? Mais l'essentiel n'est pas là. Je pars, mais toi, tu restes. Je parlais, mais toi tu écris en annonçant que tu viens de la parole. Tu me donnes la main pardessus la distance. C'est bien, mais tu touches la distance…(53)
[Cham Bird, you write. Me, Solibo, I speak. You see the distance? In your book Water Mama, you want to capture the word in writing, I see the rhythm that you want to give, how you squeeze the words so that they ring on the tongue. You tell me: Am I right, Papa? Me, I say: The word isn't written, but words, you should have spoken. Writing, it's like taking the conch out of the sea to say: here is the conch! The word responds: where is the sea? But the essential isn't there. I leave, but you, you remain. I was speaking, but you, you write while announcing that you come from the word. You give me your hand across the distance. It's all well and good, but you touch the distance…]
For Chamoiseau, the transcriptions of his conversations with Solibo provide perspective into the constraints of his creative and documentary processes. As Solibo explains, the spoken word can never truly be represented by written words in a texted format. Although a writer can infuse his or her text with the rhythms of spoken language and musical instruments, creating a resonant effect from within the frame of a texted narrative, there is still something missing, something unquantifiable that happens in that moment of performance, energy, musicality, and dialogue. And yet, the challenges of this endeavor fail to deter Chamoiseau. Rather, he uses his intertextual conversations with Solibo as a means of exposing and exploring the limits of his craft as he looks for ways to bridge or move beyond the distances that separate written, oral, and instrumental literatures. In addition, these intertextual moments contribute to the multiple layers of vibrant polyphony contained in the pages of Chamoiseau's novel, which operates as a noisy interactive forum in which relational identities are autonomously (re)considered, (re)negotiated, and (re)configured.
As Mary Gallagher notes in Soundings in French Caribbean Writing since 1950, intertextual components are particularly significant in view of questions of Francophone Caribbean identity. Providing dimensions of depth that surpass the geographical confines of the islands, as Gallagher suggests, intertextuality effectively expands the scope of the Antillean identificatory paradigm, amplifying temporal and spatial dimensions while continuing to insist on the importance of relationality:
The surfeit of intertextuality pervading late-twentieth-century French Caribbean writing creates a sense of extension, density, and relationality that at once compensates for the limits and marginality of island space and reflects that hyperrelational culture of the Caribbean. However, it also produces an impression of temporal depth;…the reverberation of textual memory, the vibration of the past propagated in the present, creating there a sense of duration and endurance…Furthermore, the textual and intertextual processes of writing trigger a dynamic entirely consonant with the transformations and processes of lived time, just as their infinite paradigmatic potential underlines the unpredictability associated with time. (Gallagher 2002, 271)
For Gallagher, intertextual elements create an imaginative expanse in which dimensions of time and of space are increased. Revealing dimensions of historical and spatial profundity by connecting past writings and resonances with present thoughts and experiences, intertexual processes effectively increase the amplitude of Caribbean expression.
Given the relational nature of the transpoetic transcultural space, the novel serves as an ideal forum for readers to engage in a performative dialogue with the text. Much like a listening experience, during which listeners receive and interpret audio information, through the reading experience, readers perceive and process textual cues, constructing an imaginative forum in which questions of individual and collective identity are explored in view of the writer, the characters, and the readers themselves. Directed by readers as they work their way through the text, the interplay among intertextual components and extratextual conditions is completely unpredictable, yielding different results with each and every reading. Such variability is attributable to inevitable contextual shifts propagated as subjects move through space and through time. As readers address the questions of identity that emerge from their encounters with the text, they are able to play out or perform identity in real and imaginative realms.
In considering issues of specificity regarding questions of collective identities, the autonomy involved in performing identity—through singing, dancing, writing, speaking, listening, reading, and reacting—is liberating, primarily since it allows subjects to independently reconcile individual perspectives and experiences with collective histories, and cultural groups. In his explanation of the performative dimensions of identification, Michel Giraud approaches problems of collectivized Antillean identity constructs, presenting performance as an effective mode of mediating and affirming independent identities within collective cultural systems.
[Elles] se transforment aussi, mais pas nécessairement au même rythme, les identités culturelles qui sont au coeur de ce champ de manipulations, identités dont les individus jouent dans des voies souvent contradictoires, et de manière diverse selon les différents contextes relationnels dans lesquels ils se trouvent engagés. (Giraud 1997, 806)
[They also transform themselves, but not necessarily to the same rhythm, the cultural identities that are at the heart of this field of manipulations, identities that individuals play in often contradictory ways, and in diverse fashions according to the different relational contexts in which they find themselves engaged.]
In addition to the aforementioned spatial and temporal components essential to the (trans)formative process of identification, Giraud is sensitive to the rhythmic dimensions of the process, which he demonstrates in arguing that cultural identities transform at variable rhythms and/or on multiple trajectories. Just as subjects pursue unique time-space trajectories that shape experiential and contextual identificatory influences, subjects and systems tend to change independently of one another, each according to their own rhythm or rhythms. Moreover, in assigning performance as a mode of identification affirmation, Giraud acknowledges the complexities of this process through which subjects often find themselves at odds with cultural systems, with other subjects, and even with themselves. In this light, in developing and redeveloping identity configurations, it becomes necessary to tolerate conflict and ambiguity, to allow for dissonance and cacophony. Glissant puts forth a similar philosophy in Traité du tout-monde (Treaty of the Whole-World), suggesting that polyphonic possibilities are “la résolution unitaire et parfaite des diversités du son et de la voix, insuffisantes à elles-mêmes dans leur seule spécificité” (Glissant 1997b, 99) (the common and perfect resolution of diversities of sound and voice, insufficient themselves in their own specificity). Transcending time, space, and noise, Glissant offers this intersubjective and polyphonic mode of performing and negotiating identity as “perfection intelligible” (99) (intelligible perfection).
By prominently incorporating vibrant rhythmic and musical elements in the frame of their respective novels, Chamoiseau and Condé designate resonant texted spaces in which questions of identity, both interior and exterior, are explored on individual and collective levels. Although the relational dimensions of this transpoetic transcultural space situate the texts as part of a dynamic network of contextual influences at work both inside and outside the frame of the novel, questions of Antillean identity comprise the primary focus of Solibo Magnificent and Crossing the Mangrove. In exploring the complicated dimensions of Antillean identities, Condé and Chamoiseau insist on identity as a fluid and ongoing process rather than a fixed typography or product. Moreover, they reject absolute and idealized constructions in favor of mutable and idiosyncratic configurations. Pascale De Souza affirms this notion in her discussion of Crossing the Mangrove, likening Condé's writing to the act of “plonge[r] sa plume dans la mangrove pour rejeter les idées reçues” (De Souza 2000, 832) (plung[ing] her pen in the mangrove in order to reject received ideas). Similarly, in her analysis of Solibo Magnificent, Delphine Perret posits that Chamoiseau refutes “les tendances militantes qui chercheraient à donner une image rêvée de l'identité créole” (militant tendencies that would seek to give an ideal image of Creole identity) and simultaneously “nous rappelle qu'il y a bien des relations de ressemblance entre conteurs, d'une culture à l'autre” (Perret 1994, 826-72) (reminds us that there are connections of resemblance between storytellers…from one culture to another).
Rather than accepting identity as a fixed typography or stereotype determined by linguistic, geographic, historical, or political criteria, Condé and Chamoiseau challenge limiting identity constructs in promoting identity as perpetually negotiable through the eyes of the Self and the eyes of the Other. This is not to say that Condé and Chamoiseau promote identical approaches to addressing questions of Antillean identity, of Creole identity, or of Caribbean identity at large, as there are distinctions between the philosophies of the two writers. Although Condé and Chamoiseau both maintain the relationality of Caribbean identity and identities, particularly in view of identity as process or performance, their approaches vary in considering questions of Caribbean and Antillean identity. Whereas Chamoiseau promotes créolité (creoleness), a localized movement that insists on the importance of the Creole language, local oral traditions, and popular culture in view of mosaic conceptions of Caribbean identity and identities, Condé favors a more expansive approach that considers a vast network of cultural influences impacting Caribbean cultures at home and abroad. Condé goes so far as to reject the notions of créolité set forth by Chamoiseau, Confiant, Bernabé, and others, explaining that she views the designation as limiting:
Pour ce qui est de la ‘créolité’…je ne veux pas qu'on me définisse et qu'on m'impose un canon littéraire. Je pense que je suis un être com-plexe de par ma situation de colonisée, de par une série d'influences qui font ce que je suis, et qu'il faut donc me laisser absolument libre d'exprimer les facettes de ma personnalité. Qu'on ne vienne pas me dire que le créole est ma langue maternelle. Qu'on ne vienne pas me dire que le français est une langue de colonisation. En tant qu'écrivain, il n'y a pas de langue maternelle. Pour un écrivain toutes les langues sont des langues étrangères parce qu'avec ce matériau qu'il n'a pas élaboré, il faut trouver le moyen de faire entendre sa voix. (Sourieau 1999, 1094)
[As for what “creoleness” is…I do not want people to define me or to impose a literary canon on me. I think that I am a complex being through my situation as colonized, through a series of influences that make me what I am, and it is thus necessary to leave me absolutely free to express the facets of my personality. Do not tell me that Creole is my mother tongue. Do not tell me that French is a language of colonization. As a writer, there is no mother tongue. For a writer, all languages are foreign languages because with this raw material, one must find the way to make one's voice heard.]
Interestingly enough, Chamoiseau's recent critical works have demonstrated a theoretical approach that supports similar freedoms in identification—French, Antillean, Caribbean, and otherwise—vocally promoted by Condé through the course of her career. In his recent collaboration with Édouard Glissant, Quand les murs tombent: L'Identité nationale hors-la-loi? (Raze the Walls: The Case for Outlawing Nationalism) Glissant and Chamoiseau challenge the idea of national identities, specifically in contemporary France and its overseas departments including Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guyana (where French remains the sole official language). Refusing the oversimplified categories of French, Creole, and Caribbean identity—which, as Glissant and Chamoiseau argue (2007, 11), have been used in the past to achieve racist and xenophobic ends—Glissant and Chamoiseau encourage increased autonomy and flexibility in contemporary identity configuration. Seeking to blur the geographical and ideological boundaries that divide nations, cultures, and peoples, in Quand les murs tombent, Glissant and Chamoiseau build upon theories presented in earlier works including Glissant's Poétique de la Relation (Poetics of Relation) and Traité du tout-monde (Treaty of the Whole-World), and Chamoiseau's Écrire en pays dominé (Writing in a Dominated Land). In particular, they allude to the power of music, literature, song, and the arts in creating spaces for identity negotiation that transcend the confines of geographic and political categories:
Les arts, les littératures, les musiques et les chants fraternisent par des voies d'imaginaires qui ne connaissent plus rien aux seules géographies nationales ou aux langues orgueilleuses dans leur à-part. Dans la mondialité (qui est la tout autant que nous avons à la fonder), nous n'appartenons pas en exclusivité à des ‘patries’, à des ‘nations’, et pas du tout a des ‘territoires’, mais désormais à des ‘lieux’, des in-tempéries linguistiques, des dieux libres qui ne réclament peut-être pas d'être adorés, des terres natales que nous aurons décidées, des langues que nous aurons désirées, ces géographies tissées de matières et de visions que nous aurons forgées…Le chatoiement de ces lieux ouvre à l'insurrection infinie des imaginaires libres . à cette mondial-ité. (Glissant and Chamoiseau 2007, 16–17)
[Arts, literatures, musics, and songs fraternize by paths of imaginaries that no longer know anything of single national geographies or self-righteous languages in their a-part. In the globality (that is there insofar as we have to constitute it), we do not belong in exclusivity to “countries,” to “nations,” and not at all to “territories,” but henceforth to “places,” linguistic turbulences, free gods who might not demand to be adored, homelands that we will have determined, languages that we will have desired, these geographies weaved from substances and visions that we will have forged…The glimmer of these places opens to the infinite insurrection of free imaginaries. to this globality.]
For Glissant and Chamoiseau, subjects are not limited to the spaces and places of their physical and political geographies. Rather, subjects are free to construct terrains and domains for identity negotiation in autonomously configured imaginary realms. Activated through the creation of and/or interaction with music, literature, and the arts, these imaginary realms open conceptual spaces for identity negotiation and appropriation which allow subjects to configure independent notions of selfhood and understandings of their relationships with others in/and the world. In this respect, for Glissant and Chamoiseau, globality is not determined by an organized ensemble of politically prescribed nations and territories, but through a haphazard collection of perpetually shifting self-appropriated imaginaries and identities.
For our purposes, it is important to keep in mind that, in spite of their differences, Chamoiseau and Condé have both problematized the concepts of Antillean and/or Caribbean identity. As we continue our analysis of Solibo Magnificent and Crossing the Mangrove, focus is directed toward this identificatory problematic. By negotiating Chamoiseau's gaze inward, which looks to the spaces of the Antillean islands for points of reference in identification, and Condé's gaze outward, which seeks to establish points of connection among Caribbean individuals and communities around the world, we begin to work our way through a figurative mangrove in exploring questions of Antillean identity. Losing ourselves at times, finding ourselves at others, in our discussion of Solibo Magnificent and Crossing the Mangrove, we insist on the transpoetic and transcultural qualities of the two novels, specifically in their capacities as forums for communication, negotiation, and exchange among individuals in local and global communities.
The Sounds of Death and Mourning
In Solibo Magnificent and Crossing the Mangrove, texted representations of rhythmic and musical phenomena resonantly contribute to the narration of mourning and the performance of identity. Manifest in transposed fragments of sounds and memories, resonant rhythms and songs fill the spaces of the texts. Although devoid of the graphic notation musicians and composers use to transpose rhythmic and musical scores, the sounds of songs, rhythms, instruments, and voices clearly resonate in the frames of the novels, filling imaginative ears with layers of vibrant polyphony. In both works, such vivid representations of rhythmic and musical phenomena convey a sense of the local cultural contexts in a profound manner, one that draws perceptive ears and bodies into the multisensorial experience of the text. The swirls of sounds and sensations relate contextualized aesthetic conventions and innovations, serving as important points of reference as both characters and readers struggle to find meaning. Moreover, since both works treat the topic of death with a sense of mystery and immediacy, Condé and Chamoiseau sometimes assign ritual functions to rhythm and music. In other instances, as characters partake in the posthumous work of mourning and remembering, rhythmic and musical cues guide their endeavors to reconcile the past and the present in dealing with questions of life, death, and identity. The multiple layers of rhythms and musics serve as an expressive mode of catharsis, sparking acts of grieving, meditation, and reconciliation that shape characters’ understandings of the deceased but also of themselves. Whether poignant, nostalgic, peaceable, or incendiary, as subjects receive and respond to multifacted rhythmic and musical phenomena, they partake in a performative mode of identification, negotiating identities for themselves as a disconnected means of connecting with a deceased Other.
Since readers immediately come face to face with an enigmatic death scene in both novels, the task of investigation begins even before the work of mourning does, at least in view of the organization of the narratives. This aspect is particularly apparent in Solibo Magnificent, which opens with a “proces verbal” (police statement) that visually details the graphic death scene and provides instructions as to how the police investigation will proceed. Lacking audible descriptions, the sole reference to rhythm or music lies in the mention of “un tambour de paysan” (Solibo, 19) (one peasant drum) included in the visual cataloguing of the site. Associated with other random objects in the vicinity including “quatre petites bouteilles en verre blanc, vides et ouvertes, une caisse d'emballage de pommes de terre, brisée, [et] des débris divers” (19) (four small clear glass bottles, empty and open, a packing crate of potatoes, broken, [and] diverse debris), the drum and other potentially resonant devices are reduced to a defunctionalized status in the police inventory.
More subtly presented in Crossing the Mangrove, in the three days following Francis Sancher's death, his body “traîn[e] sur le marbre froid des tables d'autopsie, jusqu'à ce qu'un médecin appelé de La Pointe en désespoir” (Mangrove, 23) (hang[s] around on the cold marble of the autopsy tables, until a doctor called from La Pointe [à Pitre] in desperation) can release the body for the funeral. Even before the delivery of the body to the morgue, the six men sent to retrieve the body try to speculate as to the cause of death. Shocked by Francis Sancher's puzzling and untimely death, the men cannot help but contemplate the inexplicably bloodless condition of the body. As one local resident, Carmélien, incredulously exclaims, “Il n'y a pas de sang sur lui!” (There is no blood on him!), another member of the group replies only with a question, “Pas de sang?”(19) (No blood?). As the body of Francis Sancher lies dead in the morgue, community rumination about the mysterious condition of his body continues. “À l'en croire, en dépit des apparences, même s'il n'y avait ni sang ni blessure sur le corps, cette mort ne pouvait être naturelle” (23). (If we are to believe it, in spite of appearances, even if there was neither blood nor injury on the body, this death could not be natural.)
Although Mademoiselle Léocadie Timothée initiates the work of mourning at Francis Sancher's death site by reciting a prayer for the deceased (14), the collective ritualized work of mourning effectively begins at his funeral on the fourth day after his death. As Marie-Celine LaFontaine explains, traditional Antillean funerary ceremonies are lively events, “musical manifestations” marked by a multiplicity of sounding phenomena (LaFontaine 1997, 908). Featuring oral songs with percussive vocal accompaniment (identified by LaFontaine as “chant avec tambour vocal” [singing with vocal drum]), funerary véyé, or vénéré (funeral wakes) are also audibly characterized by handclaps (referred to in Guadeloupean Creole as “wake lanmen”), rhythmic noises produced in the throat, and the scansion of rosaries (LaFontaine 1997, 912). As LaFontaine affirms, such soundings are significant in that they provide a meaningful mode of expression through which grieving community members voice their relationships with themselves, each other, and even the world. “C'est sa relation au monde qu'exprime celui (ou celle) qui chante, et la relation au monde de la collectivité qu'expriment les chants ou sont par conséquent mises en scene les diverses expériences des acteurs sociaux” (914). (It is his [or her] relation to the world that he [or she] who sings is expressing, and the relation to the world of collectivity that the songs are expressing, where consequently the diverse experiences of the social actors are staged.) As LaFontaine maintains, through the act of singing, mourners perform individual experiences and identities in a collective forum through which interpersonal relationships are reconfigured and social positionality is renegotiated. In this respect, as they collectively work to construct a posthumous identity for the deceased, the mourners effectively reposition themselves with respects to themselves, each other, and the world.
Returning to Condé's portrayal of Francis Sancher's funeral, LaFontaine's assertion takes on important dimensions if we consider what the funeral attendees communicate not only through their sounds but also through their silences. Although Condé presents the event as a noisy occasion filled with the sounds of praying voices and clicking rosary beads, at times, Francis Sancher's funeral is characterized more by the dramatic moments of silence that interrupt the ceremony than the noises of mourning themselves. In Condé's rendering of funerary events, there are two distinct moments of silence, both occurring upon the arrival of a socially marginal character. In the first instance, Francis Sancher's live-in lover, Mira, enters the space of the funeral in her first public appearance since the birth of their illegitimate child. For a single moment, the room falls silent, as onlookers lose themselves in their own thoughts, both curious and judgmental: “À son entrée, il y eut un grand mouvement de curiosité. Toutes les têtes se levèrent, tous les yeux se braquèrent, tous les doigts oublièrent de rouler les grains des chapelets” (24). (With her entrance, there was a great movement of curiosity. All heads looked up, all eyes stared, all fingers forgot to roll the rosary beads.) All eyes on her, Mira makes her way through the silent crowd, pausing a moment to make eye contact with Francis Sancher's other lover, Vilma, before taking her place in the women's prayer circle. Compassionate rather than defiant, as she raises her voice to chime in with the women as they begin a new prayer, Mira vocally asserts a position of group belonging in spite of her socially marginal status.
The second time silence befalls the crowd, mourners uncomfortably acknowledge the surreptitious arrival of Xantippe, a mysterious community outlander who lives alone in the neighboring woods. A social misfit, Xantippe is described as having only trees as friends (241). As with the quiet reception of Mira's arrival, the decided silence of the mourners accentuates Xantippe's borderline social status, emphasizing his position as social misfit.
La présence de Xantippe créait toujours un réel malaise.
Immédiatement, les bruits s'éteignirent dans un lac glacé de silence et certains envisagerent de le pousser aux épaules. Toutefois, on ne verrouille pas la porte d'une veillée. Elle reste grande ouverte pour que chacun s'y engouffre. (26)
[The presence of Xantippe always created a real malaise.
Immediately, the noises faded in an icy lake of silence and certain people considered shoving him. However, the door to a wake is never locked. It stays wide open for everyone to get swallowed up inside.]
Unlike Mira, who is met with more curiosity than malice, Xantippe immediately generates sentiments of hostility and even impulses toward physical violence as he enters the funeral. Despite (or perhaps because of) his decidedly coldhearted and antagonistic reception, Xantippe refuses to engage with community members, remaining silent with his thoughts and making so little noise that even the sounds of his footsteps, which allow him to “se glisser sans bruit parmi les gens” (25) (slide noiselessly among the people), go unnoticed. Through his unwillingness to raise his voice as a member of the assembled community of mourners, Xantippe declines the prospect of mediating an alternative social standing, thus maintaining his position of social exteriority, of nonmembership in the Rivière au Sel community.
In addition to the erratic series of sounds and silences filling the space of the funeral gathering, Condé fills the text with the sonorities that echo inside the minds of the characters, who, one by one, lose themselves in their resonant thoughts and fragmented memories. The combination of noisy thoughts, rhythms, music, and chatter produces a cacophonic result, which adds to the general climate of disorientation and confusion. As realities, impressions, and imaginings intermingle in blurred memory moments, disjointed pasts are introduced into the immediacy of a complicated present, yielding a destabilizing effect for characters and readers alike. Critic Rosemary Erlam attributes this sense of instability to a doubling effect brought forth by sounding textual elements, noting. “Ce décor sonore remplace à l'occasion la trame narrative même, ce qui donne l'impression d'une deuxième réalité” (Erlam 1997, 35). (This sonorous decor occasionally replaces the narrative framework itself, which gives the impression of a second reality.) Expanding on Erlam's claim, it is possible to conceive not just two imagined realities, but a multiplicity of perceived realities commingling in the space of the text. With readers left to negotiate Condé's disconnected series of narratives, in which individual characters each present flurries of memories, thoughts, conversations, and daydreams, questions emerge from the correspondences and the incongruities among different memories and versions of events. In this respect, with each passing chapter, the reader is plunged deeper and deeper into the thicket of Condé's figurative mangrove, where often conflicting clues from disparate renderings of past events spark more questions than answers. Charged with the task of assembling jumbled fragments of memory as well as that of mediating multiple realms of real and imagined pasts and presents, Condé's readers are left to explore complicated dimensions of identification while Condé's characters struggle to come to terms with the mysterious life and death of Francis Sancher.
Inextricably bound up in the work of mourning and the work of remembering, multiple identificatory processes and devices are in operation throughout Crossing the Mangrove. As Rivière au Sel community members grieve the loss of Francis Sancher and/or speculate as to the cause of his death, they contemplate their relationships with the deceased but also with each other. Gathered at the funeral ceremony, survivors engage in an interactive effort to configure a posthumous identity for Francis Sancher. Through their songs, thoughts, movements, and words, they endeavor to piece together a working identity for the deceased. As their gazes shift inward to acknowledge subjective sensations and experiences in past and in present domains, and outward to witness the interactions and activities of those assembled at the funeral, subjects subsequently (re)negotiate autonomous identity configurations and arbitrate alternative social positionality for themselves.
Although the sonorities of official funerary proceedings are not presented in Solibo Magnificent, rhythmic and musical phenomena prominently figure into the posthumous soundscape, producing a cacophonic effect, which contributes to the overall sense of commotion and confusion at Solibo's death scene. This tumult begins from the onset, as Solibo lay dead or dying. When Solibo falls to the ground after crying “Patat’ sa,”7 his crowd enthusiastically responds to his call by shouting, “Patat’ si!” in response (34). Then, mistakenly thinking he is pretending to be dead, perhaps for dramatic effect, the crowd proceeds to serenade him with a “léwoz caverneux” (cavernous lewoz), led by Solibo's drummer Sucette (35).
As LaFontaine explains, the Creole term lewoz can be used to describe a specific genre of rhythmically charged music (one of seven traditional Antillean gros ka, or gwo ka, rhythms) as well as lively performances of the musical style, which she characterizes as “un ensemble de chants, de danses et de rythmes tambourinés exécutés au son ou à l'aide des tambours dits gwoka…ainsi que de petites percussions” (LaFontaine 1997, 908) (an ensemble of songs, dances, and drummed rhythms played to the sound or with the help of drums called gwo ka…as well as small percussion instruments). In Chamoiseau's rendering of the lewoz, Sucette and his gwo ka take center stage, providing the resonant nucleus for the performance. This time, unlike the muted peasant drum-object presented in the opening police report, Sucette's drum is vibrantly clamorous, filling the night air with sound and spirit:
[L]e tambouyé, soutenant ce qu'il croyait être un mime improvisé du Maître de la parole, déterrait du tambour un léwoz caverneux. yeux en absence, Sucette avait quitté sa chair pour investir le ka, ou alors le ka lui bourgeonnait au ventre. Une vibration fondait l'homme au baril, et le corps de Sucette ronflait autant que la peau de cabri. Sa bouche mâchait silencieusement les fréquences du tambour. Son talon sculptait les sons. Il utilisait les mains supplémentaires que les tambouyés recèlent, elles virevoltaient dans des échos de montagne, des brisures cristallines, une galopade de vie sur la terre amplifiante des tracées en carême, communiquant a qui savait entendre (qui s'était mis en état de liberté devant ce phénomene) l'expression d'une voix au timbre rhumier, surhumaine mais familière. Oh! Sucette parlait là, oui… (35)
[The drummer, supporting what he thought to be an improvised mime of the Master of the word, unearthed from the drum a cavernous lewoz. eyes absent, Sucette had left his flesh to go into the ka, or then the ka burgeoned from his stomach. A vibration fused the man to the drum, and the body of Sucette roared as much as the lambskin. His mouth silently chewed the frequencies of the drum. His heel sculpted the sounds. He used the supplementary hands that drummers possess, they twirl in mountain echoes, crystalline cracks, a stampede of life on earth amplifying the paths of the dry season, communicating to those who knew how to hear8 (who had placed themselves in a state of liberty before this phenomenon) the expression of a voice at a rummer's pitch, superhuman but familiar. Oh! Sucette spoke there, yes…]
As he provides the rhythmic base of the lewoz, Sucette plays like a man joined in communion with his instrument, like a man inhabited by the rhythms of his drum. His eyes vacant, Sucette abandons himself to the rhythm, performing the lewoz with his entire body—his mouth, his feet, and his hands, subsequently creating the sounding effect of multiple hands beating a single drum. Technically astute, Sucette's dynamic solo is correspondingly expressive, communicating a “superhuman” message to those who listen and understand, those who have opened themselves up to the experience of the rhythm.9
In an ironic twist of fate, Sucette's dramatic drummed interlude, conceivably initiated as a means of accentuating the theatrical impact of Solibo's histrionic gesture, unwittingly signals the storyteller's passage from life into death. Chamoiseau later seems to acknowledge the pivotal significance of this moment, reproducing Sucette's “cavernous lewoz’ in the final section of the text entitled “Apres la parole: L'écrit du souvenir” (After the Word: The Writing of Memory). Transposed in the frame of a single page, the “Séquence du solo de Sucette (au moment où Solibo Magnifique est rayé)” (Sequence of Sucette's Solo [at the moment when Solibo is wiped out]) serves much like a preface to Chamoiseau's transcription of Solibo's final unfinished performance. Acting like a percussive sign of change or transformation, the transcribed drumbeats provide a striking audiovisual segue as the novel shifts from Chamoiseau's narration of the investigation of Solibo's death to Chamoiseau's written rendering of Solibo's final oration. Presented like lines of lyrical verse, the “Sequence of Sucette's Solo” consists of nine lines of percussive onomatopoeia:
Bling, Piting, Piting,
Pitak, Bloukoutoum boutoum
Tak Patak! Kling
Piting, Piting, Piting
Disassociated from contextual clues presented earlier in the text during Chamoiseau's narration of Sucette's dynamic lewoz performance, Sucette's drum solo stands on its own in the frame of the text. Devoid of musical notation or verbal accompaniment, Chamoiseau's textual rendering of Sucette's drum solo emphasizes the rhythmic voice of the drum, what Solibo refers to as the “parole du ka.” (240) (the word of the ka).10 Although Chamoiseau repeatedly incorporates percussive onomatopoeia throughout the novel, punctuating his portrayal of events with resonant vlap-vlaps, zip zips, flaps, and sissaps, his transcription of Sucette's drum solo is distinctive in that it exclusively privileges the subjectivity of the drummer in union with his drum. Faithful and relentless in the art of transcription, Chamoiseau incorporates, in his rendering of Sucette's drum solo, the same onomatopoeia that Martinican drummers use in transposing prescriptive and descriptive drummed bélé, tibwa, and gwo ka performances.11 For example, in their book Notes techniques sur les instruments tibwa et tanbou dejanbe (Technical Notes on the Tibwa and Dejanbe Drum Instruments), the Association Mi Mes Manmay Matinik includes conventional rhythmic cues used in sheet music along with onomatopoeic drum lyrics to guide performers in achieving desired sonorities for traditional songs. Their transcriptions—including phrases like “Tak pi tak pit tak tak tak” (Musique Danmyé-Kalennda-Bèlè de Martninique 1992, 54) and “Bang bang tin tin/ Be doum be doum” (57)—are similar to those used by Chamoiseau to convey the aesthetic of drumming and the rhythmico-musical language of drums and drummers. Through his decided inclusion of the transcribed drum sequence, Chamoiseau, a self-described “marqueur de paroles” (Solibo, 30) (word scratcher) strongly acknowledges the communicative dimensions of drumming in the Antillean cultural context. Seemingly nonsensical or unintelligible when viewed through the eyes of readers unfamiliar with the language of Antillean drumming, the texted series of taks, plakataks, blings, klings, and bloukoutoum boutoums comprising Sucette's decontextualized drumspeak support drumming as a language in itself.
Accessible to those “qui sa[it] entendre” (who kn[ow] how to hear and/ or understand) its expressive rhythms (Solibo, 35), Chamoiseau's textual representation of drummed language is equally intriguing and troublesome since, to a certain extent, the transcribed version of Sucette's drum solo exposes the limits of writing. Devoid of rhythmic or musical notation, Chamoiseau's written rendering of Sucette's solo allows for a high degree of variability in cadence and in pitch, much like textual portrayals of lyrical music. Unable to accurately reproduce the barrage of visual, aural, and sensorial information communicated through speech, gesture, rhythm, and song, written language relies on evoking an ensemble of imaginative impressions in the mind of reader, the possibilities of which are limitless but unpredictable.
In exposing the limits of writing, Marie-Christine Hazael-Massieux makes a similar observation in her discussion of textual adaptations of musical components of Creole folktales: “Il convient de souligner dès l'abord que les notations musicales sont rares dans les recueils présentant les contes créoles: le plus souvent celui qui a recueilli les contes ne livre au lecteur que les paroles de ces parties chantées, sans donner d'indications permettant de reconstituer l'air correspondant” (Hazael-Massieux 1985, 40). (It is appropriate to emphasize in approaching it, that musical notations are rare in collections presenting Creole stories: most often the one who collected the stories only reveals the words of these singing parts to the reader, without giving indications permitting the reconstitution of the corresponding tune.)
Although the problem of transcription is common to written versions of vocal and instrumental music, textual representations of the sounds of drums and other resonant instruments are more problematic than their oral counterparts. This problem is primarily attributable to the lyrical content of vocal songs, which bear meaning not only in their sounds, but also in their words. Instrumental music, by contrast, communicates exclusively through nonverbal resonances. When transcribed, the onomatopoeic instrumental verses have sonorous potential, but lack the representational possibilities of written lyrics. Despite the problems of transcribing instrumental rhythmic and musical phenomena, Chamoiseau's written rendering of Sucette's drum solo is meaningful in that it expressly contributes to the sonority of Solibo Magnificent and encourages intertextual parameters in the transpoetic space, while simultaneously exposing the limits of writing.
In acknowledging the limits of writing, Chamoiseau approaches his craft much like a live performer. Privileging the realms of sound and tactility, he attempts to infuse the text with vivid sensations and vibrant sonorities. At times, this process unleashes fragmented bits of chaos and contradiction, promoting the ambiguities and possibilities of performance through writing. As he explains in Écrire en pays dominé (Writing in a Dominated Land), Chamoiseau views the processes of writing and reading much like the process of music making:
Écrire-lire est devenu pour moi une transhumance de sensations totales qui soumet l'esprit solliciteur aux estimes chaotiques de la glace, du feu, de la terre, du vent, de l'ombre, des lumières…Cette miette de glace au coeur du feu. Cette terre saisie en plein vent…féerie dont on ne conserve que de petites bombes de rêve disséminées dans la lucide incertitude des phrases. Les musiciens le savent déjà. (Chamoiseau 1997, 42)
[Writing-reading has become for me a transhumance of total sensations that subject the supplicant spirit to chaotic esteems of ice, fire, earth, wind, darkness, lights…This bit of ice in the heart of the fire. This earth seized in full wind…extravaganza of which one only retains tiny bombs of dream disseminated in the lucid uncertainty of phrases. Musicians know this already.]
In attempting to imitate or encapsulate what musicians already know, Chamoiseau endeavors to push the parameters of literary convention. By opening it up to a full range of sounds and sensations, Chamoiseau designates the space of the text as a transpoetic forum in which multiple sounding and silent phenomena intermingle. The resonant nature of Chamoiseau's work has prompted many critics to recognize its audible potential, including Alexie Tcheuyap, who remarks. “[Solibo Magnificent] is not only read but is also, especially heard” (Tcheuyap 2001, 51). Filled with the reverberations of scripted sonorities generated through recurrent representations of songs, rhythms, stories, and sound effects, Solibo Magnificent bursts the sound barriers of the written form, most notably through the transcribed rendering of Sucette's drum solo.
Commingling in the space of the text with French and Creole lexical elements, the striking representation of Sucette's drum solo increases the scope of the stylistic and lexical localization strategies Chamoiseau employs throughout Solibo Magnificent. In addition to incorporating elements from the Creole lexicon such as Patat'sa (243) and Andiet sa (95)—which is also included in a later passage using an alternative orthography, Andjet sa (136)—which he leaves untranslated, Chamoiseau also transposes Creole phrases and expressions into written French. One way Chamoiseau achieves the latter objective is by presenting Creole words and expressions and then translating or paraphrasing them into French. Infusing French writing with the vibrant rhythms and stylings of Martinican orality, Chamoiseau crafts a resonant text, resplendent with localized expressive sonorities. Audibly present in the vocal sounds of speaking, singing, and storytelling, Chamoiseau further develops the sonorous dimensions of his text through prominent portrayals of everyday noises and rhythms. In his use of both narrative descriptions and onomatopoeic transcriptions of sounds, Chamoiseau creates a transpoetic textual soundtrack that operates throughout the space of the novel. Simultaneously reassuring and destabilizing, the texted soundtrack provides reader-listeners with multiple harmonies and cacophonies that serve to orient and disorient them as they work their way through the novel. The texted soundtrack is reassuring in the sense that it gives reader-listeners sonorous reference points that allow them to situate themselves in a somewhat specific time and place—in this case, the cultural context of twentieth-century Fort de France. Even so, in providing a temporal context for Solibo Magnificent, Chamoiseau is intentionally vague, creating the overall effect of a folktale—a story that took place right here in Martinique not so long ago. Fueling the sonorous arsenal Chamoiseau employs, the musical, rhythmic, and noisy components of the texted soundtrack put reader-listeners in tune with the sociocultural commentaries and criticisms Chamoiseau offers throughout the text on topics including but not limited to police brutality and government corruption, and prejudice and discrimination on the basis of language, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Equally destabilizing, the noisy musicality of Solibo Magnificent is disorienting in that blurs so many categorical boundaries. Sounding out in defiance of linguistic rules, aesthetic conventions, sociocultural norms, and hegemonic authority in Solibo Magnificent, Chamoiseau opens a seemingly limitless field of transpoetic and transcultural possibilities in which individual and collective identity constructs are questioned, (re)invented, (re)negotiated, (re)configured, and (re)appropriated.
In his most striking portrayal of Martinican orality, in the final section of Solibo Magnificent, Chamoiseau completes his work of “marqueur de paroles” (word scratcher) by transposing the final words of Solibo in a section entitled “Dits de Solibo” (Solibo's Ditty). Introduced by Sucette's onomatopoeic drum solo, Solibo's final transcribed performance conveys the frenetic oral style of the storyteller with minimal (one) narrative interruption. Showing rather than telling, Chamoiseau accomplishes this primarily through his use of punctuation (or lack thereof). Shunning commas and periods in favor of question marks and exclamation marks, Chamoiseau unleashes flurries of words that implicitly communicate the intensity of Solibo's performance, visually and audibly conveying the rhythms of Solibo's final oration. In his transcribed rendering of Solibo's story, Chamoiseau also indicates the responses of Solibo's crowd, which increase in volume and enthusiasm as the story approaches its climax. Once again, Chamoiseau employs typographic strategies to achieve this effect, abruptly shifting from italicized crowd responses to plain-text uppercase responses.
As Solibo's speech nears its dramatic close, Chamoiseau is both faithful and relentless in the art of transposition, revealing the manner in which a living, breathing, speaking Solibo hinted at his death as he figuratively stood on death's doorstep staring death in the face. Presented from Solibo's perspective, in Solibo's words, Chamoiseau provides a rare glimpse of subjectivity in the face of death:
et sous le tonneau Solibo sera en joie il ira au pays sans pays où le ciel a treize couleurs plus la dernière couleur où les mauvaises herbes poussent moins souvent que l'igname pacala où Air France n'a pas d'avions et où les békés pani pièce qualité modèle d'habitation d'usines de gros magasins où le charbon n'a pas besoin de feu et où le feu monte sans charbon où on voit des enfants qui volent avec des guêpes et des papillons où le soleil est un gwoka et la lune un pipeau où les nègres sont en joie en musique en danse en sirop sur le dos de la vie et où mes enfants où Solibo lui-même malgré sa grande gueule et sa grande langue et sa grande gorge n'aura plus besoin de…houg…PATAT'SA!…PATAT’ SI!…(244)
[and under the barrel Solibo will be in joy and he will go to the country without country where the sky has thirteen colors plus the last color where the weeds grow less often than pacala yams where Air France doesn't have planes and where the békés pani model-quality-room plantations factories big stores where the coal doesn't need fire and where the fire rises without coal where children are seen flying with wasps and butterflies where the sun is a gwo ka and the moon a reed flute where black people are in joy in music in dance in syrup on life's back and where my children where Solibo himself despite his big mug and his big tongue and his big chest will no longer need…gasp…PATAT'SA!…PATAT'SI!…]
In a flurry of words that directly precede his premature death, Solibo describes his own vision of an otherworldly paradise—a utopian “country without country” filled with color, music, and life. In this world, “where the sun is a gwo ka [drum] and the moon is a reed flute,” where music and dancing fill the air, life is rosy for Solibo. A vibrantly resonant place, Solibo's paradise serves as a powerful illustration of the limitless possibilities unleashed in the transpoetic space of Chamoiseau's text. In this respect, the transcribed evocations of gwo ka drumbeats, reed flute melodies, and consequent dance steps burst aesthetic and stylistic constraints, creating an imaginative conceptual space in which identities and relationships are (de) constructed and (re)configured. The resulting critique calls into question continued French dominance in Martinique in linguistic, sociocultural, economic, and political domains.
Using texted music and language as subversive tools, Chamoiseau affirms Martinican and Antillean autonomy while criticizing French authority in Martinique. Linguistically, he achieves this by inserting elements from the Creole lexicon into the frame of the French narrative. In the above passage, five Creole language elements —pacala, béké, pani, gwoka, and patat'sa!—attract the eyes (and ears) of Chamoiseau's readers. Unfamiliar to Creole language and cultural outsiders, such nontranslated lexical elements call attention to the critical components of Solibo's final elocution. The first example, igname pacala—a Martinican variety of yam—is important in that it situates Solibo's dreamworld in a specific geographic and cultural context. A subtle vegetal indicator, the igname pacala affirms Solibo's personal preferences, demonstrating his affinity for local rather than imported gastronomic delights.
Presented in a stream-of-consciousness style devoid of conventional capitalization and punctuation, igname pacala leads into the phrases “where Air France has no planes,” and “where békés pani model-quality-room plantations factories big stores.” Although the first phrase is clear to francophone readers, the second phrase contains two Creole lexical elements that serve to enhance or obscure its interpretation (depending on the Creole language knowledge base of the reader). The first Creole term, béké, designates a white island inhabitant descended from French colonist ancestors. The second Creole term, pani, translates in this context as “has no.” Transcribed in the space of a written French text, béké and pani serve as sounding mechanisms that break down the authority of the French language and criticize the continued economic dominance of metropolitan France in its former Caribbean colonies. In this respect, the two Creole terms prominently signal the persistent economic inequities—most notably between lighter-skinned and darker-skinned people—that have operated in Martinique since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Such inequalities are shattered in the utopian paradise that Solibo creates in his final oration. Moreover, Chamoiseau's rendering of Solibo's elocution simultaneously promotes the aesthetic sensibilities of Creole language and orality while according a sense of posthumous subjectivity to the deceased.
Although the forth Creole lexical element, gwoka, achieves a comparable linguistic effect and purpose, it is significant in that it represents two languages and literatures at the same time—the literature (and/or oraliture) of Creole traditions and the musical language (or instrumentaliture) of Creole drumming traditions. While the concept of drum languages and literatures is well developed in West African aesthetic criticism—particularly in the works of Titinga Frédéric Pacere (bendrology) and Georges Niangoran-Bouah (drummology), which establish and explore the categories of drum languages and literatures in West African cultural contexts—recent works including Jean-Marc Terrine's La ronde des derniers/Maîtres du bèlè (The Round Dance/Whole Note of the Last Masters of the Bèlè) are developing comparable systems of discussing and describing drum languages and literatures in Antillean cultural contexts. As Terrine explains, the art of bèlè drumming is a total art that serves as a witness to Antillean cultures and identities (Terrine 2004, 20, 25):
Dans leurs quartiers, ces paysans-artistes pratiquaient donc un art total [du tambour bèlè]. Total, non seulement parce qu'il réunit un certain nombre de disciplines artistiques (la musique, le chant, la danse, la scénographie…) mais encore parce qu'ils rythment la vie quotidienne de la communauté : solidarité dans le travail (lafouy tè), dans les cérémonies (fêtes de Noel, veillées mortuaires…), solidarité dans les attitudes et dans les croyances (art du détour et du sous-entendu, méfiance, rites et croyances magico-religieux, respect des anés). (20)
[In their neighborhoods, these peasant-artists practiced thus a total art [of bèlè drumming]. Total, not only because it brings together a certain number of artistic disciplines (music, song, dance, scenography…) but also because it rhythms the quotidian life of the community: solidarity in work (lafouy tè), in ceremonies (Christmas celebrations, funeral wakes…), solidarity in attitudes and in beliefs (art of indirection and innuendo, distrust, magico-religious rites and beliefs, respect for elders).]
Through Terrine's characterization of the multifaceted aesthetic, linguistic, political, historical, and social implications of drumming in Martinican cultural contexts, the importance of Chamoiseau's incessant incorporation of drum languages and drum literatures takes on deeper meanings. In this respect, the gwo ka sun of Solibo's final elocution provides more than a simple linguistic variant or symbolic motif. For Solibo, the gwo ka rhythms that accompany his final orations and the gwo ka sun he evokes therein bear witness to the intricate identificatory negotiations and affirmations that take place during Solibo's final performance—for the storyteller, the writer, the spectators, and the readers. More importantly, however, the chamoisified representation of Solibo's final story and its drummed accompaniment accords the deceased storyteller what the police report that opens the novel denies him: his subjectivity and his identity.
Like Chamoiseau, Condé combines both French and Creole lexical elements in crafting the resonant soundscapes of Rivière au Sel, subtly refashioning French linguistic conventions to promote a Guadeloupean linguistic aesthetic. Infusing the novel with a multiplicity of audible elements including textual representations of prayers, stories, and songs, Condé fills her text with multiple layers of vibrant sounds. On this note, Condé herself characterizes Crossing the Mangrove as “more lyrical” than her previous works, “with its description of nature and rural life in Guadeloupe” (Condé 1993, 698). In addition to the multiple singing, speaking, and sounding voices vividly portrayed throughout the novel, Condé incorporates the rhythms of drumbeats, footsteps, heartbeats, and handclaps. Such percussive devices contribute to Condé's textual soundscape; situating the text in a Guadeloupean cultural setting, they also provide a sense of local social norms and cultural values. Although she firmly grounds her text in the geographical space of the island, Condé nonetheless approaches questions of Antillean identity in a manner that transcends the generalized limits of political boundaries and linguistic distinctions. Through her representation of the songs, stories, and words of the community of mourners and the multiplicity of rhythms that surround them, Condé reveals identity as an ongoing play for perspective and positionality, as subjects endeavor to negotiate autonomous identity configurations on individual and collective levels.
For Condé, identity is not an existing or preexisting thing to be discovered in the thick depths of the mangrove, but rather, an ongoing process of movement, adaptation, and transformation. As Francis Higginson explains, “Pour Condé, il n'y à donc rien à redécouvrir mais plutôt un futur à produire” (Higginson 2002, 98). (For Condé, there is nothing to rediscover but rather a future to produce.) As the characters of Crossing the Mangrove perform the sounding and silent tasks of mourning and remembering, they release a disjointed ensemble of sound and memory fragments to be assembled, disassembled, and reconfigured in the mind of the reader. As subjects inside and outside the frame of the text—both characters and readers—struggle to piece together a posthumous identity for the deceased from the assorted memory fragments that survive him, they simultaneously engage in the process of negotiating working identities for themselves and for others. By implicating the reader in the process of identification, Condé opens questions of Antillean identity to a seemingly limitless range of transcultural and transgenerational possibilities.
Configuring Rhythmic and Musically Mediated Identities
In both Solibo Magnificent and Crossing the Mangrove, rhythm and music play important roles in the processes of mediating and performing social identities. Prominently incorporated in representations of mourning and memory, rhythmic and musical cues provide meaningful ways for characters to communicate their relationships with themselves, each other, and society at large. Although Condé and Chamoiseau express and explore this theme in subtly different ways, undeniable parallels connect representations of musically mediated relationships and identities in the two works. In this respect, through salient representations of sounds and silences, both Condé and Chamoiseau reveal the intricate dynamics of performing social identities and relationships and the impalpable complexities encountered as individuals attempt to affirm, reconcile, and reject intermittently inviting, ambivalent, and hostile collective affiliations.
In Crossing the Mangrove, vocal music serves as a primary means for individuals to express subjective desires in view of identity configurations and group affiliations. Articulated through one's choice of song as well as the decision to sing or not to sing, musical performance (or, in this instance, musical vocalization) acts as an indicator of individual identities and interpersonal relationships within a larger social context. In “Whoever We Are Today, We Can Sing a Song about It,” Anthony Seeger supports this notion, suggesting inherent connections between musical performances and social identity configurations. “Musical performances are used by composers, performers, audiences, critics, governments and liberators (in sum, by all social actors) in ways they find meaningful. And while each group may be characterized by one kind of music, a given individual may claim membership in various groups and perform a variety of musical styles appropriate to them. Musical performance is thus part of larger social processes—among them oppression, resistance, and the creation and affirmation of social identities.” (Seeger 1994, 12–13)
Through the sounds and silences of musical expression, subjects actively mediate autonomous identities within complex systems of dynamic social relations. In this respect, as individual subjects experience rhythmic and musical phenomena in a given social setting, their decided level of resonant or noiseless involvement in the process implicitly communicates their own subjective desires regarding social positionality. Whether conveying conformity or dissidence, ardor or apprehension, by participating (or not participating) in rhythmic or musical manifestations, social performers effectively negotiate interpersonal relationships and affirm autonomous identitites in varying social contexts.
In Crossing the Mangrove, the subjective vocalization of social identity through song is especially apparent in passages involving three social misfits—Mira, Sonny, and Xantippe. As they respectively reflect on their lives and their encounters with Francis Sancher, musical expression marks their independent experiences of identity in the past and in the present. Evoked through disconnected representations of resonant memory fragments as well as narrative descriptions of sounding and silent social interactions in the space of the funeral gathering, musical cues provide insight into questions of identity and social positionality.
For Mira, the daughter of a wealthy landowner and his mistress-servant and the mother of Francis Sancher's newborn child, music provides a constant refuge from the social insults and injuries she endures on a regular basis. Ill at ease in local public spaces, Mira routinely retreats to a secluded ravine where, losing herself in an imaginative realm of her own design, she indulges herself in swimming and singing. Capricious in nature, Mira sings spontaneously improvised pieces addressed to no one in particular. This practice, which began when she was a young schoolgirl, effectively conveys her position of social nonconformity in past as well as present time frames:
Quand elle était à l'école, avant qu'on ne finisse par la renvoyer, tout enfant, chérie de Loulou Lameaulnes qu'elle était, elle arrivait en retard apres avoir vagabondé on ne sait où, elle s'asseyait à sa place et pendant que les autres enfants récitaient leurs tables de multiplication, elle chantonnait des chansons sans queue ni tête qu'on n'avait jamais entendu chanter à personne.
Chobet di paloud
Se an lan mè
An ké kontréw.a
à La chaubette dit a la palourde/C'est dans la mer/ Que je te
[When she was a schoolgirl, before they ended up expelling her from school, still a child, darling of Loulou Lameaulnes that she was, she arrived late after wandering who knows where, she would sit in her place and while the other children recited their multiplication tables, she would sing nonsensical songs that no one had ever heard anyone sing.
The chaubette says to the clam
It is in the sea
That I will meet you.]
Unlike the other children, who collectively chant their multiplication tables, Mira composes meandering songs of her own invention. Sung in Creole, her rambling improvised song provides a sharply resonant contrast to the scripted repetitions of the multiplication tables, presumably recited in French. Under the guise of childhood caprice, Mira's expressed refusal to participate in the collective rhythmic classroom ritual accentuates her decidedly individualized position outside of community social norms. Articulated through a combination of lyrical innovation and musical improvisation, Mira performs her own brand of social discordance, and subsequently negotiates a non-normative social positioning in the Rivière au Sel community.
Through Mira, Condé also reveals the importance of percussive rhythms—manifest in the sounds of drumbeats, footsteps, dance steps, heartbeats, and handclaps—in view of questions of community and social identity in Caribbean sociocultural contexts. In one particularly striking passage, Condé elicits the collectivizing influence of rhythm as evidenced by the social omnipotence of the gwo ka. During a local festival, la fête de Petit Bourg, the ubiquitous reverberations of gwo-ka seemingly direct the bodies of dancers in motion, stirring the crowd of onlookers to participate with handclaps. Despite the audible enthusiasm of the dancers and the spectators, Mira pulls away from the noisy crowd, refusing to engage in the collective social ritual: “Mira se tenait en retrait de la foule qui se démenait et battait des mains en cadence, car le gwo-ka ne laisse pas certains tranquilles, il faut lui obéir!” (179). (Mira remained withdrawn from the crowd that thrashed about and clapped their hands in rhythm, for the gwo-ka does not leave people calm, they must obey it!) Unwilling to partake in the shared experience of rhythm and music and refusing to obey the commanding gwo-ka, Mira once again performs her vehement nonconformity, strongly communicating her disdain for and defiance of social norms in the local cultural context. Condé reinforces Mira's audibly apparent social positioning with visual imagery during the celebration, as she stands motionless, alone, and in silence on the outskirts of the exuberant crowd.
Like Mira, Sonny, a mentally challenged child, uses music as a means of escaping the harsh realities of his life in Rivière au Sel. Facing abuses at the hands of his father, who regularly beats him, and the local children, who persistently taunt him, Sonny opens a private imaginative realm through song, an intimate daydreamy space in which he finds moments of solace and refuge. Singing songs of his own invention throughout the day, Sonny psychologically shields himself from public derision, simultaneously affirming his status as social outsider.
Sonny avait un stock de chansons dans sa tête et ne savait pas lui-même d'où elles naissaient. Cela commençait depuis le petit matin quand il ouvrait ses yeux invariablement cireux et cela résistait aux coups de gueule du père…
Cela continuait à travers la lumière du jour. Il y avait des chansons pour tous les moments du jour. (112–13)
[Sonny had a stock of songs in his head and did not know himself from where they were born. It started at dawn when he opened his invariably waxen eyes and it resisted his father's blows to his face…
It would continue throughout the light of day. There were songs for every moment of the day.]
Like Mira, Sonny vocally avows his exterior position outside of local social norms by singing songs throughout the day. Disregarding community cultural conventions, he fills each day with his own brand of vocal music, regardless of the physical location or social context. Although, for the most part, Sonny's musical expression is widely ignored or dismissed by members of the Rivière au Sel community, during his time in the village, Francis Sancher greeted his songs with enthusiasm and appreciation. By clapping along or verbally praising Sonny's creative efforts, Francis Sancher quickly became both an ally and an advocate for the young boy.
Having lost a trusted friend, Sonny is inconsolable at Francis Sancher's funeral gathering. Seated alongside his mother, the grief-stricken boy stares at Francis's coffin and vocalizes his sorrow through song. “Les yeux fixés sur le cercueil, Sonny exprima par une chanson la peine qui débordait de son coeur” (111). (His eyes staring at the coffin, Sonny expressed with a song the pain that overwhelmed his heart.) Communicating his anguish, anxiety, and unease through music, Sonny struggles to come to terms with Francis's death. Oblivious to the reproachful hand of his mother and the disdainful glances of other mourners, Sonny performs an original song for himself and for Francis as a means of expressing the intense pain he feels inside. Unwilling to recite a familiar canto or to resign himself to silence, Sonny pays tribute to Francis with a unique vocal performance. Although just a child himself, Sonny decidedly positions himself outside of the community that has chided and forsaken him since his birth. Unlike Mira, who makes a play for social acceptance at the funeral by joining voices with the other women in the prayer circle, Sonny maintains his status as a social misfit by refusing to participate in the collective rhythmic and musical activities of the funeral ritual.
Like Sonny, Xantippe continues his disavowal of community membership through his unwillingness to engage with the assembled group of mourners. Nevertheless, unlike Sonny, who voices his status of social outsider through song, Xantippe communicates his exterior social position through silence. A self-proclaimed “nèg mawon” (nègre marron in French and black maroon in English), Xantippe rarely enters the space of the village since locals often threaten him with verbal insults or physical violence. Despised and misunderstood, Xantippe lives the life of a social outcast, dwelling outside the geographical confines and cultural conventions of the village. Unwelcome in the space of the village, he retreats to the natural spaces surrounding Rivière au Sel, finding protection, refuge, and comfort amidst the trees, which he refers to as “nos seuls amis” (241) (our only friends).
As a modern-day nèg mawon, Xantippe perpetuates a powerful strategy of social resistance. Initiated by runaway slaves who fled from plantations and found operative hiding places in the forests and in the hills, maroon-age began as a means of empowering individuals in effectuating solitary or small-scale rebellions against systemic enslavement and oppression in European colonies in the Americas and the Caribbean during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Later practiced as a means of defying continued colonial authority, maroonage became a radical revolutionary alternative to living in status quo communities in the Americas and the Caribbean. As Anse Chaudière explains in the preface to Richard Price's Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas, maroons, whether acting as individuals or affiliated with larger maroon communities, continue to provide an anti-establishmentarian presence in the present-day in spite of the threats of “increasing modernization and globalization” (Chaudière 1996, xvi). In analyzing the unique lifestyles and social positions of past and present-day maroons, Chaudiere champions maroons as models of ingenuity, integrity, and fortitude: “Maroons—in their individual courage and creativity, their remarkable ability to adapt to changing circumstance, and their collective refusal to accept an oppressor's distorted view of themselves—have a great deal to teach us all” (xxvii). Like Chaudière, who upholds the maroons as living examples of peaceful nonconformity and social disobedience, Condé presents Xantippe as a peaceable and compassionate character who has found tranquility as a nèg mawon, in spite of his solitude and the precariousness of his marginal social position.
At Francis Sancher's funeral, Xantippe loses himself in his thoughts, thinking about how much things have changed since the day a tragic fire destroyed his home and the lives of his wife and children. Presenting a fragmented inventory of audio, visual, and sensorial impressions, Xantippe chronicles his experiences as a nèg mawon in view of the changing face of a society that has ultimately rejected him. As he reflects on the past, Xantippe elicits a disjointed series of encounters with nature and society, both of which are marked by explicit references to music. Disturbed by what he observes as he inventories the sights and sounds of a changing Guadeloupe—a butterfly-shaped island in constant metamorphosis—Xantippe prefers the noises of nature rather than those produced by his fellow humans. As he describes in one passage, his favorite songs consist of the everyday sonorities composed by the river at the base of the ravine. “Caché sous les roches, je devenais cheval à diable pour écouter la chanson de l'eau” (244). (Hidden beneath the rocks, I became a devil's horse to hear the song of the water.)
In contrast to the natural music he finds in his environment, many of the human songs Xantippe overhears foster disappointment instead of elation. In one evocation, he describes his surprise upon hearing the voices of children singing at a local school. “J'ai vu s'ouvrir les écoles et, n'en croyant pas mes oreilles, j'ai entendu les enfants chantonner. ‘Nos ancêtres les Gaulois’”(244). (I saw schools open and, not believing my ears, I heard the children singing. “Our ancestors the Gauls.”) In relating his astonishment with the children's song, Xantippe exposes fundamental problems with collective identity constructs, particularly those based on linguistic criteria or hegemonic devices. Paying homage to Guadeloupe's Gallic ancestors from France as they sing in unison, the children of Rivière au Sel are denied the chance to lyrically praise legitimate progenitors hailing from multiple locations in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Assigned and performed in the space of the classroom, the students’ song reveals institutionalized attempts to foster Guadeloupean alignment with the French political authority as well as the French language and culture for most of the twentieth century.
Xantippe's mention of a problematic classroom song alludes to larger Antillean social concerns in view of questions of language, identity, and cultural expression, which Condé elicits throughout Crossing the Mangrove. Not exclusive to her fictional works, Condé overtly addresses such questions in her nonfiction texts as well, particularly in view of linguistic and political categories. Much like Ousmane Sembene, who disapproves of the “Francophone” moniker, Maryse Condé argues that the political and linguistic implications of the Francophone designation are dubious, specifically in their failure to account for shared histories and sociocultural criteria.
[J]e ne crois pas à la francophonie. Communauté de locuteurs fondée sur les mots qu'ils utilisent quand on sait que les mots n'ont aucun sens…Seules comptent à mes yeux les fraternités. Fraternité d'histoire, d'exil, de combats, d'angoisses…[Q]ue vienne le temps des fraternités dessinées au-delè des langues et des couleurs. (Condé 1985, 36)
[I do not believe in the Francophonie. A community of speakers based on the words that they use when we know that the words make no sense…The only things that count in my eyes are fraternities. Fraternity of history, of exile, of struggles, of anguish…(M)ay the time come for fraternities designed beyond languages and colors.]
Rejecting collective identity constructs based on language, race, and political affiliations, Condé offers her notion of fraternity or humanity as a significant common denominator in configuring group identity. Developed through shared histories and experiences, and solidified through collective hardships and struggles, fraternity, for Condé, is a tie that connects individuals beyond the limitations of prescribed racial and linguistic categories. Furthermore, in Condé's view, fraternity is not something confined to the geographic space of a single island. In this respect, Condé discounts the opinion that a writer should “keep to his or her island,” opening the question of Antillean identity to multiple locations “regardless of colonial language and political status” (Condé 1993, 698). Cast through a different lens, Condé's expressed use of the term “fraternity” represents a meaningful reappropriation of the term that, combined with the words “liberty” and “equality,” has come to represent the spirit of the French Revolution and the French Republic. In her characterization of “fraternity,” Condé evokes the operative irony of the term in France and its overseas departments and territories (which include Guadeloupe and Martinique), where the values of fraternity and equality continue to be denigrated by racism, discrimination, injustice, and inequality.
In Crossing the Mangrove, Condé assembles disjointed fragments of the sounds and silences elicited through the work of mourning and remembering, simultaneously providing a catalyst for addressing questions of Antillean identity. Presenting disconnected flurries of past sights, sounds, and sensations as characters lose themselves in their thoughts and memories at Francis Sancher's funeral gathering, Condé connects their subjective present experiences with the perpetual negotiation of past memories and events. This motif resurfaces in much of Condé's work, as she continually insists on the importance of understanding past occurrences, problems, and mistakes as a means of dealing with questions of identity and moving toward a more promising future for individuals and collective groups. As Doris Y. Kadish suggests, “Despite her pessimistic assessment of the political situation in the French Caribbean, Condé has an optimistic view of the possibility and the significance of understanding the past” (Kadish 2000, 218–19). In narrating the fragmentary jumbles of emotion and memory experienced by individual members of the Rivière au Sel community, Condé provides hints of such optimism in spite of preponderant cynicism.
Similarly, in Solibo Magnificent, Patrick Chamoiseau conveys flashes of hopefulness despite prevailing pessimism in his baroque portrayal of a posthumous police investigation. Addressing a wide range of contemporary social issues including racism, social discrimination, corruption, and police brutality, Chamoiseau presents a carnivalesque rendering of a community's search to find answers in the aftermath of Solibo's mysterious death in central Fort de France during the Carnival festivities. Privileging what Bakhtin refers to as “the world turned upside down” (Bakhtin 1984b), in crafting his carnivalesque narrative, Chamoiseau allows his characters to escape the confines of socially prescribed roles and behaviors, effectively disrupting social conventions and defying cultural norms. By framing tragic events such as police-supported intimidation, torture, and murder in a comic frame, Chamoiseau prompts the reader to delve into the intricacies of the social problems he unveils through carnivalesque irony and satire.
Before the story of Solibo even begins, Chamoiseau sets the stage for carnival and satire, prefacing the narration of events with a decontextualized quotation:
—Mais, Papa, que faire dans une telle situation?
—D'abord en rire, dit le conteur. (13)
—But, Papa, what to do in such a situation?
—First laugh about it, said the storyteller.
Presented in three lines of text, the brief passage features a transcribed fragment of conversation between a storyteller and an inquisitive child as recorded by a fictionalized ethnographer. With no background information, the signification of such a situation is vague, open to a multiplicity of scenarios and possibilities. Although the parameters of the question are equivocal, the response to the question is definitive. In this case, the appurtenant answer dictates the appropriate action. As Chamoiseau suggests, when faced with such a situation, the first thing to do is laugh. In just three lines of text, Chamoiseau effectively establishes a reader-response protocol, setting the tone for his carnivalesque portrayal of an unfortunate series of events.13
Chamoiseau further accentuates the carnivalesque character of Solibo Magnificent by situating the story in the time-space context of the Martinican Carnival in which dancing swirls of vibrant colors and robust waves of raucous cacophonies provide the audiovisual backdrop for events as the police investigation unfolds. By staging the corrupt investigation amidst the festive local ambiance, Chamoiseau underscores the irony of the situation, calling attention to the gravity of multiple police missteps—among them intimidation, torture, and murder:
Comme toujours en période de carnaval, le renforcement des patrouilles avait vidé [l'hôtel de police]. Inspecteurs et commissaires, pour la plupart métropolitains, n'apparaissaient dans leur bureau que le matin, ensuite, en chemise à fleurs et bermuda, ils traquaient nos moeurs carnivalesques pour leur album de souvenirs. (165)
[As always during carnival time, the reinforcement of patrols had emptied (the police headquarters). Inspectors and commissioners, for the most part hailing from France, only appeared in their office in the morning, later, in Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts, they tracked down our carnivalesque activities for their memento albums.]
As members of Solibo's audience face suspicion, disrespect, and mistreatment at the hands of the investigating officers, police inspectors, and superintendents, most of them have traded in their police uniforms for Bermuda shirts and floral print shirts. Acting more like tourists than law enforcement officials, members of the delinquent police force exemplify the Bakhtinian carnivalesque paradigm “the world turned upside down” while cataloguing the carnivalesque activities of everyday citizens. Unflinching in his exploration of the troubled social dynamic between the largely metropolitan police force and the local island inhabitants, Chamoiseau confronts important social issues through carnivalesque characterizations.14
Chamoiseau delves into the thorny intricacies of past and present Antillean social problems—beginning with the injustices of slavery and leading up to the inequities of French governance—in Solibo Magnificent as well as in a large body of fictional and critical texts. As Marie-José N'zengou-Tayo observes: “It is as if an invisible wound were still bleeding in the memories of the descendants of masters and slaves alike…Chamoiseau tries to explore it in depth, no matter how painful it may be” (N'zengou-Tayo 2000, 186). Designating a carnivalesque space in which laughter and tears intermingle, Chamoiseau plunges readers into the depths of a figurative wound, just as Condé immerses readers in the thick of a figurative mangrove, in considering questions of Antillean identity.
Throughout his narration of the investigation of Solibo's enigmatic death, Chamoiseau privileges carnivalesque elements, exposing important social problems while exploring questions of Martinican and Antillean identity. Involving the work of memory as characters struggle to come to terms with Solibo's death, Chamoiseau fills the space of the text with sonorous representations of rhythmic and musical elements. Presented in the form of resonant past memories and audible present activities, the texted sounds and silences play a prominent role in the negotiation of social positionality and the configuration of social identities that take place after the death of Solibo. As in Crossing the Mangrove, in Solibo Magnificent, such rhythmically and musically mediated identity constructs are most visibly apparent when distinguishing between members and nonmembers of specific communities and/or social groups. Negotiated through the subjective experience of rhythmic and musical phenomena, the dual processes of performance and perception provide an operative alternative to the linguistically prescribed identification constructs with which Chamoiseau finds fault. As he explains.
[L]a langue ne sert plus à définir une culture, une identité…On peut, sous une même langue, avoir des réalités culturelles et anthropologiques différentes. Je suis plus proche d'un Saint-Lucien anglophone ou d'un Cubain hispanophone que n'importe quel Africain francophone ou Québécois francophone. Vous voyez, les langues, aujourd'hui ont perdu leur pouvoir de pénétration, de structuration profonde d'une identité, d'une culture, d'une conception du monde. (Gauvin 1997, 37)
[(L)anguage no longer serves to define a culture, an identity…One can, under the same language, have different cultural and anthropological realities. I am closer to an Anglophone Saint-Lucian or to a Hispanophone Cuban than any Francophone African or Francophone Quebecois. You see, languages, today have lost their power of penetration, of profound structuration of an identity, of a culture, of a conception of the world.]
Like Condé, Chamoiseau rejects the notion of Francophone identity, citing substantial cultural differences among the disparate locations that comprise the global Francophone community. Favoring cultural criteria to linguistic determinants, Chamoiseau argues that, in the present day, language no longer serves as the figurative determining window through which one perceives the world and oneself. Rather, Chamoiseau promotes the notion of identity as performance and process and, in doing so, opens identity configurations to the sonorities of multiple languages and the possibilities of shared cultural conditions and experiences. Resonating with multiple voices and rhythms, both harmonious and cacophonous, identities are, in Chamoiseau's view, inherently noisy and complicated, particularly since, through the process of identification, individuals are compelled to compose and combine harmonious and dissonant sounds in innovative ways. Whether subtle or bold, these sounding spaces for identity (re)negotiation, (re)configuration, and (re)appropriation operate beyond the confines of Western critical paradigms as prescribed through linguistic, geographical, socioeconomic, and political criteria, among others. As Chamoiseau explains, identities are instead created through shared cultural expressions and experiences as shaped by a number of commonalities and coincidences. Among these cultural points of connection dwell the sounds and sensations generated through rhythmic, musical, and otherwise noisy phenomena and also through the experience of collective silences, both comfortable and uncomfortable.
In the case of Solibo Magnificent, the police investigators are the ones who distinguish themselves from the diverse members of Solibo's audience, communicating their separateness in response to sounding and silent cues throughout the course of the investigation. Revealing their differentiated status through their unwillingness to embrace the Creole language as well as their inability to understand the dynamic relationship between sounds and silences in local social contexts, the officers consequently demarcate social dividing lines as determined by the perception and understanding of sonorous and silent phenomena. In one particularly telling passage, Officer Pilon discloses his outsider status as he interrogates the witnesses, one after another, on the subject of silence. Adopting an accusatory tone, Pilon asks each of the witnesses the same question, “Le conteur cesse brusquement de parler, et ce silence inattendu ne vous inquiete pas?”(147) (The storyteller abruptly ceases to speak, and this unexpected silence doesn't trouble you?), to which each witness gives a similar response:
C'est une question d'oreille, inspectère, la parole du conteur, c'est le son de sa gorge, mais c'est aussi sa sueur, les roulades de ses yeux, son ventre, les dessins de ses mains, son odeur, celle de la compagnie, le son du ka et tous les silences. Il faut y ajouter la nuit autour, la pluie s'il pleut, les vibrations silencieuses du monde. Qui a peur du silence par ici? Personne n'a peur du silence, surtout pas. (147-48)
[It is a question of ear, inspector, the word of the storyteller, it is the sound of his voice, but it is also his sweat, the rolls of his eyes, his belly, the patterns of his hands, his smell, that of the company, the sound of the ka and all of the silences. I must add the surrounding night, the rain if it is raining, the silent vibrations of the world. Who is afraid of silence here? No one is afraid of silence, certainly not.]
Unable to fathom the interdependence of sounding and silent elements in Solibo's performance, Pilon immediately casts doubt on the validity of his witnesses’ statements by accusing them of collaborating on their stories and explanations in advance. Averse to the experiential possibilities of silence and sound in Solibo's performance, Pilon maintains his outsider status by refusing to engage with the cultural perspectives and social practices of Solibo's audience.
Nevertheless, despite his attempts to distance himself from the witnesses and their stories, Pilon is unable to completely dissociate himself from the questions of identity that emerge from the investigation. As he endeavors to compile physical evidence and assemble disjointed memory fragments in considering questions of how Solibo died, Pilon consequently engages himself in the process of identity negotiation:
Dans la tête d'Évariste Pilon, l'affaire saisonnait, sinueuse, vaine, dérisoire, fructifère que sur un nom, une silhouette. Solibo Magnifique. Ce que les suspects avaient dit de cet homme, et qu'il avait si peu écouté, s'organisait dans sa mémoire, ainsi que l'inondation d'une nouvelle source irrésistiblement se régente en Rivière. Apres s'étre demandé avec peu d'éléments. Qui a tué Solibo?…, il se retrouvait disponible devant l'autre question. Qui, mais qui était ce Solibo, et pourquoi ‘Magnifique’?…(219)
[In the mind of Évariste Pilon, the affair seasoned, sinuous, vain, pathetic, flourishing just on a name, a silhouette. Solibo Magnificent. What the suspects had said about this man and what little he had listened to, organized itself in his memory, just like the flooding of a new spring irresistibly regiments itself as river. After having wondered with few elements. Who killed Solibo?…, he found himself open to the other question. Who, but who was this Solibo, and why ‘Magnificent’?…]
Presented with the mysterious death of an unknown other, Pilon ultimately involves himself in the work of memory, compiling the disconnected fragments from witness testimonials in configuring a posthumous identity for the deceased. Through the process of constructing a mosaic composite identity for Solibo Magnifique, Pilon's authority is disrupted as he is subsequently compelled to mediate the terms of his own identity and social relationships in view of larger questions of Antillean identity.
Although each of the characters in Solibo Magnificent must come to terms in one way or another with Solibo's mysterious life and death, they must also contend with the brutality and incompetence of the botched police investigation. Not only do the police investigators interfere with and prevent the appropriate social rituals of mourning, but they also inflict great injury, imprisonment, and death among the community of witnesses and mourners. At the end of the day, Doudou Ménar has died after a violent police assault, Congo has died by jumping through a window to escape an unrestrained police beating, and Sucette is in prison after engaging in a scuffle with police during his brutal interrogation, during which he threw a piece of furniture at one of the offending officers. Interestingly enough, we the readers rarely hear Sucette speak except through his drum. And yet, he communicates to each and every one of us. Acting simultaneously as intermediary and outlaw, Sucette occupies a precarious social position that defies succinct attempts at categorization. Speaking through his drum, it is Sucette who summons the group of listeners to the Savannah on the night of Solibo's final performance. As the evening of storytelling begins, Sucette seems to become one with his instrument as he communicates through a series of Plakataks, blings, pitings, and bloukoutoums and engages in an extralinguistic musical dialogue with Solibo and his audience. Described as “un rien d'homme, dessiné par ses os” (29), (a nothing of a man, drawn by his bones) when he is not drumming, Sucette often passes undetected by the members of his community. Although his legal name is Éloi Apollon, his nickname Sucette (which translates as sucker or lollipop in English) suggests his habit of drinking rum and hints at his sticklike physical stature—so thin that it makes his head look exaggeratedly large and round. Characterized in the police report as homeless and without profession (30), Sucette, like Solibo, exists in a domain governed more by the rules of the streets and the struggle for survival than by the French and Martinican administrative authorities. Subsisting as a nonconformist, transient, and outlaw, Sucette embraces an endangered way of being-in-the world based on his passion for Martinican music and drumming traditions coupled with his unwillingness to accept prescribed linguistic, socioeconomic, political, cultural, and aesthetic protocols. Both dangerous and endangered, like Solibo, Sucette comes to represent something greater than himself—a way of being in the world that is all too often praised in theory and scorned in practice. Through Sucette's prison confinement and Solibo's death, Chamoiseau demonstrates how easily the word of the storyteller and the word of the drummer can get lost in the chaotic shuffle of everyday living. In doing so, he encourages his readers/listeners to open their ears, hearts, and minds to the musics of Antillean traditions and innovations in mediating noisy identities for his characters and themselves.
In both Chamoiseau's Solibo Magnificent and Condé's Crossing the Mangrove, questions of individual and collective identities are considered in view of the mysterious deaths of enigmatic characters—Solibo Magnificent and Francis Sancher—at the beginning of each novel. As characters collectively mourn the deceased community members and investigate the circumstances surrounding their deaths, they perform the work of remembering, revealing a disconnected series of memory fragments, and unleashing a barrage of disjointed sights, sensations, and sonorities. Staged in a social context, the tasks of grieving and remembering engage characters in the process of performing identity, which allows them to sound off, as it were, in (re)configuring inpidual and collective identity constructs and negotiating alternative social positionalities. Consequently, as readers work their way through the resonant transpoetic texts, piecing together fragmented bits of songs, stories, sounds, and sensations, they are implicated in the process of identification affirmation, negotiating rhythmically and musically mediated identity configurations in view of multiple identificatory paradigms. By sounding off, each in his or her own way, Chamoiseau and Condé present questions of linguistic, sociocultural, political, and geographic identities in ways that challenge readers to push the parameters of cultural norms and aesthetic conventions regardless of their spatial and temporal orientations.
1. On this note, Véronique Porra has written an interesting article exploring the controversy of créolité. “Les voix de l'anti-créolité? Le champ littéraire francophone entre orthodoxe et subversion” (Porra 2001).
2. Pépin's understanding of créolité reflects the mosaic notion of créolité set forth in Patrick Chamoiseau, Raphael Confiant, and Jean Bernabé's 1993 text Éloge de la créolité (In Praise of Creoleness).
3. Remember that Guadeloupe and Martinique are considered Départements Régionaux d'Outre Mer, or DROM (French Regional Overseas Departments), meaning that they are still governed by France.
4. As of press time, Écrire en pays dominé, Biblique des derniers gestes, Un Dimanche au cachot, À bout d'enfance, Les neuf consciences du Malfini, and L'intraitable beauté du monde: Adresse à Barack Obama had not yet appeared in English translation. The titles have been translated here for the benefit of nonfrancophone readers.
5. As of press time, Les belles ténébreuses and Victoire, des saveurs et des mots had not yet appeared in English translation. The titles have been translated here for the benefit of nonfrancophone readers.
6. For further discussion of the significance of the Glissantian hyphen, see Bongie 1998.
7. As Delphine Perret explains, the Creole term patat has a double signification, connoting a sweet potato or female genitalia. She analyzes the eroticism of the death scene in “La Parole du conteur créole: Solibo Magnifique de Patrick Chamoiseau” (Perret 1994, 834).
8. In French, the word entendre conveys a double signification: In English, it could be translated as to hear and to understand.
9. Monique Blérald-Ndagano describes a similar effect in characterizing Creole drumming practitioners and practices: “[L]e tanbouyen ne joue pas que de ses mains qui tapent, frappent, giflent, caressent la peau du tambour. Il vibre tout entier: il ferme, roule les yeux, dodeline la tête, murmure, siffle entre ses dents, émet des boborygmes, des onomatopées. Il discute avec le tambour et le tambour discute avec lui, dit-on” (Blérald-Ndagano 1996, 63). (The drummer does not only play with his hands that hit, strike, slap, caress the skin of the drum. He resonates throughout: he closes, rolls his eyes, nods his head, murmurs, whistles between his teeth, emits rumbling noises, onomatopoeias. He discusses with the drum and the drum discusses with him, as we say.)
10. In “Patrick Chamoiseau et le gwo-ka du chanté-parlé,” Francis Higginson also argues that music is an important device in that it takes the discussion of identity beyond the confines of binary categories including, but not limited to, written versus oral, traditional versus modern, and Occidental versus Oriental (Higginson 2004). Although we approach similar questions in considering Solibo Magnificent, we incorporate different critical methodologies and establish distinct arguments in our respective analyses.
11. As Monique Desroches explains, the bèlè (traditionally associated with northern Martinique) and the gwo ka (traditionally associated with Guadeloupe) are similar, both constructed from barrels with animal skin stretched over the top. The gwo ka tends to be shorter and wider than the bèlè, which produces a deeper, heavier sonority (Desroches 1986, 28). The tibwa consists of two drumsticks constructed from a hard wood that are used to strike the side of a drum or a horizontally oriented bamboo stick (55).
12. The footnote presented in the citation is the one Condé includes in her original work. I have left chaubette untranslated here to reflect the geographic and linguistic specificity of the animal. Similar to a clam, the chaubette is commonly found in the shallows in the region near Petit-Bourg, where there is a chaubette festival each year in July.
13. Wendy Knepper provides an interesting discussion of the dimensions of ruse and mosaic identity in view of Solibo Magnificent (see Knepper 2006).
14. H. Adlai Murdoch provides an insightful analysis of the carnivalesque elements in Solibo Magnificent in view of larger questions of Caribbean identities in Creole Identity in the French Caribbean Novel (2001).