Conde's Creolite in Literary History
Apter, Emily, The Romanic Review
Drawing on a wide range of theories literary history and geography, I want to consider how the Creolophone/Francophone novel and, in particular, Maryse Conde's fiction, challenge paradigms of literary evolution, narrative markets, comparative genre, hybrid narrative form, and postcolonial paradigms of so-called minor literature. In focusing on Conde's relationship to the British novel (with special attention to her rewriting of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights in her La Migration des coeurs [trans. Windward Heights]), the intent is to emphasize the implications of Conde's decision to exchange a French literary genealogy for a British one (that, in addition to Bronte, also includes Jane Austen, Jean Rhys, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf). An attempt will be made to develop a paradigm of genre translation and transmission that might be called "Caribbean Gothic" (countering the Orientalist "Imperial Gothic" readily apparent in British colonial fiction). Ghosts, telepathic communication, the channeling of spirits and voices emerge as important themes in Wuthering Heights, and their reappearance in Windward Heights brings into focus issues of communication and literacy that were as important to Emily Bronte as they are to Conde: questions concerning "whose tongue is chosen" and "how literature happens" under conditions of tenuous literacy and "literateness." These questions lead to some reflections on the ways in which creolite translates time-honored models of literary history, while providing new ascriptions of literary genesis, genealogy, and genetic criticism.
There are myriad serviceable models of literary history still in use, many of them overlapping. One thinks of the encyclical structuralism of Vico-inspired models; of Lansonist histories of style informed by Taine's emphasis on milieu, genre, and social class; of transhistorical time-lines of intellectual history--Arthur Lovejoy's history of ideas unfolding as a great chain of being or Leo Spitzer's adaptation of the philological circle, used to construe a national soul evolving through the ages. One thinks of Georg Lukacs's Hegelian concept of Geisteswissenschaft based on a presumed match between the mind of the writer and the historical Mind, which points to a supra-empirical vision of the totality of world history and to historically based universal dialectics of genre. (1) One thinks of Erich Auerbach's literary history with holes, his jagged genealogy of comedic realism, lurching back to Plato's Republic where "mimesis ranks third after truth" (2) and forward to Dante's Commedia, presented as "true reality." One thinks of Walter Jackson Bate's postwar update of the "ancients and moderns" quarrel to "the burden of the past," supplanted in turn by Harold Bloom's agonistic "anxiety of influence" theory of psychic poetic engendering and literary father-killing. One thinks of Mikhail Bakhtin's chronotypes, which introduced synchrony into the heavily diachronic tradition of literary history. These chronotypes become lengthened as temporal measures of periodicity under the guiding influence of Ferdinand Braudel, Michel Foucault, and Giovanni Arrighi, with their introduction, respectively, of la longue duree, epistemological break, and the long century. One thinks of how, from Elisee Reclus to David Harvey, the spatial conditions of long-distance narrative have come into historical focus, fostering cartographic literary histories and mappings of literary territory that compete with linear time. These geopolitical models urge literary history to take on imperial conquest and the rise of capitalism through renewed attention to epic genres: le roman d'aventure, the national ballad, travel chronicles, exoticism, the war novel, la litterature coloniale. One thinks of Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's invention of feminist literary history focusing on women authors and female characters. Along the lines of canonical redress, one thinks of the monumental project of Henry Louis Gates to build African-American literary history from the ground up. And finally, one thinks of a number of critics committed to global literary historiography: the Brazilian critic Roberto Schwarz's theory of "misplaced ideas" which complicates the story of Latin America's supposed dependency on European mimesis, or Franco Moretti's world systems approach to world literature.
Moretti's polemical essay "Conjectures on World Literature" is particularly availing to the problem of assessing the place of creolite in literary history: first, to borrow a formulation from Paul de Man, because it diagnoses the present, forcing interrogation of the relationship between literary modernity and literary history; and second; because it thinks big, imagining a world geography of literary fields in which major and minor, or metropolitan and periphery are given their due in determining reception. (3) Moretti shows how economism vies with evolutionism in the "two basic cognitive metaphors" that have dominated literary historiography" the philological tree ("the phylogenetic tree derived from Darwin, the tool of comparative philology"), and the market wave (adapted from Schmidt's 'wave hypothesis,' that explained certain overlaps among languages").
The tree describes the passage from unity to diversity: one tree, with many branches: from Indo-European, to dozens of different languages. The wave is the opposite: it observes uniformity engulfing an initial diversity: Hollywood films conquering one market after another (or English swallowing language after language). Trees need geographical discontinuity (in order to branch off from each other, languages must first be separated in space, just like animal species); waves dislike barriers, and thrive on geographical continuity (from the viewpoint of a wave, the ideal world is a pond). Trees and branches are what nation-states cling to; waves are what markets do. (4)
Moretti underscores how nations line up on the side of trees while world systems line up on the side of waves. This makes sense if we think of how the tree image informs myths of national roots. The rootedness of a culture has traditionally been a test of its strength, robustness, and the health of its imperial prospects. Philology, that disciplinary anchor of territorial and extraterritorial nationalism, also relied on the linguistic tree, building up from the racine or etymon a genealogy of word families that, in their turn, "branch out" into heritage culture, patrimony, and national history. The wave, by contrast, is associated with international economism; it relies on the analogy between the roiling motion of the high seas and the market flows of financial and symbolic capital. Genres provide an aesthetic currency of choice in plotting transnational wave theory: from Greek allegory to national epic, revenge tragedy to lyric poetry, social realism to melodrama, gothic horror to haiku, the global market of literary genres yields a cartography of cultural capital in transit.
How does the creolite novel sit in relation to these paradigms of the tree and the wave? To ask this question is to consider more generally how Caribbean fiction assumes its place in literary genealogy; plumbing the resources of its ecology for extensions of the tree metaphor into a spirit-driven genius loci, manifest in land forms and mysterious weather: the mangrove, the razyes (a Creole equivalency term for heath or cliff), the hurricanes, cyclones, and monsoons. The "tree" or evolutionary model of literary history, allows creolite literature to be placed in a continuum stretching back to the vernacularization of Latin literature; to Renaissance macaronics, and Rabelaisian billingsgate. Profoundly associated with what it means to, in Patrick Chamoiseau's words, "ecrire en pays domine," and anchored historically by the cataclysmic advent of slavery and the shift from plantation culture to tourism, creolite also extends the avant-garde revolution in poetics promulgated by Joyce, Pound, and Celine, all of whom unleashed argot, dialect, and vernacular onto high literature. (5) From this perspective, one could say, the tree does well by creolite, crediting its lexical novelties and commitment to "new grammar" as a culminating moment in the grammaticalization of literature that took place in France between 1890 and 1940. (6)
By contrast, the "wave" points to conditions that impede creolite's access to literary history; conditions that relate specifically to Caribbean literature's struggle to gain a place at the table in the global market of letters. Pascale Casanova's book La Republique mondiale des Lettres addresses problems of reception faced by what she calls "les petites litteratures" (borrowing from Kafka's Kleines Literaturs), referring to literatures that come in small bulk, hall from tiny countries or emergent nations, are produced under conditions of impoverishment and imperial adversity, and surfer from being badly translated or poorly marketed. She argues that dominant cultures concentrated in capital cities such as Paris become factories of the universal--producers of principles of "litterarite" that transcend commercial criteria of judgment. Excentric or small literatures, must in a sense, be centralized and sanctioned by this world-system. Casanova's notion of a "world republic of letters" harks back to the formation of a class of professionalized litterateurs during France's Third Republic, who, in effect, established France as the arbiter of World Lit. (7) Establishing a sophisticated public sphere of letters, through a system of reviews, prizes, medals, honors and memberships, this literary elite performed triage on a massively global scale; hierarchizing the world's literary wares with connoisseurial hubris, while protecting what were essentially Western values under the guise of equality and universality. Translation, which permits a wider sphere of reception, is considered by Casanova to be a sign of "consecration and accumulation of literary capital," shoring up the market economy of global literature. (8) In this scheme, minor literature in translation is placed in the uncomfortable bind of either being barred access to international circulation or accused of selling out once it enters the mainstream market.
Add to these obstacles the fact that a movement based in local language politics hardly lends itself to global application, and we can assume that creolite must of necessity struggle hard to become a free-standing category of literary history. And yet, taking a cue from curator Okwui Enwezor's use of the term as an organizing concept of Documenta 11 (an international biennial exhibited in Kassel, Germany in 2002), there are signs that creolite is gaining autonomous stature as a terre of critique. Enwezor borrows from Jean Bernabe, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphael Confiant's famous Eloge de la creolite in basing his definition of Creoleness on the "scissions and agglutinations forged in the contact zone of its historical transmission." (9) But he also generalizes the term as a synonym for world culture, "a critical theory of creole language, literary form, and mode of producing locality" which extends its "geographical character beyond the Caribbean." (10) Here Enwezor seems to echo both Casanova's dislocation of creolite when she speaks of "la creolite Suisse" (with respect to C-F Ramuz's call for a Vaudois linguistic populism as early as 1914) or Maryse Conde's insistence on taking stock of the transnational, media-saturated nature of contemporary Caribbean culture. (11) Moving away from outmoded oppositions between Creole and French, Conde champions the writer's freedom to commit to a tongue of his or her own choosing, extolling Aime Cesaire's invention of "une parole cesairienne," a "Cesaire language." Conde identifies contemporary Caribbeanness with the confluence of old and new forms of popular expression: rap alongside gwoka, boulevard theater next to the traditional vigil, root-poetry (Max Rippon, Cesaire, Derek Walcott) conjugated with border culture (Gloria Anzaldua). (12) She ends her critique of essentialist language politics by quoting not from a fellow Francophone Creole, but from an Anglophone counterpart, the Guyanese writer Wilson Harris: "When one dreams, one dreams alone. When one writes a book, one is alone." (13)
Wilson's phrase seconds Conde's belief in the uniqueness of a writer's chosen tongue, but her decision to cite an Anglophone writer is hardly incidental. In citing Harris, she asserts archipelligan solidarity over and against the linguistic separatism of the islands, affirming creolite's transcultural fusion and reconciling, if you will, the tree and the wave, or nature and market. English allows her both to bypass the burden of the French literary tradition, weighing down on her own formation as a Francophone writer, and the strictures of nativist dogma adhered to by certain of her creolite cohort. The use of English also draws attention to the prevalence of British narrative models in her fiction. Unlike her forbears, Cesaire, Albert Memmi, Octave Mannoni, and Fernando Retamar, all of whom fashioned postcolonial Calibans out of Shakespeare's Tempest, Conde's rewriting of Wuthering Heights has as much to do with establishing a new kind of literary inheritance, as it does with political detournement and appropiationism. By inheritance I do not mean to suggest that her imitation of the classics is an expedient way of gaining literary pedigree. Nor am I suggesting that her appropriationism squares with avant-garde and postmodern techniques of pastiche, cut-up, and plagiarism designed to kill the authorial subject (as exemplified by Kathy Acker who "authors" Great Expectations and borrows from Wuthering Heights). Conde's creolization of narrative form fits uncomfortably into hybridity models that stress an intertextual weave of disparate traditions and structures. Intertextuality in the service of an ethics of reversal is what generally reigns in narrative crossings. Consider Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), which depends on switching the roles of major and minor characters. Mister Rochester's hapless and insane Creole wife Bertha Mason is elevated by Rhys, who once wrote, "She seemed such a poor ghost I thought I'd like to write her life." Rochester, meanwhile changes places with Bertha in being assigned a background, subordinate role. In opting for an introjective rather than a purely intertextual model of literary transference, Conde's fiction downplays the ethics of reversal in favor of a preoccupation with the transmission of literary voice. This transfer of voice becomes a strategy for inserting oneself into a genealogy of "women writers of genius" that includes Jane Austen, the Brontes, and Virginia Woolf. When Conde dedicates Windward Heights "A Emily Bronte, qui, j'espere, agreera cette lecture de son chef-d'oeuvre. Honneur et respect!"--she is resurrecting Bronte from the dead, as if "making contact" with her spirit. It is as if Cathy's famous line in Wuthering Heights, "I am Heathcliff," typically read as testimony to the breakdown of the autonomy of the sovereign subject, or as an instance of pathological over-identification, could be translated as Conde' saying "I am Bronte." Addressing Emily Bronte, so to speak, writer to writer, across the divide of culture, language, and even death, Conde suggests a telepathic identification with her Victorian predecessor, characterized by Freud and Derrida as "thought transference." (14) Analogies between Western and African trance culture come to mind, with Greek oracles and European mediums compared to the behiques and babalawos of the Caribbean. In each case, the anthropology of ghosts, with its emphasis on the channeling of messages across vast distances of time and place, provides a framework for interpreting the transfer of literary genius from a nineteenth-century woman from Yorkshire to a twentieth-century Martiniquaise.
If it seems far-fetched to allow that the ghost of Bronte comes to inhabit the work of Conde, one might at the very least admit the analogy, drawn by Marina Warner, between the supernaturalism of British Gothic, and the cult of ancestor worship in stories of vaudou passed along by shaman and tellers-of-tales. Conde's homage to Bronte's voice merges with her respect for the African literary tradition of orature. In using Creole narrators of humble social station, Conde follows Emily Bronte's example of using the Earnshaw housekeeper Nelly Dean to recount large portions of the tragic love story between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, but she also brings story-telling itself back in touch with popular origins. In terms of genre transference, one could argue that Conde's Windward Heights deserves to be classified as both an exercise in and critique of "Caribbean Gothic." Marina Warner defines "Imperial Gothic," as the use of specters to embody "the collapse of the distant into the proximate brought about by empire." (15)
The haunting of the British drawing room or family foyer by ghosts of the oppressed from exotic lands, recalls Edward Said's analysis in Culture and Imperialism of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. In Said's view, the distant economy of Sir Thomas's sugar plantation in Antigua links the heroine's cosseted world to the toil of indentured slaves. Said suggests that Sir Thomas's imposition of protocols of a measured existence--ordered landscape, fixed schedules--on daily life in Mansfield Park bespeak anxiety about incipient rebellion far away. In Said's reading, small rituals of social control on a British estate become the tell-tale signs of colonialism at home. Though ostensibly a far cry from offering a big canvas of early British imperialism in the Caribbean, Mansfield Park shows how Austen's moral universe is shaped by the slave economy. The idea of distant worlds joined at the hip also informs Said's evaluation of Charlotte Bronte's Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre. The madwoman who haunts Mr. Rochester's upper floor is from the West Indies, thus setting Caribbean ghosts loose in the British domestic sphere. Said writes:
As a reference point of definition, as an easily assumed place of travel, wealth and service, the empire functions for much of the European nineteenth century as a codified, if only marginally visible, presence in fiction, very much like the servants in grand households and in novels, whose work is taken for granted but scarcely ever more than named ... To cite another intriguing analogue, imperial possessions are as usefully there, anonymous and collective, as the outcast populations (analyzed by Gareth Stedman Jones) of transient workers, part-time employees, seasonal artisans; their existence always counts, though their names and identities do not, they are profitable without being fully there. (16)
In Windward Heights, the theme of the colonially haunted house is affixed to the genre of dysfunctional family romance. As in Bronte's original, genetic repetitions of family cycles of violence mime political cycles of revolt and repression. When the Heathcliff figure Razye sets fire to the estate of his brother-in-law Aymeric de Linnseul (an enlightened colon), we see glimmers of Toussaint L'Ouverture bringing principles of the French Revolution home to roost in Haiti. We also see how Creole families, with their painful social splits around shades of white and black, and their dirty little secrets of rape, illegitimacy, and racially fractured kinship, are beset by phantoms of bad blood. The revenge of ancestors on future generations--specifically, the burden placed by Cathy and Heathcliff's unrequited love on posterity--allows us to see why Bronte's family melodrama lent itself to being creolized by Conde. "Caribbean Gothic," a foretaste of which we find in Faulkner, is built up around intergenerational race wars within the family. The ethics of character in Conde's version hinge on the idea that eternal love transcends the denial of African blood in mixed-race subjects. The Cathy of Windward Heights is the daughter of a "tallow-coloured mulatto" by the name of Hubert Gagneur, himself the son of a white Creole. She stands to whiten herself in forming an alliance with the rich Linnseul clan, but the rejection of her true love Rayze--the Heathcliff counterpart, described as black or Indian half-caste--costs her her happiness and ultimately her life. Razye, meanwhile, is condemned to trying to escape the fate "mapped out for him in advance" of embourgeoisement, which only marriage to a girl "white enough to lighten the race" can assure. His son Razye II, is also destined to share the family curse. Haunted by the strange power exerted by the graveyard in L'Engoulvent, containing a tomb with "letters intertwined in stone--CATHY DE LINSSEUIL--RAZYE" (WWH 347) the junior Razye lets himself go to ruin, tortured by the fear that his own daughter may be the fruit of an incestuous union. Genetic destiny is thus virtually mapped out like a genome, spelled out beyond the grave.
Telling the future by spelling the names draws attention to the way in which literacy and narration are as crucial to the plot of Windward Heights as they were to Bronte's Wuthering Heights. Conde effectively brings African oral traditions--the circulation of local knowledge by official tellers of tales or marketplace gossip-mongerers--into alignment with the culture of commerage in Britain's rural backwaters. As class, gender, and region are to Wuthering Height's linguistic world, so class, gender and race are to Windward Heights; the coordinates of an uneasy entry into literate language. Emily Bronte's personal insecurities about presenting her own "monstrous" voice of female genius to the reading public of her time, parallel Conde's negotiation of the difficulty in promoting Creolophone French as a language of international literature. These biographical details add substance to the drama of alphabetization, reinforcing thematic connections between the problem of choosing a tongue or a literary language, and the problem of remaining faithful, in the language of narration, to a regional setting in which the grasp on literacy is tenuous.
In Wuthering Heights Catherine Earnshaw's old books and scrawled, diaristic notations discovered by Heathcliff's hapless tenant afford a spiritual channeling scene in which Catherine's ghost is summoned from the beyond.
And yet, it would seem that Catherine is brought back not just as Heathcliff's lover, but also as a narrative pretext for Bronte to introduce--in the form of ghost-writing--the specter of female literateness:
The ledge, where I placed my candle, had a few mildewed books piled up in one corner; and it was covered with writing scratched on the paint. This writing, however, was nothing but a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small--Catherine Earnshaw, here and there varied to Catherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton. In vapid listlessness I leant my head against the window, and continued spelling over Catherine Earnshaw--Heathcliff Linton, til my eyes closed; but they had not rested five minutes when a glare of white letters started from the dark, as vivid as spectres--the air swarmed with Catherines.... (17)
For Harold Bloom the perdurability of Bronte's literary style, well exemplified in this passage, can be traced to its occult quality, its ability to convey her "private gnosis." (18) "Though she was a clergyman's daughter," he writes, "there is not an iota of Christianity in Emily Bronte, and the gap between ghostly visions and natural realities is never closed .... she is a knower, though not to be subsumed under the rubric of any historical Gnostic sect" (G 321). "Emily in her poetry," he continues, "salutes the 'God within [her] breast'.... 'affirming the heroism of her own soul'" (G 324). Bloom's association of genius in Bronte's language with religiosity should not preclude an awe-inspired appreciation of the way in which Bronte's unconventional way of writing instantiated l'ecriture feminine. Just how anomalous her inscription of feminine literateness was can be gleaned from Charlotte Bronte's preface to the posthumous republication of her sister's novel. In what amounts to a kind of pre-emptive strike, she alerts sophisticated readers to the barbarisms, orthographic infelicities, and shock of Yorkshire dialect that they will encounter in Wuthering Heights (infelicities that she apparently had no qualms about trying to edit out of Emily's poetry when preparing an edition after her death, and which may even have lead her, according to the speculation of one biographer, to burn the manuscript of an unfinished novel abandoned when Emily became too ill to complete it). (19) To those unacquainted with the West-Riding setting of the novel, Charlotte wrote, "Men and women who ... having been trained from their cradle to observe the utmost evenness of manner and guardedness of language, will hardly know what to make of the rough, strong utterance, the harshly manifested passions, the unbridled aversions, and headlong partialities of unlettered moorland hinds and rugged moorland squires, who have grown up untaught and unchecked, except by mentors as harsh as themselves." (20) The warning against uncouth diction serves to divert readers from the more controversial issue of Emily's questionable taste in portraying moral monsters such as Heathcliff. But regardless of its purpose, this excuse for wild writing draws attention to the liminality of Emily Bronte's manipulation of the English language. Literature "happens" in and through her prose, much like ghosts make their appearance; that is, as something frightening and incendiary erupting out of nowhere and disturbing the social order. Many have wondered how a woman writer of Emily's regional isolation, limited life experience, and uneven education could have mastered the English language to the extent that she did. Her invention of an idiom of Yorkshire Gothic was borderline--a language of genius hovering on the edge of madness and pushing the envelope of acceptable literateness--but it also resembles Creole avant la lettre, a meld of the Gondal fantasy language of her childhood in which she wrote tales and sagas along with her siblings, and the Yorkshire dialect of her surround. As Charlotte noted, though her sister remained remote from the rural laboring classes and "with them, she rarely exchanged a word," nonetheless "she knew them: knew their ways, their language, their family histories; she could hear of them with interest and talk of them with detail, minute, graphic, and accurate ... " (WH xliv-xlv).
Far from being a study in linguistic folklore however, Wuthering Heights explores the depths of social stigma attached to speaking badly and growing up unlettered. Catherine's daughter Cathy reaps bitter scorn on her cousin Hareton, just as her mother had faulted Heathcliff for his degradation of character, directly attributable to lack of education. Heathcliff, we learn, never reads, and, as if in defiance of social norms or in defense of his own class complexes, he rears his nephew Hareton with the help of the boorish family retainer to scorn "book-learning." When Hareton confesses--"It's some damnable writing, I cannot read it," Cathy replies, "Can't read it? ... I can read it.... It's English ... "trouncing him with the help of her snobbish cousin as a deuce (WH 218). Hoping to earn Cathy's respect, Hareton tries in secret to teach himself to read only to be ridiculed for his stumbling results. Illiteracy sets off a cycle of shame, revenge, and self-destruction that is impossible to break in the first generation. (21) In the second, the same cycle seems about to repeat itself as Hareton withdraws into the nebula of wounded pride. But Cathy listens to the reproof of her housekeeper ("he is not envious but emulous of your attainments," Nelly Dean tells Cathy), and resolves to win back his trust, despite fearing that her beloved books will be "debased and profaned in his mouth" (WH 298). Hareton initially remains suspicious of her motives, destroying her offerings in a shocking book-burning scene. But eventually he succumbs to the charms of a sentimental education, and as the two gradually forma reading couple, their hair and features mingling as he reads aloud and she corrects him, their physiognomic similarities appear; the ghostly resurgence of their forgotten kinship bond in the person of Catherine Earnshaw, Cathy's mother and Hareton's aunt.
They lifted their eyes together, to encounter Mt. Heathcliff perhaps, you have never remarked that their eyes are precisely similar, and they are those of Catherine Earnshaw. The present Catherine has no other likeness to her, except a breadth of forehead, and a certain arch of the nostril that makes her appear rather haughty, whether she will, or not. With Hareton the resemblance is carried farther: it is singular, at all times--then it was particularly striking, because his senses were alert, and his mental faculties wakened to unwonted activity (WH 319).
Reading faces, forming a composite portrait out of two distinct sets of facial signs, mimics the act of learning to read itself in which visual cues suddenly coalesce into a unit of semiotic recognition and intelligibility. Perhaps for this reason, Heathcliff is tormented when the spectacle of these two lovers side by side becomes focused into one obsessive visage of the lover he could never possess. Forced to spell out the visual characters that forma picture of Cathy's ghostly face, Heathcliff starts to hallucinate her image everywhere: "And what does not recall her?" Heathcliff cries, "I cannot look down to this floor, but her features are shaped on the flags! In every cloud, in every tree--filling the air at night, and caught by glimpses in every object, by day I am surrounded with her image! The most ordinary faces of men and women--my own features--mock me with a resemblance. The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!" (WH 320-321). Paranoid vision, certainly, but more interesting for my purposes, an indirect representation of the telepathic nature of reading as well. Heathcliff's interiorization of Catherine Earnshaw as a "collection of memoranda" that may be read out as ghostly resemblances bouncing off the visible world suggests books that take over subjective consciousness. (22) In a more stable mental framework, Catherine's daughter Cathy is shaped as who she is by virtue of having committed her treasure trove of books to memory: "I've most of them written on my brain and printed in my heart" (WH 298). Literacy thus emerges as the agent of spiritual transference and touchstone of identity, even if it risks evacuating individuality in favor of a trans-substantiated soul.
In Conde's Windward Heights literacy is used to thematize the "raced" history of language as a fixture of the Caribbean novel. When Razye comes back to visit Cathy after she is married to Aymeric de Linsseul, and turns the head of her sister-in-law, Cathy tries to ward off her rival's attraction by alluding to his illiteracy: "Mais ne te fie pas a sa mine ni a son francais-francais. C'est une personne sans education ni culture. Une sorte de Soubarou, de negmawon. De toute sa vie, il n'a pas du ouvrir un livre, et, s'il sait compter, il sait a peine signer son nom." (23) ["But don't go by his looks or fancy French. A kind of soubarou, a wild man of the forest, a run-away slave. I'm sure he's never opened a book in his entire life, and though he knows how to count, he can hardly sign his name."] (24) Cathy's suspicions are confirmed when we see Razye trying to decipher a letter from his sickly son Justin Marie: "Razye read the short letter over and over again. It inscribed his defeat in writing" (WWH 148). The illiteracy stigma is passed from father to second son, Razye II, the "remnants" of whose education we learn, are virtually non-existent. Seeking to remedy the situation in order to bolster his standing as a political activist, Razye II comes to the schoolroom of Cathy II, daughter of his father's great love, and a trained schoolmistress no longer comfortable speaking Creole herself. When Cathy asks the crude yet alluring Razye why he has bothered to come to school, he replies sarcastically with a reference to Schoelcher, champion of colonial education: "To make your dear Monsieur Schoelcher happy,'..... 'Educate yourselves, savage Africans, and shame your detractors.' Isn't that what he said?" (WWH 234). The novel plays literacy both ways, exposing it as an instrument of colonial paternalism and "enlightened" racial oppression, while recognizing it as the conduit to emancipation. Refusal to speak Creole, on the other hand, becomes tantamount to denying blackness, and by extension, denying the subliminal colonial history of rape and miscegenation.
Maryse Conde fastens onto the literacy theme, much like her predecessor did, because it problematizes issues of readability that govern the reception of anomalous voices, whether it be the vernacular-inflected voice of female genius that exploded onto the scene of Britain's mid-nineteenth century literary public after the gender unmasking of the pseudonymous Ellis Bell, or Conde's stalwart late twentieth-century endeavor to define a non-sectarian creolized language of literature that (to paraphrase Paul de Man), "restores the link between literary theory and praxis while historicizing new forms of literary modernity." (25) Bronte and Conde surmount enormous obstacles to entering literary history with what Lukacs, commenting on Sir Walter Scott, called "triumphing prose." In assessing how the British historical novel got to be historical, Luckacs wrote: "Scott's works are in no way modern attempts to galvanize the old epic artificially into new life, they are real and genuine novels. Even if his themes are very often drawn from the 'age of heroes,' from the infancy of mankind, the spirit of his writing is nevertheless that of man's maturity, the age of triumphing 'prose.'" (26) It is prose or, as I have suggested, more pointedly, new orders of literateness that bind Wuthering to Windward Heights, a literacy revolution, if you will, that reinforces the revolutionary undercurrents rippling through the historical settings of both novels. It seems no great stretch to see the Luddite revolts in Yorkshire that unsettled the landscape of Emily Bronte's childhood and materialized in her fiction in the form of a treacherous natural world, as analogous to the anti-plantation rebellion led by Razye, who stands in favor of a counter-economy or radical ruralism comparable to today's anti-globalization protests in subsistence-farming regions of the world. In this context, creolite refers to a language soldered to a counter-hegemonic politics of insurgency, a galvanization of the base that turns literary history on its head. Character, plot, narrative voice, genre, markets, chronotypes, cartography, geography, to be sure all these terms remain in place as fundamental categories of literary history, but to this lexicon, I would insist on adding a term not normally used historically or in relation to the novel; that of creolite. Creolite used not as a synonym of narrative hybridity (which implies, problematically, that African and European elements of the novel happily meet, or are equitably distributed), but rather, as a transhistorical denomination referring to the way in which Creole fiction shows how literature happens as a narrative event or plot dimension. Literacy as a shaping force of character Bildung, the passage of common speech and minoritarian languages into the domains of lisibilite and litterarite, and the transcoding of language politics into narrative structure, these aspects of the novel hold out the promise of a creolized world-historical turn.
(1.) Georg Lukacs, 1962 preface to The Theory of the Novel trans. Anna Bostock (Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 1977) 16.
(2.) Erich Auerbach, Mimesis. The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, 2003) 554.
(3.) Paul de Man, "Literary History and Literary Modernity," in Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983): 142-143.
(4.) Franco Moretti, "Conjectures on World Literature," New Left Review (Jan-Feb 2000) 67.
(5.) Patrick Chamoiseau, Ecrire en pays domine (Paris: Gallimard, 1997).
(6.) Gilles Philippe, "1890-1940 Le moment grammatical de la litterature francaise?" Le Debat No. 120 (May-August 2002): 109-118.
(7.) Pascale Casanova, La Republique mondiale des Lettres (Paris: Seuil, 1999).
(8.) Pascale Casanova, "Consecration et accumulation de capital litteraire," Actes de la Recherche en Sciences sociales (2002).
(9.) Okwui Enwezor, "The Black Box," in Documenta 11 Platform 5". Exhibition Catalogue (Kassel: Hatje Publishers, 2002): 51.
(11.) Casanova, 402-410.
(12.) Maryse Conde, "Chercher nos verites," in Penser la creolite (Paris: Editions Karthala, 1995) 309.
(13.) Conde, 310.
(14.) The rapprochement of telepathy and thought transference in Freud and Derrida is made by Marina Warner in her review of Richard Luckhurst's The Invention of Telepathy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) that appeared in The London Review of Books Vol. 24 No. 19 (October 2002): 16.
(15.) Warner, 16.
(16.) Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP) 63-4.
(17.) Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights (London: Penguin Books, 1995) 19-20. Further references to this work will be to this edition and will appear in the text abbreviated WH.
(18.) Harold Bloom, Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds (New York: Warner Books, 2002) 316. Further references to this work will appear in the text abbreviated G.
(19.) See Juliet Barker, The Brontes (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994) 534.
(20.) Bronte, Wuthering Heights, xliii.
(21.) Patricia Crain discusses the complex range of associations clustering around alphabetization in early American literature in The Story of A: The Alphabetization of America from The New England Primer to The Scarlet Letter. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000). With reference to Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter she offers a particularly fascinating interpretation of alphabetic signs:
Hawthorne finds in the alphabet an artifact that resonates with his sense of how people move through and are shaped by what he calls the 'world's artificial system.' He feels the alphabet, like a mote in the eye that can't be removed; somewhat painfully it both shapes and distorts perception. His scarlet letter's resume might look like this: it unfolds to reveal a narrative; it takes on human form; it has a rich Puritan as well as an Elizabethan heritage; it is created by a woman's art, but is a disciplining tool of bureaucracy; it can be found in nature; it can represent many things to many people, but it is also an object of representation; it ranges freely between the satanic and the sacred; it is intimately involved in forming children. (11)
(22.) On reading as a process of interiorization, Patricia Crain has noted, "Literacy in operation requires that the alphabet be broken into elements and recombined to make sense: B, Ba, Bat. But this alphabet-all-at-once, accompanied by prayers already gotten by heart, exemplifies alphabetization: aurally or visually, the alphabet and the prayers are taken in, internalized." Patricia Crain, The Story of A, 23.
(23.) Maryse Conde, La Migration des coeurs (Paris: Editions Laffont, 1995) 67. Further references to this work will appear in the text abbreviated MC.
(24.) Maryse Conde, Windward Heights trans. Richard Philcox, (New York: Soho Press, 1998) 61. Further references to this work will appear in the text abbreviated WWH.
(25.) De Man, 143. Later in this essay, citing Nietzsche's "Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie fur das Leben" ["Of the Use and Misuse of History for Life'] de Man hones in on the problem that concerns him most; namely, "the complications that ensue when a genuine impulse toward modernity collides with the demands of a historical consciousness based on the disciplines of history." (145). Though constraints of focus do not permit me here to take up the implications of this problem in detail for my attempt to write creolite into literary history, I want to emphasize once again that obstacles to creolite's acquisition of historical status may indeed be traceable to the anti-presentist or anti-modern prejudices built into the discipline of history and its literary adjunct.
(26.) Georg Lukacs, Introduction to Rob Roy (New York: The Modern Library, 2002) xix.
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Publication information: Article title: Conde's Creolite in Literary History. Contributors: Apter, Emily - Author. Journal title: The Romanic Review. Volume: 94. Issue: 3-4 Publication date: May-November 2003. Page number: 437+. © 1998 Columbia University. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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