Conde's Creolite in Literary History

By Apter, Emily | The Romanic Review, May-November 2003 | Go to article overview

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. …

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