Patrick Chamoiseau: Recovering Memory

Patrick Chamoiseau: Recovering Memory

Patrick Chamoiseau: Recovering Memory

Patrick Chamoiseau: Recovering Memory

Excerpt

All of the Antilles, every island, is an effort of memory; every
mind, every racial biography culminating in amnesia and fog.
Pieces of sunlight through the fog and sudden rainbows, arcs-en-
ciel
. That is the effort, the labour of the Antillean imagination.

Derek Walcott, What the Twilight Says

Since the early 1990s, the islands of the French-speaking Caribbean – the départements d'outre-mer, Martinique and Guadeloupe, as well as Haiti, the first Black republic – have been the site of a heightened and intense debate around historical memory. These islands – and notably Martinique – have already witnessed a long-standing tradition of theoretical self-analysis and identitarian debate, and have produced a number of thinkers (Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, Edouard Glissant) who have anticipated and contributed to what we now call postcolonial discourse. Yet the contemporary centrality of the concern with collective memory, its pervasive and almost obsessive force, is nonetheless remarkable, even by the standards of a literary and cultural hotbed such as Martinique. This current centrality derives in part from a number of deeply contested anniversaries, which served in recent years to reinforce the peculiarities of a supposedly postcolonial situation. As the millennium loomed, Antilleans were successively enjoined to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of the Americas (1992), the 50th anniversary of departmentalization (1996), and the 150th anniversary of the ‘abolition’ of slavery (1998) – all events which are fraught with complex and ambivalent associations in the Caribbean imaginary. Unsurprisingly, this last anniversary was of particular significance, a fact attested to by several publications from the period. in addition, and emphasizing a devoir de mémoire of a quite different nature, 2004 marked the bicentenary of Haitian independence, an anniversary which would also encourage the départements to reflect on their very different historical destiny.

Implicitly linked to these heightened moments of remembrance, and reflecting the atavistic umbilical link which endures between départements and metropole, the ‘loi Taubira’ was ratified in the French parliament on 10 May 2001. This law finally recognized slavery as a . . .

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