Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Toward a Literary Psychoanalysis of Postcolonial Haiti: Desire, Violence, and the Mimetic Crisis in Marie Chauvets Amour

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Toward a Literary Psychoanalysis of Postcolonial Haiti: Desire, Violence, and the Mimetic Crisis in Marie Chauvets Amour

Article excerpt

Critics of Haitian writer Marie Chauvet's controversial novel, Amour, are habitually fascinated by the destructive psychosexual complex of the novel's protagonist and first-person narrator, Claire Clamont. A sexually repressed upper-class Haitian woman whose fantasy life vacillates between scenes of unbridled sexual desire and self-immolating masochism, Claire, who describes herself as a dark-skinned "old maid," is the thirty-nine-year-old elder sister and housemate of two bodacious "white mulattoes." Their successful adventures in love and marriage draw a striking contrast with Claire's position as a subjugated victim of racism in her own family as well as in the mulatto elite into which she was born. Stigmatized by color and tortured by decades of repressed desire reignited by the presence of Jean-Luze, the live-in French husband of her youngest, whitest, and now pregnant sister Felicia, the virginal Claire records in her journal the lurid details of her revolt. Effaced behind a veil of hypocrisy and politesse, she secretly orchestrates a quasi-incestuous affair between Jean-Luze and her other sister, Annette. In so doing, she projects onto Annette her own violent desire for Jean-Luze and enacts revenge against both her sisters and her brother-in-law, himself visibly tormented by adulterous desire. Although her increasingly sadistic machinations are ultimately unsuccessful, they provide libidinal fodder for Claire's own fantasy life as she repeatedly satisfies her desires alone in her bedroom, assisted by thoughts of her sisters' sexual encounters with the beloved Jean-Luze.

Claire's neurosis plays out in the context of 1930s Haiti, a period that marked the final years of the presidency of Stenio Vincent, the authoritarian light-skinned leader who negotiated the end of the US occupation of Haiti and was sympathetic to the rising black middle class and the black nationalist ideals of the post-occupation years (Nicholls 166, 178-79; Trouillot 107). In Chauvet's hands, the Vincent regime is recast as the far more autocratic and brutal dictatorship of Francois Duvalier of the 1960s, with its fascistic Noiriste ideology and unprecedented political terror, represented in the novel by the vicious and brooding black military commander, Caledu. Having seized power in 1957, Francois Duvalier radicalized Haiti's negritude movement so as to legitimate what J. Michael Dash has called "the most disturbing manifestation of state power in Haitian history" (16), which was characterized by extreme violence and aimed at ending the mulatto domination of the state (Trouillot 167). Allied with exploitative US business interests and indiscriminately torturing members of the former mulatto political elite, particularly women, into submission before the new black leadership, the character Caledu--whose name literally means "one who beats hard"1--becomes the disavowed object of Claire's sadomasochistic fantasies alongside the white Jean-Luze.

It is this incendiary combination of eroticism, political violence, and social satire that led to the novel's extraordinary suppression upon publication in 1968 and to its author's exile. (2) For in addition to subverting the norms of elite racial and gender respectability in Haiti through her depiction of the sexually famished Claire, the protagonist's double-edged critique unmasked the prejudices and complacency of the mulatto class and the corrupt brutality of the Noiriste state. For today's readers as well, one of the challenges of interpreting Amour derives from the novel's striking juxtaposition of the domestic love plot with the sociopolitical one, both of which are seen through the eyes of the sexually deprived, racially ostracized, and doubly rebellious Claire. In the domestic love plot, Claire waits in vain for the validation and sexual satisfaction she feels Jean-Luze's love would bestow upon her. When she does not receive this love, she attempts to sabotage his relationship with her sister Felicia, first by substituting her sister Annette as the object of his desire, and eventually by planning Felicia's murder. …

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