Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

A Cahier of (Un)spoken Testimony: Maryse Condé, la Migration Des Coeurs

Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

A Cahier of (Un)spoken Testimony: Maryse Condé, la Migration Des Coeurs

Article excerpt

In her article "Crier, Ecrire, Cahier," Renée Laurier states that "many Caribbean writers, concerned with transmitting their histoire - both story and history - to the public, choose paradoxically, as the site of testimony, the cahier, which is associated with private writings" (275). The one which first comes to mind is that of Aimé Césaire, Cahier d'un retour au pays natal, but it was not written, or at least not published, in a cahier, a small notebook commonly used by school children, and yet, although a poem, it can be understood as transmitting a testimonial histoire·} "Ma bouche sera la bouche des malheurs qui n'ont point de bouche" (22)2

If one thinks of translating the word cahier, it is already also English, "a book of loose sheets tucked together; whence reports of proceedings contained in such a book."3 Sometimes translated as a "notebook," it is then "a book reserved for or containing memoranda"; Shakespeare uses it m Julius Caesar. "All his faults observ'd, set in a Note-booke learn'd and con'd by roote."4 If it is "associated with private writings," as Laurier would suggest, then it is analogous to a "journal," which keeps a daily record, as a diary of "matters affecting the writer personally," but also of travel, of events, or even as the register of a ship's course. Richardson writes in 1742, "At last I end my Journal-wise Letters as I may call them."5 So a cahier refers both to a rather specific, common, literal object and at the same time is a word with an entire tradition, an entire history of associations be they English or French - journal, diary, letter, tale, register, notebook - which, in addition, seems to have a particular meaning in the Caribbean. The cahier of interest here, in Maryse Condé's La Migration des coeurs [The Migration of Hearts), is referred to variously as un cahier (318), un carnet (316), or un journal (317, 323): "It was like a schoolgirl's notebook with flowers on the cover and lined pages."6

Its function is first of all for noting something so as not to forget, so as to be able to come back to it, something to be kept for future thought. As such, the contents are double: both not to be forgotten and to be rethought, open to thought, a writing that preserves references and leads to other interpretations, to other words, to words as other. It is both a record and a place for thought. To the extent one can say that what was noted was desired - not to be forgotten - it is a reflection of the self - autobiographical - and its re-reading/re-thinking/questioning becomes a writing of the self.7 If it is to be read as a site of testimony, it nevertheless creates an interval, symbolic, between the subject who writes for herself, to or before an instance, an instance that is here also the subject, mirroring the first, but set down in writing, fixed, objectified. The writings in a cahier become then the testimonial trace of that desire to not forget and of that desire for what the writing allows one to think, of that desire for some coherence between the writing self and the self written about, written to, written out, occasionally re-written.8

Unlike legal testimony, there is no judge or "instance" to appear before - the only "instance" would be the writing self appearing before the self that appears on the page. Neither does the writer take an oath to tell the truth, but there remains something of Philippe Lejeune's Pacte autobiographique that distinguishes the particular writing of a notebook, of a cahier, from writing a story.

This paper will reflect on the cahier Maryse Conde chose to write into her novel, La Migration des coeurs. Conde calls her novel une lecture, that is, "a reading," of Emily Bronte's novel, Wuthering Heights, a cahier written by the daughter of Catherine Linton (here, Catherine de Linsseuil) that is given to her husband when "Cathy" dies in childbirth at the end of the novel and that he chooses not to read, but instead to throw overboard into the sea: "For several minutes, the note-book floated on the surface of the water, its wings stretched out, just like a bird, then it dove down into the foam and disappeared into the ocean's flow. …

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