Academic journal article Text Matters

Beyond the Margins: Identity Fragmentation in Visual Representation in Michel Tournier's la Goutte D'or

Academic journal article Text Matters

Beyond the Margins: Identity Fragmentation in Visual Representation in Michel Tournier's la Goutte D'or

Article excerpt

L'image est douée d'une force mauvaise

-Michel Tournier

In the final scene of Michel Tournier's postcolonial novel La Goutte d'or (1986), the protagonist, Idriss, shatters the glass of a Cristobal & Co. storefront window while operating a jackhammer in the working-class Parisian neighbourhood on the Rue de la Goutte d'or.1 Glass fragments scatter as the Parisian police arrive. As the novel comes to a close with the image of Idriss's pending arrest, the reader cannot help but reflect upon how the symbolism expressed by the shattered glass in this final scene underscores the very notion that the protagonist's identity, too, may be shattered or fragmented. In La Goutte d'or, Tournier explores the identity construction of Idriss, a Berber shepherd boy, through a discussion of the role that visual images play in the development of a twentieth-century consciousness of the "Other." At the beginning of the novel, a French tourist takes a photograph of Idriss during her visit to the Sahara. The boy's quest to reclaim his stolen image leads him from the Sahara to Marseille, and finally to the Rue de la Goutte d'or in Paris.2 The Goutte d'Or ("golden droplet"), known throughout Paris for its open-air market, the marché Dejean, is located east of Butte Montmartre (18th arrondissement). The Rue de la Goutte d'or remains one the most cosmopolitan neighbourhoods of the city. For Parisians, the Rue de la Goutte d'or has a symbolic value as well, for it is the centre of the district where North African immigrant workers often live in squalor and work in menial, labour-intensive jobs, such as garbage collection and street sweeping (Bacque 1-18). In Tournier's novel, the goutte d'or also corresponds to a symbolic object: a Berber jewel. It is the jewel that Idriss brings with him, but which he also subsequently loses upon his arrival in Marseille. From the very moment that the French tourist photographs him, a marginalization of Idriss's identity occurs. Marginality, quite literally, refers to the spatial property of a location in which something is situated. Figuratively speaking, marginality suggests something that is on the edges or at the outer limits of social acceptability. In this essay, I explore the construction of the marginalized postcolonial self (the "Other") through an examination of the function of visual representation in the development of a postcolonial identity in La Goutte d'or. In the end, I conclude that the construction of a postcolonial identity is based upon fragmentation and marginalization, which ultimately leads its subject to create an identity based upon false constructions.

Tournier's novel is a journey of self-discovery which ascribes itself to Joseph Campbell's notion of the monomyth (1-37). Campbell states that

. . . a hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. (23)

Thus, when Idriss ventures to Paris to find the tourist who still holds his photograph, he begins a voyage of discovery in which he encounters a world that has created the division Orient/Occident.3 The Occidental world into which he enters is a world in which the visual image holds an unbelievable power. This world has the power to create the identity of its subject, to place its subject at the very centre or to relegate it to the margins (Petit 149-50). Idriss wanders in a maze of visual images created by Western civilization until the day that he ultimately finds his release through the discovery of calligraphy (the sign), the "Uncounterfeitable," which is the essence of Arab civilization. When Idriss arrives in Marseille and loses his golden droplet, this event which signifies a loss of his childhood innocence and his freedom ultimately foreshadows the difficulty that Idriss will have in creating his own identity as, throughout the novel, he will navigate through false visual images that extend from the Sahara to the streets of Paris which repeatedly serve to marginalize him. …

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