An Introduction to Caribbean Francophone Writing: Guadeloupe and Martinique

By Sam Haigh | Go to book overview

8
Collective Narrative Voice in
Three Novels by Edouard Glissant
Celia Britton

In the introduction to Le Discours antillais, Glissant describes the Caribbean Overseas Departments as being trapped in a contradictory fantasy of assimilation, which cuts them off from any real knowledge of themselves as a community. On the one hand, the numerous uprisings which occurred from the seventeenth century onwards not only failed in their immediate aims but incurred such brutal repression that ‘all that happened was a progressive abdication, more and more marked as time went on, of the collective spirit and the common will that alone enable a people to survive as a people’.1 On the other hand, the abolition of slavery and then departmentalization offered at least some of the people the ‘solution’ of an illusory participation in metropolitan French society and culture:

After the ‘liberation’ of 1848, the struggle for freedom in the French Caribbean is replaced by an urge to claim French citizenship. The colonizers launch their protégés into political life. The middle class, greedy for honours and respectability, is happy to go along with this game, which brings them jobs and status. Up until the 1946 law making Martinique a ‘département’, which formed the apotheosis of this whole process, the French Caribbeans were thus led to deny their collective identity, in order to win an illusory equality as individuals.2

This absence of a collective sense of identity is one of the fundamental social problems of the islands, and is both a cause and an effect of what Glissant sees as their political passivity and stagnation. In this situation, he argues, ‘cultural action’ assumes a particular importance; writers have a significant role to play in trying to develop a collective consciousness

____________________
1
Edouard Glissant (1981), Le Discours antillais, Paris: Seuil, p. 15. All translations mine.
2
Le Discours antillais, p. 17. My italics.

-135-

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