The Politics of Parody in Patrick Chamoiseau's Solibo Magnifique and Maryse Conde's Celanire Cou-Coupe

By Simek, Nicole | Romance Notes, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

The Politics of Parody in Patrick Chamoiseau's Solibo Magnifique and Maryse Conde's Celanire Cou-Coupe


Simek, Nicole, Romance Notes


IN his 1984 article, "Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," Frederic Jameson polemically defined parody in opposition to pastiche, asserting that the former affirms and relies on "some healthy linguistic normality" after its critique, while the latter is devoid of any critical force, a mere "blank parody," or "statue with blind eyeballs" (65). Critics have since questioned the political force Jameson attributes to parody, by both casting doubt on the "healthiness" of the "linguistic normality" to which he refers, and also highlighting how parody strengthens the norms it supposedly demystifies. As "repetition with critical distance" (to borrow Linda Hutcheon's words), parody can both discredit and reinforce the models on which it is built (Hutcheon 6, xii). While potentially "a threatening, even anarchic force, one that puts into question the legitimacy of other texts," Hutcheon argues, parody's "transgressions ultimately remain authorized [...]. Even in mocking, parody reinforces; in formal terms, it inscribes the mocked conventions onto itself, thereby guaranteeing their continued existence" (75).

Yet because parody calls attention, through this repetition, to its own writing or textual status, it has remained a privileged technique of self-reflexivity in modern and postmodern art. As repetition with a difference, parody can also be described as a paradigmatic mode of Creole identity and resistance. Like the Creole language itself, as described by Edouard Glissant, parody functions through the strategic deployment of a given code, a code on which it relies for its existence yet which it deforms, derides, or transforms. Like Creole, whose use of dissimulation, double-entendre, and subtle, rather than overt, subversive strategies has been highlighted by numerous authors and critics, parody is a slippery technique, one that gestures toward authorial intent--an intent to demystify or recontextualize an artwork or genre--but also depends, in order to function as irony, on the reader's competence as a decoder. This competence derives from the reader's familiarity with the models parody alters, as well as his or her assessment of the degree to which a text either "repeats" or "differs" from its predecessor.

Parody becomes an exemplary technique of cultural contestation in Patrick Chamoiseau's Solibo Magnifique, a text that plays off the conventions of the detective novel in order to challenge Metropolitan cultural practices and control. Focusing on the figure of the conteur, a master of parodic performance, the novel situates parody at the heart of oral culture and Creole identity formation. By contrast, Maryse Conde has displayed throughout her work a sustained concern for, and resistance to, the elevation of any literary technique or model of identity as exemplary. Her dissatisfaction with the Creolite movement in particular--stemming mainly from what she views as its heavily prescriptive character and its positioning of the writer as spokesperson for the people--is also now well-known. (1) Nevertheless, like Chamoiseau, Conde similarly turns to parody in a number of her works, including her 2000 novel Celanire cou-coupe. In what follows, I will explore the role that parody plays in Chamoiseau's and Conde's visions of Caribbean aesthetics. If these authors' theoretical statements clearly diverge on the question of literature's political purpose, their novels suggest a greater affinity between the two in the way they valorize parody's unsettling effects and critical edge. In particular, they value parody's ability to create and sustain opacity, and in this respect, we could say that Chamoiseau and Conde, in their own distinct ways, exemplify what Edouard Glissant considers characteristic of Antillean literature: a resistance to comprehension or hermeneutical clarity.

Textual opacity might appear antithetical to parody, which must overcome its undecidable character, its slippery dependence on the reader's recognition of its irony, for example, in order to convey its critique. …

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