Language and Literary Form in French Caribbean Writing, by Celia Britton

Language and Literary Form in French Caribbean Writing. By Celia Britton. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. 2014. x + 220 pp. £70. ISBN 978-1-78138-036-9.

9781781380369In this compelling book Celia Britton further develops a methodology which has always been central to her work: the study of what is theoretically and politically at stake in the formal and linguistic analysis of postcolonial literary discourses. The chapters cover a large and heterogeneous variety of topics, authors and genres in French Caribbean writing, analyzing works of Glissant, Césaire, Ménil, Chamoiseau, Confiant, Depestre, Condé, Schwartz-Barth, Pineau and Maximin. In the Introduction, the author stresses how the relationship between postcolonial studies and the formal analysis of literary texts has often proved problematic, despite the strong influence of the (post)structuralist linguistic turn and the initial concern of postcolonial critics with the matter of developing a literary counter-discourse. However, during the last decade, the attention to language and literary form in postcolonial writing has become a more and more important area of research, charged with potentialities for future analysis. From Britton’s perspective, a greater attention to the formal aspects could help to renegotiate the relationship between postcolonial literary texts and the political, producing a more nuanced and less schematic understanding of it. A formal and linguistic analysis, avoiding self-referentiality, should help to overcome an ‘easy automatic correlation between the formal features of a text and its possible political significance’ (p. 4). This leads to consider the redefinition of realism and realist novel in Francophone postcolonial literature, in a way that is alternative both to naturalism and Western experimental novel, such as the nouveau roman, sometimes asserting a re-evaluation of realism itself. For instance, in the interview closing this volume, Maryse Condé considers realism as a way of combatting ideological stereotypes and exoticism, also through the use of irony. In her praised novel Traversée de la mangrove, analysed in Chapter 5, Condé breaks the conventional codes of literary discourse, but her irreverent transgression and dismantling of cultural stereotypes entails an even deeper engagement with the real.

The first three chapters of the book deal from different perspectives with the issues of difference and exoticism, starting from the seminal work of the review Tropiques, then moving to the créolité movement and the role played by the ‘postcolonial exotic’ in the current marketing of Caribbean literature for a Western audience. This raises a key question in the field of postcolonial studies: how to enhance a cultural aesthetic that sustains autonomy and difference, avoiding the risk of becoming trapped into forms of auto-exoticism, including folkloric and nostalgic visions of cultural identity, ambiguously aimed at the consumption from the metropolitan readership. In Chapter 1, Britton explores this matter from different angles, such as the Negritude’s ambivalent attitude towards primitivism, ethnography and surrealism. In Chapter 2, this ‘abnormal type of exoticism applied to their own society’ (p. 27) is analysed in the créolité movement, more specifically in Solibo magnifique by Patrick Chamoiseau and Le Nègre et l’admiral by Raphaël Confiant. In these novels, the authors risk to repeat cultural stereotypes about the Antillean other, producing a more attractive and ‘authentic’ version of them for the Western literary market. This line of analysis is further developed in the third chapter, where Britton considers the tropes of taste and consumption in relation to the marketing of Caribbean literature and identifies one of the main ‘ideological apparatuses’ of the neo-colonial domination in the age of global capitalism: ‘to consume the Other as a commodity which is valued precisely for its difference’ (p. 59).

It is hard to account in such a small space for the amplitude of Britton’s investigations, which are always sustained by an original and effective use of analytic tools offered by a wide range of literary theorists and philosophers (Bakhtin, Barthes, Benveniste, Lacan, Althusser, Deleuze and many others). The second part of the book collects a series of illuminating essays on Édouard Glissant, who has always been a point of reference for this scholar, taking into account his novels and essays from Le quatrième siècle to Une nouvelle région du monde. In particular, the last chapter opens an innovative and fruitful approach to his oeuvre, considering from a philosophical point of view the complex entanglement between the work of art and the real. This book gives us further confirmation that Britton is currently one of the most important and prolific scholars in the field of French Caribbean literature.

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Race, violence and biopolitics in Francophone postcolonial studies

Special Issue of International Journal of Francophone Studies, volume 17, numbers 3 & 4, 2014

A volume that problematizes the construction of race and power. Biopolitical readings here provide new insights into a range of postcolonial situations, and point the way to new enquiries into dominant powers’ persistent and insidious grip over life.

Fort-de-France, Martinique

Fort-de-France, Martinique

Articles:

Charlotte Baker, Necropolitical violence and post-independence Guinean literature

Alessandro Corio, Anagrams of annihilation: The (im)possible writing of the middle passage in NourbeSe Philip and Édouard Glissant

Judith Misrahi-Barak, Biopolitics and translation: Edwidge Danticat’s many tongues

Michael Wiedorn, Death and the creole maiden: Do Chita and Youma haunt today’s creolization?

Louise Hardwick, Creolizing the Caribbean ‘Coolie’: A biopolitical reading of Indian indentured labourers and the ethnoclass hierarchy

Chong J. Bretillon, ‘Ma Face Vanille’: White rappers, ‘Black Music’, and race in France

Dominic Thomas, Fortress Europe: Identity, race and surveillance

Job interviews and campus visit in Chicago and Miami

During the last few months I have been spending a considerable amount of energy and time in several application processes in order to get an academic job, especially in the US but also in the UK. The American recruiting process starts quite early, usually in September, and it is quite long and challenging, as it contemplates three or four steps and a lot of documents, application forms, letters and statements to be submitted. Since I was in Atlanta during the last fall semester, I have been writing and sending cover letters, CVs, teaching and research statements, sample syllabi, writing samples, asking for and delivering reference letters etc. It is almost a full time job that can require lots of energies and can prove to be very hard in many ways. Since it compels you to confront with your own achievements, your personal capacities, skills and limits, and to handful potentially stressful situations, it is an extremely enriching experience, too. I have been applying for several positions and I am still in the process, so I cannot say if I will be successful or not. Despite this, I have learned many things, especially in terms of how the American academic system works, sometimes in a very different way if compared to the English and, more generally, to the European one. I have been shortlisted for an interview at the MLA annual convention in Chicago in January, for the position of Assistant Professor in Francophone Caribbean literatures and cultural studies at the University of Miami (FL). This was my first job interview and I have been very satisfied. (By the way, Chicago is an amazing city and I have found out that its founder, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, was probably Haitian!)

Jean Baptiste Point du Sable - Founder of Chicago

Jean Baptiste Point du Sable – Founder of Chicago

Next, I have been selected for the campus visit in Miami, which took place last week. It has been really challenging, especially because of the long trip and the jet lag. I have been asked to spend an entire day on campus, with many interviews and meetings, lunch and dinner, with all the staff of the department, and I gave a paper, too. It has been really exciting: everybody was extremely nice and welcoming and, above all, I met plenty of keen scholars and professors with whom I could discuss about my research and teaching projects in a fruitful way. It would be amazing to work in such a stimulating scholar community! And the location, of course, would be a perfect one to work on the Caribbean. The paper I presented was entitled Caribbean Biopolitics and Literature: NourbeSe Philip and Édouard Glissant. It has been well received, with many questions and debates. I am going to further develop it in my next publication, for the special issue of the International Journal of Francophone Studies (IJFS) I am currently preparing with Louise Hardwick, on the topics of biopolitics, violence and race in Francophone postcolonial literatures (forthcoming in 2015).

University of Miami at Coral Gables

University of Miami at Coral Gables