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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 48.3 (2002) 737-745

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Review Essay

Defining Caribbean Identity

Jarrod Hayes

H. Adlai Murdoch. Creole Identity in the French Caribbean Novel. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2001. xi + 291pp.
Simone A. James Alexander. Mother Imagery in the Novels of Afro-Caribbean Women. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2001. x + 215pp.

Since the sixties, Caribbean literary and theoretical writings have proposed models of identity that valorize the heterogeneity of Caribbean cultures by recognizing their multiple origins and challenging an Afrocentric politics of purity. In the French Caribbean, Edouard Glissant's concept of Antillanité (Caribbeanness) and writings on Créolité (Creoleness) by Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphaël Confiant (collectively known as the Créolistes) recognize their intellectual descent from Négritude but question its politics and its concept of identity. Although from differing approaches, H. Adlai Murdoch's Creole Identity in the French Caribbean and Simone A. James Alexander's Mother Imagery in the Novels of Afro-Caribbean Women examine literary works in the wake of these challenges. Whereas Alexander examines the work of women writers from the English-speaking and French Caribbean, Murdoch focuses only on France's Caribbean departments (Martinique and Guadeloupe) as represented by the work of both male and female writers. Murdoch's work deals more directly with the ideas of Glissant and the Créolistes, while [End Page 737] Alexander organizes her study around detailed readings of the literal and figurative uses of maternity, mother characters, and maternal images.

Murdoch's study examines the diverse articulations of Creole identity in literature. The very term Creole lends itself to a variety of meanings since "a creole person can be either white or black, colonizer or colonized, articulating an essential ambiguity that both mediates and ruptures the strategies of containment that have circumscribed and determined the dominant designations of difference that have been the traditional corollary of the colonial encounter." As a "shifting signifier" (4), Creole can account for diverse origins and is thus ideal for theorizing what Murdoch calls a "creole postcoloniality" (3). In his readings of literary texts and especially in his introduction, Murdoch engages with both non-Francophone Caribbean writers and postcolonial theorists. Homi K. Bhabha, especially, exerts a considerable influence on Murdoch's work, which often refers to Bhabha's discussion of hybridity and the in-between. It is, however, Murdoch's succinct discussion of French Caribbean theory in the introduction that ultimately sets the tone and provides the framework for the literary analyses that follow. With a section on each of the following—Glissant's Caribbean Discourse and Poetics of Relation and the Créoliste manifesto In Praise of Creoleness—Murdoch provides a genealogy of both Antillanité and Créolité as well as an explanation of the subtle differences between the two.

After this theoretical introduction, Murdoch devotes a chapter to each of the following writers: Glissant, Chamoiseau, and Suzanne Dracius-Pinalie from Martinique and from Guadeloupe, Maryse Condé and Daniel Maximin. Each chapter focuses on a single novel, except for the chapter on Maximin, which treats two closely related novels. While Glissant's and the Créolistes' theoretical writings are crucial to Murdoch's understanding of Creole identity, the specific literary texts he interprets cannot be reduced to these theories. Even the literary works of Glissant and Chamoiseau cannot be said to illustrate their own theories in any simple or straightforward way:

Neither specific adherents nor opponents of Glissant's theory of antillanité [. . .] or of [. . .] créolité, [. . . the Caribbean novels examined herein] draw on the creative conflation of discourse and subjectivity to articulate their interrogation and illumination [End Page 738] of indigenous identitarian patterns and pluralisms, manipulating the antinomies of a dis-membered historical heritage into the generative ground of a nationness that writes the myriad ethnic, cultural, and linguistic patterns of the region into the warp and woof of a creole Caribbean difference. (16-17)

Murdoch is also well acquainted with the large body of critical work on these authors, with which his own readings are in constant conversation. For this reason, his study serves as an excellent introduction to post...


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