- The Francophone Caribbean Today: Literature, Language and Culture
The Francophone Caribbean Today is a thoughtful anthology that accomplishes a profound examination, by leading commentators on the region, of the evolution of literature, language and culture in the French-speaking Caribbean at the turn of the twentieth century. The anthology asserts an immediate diligence in advancing a discourse informed by pressing questions about the future of French Caribbean cultural identities. A most valuable dimension of the work is its harnessing of incisive commentaries on a selection of Francophone Caribbean fictions and linguistic trajectories emblematic of a wider collective consciousness. The eleven essays, a short story in French appearing also in English translation, and a significant bibliography comprise an altogether insightful collaboration between editors Gertrud-Aub Buscher and Beverley Ormerod Noakes, who are themselves contributors. [End Page 939] The gathered treatments intelligently address the issues of the place of French Caribbean Creole languages and their shift in the interstice between "elevated" language and "français corrompu" (corrupted French); orality, voice(s), and fluid narrative perspectives; the départements d'outre-mer (DOM) and their regional affinities with Dominica; and the political paradoxes inherent in their interaction with Haiti. Additionally, the anthology produces a cartography of French Antillean history and memory; an exploration of Caribbean childhoods; an exploration of the shift from imagining identity as rooted in the Caribbean "homeland" to re-valuing of the condition of migrancy as errancy; and finally an analysis of the lost opportunities for change in an era now marked by the absence of "revolutionary truths" (36).
These issues are raised in an arena that systematically rounds up the French Caribbean's twentieth century intellectual traditions and its major historical players and fundamental institutions: Aimé Césaire's Negritude movement, Edouard Glissant's Antillanité, and René Depestre's banyan identity. These variant influences are charged off against the more recent breakthroughs in imagining cultural identity spearheaded by Jean Bernabé, Raphaël Confiant and Patrick Chamoiseau in their Créolité movement, and expressed in their manifesto "Eloge de la Créolité."1 A point of consensus among the contributors is an insistent interest in ordinary, everyday people, expressed in searching analyses of what opportunities exist for their own self-definition in the context of postcoloniality.
An immense preoccupation of this anthology is the fate of the French-lexifier Creoles in Martinique and Guadeloupe, declared by the Créolité movement to be determinants of cultural "authenticity." The commentaries of Marie-Christine Hazaël-Massieux and Gertrud Aub-Buscher coincide in their concerns about whether Creole languages throughout the region will increasingly be threatened with marginality, or whether they stand a chance of being more fully represented in contemporary writing across genres. Both critics concede that the prominence of Creole has expanded in daily communication in the DOM in the last thirty years, but they alert us to its decline in plays and novels in the 1990s. Gertrud Aub-Buscher provides a careful re-visitation of the core developments in the socio-linguistic arena which impact language choice by the contemporary French Caribbean writer: the struggle to raise the status of Creole, the effects of major changes in politics and education in the DOM and in France, and the influence of the French media. Focusing on the diglossic parameters that reverberate between French and Creole, Aub-Buscher concludes that "no theoretical construct seems capable of adequately describing the etiquette that governs language choice" (4), while showing how, paradoxically, the expansion of Creole into a textual space subverts its independence as a distinctly oral language—in any event a language in its own right.
Simultaneously, Marie-Christine Hazaël-Massieux provides a balanced discussion of the representation of Creole in the French Caribbean novel of the 1990's, making some hard-hitting observations about the limitations of extant representations of Creole in fiction. Her discussion's most important charge centers on the limitation of Creole employed in Chamoiseau's novel Chronique des Sept Misères and in Confiant...