- Carthage ou la flamme du brasier: mémoire et échos chez Virgile, Senghor, Mellah, Ghachem, Augustin, Ammi, Broch et Glissant
A prominent critic of francophone literature, Bernadette Cailler owes her reputation to the breadth and depth of her knowledge of the field as well as to the quality of her written expression. Her last publication, Carthage ou la flamme du brasier, a meditation on the francophone textual representation of the Phoenician city— founded in North Africa in the ninth century BCE, burnt to the ground in 146 CE by the Romans who nevertheless rebuilt it as the capital city of their “Africa,” destroyed by the Arabs in the seventh century CE, and eventually incorporated into Tunis’s conurbation—is another illustration of her critical virtuosity.
The book opens with a proposition that will strike as heretical the purists who subscribe to the notions of disciplinary borders, temporal turfs, and authorial intentions. Indeed, Cailler sets out to explore the intertextual relation that ties Edouard Glissant’s “Carthage suite” in Le sel noir (1983) to Virgil’s Aeneid, and more specifically to Book Four of the epic, most famous for Dido’s curse. The audacity of Cailler’s project resides less in the time gap separating these two texts (to be sure, some major Caribbean texts, such as Derek Walcott’s Omeros, have called attention to their classical referents) and more in the absence of any mention of the Aeneid in the “Carthage suite” (mainly concerned with Scipio the Destoyer); in Le sel noir as a whole, or in a mirror composition, also authored by Glissant and entitled Les grands chaos (1993). Yet, Virgil’s insistence on Dido’s obsessive presence in Aeneas’s destiny and on Juno’s allusions to the vengeful return of a Trojan lineage to Carthage enable Cailler to isolate elements of the same mythopoesis in both Virgil’s and Glissant’s poems—namely, city, woman, barbarian, salt, fire, and resurrection.
A close reader of Glissant’s work, Cailler has designed her critical essay around the notion of Relation, as it manifests itself in Glissant’s poetic output [End Page 157] rather than in his theoretical texts—provided that such a distinction is possible. Explicating how francophone narratives on Carthage or Dido/Elissa are tied together, relay one another, and relate to one another is indeed the core agenda of Carthage ou la flamme du brasier. Cailler’s initial examination of the notions of time, history, and narration in Virgil’s and Glissant’s texts is complemented, in the second chapter, by a study of five “other gazes on Carthage” that bring together poems by Léopold Sédar Senghor and Moncef Ghachem; two novels by Fawzi Mellah; and a novel and an essay by Kebi Mustapha Ammi, both dedicated to Christian Carthage and Augustine of Hippo. Ammi’s evocation of the bishop of Carthage who, in his Confessions, once paralleled his own spiritual vagrancies with those of Aeneas, reminds us helpfully that Virgil, whose life ends at the threshold of the Christian era, is a man of two worlds. The third chapter juxtaposes in a sort of “detour” the traditional representation of Virgil as the author of a foundational text of Western literature to Hermann Broch’s description of the poet’s vulnerable last moments in The Death of Virgil (1947). Dwelling on a tradition inaugurated by Roman historian Caius Suetone and Carthaginian bishop Aelius Donatus, Broch portrays an artist who, in agony over his creation, begs the emperor to burn the Aeneid manuscript. Lastly, the fourth chapter reworks all the previous texts “in another way,” examining how the manner in which they are combined can “complexify” their individual status, genre, “poeticity,” and francophone identity.
Acting as the vault of Cailler’s analysis, chapter four revolves around the vexing issue of the congruence between the francophone Carthage tradition with its “allure épique” ‘epic allure” and the avowedly imperial(ist) and martial ethics of the epic as a genre...