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Research in African Literatures 32.4 (2001) 44-60

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Creolist Mystification: Oral Writing in the Works of Patrick Chamoiseau and Simone Schwarz-Bart

Alexie Tcheuyap

L'éloge de la créolité truly marks a decisive moment in the Caribbean lit- erary movement. But beyond obscuring its discretely prescriptive, indeed unifying tone, the richness and profundity of that document can also suppress certain latent contradictions. In analyzing it, there is indeed the fear that the voluntarist manifesto might be in fact the actualization of what it would denounce: "un retour à l'ordre totalitaire de l'ancien monde, rigidifié par la tentation de l'un et du définitif" (53)/ "returning to the totalitarian order of the old world, fixed by the temptation of the unified and definitive" (114). 1 From a theoretical perspective, authoritative studies--especially the reflections of Jacky Dahomay, Ama Mazama, Roger Toumson, Michel Giraud, and Raphaël Lucas--shed light on the macoutist bent of several Creolist claims.

Indeed, not only do the Creolists implicitly refute their own stance in declaring that the Antilles are "encore dans un état de prélittérature" (14)/"still in a state of preliterature," but a mythical monopolizing of the glory of origins insinuates that this "quête douloureuse d'une pensée plus fertile" and "d'une expression authentique" (13)/"painful quest for a more fertile thought" (75) and "a more precise expression" is born of their approach to writing. Furthermore, they make Creoleness and orality the "voie royale vers un authentique étouffé en eux-mêmes" (45)/"the best chance for their repressed authenticity"(106) that is claimed to have been definitely absent in their predecessors, who foundered in a "suicide esthétique" (45)/"aesthetic suicide" (106).

That totalizing discourse locks literature within a quite imprecise concept that is paradoxically linked to a "diversalité" 'diversality.' It also reduces the plural archipelago to a cultural and linguistic unity. Finally, it announces an esthetic itinerary that privileges one sole aspect of orality (diglossia and the symbolic implication of a storyteller) as the forme majeure of orality that must be rescued from oblivion.

Immediate literary history reveals, however, that the Creolist propositions are not immune from analysis. In the words of Michel Foucault, their method seeks to reduce writing to "un rituel [qui] définit les gestes, les comportements, les circonstances, et tout l'ensemble de signes qui doivent accompagner le discours" (Foucault 41)/"a ritual [which] lays down gestures to be made, behaviour, circumstances and a whole range of signs that must accompany a discourse" (225), indeed to a "système d'assujetissement" (47)/ "form of subjection" (227). Following on previously developed theoretical analyses, this article will shift the focus of reflection to the field of the purely literary in order to discredit Creolist mystification and its totalitarian attempt. A comparative study of Patrick Chamoiseau's Solibo Magnifique and Simone Schwarz-Bart's Ti Jean L'horizon revisits a number of [End Page 44] enthusiastic assertions: orality cannot be reduced to a pragmatic and phonic dimension of textual practice as is done in Chamoiseau's texts; and the somewhat stark and simplistic Creolist opposition between the oral and the written is strictly inadmissible, as shown in studies by Jacques Derrida, Ruth Finnegan, and Maximilien Laroche. Seeing it at work in Chamoiseau's novel, this opposition is in fact an esthetic game that this study intends to show, for in the novel the oral and the written are indeed linked. According to Finnegan:

The basic point then, is the continuity of "oral" and "written" literature. There is no deep gulf between the two: they shade into each other [. . .] and there are innumerable cases of poetry which has both "oral" and "written" elements. The idea of pure, uncontaminated "oral culture" [. . .] is a myth. (24)

Furthermore, despite the diverse critical categorizations and pronouncements found in the Eloge, Schwarz-Bart's Antillanity is ideologically closer to Creoleness than the signataries of the manifesto, and criticism in general, admit. The fiction of a miraculously rediscovered teller of...


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