- Feasting on Words: Maryse Condé, Cannibalism, and the Caribbean Text
Why Cannibalism? The central trope of this heterogeneous collection of texts is altogether fitting: the contributions that form the bulk of Feasting on Words constitute critical readings of Maryse Condé's novel Histoire de la femme cannibale (2003), and Condé has long demonstrated an interest in cannibalism, in the theme of the Other, in how texts relate to others, and in how her image might be consumed by others. The readers of Condé that are assembled in this volume offer a variety of answers to the central questions that any invocation of cannibalism raises: for instance, who is eating whom, what is the nature of this consumption, and how are we to value this (literary) cannibalism? Given that this collection represents the work of scholars of literature, the drift from cannibalism sensu stricto to cannibalism as a metaphor for matters literary is immediate and appropriate. Literary cannibalism in its many avatars is on display in the essays, which showcase "cannibal writing" and the "cannibal author" (71), or argue for "a radically new kind of cannibalism" (73). Alternatively, other contributors allude to "'post-cannibalism'," pleas to "avoid the notion that the text 'cannibalizes' the text of others [sic] texts" (37), or a refusal to engage in "auto-(and also author-) anthropophagia" (187).
Feasting on Words constitutes a representative sample of work from some of the more prominent scholars in French and Francophone studies today. Some of the more salient hermeneutic categories on the [End Page 161] contemporary literary-critical scene are represented in the text's many and varied essays, such as gender, psychoanalysis, race, translation, and the trope of the "Other," to name a few. On the whole, however, the contributions largely fall into two categories: approaches to literary cannibalism and the novel Histoire de la femme cannibale, and more global reflections on the author and her work. As a result, the text therefore seeks to be simultaneously focused (on one novel and one theme) and comprehensive. This ambivalent preoccupation is reflected in the book's tripartite structure composed of a long and noteworthy interview with Condé, a series of literary-critical essays, and a selected "extensive but not exhaustive" (215) bibliography covering Condé's own work, criticism on Condé, and interviews with the author.
The interview with Condé serves as a frontispiece for the assortment of essays that follow, with Condé willingly responding to a series of basic and frank questions on her work and her life. For those seeking the sort of jolting proclamations that Condé has come to be known for, as Lydie Moudileno points out (135), the interview will not disappoint. Condé remarks that she is "a bad reader" (7), that all books are biographical (11), or that she feels no solidarity with Antillean writers (17); she elsewhere holds that there is no orality in writing and that the term "Francophone" holds no appeal for her (18), that she is unpossessed of any "theoretical constructs" (21) and that the US is a "fabulous space of freedom" (22). Such hyperbole is nicely accompanied by Moudileno's essay on the interview form, which shows that in the case of Condé in particular the interview form conceals just as it purports to reveal, and constitutes a literary genre in itself. Another rather personal piece, K. A. Appiah's "Introducing Maryse Condé," does as it promises, mingling a biography of the author from her birth to the present, an enthusiastic and approbatory bibliography, and a synthetic approach to the author's texts and person.
The series of essays that follows, held together by one facet (cannibalism) and one exemplar (Histoire de la femme cannibale) of Condé's work, will be of most interest to students of those two topics. The panoply of approaches to both makes the text an impressive array of critical work. As such, Feasting on Words takes a reading of the state of Condé studies today, as well as a fresh look at what...