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Jana Evans Braziel - From Port-au-Prince to Montreal to Miami: Trans-American Nomads in Dany Laferriere's Migratory Texts - Callaloo 26:1 Callaloo 26.1 (2003) 235-251

from Port-au-prince to Montréal to Miami:
Trans-american Nomads In Dany Laferrière's Migratory Texts

Jana Evans Braziel


"Si le nomade peut être appelé le Déterritorialisé par excellence," Deleuze and Guattari write, "c'est justement parce que la reterritorialisation ne se fait pas après comme chez le migrant" ["If the nomad can be called the Deterritorialized par excellence, it is precisely because there is no reterritorialization afterward as with the migrant"]. 1 In this paper, however, I am interested in Dany Laferrière as a nomadic migrant writer. 2 Like other contemporary francophone migrant writers, such as Flora Balzano, Mehdi Charef, Linda Lê, and Leïla Sebbar, Laferrière deliberately resists definitive location and deterritorializes the dérive and déracinement of the nomad. By resisting location, nomadic migrant writers also elude the fixity of the identity categories by which the country of adoption attempts to define them—le nègre ['the black'], le migrant ['the migrant'], l'autre ['the other']. Laferrière is rootless and adrift, but also a deterritorializing force within Québec that aspires to sovereignty and nationality and within the U.S., increasingly multicultural and transnational. He writes out the diasporic and exilic dislocations of nomadism: linguistic, geopolitical and schizo-social. Laferrière—deracinated (déraciné), drifting (dérivant), deterritorializing (déterritorialisant).

Having worked as a journalist in "Baby Doc" Duvalier's Haiti in the early 1970s, Laferrière fled the country after one of his colleagues was found dead. In Chronique de la dérive douce [Drifting Year], Laferrière writes, "J'ai quitté Port-au-Prince parce qu'un de mes amis a été trouvé sur une plage la tête dans un sac et qu'un autre croupit à Fort-Dimanche" ["I left Port-au-Prince because one of my friends was found on the beach with his head in a sack and the other is rotting away in Fort-Dimanche"] (55/50). 3 In 1976, he entered Québec as an exiled writer, yet even his status as exile is treated with cool, dispassionate humor: "Je n'ai pas été exilé. J'ai fui avant d'être tué. C'est différent" ["I wasn't an exile; I fled before they could kill me. That's different"] (Chronique 27/25). Throughout Chronique, an account of his first year in Québec, Laferrière, who now lives in Miami, resists the possibility of establishing roots in the pays d'accueil, yet he also frustrates the possibility of return to the pays natal:

Quitter son pays pour aller vivre dans un autre pays dans cette condition d'infériorité, c'est-à-dire sans filet et sans pouvoir retourner au pays natal me paraît la dernière grande aventure humaine. (133) [End Page 235]
[To leave one's country to go and live in another country in inferior conditions, that is, without a safety net and without recourse of return to one's native land, this seems to be the last great human adventure. (116)]

As a migrant writer, Laferrière's feelings for both, country of adoption and homeland, are deeply ambivalent. He notes that coming to Québec meant new experiences—the four seasons, young women, but also misery and solitude. Remaining in Haiti, which he describes as the place "où l'on va à la mort par routine" ["where you go to your death out of habit"] (Chronique 134/117), Laferrière's experiences would have been limited to his family, his friends, "et peut-être" ["and perhaps"], he adds sardonically, "la prison" ["prison"] (Chronique 132/115). Thus, Laferrière resists both nostalgia and migration, nomadically traversing and deterritorializing the territories of each. Laferrière, the exile-émigré-migrant,becomes le nomade.

I have three critical trajectories in this essay: first, I explore Gilles Deleuze's and Félix Guattari's concept of le nomade as outlined in Plateau 12 of Mille Plateaux [A Thousand Plateaus]; second, I examine Laferrière's parodic troping of le nègre, as well as la blonde [the 'blonde'] and la grosse femme [the 'fat lady'], in the American cultural market through Deleuze's and Guattari's notion of machine désirante ['desiring machine']. Third, I theorize the textual nomadism of Dany Laferrière in Chronique de la dérive douce (1994) through the concept of le nomade and the tropes of le nègre and la grosse femme. Through my readings, I hope to show that even in the 'immigrant' writer, who ostensibly moves from one place to another, a sort of nomadism persists—a zero-degree non-movement wherein the writer "reterritorialise sur la déterritorialisation même" (MP 473) ["reterritorializes on deterritorialization itself" (ATP 381)].

1. Le nomade . . . the nomad . . .

"Si les nomades nous ont tant intéressés" ["If we've been so interested in nomads"], Gilles Deleuze tells Raymond Bellour and François Ewald in an interview for Magazine Littéraire, "c'est parce qu'ils sont un devenir, et ne font pas partie de l'histoire; ils en sont exclus mais se métamorphosent pour réapparaître autrement, sous des formes inattendues dans les lignes de fuite d'un champ social" ["it's because they're a becoming and aren't part of history; they're excluded from it, but they transmute and reappear in different, unexpected forms in the lines of flight of some social field"]. 4 In Dialogues, Deleuze repeats a similar idea in his conversation with Claire Parnet, stating that "nomades n'ont ni passé ni avenir, ils ont seulement des devenirs . . . nomades n'ont pas d'histoire, ils ont seulement de la géographie" (39) ["nomads have neither past nor future, they only have becomings . . . nomads have no history, they only have geography" (31)]. 5 Indeed, the figure of le nomade assumes a primary position in the twelfth plateau of Mille Plateaux, "1227: Traité de Nomadologie: La Machine de Guerre" ["1227: Treatise on Nomadology—The War Machine"], where Deleuze and Guattari theorize a "cartography of sedentary space that appropriates [End Page 236] the rhythmic movements of autonomous packs, and allows a nomadic war-machine to come into play" (Sawhney 133). Although "le nomade a un territoire, il suit des trajets coutumiers, il va d'un point à un autre, il n'ignore pas les points (point d'eau, d'habitation, d'assemblée, etc.)" ["the nomad has a territory: [in which] he follows customary paths; [and] he goes from one point to another; he is not ignorant of points (water points, dwelling points, assembly points, etc.)"] (MP 471/380), the points are strictly determined by the path and not the reverse, which is the case of the sedentary for whom the points define the path. Like the ligne de devenir, the path of the nomade has no specific beginning and end, no arche or point of origin and no telos or fixed end point: "un trajet est toujours entre deux points, mais l'entre-deux a pris toute la consistance, et jouit d'une autonomie comme d'une direction propre" ["a path is always between two points, but the in-between has taken on all the consistency and enjoys both an autonomy and a direction of its own"] (MP 471/380). Thus, Deleuze and Guattari write, "la vie du nomade est intermezzo" ["the life of the nomad is the intermezzo"] (MP 471/380).

Deleuze and Guattari also distinguish le nomade and le migrant in Plateau 12, explaining that the migrant occupies a striated space, or striates space through movement that is extensive, while the nomad only moves in intensity or speed (defined as intensive), as if mapping a smooth space that is vectorial, projective, or topological. Whereas "le migrant va principalement d'un point à un autre, même si cet autre est incertain, imprévu ou male localisé" ["the migrant goes principally from one point to another, even if the second point is uncertain, unforeseen, or not well localized"], the nomad, conversely, "ne va d'un point à un autre que par conséquence et nécessité de fait: en principe, les points sont pour lui des relais dans un trajet" ["goes from point to point only as a consequence and as a factual necessity; in principle, points for him are relays along a trajectory"] (MP 471/380). However, Deleuze and Guattari also maintain that "les nomades et les migrants peuvent se mélanger de beaucoup de façons, ou former un ensemble commun" ["nomads and migrants can mix in many ways, or form a common aggregate"]; however, "ils n'en ont pas moins des causes et des conditions très différentes" ["their causes and conditions are no less distinct for that"] (MP 471/380). While le migrant moves along a trajectory, the path is one of reterritorialization; and while le nomade deterritorializes along a ligne de fuite, he does not properly move, except in speed or intensity:

Le nomade est plutôt celui qui ne bouge pas. Alors que le migrant quitte un milieu devenu amorphe ou ingrat, le nomade est celui qui ne part pas, ne veut pas partir, s'accroche à cet espace lisse où la forêt recule, où la steppe ou le désert croissent, et invente le nomadisme comme réponse à ce défi.
[The nomad . . . is he who does not move. Whereas the migrant leaves behind a milieu that has become amorphous or hostile, the nomad is the one who does not depart, does not want to depart, who clings to the smooth space left by the receding forest, where the steppe or the desert advances, and who invents nomadism as a response to this challenge. ( MP 473/381)] [End Page 237]

The intense deterritorializing lignes de fuite are lines of necessity. Deepak Narang Sawhney explains, however, that the two 'processes of appropriation'—deterritorialization and reterritorialization—are inextricable to one another. Like the photograph of the bent head in Kafka that excessively deterritorializes into the sonority of the musical sound, "the application of over-coding," Sawhney writes, "can be traced on both aspects of the molar and the molecular lattice, or planes of strata" (133).

Le nomade, whose deterritorializations mark a trajectory without territory, without "points . . . trajets ni . . . terre" ["points, paths, or land"] (MP 473/381; qtd. by Sawhney 137), still appears to have a territory, because the stratum reterritorializes the nomad's movements. As Sawhney explains, "the nomad is a trajectory that does not yet possess any territory through enclosing or striating space, yet still demarcates a zone of actuality through a landscape, a smooth space that is the removed perimeter from the apparatus of recoding" (137). Even the most radical, nomadic and heterogeneous deterritorializations—initiated through a series of aleatory and dismantling molecular becomings (devenir-moléculaire)—may be ultimately restratified, resedimented, reterritorialized. Writing about the nomadic gang member restratified (and thus reterritorialized) as prisoner, Sawhney writes that "the institutional holding cell is the apparatus by which his identity is reconfigured, an etching or a memory within the strata: criminal" (137). For Deleuze and Guattari, if the nomad "peut être appelé le Déterritorialisé par excellence, c'est justement parce que la reterritorialisation ne se fait pas après comme chez le migrant . . . c'est la déterritorialisation qui constitue le rapport à la terre, si bien qu'il se reterritorialise sur la déterritorialisation même" ["can be called the Deterritorialized par excellence, it is precisely because there is no reterritorialization afterward as with the migrant . . . it is deterritorialization that constitutes the relation to the earth, to such a degree that the nomad reterritorializes on deterritorialization itself"] (MP 473/381). However, as Ronald Bogue notes the concept of le nomade is theorized de jure, rather than de facto, as all modes of living are 'mixed' forms; thus, according to this reading, there are no pure nomads, but only nomadic or deterritorializing moments within state territories. 6 Yet, le nomade and le migrant may enter a process of devenir—in which there may be a devenir-nomade of le migrant [a 'becoming-nomad' of the migrant] (MP 473/382).

This process of devenir-nomade or migratory deterritorialization is particularly germane to an immigrant writer such as Dany Laferrière who resists migration and who persists in a nomadic deterritorialization of the pays natal and the pays d'accueil: the bilingual (or plurilingual) nomad is without home or place, frequenting the streets, traversing and deterritorializing a space, but without points, trajets,or terre ["points, paths, or land"].

II. Laferrière, le nègre and the late capitalist American racial machine-désirante

I offer here a brief introduction to Dany Laferrière's work as a nomadic immigrant writer within Québec (whose hoped-for sovereignty—if not politically at least socially—as an outsider within, Laferrière frustrates by collapsing Québec not merely into [End Page 238] an anglophone Canadian 'nationality,' but more generally, and perhaps more reductively, into a larger problematic of Americanization). His first novel, Comment faire l'amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer (1985) scandalized his readers and non-readers alike. From this first novel to others such as Éroshima (1987) and Cette grenade dans la main du jeune nègre est-elle une arme ou un fruit? (1993), Laferrière explores the interconnected (and often explosive) dynamics of race and sexuality in Québec and in America.

With great irony and humor, if also deep political seriousness, Laferrière regards the 'black male' and the 'blonde' as commodified and sexualized constructions par excellence in the late capitalist American racial machine désirante ['desiring machine']. (The 'desiring machine' is a Deleuzoguattarian term defined in Anti-Œdipe as flows and interruptions; in Dialogues, as désir assembled on a 'plane of immanence'). In Cette grenade dans la main, Laferrière writes: "Le Nègre et la blonde. La blonde représente la-plus-que-blanche. Nègre/Blanche: couple trop puissant . . . La lumière et les ténèbres. Complémentarité absolue" ["Black man, blonde woman. The blonde represents the whiter-than-white. The black-blonde couple is too potent . . . Light and shadow. Absolute complementarity"] (83/81). 7 Yet, it is an explosive conjoining of body to body, myth to myth. Laferrière deliberately inserts himself as a cog in the machine, and his own 'desiring production' (however parodic) ultimately 'jams' the (discursive and material) machinery precisely as it takes flight from within it.

Laferrière proliferates and circulates these commodified, racialized and sexualized constructs (in a way both celebratory and unsettling) in such texts as Comment faire l'amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer (curiously translated into English as How to Make Love to a Negro, with no mention of fatigue) and Cette grenade dans la main du jeune nègre est-elle une arme ou un fruit? (whose English title, Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex?, also diverges from the French). The subtitles of each book are equally explosive, detonating such ideas as "Le nègre narcisse," "Le nègre est du règne végétal," "Le cannibalisme à visage humain" and "Le pénis nègre et la démoralisation de l'Occident" in the former and "C'est dans le noir qu'un écrivain nègre réfléchit vraiment," "Pourquoi les écrivains nègres préfèrent-ils les blondes?," "Comment avoir du succès instantané," "Le grand éspoir nègre américain," "Le négoce de la peau," and "Je ne suis plus un écrivain nègre" in the latter. The subtitles of the last section in each book, however, are politically significant, forcing Lafferière's readers to re-think many of his preceding tongue-in-cheek, yet deeply sardonic statements: the final section of Comment faire l'amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer is titled "On ne naît pas Nègre, on le devient," echoing Simone de Beauvoir's famous feminist statement; the final section of Cette grenade dans la main du jeune nègre est-elle une arme ou un fruit?, "Feu sur l'Amérique," alluding to James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time,takes direct aim at the American racial 'desiring machine' from within. In this final section, Laferrière parodies his own text, writing "Le voilà qui arrive, au loin, presque en dansant dans ses tennis Reebok (gracieux mouvement sautillant du ghetto), avec un béret vert et jaune légèrement posé sur sa tête, à la manière des rastas jamaïquains. . . . Ce truc vert qu'il tient dans sa main, est-ce une arme ou un fruit?" ["Here he comes, see him in the distance, practically dancing in his Reebok tennis shoes, the graceful bouncing move of the ghetto, a green and yellow beret sitting lightly on his head, the way the Rastamen wear them. . . . And what about that green thing he's holding? Is that a hand grenade or a piece of fruit?"] (201/198). [End Page 239]

Laferrière has been lauded and sharply criticized, even villified, for such texts. In Cette grenade dans la main, Laferrière recounts an argument with a Nigerian taxi driver in New York who objected to the apoliticism and sensationalism of Laferrière's works. The taxi driver asks "pourquoi tu continués à exploiter les clichés sur les Nègres?" ["Why do you keep exploiting those clichés about blacks?"]; Laferrière pointedly responds, "c'est une mine à ciel ouvert" ["They're public property"] (68/66). Other criticisms of Laferrière's first novel, Comment faire l'amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer, are also written about in Cette grenade dans la main, including a contentious encounter between the writer and a blonde woman from New York who was dating an African man. "Mon amant est africain" ["My lover is African"], she argues, "et je peux vous assurer que ce qui se passe entre nous n'a rien à voir avec le sexe" ["and let me assure you that what goes on between us has nothing to do with sex"] (75/73); Laferrière's responds, "Et ça a à voir avec quoi? ["What's it have to do with (then)?"] (75/73). However, rather than apolitical, Laferrière's texts are radically (if also obliquely) politicized. The same novel ends with an imagined conversation between Laferrière and the deceased James Baldwin (one of the three African-American and African diasporic artists to whom the novel is dedicated) about the role of the black author. The other two artists are Miles Davis and Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose art work is included on the covers of both the French edition (Basquiat's "Obnoxious Liberals") and the English translation ("Untitled" painting of a white outlined face with a crown floating above it, a stark visage against a black background with the words "Sugar Ray Robinson" above the face). "Obnoxious Liberals" is an oil and acrylic painting whose folkloric and abstract figures include a man in top hat on whose black clothing is written, "Not for sale." Yet, as Laferrière illustrates, le nègre and la blonde are racial-cultural capital, circulating as commodified images in the late capitalist American racial 'desiring machine.'

My own response to Laferrière's work vacillates (perhaps predictably, Laferrière might add) between the poles of offense and intrigue. Upon first reading Laferrière, I was fascinated by his treatment of la grosse femme [the 'fat lady'], and it is at this point that I enter his work. 8 (Lafferière refers to both le nègre and la grosse femme as sexually insatiable.) However, Laferrière's deterritorializing re-presentation of these images—le nègre [the 'black male'], la blonde [the 'blonde'] and even la grosse femme [the 'fat lady']—erodes the essentialism and similitude of representation itself, allowing these stereotypes of racialized, sexualized alterity to become other than other.

Rather than explicitly deconstructing the stereotypes of le nègre and 'black' interracial sexuality, as does Frantz Fanon in Peau noire, masques blancs [Black Skin, White Masks], Laferrière sets these stereotypes to play, but his texts effectuate a ludic (and explosive) dismantling of them no less. 9 In Cette grenade dans la main, Laferrière writes that the blonde, like the black, "est une pure invention américaine" ["is purely an American invention"], further noting that "Marilyn, Madonna. Les deux plus puissants phantasmes de l'après-guerre sont de fausses blondes" ["Marilyn and Madonna, the two most powerful fantasies of the post-war period, are fake blondes"] (Cette grenade 80, 83/79, 80). For Laferrière, Marilyn Monroe and Madonna, "fake blondes," embody this American ideal. As such, Marilyn and Madonna do not imitate an ideal, an essence, but rather constitute that ideal through their very artifice. The black and [End Page 240] the blonde, then, are a powerful mixture in the American racial 'desiring machine': "Si la blonde est à elle seule une bombe, qui dire de la rencontre du Nègre et de la blonde? Une bombe qui explose" ["If the blonde is a bombshell all by herself, what about the encounter of the black man and the blonde? The bomb goes off"] (Cette grenade 83/81).

The stereotype in excess radicalizes its very constructedness and hyperbolizes its cultural market value. By entering into and radically, textually embodying the stereotype of le nègre, Laferrière also enters a deterritorializing ligne de fuite ['line of flight'] that dismantles it and enters a nomadic, smooth space of becoming: devenir-noir. . . devenir-moléculaire. Brian Massumi writes that "no body is 'masculine' or 'feminine.' One can only come to one's assigned cliché, like metal to a magnet that recedes farther into the distance the closer one draws, in an endless deflection from invention" (87). Responding to feminist critiques of the Deleuzoguattarian concept of devenir-femme ['becoming-woman'], Massumi explains that this line of becoming is strategically stereotypical, writing that

the feminine gender stereotype involves greater indeterminacy ('fickle') and movement ('flighty') and has been burdened by the patriarchal tradition with a disproportionate load of paradox (virgin/whore, mother/lover). Since supermolecularity involves a capacity to superpose states that are 'normally' mutually exclusive, Deleuze and Guattari hold that the feminine cliché offers a better departure point than masculinity for a rebecoming-supermolecular of the personified individual. . . . Becoming-woman involves carrying the indeterminacy, movement, and paradox of the female stereotype past the point at which it is recuperable by the socius as it presently functions, over the limit beyond which lack of definition becomes the positive power to select a trajectory (the leap from the realm of possibility into the virtual—breaking away). (87)

Similarly, Laferrière's representations of le nègre (as well as his representations of la blonde and la grosse femme) enter into stereotype precisely in order to parody, hyperbolize, and ultimately, pervert them by nomadically taking flight from within them. These sexualized, racialized and commodified lignes de fuite ['lines of flight'] thus form a 'smooth space,' a deterritorializing line, within the capitalist American racial 'desiring machine' in which they circulate.

As Laferrière might say, "I am marketing the 'American Dream,' and I hope to make it big." Indeed, he does say to the Nigerian taxi driver in New York, "je ne veux pas détruire l'Amérique, je veux toute simplement ma part du gâteau. Pas les miettes" ["I don't want to destroy America, I just want my piece of the pie—and no crumbs, please"] (Cette grenade 69/67). After being commissioned to write a fictional essay about the Americas, and after being persuaded by a friend who is also a writer, to write the essay (because he is "le parfum du mois"/'flavor of the month' and he will earn a large commission), Laferrière notes that freedom in America requires affluence, writing that "je n'ai jamais perdu de vue cette équation" ["I, for one, have never lost sight of that equation"] (Cette grenade 18/16). Such ironic perversion of the [End Page 241] capitalist machine (and its 'striated spaces') from within pervades Laferrière's work and constitutes resistance, an intense flight within (not from) l'Amérique.

In this sense, Laferrière's texts are alter-autobiographies. Alter- because they enter into alterity and deconstruct auto-referentiality, while contesting subjectivity and problematizing language as a transparent medium. It is within this reading of race, sex and late capitalist commodity culture that I examine Laferrière's nomadic resistance to migration. I turn my attention now to Laferrière's 1994 text, Chronique de la dérive douce [Drifting Year].

III. Chronique de la dérive douce . . . Jouer l'Autre = Jouir et (deleuzien) Devenir

In Chronique de la dérive douce, an alter-autobiographical narrative, broken into 365 poems or fragments, chronicling a year in drift, Laferrière explores the role of l'étranger ['the foreigner'] within the société d'accueil ['society of adoption']. His narrative—both parodic and transvaluative—examines the various configurations of exile confronted by the immigrant writer: the racism with which l'émigré noire is often treated within a predominately 'white' culture; the melancholy and joy of la dérive; the nostalgia for and loss of la mère-patrie, for Laferrière, Port-au-Prince; the hunger (la faim) of l'émigré who coyly and ironically writes about eating pigeons and cats; the perceptions and misperceptions of the exiled writer's alterity, encoded onto le corps noir—or in Kristeva's words, "ces yeux, ces lèvres, ces pommettes, cette peau pas comme les autres le distinguent et rapellent qu'il y a là quelqu'un" ["those eyes, those lips, those cheek bones, that skin unlike others, all that distinguishes him and reminds one that there is someone there"] (12/3).

In the parodic passages of Chronique, Laferrière seems willing to jouerl'Autre ['play the other']—i.e., the ostensibly salacious and ravenous 'black male' (le Noir, or more pejoratively, le Nègre). In these ironic passages, then, jouer l'Autre = jouir, and jouir seems to border on dévorer. The lead character in Laferrière's novel embodies this stereotypical Other as the lascivious 'black male': he incessantly consumes both food and women (les femmes), appropriating both to sate his hunger (la faim), stereotyped as an insatiable hunger. Throughout Chronique, Laferrière writes repeatedly of the hunger of the immigrant. I argue that Laferrière strategically utilizes this paradigm to dismantle the stereotype of the insatiable 'black man.' In an encounter with his boss at the factory, the protagonist states, "Le boss m'a convoqué dans son bureau / et a fait des plaisanteries avec le comptable / sûre l'endurance sexuelle des Nègres" ["The boss called me into his office / and joked with the accountant / about the sexual endurance of black men"] (79/72). This presumptive salaciousness of the 'black male'—a theme resonating in other works by Laferrière, but also a cultural construction explored by Spike Lee in Jungle Fever and She's Got to Have It (a film that playfully reverses the gendered connotations of this belief about the 'black Other' in hegemonic 'white' culture). This stereotype underlies the sexual smorgasbord of the protagonist in Chronique de la dérive douce. This ludic and textual embodiment of alterity can be fruitfully read within a Deleuzoguattarian frame—a devenir-deleuze of guattari, a [End Page 242] devenir-guattari of deleuze, a devenir-noir and devenir-femme of le nègre,a devenir-nomade of laferrière [a 'becoming-deleuze' of guattari, a 'becoming-guattari' of deleuze, a 'becoming-black' and a 'becoming-woman' of the 'black man', a 'becoming-nomad' of laferrière]. 10

Brian Massumi explains that while Guattari "is fascinated with phenomena of subjective redundancy (resonance, refrain, black whole)," Deleuze "prefers to emphasize 'lines of escape' from subjectivity" (151, fn33). 11 Laferrière's nomadic text similarly vacillates between a 'subjective redundancy' and deterritorializing 'lines of flight.' In his 'playing le nègre,' Laferrière enters a subversive mimicry through which playing a stereotypical subjective part is set in tension with objectification of that Other. By 'playing le nègre,' Laferrière hyperbolizes a subjective redundancy, even if frustrated by an objectified and racialized immigrant body. However, this 'jouer le nègre,' inaugurates a becoming-other, a devenir-noir, that moves into a deterritorializing and devouring 'line of flight'—a becoming-woman, a becoming-cat, a becoming-pigeon. He enters into becoming with the domesticated animals he devours and the white women he fucks, deterritorializing the racialized immigrant body into the nomadic body without organs.

Throughout the alter-autobiographical text, the absent homeland, Port-au-Prince, is poignantly interwoven with the presence of Montréal. In the narrator's nomadic and textual traversals, however, he deterritorializes both places (Port-au-Prince/Montréal; Haiti/Québec) and thus resists migration. I first consider Laferrière's deterritorializing deconstructions of the devouring black male (le nègre dévorant), for as Laferrière asks, "Que fait n'importe quel écrivain?" ["What do writers do?"]; and almost without pause, he answers, "Il dévorer d'abord les siens" ["they devour those closest to them"] (Cette grenade 68/67).

Plateau 1. Jouer/Jouir l'Autre:
(De)Constructing Le Nègre dévorant

Laferrière constructs a scenario in which the Other (as perceived and defined by the dominant culture) assumes this definition in order to hyperbolize and implode this Other that persists in its absolute foreignness to the self. The protagonist states, "L'Indien n'est venu à la maison/ et nous avons discuté / de nos clichés respectifs. / Lui, c'est l'alcool. / Moi, le sexe" ["The Indian came to my place / and we discussed / our respective clichés. / Alcohol for him. / Sex for me"] (79/71). L'Indien, never called by a proper name, manifests the Native American as perceived by the Western Colonizer: inherent alcoholic. The unnamed protagonist, le Nègre, manifests the 'black man' as regarded by the Western 'master' or by hegemonic white culture: prurient, dark desire; intrinsic and insatiable. This carnivorous 'black male' who devours ravenously—the textual line of flight that Laferrière enters—spirals from actual hunger. And here I am thinking of Deleuze's opposition of eating/writing as first introduced in Logique du Sens, but further developed in Kafka.

Throughout the text, faim (hunger) forms the molar restraint which opens into a line of flight: as in Kafka, where Deleuze and Guattari write that the mouth is deterritorialized through words, Laferrière enters into his own hunger, devouring it, devouring the pigeons on the sidewalk, writing about chasing down cats in the street: [End Page 243] from his hunger, he departs and devient-pigeon ["becomes-pigeon"], devient-chat ["becomes-cat"]. It is in this context that I place the sexual forays of the novel. Laferrière clearly describes his sexual desire as consumptive, even gluttonous. The women are continuously conflated with food which the Haitian emigrant incessantly eats/consumes without satiety. The connection between the libidinal and the dietary is introduced early in the novel. After preparing a meal, the protagonist isolates the element missing in this affair: "Menu simple: riz, pigeon, carotte, oignon. Je fais tout cuire dains le petit four. Cuisson lente. L'odeur envahit la pièce. Je n'arrive pas à manger seul" ["Simple fare: rice, pigeon, carrots and onions. I roasted it all together in the little oven. The slow-cook method. The smell filled the room. I couldn't bring myself to eat alone"] (33/30-31). Yet, "Je sors chercher quelqu'un dans le parc. Il n'y a personne. Des fois, la solitude est bien pire que la faim" ["I went out to look for someone in the park. Nobody was there. Sometimes, solitude is worse than hunger"] (33/31). The culinary/corporeal association pervades the narrative of black carnality: he moves hungrily from appetizer to soup to salad to entrée to dessert; from Maria to Julie to Nathalie to "la grosse femme de la buanderie" ["the fat lady from the laundromat"] to "la secrétaire du boss" ["the boss's secretary"].

Plateau 2. Devenir . . . de le Nègre à la grosse femme . . .

The consuming, consum(m)atory desire is problematized by "la grosse femme" whose abundance ironically still fails to sate and satiate the hunger of the black man, la faim du Nègre.

Baiser me rend affamé, ce qui n'est pas le cas de la grosse femme de la buanderie. Elle me regarde manger avec le sourire aux lèvres. (85)
[Fucking makes me famished, which is not the case, for the fat lady from the Laundromat. She watches me eat with a smile on her lips. (76)]

Although he states "ce qui n'est pas le cas / de la grosse femme de la buanderie," the kisses of the fat woman may not leave him "starving" for more of this adipal treat: however, the hunger is not quenched, but merely transferred to actual victuals—"Elle me regarde manger avec le / sourire aux lèvres." The smile of the fat woman is ambivalently "aux lèvres"—both the lips of the mouth and the labia, both of which threaten to consume in return. The excessive signification of the corpulent female body represents (like le Nègre and L'Indien) an-Other archetype imbedded in western definitions of the "grotesque," and it therefore confounds standard delineations of the erotic body. Upon first regarding the woman, he notes the inordinate corporeity of the corpulent body, a fleshiness that overflows its bounds, and thus, its signification:

La grosse femme de la buanderie a la chair très blanche. Des seins volumineux qui dépassent largement le cadre du soutien-gorge. [End Page 244] Elle a le haut de la cuisse encore plus blanc que le reste du corps et une toute petite tache de vin sur le hanche. Elle me l'a montrée, ce midi. (51)
[The fat lady from the laundromat has very white skin. Voluminous breasts that easily spill over the edge of her bra. The top of her thigh is even whiter than the rest of her body and she has a little birthmark on her hip. She showed it to me today, at noon. (48)]

The voluminosity, the superfluity of the corpulent body exceeds the established parameters of the erotic: "Des seins volumineux qui dépassent / largement le cadre du soutien-gorge." The fat female body thus inaugurates its own deconstruction—overflowing the bounds and confines of its representation. "Sa peau est douce, crémeuse, glissante" ["Her skin was soft, creamy and slippery"] (52/48). The mark on her flesh ("une toute petite tache / de vin sur la hanche") is not fixed, but rather fluid; the sign glides (glisse) in an arbitrary, metonymic chain of signification. The representation of this fat, bodily feast culminates in jouissance, her body "étalée sur le lit" ["stretched out on the bed"]: "Cette montagne de chair fraîche et propre / lance de petits cris de souris / quand elle jouit" ["This mountain of cool, clean flesh / issues little mouse squeaks / when she comes"] (85/76). Laferrière becomes la grosse femme. . .la grosse femme becomes souris ['mouse'].

However, Laferrière juxtaposes this corpulent body and its fluid signification with the protagonist's attempts to delimit and contain the signified, reducing it to a body for consumption. The protagonist moreover dissects the body of "la grosse femme de la buanderie" into multifarious, epicurean delights, compartmentalizing her body (and thus containing its overflow of meaning) into food groups. Again, Laferrière saliently underscores the correlation between female and food for the 'black male':

La grosse femme de la buanderie est arrivée avec deux gros sacs de provisions (sucre, sel, pommes de terre, steak, yogourt, riz, tomates, laitue, huile, carottes, mayonnaise, raisins, oranges). Elle range tout dans le réfrigérateur et dans les placards de la cuisine. (110)
[The fat lady from the laundromat showed up with two big bags of groceries (sugar, salt, potatoes, steak, yogurt, rice, tomatoes, lettuce, oil, carrots, mayonnaise, grapes, oranges). She put everything away in the fridge and the kitchen cupboards. (96-97)]

The physical arranging of the groceries in the cupboard parallels the linguistic and epistemological ordering of the corpulent body that threatens to exceed its own representation. As if affirming the reductive, delimited role of the 'fat female body' for the 'black male', the protagonist declares, "Je la baise calmement en pensant que ce n'est pas ce mois-ci que je mourrai de faim" ["I made love to her calmly, figuring I wouldn't starve to death this month" (110/97; emphasis added). [End Page 245]

Plateau 3. Le Corps sans organes et Devenir . . .

This ravenous consumption can also be read through a Deleuzo-Guattarian lens. In Mille Plateaux, Deleuze and Guattari propose a radical materialism in constant creative flux within a field of immanence, overturning such Platonic premises as the rationality of the soul, the fixity and immutability of Being in a transcendent realm. The Deleuzo-Guattarian 'body without organs,' the BwO, promises an affective, not teleologically effective, field for the reinscription of bodies and desires:

Un CsO est fait de telle manière qu'il ne peut être occupé, peuplé que par des intensités. Seules les intensités passent et circulent. Encore les CsO n'est-il pas scène, un lieu, ni même un support où se passerait quelque chose. Rien à voir avec un fantasme, rien à interpréter. Le CsO fait passer des intensités, il les produit es le distribue dans un spatium lui-même intensif, inétendu. Il n'est pas espace ni dans l'espace, il est matière qui occupera l'espace à tel ou tel degré—au degré qui correspond aux intensités produites. Il est la matière intense et non formée, non stratifée, la matrice intensive, l'intensité = 0. ( MP 189)
[The BwO is made in such a way that it can be occupied, populated, only by intensities. Only intensities pass and circulate. Still, the BwO is a scene, a place, or even a support upon which something comes to pass. It has nothing to do with phantasy, there is nothing to interpret. The BwO causes intensities to pass: it produces and distributes them in a spatium that is itself intensive, lacking extension. It is not a space nor is it in space; it is matter that occupies space to a given degree—to the degree corresponding to the intensities produced. It is non-stratified, unformed, intense matter. The matrix of intensity, intensity = 0. ( MP 153)]

The BwO then is the cartography of desire, the mapping of intensities and the traversal of those intensities on this immanent matrix; "Le CsO, c'est le champ d'immanence du désir, le plan de consistance propre au désir (là où le désir se définit comme processus de production, sans référence à aucune instance extérieure, manque qui viendrait le creuser, plaisir qui viendrait le combler" ["BwO is the field of immanence of desire, the plane of consistency specific to desire (with desire defined as a process of production without reference to any exterior agency, whether it be a lack that hollows it out or a pleasure that fills it)] (MP 191/154). Deleuze and Guattari thus offer a model for rethinking materiality and the body in anti-essentialist and anti-foundationalist ways: the 'body without organs.' Thus, I read Laferrière's eating and fucking less as a filling and being filled than a devenir-animale ['becoming-animal'], a devenir-femme ['becoming-woman'], and through these deterritorializations, a devenir-nomade.

The 'body without organs' is a materiality stripped of deterministic and biologistic delimitations; the BwO is materiality as mapped by energy, intensities, desires, and the affects of those energies and desires. In Dialogues, Deleuze states that the "Bodies [End Page 246] without organs—this is desire. There are many kinds, but they are definable by what occurs on them and in them: continuums of intensity, blocs of becoming, emissions of particles, combinations of fluxes" (105). As such, the BwO offers a model for thinking about corporeality that resists the metaphysical subordination of body to soul, matter to form. The body without organs is always that which desire assembles. In the case of anorexia, Deleuze writes, "It is a question of food fluxes" (Deleuze et Parnet 109). For Deleuze, the anorexic "consists of a body without organs with voids and fullnesses. The alternation of stuffing and emptying: anorexic feasts . . . void and fullness are like two demarcations of intensity; the point is always to float in one's own body" (Deleuze et Parnet 110). Deleuze's discussion of the anorexic BwO is only one example: like it, all BwO are constituted by the desires and intensities passing through them. The Deleuzian model offers a space for redefining both the consumptive, gluttonous body and the corpulent body, even as parodying stereotypes. In this reading, just as Deleuze discusses the anorectic or bulimic body, the consumptive body of le nègre and the corpulent body of la grosse femme are 'desiring machines'— spatium in flux and through which intensities flow, energies pass. The 'body without organs' of le nègre and la grosse femme become spaces defined only by the desires and intensities traversing them: all of the food fluxes, rippling affects, fleshly intensities, moundful jouissances.

Plateau 4. Devenir-femme . . .-chat . . . -pigeon

Ironically, Deleuze and Guattari maintain that the way to make oneself a BwO is by entering a process of devenir ["becoming"] initiated first by devenir-femme ["becoming-woman"]. According to Deleuze and Guattari, "Elle ne cesse de courir sur un corps sans organes. Elle est ligne abstraite, ou ligne de fuite" ["She never ceases to roam upon a body without organs. She is the abstract line, or a line of flight"] (MP 339/277). For "si tous les devenirs sont déjà moléculaires, y compris le devenir-femme, il faut dire aussi que tous les devenirs commencement et passent par le devenir-femme. C'est la clef des autres devenirs" ["although all becomings are already molecular, including becoming-woman, it must be said that all becomings begin with and pass through becoming-woman. It is the key to all other becomings"] (MP 340/277). I read this devenir-femme, however, as a deliberate reversal of the Platonic argument in the Timaeus about the wayward-man "becoming woman" in his next life if he behaves too lasciviously in the first. Thus, this process of devenir inaugurated by the "becoming-woman" is also a reversal of Platonic form, disrupted by deliberate retreat into matter, into the moléculaire ['molecular']: le devenir-femme in her endless flux, multiplicity and materiality. Through ledevenir-femme, and hyper-molecularly through le devenir-grosse femme, Laferrière nomadically resists the reterritorializations of immigrant identity.

Within this reading, Laferrière's alter-autobiographical protagonist in Chronique, as well as the numerous women he devours, and perhaps most excessively la grosse femme, enter molecular becomings through their very amorous-sexual, schizo-social, and consuming les machines-désirantes ['desiring machines']. As he consumes women (-pigeon, -cat), he also consumes and deterritorializes the molar organization of the [End Page 247] subjective and geographical boundaries/bodies of the immigrant—those of the migrant-émigré-nomade himself, but also the pays natal, the pays d'accueil. As Ronald Bogue explains, "the nomadic subject traces a process of becoming other, becoming plant, animal, mineral" (95). Brian Massumi writes that "becoming is a tension between two modes of desire," noting that "in its simplest expression, [it] is a tension between modes of desire plotting a vector of transformation between two molar coordinates" (94). In Laferrière's texts, these molar coordinates are not only the geographical and transnational locations of Haiti/Québec/America (or more specifically, Port-au-Prince/Montréal/Miami), but also the identitarian, epistemological, racialized and schizo-social sites of migrant/nomade, blanc/noir, le nègre/la blonde, la faim/la grosse femme.

Ultimately, Laferrière's parodic text on the 'black male' (created and sustained in the dominant, 'white' imaginary) intersects with the striations of, but also refuses and deterritorializes the place of the migrant, the exiled Haitian immigrant: the insatiable salacious appetite of the black male constitutes lignes de fuite ['lines of flight'] which deterritorialize both the hunger for the lost country and for adoption within the new country. The 'black male' appetite, his consumption—a deterritorializing line of sex/fucking and eating/devouring—marks a body-subject in movement, in flux, in exile, in nomadic flight. He devours both paysnatal and pays d'accueil, cannibalizing (?), fucking and deterritorializing both.

This hunger (faim)—especially in the parodic Laferrièrien text—maps a "becoming-woman" (devenir-femme) which further deterritorializes into "becoming-words" (devenir-mots), "becoming-animal" (devenir-animale), "becoming-cat" (devenir-chat), "becoming-pigeon" (devenir-pigeon) and even "becoming-molecular (devenir-moléculaire). As he devours, he becomes—femme, chat, pigeon, mots, moléculaire, imperceptible. In the words of Flora Balzano, an Algerian-Québécois novelist, Laferrière becomes "l'immigrantus erantissimus," leaving only traces. 12 Thus, he resists definitive location, reterritorializing, as Deleuze and Guattari write, "sur la déterritorialisation même" (MP 473) ["on deterritorialization itself" (ATP 381)].

 



Jana Evans Braziel is Five Colleges Teaching Fellow in the Center for Crossroads in the Study of the Americas at Amherst College (2002-03) and Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin in La Crosse. She has co-edited Theorizing Diaspora (with Anita Mannur) and Bodies Out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression (with Kathleen LeBesco), and has published articles in such academic organs as Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism,Tessera, The Journal of North African Studies, and Journal x.

Notes

1. Gilles Deleuze et Félix Guattari, Mille Plateaux (Paris: Minuit, 1980), translated as A Thousand Plateaus by Brian Massumi (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987); henceforth cited parenthetically as MP with the page numbers from both the French text and the English translation. For an introduction to the philosophy of Deleuze and the anti-oedipal, schizoanalytic collaborative project of Deleuze and Guattari, see the following: Ronald Bogue, Deleuze and Guattari (New York and London: Routledge, 1989); Michael Hardt, Gilles Deleuze: An Apprenticeship in Philosophy (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1993); Constantin V. Boundas and Dorothea Olkowski, eds., Gilles Deleuze and the Theater of Philosophy (New York and London: Routledge, 1994); Eleanor Kaufman and Kevin Jon Heller, eds., Deleuze & Guattari. New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy, and Culture (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1998); Paul Patton, ed., Deleuze: A Critical Reader (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996); Keith Ansell Pearson, ed., Deleuze and Philosophy: The Difference Engineer (New York and London: Routledge, 1997); and Charles Stivale, The Two-Fold Thought of Deleuze and Guattari. Intersections and Animations (New York and London: Guilford Press, 1998). Also see Eugene Holland, Anti-Oedipus: An Introduction to Capitalism and Schizophrenia (New York and London: Routledge, 1999). A more comprehensive bibliography [End Page 248] of scholarship on Deleuze may be found in Timothy S. Murphy's "Bibliography of the Works of Gilles Deleuze," in Deleuze: A Critical Reader (270-98).

2. For recent scholarship on Dany Laferrière, see the following: Francine Bordeleau, "Dany Laferrière sans arme et dangereux," in Lettres Quebecoises 73 (Spring 1994): 9-10; Andre Lamontagne, "'On ne naît pas Nègre, on le devient': La Réprésentation de l'autre dans Comment faire l'amour avec un Nègre sans se fatiguer de Dany Laferrière," in Quebec Studies 23 (Spring-Summer 1997): 29-42; Marie Naudin, "Dany Laferrière: Être noir à Montreal," in Etudes Canadiennes/Canadian Studies: Revue Interdisciplinaire des Etudes Canadiennes en France 21(38) (June 1995): 47-55; Michel Thérien, "Conjonctions et disjonctions dans Chronique de la dérive douce de Dany Laferrière ou poèsie de la condition immigrante," Cultural Identities in Canadian Literature/Identités culturelles dans la littérature canadienne, edited by Bénédicte Mauguière (New York: Peter Lang, 1998) 173-82; Anne Vassal, "Lecture savante ou populaire: Comment faire l'amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer de Dany Laferrière," in Discours Social/Social Discourse: Analyse du Discours et Sociocritique des Textes/Discourse Analysis & Sociocriticism of Texts, 2(4) (Winter 1989): 185-202; Anthony Purdy, "Altérité, authenticité, universalité: Dany Laferrière et Regine Robin," in Dalhousie French Studies 23 (Fall-Winter 1992): 51-59.

3. See Dany Laferrière's Chronique de la dérive douce (Montréal: VLB Éditeur, 1994); translated as Drifting Year by David Homel (Toronto and Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1997). French text and English translation cited parenthetically.

4. See Gilles Deleuze's Pourparlers (Paris: Les Editions Minuit, 1990), 209; translated as Negotiations, 1972-1990 by Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 153.

5. The longer passage from Dialogues (Paris: Flammarion, 1977) is worth quoting here: "Les nomades sont toujours au milieu. La steppe croît par le milieu, elle est entre les grandes forêts et les grands empires. La steppe, l'herbe et les nomades sont la même chose. Les nomades n'ont ni passé ni avenir, ils ont seulement des devenirs, devenir-femme, devenir-animal, devenir-cheval : leur extraordinarire art animalier. Les nomades n'ont pas d'histoire, ils ont seulement de la géographie" (39) [Nomads are always in the middle. The steppe always grows from the middle, it is between the great forests and the great empires. The steppe, the grass and the nomads are the same thing. The nomads have neither past nor future, they have only becomings, woman-becoming, animal-becoming, horse-becoming: their extraordinary animalist art. Nomads have no history, they only have geography (31)].

6. See Ronald Bogue's "Prolegomenon to Nomadism," a paper presented at the panel Nomadic States, organized and chaired by Bogue at the 1999 conference of the Annual Comparative Literature Association.

7. See Dany Laferrière's Cette grenade dans la main du jeune Nègre est-elle une arme ou un fruit? (Montréal: VLB Éditeur, 1993); translated as Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex? by David Homel (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1994). French text and English translation cited parenthetically.

8. My own work has included a co-edited volume (with Kathleen LeBesco) on the cultural constructions of fatness. See Braziel and LeBesco, eds., Bodies Out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 2001). In this volume, see Braziel, "Sex and Fat Chics? Deterritorializing the Fat Female Body," Bodies Out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression (231-56).

9. See Frantz Fanon's Peau noire, masques blancs (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1952, 1965).

10. In Dialogues, Deleuze explains to Claire Parnet that "all these stories of becomings, of nuptials against nature, of a-parallel evolution, of bilingualism, of theft of thoughts, were what I had with Félix. I stole Félix, and I hope he did the same for me. You know how we work—I repeat it because it seems to be important—we do not work together, we work between the two. In these conditions, as soon as there is this type of multiplicity, there is politics, micro-politics. As Félix says: before Being there is politics. We don't work, we negotiate" (Deleuze et Parnet 17).

11. "Félix was working on black holes; this astronomical idea fascinated him. The black hole is what captures you and does not let you get out. How do you get out of a black hole? How do you transmit signals from the bottom of a black hole? I was working, rather, on a white wall: what is a wall, a screen, how do you plane down the wall and make a line of flight pass? We had not brought the two ideas together, but we noticed that each was tending of its own accord towards the other, to produce something which, indeed, was neither in the one nor the other. For black holes on a white wall are in fact a face, a broad face with white cheeks and pierced with black holes. Now it no longer seems like a face, it is rather the assemblage or the abstract machine which is to produce the face [. . .] White wall—black hole: this, for me, is a typical example of the way in which a work is assembled between us, neither union nor juxtaposition, but a broken line which shoots between two, proliferation tentacles" (Deleuze et Parnet 17-18). [End Page 249]

12. See Flora Balzano's Soigne ta chute (Montréal : XYZ Éditeur, 1992), 41. For an exploration of this theme in Balzano's novel, see my essay "'Becoming-Woman-dog-goldfish-flower-molecular' and the 'non-becoming-Québécois': Dissolution and Other Deleuzian Traversals in Flora Balzano's Soigne ta chute," Tessera: Feminist Interventions in Writing and Culture (Summer 1998).

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Vassal, Anne. "Lecture savante ou populaire: Comment faire l'amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer de Dany Laferrière." Discours Social/Social Discourse: Analyse du Discours et Sociocritique des Textes/Discourse Analysis & Sociocriticism of Texts 2.4 (Winter 1989): 185-202.

Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6512
Print ISSN
0161-2492
Launched on MUSE
2003-03-24
Open Access
No
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