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French Forum 28.1 (2003) 111-129

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The "Wounds of Locality":
Living and Writing the Local in Patrick Chamoiseau's Ecrire en pays dominé

Richard Watts

In the debate over the place of Caribbean culture in an increasingly interconnected, globalized world, the Martinican writers Edouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau could be deemed to occupy antithetical positions in spite of their avowed friendship and their numerous cross-citings and collaborative projects. 1 Glissant's concept of Relation, with its insistence on the process of creolization, represents for most critics working on the question of globalization in the Caribbean context an unqualified and salutary openness to the world. Chamoiseau's notion of Créolité or creoleness is, for its part, often cast as a retrograde and reactionary attachment to a fixed, mythologized Creole identity, a root identity. As with all binary oppositions, this one results in a simplification; here, it is Chamoiseau's views on the possibility and necessity of maintaining the notion of locality in an increasingly interconnected world that are subject to reductive readings. My aim here is to read beyond the caricature of Chamoiseau's Créolité, a model for viewing cultural change and fixity that he has been developing over the past fifteen years. I will also show that much of what Chamoiseau has had to say recently on the place of the local in a globalized world complements Glissant's notion of creolization, but does so from a different—which is to say, situated—perspective.

Chamoiseau himself is partly to blame for this reductionism. His manifesto in favor of a Creole literature and culture, Eloge de la créolité, co-written with Jean Bernabé and Raphaël Confiant, is the primary source of quotations from Chamoiseau on the question of Martinique's cultural place in the world, and it has been attacked by Caribbean, North American, and French commentators alike for betraying an atavistic attachment to pre-departmentalization Creole [End Page 111] culture. In this oft-cited tendency of the Créolité movement, Glissant himself sees the risk of a return to hardened notions of identity: "la 'créolité,' dans son principe, régresserait vers des négritudes, des francités, des latinités ..." 2 Other critics have questioned the manifesto's investment in Creole orality. "Why," asks Derek Walcott in regards to the Eloge, "was it not written in Creole if it is that passionate about authenticity?" He continues, "In the manifesto we hear the really old yearning for naiveté, for the purified and primal state of the folk of the virginal countryside with its firefly fables and subdued nobility, in other words Rousseau and Gauguin from the mouths of their subjects, their voluble natives." 3 Although Walcott exaggerates its folkloric impulses, the manifesto's desire to shed itself of French cultural influence in order to retrieve a Creole identity unmarked by recent history is at odds with the idea of Caribbean identity as "open specificity" that is averred elsewhere in Eloge. 4 For her part, the Guadeloupean (or, more accurately, transnational or nomadic) writer Maryse Condé has taken pains to distance herself from what she considers to be the provincialism of the Créolité manifesto and its authors. Condé objects to the manifesto's exclusivist tendencies (e.g., its assertion that the Créolité of Martinique is more significant than that of Haiti or Cuba). For Condé, there are, in fact, many different ways of being Creole, none of which should be privileged or fixed in the way that, in her view, the Eloge attempts. 5

In an interview with Lucien Taylor, Chamoiseau takes up Condé's criticism directly. He deplores what he deems to be the "self-conscious cosmopolitanism" of Condé's work and goes on to state that "the whole notion that because you're in a diaspora, you're more open than those who've stayed at home is simply ridiculous." 6 Elsewhere in the interview, he insists on the difficulties faced by those who stay (or return) home, those who are not, self-consciously...


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