In each of Marie NDiaye’s fictions, there are moments that flaunt the norms of narrative logic which the rest of the text puts in place. One may think of those phenomena as instances of “negative narrative” wherein the unsaid is accorded a crucial role in the process of literary signification.
Critics generally agree that a closely cultivated strangeness of mood constitutes one of the hallmarks of Marie NDiaye's fiction, though they frame that effect in different ways. Dominique Rabaté remarks, for instance, "Le lecteur qui entre dans l'œuvre de Marie NDiaye est immédiatement saisi par un sentiment d'étrangeté. Le monde où il pénètre est soumis à des règles dont les lois lui échappent, mais dont la logique s'avère implacable."1 Ambroise Teko-Agbo suggests that NDiaye "valorizes [. . .] the problem of the strange and invites us to reflect on the place of the strange and the stranger in our societies."2 Nora Cottille-Foley argues that "Dès son premier roman, Quant au riche avenir, Marie NDiaye donne à entrevoir l'expérience de cette étrangeté propre au processus de la perception."3 Shirley Jordan takes a broader view still when she invokes "la panoplie ndiayïenne de générateurs d'instabilité,"4 seeking a manner of understanding the phenomenon of strangeness in NDiaye's work that allows for more multiplicity and more diversity of conception and execution. For my part, I would like to draw the focus a bit closer, in order to concentrate on one technique among the several that Marie NDiaye typically deploys in an effort to persuade us that things are not quite what we might have imagined them to be.
In each of NDiaye's fictions, there are moments that leave us nonplussed, that flaunt the norms of narrative logic or causality that the rest of the text puts in place, unexplained and apparently unexplainable things that distinguish themselves dramatically from the narrative landscape upon which they are staged. Those moments are relatively easy to identify, since NDiaye offers them to us with playful obviousness,5 but they are difficult to theorize in a satisfactory fashion. Many of them fall somewhere between what Gerald Prince has called the unnarratable and the unnarrated,6 verging more or less on one of those categories, depending upon the case, yet never wholly reducible thereto. Some of them cannot be described in those terms however, since they are not 'events,' properly speaking. Rather, they can be conceived as textual lacunas: moments when explanation lacks, for instance, or moments that seem to be predicated upon something else that has not been furnished to us. For lack of a better way to designate them, I would like to think of those phenomena as instances of "negative narrative," imagining them as negative images of telling, ones wherein what is left unsaid is promoted to a crucial role in the process of literary signification. In what follows, I would like to [End Page 56] examine a few such instances in Marie NDiaye's work, quite briefly and in a very pragmatic manner, regarding each of them as exemplary of a broader strategy of subversion of narrative convention.
In the early pages of Un temps de saison, it quickly becomes apparent that something is very wrong indeed. That situation, in itself, is not a rare one in NDiaye's fictions; to the contrary, the worlds she constructs are each a bit off-kilter.7 In Un temps de saison, however, we are never told what occasions that strangeness, and we must fall back upon a precarious process of narrative inferencing. As we engage in that process, we look to Herman, the novel's protagonist, because the way that he finds himself benighted in the provincial village where the action is set is closely analogous to our readerly situation, and his groping attempts to understand his dilemma closely figure our own. Herman recognizes that his position in the village is a marginal one, and despite the fact that he has spent many summer vacations there, he remains very much a stranger. That otherness is suddenly amplified when for the first time he stays in the village after the notional end of the vacation period. "Peut-être n'aimaiton pas ici," Herman speculates, "que les étrangers fissent connaissance de l'automne, qui en quelque sorte ne les regardait pas, et considérait-on comme indiscrète cette immixtion dans la mystérieuse existence de l'arrière saison?"8 Has he overstayed his welcome? It is in any case the first time a Parisian vacationer has remained in the village after the end of August, and that exceptional event is duly noted by the villagers. "Herman était le premier Parisien qu'il voyait sous la pluie d'automne," remarks one young man, "et dans ce froid mordant qui ne manquait jamais de tomber ici dès le premier septembre, pour ne s'en aller qu'aux environs du quinze juin" (22-23). Moreover, that event seems to be imbricated somehow in the disappearance of Herman's wife and son—though why it might be so is a matter of conjecture.
Both events, that is, the decision to stay a while longer in the village and the disappearance of Herman's family, are starkly anomalous ones, and perhaps their affiliation resides in their anomaly. When Herman consults the police in his efforts to find his wife and son, the transgressive character of his situation is brought home to him:
Aucun villageois n'avait jamais disparu, avait affirmé le gendarme, ce que croyait Herman avec conviction. Mais il était tout autant persuadé qu'une mésaventure de ce genre n'avait jamais frappé un étranger au cœur de l'été, et, comme ils semblaient être, Rose et lui, les premiers à pénétrer dans l'automne, ils faisaient aussi, les premiers, les frais d'une expérience unique.(25)
That unique experience is largely comparable, I think, to our own readerly experience in Un temps de saison, for we too are obliged to cast about for [End Page 57] meaning in a world whose laws very largely escape us, a world that Marie NDiaye has elaborated with a view toward ensuring that we should be starkly ill-equipped for our task. It is not the first time we have encountered such a world. One thinks of Kafka, of course, and also of Beckett, and perhaps even of Robbe-Grillet. The deliberation with which NDiaye plots Herman's dilemma, and ours, is most striking indeed, however.
More than anything else, her strategy devolves upon a refusal to tell. If it becomes clear that Herman has decided to stay in the village during "la mauvaise saison" (94), the reasons for that abrupt and uncanny change in the weather are never provided. That's just how it is, as Beckett might put it. That curious state of things in Un temps de saison is constructed in the negative mode, upon the shaky narrative ground of the unsaid. We are never told, for example, why Herman's wife and son have disappeared, nor where they have gone. Though we know that his wife is named "Rose," we never learn his son's name, for he is always referred to obliquely, by epithet: "notre fils," "l'enfant," "le petit," "le garçonnet," and so forth (10, 11, 13). When a woman whom Herman has encountered offers an explanation for the disappearance of Herman's family, the notion that she advances is one that leaves Herman more bewildered still, for that notion is so utterly bald and unexplained that he cannot come to terms with it: "Pourtant Métilde, une seule et unique fois, lâcha un mot qu'Herman tourna et retourna dans son esprit sans parvenir à le lier clairement dans son esprit à son affaire mais qu'elle avait bien prononcé au sujet ce celle-ci. Elle parla de la fréquence des avatars dans cette région humide" (89).
Among all of those instances of the unexplained, one seems to trouble Herman more than the rest. When he goes to ask a neighbor if she has seen his wife and son, she receives him with a prodigious courtesy: "elle ne cessait de lui sourire et de pencher délicatement son front vers lui dès qu'il prenait la parole, dans un mouvement d'exquise urbanité qui déconcertait le professeur" (13). Her manners are "si curieusement raffinées" that Herman is disarmed (14). He encounters the same weird effect when he asks a policeman for help, when he takes his case to the town hall, and when he tells his story to a group of local people at the Hôtel Relais. "Ce peuple est si courtois," he muses, "qu'il me tient prisonnier plus sûrement que par des ordres et des interdictions" (31). Clearly enough, that courtesy is something that distinguishes the people of this provincial town from the Parisians to whom Herman is largely accustomed. Yet the politeness that the townspeople display is so exaggerated, so ill-adjusted to circumstance, so singular and insistent, that Herman cannot account for it. Moreover, it seems to have very little to do with the actual inclination [End Page 58] of the natives, for they are not especially hospitable folk, nor are they particularly eager to help Herman find his family. As the head of the local Syndicat d'Initiative puts it, "Je connais cette région, on y est d'une politesse extrême mais on n'y rend service que de la manière la plus superficielle aux étrangers" (38-39). In short, Herman finds himself in a world that he cannot fathom, despite his best efforts.9 That, more than anything else, is what drives Un temps de saison along, providing a narrative interest founded upon a failure to understand. Throughout the novel, we readers certainly share Herman's inability to come to grips with that world—unless we are willing to imagine the latter in different terms, putting our usual interpretive categories and strategies of reading into abeyance for a moment, and reading a bit otherwise.
In each of her fictions, Marie NDiaye attempts to coax her reader toward that other kind of reading, placing obstacles in her texts that make conventional manners of reading either impractical or outright impossible. Often, those obstacles devolve upon the unsaid, in unexplained and aporetic moments wherein logic breaks down. Such moments are abundant in La Sorcière, and many of them cluster around the theme of sorcery itself. Lucie, the novel's protagonist, is by her own account a poor excuse for a witch. She is very much at a loss when it comes to understanding her own powers. And in any case she feels that they are paltry ones when compared with those of her mother. That she has inherited them is something that she never doubts; and she accepts, too, that she must somehow pass them along to her twin daughters, Maud and Lise. NDiaye frames sorcery, then, as something that is matrilineal in character. Yet it is not always transmitted smoothly, for in a curious effect of alternation of generations, the powers that Lucie's mother wields and those that Lucie's daughters will eventually exercise are significantly more developed than Lucie's own. Or is it in fact Lucie's own failure—or refusal— to understand her sorcery the very thing that diminishes it? Her mother seems to have no troubles of that sort, in any case, and her daughters are eager to understand, displaying even in the early stages of their apprenticeship "un touchant désir de venir à bout de l'énigme"10 that astonishes Lucie. Granted that she is the narrator of this tale, however, her own bewilderment with regard to sorcery serves to cast that topos as something well beyond our ken, something that we readers are not equipped to understand, for reasons that are never made explicit.
The fact that witchery should be a closely-guarded secret in La Sorcière clearly lends force to that effect. In particular, men must never know what accounts for it, or how it is transmitted. Indeed when Lucie decides to initiate Maud and Lise, she chooses a site far removed from any fatherly gaze: "Nousnous [End Page 59] installions à l'abri des regards de leur père, au sous-sol. Dans cette grande pièce froide et basse, aux murs de parpaings, fierté de mon mari pour son inutilité même (vieux pots de peinture dans un coin, c'était tout), je tâchais de leur transmettre l'indispensable mais imparfaite puissance de ma lignée" (10). It is perhaps not surprising that sorcery should be wrapped in secrecy; the occult, after all, is something occulted. Yet Lucie experiences her sorcery as a shameful secret, as something that afflicts her family, rather than as a gift. Lydie Moudileno has argued persuasively that anathema plays a key role in Marie NDiaye's fiction, suggesting that a hereditary stigma is the source of Fanny's difference in En famille, and the reason for her exclusion from broader social groups.11 A similar phenomenon is at work in La Sorcière, I think, and one that is just as perplexing in terms of its origins.
The manifestations of sorcery in the novel are likewise baffling, for they are staged nakedly, and with no explanation. Taking a trip on a train with her daughters, for example, Lucie awakes to find that they have left the compartment. Looking out the window and seeing two crows flying alongside the train, she assumes that they are Maud and Lise—and so must we, given the signs that the text provides (111). Yet the "why" of that incident, and the "how" and the "whereby," are all elided in the narrative, leaving that incident to stand alone, as it were, unbuttressed by conventional logic or causality.
Things play out in the same manner when, a bit later, returning on foot to the train station with her daughters, Lucie reaches out to grasp their hands, and encounters feathered wings instead. In both cases, the way those events confound Lucie sets the terms for our own reception of them, announcing beyond doubt that the fictional world that NDiaye puts on offer here is fundamentally and crucially different from our own.
One could point out many other instances of that effect in La Sorcière. There is the moment when Lucie, during a visit to her mother, discovers a little box with a snail inside it and realizes that the snail is in fact her father, upon whom her mother has cast a spell. One thinks, too, of the way that Lucie's former neighbor Isabelle reappears in the narrative, largely transformed, and now presiding over her own "university" (153). Or of the way that Lise quite naturally "sees" that it will rain tomorrow (50). In every case, those moments come to us nakedly, with no explanation, and we must cope with them as best we can.
Perhaps the most troubling moment among all of the unexplained incidents in La Sorcière is the one when an unknown woman greets Lucie as if she knew her—or indeed as if they were somehow related. Furthermore, the moment is nicely emblematic of the sort of negative narrative that animates [End Page 60] the stories NDiaye tells. Lucie encounters that woman, merely in passing and apparently by chance, as she is walking through town, and the entire incident is cast in a patently uncanny mode:
Je coupai par le parking d'un grand magasin de meubles, traversai un quartier de vieilles maisons aux murs pelés, abandonnées quelques années auparavant, habitées de nouveau, depuis peu, par des familles émigrées de contrées que le Garden-Club proposait souvent à des clients pour leur semaine de rêve.
—Bonjour, ma sœur, dit gravement, en me croisant, une femme au long vêtement jaune.
Elle se glissa dans une maison dont le crépi tombé par plaques montrait les pans de bois pourri d'humidité. Notre pavillon du lotissement, là-bas, loin derrière les hangars et les grandes surfaces de bric-à-brac, me parut alors proscrit, confiné ridiculement dans une retraite confortable et funèbre dont Isabelle elle-même, ma véritable sœur, ne sortait pas, tournant et retournant le long de murs invisibles dans sa luxueuse voiture faite pour engloutir des routes sans fin, ou l'arpentant dans ses chaussures de course rebondissantes qui lui donnaient l'air, bien qu'elle fût lourde, de s'apprêter à l'envol.
—Bonjour, ma sœur, répondis-je, troublée.
Le vêtement jaune repassa fugitivement derrière la vitre brisée d'une petite fenêtre, au premier étage. J'entendis une voix vive et gaie, puis un grand rire de fillette. Plus haut, du linge mis à sécher dégouttait négligemment sur la façade noircie de fumée et de crasse.
J'attendis un instant devant la porte, frissonnant dans mon imperméable, espérant vaguement je ne savais quoi—que la femme ressorte, qu'elle m'apostrophe encore de cette manière si agréable, sûre d'elle et désintéressée? Pouvait-elle être, cette étrangère, ma sœur d'une façon ou d'une autre, et comment le savait-elle?(62-63)
Clearly, this event puts Lucie to the test in crucial ways because it raises a series of questions to which she can find no ready answers. By the same token, it also puts us to the test because it challenges our interpretive skills, too, and resists our efforts to come to terms with it. Who is this woman who greets Lucie so familiarly? Upon what is the sorority that she invokes founded? Why does Lucie fail utterly to recognize her, whereas she herself seems to recognize Lucie so easily? Several other things may strike us as curious here. Lucie responds to the woman's greeting in kind, for instance, and in perfect symmetry, as it were, despite the fact that she doesn't recognize her. Lucie's response is significantly delayed, moreover; she seems to utter it well after the unknown woman has disappeared into the house, well after (one might suppose) she has gone out of earshot, for immediately after that utterance (or so it would appear), Lucie perceives the "vêtement jaune" on the second floor of that house.
If Lucie's response, and the recognition of sorority that it articulates, is not based on pure courtesy, what does account for it? Why should she insist upon Isabelle as her "véritable sœur," when they seem to be linked merely by [End Page 61] effects of contiguity and situation, rather than anything more profound? Is there a kind of mirror-effect at work here, and does Lucie see something in this woman that reminds her of herself? Is it a similarity based merely on gender, or on something more distinctive still, such as ethnicity or race? Certain cues in the text, like the notion that this neighborhood is inhabited by "familles émigrées," or the insistence on the "long vêtement jaune," suggest that the latter might be the case. If so, it is not astonishing that Lucie might be troubled, because, as Michael Sheringham has pointed out, the question of race is one that makes the people in Marie NDiaye's fictional worlds extremely wary, one that they approach obliquely, if at all.12
Despite Lucie's hesitation, and despite the chariness that the encounter inspires in her, there is something in the stranger, and in the manner of her salutation, "si agréable, sûre d'elle et désintéressée," that Lucie finds deeply appealing, indeed attractive. Does it reside in that "voix vive et gaie," that quick good humor, immediately reciprocated by a "grand rire de fillette"? Or does it reside in the way that this stranger understands the sorority that she and Lucie share, "d'une façon ou d'une autre," so readily, while Lucie herself remains unenlightened?
In short, everything plays out as if there were some sort of backstory here, one of which Lucie is absolutely ignorant, but which her virtual sister takes for granted. Something is lacking, in other words, something that would serve to explain these events, rationalize them, normalize them, and enable them to take their place in a well-made tale. We recognize, of course, that telling a well-made tale is perhaps not the first among Marie NDiaye's priorities; yet we inevitably recognize, too, that she plays upon our nostalgia for well-made narration, exploiting it and turning it to her advantage in key ways.
That dynamic is very much in evidence in Autoportrait en vert, most notably when NDiaye puts the "femme en vert" on stage. NDiaye sketches that latter gesture in increments, which heightens the strangeness of that female figure, for in the first instance she seems more like an apparition than a real human being. Despite the fact that she passed by the woman's house several times a day, the novel's narrator mentions, "il m'a été longtemps impossible de distinguer entre cette présence verte et son environnement."13 The epithet is a telling one: "cette présence verte" serves neatly to camouflage this figure, whether the backdrop be the banks of the Garonne or the textual economy of Autoportrait en vert.
Je passais donc devant chez elle quatre fois par jour. Et je la regardais et ne la voyais pas, et cependant une obscure insatisfaction m'obligeait à tourner la tête de ce côté, pourtant je ne remarquais [End Page 62] rien, jamais, qu'un beau bananier insolite. Je freinais devant cette maison. Je roulais presque au ralenti et pas une seule fois mes yeux n'ont manqué de se poser sur la silhouette immobile, aux aguets, de la femme en vert debout près du bananier largement plus imposant qu'elle, et cela je le sais sans doute possible.(9)
In the first instance, then, the problem devolves upon a failure to see. Shirley Jordan has argued that that problem is a common one in Marie NDiaye's fiction, one that moreover inflects the reader's efforts to come to terms with the fictional world in significant ways.14 In this case, the narrator's failure to see prevents us from seeing; her lack of understanding ensures that we, too, should be very much at a loss to understand. She senses that there is something that draws her to this site in exceptional ways, but she cannot find words for that something:
Car j'avais, quatre fois par jour, le cœur étreint par quelque chose d'innommable quoique pas absolument mauvais, dès que j'avais dépassé la ferme au bananier solitaire dans sa cour grillagée, et il avait encore après, sur la route de l'école, dans toutes sortes de jardins de nombreux bananiers sur lesquels mon regard se portait avec la plus grande indifférence.(9)
The fact that the narrator cannot name the phenomenon that grips her underscores its uncanniness and suggests that there is something subtending it which she has failed to grasp. That anomia continues to afflict the narrator even after she has realized that her gaze had all along been attracted to a "femme en vert" standing next to the banana tree. She wonders if her inability to understand is based in fact upon an inability to name: "Mais j'ai le goût des noms et croyant que mon trouble venait de ce que j'ignorais comment s'appelaient les habitants de la ferme, je me suis renseignée. On m'a dit: 'Oh, là-bas? Ce ne sont que les X...'" (9-10). The other people in the village, quite clearly, do not share the narrator's dilemma. They have no trouble discerning the woman in green nor in naming her. Indeed, for them, she is an unremarkable part if the landscape—a consideration that comments wryly upon the narrator's initial failure to disintricate her from that landscape. Yet the name itself does not serve to enlighten the narrator, for she finds therein nothing that might help her to explain what she cannot grasp: "Il n'y avait rien à en tirer, rien à apprendre, d'un nom comme celui-là" (10). Moreover when, eventually, the woman herself tells the narrator her name, the latter remains mired in skepticism: "Je crois que la femme en vert, qui m'a dit s'appeler Katia Depetiteville, n'est pas Katia Depetiteville" (27). If even the proper name, which Roland Barthes describes as "le prince des signifiants,"15 cannot be trusted, what remains to the narrator as she labors to discover who this woman in green might be? [End Page 63]
It is important to recognize that she is the only one for whom this woman constitutes a problem. Others recognize her easily, and indeed trivially (like her neighbors), or they fail to perceive her at all (like the narrator's own children). Neither the ones nor the others are troubled by that woman; in other words, she is the narrator's problem alone. Yet we readers share that problem, inevitably, because we apprehend this fictional world through the narrator's perspective, and because Marie NDiaye has placed this obstacle squarely in our path in the very beginning of her novel, casting it such that our entire reading of the latter is conditioned by that initial interpretive impasse.16 NDiaye confronts us with something that she challenges us to understand, yet she withholds the narrative tools essential to such an understanding.
The way the narrator labors to understand the woman in green resembles our own efforts, and that analogy is vexed by ironies of different sorts. The questions that she asks herself about that woman are stylized variants of ones that we ourselves might ask. Does the woman in green recognize the narrator when she passes by in her car? Does she wait for her to appear? Is she there, in her yard, when the narrator herself is nowhere near? Is she to be understood as a living, breathing person, or rather as a phantasm serving primarily to make it impossible for the narrator to come to terms with her world? Those questions, and others like them, hover closely around the narrator, and around us readers, too. They cannot be adjudicated in any satisfactory way, and in fact everything points to the impossibility of their resolution. If one is convinced of NDiaye's seriousness of purpose (and I think that conviction is inescapable now, granted the profile of her work as a whole), one is left to conclude that she wagers upon a refusal to tell as a principal clause in the contract that she offers her reader.
A moment at the very end of Autoportrait en vert emblematizes that strategy of negative narrative in a lapidary fashion. Gazing out of the window of her house, the narrator sees a group of children in the street, among whom figure two of her own, huddling around something that she cannot initially make out. As she looks more closely however, she sees "une forme sombre, mouvante, nerveuse" (93) in their midst. That sight suffices to throw her into a panic, and she rushes down the stairs and into the street, praying that she will get there in time to avert a disaster which she feels to be imminent. When she arrives, the thing—whatever it may be—has fled, and the children exclaim, "Il était tout noir! Il s'est enfui, il est rapide!" (93). The resolution of that incident makes it clear that we have witnessed a very curious event indeed: [End Page 64]
Les enfants me demandent si je l'ai vu, si je peux leur donner le nom de ce que j'ai vu. Ils tournent vers moi leurs petites figures ensorcelées. Certains ont l'air repus, fatigués, comme des lionceaux après le festin.
—Il faut rentrer à la maison, dis-je en frissonnant. Non, je ne sais pas comment ça s'appelle. Je crois, dis-je, que ça n'a pas de nom dans notre langue.
Comme ils se taisent, je reprends:
—En vérité, je n'ai rien vu, rien du tout. De quoi s'agit-il?
Alors les enfants se regardent les uns les autres avec sérieux. Leurs lèvres sont très rouges. Sans se consulter davantage, ils prennent le parti de rester silencieux.(93)
Yet in what sense can it be said that we witnessed that event? And what, if anything, has been resolved here? Viewed as a narrative integer, the incident as a whole is vexed by a refusal to tell, a feature that guarantees its aporetic character. Several other considerations are worthy of remark. The uncanniness of the incident is heightened by the fact that it is played out against the backdrop of the familiar, of the everyday. This thing, this horla, has appeared precisely where one might least expect it, and that in itself is deeply troubling. The children's bewitched faces and the way the narrator shivers make it clear that something very exceptional has occurred, something well outside of our ken. The unnamable nature of the little beast (if such it be) is the very signature of its otherness, for the fact that language cannot provide a means of designating it ensures that it should escape from us entirely. Moreover, in quite the same perspective, the silence that the children adopt speaks eloquently: clearly enough, speech will not avail here, and some things just cannot be said.
It is legitimate to ask why Marie NDiaye might choose to end her novel on a note like this one, which frustrates our desire to know in such dramatic fashion. One feature of the incident seems to me unavoidable: if we cannot know, it is quite simply because we have not been told. Moreover, that failure to tell is an effect that recurs frequently in NDiaye's writing, a singularly privileged tool in her narrative repertory. In other terms, we may imagine the unnamable little beast that so appalls the narrator in Autoportrait en vert as skittering through all of NDiaye's fictions, in a variety of other guises. In each instance, it interrupts patterns of logic and causality, it escapes significantly from reason, and it confounds people's efforts to come to terms with it. Like the weird change of season or the politeness of the townspeople in Un temps de saison, like the witchery or the unknown woman who greets Lucie so familiarly in La Sorcière, or like the "femme en vert" herself, it is unexplained and unexplainable. Stretching a point, one might suggest what it is not, but what it might actually be is anyone's guess. Yet therein, in its patent negativity precisely, lies its power, for it obliges us to approach these texts in new [End Page 65] ways, continually reminding us of the way they claim a newness for themselves, encouraging us to see them not only for what they are, but also—and crucially—for what they are not.
1. Dominique Rabaté, Marie NDiaye (Paris: Culturesfrance/Textuel, 2008), 9.
2. K. Ambroise Teko-Agbo, "En famille or the Problem of Alterity," Ruthmarie H. Mitsch, trans., Research in African Literatures, 26:2 (1995): 163.
3. Nora Cottille-Foley, "Les Mots pour ne pas le dire ou encore l'indicibilité d'une visibilité frottée de fantastique dans les œuvres de Marie NDiaye," in Andrew Asibong and Shirley Jordan, eds., Marie NDiaye: l'étrangeté à l'œuvre, Revue des Sciences Humaines, 293 (2009): 13.
4. Shirley Jordan, "Marie NDiaye: énigmes photographiques, albums éclatés," in Asibong and Jordan, 75.
5. Walter Isle stresses the "outrageous" character of play, arguing that play must have an ostentatious character to it. See "Acts of Willful Play," in Gerald Guinness and Andrew Hurley, eds., Auctor Ludens: Essays on Play in Literature (Philadelphia: Benjamins, 1986), 63. Johan Huizinga takes a similar position when he suggests that poetry must be playfully exorbitant. See Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (Boston: Beacon, 1950), 142.
6. See Narrative as Theme: Studies in French Fiction (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1992), 28-30.
7. Marie-Claire Barnet speaks of "le sens du désarroi dans lequel NDiaye nous plonge." "Déroute d'un Autoportrait en vert (mère): vers l'errance de Marie NDiaye," in Asibong and Jordan, 159. Dominique Rabaté remarks, "Le donné initial des intrigues pose ainsi un univers insolite où quelque chose d'anormal mine insidieusement les règles de notre compréhension ordinaire" (14).
8. Un temps de saison (Paris: Minuit, 1994), 17.
9. On the idea of the "baffled protagonist," see Lydie Moudileno, "Marie NDiaye's Discombobulated Subject," Sub-Stance, 111 (2006): 86.
10. La Sorcière (Paris: Minuit, 1996), 10.
11. See "Délits, détours et affabulation: l'écriture de l'anathème dans En famille de Marie NDiaye," French Review, 71:3 (1998): 442-53.
12. See "Mon cœur à l'étroit: espace et éthique" in Asibong and Jordon: "Les personnages de NDiaye n'abordent qu'avec répugnance la question des possibles différences raciales (soit lorsque, comme Nadia, ils se sentent eux-mêmes impliqués, et honteux; soit, comme chez les personnages d'En famille ou de Mon Cœur à l'étroit qui jugent ou conseillent Fanny et Nadia, parce que l'euphémisme est une des armes les plus virulentes du préjugé). De même, les romans de NDiaye évitent souvent d'être explicites à ce sujet, s'en tenant au point de vue du personnage et déplaçant ainsi la différence et l'exclusion vers des signes extérieurs physiques qui peuvent suggérer diverses formes de marginalisation" (171-72).
13. Autoportrait en vert (Paris: Mercure de France, 2005), 9.
14. See Jordan: "Plus radicalement, nous pouvons déceler chez NDiaye le thème récurrent d'une défaillance de la vision (on n'y voit plus clair; on n'y croit plus à ses yeux) qui déroute le protagoniste en train de perdre ses repères, et le lecteur en train de chercher les siens" (68-69).
15. See Roland Barthes, "Analyse textuelle d'un conte d'Edgar Poe," in Claude Chabrol, ed., Sémiotique narrative et textuelle (Paris: Larousse, 1973), 34.
16. See Dominique Rabaté: "L'énergie romanesque qui habite chacun des textes mène à une sorte d'impasse. La logique narrative, qui a suivi sa course en obéissant au développement de la situation initiale, bute sur l'aporie originaire dont elle était issue" (38). [End Page 66]