- Maryse Condé and West Indian Complexity:The Writing of Monstrosity, Postcolonial Comparativism, and Cannibalistic Intertexualities
The work of Maryse Condé is situated at the confluence of the principal preoccupations of West Indian and diasporan postcolonial studies, with her writing positioned as the locus of intertextual encounters where the modality of transgression presides over the reestablishment of a new diasporan imaginary. In Sign of Dissent: Maryse Condé and Postcolonial Criticism, Dawn Fulton sees in her work the illustration of a transnational writing in conversation with several cultural and linguistic registers. Gregson Davis situated Aimé Césaire at the intersection of Western modernity and the black renaissance and his work comes as the erudite reading of one who is versed in classical letters and sheds light on the understanding of Césaire’s writing from new, heretofore unexplored perspectives. Following in the footsteps of Davis’s study, Fulton reinstates the postcolonial text as a place of encounters and the reinvention of literary traditions and several disciplines, from postcolonial translation studies to Anglo-American critical theory as well as postcolonial theory and Antillean francophone literature. Translation thus offers a greater visibility for this francophone writing that drinks from the well of the Anglo-American intertext (Fulton 146).
In order to grasp the full dimension of Condé’s writing, in particular, and of Caribbean literature, in general, criticism must borrow an approach that attends to the dialogic connections that subvert linguistic or national constraints. Kathleen Gyssels, in Passes et impasses dans le comparatisme postcolonial caribbéen: Cinq traverses, [End Page 177] adopts such an outlook in order to detect the textual interactions that are woven throughout the different imaginaries of the Caribbean. The inventory of sites of crystallization of a Pan-Caribbean imaginary reveals a writing of monstrosity and an aesthetic of the baroque belonging to the category of the carnivalesque. The carnival, that motley vessel of traces of Africa and vestiges of the Western imaginary, illustrates, through exaggeration, the complexity of the Caribbean identity found in Maryse Condé, mythe, parable et complexité by Deborah Hess. Faced with linguistic isolation, whether national or cultural, the porosity of the baroque, celebrated by Glissant, Danticat, or the eulogists of Creolity, emerges as commonplace in the imaginaries of the Caribbean. The aesthetic of the carnival allows a better understanding of the failure of the quests for identity that are sought in a mythical Africa by characters in works by Condé, Simone Schwarz-Bart, and Myriam Warner-Vyera. In Rewriting the Return to Africa: Voices of Francophone Caribbean Women Writers, Anne M. François touches on these fruitless voyages as a search for the father. Nicole Simek, in Eating Well, Reading Well: Maryse Condé and the Ethics of Interpretation, places those dystopic returns within the framework of the subversion of exemplary models that we find at the heart of Condé’s oeuvre.
Monsters in the House of the Father
A tortured genealogy binds together the literary project that Condé patiently constructs, beginning with Hérémakhonon. It seems to me that one of the foundational moments of this novelistic architecture is Ségou, the novel-testimony of the disintegration of the walls of the Africa that is made mythic in the lyrical chants of Négritude, for the disintegration of identity introduces a break in genealogical order. The destruction of the kingdom of Ségou allows Condé to offer a clear exposure of the artificiality of the parades of identity that are strung together by “return to Africa” aficionados...