- “There is Something”: Charlie Galibert’s Corsica
Corsica writes itself alone, alone it reads itself. Where am I on this Moebius strip, where I can guess the time that trembles under the transparent skin of the island, and where I can see, on this same skin, the prosaic and magical theater of a thousand emotional tattoos, other forms and forces of existence, a scene upon a scene, upon which play the flaming shadows of the villagers as, sunlike, they stand upright and yet incline towards the mystery? Qualcosa c’hè [there is something]—Charlie Galibert (2004b:145)1
French anthropologist Didier Fassin has recently complained that the “predominant epistemological position” of his discipline in France remains oriented towards remoteness and structure, leaving “little space for the ethnography of nearby, heterogeneous, changing societies” (2006:2). Charlie Galibert’s evocative studies of the Corsican village of Sarrola-Carcopino (see especially 2004a, 2004b, 2008) produce a welcome disturbance to this intellectual landscape. Galibert’s work engages with Corsica, France’s most prominent “internal other,” not as a structural invariant, but as a complex, heterogeneous, and shifting historical entity. While his principal focus is on one village, Galibert’s work radically reshuffles the venerable tradition of community studies, crafting a complex and multi-vocal account which doubles up as a powerful anthropological meditation on identity, difference, and place. [End Page 525]
How does one describe a village? Like many commentators on Corsica before him and since (Lenclud 1979, Ravis-Giordani 1983, Candea 2007), Galibert encountered the difficulty of producing a monographic account of a Corsican village: any attempt at a meaningful totalization comes up against the twin problems of internal differentiation and external extensions (Galibert 2005). Others who faced this difficulty have resolved it through new geographic typologies (Geronimi 1983; cf. Galibert 2004b:65), or simply eschewed the project of describing the village itself as a meaningful place, turning it instead into an “arbitrary location” in which to pursue other traces (Candea 2007, 2010). By contrast, Galibert made the difficult choice of staying with the village despite its external extensions and internal multiplicities. Eschewing the monographic mode, and echoing the “polyphony” characteristic of Corsican singing (2004b:142), Galibert has produced a “polygraphy” of the Corsican village of Sarrola-Carcopino, which seeks to approach it as an anthropological place, through repeated and diverse returns.
In his first book, La Corse, une Ile et le monde, Galibert (2004a) turns the village inside-out, tracing the extension of one phenomenological place across time and space. The book unravels and reassembles the village of Sarrola-Carcopino through a minute examination of the letters of one of its inhabitants, turned French colonial officer at the turn of the 20th century. Taking us from South-East Asia to the Sudan via Madagascar, Galibert’s account traces the extended and multi-sited coherence of one village “carried within oneself to the end of the world” (2004a:45), showing how letters from thousands of miles away keep alive the minute work of kinship and locality. Guide non touristique d’un village corse (2004b) provides a more personal reflection on the village of Sarrola-Carcopino drawn from the many years of Galibert’s own residence there, which doubles as an experiment in anthropological epistemology and a deep meditation on the possibility of an insider-outsider perspective. This short book is written in multiple voices, alternating the poetic with the theoretical, weaving intertextually in and out of long quotations. The result is in the image of the village it describes: multiple, evocative, and full of internal resonances. Galibert’s following book, Sarrola 14–18 (2008), further extended the village historically as well as geographically through a detailed, phenomenologically-informed historiography of World War I’s interface with Corsica, and with Sarrola-Carcopino in particular. The village itself and its continuity through time are traced in a long chapter (2008:131–175) which acts [End Page 526] as the temporal axis along which the specific lives and deaths of 1914–1918 gather their meaning. Taken together, Galibert’s accounts of Sarrola-Carcopino show poignantly how the coherence and power of village and islander identity are achieved in the very multiplicity of perspective, how...