- Marie NDiaye: Inhospitable Fictions by Shirley Jordan
The well-known and critically acclaimed contemporary French novelist and playwright Marie NDiaye published her first novel Quant au riche avenir in 1985 at the age of eighteen and won the Prix Goncourt for her novel Trois femmes puissantes in 2009. In this monograph, Shirley Jordan focuses her exploration in an admirably sharp and focused manner on the problem of hospitality as it arises again and again across NDiaye's œuvre, arguing (convincingly, to my mind) that in the author's 'determinedly negative display, her imagining of hospitality's impossibility' (p. 117), NDiaye's fictional and theatrical work presents the reader or spectator with a series of remarkable opportunities to grapple seriously — not only at an intellectual level, but also at an emotional and a political one — with the question of what it might mean to welcome the other or the stranger into one's space in a way that is neither abandoning, nor suffocating, nor cannibalistic. Jordan conceives of this challenge — which NDiaye's protagonists almost always fail to pull off — along a series of fascinating axes. Situating her discussion of the (often traumatic) interface between 'guest' and 'host' in a complex yet highly readable theoretical framework informed by Derrida, Irigaray, Levinas, and Zizek, Jordan goes on to home in on a number of specific situations as they recur in NDiaye: the stranger (or foreigner) who languishes on the threshold of the abusive host's territory; the inhumane treatment of the subject construed as (or actually) non-human; the (frequently sexualized) violation and vampirism enacted on vulnerable characters in need of nourishment and protection; and the painfully 'inhospitable' mother-son relationship. In the final chapter, Jordan shifts from textual analysis to a more reader- and market-informed discussion, to consider NDiaye's writing itself as an object of inhospitality (in the cultural and critical landscape within which it finds itself picked apart, projected onto, and sometimes misrepresented) and as the inhospitable literary home of a myriad of truly marginalized and maltreated characters. Jordan's achievement is remarkable. Covering a wide range of NDiaye's fictions and plays, but giving particularly impressive and truly original consideration to Rien d'humain, La Naufragée, Rosie Carpe, Un temps de saison, Mon cœur à l'étroit, Trois femmes puissantes, and Ladivine, Jordan also engages with much of the (voluminous) body of critical writing in both French and English dedicated to NDiaye, from the 1990s to the present day. The reader emerges from Jordan's analysis somewhat humbled by such sustained exposure to a scholarly voice that attempts truly to put into practice its chosen theme of ethical hospitality towards its subject. Careful not to project identities or intentions onto NDiaye in a way that might make of the author precisely the sort of vessel or victim whose fate she so frequently depicts, Jordan instead treads a responsible path of balanced observation, suggesting, in the final chapter, that our supreme challenge when confronted with NDiaye — this paradoxical, post-national, and often unrecognizable literary entity — is to read her hospitably.