- Architextural Authenticity: Constructing Literature and Literary Identity in the French Caribbean by Jason Herbeck
As Jason Herbeck observes, colonization and racialized slavery created an ‘epic dilemma of identity’ in the French Caribbean (p. 3), with authenticity at the heart of that dilemma. Although some French Caribbean authors and literary theorists have lamented the supposed lack of truly Caribbean literature for decades, Herbeck’s monograph ‘seeks to demonstrate, by way of the region’s vibrant literature of the past half-century, that endeavors of authenticity are not implausible’ (p. 28), even within the limitations of the ‘Colonocene’, an epoch defined by the irrecoverable loss of a way of life that existed before European colonialism. He accomplishes this by reading a handful of texts from Haiti, Martinique, and Guadeloupe, published between 1958 and 2014, both for architecture (the trope of the house) and architexture (a Genettian term for the meta-textual construction of texts). Chapter 1 uses the Haitian Gingerbread house — a form of vernacular architecture, ‘a composite work in progress’ (p. 37), whose authenticity is derived from its response to specific local conditions — to illustrate the principles of vernacular architexture, the dynamic construction of regional literature and literary identity. It also understands the tropes of the house as ‘living structure’ (p. 49) or ‘active character’ (p. 51) and neighbourhood as ‘cogent witness’ to the region’s struggles (p. 53), in fiction by Yanick Lahens, Évelyne Trouillot, and Patrick Chamoiseau. Chapter 2 contends that in Édouard Glissant’s La Lézarde, the taking of the Maison de la Source, a symbol of multiple origins, and the construction of the narrative itself, drawn from both myths and archives, rights/writes the ‘faulted house’ of a ‘troubled, fragmented Caribbean experience’ (p. 107). Chapter 3 asserts that in Maryse Condé’s Crossing the Mangrove, the Propriété Alexis and Condé’s own writing, like the departmentalized Guadeloupe, are postcolonial structures haunted by the ghost of (neo-)colonialism. Chapter 4 posits the Maison des Flamboyants in Daniel Maximin’s L’Île et une nuit as a Caribbean architectural archetype, built to withstand hurricanes, and the narrative itself as an architextural blueprint for Caribbean literary production, designed paradoxically to withstand the assault of external intertextual influences by remaining strategically open to them. Chapter 5 treats two post-earthquake works by Lahens: Failles and Guillaume et Nathalie. Taken in tandem, the two constitute a literature of reconstruction, a ‘blueprint for [.. .] reassessment and rebuilding in Haiti’ and ‘an example of the very types of reconstruction of which it speaks’ (p. 229). In this volume, Caribbean architecture, both real and fictional, provides a vivid visual representation that renders the complexities and abstractions of Caribbean architexture more concrete and accessible. Although Herbeck’s exhaustive review of the literature is [End Page 505] distracting at times, his own analysis is consistently inventive and interesting. Admirably, it manages to make an original, insightful contribution to a crowded field of work on French Caribbean literary identity.