- Architextual Authenticity: Constructing Literature and Literary Identity in the French Caribbean by Jason Herbeck
With Architextual Authenticity: Constructing Literature and Literary Identity in the French Caribbean, Jason Herbeck offers an insightful and innovative contribution to discussions of identity formation in the literature of Haiti, Martinique and Guadeloupe. Herbeck's nuanced close readings of recent works by writers from the region and comparative approach to studying French Caribbean literature and cultures are two of the book's greatest strengths. They make Architextual Authenticity a compelling intervention into two complex questions: firstly, how can "authentic" Caribbean identities be constructed in light of the region's diasporic roots in the Middle Passage? Secondly, despite the absence of an original "French Caribbean culture," how do writers from the former French colonies craft an Antillean literary specificity that neither reproduces French metropolitan literature (with a bit of exotic couleur locale), nor idealizes lost African roots (as Césaire has been accused of in his theorization of négritude)? Herbeck explores these questions, as the book's title indicates, through an examination of the literary theme of architecture—studying works in which houses allegorize Caribbean identity construction—and through these works' architexture, the "meta-textual construction of texts" (10)—in this case, their references to and engagement with previous works of French Caribbean literature.
In the introduction, Herbeck frames this approach in relation to the "Colonocene," through a discussion of francophone postcolonial theory—including a broad discussion of these issues by writers like Albert Memmi as [End Page 121] well as more specifically by the theorists of antillanité and créolité, and in light of recent scholarship on French Caribbean identity and narratological and formal aspects of postcolonial literature in French. The first chapter serves as an extension of the introduction. Through an exploration of the Haitian Gingerbread house, it lays out how architecture can serve as a lens for examining the construction of French Caribbean identity. Specifically, Herbeck analyzes writing that attempts to pinpoint the Haitian specificity of this architectural style that draws on European traditions (Victorian and French). One interesting moment is the discussion of the implications of the decline of "authentic" architecture in post-earthquake Haiti in light of the ongoing intervention of NGOs. Herbeck subsequently applies this exploration of literal structures to close readings of literary structures in short stories by Haitian writers Yanick Lahens and Evelyne Trouillot.
This approach frames the close readings found in the second through fifth chapters of Architextual Authenticity, each of which studies a different writer. Chapter two focuses on Edouard Glissant's La Lézarde (1958), adding a case study of the Maison de la Source to the existing body of scholarship on the writer's landscapes and shedding new light on the way the author reflects on Martinican identity in the wake of the 1946 departmentalization of the French Antilles. In chapter three, Herbeck considers Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé's seminal Traversée de la mangrove (1989), and in particular the Propriété Alexis inhabited by Francis Sancher before his death. Herbeck's discussion of Condé's multiethnic and multicultural representation of Guadeloupe is particularly interesting where he discusses Condé's debate with créoliste Patrick Chamoiseau, and in his reading of Traversée's intertextual relationship with Haitian writer Jacques Stephen Alexis's Gouverneurs de la rosée (1944). The fourth chapter offers an extended discussion of the Maison des Flamboyants in Daniel Maximin's L'Île et une nuit (1995), arguing Condé's Traversée is a "latent intertext" (173) with Maximin's novel. Herbeck convincingly reads the porous structure of the Maison des Flamboyants—which initially helps it withstand the onslaught of a hurricane—as a metaphor for Caribbean identity construction as an open, flexible and ongoing process. It is, he writes, "necessary to consider the concept of resistance in L'Île as a vital process of negotiation rather than as unconditional opposition to or outright obstruction of external influences" (202). The fifth and final chapter returns to the context of post-earthquake Haiti evoked in the first chapter...