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Anamnesis and Utopia: Self-Portrait of the Web Maker in A l’autre bout de moi

Must I still seek the last happiness on blessed isles and far away between forgotten seas? But all is the same, nothing is worthwhile, no seeking avails, nor are there any blessed isles any more.

Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

For it is man who creates for himself the image of woman, and woman forms herself according to this image.

Nietzsche, The Gay Science

From Plato’s Atlantis to Michel Tournier’s Speranza, islands have been a topos, a rhetorical device used by writers to create a fictional environment, to inspire a visionary or romantic imagination. Since Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) the myth of an idyllic place where a new vision can take shape and a new order develop has often been linked to the idea of islands: the ou-topia being that nonexistent topos, the perfect (eu-topia) island. Writers as diverse as Shakespeare, Swift, Defoe, Rousseau, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Samuel Butler, George Sand, and Aldous Huxley have used the concept for satirical as well as mythical purposes.

For Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, the inspiration stemmed from the discovery of a real island and subsequent travel there: Paul et Virginie takes place in Mauritius. George Sand’s Indiana, on the other hand, was inspired by the journals of her Berrichon friend, Jules Néraud, who had traveled extensively to the French islands of the Indian Ocean, Madagascar, Mauritius, and Reunion (then known as Ile Bourbon, the setting of Indiana). Real or fictional, islands have been the objects of many mythologies, creations of the romances and fantasies of the (mostly male) European literary imagination since the time of Plato.

It is in this sense that islands are like women: their realities are masked behind the social and political constructs of history, the tales and legends of the first explorers and their contemporaries. The mythologizing of islands took on new dimensions with the Renaissance seafaring explorations, which marked the beginning of the European colonial era. The island colonies were visited, settled, and traded like pawns in the game of colonialist expansion. After wars the colonial powers fought among themselves and treaties they signed with each other, the islands were finally abandoned. The many name changes of the colonies amply testify to the plurality of their political affiliations, becoming a kind of palimpsest of their multiple identities. Today, the masking continues even more thoroughly with the advent of mass tourism. Colorful travel brochures about “tropical paradises” are the staple of our winter dreams in snowbound Paris or New York. The Club Med myth of “sun-sex-sand”1 is alive and well in Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mauritius, Reunion, or Tahiti. One of the slogans the Club Mediterranée has used to advertise itself, “the antidote to civilization,” is a phrase which would certainly have amused Nietzsche, who claims in Beyond Good and Evil that “tropical man” is indeed the antidote to “moral” or “temperate,” that is, “civilized” man.2

For Nietzsche, tropical man is “natural” man, but not in the sense of Rousseau’s “bon sauvage,” who represents a return to the original goodness of innate morality. Nietzsche’s tropical man is sheer vitality and power: he is the one who can transcend morality, in order to live beyond or on the margins of the democratic, liberal society, which is but the triumph of “herd-animalization.”3 This tropical man, according to Nietzsche, has been fundamentally misunderstood by the mediocre and the moralists: they see in him only the projection of their own inner state of morbidity, a product of Judeo-Christian beliefs and attitudes.4 The moralists are those, like the timid and the weak, who have been subjected to the influence of culture, the violent dressage of the mind, which constitutes the “disease” of civilization. For the prophet Zarathustra, who celebrates laughter and wanders among islands, these moralists are the “good,” are “pharisees” who must be overcome by the creators of new values. In his search for new values, Zarathustra visits his “blessed isles,” which include the “isle of tombs” where he looks back on his past and on the “murdered” visions of his youth, and the “isle of fire,” a volcanic island where he expounds on the earth’s “skin diseases,” “man” and the “fire hound.”5

Nietzschean Self-Portraiture

Using Nietzsche’s insights into the repressive influence of Western culture and adopting many of his metaphors, Marie-Thérèse Humbert proceeds in her first book, A l’autre bout de moi, to deconstruct the utopias of Western imagination, its mythologies about tropical islands and about women. Born and raised in Mauritius (which is a tropical, volcanic island), she writes about her youth, her past, and her country. To do so is necessarily to confront images both of women and of islands and to unmask the realities behind centuries of rhetoric. Her work exposes the debilitating myths that obscure the unpleasant facts of life in any colonial environment with its rigidly defined social roles. As we shall see, she proposes a demystification of those myths while attempting to create another kind of utopia: one in which the island is no longer a construct, a spectacle, and an object of male imagination, but becomes the paradigm for a polysemic female subject who speaks up and discloses the conflicts and contradictions of her historical situation. Her work seems to answer—avant la lettre— the questions formulated by Alice Jardine in Gynesis. Jardine concludes by asking: “Are there not ways in which feminism, as concept and practice, might be productively redefined in light of the new conceptual paths cleared by the texts of modernity? Do those paths not offer new directions with which women can link up with other minorities within and against the dominant Western conceptual systems?”6 In a footnote to that passage, Jardine adds: “I use the word “minorities” here in the Deleuzian sense—i.e., those who are fighting for their survival under the majority rule of the Western-white-male-heterosexual-adult.” As a creole woman writer and professor of French literature, Humbert stands at the intersections of those dominant conceptual systems with the “real world” problems of colonialism, racism, and sexism. As I shall make clear through Deleuzian and Derridian readings of Nietzsche, her autobiographical narrative dramatizes the process of becoming “woman” and “maternal,” that is, the process of becoming a writer.

Published in 1979 as a novel, A l’autre bout de moi is a first-person narrative and a kind of schizophrenic self-portrait, the story of a dédoublement. Its main protagonists, the twin sisters Anne and Nadège Morin, figure as a two-faced, Janus-like, incarnation of the author herself. Like Janus, the Roman god of gates, Humbert’s narrator—and, by extension, her island—stands at the crossroads with one face looking to the East and the other to the West. The narrative is Humbert’s story as well as the story of Mauritius and its diverse ethnic groups. It ends with a utopian vision of Anne, the Catholic, mētis narrator, and her Indian lover-to-be, Aunauth Gopaul, as the mixed-race couple who might perhaps harmonize East and West and live beyond the racial prejudices of the island: “If I were to have children, and I hoped to, they would be able to come back here. . . . they could daydream while gazing at both Angel Gabriel and Vishnu, who would continue smiling at each other in this paradise of glass.”7

Anne is referring here to the Chinese shopkeeper’s store window, a recurring topos of the narrative. Thematically, it is a matrix for the major metaphors of the text. With its bric-a-brac of incongruous objects, the shop is a magical place for the twin sisters and a haven of cultural diversity: “There, statues of the Virgin stand side by side with benevolent fat Buddhas. Sometimes even Civa stretches out his multiple arms, as if trying out the poses best suited to his dignity; or Vishnu, asleep on his snake, gets ready to turn into one of his incredible avatars, while Saint George, armor-plated in his coat of mail, crushes a dragon whose forked red tongue lashes fire. Such marvels for children not favored by fortune! (62).

Christian and Oriental symbols tolerantly coexist in this “paradise” that knows no hierarchies. It is the narrator’s metaphor for a unique but idealized microcosm, the multicultural society of Mauritius, a paradoxical country that manages to survive the political storms of history by combining opposite tendencies and allowing them to thrive, while finding for itself “a strange foundation supported by contrary winds” (370). Such a view is part reality, part mythmaking, the kind of utopian vision that can inspire a sense of positive belonging to the inhabitants of that microcosm, since, as Robert Sayre expresses it, “utopia, in a nonmystical, secular society, has almost the status of religion—the one source of the myths of the ends of life.”8

The narrative incorporates the personal history, the self-portraits of the various protagonists: the members of Anne’s mētis family, the Morins; Lydia, the abortionist; Mme Marget, the dutiful bigot; the Indians, Sassita and Aunauth Gopaul; the white boy friend, Pierre; and the French Marxist doctor, Paul Roux, whose utopian political theorizing is the ferment, the catalyst, that eventually enables Anne to imagine a different future. The embedded self-portraits of these characters are narrated directly or indirectly in Anne’s text. By allowing their heterogeneous discourses to take center stage, the author encodes diversity within the narrative text, giving the reader an inside and very private view of those who are normally ignored or silenced by official, public history. Each of the characters is placed in the position of (unreliable) narrator whose perspective on the others proves limited and incomplete. But when brought together in the narrative, these points of view provide “a series of very short vignettes, all of them meaningful, yet incongrous” (239), a multifaceted picture of reality in that microcosm.

Ostensibly, Anne writes and re-creates past events in an attempt both to understand her sociocultural situation, as mediated by the chorus of voices emerging in her memory, and to examine her choices for the future. Consequently, her recollections are inseparable from an ultimate visionary dimension, for, as Sayre says, “there is no new image of the future without a corresponding new image of the individual, including [her] image of [her] past.”9 In this case, the individual’s image of her past is by no means static. It is a series of kaleidoscopic vignettes, which are allowed to interface and interact. Put another way, the narrator’s past is “a locus of cross-references, . . . differential perceptions:” it is a relational construct derived from “a given element[’s] . . . difference from other elements, and ultimately from an implicit comparison of it with its own opposite.”10 This quotation from Fredric Jameson, who thus summarizes the concept of binary oppositions as used in the structuralist method, aptly describes Humbert’s technique: her text incorporates the use of a series of contrasting elements; aspects of one culture echo those of another, and characters tend to be paired off as mirror images, opposites of each other (the twin sisters, the mother and Sassita, Paul Roux and Aunauth Gopaul, the father, Philippe, and his brother Andre, and so on). Furthermore, these pairs exist in homologous, but polyvalent relationships with each other. It is from the interaction of these doubles and the new pairs they generate (Anne and her mother, Nadège and Sassita, Anne and André, Nadège and Philippe, Anne and Paul, Nadège and Aunauth) that a changing but progressively conclusive picture of the past can begin to emerge.

Ironically, this book is also the story of a road not taken, a choice not made, a dream unfulfilled: in point of actual fact the author lives in France, was married to a Frenchman active in local politics, and has five (French) children. When she planned to return to Mauritius, hoping to collaborate on the movie version of her book, threats were made against her life, and the movie project seems to have been abandoned. It is not safe to expose the illusions of a small tropical nation. “Tropical man,” to return to Nietzsche’s phrase, can be just as self-righteous as “civilized man” in his efforts to hold on to his mythologies.

On one level, the novel is a romantic melodrama, worthy of any nineteenth-century Bildungsroman, with a “romantic” heroine, Anne, and a “tragic” one, Nadège. In that theme of the twins, of the doppelgänger, is also a direct allusion to Michel Tournier’s Méteores, which was published a few years earlier, in 1975. But hidden, dissimulated under that surface structure as traditional narrative, is a complex self-portrait that undermines the very notion of “heroine” and that conforms in all points to Michel Beaujour’s rhetorical analy sis of that genre in Miroirs d’encre.11 Instead of reading the novel as another avatar of nineteenth-century realism in a colonial frame, we can therefore situate it in another tradition, that of a tropological “écriture inachevée [unfinished writing],” the tradition of self-portraiture which Beaujour traces from Montaigne to Roland Barthes by way of Bacon, Nietzsche, Michel Leiris, and others. But we can go a step farther than Beaujour. In his analysis, only a nonlinear, fragmented text qualifies as “self-portrait.” Here, however, we have both a linear narrative and a fragmented self-portrait, which enter into dialogue with each other, engaging in what Abdelkebir Khatibi, the Moroccan philosopher, calls an “entretien en abyme.”12 This elusive dialogue, which is extremely hard to elucidate, constructs the narrative in the very gap, the very space where it has deconstructed the identity of the female heroines while reconstructing that identity as female writer or self-portraitist (in other words, we are moving from woman as tragic or romantic heroine to woman as writing subject and agent of discourse).

Indeed, the names of the heroines, Anne and Nadège, when pronounced together, quickly, and with the vernacular creole accent of the island, phonetically sound like “anamnèse”: Anne-Nadège or [anade3] becomes “ananèse” or [ananεz] since one of the main characteristics of creole pronounciation is to soften all consonants and to change the alveolar fricatives into dentals, that is, the [3] sound into a [z] sound. Anne thus literally figures as “the one who returns” (ana-) and Nadège, as her “memory” (-mnesis), or previous self. This book would then figure as Humbert’s journey back to her native island and to her previous selves, as embodied by Anne and Nadège. We thus have a perfect illustration of what Derrida says in Glas: “The dialectic of language, of the tongue [langue], is dialectophagy;” and “A text ‘exists/ resists, consists, represses, lets itself be read or written only if it is worked (over) by the illegibility of a proper name.”13 Here, the “proper names” of the heroines point to the very lack of “proper name” and identity for the mētis woman writer who must live, and attempt to create her self-portrait in the interval between patriarchal cultures and colonial heritages.

It may be useful to recall again Memmi’s and Fanon’s pronouncements about the generalized cultural amnesia of colonized peoples. By contrast, we have in this narrative an anamnesis in all the senses of the term (which clearly relates Humbert’s view of history to Zora Neale Hurston’s, as discussed in Chapter 3). Let me explain this by turning briefly to etymology: the word anamnesis is from the Greek ana-, “back again” or “up,” -mneme, “memory,” and the suffix -sis, “process”: the process of re-membering. This word has a variety of meanings depending on the context. Webster’s definitions include the following: in Platonism, it is the recollection of the Ideas the soul had known in a previous existence; in psychiatry, it is a case history as recounted by the patient; and in Catholic liturgy, it is a prayer in the Eucharistic service recalling the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ. All these meanings are useful to the understanding of Humbert’s text, which elaborates a complicated and poly-semic set of implicit correspondences between the Platonic meaning and the Hindu notion of metempsychosis, or reincarnation; between Christ’s immolation and Nadège’s fate; and between the Nietzschean/Freudian/Lacanian notions of Aufhebung and the construction of the narrative.14 Once we understand how the word anamnesis can be derived from the creole vernacular, we can use it as model for reading and interpreting the text. The vernacular paradigm becomes, to use Chambers’s term again, an instance of “situational self-reflexivity” through which the text encodes its own theory of reading, its own way of producing meaning.15 In other words, Humbert’s text contains en abyme its own mode of interpretation, and it is the vernacular paradigm that can help us generate that interpretation. We can now draw from the text those Nietzschean elements that emphasize its dual generic status. In what follows, I want to show how the textual layers allow for this double reading.

Becoming “Woman” and “Maternal”

The Prologue, which frames the narrative, corresponds to the here and now of the narration—the exile in Paris—and is echoed, in the body of the text, by two other such temporal instances where the past and the present are telescoped into each other: Anne interrupts the thread of the story to reflect on her reasons for writing and on the experience that triggered her narrative impulse. She lived that Parisian exile as a numbing episode: “The Sorbonne where I used to listen to those grave men full of the same learned words as Paul Roux, . . . with the same serious look, this gaze which renders you anonymous and insignificant. I liked that gaze because it stripped me of my very name” (316). The episode is a salutary one, however, since it proved to be the motivation she needed to face the past: “In the labyrinth where I was lost, I stubbornly tried to look for the thread that would take me back to the old country of my childhood” (313). To re-create the past is a defensive need, an attempt to give depth and dimension to her childhood world negated by the present reality of Paris. Anne-Ariadne, having abandoned her island, finds herself writing in order to bring both her island and her dead sister, her “second departed self” back to life, recalling “real life, the one which awaits me, . . . very far away from Paris, from the subway which I take like a zombie, from the Latin Quarter where I am just another foreigner” (316).16 It is this decentering experience of absence and fragmentation which generates her narrative discourse. Words are needed to thematize “this overflowing past, bubbling over like a flooded river” (315), and to elaborate the discursive universe where the narrator can begin to confront and overcome the past. (This Heraclitean image of the “river” strongly connotes the sheer energy of rememoration as well as the fluctuating perspectives of memory, the relativism of individual or cultural standpoints, as represented in the book.)

The phenomenon of depersonalization, absence, and loss experienced by Anne in Paris is, according to Michel Beaujour’s rhetoric of the self-portrait, the symptom that defines and inaugurates that literary “genre”: “The inaugurating experience of the self-portraitist is one of emptiness and absence.”17 We have seen that A l’autre bout de moi exhibits the characteristic traits of that “genre” while maintaining, on a superficial level, the appearance of a traditional, linear narrative. The narrative thread allows Anne to find her way in the maze of memory. But her efforts at self-portrayal lead her to reconstruct the whole cultural world that was hers, and yet was not hers, because she could never belong to it: being a métisse puts her in a marginal situation with respect to all the ethnic groups represented in her text. The exile in Paris brings home (so to speak) the dilemma inherent in her condition of métisse. It cruelly confirms her feelings of ambiguity and instability, her existence condemned to the periphery, to limbo. Her discursive effort of memory, therefore, does not aim to reestablish a lost “identity.” Instead, it is a rhetorical device used to create a series of paradigms homologous to that “departed self”: Anne, Nadège, Mauritius, the Chinese shop and the verbal corpus of the book are isotopic and can be substituted for one another. This system of correspondences and analogies is, to quote Beaujour, the organizing principle of the “autoportrait:” The self-portrait “tries to constitute its own coherence through a system of recalls, repetitions, superimpositions or correspondences among substitutable and homologous units”. That is why the verbal constructions that mimic and simulate the processes of memory are a matrix for structures, figures, and topoi by means of which the writer recalls, stages, and transcends the past and her own individuality: “The writing process . . . produces the mimesis of a . . . kind of anamnesis which could be called ‘metempsychosis’: at any rate, this is a type of memory both very archaic and very modern by which the events of an individual life are eclipsed by the recollection of an entire culture, thus creating a paradoxical form of self-effacement” (this process being that of Aufhebung itself). It is therefore not surprising, Beaujour goes on, that one of the “figures” that most frequently structures meaning in the “autoportrait” is that of Christ at the moment of his death. We saw that that was indeed the case with Augustine who identifies, in the ninth book of his Confessions, with the figure of Christ resuscitated. Such is also the case with Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo, which highlights “the relation between the self-portrait and the Incarnation and the Resurrection,” and which contains “in [its] center a microcosm of the literary corpus of [its] author.”18

In Anne’s narrative, the process of écriture enacts the narrator’s “paradoxical form of self-effacement,” first by creating the paradigmatic chain of substitutions between Anne, Nadège, the island, and the book. Then the death of Nadège casts her in the role of a female Antichrist, immolated because of her sister’s (her island’s) intolerance, sacrificed to the narrow Christian values of the white society to which Anne was striving to belong. Finally, after her death, Nadège is resurrected in the person of Anne: a substitution occurs, Anne undergoes a metamorphosis. She is compelled to assume Nadège’s place as Aunauth’s lover and to espouse Nadège’s point of view on the illusory nature of her own Apollonian or Western quest for a stable ground to subjectivity.

A l’autre bout de moi, unlike Ecce Homo for Nietzsche, is a first book. But it, too, contains a “microcosm” in its center. I would even argue that the novel is really the island’s self-portrait, not just Anne’s, since the book re-creates textually a panorama of life in preindependence Mauritius. The island, like the female autograph of the story, writes itself into literary history, inscribing its mosaic of points of view and its fragments of diverse cultures into the existing corpus of traditional writings about islands. The island thus manages to insert itself into an ancient genre of writing (the object of which it had been), adopting the same rhetorical devices and sign systems, but using those to articulate a different vision, to invent new kinds of subjectivities.

The relationship between Anne and Nadège, between the two faces of Janus as textual persona of the author, is a complex one. The two sisters initially choose to adhere to two different traditions, both of which are an integral part of themselves, since they are sang-mêlé, mixed-bloods, whose nonwhite ancestry is a heavy liability in a colonial society that keeps a meticulous count of every element in each person’s pedigree. Nadège, the face that looks to the East, overcomes that which in her colonial culture, in herself, contributes to labeling métissage almost a “skin disease.” Anne, on the other hand, must be cruel to the point of murder toward her sister (or the sister in herself), because she prefers to be the face that looks to the West, to her European heritage, and would rather mask, obscure, and deny all traces of her Hindu ancestry.

In Nietzschean terms, then, Nadège is the Dionysian principle, stifled by the Apollonian strivings of Anne, only to recur in Anne, once she has succeeded in overcoming her denials of the Dionysian, in healing her divided consciousness. It is the process of writing which allows her to confront and reject the Apollonian as symbol of the Western will to power over others. Writing is the thread, “le fil,” which lets her explore the labyrinth of the past and transforms her into the legendary Ariadne. The couple she forms with her sister Nadège is the counterpart of Nietzsche’s “divine couple,” Dionysus-Ariadne, in which Dionysus figures as the labyrinth.19 Nadège(-Dionysus) is Anne’s labyrinth, her unconscious, and Anne(-Ariadne)’s journey takes her beyond a narcissistic Western belief in the importance of a stable individuality. In achieving fusion with her opposite, she reaches a state of self-dispossession: this is not, however, her synthetic recuperation of dialectical oppositions, merely her absorption into an infinitely fragmented universe, like the labyrinth itself and like the island that is hers.

The deployment of the narrative takes Anne back to the chaotic events of the past as she attempts to gather all the elements of her fragmented consciousness. Retracing her way through the familiar sites of her childhood (including an abandoned cemetery behind her home), she adopts the rhetorical devices of a ritual journey, “so that,” as Beaujour states about another self-portrait, the book is also “an attempt to remember and piece together the subject all along an initiatory path.”20 The starting point of that journey is her family’s house, haunted by the presence of her mother’s blank, obliterated femininity. That house is linked to her other “home,” the “boutique-chinois [Chinese shop],”21 her favorite shelter, the “abri accueillant [enchanting refuge]” (97), whose unusual stock of incongruous objects from all over the world fascinates her:

On y trouvait tout: du moins tout ce que mes désirs d’enfant pouvaient imaginer, chaussures made in China, statues de saints ou de Bouddha, cahiers-crayons-gommes-compas, pièges à souris et mort-aux-rats, batons de santal-porcelaine de Chine, fil à broder-papier mousseline, tue-mouches et attrape-nigauds, pâte d’amande et protège-flamme, am stram gram et colegram en ai-je oublié? Oui, ces sacs de farine par exemple, tout gonflés d’odeurs d’amidon, ces âcres boules de tamarin vous fixant comme des yeux noirs sans pupille, ce poisson salé raidi contre le mur dans le mystère de l’arrière-boutique; et dans cette anti-chambre du paradis, le Chinois ne cessait de sourire, demandez seule-ment, demandez et vous recevrez, que n’avait-il pas? il opinait du chef, il servait, servait, ça me confondait d’admiration et de reconnaissance. [16]

[One could find everything there: at any rate all that my childhood desires could imagine, shoes made in China, statues of saints or of Buddha, notebooks-pencils-erasers-compasses, mousetraps and rat poison, sandalwood sticks and Chinese porcelains, embroidery thread and tissue-paper, fly-swatters and booby traps, almond paste and fire screens, eenie-meenie-minie-moe, have I forgotten anything? Yes, those flour sacks, for example, full of the smell of starch, those acrid balls of tamarind, which stare at you like pupilless black eyes, that stiff salt fish against the wall of the mysterious backroom of the store; and in this vestibule of paradise, the Chinese storekeeper would never stop smiling, ask, you only have to ask, ask and you will receive, what didn’t he have? he would nod, serve, and serve, and I would be confounded with admiration and gratefulness.]

That store is a vestibular place, the antichamber of a kind of paradise that is a source of uneasy fascination. There, all seems possible and everything obtainable. The anarchic style of this descriptive paragraph is paradigmatic of the dis-orderly principles under which the store functions. This microcosm of heterogeneity, like the island itself, is the very matrix of the narrative, the cocoon out of which the author spins her yarn, using her “fil à broder” to elaborate “attrape-nigauds,” or fictional traps, which, like spider webs, must catch the reader, seduce and fill him/her with wonder and gratefulness, “d’admiration et de reconnaissance,” provide him/her with all the links to the multiple traditions that are represented in the text.

The store is also a maternal imago, a protective shelter, like Momma’s general store in Angelou’s narrative. It is the source of happiness and wonder and an emblematic topos, at once mother and motherland, “a second home where reality is embellished by magic” (63). It conveys heat and protection like a womb: “I remain inside the shell of the store” (164), says Anne, and she often falls asleep on the sun-warmed floor. When it comes time to wake up and leave, she suffers an excruciating separation: “It was terribly painful to get up. All my muscles would snap, as though Mother were giving birth to me anew, and to be born was exquisitely painful” (166). Expelled from the womb as from paradise, Anne feels banished, exiled to an inhospitable land. The pain of exile and marginality, the torture of separation from the original source of happiness and well-being: the predicament of the narrator, like that of Adam and Eve or Cain and Abel, is the founding experience of the human condition.

But her paradise is by no means a stable and unchanging resting place, an immutable center in the flux of life. On this island, subjected almost yearly to tropical hurricanes, the store is a seductive shelter but an ephemeral one. It is destroyed and must be rebuilt after the passage of the storm: “at the crossroads . . . the store’s disemboweled [éventrée] carcass stood erect” (461).22 On a closer look, though, it is only partially destroyed: “Some light shone through the shutters of the backroom of the store [l’arrière boutique] which remained miraculously intact” (461). What evades destruction from the elements, that mysterious “arrière boutique,” is like the unconscious core of memory, the source of language and discourse, the clue (or coil) that allows the writer to spin her web of images and metaphors.23 The core of the imago is untouched. Dismembered, “éventré.e,” though it is, it will soon manage to reestablish its network, its system of economic exchange throughout the neighborhood : “In a year or two, by dint of patience, economy, and hard work, the store would have reestablished itself, spreading out the ramifications of its economic rule throughout the neighborhood” (461). It is quite clear that nothing remains stable in this microcosm. Only a network of relationships can allow for survival.

This network, or web, is emblematic of the very process of écriture, which creates a similar system of ramifications among various temporal instances, diverse cultures, and a set of locations and characters that mirror each other textually. The store is the maternal womb as well as the matrix of discourse, which generates the metaphors and the symbolic correspondences between the linguistic body of the text and the narrating self or her alter ego, her family, her race(s), her culture(s), and her homeland.

Another recurring metaphor is the road, “the beautiful, smooth road—so beautiful with its blue macadam, always so warm, so smooth under the feet, just like milk! “(97), which has a maternal, nurturing connotation. The road is at once umbilical cord and narrative thread. It takes Anne to the various locations or topoi of her childhood, each of which is of significant importance in the anamnesis, much as the Way of the Cross takes Catholic faithful through the same steps as Christ during his Passion. Here, the road, “cool and hot asphalt . . . sea-asphalt, asphalt-sea” [mer-asphalte, as-phalte-mer]” (161) is both marine and maternal (mer/mère). It winds its way through the cane fields to the Hindu quarter, alongside the mosque, the spacious colonial domains of the whites, and on to Aunauth Gopaul’s house. The road connects all the idiosyncratic and heterogeneous elements of this fragmented society; it is at once comforting and threatening, because Anne cannot accept a plurality of identities as readily as her sister does: “too blue, too smooth, this road is like milk! poisoned milk!” (268). The carefree and self-assured ease with which Nadège negotiates all the apparent contradictions of her cultural background, moving in and out of Hindu or Catholic subcultures, is at once attractive and repulsive to Anne: “Trying to catch up with her on the roads, I would lose my breach, and she would mischieviously pretend to escape” (313–14).

At other times, Nadège is the pursuer, the one chasing Anne, who escapes and retreats into the protective shell of the store: “On the road Nadège follows me, the shadow is getting longer behind me and I feel Nadège in the air, invisible presence or absence . . . quickly, the store, the smell of its spices, the comings and goings of its customers” (160). As she tries to keep up with Nadège’s games, Anne is gradually, reluctantly, pulled in the opposite direction from that she considers her own: “Again the road, that road as smooth as milk, that river which used to carry me off, pulling me against my will like a countercurrent, pushing me as it had pushed Nadège, hauling me gasping toward this house which I found surprisingly close, the house of Aunauth Gopaul, the forbidden Indian” (332). Here the road is a river (“fleuve”); it is the unconscious impulse to remember and verbalize the repressed, which is pure energy. As a model of artistic creativity, it is the Dionysian metamorphosis or ecstasis outside of oneself which strips Anne of her individuation, returns her to the chaos of memory out of which she constructs meaning, for as Nietzsche says, “one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”24

The same road brings to their house the outsider, the stranger whose role as a catalyst is important to the development of the narrative. He is Paul Roux, the French doctor, who has been sent to the island by the World Health Organization to conduct a study for the United Nations. His naive, European, Marxist views (what Anne’s father terms his “idéalisme fumeux” [245]), are developed in long conversations with Nadège. They open new horizons for her, preparing the way for her interest in the Indian politician. At first, Nadège listens to him intently, totally absorbed in his speeches, “even during those moments when I [Anne] happened to think that the Frenchman was talking nonsense, was foundering in the most ludicrous utopia,” (244) says her more “reasonable” sister. Paul’s clear, organized, and coherent scenarios for a better tomorrow seem too logical and simplistic. Something of the complexity of Anne’s life is missing in those discourses that tend to organize experience into neat categories, although the ideas interest the narrator: “And yet, during the two months he spent with us, I studied him with more passion, more lucidity than I had ever studied anyone” (239). His presence “fait fonction de révélateur” (239), triggers the actions and reactions that reveal characters: “So it was in fact the others, the others who captivated my eye perpetually; each one was playing a complex part in front of him, continually changing masks, as if performing an unreal and fantastic ballet” (239). As he gets closely involved in the life of the Morin family, it becomes clear that Paul Roux would be “a good catch” for Nadège and he does attempt to propose marriage, offering to take her back to his native mountains, in the Vosges region. In an ironic way, he corresponds to Zarathustra: he comes down from his mountain, visits an island, and preaches a new gospel. But he turns out to be “une proie empoisonnée [a poisoned prey]” (239), a kind of pharmakon, caught as he is in a web of complex social relationships between Anne, Pierre, Nadège, Aunauth, and the father. He proves unable to understand the necessity for dissimulation and camouflage as a survival strategy for the mētis of the island: “Paul Roux the censor disapproved of all secrets” (288). His intransigence is that of a moralist who wants to herald a new era of social justice but whose limited Western perspective can only betray the heterogeneity of Mauritius and its complicated social structures.

His role as interpreter of the social text of Mauritius corresponds to a possible critical approach to the narrative text itself, an approach that is rejected as too narrow. He is a well-intentioned but somewhat limited critic, blinded by his rigidly ideological and utopian biases. He is grounded in a world that cannot intersect with that of the author/narrator. His social theories are thus encoded as an antimodel of the plurality of interpretations generated and demanded by the narrative text.

His clarity of thought is antithetical to the ambiguous situation of the Morins. His narrowly utopian vision does not take into consideration the specificity of the Morins’ experience as mētis islanders, which rests on a duplicitous relation to the white world, since it is assumed by all, including the métis, that acceptance into that world is their primary goal, and a bourgeois marriage the means by which the coloreds eventually succeed in “passing” for white. Hence their effort to hide all traces of nonwhite “blood” that might mar a family’s past. Nadège, who refuses to adopt such hypocrisy, cannot, therefore, accept the double bind of marriage to the European, Paul, and turns instead to his Indian counterpart, Aunauth Gopaul.

Anne’s utopian vision, on the other hand, is the belief that she can cover up the family’s painful secrets, its past and present scandals (the father’s drinking). She compares her efforts to the slow and painstaking work of darning:

This reference to darning (“ravaudait”) is another metaphor for her narrative technique. It borrows from the maid’s feminine ouvrage, her needlework, to retrieve and gather together the many threads of experience in an effort to attone for the gaping holes in the family’s history.25 Implicit in this quotation is a reference to Lacan’s “béance ambiguë,” the hole, the unmendable Freudian gap or lack in the fabric which orders the subject’s consciousness. This hole, according to Freud, can never be filled out: only patched over by the delusions that the same subject constructs in order to cope with the external world.26 In Lacanian terms, the delusions are the scaffolding of words which the subject erects over the “Real” in order to obscure it.

Initially, then, Anne’s effort to efface the past by weaving a new “toile . . . immaculée” is a delusion that the past can be ignored and shrouded in a dishonest purity, an “immaculate perception” as Nietzsche would say.27 Her mother had done just that, shrouding herself in bitterness and silence. The paradoxical wish of the narrator, though, is more like the utopian wish for a “blank page” or a “white canvas,” a life story that would not need to be told, a narrative that would not exist because her life had been happy and uneventful (“les gens heureux n’ont pas d’histoire [happy people(s) have no history]”).

But the past is scandalous and painful, and Anne’s state of total disarray in exile demands its only antidote: writing. Writing helps mend the original holes created by her family’s refusal to address métissage, to accept ambiguity. But the impulse to write, to speak up, perhaps creates new delusions, other utopias: Anne’s dream of raising mixed-blood children who can return to the “paradise of glass” of the Chinese shop conforms to what Beaujour calls “the phantasm of a blissful city” which is but a scaffolding of words, a skeleton on which to construct new images.28 The hurricane has destroyed (“éventré”) the store, the maternal imago around which the whole book is structured, but what remains intact in that “arrière boutique” is the wall on which hang visions of death: “ce poisson salé raidi,” and the ghostlike “sacs de farine” with the “boules de tamarin vous fixant comme des yeux sans pupilles” (16). These recall the ghost of the biological mother, and the “sépulcres blanchis [whited sepulchers]” (272), the pharisees and the bigots who judge and determine the Morins’ social standing and their reputation. The book, therefore, while it attempts to re-create those “vanished places, disrupted harmonies,” as Beaujour calls them, undermines and erodes its utopian project, which becomes identified in the filigree of the text with a death wish.29

For example, the narrative ends on hopeful (musical) notes: Anne arrives at the house of Aunauth where she comes to take Nadège’s place. Her mother, father, and sister are all dead. In her suitcase is a record: Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2. On one level, this record is an important romantic vehicle: it is a gift to Anne from Pierre; Nadège borrows it secretly to share with Aunauth. They first make love while listening to it. This music, “full of passion and violence,” plays a decisive part in opening Nadège’s eyes to the folly of a “marriage of reason” (424) with the French doctor. Finally, as the last sentence of the book implies, it is the background for Anne and Aunauth’s first romantic encounter: “He then walked toward the record player and, after putting the record on the turntable, he guided the needle to the edge of the symphony” (463).

Here, as in Nietzsche, music is the privileged art. It touches the whole gamut of human emotions, affirming diversity and multiplicity, lifting barriers and harmonizing opposites. It symbolizes a Dionysian resurrection for Anne, a self-dispossession as she is transformed into Nadège, whose whole life was like a symphony: “Her life was lived the way one plays a symphony; she had an absolute need for the continual concordance of inside and outside; passions, people, nature, words, everything had to be in unison, with no wrong notes” (420). This harmony is Nadège’s aim in life, but it is paradoxical: a Dionysian symphony that is not stifled by an Apollonian will to order or an imposed and artificial arrangement. This state of creative tension is what Anne seeks as a writer, and this characterization of Nadège is also an apt description of the novel.30 That is why I would like to suggest that accompanying the Symphony No. 2 is, in fact, an implicit reference to Rachmaninoff’ s symphonic poem known as the Isle of the Dead. This pair of symphonies covertly echo and reflect the whole binary structure of the novel while implying that such a system of signs grounded in the traditional dichotomies of Western metaphysics is a vehicle of death: Nadège has an abortion and dies; by contrast, Sassita, who listens to Indian music on the local radio, reaches autonomy and decides to remarry and adopt an orphaned baby.31

In an emblematic episode of chapter 6 we are plunged into the general atmosphere of death and decay which surrounds the Morin family. In this grotesquely funny scene, Nadège stages a masquerade for the purpose of disconcerting Paul Roux, whose humanitarian harangues are getting on her nerves. She involves her father and Anne in the masquerade, during which Anne herself adopts a “masque” (247), which conveniently exempts her from her role as “native informant” vis-a-vis the French doctor: “Paul Roux was unable to read anything on my face.” As the father ironically exclaims: “We pay too much attention to the living around here, and not enough to the dead,” they all march to the abandoned backyard cemetery where (with the energy of despair) Nadège endeavors to scrub the old tombstones and moss-covered crosses. This comedy takes place in a putrid physical environment and under the affectless, petrifying, and petrified gaze of Paul: “In the stifling air, the smell of ripe mangoes rotting on the ground mingled unpleasantly with that of chicken droppings in the coops. This combination gave off a rank scent of fermentation which made you gasp. The Frenchman had followed us without uttering a word, he was standing back slightly, his face as expressionless as those of tourists who stare at Hindus in a trance during processions, too impressed to even dare show any kind of emotion” (248).

The native woman puts on a gruesome spectacle for the benefit of the “tourist,” Paul, who is in the uncomfortable position of observer and voyeur of the “macabre customs of Francophone Creoles” (249); it is but an exaggeration of the role he had adopted to begin with, launching himself into grand analyses of the political and social context of their lives. As an antimodel for the critic, therefore, he is constructed as deficient, not just because of his narrow political perspective but also because of his inability to show emotion or affect before the (textual) events he witnesses. His pretense of objectivity is a fallacy: it is the wisdom and the neutrality of death.

On the other hand, Nadège’s gift of theater, her ability to mock is the mark of an unconventional wisdom. Her nihilism, her “will. . . to dominate herself, . . . to subdue herself” (369), as Aunauth says, is a protective device, a dissimulating strategy against the hypocrisy of colonial society and the intolerable scrutiny of Paul (cf. 286–87). Impertinence personified, she illustrates well one of Nietzsche’s insights about the dilemmas of women: “Young women try hard to appear superficial and thoughtless. The most refined simulate a kind of impertinence.”32

Nadège is the “spirit full of gay sarcasm” in more ways than one. She adopts masks, changes roles, and dresses in a plurality of selves, thus avoiding, temporarily, the death-dealing blows of culture and civilization. It is her mother, in her passive, yet bitter acceptance of the tenets of nineteenth-century European culture (and its pseudoscientific, racist beliefs in heredity), who figures as the main agent of death and ressentiment. Her rigid need to instill respectability in her daughters is described as an absurd effort to hide—to kill—the “subhuman” in the métis: “This tanned skin [cet epiderme hâlé], everyone around us confirmed the idea that that was something of the animal in us [quelque chose de la bête en nous], something filthy, which pricked up its ears [quelque chose d’immonde, qui pointait l’oreille] and which had to be hidden from sight. Behave yourself, Nadège, behave yourself, Anne! Come on, dressed like this, you could be mistaken for some little Indian girls! When Mother had said this, she had said it all” (39).

“Cet épiderme hale” is one of numerous references to the skin as symptom of a disease, as cultural sign of decadence. As indicated earlier, this metaphor of the skin is used by Zarathustra in “On Great Events” (Z, part 2): “The earth . . . has a skin, and this skin has diseases. One of these diseases, for example, is called ‘man.’ “In Anne’s narrative, it is “quelque chose d’immonde” in the make up of the mētis women which shows up as “hale,” as the outward sign of cultural sickness and bestiality, as these are defined by the mother, who has thoroughly internalized the racist colonial ideology.

But Nadège’s unconventional behavior allows her—unlike Anne—to take in stride the social stigmas attached to the color of her skin and to refrain from following the “herd” of complacent and passive mētis. Her strength is her insolence, as illustrated in this incident which occurs during an English lesson at school:

Exercise no. 1. Cross out the wrong words. What colour are your eyes? Blue-grey-green-brown or dark? . . . What colour is your skin? Yellow-white-brown or black? In Mauritius, the correct answer was yellow or brown, rarely white. . .

But seven-year-old Nadège used to protest. My skin is neither white nor yellow, neither black nor brown. How is it then? The schoolmistress, a colored woman herself, would say: Nadège Morin, always trying to be sassy! Put down My skin is golden, that’ll be all right. But it was not all right. Nadège would snicker and write My skin is dirty. Nadège would be punished. Punished because of her skin: that afternoon, after hearing what happened, Mother would take sides with the mistress. [28; words in italics are in English in the text]

Nadège is able to subvert rigid social codes by laughing away the foolishness of society, whose power is doubly represented here by the school system and by the English language, the language of the master: Mauritius is under British rule at the time. The school mistress, like the mother, is a slave to the system and can only perpetuate its demeaning aspects, despite a tentative effort to give a positive connotation (“golden”) to the idea of color. But this “foreign” language and the reality it creates must be learned early: it impresses upon the colored children their nonbeing, their absence from representation within that symbolic order. Since there is no unambiguous term for what they are, it means that they have no existence in that realm of language, or that they can only be defined negatively by what they are not: not white, not black.33

Thus indoctrinated, Anne plays the game by the rules, in order to survive. She is like the ape, the “foaming fool,” who unwittingly parodies Zarathustra’s style;34 like a number of mētis who desperately try to imitate the whites’ wealthy and glamorous standards (“our people tried to ape their life style” [39]), Anne is anxious to be accepted by white society. That is why she secretly dates Pierre, who cannot quite bring himself to be open and public about their romance. As a result, Anne feels most ashamed of her skin : “I was hurting in my skin, I had shame in my skin, I was fed up with the pain and the shame, I was holding in my anger, I was being patient” (291). As for Pierre, with a measure of bad faith (or bad conscience), he tries to explain to her that he, too, feels oppressed by the conventions of his bourgeois milieu but that “you cannot take off your white skin and put it down on the furniture, like a discarded piece of clothing” (175). He cannot escape the determinations of his social and cultural milieu any more than he can escape the color of his skin. But he feels pity for her and his spineless goodwill casts him in the role of a “good” and “weak” Christian who cannot oppose the moral establishment of his time. He is a pharisee and a “despiser of the body,”35 whose respect for Anne’s virtue inescapably turns into contempt when his calculated and timid lovemaking proves a poor match for Anne’s disappearing caution : “In playing this little game, we gradually learned to despise each other” (299).

This textual string of “skin” metaphors points to a critique of the “civilizing” influence of culture over nature. Like the skin on the body, culture is a shroud that veils the instincts or the bestiality (“quelque chose de la bête en nous”) of that body, repressing them, banishing them to the unconscious. The scission or split that accompanies this dichotomy between nature and culture, the instincts and consciousness, constitutes what Nietzsche calls the “internalization of man,” the instincts for freedom (or will to power) being turned inward and becoming the origins of “bad conscience.”36 The question of culture is central to Nietzsche’s understanding of the repression of the body, as it will be for Freud in Civilization and Its Discontents, and Eric Blondel has shown that for Nietzsche, “life is fundamentally a sickness. . . As the metaphor of the repressed body and as Dionysus dismembered, culture is nothing other than the obverse of [instinctual, natural, or adaptive] morality.”37 Nietzsche’s anger focuses specifically on the Judeo-Christian bedrock of Western civilization and is evident in all his writings, but especially in The Antichrist: “To become perfect, he was advised to draw in his senses, turtle fashion, to cease all intercourse with earthly things, to shed his mortal shroud: then his essence would remain, the ‘pure spirit.’ . . . Here too we have reconsidered. . . . The “pure spirit” is pure stupidity: if we abstract the nervous system and the senses—the “mortal shroud”—then we miscalculate—that is all!”38

This “mortal shroud”, like the epidermal surface of the skin and the life of the body, is what culture represses in order to make room for the “pure spirit,” the “soul” or “ego,”39 which Nietzsche equates with the “sickness” or “disease” of cultural conditioning. This sickness, however, is “pregnant with a future . . . as if man were not a goal, but only a way, an episode, a bridge, a great promise.”40 If man is only an episode and a promise, then it is through his capacity for change and rebirth that he can succeed in overcoming his culture, his “skin disease;” or as Deleuze says, “it is in his essence that man is called the skin disease of the earth,”41 in his essence and not in his capacity for metamorphosis, his process of becoming. So it is that Nadège can redeem Anne’s temptations to let herself be coopted by “civilization,” by “whiteness,” because she accepts the process of becoming and its end result, death. She understands intuitively what Walter Kaufman says of Nietzsche, that “self-overcoming involves a measure of suffering and also of cruelty, not only in the individual’s relation to others but also in his attitude toward himself.”42 Because Nadège surrenders herself to change and polysemy, Anne learns from her the value of ambivalence and ambiguity, rejects Apollonian clarity, “immaculate perception,” as symbol of the Western will to power over others. Instead, she comes to an understanding of the value of difference, of the plurality of meaning in the person of Ariadne. As Deleuze says: “Dionysus teaches Ariadne his secret: the true labyrinth is Dionysus himself, the true thread is the thread of affirmation. . . . Affirmation is the enjoyment and play of its own difference.”43

This power to affirm difference is the secret Anne(-Ariadne) learns from Nadège: the privileged difference of métissage. The power of affirmation is the Dionysian will to power over oneself, which allows Anne to accept the past and to let it recur, because, according to Deleuze “the lesson of the eternal return is that there is no return of the negative. . . . Only that which affirms or is affirmed returns.”44 To put it another way, for Nietzsche, “the idea of recurrence is intended to heal the disjunction between time and eternity and especially the resentment against the past which divides the consciousness of the alienated person.”45 Once we understand this affirmative side of eternal return, we can see Anne as reaching a point of self-integration and self-acceptance which allows her to put into perspective her maternal legacy of ressentiment and to surrender to her (forbidden) desire for the unknown (“l’Indien interdit,” Aunauth, whose name phonetically conveys “zero,” the excluded middle, the locus of a narcissistic illusion, the void: o-naught).46

Finally, the appropriate and conclusive image regarding this kind of “skin disease” is furnished by the island itself: in Mauritius, the earth literally suffers from a disease of color. In fact, there is a place, a “lieu-dit” in a mountainous region of the island called Chamarel where strata of volcanic lava, rich in minerals, were sedimented in layers of different colors, forming a curious area of rainbow-striped hills where no vegetation grows, where the earth is barren. This desolation has an awesome beauty that exerts a definite attraction on Anne’s imagination: “But I will escape; for now, inert on the warm cement, I am a chrysalis; if my muscles are numb, that’s because they are getting ready to take flight soon. . . . everywhere in the stifling air, armies of perfume are coming toward me, and instead of drowning me in their heaviness [pesanteur], they will carry me up, take me to the pinnacle of the great mountain chains over there, far away over there, beyond Chamarel with its earth sick with colors [ses terres malades de couleur], and where life begins” (164–65).47

Like a butterfly about to emerge from its chrysalis or a bird trying to outsoar tradition, Anne has the urge to shed the dead weight of convention, the “pesanteur,” the spirit of gravity, which weighs her down like Zarathustra’s camel.48 That weight is her old self, the resentful one that she wishes to shake off, as Zarathustra’s dwarf is shaken off the prophet’s shoulder when they both reach the gateway where “two paths meet,”49 the “moment” when the past and the future come together in the eternal recurrence of things. Mauritius—like Anne’s text—is such a crossroads of spatial and temporal dimensions50 and Anne’s metamorphosis is a letting-go of bitterness and resentment in favor of a life-affirming vision of the future: she can finally be the face that says “yes” and can permit herself to walk through the gate. Like Nietzsche, whose Ecce Homo is subtitled “How One Becomes What One Is,” she becomes what she is: the “âne,” the donkey that says hee-haw, I-A, “Ja,” and thus transcends traditional morality and dualism as the Übermensch would.51

In Chamarel, the earth is bare, but that is where “life begins,” for Anne must be stripped of all her Western pretensions and beliefs before she can start living somewhat autonomously (like Sassita) and creatively (as a writer). This idea of desolation connotes another of Nietzche’s metaphors (at least in its French translation), a metaphor that relates directly to the author’s choice of names for Nadège: “Partout de la neige, la vie est muette ici; les dernières Corneilles dont on entend la voix croassent: A quoi bon? En vain ! Nada ! Rien ne pousse et ne croît plus ici.” La neige, nada: Nadège. The phonetic similarity of these words implies a certain nihilism, a “value of nil” in Nadège.52 But more important, it reveals that for the author, “Nadège” is nothing but a textual construct, a potentiality, a device that allows “Anne” to explore the “murdered visions” of her youth, “[her] happier ego, [her] second, departed self,”53 as Zarathustra had on the “isle of tombs.” In Nietzsche’s ontology of self-healing, the will to power (over oneself) is a process of self-overcoming, a stripping from the ego of its masks, a creative rebirth, albeit a sometimes cruel and violent one.54 Thus, Nadège’s unconventional behavior, her freedom from “pesanteur,” casts her as the creative principle in Anne herself, a principle Anne can let be free (that is, free to recur) by becoming “the child,” “the god that can dance,” “the wisdom that is woman.”55 This metamorphosis is only possible at the cost of adopting and exploiting Nadège’s impertinent dissimulating strategies while rejecting the imitative ones of the “herd.”

Herdlike behavior is synonymous with silence and death: such is the mother’s (and, at first, Anne’s) predicament. In her effort to conform to the image man and society impose upon her, she remains deaf and dumb, “often a silence directed at herself, too. She closes her eyes to herself,” as Nietzsche says in an aphorism that exactly summarizes the self-denial of women in patriarchal culture.56 Thus Nadège’s self-denial, her act of uncalculated and unmitigated love for her sister is in fact a death sentence served ultimately because she allows herself to conform, on behalf of her sister, to the prevailing social codes of the island. She denies the “maternal” in herself, the maternal being understood here as the creative, free-spirited “love of the artist for [her] work,”57 as well as her biological condition of pregnancy. This sacrifice amounts to a kind of suicide brought about by the intransigence of Anne, who cannot tolerate Nadège’s radical otherness and attempts to steal her face, appropriate her space within the economy of their specular relationship as twins, because she fears disappearing into that unknown otherness. To be absorbed into, and eventually become, what Nadège is means losing her very Western claim to a stable subjectivity. Paradoxically though, for her as woman and as twin, this “identity” is always already lost, since it is either conformity to and imitation of the standards of the herd or a reluctant copying of her double: “Fear would continually choke back my confession, the same fear which made me copy her attitudes when we were younger, copy, like a faithful and recalcitrant reflection, whereas my whole being craved emancipation” (314).

But Nadège’s renunciation of the right to bear her mētis child and her subsequent death in effect free Anne to become what Nadège had been all along, “woman” and “maternal,” which, in the Nietz-schean intertext of the narrative, means a creative artist, a writer, a spinner of webs, no longer Ariadne but Arachne (or perhaps “Ariachne,” as Shakespeare’s Troilus says of Cressida), as symbol of female creativity, as Anne-(Humbert)’s alter ego and textual persona: a symbol that links life and death together, since by giving life women also give death, for to be born is to be mortal.

Let us not forget then that Arachne committed suicide (by hanging) when Athena, jealous of her skill in weaving, destroyed her web: talent is not a blessing for the (female) writer whose work may end up ignored, if not destroyed, by Wisdom (the critics or the academy). Hence the strategies of textual and intertextual dissimulation I have tried to uncover in my analysis. A l’autre bout de moi is, first of all, an entertaining and spellbinding story. It became a best seller and received the “Grand prix littéraire des lectrices de Elle, 1980” reaching a wide readership. But it is also the creation of a writer who (self-)consciously reflects on the process of écriture and gestures toward a particular tradition of self-portraitists (Augustine and Nietzsche) while never allowing that reflexion to interfere in the jouissance of the process for either writer or reader. This, according to Derrida, is the recognizable trait of a Nietzschean style. He reminds us that “it is hardly necessary to know that this text is undecipherable for it to remain, at once and for all, open, tendered and undecipherable. . . . If the simulacrum is ever going to occur, its writing must be in the interval [l’écart] between several styles.”58

Humbert’s writing is a writing of the “écart,” of the interval between subjectivities, races, cultures, styles, and languages—especially languages. Her mother tongue, Creole, is the key (“le fil”) which allows me, as Creole-speaking reader of her French text, to enter into the language game hidden in the proper names of her heroines and to renounce any critical reduction of her work to a single system. It is in that interval that her utopian, and Nietzschean, vision of Mauritius as “a way, an episode, a bridge, a great promise,” takes shape and becomes superimposed on the other mythical images to which the island has given rise.

1The phrase is from an article of the periodical L’Express, reprinted in L’Express: Ainsi va la France, texts selected by Ross Steele and Jacqueline Gaillard (Lincolnwood, Ill: National Textbook, 1984), p. 90.

2Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1966), ¶197, pp. 108–9.

3Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, in The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking Press, 1967), ¶38, p. 541. Hereafter cited as TPN.

4Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, ¶197, pp. 108–9; Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 15, in The Portable Nietzsche, p. 581.

5Thus Spoke Zarathustra, pt. 3, in The Portable Nietzsche, pp. 324, 223 (The Tomb Song: “And only where there are tombs are there resurrections”), p. 242. Hereafter cited as Z.

6Gynesis: Configurations of Women and Modernity (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), p. 258.

7Marie-Thérèse Humbert, A l’autre bout de moi (Paris: Stock, 1979), p. 462, hereafter cited in the text. All translations are mine.

8Robert F. Sayre, “Autobiography and Images of Utopia,” Salmagundi 19 (Spring 1972), 19.

9Ibid., p. 20.

10Fredric Jameson, “Metacommentary,” PMLA 86 (Jan. 1971), 14.

11Michel Beaujour, Miroirs d’encre (Paris: Seuil, 1980).

12Abdelkebir Khatibi, “Bilinguisme et littérature,” Maghreb pluriel (Paris: Denoël, 1983), p. 179.

13Jacques Derrida, Glas, trans. John P. Leavey, Jr. and Richard Rand (Lincoln: Nebraska University Press, 1986), pp. 9 and 33.

14For a discussion of the concept of Aufhebung in Hegel and Nietzsche, see Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1956), pp. 204–6, and his translator’s note, in Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals (New York: Vintage Books, 1969), p. 73. For a discussion of the concept in Hegel, Freud, and Lacan, see Anthony Wilden, “Lacan and the Discourse of the Other,” in Jacques Lacan, Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968), pp. 195, 279, 285, 286.

15Ross Chambers, Story and Situation: Narrative Seduction and the Power of Fiction (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984).

16The phrase “second departed self” is Nietzsche’s in The Gay Science (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), pt. 2, ¶60, p. 123.

17Beaujour, p. 9.

18Ibid. , pp. 9, 26, 320.

19See Nietzsche’s poem “Ariadne’s Lament” in “Dionysus Dithyrambs,” The Portable Nietzsche, p. 345: Be clever, Ariadne! / You have small ears, you have my ears: / Put a clever word into them! / Must one not first hate each other if one is to love each other? / I am your labyrinth.”

20Beaujour, p. 283.

21In the creole dialect of the island, adjectives very rarely take the mark of the feminine.

22Compare this passage to page 64–68: at the beginning of the narrative, the store seems to be invincible, indestructible. It is the process of writing itself which seems to contribute to the slow and gradual erosion of that stability.

23It is well worth noting here that Montaigne used to call his memory or inner self his “arrière boutique.”

24Nietzsche, Z, Prologue, 5, p. 129.

25This process is the same as that of métissage, the view of female textuality as heterogeneous “tissage” as I discuss it in Chapter 6.

26Jacques Lacan, Ecrits (Paris: Seuil, 1966) p. 248. The patch is a Freudian term used in the paper “Neurosis and Psychosis,” Sigmund Freud, Standard Edition, 19:151. See the discussion in Wilden, p. 98 n. 23.

27Nietzsche, Z II, On Immaculate Perception: “Behind a god’s mask you hide from yourselves, in your ‘purity,’” p. 235.

28Beaujour, p. 22.


30The novel seen as verbal mausoleum for Nadège, as her “tombeau mallarméen,” which exists, like the book, around an empty center. See Beaujour, pp. 230–32.

31In “A l’autre bout de moi de Marie-Thérèse Humbert et la littérature mauricienne,, (in a publication of the Centre d’Etudes Francophones, Université de Paris XIII, Itinéraires et contacts de cultures [Paris: L’Harmattan, 1982], 2:113–39), Jean-Louis Joubert writes: “The record is a very concrete object, a thing. . . . Its jacket is described with precision . . . ; the typography of the title is reproduced in the shape of a design . . . which magnifies the word ‘SYMPHONY’ printed in capital letters. (The reader who is interested in musicology might note the oddity of this ‘Symphony No. 2 for piano and orchestra by Rachmaninoff.’ Bizarre!)” (p. 122, my translation). Indeed, what I would like to suggest here is that Humbert does invite her reader to wonder about the significations of this record as a “magical object” (Joubert, p. 123), and my interpretation leads me to believe that the referent of “Symphonie No. 2” is none other than ‘The Isle of the Dead’ and that, as a privileged sign in this novel, the record simply refers to another sign and not to external reality.

32Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 2:7, p. 128

33The “races” these adjectives refer to are fallacies, creations of nineteenth-century racist “scientific” discourse, as I discuss it in my introduction, and as Stephen J. Gould has amply shown. See especially The Mismeasure of Man (New York: Norton, 1981) and Ontogeny and Phylogeny (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1977). We have inherited these categories which still mold our thinking in many ways.

34Nietzsche Z, pt. 3, On Passing By, p. 287. I owe an important debt to Margot Norris’s discussion of mimesis and camouflage in “Darwin, Nietzsche, Kafka and the Problems of Mimesis,” MLN 95 (Dec. 1980), 1232–53. It provided insights that allowed me to see patterns in Humbert’s work which relate directly to those problems.

35Cf. Nietzsche, Z, pt. 3, On Old and New Tablets, 26, p. 324–25; pt. 1, On the Despisers of the Body: “I want to speak to the despisers of the body. It is their respect that begets their contempt,” p. 147.

36Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, pt. 2, ¶16, in On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo (New York: Vintage Books, 1969), pp. 84–87.

37Eric Blondel, “Nietzsche: Life as Metaphor,” translated from the French and reprinted in The New Nietzsche: Contemporary Styles of Interpretation, ed. David B. Allison (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985), p. 165. I have added the words in brackets to clarify Blondel’s point. He is refering to The Antichrist, 15, in which Nietzsche discusses “fictitious morality and religion . . . the very formula for decadence” and opposes those to “nature” and “reality” (TPN, p. 581–82).

38Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 14, p. 581.

39Ibid., 15, p. 581.

40Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, 2:16, p. 85.

41Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche et la philosophie (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1962), p. 192, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), p. 167.

42Kaufmann, p. 211.

43Deleuze, p. 188.

44Ibid., p. 189.

45Ofelia Schutte, Beyond Nihilism: Nietzsche without Masks, pp. 67–68 and 122–23. For Nietzsche, everything, good or bad, recurs, but it is up to the individual to refuse to be resentful in order to allow only the positive, the active (and not the reactive) to recur and thus prepare the world for our children.

46Although this pun is more convincing in English than in French, I want to emphasize that it is nonetheless fairly obvious to a reader familiar with Mauritian society, since Mauritius, like Canada or Belgium, is a multilingual society. Indeed, English is the official political language of the island, even though Creole and French are more widely spoken. Furthermore, Aunauth is an Indian politician who was “graduated from the University of London” (432) and thus represents a difference, a linguistic and political interference in the French text of the novel.

47This passage could be compared to Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 2:60, p. 123: “Does my happiness itself sit in this quiet place—my happier ego, my second, departed self? Not to be dead and yet no longer alive? A spiritlike intermediate being: quietly observing, gliding, floating? As the boat that with its white sails moves like an immense butterfly over the dark sea. Yes! To move over existence! That’s it! That would be something!”

48Nietzsche, Z, pt. 1, On the Three Metamorphoses, p. 138; pt. 3, On the Spirit of Gravity, p. 305.

49Ibid., pt. 3, On the Vision and the Riddle, 2, p. 269.

50Humbert’s conception of the narrative as a crossroads of ideas and problems is not unlike Andre Gide’s. He says in his Journal: “Le roman? . . . Un carrefour; un rendez-vous de problèmes.”

51For discussion of the concepts of existential continuity and the Übermensch as used here, see Schutte, chaps. 3 and 5, pp. 57–75 and 105–32.

52Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, 3:26, as quoted by Deleuze, p. 170: “Here is snow; here life has grown silent; the last crows whose cries are audible here are called ‘wherefore?,’ ‘in vain!,’ ’nada!’—here nothing will grow or prosper any longer.” See also p. 169 and the translation by W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale, p. 157.

53Nietzsche, The Gay Science 2: 60. See note 47.

54See Schutte, pp. 76–104 especially.

55Nietzsche, Z, pt. 1, On Reading and Writing, pp. 152–53.

56Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 2:71, p. 128.

57Ibid., 72. In Spurs/Eperons: Nietzsche’s Styles, trans. Barbara Harlow (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), Derrida comments on this fragment: “Nietzsche, as is everywhere evident in his texts, is a thinker big with thought [le penseur de la grossesse]. He is the thinker of pregnancy which, for him, is no less praiseworthy in a man than it is in a woman” (p. 65).

58Derrida, Spurs/Eperons, p. 137–39.

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