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“The Pleasure of Writing at Last a Language as One Hears It”

By Jeremy M. Glick, English, Hunter College

Comments on “Order, Disorder, Freedom and the West Indian Writer” by Maryse Conde and “In Praise of Creoleness” (translation of Eloge de la créolité) by Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau & Raphaël Confiant

Focusing mainly on Maryse Condé’s piece, I present via propositional logic/further example some brief comments this afternoon to help advance today’s discussion.  I’ll restrict my comments here to signaling: (1) Some of the challenges generated by Condé’s keyword organization of her essay; (2) An example of Pan Africanist print culture (in this specific case radical pamphleteering) referenced in one of her footnotes that connects Newark, NJ, Guinea and the West Indies; (3) The problem of what we might think of as a friendly generative literary patricide that animates both pieces; and (4) The resonances in Black Arts Movement Afro-American literary formations. 

The Créolité Movement in general and these two essays specifically theorize the existence (or nonexistence) of West Indian literature [what Jean Bernabé calls a ‘pre-literature’] as a series of blockages of first audience creation (perhaps another way of saying interpretive community) then audience reception. Audience for Bernabé (and arguably for Glissant) is metonymically linked to the political question of the Nation. To me this is most interestingly a question of positing and ultimately surpassing limits in technological dissemination of texts and performances in the field of Caribbean literatures.  Towards this last point, I begin by offering up two Martinician challenges that signal “The Pleasure of Writing at Last a Language as One Hears It” as positing and overcoming limits of literary technologies.[1] In the first example, Glissant indicates his preference for allowing actors to overcome the limits of an “inaccessible” 18th-century Haitian language via improvisation instead of modifying his dramatic text accordingly:

  1. Example One: The 1978 “Author’s Note” from Glissant’s Monsieur Toussaint: A Play. Glissant writes: “At the time of publishing this acting version, the conditions of theatrical production prevailing in the Antilles are such that the result cannot be considered as ‘up-to-date,’ but rather as a complementary substitute by which the accurate portrayal of our situation becomes known more and more. Hence the question of the speech of Haitians in the drama must be considered. It may for example seem strange that a character like Mackandal, a black maroon of the preceding century, who appears to Toussaint as a sort of primeval conscience, would speak to the latter in French, instead of Creole. I have tried however to resist resorting to the procedure of ‘creolizing,’ the artificiality of which would have been obvious. The linguistic environment of the play can be determined at the time of its production. The Creole tongue is sufficiently adaptable in its written form so that producer and actors can work together to complete by improvisation what the author has intended. It goes without saying that the sprinkling of Creole lines appearing this version (incantations and chants syntactically incoherent, mixtures of Guadeloupean, Haitian, and Martinician sonorities) indicates above all the pure pleasure of writing at last a language as one hears it.” [2]
  2. On the production details of Frantz Fanon’s 1952 Black Skin White Masks—The text was a product of collaboration between Fanon and his wife, Marie Josephe Duble (Josie): Fanon dictated and she recorded. Biographer David Macey unfortunately misses an opportunity to theorize this fact and instead restricts the following commentary to the level of immediacy. His theorization of the composition of Black Skin White Masks is locked in sense perception: “Fanon never learned to use a typewriter and dictated his text to Josie as he strode up and down the room like an actor declaiming his lines. Traces of the oral origins of the text are visible in the sudden breaks and changes of direction, as Fanon suddenly recalls or thinks of something. If there is an element of free association here, it is Fanon and not his informants who is free associating. When he writes, or rather says, “When my ubiquitary (ubiquitaire) hands caress these white breasts, I am making white civilization and dignity mine, he is speaking to the young woman he will marry…” [3]
  3. Fanon’s famous line in Chapter 7 of the text– “the black man is comparison”– presents a sort of technical challenge, a problem of audience signaled by today’s essays when we think of comprehending the word comparison in  (Glissant’s) writing “at last as a language as one hears it.” Comparison in its written form in both French and in English translation resonates with Fanon’s discussion of Adlerian behavior disorder. Yet the homonym comparison in its Antillean variant does slightly different work. In Creole comparison is an adjective meaning “contemptuous” or “contemptible”. The multi-valence of comparison here speaks to both Condé’s and the Créolité’s partisans’ concern. I want to offer this as a challenge signaling a generative limit in writing (related to audience): How to capture Martinician sonority in French translation that does theoretical work? How does the Créolitié’s movement’s concerns resonate with Glissant’s understanding of the folkloric as it relates to literature and nation building.
  4. Condé provocatively attributes the question of the existence of West Indian literature to “the commands enumerated throughout the history of West Indian literature by the various generations of writers.”—Jacques Roumain, Suzanne Césaire, Aimé Césaire, Jean-Paul Sartre, and late Guinea president Sekou Touré’s speech “The Political Leader as the Representative of Culture” at the 2nd Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Rome 1959. She is citing here a 1975 pamphlet published by Jihad Productions in 1975. This is an imprint of Baraka’s Congress of African People’s Newark NJ Black liberation organization as the group makes an ideological transition from Revolutionary Black Nationalism to a Marxist Leninist Maoist political orientation. The organization frames Touré’s speech by emphasizing a quite capacious definition of Pan Africanism: simply, “a collective movement against imperialist aggression.” Toure is certainly a discussion, what interests me here is that this footnote triangulates Guinea, the West Indies, and Black radical Newark and the document itself emphasizes capaciousness over restriction, suggestion over command.  Condé shares a sort of metonymic logic with the writers of “In Praise of Creoleness” albeit, her preference for signaling proper names. They want to break “radically with the fantasies that are the providential man or the nation’s father who did so much harm in many countries of the Third World and Eastern Europe.” (904). The back-story of Condé’s footnote reminds us that the fathers generate meaning via acts of framing and interpretation, the very acts that constitute literature and literary communities.
  5. Finally, Disorder as a key word does interesting work in Condé’s piece. It signals the terrain and labor of West Indian women’s writing—Condé writes back to Fanon a la Mayotte Capécia. “In a Bambara myth of origin, after the creation of the earth, and the organization of everything on the surface, disorder was introduced by a woman. Disorder meant the power to create new objects and to modify the existing ones. In a word, disorder meant creativity.” It might serve us to think about this theorizing of West Indian women’s writing as a disordering force, especially in a context of the cluster of reading concerned with showing/or aspiring to the existence of a West Indian literature. Might we think of Condé’s keyword periodization/classification, the Créolité’s movement’s sometimes stern judgments against predecessors as the sort of friendly, generative patricide that in its very existence demonstrates the existence of West Indian literatures? Just some possible points to entertain. Thanks for listening.

[1] An example of positing (in order to overcome) a limit in writerly reproductive technology: See Amiri Baraka’s 1970 essay for Amistad 2  “Technology & Ethos: Vol. 2 Book of Life” anthologized in Raise Race Rays Raze: Essays Since 1965: “A typewriter?—why shd it only make use of the tips of the fingers as contact points of flowing multi directional creativity. If I invented a word placing machine, an “expression-scriber,” if you will, then I would have a kind of instrument into which I could step & sit or sprawl or hang & use not only my fingers to make words express feelings but elbows, feet, head, behind, and all the sounds I wanted, screams, grunts, taps, itches, I ‘d have magnetically recorded, at the same time, & translated into word—or perhaps even the final xpressed thought/feeling wd not be merely word or sheet, but itself, the xpression, three dimensional—able to be touched, or tasted or felt, or entered, or heard or carried like a speaking singing constantly communicating charm. A typewriter is corny!!” Baraka, Amiri Imamu (LeRoi Jones) Raise Race Rays Raze: Essays Since 1965. NY: Vintage Books, 1972, 156.

[2] Glissant, Edouard. Monsieur Toussaint: A Play. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers: 2005, 14.

[3] Macey, David. Frantz Fanon: A Biography. NY: Picador, 2000, 134.