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FRAMEWORKS FOR INTERPRETING FRENCH CARIBBEAN WOMEN'S THEATRE: INA CÉSAIRE'S ISLAND MEMORIES AT THE THÉÂTRE DU CAMPAGNOL

Abstract

The plays and performances of French Caribbean women, which have mostly been examined in the French language and in the field of French literary studies, require a new theorization of postcolonial theatre. Highly influenced by what I call French universalism, French Caribbean women's theatre moves continuously between evoking Caribbean and gender difference and mobilizing the concept of the human universal. Their work enacts a restorative postcolonial women's agenda that is specific to the cultural context of the French overseas departments of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

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Endnotes

1. See Ruprecht Alvina, ed., Les Théâtres francophones et créolophones de la Caraïbe (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2003); Edwards Carole, Les Dramaturges antillaises (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2008); Makward Christiane, “De bouche à oreille à bouche: Ethno-dramaturgie d'Ina Césaire,” in L'Héritage de Caliban, ed. Condé Maryse (Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe: Éditions Jasor, 1992), 133–46; Makward, “Reading Maryse Condé's Theatre,” Callaloo 18.3 (1995): 681–9; Makward, “Pressentir l'autre: Gerty Dambury, dramaturge poétique guadeloupéenne,” L'Annuaire Théâtral 28 (2000): 7387; McKay Melissa L., Maryse Condé et le théâtre antillais (New York: Peter Lang, 2002); Rinne Suzanne and Vitiello Joëlle, eds., Elles écrivent des Antilles: Haïti, Guadeloupe, Martinique (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1997).

2. Clark VèVè, “Developing Diaspora Literacy and Marasa Consciousness,” in Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text, ed. Spillers Hortense J. (New York: Routledge, 1991), 4057.

3. Balme Christopher B., Decolonizing the Stage: Theatrical Syncretism and Post-Colonial Drama (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999); Gilbert Helen and Tompkins Joanne, Post-Colonial Drama: Theory, Practice, Politics (London: Routledge, 1996).

4. Suzanne Houyoux, “Un Entretien avec Ina Césaire Fort-de-France, Martinique, 5 Juin 1990,” in Elles écrivent des Antilles, ed. Rinne and Vitiello, 349–57, at 353.

5. Makward, “De bouche à oreille à bouche,” 134.

6. While the word “mulatto” is somewhat out of fashion in the United States, it is still common in Martinique, where it signifies a specific class of people: the progeny of the mixed-race recognized children of plantation owners.

7. See Makward and Miller in their translation Island Memories of Ina Césaire's play Mémoires d'Isles in Plays by French and Francophone Women: A Critical Anthology, ed. and trans. Christiane P. Makward and Judith G. Miller (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 49–74, at 56 n. 8.

8. Ibid., 61–2.

9. See ibid., 62 n. 9.

10. Ibid., 47.

11. Suzanne Crosta, “De la communication politique à la recherché d'un espace-écoute: recettes thérapeutiques dans le théâtre antillais,” in Les Théâtres francophones et créolophones, ed. Ruprecht, 59–72.

12. Jones Bridget, “Two Plays by Ina Césaire: Mémoires d'Isles and L'Enfant des passages,” Theatre Research International 15.3 (1990): 223–33, at 228.

13. Ibid.

14. See Burton Richard D. E. and Reno F., eds., French and West Indian: Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana Today (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1995).

15. Beriss David, Black Skins, French Voices: Caribbean Ethnicity and Activism in Urban France (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004), 25.

16. See Fassin Didier and Fassin Éric, De la question sociale à la question raciale (Paris: La Découverte, 2006).

17. See Edouard Glissant's discussion of sameness and diversity in Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays, trans. J. Michael Dash (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989), 97–104; or Richard D. E. Burton's characterization of the three great French Caribbean literary movements (Aimé Césaire's négritude, the Créolité movement, and Glissant's theories of diversity and relation) as “three principals of difference” in “The Idea of Difference in Contemporary French West Indian Thought: Négritude, Antillanité, Créolité,” in French and West Indian, ed. Burton and Reno, 137–66, at 141.

18. Bernabé Jean, Chamoiseau Patrick, and Confiant Raphaël, Eloge de la Créolité/In Praise of Creoleness, trans. Taleb-Khyar Mohamed B. (Paris: Gallimard, 1993), 87.

19. Beriss, 38.

20. Fassin Éric, “‘Good to Think’: The American Reference in French Discourses of Immigration and Ethnicity,” in Multicultural Questions, ed. Joppke Christian and Lukes Steven (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 224–41.

21. Arnold A. James, “The Gendering of Créolité: The Erotics of Colonialism,” in Penser la créolité, ed. Condé Maryse and Cottenet-Hage Madeleine (Paris: Karthala, 1995), 2140.

22. Schnepel Ellen M., “The Other Tongue, the Other Voice: Language and Gender in the French Caribbean,” in Language and Social Identity, ed. Blot Richard K. (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003), 199224.

23. Ibid., 210.

24. See Makward, “De bouche à oreille à bouche”; and Christiane Makward, “Filles du soleil noir: sur deux pièces d'Ina Césaire et de Michèle Césaire,” in Elles écrivent des Antilles, ed. Rinne and Vitiello, 335–47.

25. Glissant, Caribbean Discourse, 196.

26. Jones Bridget, “Theatre and Resistance? An Introduction to Some French Caribbean Plays,” in An Introduction to Caribbean Francophone Writing: Guadeloupe and Martinique, ed. Haigh Sam (Oxford: Berg, 1999), 83100, at 83.

27. Jones, “Two Plays by Ina Césaire,” 231.

28. Alvina Ruprecht, “Les Pratiques scéniques et textuelles de la région caribéenne francophone et créolophone: Mise au point,” in Les Théâtres francophones et créolophones, ed. Ruprecht, 11–34, at 26.

29. Ibid., 18.

30. Aurélie Dalmat, interview with the author, 15 July 2005, Fort-de-France, Martinique.

31. Majumdar Margaret A., Postcoloniality: The French Dimension (New York: Berghahn Books, 2007).

32. Gilbert and Tompkins, 2.

33. Ibid., 3.

34. Ibid., 257.

35. “On n'en est plus au niveau de ‘Qui sommes-nous?’ … ‘Quelle est notre identité?’ L'identité, elle est. Moi, personnellement je ne me pose plus la question de l'identité, je la ressens très profondément, sans complexe, sans amertume…. On ne peut pas assimiler cela! Quand je lis Dostoïevsky je ne suis pas Russe, or je peux entrer dans la peau des personnages et Les Frères Karamazov, ça me passionne! J'aime Tchekov! Donc je crois que n'importe qui peut comprendre l'âme d'un Antillais s'il prend la peine de (se) pénétrer lui-même.” John Christiane Makward and Adam, “Faire son théâtre en Martinique: Ina Césaire et Michèle Césaire,” Oeuvres et Critiques 26.1 (2001): 110–21, at 116. [This and any other translations otherwise unattributed are my own.]

36. See Pavis Patrice, “Introduction: Towards a Theory of Interculturalism in Theatre?” in The Intercultural Performance Reader, ed. Pavis Patrice (London: Routledge, 1996), 121.

37. Gilbert and Tompkins, 9.

38. Bharucha Rustom, “Peter Brook's Mahabharata: A View from India,” in Theatre and the World: Essays on Performance and the Politics of Culture, ed. Bharucha (London: Routledge, 1993), 6887, at 70. [Also in Peter Brook and the Mahabharata: Critical Perspectives, ed. David Williams (London: Routledge, 1991), 228–52.]

39. Ibid., 84.

40. Peter Brook, “The Culture of Links,” in Intercultural Performance Reader, ed. Pavis, 63–6.

41. Gilbert and Tompkins, 10.

42. Balme, Decolonizing the Stage, 11, 17.

43. Ibid., 271–2.

44. Condé Maryse, An tan revolisyon: Elle court, elle court la liberté. Pointe-à-Pitre: Conseil Régional de la Guadeloupe, 1989; Maryse Condé, with Doris Y. Kadish,and Jean-Pierre Joseph Piriou, In the Time of the Revolution. (Electronic Edition) by Alexander Street Press, L.L.C., Alexandria, VA 2009. © Maryse Condé, Doris Y. Kadish, and Jean-Pierre Joseph Piriou, 1989. Available at: http://solomon.bld2.alexanderstreet.com.turing.library.northwestern.edu/cgi-bin/asp/philo//navigate.pl?bld2.928.

45. See Makward, “Reading Maryse Condé's Theatre,” 686.

46. “Je me suis inspirée de l'occasion de sortir l'ethnologie de son ghetto de specialists et de le restituer à ceux qui sont les premiers concernés”; Césaire quoted in Ruben Gachy, “Les mémoires d'Isles: Maman N et maman F,” POCO (October 1983): 32–3.

47. Quotations are most often taken from Christiane Makward and Judith Miller's published text, which was written after the production. At the Département des Arts du spectacle at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris [hereafter BnF], I consulted the archival collection on the Théâtre du Campagnol, which houses various performance scripts that I compared with the published text, as well as production reviews.

48. “Pointillieux, on l'imagine, sur les plans politique, linguistique, et cutané.” Makward, “De bouche à oreille à bouche,” 138.

49. “Libéral sans doute, mais modeste, mal informé des réalités antillaises et éventuellement, à la fibre patriotique sensible.” Ibid.

50. Bridget Jones notes that the “judicious” use of Creole “prove[s] no obstacle to varied audiences,” arguing that theatre is a place where “barriers of verbal incomprehension [can] be overcome.” Jones, “Two Plays by Ina Césaire,” 228, 231. Stéphanie Bérard makes a similar claim, pointing out that Césaire's Hermance uses Creole mostly to rephrase claims already made in French. Bérard, “Creole ou/et Français: le multilinguisme dans Mémoires d'Isles d'Ina Césaire,” Glottopol 3 (January 2004): 122–30, at 123.

51. Aimé Césaire: Une Tempête (Paris: Seuil, 1969); La Tragédie du Roi Christophe (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1970); Une Saison au Congo (Paris: Seuil, 1967).

52. See Christopher Balme's theorization of the semiotics of postcolonial drama; Balme, “Syncretic Theatre: The Semiotics of Postcolonial Drama and Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman,” in New Theatre in Francophone and Anglophone Africa, ed. Fuchs Anne (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999), 209–28, at 227.

53. Aching Gerard, Masking and Power: Carnival and Popular Culture in the Caribbean (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 6.

54. Gilbert and Tompkins (172) make this conclusion for a very similar case study, Jack Davis's The Dreamers.

55. Césaire, Island Memories, 52.

56. See Glissant Edouard, Poetics of Relation, trans. Wing Betsy (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997).

57. Glissant Edouard, “The Unforeseeable Diversity of the World,” trans. Saussy Haun, in Beyond Dichotomies: Histories, Identities, Cultures, and the Challenge of Globalization, ed. Mudimbe-Boyi Elisabeth (Albany: State University of New York, 2002), 287–95, at 290.

58. Jones, “Two Plays by Ina Césaire,” 226.

59. Penchenat quoted in Mireille Lespinasse, “Les Violons du Bal,” Avant Scène, consulted at Département des Arts du spectacle, BnF.

60. Makward, “De bouche à oreille à bouche,” 134.

61. “La mémoire des peuples et de cultures.” Césaire quoted in Gachy, 32.

62. Jones, “Two Plays by Ina Césaire,” 225–6.

63. “A cela s'ajoute le jeu des comédiennes qui sont elles-même antillaises, et qui m'ont aidée en apportant leurs vécus, leurs souvenirs, enrichissant le texte, elles ont retrouvé des gestes naturellement, la recherché a été dépassée par la vie, et aussi la mise en scène de Jean-Claude Penchenat qui connaît, il est vrai, très peu les Antilles.” Césaire quoted in Gachy, 33.

64. “Le mécanisme de la mémoire, quelque chose qui m'est cher!”; Penchenat quoted in Lespinasse.

65. Césaire, Island Memories, 49. This author's note appears both in the program for the performance (archived in the Département des Arts du spectacle, BnF) and in the published text.

66. Taken from the program insert; consulted at Département des Arts du spectacle, BnF. Cf. quotation in n. 46.

67. Miller Judith, “Caribbean Women Playwrights: Madness, Memory, but Not Melancholia,” Theatre Research International 23.3 (1998): 225–32, at 225.

68. Makward, “Filles du soleil noir,” 337.

69. Césaire, Island Memories, 52.

70. For a discussion of Carnival in the production, see De Souza Pascale, “Discours carnavalesque chez Ina Césaire: déferler les Mémoires d'Iles,” Œuvres et Critiques 26.1 (2001): 122–33.

71. “Inverser symboliquement la pyramide ethno-sociale.” Ibid., 128.

72. “Qui n'a pas vu un carnaval antillais ne sait pas ce qu'est un carnaval. Je ne parle pas, comme à Rio de débauche d'argent. Les gens se transforment, il y un jour où tous les hommes sont femmes et où les femmes sont hommes, les sexes s'inversent et les pauvres deviennent riches … c'est le goût du masque primaire, on prend ce qu'on a à la maison. Le visage peint, on ne reconnaît personne, c'est un moment différent, délirant.” Césaire interviewed in Houyoux, 355.

73. See Christopher Balme's discussion of Carnival in Caribbean theatre; Balme, Decolonizing the Stage, 44–53. Note especially Maxwell's belief that while Caribbean artists were divided between “folk” and “Western-influenced” groups, Carnival could provide healing through a synthesis of this rupture; ibid., 52.

74. Gilbert and Tompkins, 231.

75. Aching, 7.

76. Clark, 43.

77. Although there are strong traditions of comedic skits in Creole and contes, or folktales, “theatre” in Martinique comes out of the French tradition.

78. Although the playscripts in the archival collection of the Théâtre du Campagnol in the BnF's Département des Arts du spectacle are not exactly the same as the published text and notably include moments of improvisation, the overall arc of the play as well as the dialogue in each are very similar. The dialogue I quote in this article appears in both places.

79. See the juxtaposition of these two women's use of language in Bérard, 125.

80. Césaire Ina, Mémoires d'Isles: Maman N. et Maman F. (Paris: Éditions Caribéennes, 1985), 40–1.

81. Césaire, Island Memories, 54.

82. “Dénoncent avec humour la société coloniale dans laquelle les enfants apprennent à chanter ‘Tombe la neige.’” P. M., “‘Mémoires d'Iles, Maman N. et Maman F.’ par le Théâtre du Campagnol,” Lutte Ouvrière 816 (21 January 1984), consulted at the Département des Arts du spectacle, BnF.

83. “‘A l’école on nous faisait chanter la neige tombe sur Paris,' se souvient non sans sourire l'ancienne institutrice. Deux vies dessinées sur toile de fond colonial et ce n'est évidemment pas pour rien qu'au prologue, dans ces costumes où s'opposent le noir et le blanc, on évoque Christophe Colomb et ses caravelles.” “Mémoires d'Isles ‘Maman N et Maman F,’” Révolution (20 January 1984), consulted at the Département des Arts du spectacle, BnF.

84. Bhabha Homi K., The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1992), 86.

85. Césaire, Mémoires d'Isles, 71–2.

86. Césaire, Island Memories, 68.

87. Bérard (129) suggests a second reading: although it is likely that someone from his generation would not speak French, it is also possible that Aure's grandfather knows French but refuses to speak it out of pride.

88. Césaire, Island Memories, 68.

89. A reference to the divine twins and the child born directly afterward, a sign of the marasa consciousness that moves beyond the binary in a cyclical, spiral relationship. Clark, 43.

90. “La Martinique, la Guadeloupe, qu'importe. Françaises en tout cas”; J. M., “Maman N et Maman F: Mémoire des Antilles,” Le Nouveau Journal (14 January 1984). Note that this review is a response to a reprise of the same production at Théâtre 18 in 1984.

91. “Loin des imageries exotiques”; ibid.

92. “Il n'y a pas une once de folklore”; ibid.

93. “N'a eu recours à aucun artifice”; C. Ba., “Mémoires d'Isles par le Campagnol,” Le Monde (17 January 1984).

94. “Il s'agit d'accepter notre passé, il ne s'agit pas d'en avoir honte, il ne s'agit plus d'en pleurer. Nous avons acquis le droit de ne plus pleurer sur notre passé, nous devons l'assume et pouvoir le dépasser. Se référer à notre passé, c'est montrer aujourd'hui notre pouvoir de l'assumer, malgré les vicissitudes de notre histoire. Le simple fait que ces femmes aient survécu, le courage, la force, ainsi que leur désire de faire progresser leurs enfants, pour moi fait partie d'un élan de vie qui prend des aspects libératoires.” Césaire quoted in Gachy, 33.

95. Miller, 225.

96. Césaire, Island Memories, 59.

97. Ibid., 58–9.

98. Gilbert and Tompkins, 215.

99. “Il ne s'agit pas de pleurer, de s'apitoyer, de se faire plaindre, d'invoquer la pitié. Il s'agit seulement de ‘dire’”; D. M., “Rue Cases—Nègres sur scène,” Témoignage Chrétien, undated newspaper clipping from the Département des Arts du spectacle, BnF.

Research for this essay was made possible by several grants from Northwestern University: the French Interdisciplinary Group Travel Grant, the Program in African American History Travel Grant, and the Paris Program in Critical Theory Fellowship. I would like to express my gratitude to Christiane Makward, who provided valuable feedback as well as the production images from her personal collection, and to Sandra Richards, whose insightful comments helped me develop my argument. I would also like to thank two anonymous readers for their helpful comments and Catherine Cole and Leo Cabranes-Grant, whose generous editorial support guided me greatly as I shaped the final version of this essay.

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Theatre Survey
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