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From Aesthetics to Allegory


and Interdisciplinary Translation
Justin Izzo

Emily Apter devotes two chapters of The Translation Zone -
ining creolized modes of communication and “translational language” as well as the ways créolité
allows for a thoroughgoing reconceptualization of literary history.1

La migration des cœurs that draws provocative conclu-
sions about genre and narrative in the creole -

creates and thematizes its own literary conditions of possibility by pointing to “the way in which

ability to narrativize its literariness and its commitment to “the transcoding of language politics into
narrative structure.”2
plot and narrative, the creole novel also tells the story of its status as literature, and I argue that for

1 Emily Apter, The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 160, 190.
2 Ibid., 190.

small axe 42 November 2013 DOI 10.1215/07990537-2378937 © Small Axe, Inc.

These broad concerns are echoed in Eloge de la créolité. 58–59. L’allée des soupirs. 29–36. and novel. Le nègre et l’amiral Tristes Tropiques Penguin.3 it advocates powerfully for the ethnographic as a representational model for Caribbean literature. 1992). here signals that translation also accounts for the conversion of ethnographic modes of writing and L’allée des soupirs. and for the ways the ethnographic writ large might be brought into the realm of the creole novel. - - rative. 1998). CA: Stanford University Press. draws on and moves between different modes of writing (the treatise.4 of representation. bent as they are on burrowing into the cultural minutiae of everyday life. the now-canonical treatise on creole aesthetics L’allée des soupirs Islands and Exiles: The Creole Identities of Post/Colonial Literature (Stanford. the creole novel appears to embed theory within practice in such a way that the former term and literature slip deftly from political and aesthetic theory into readily consumable narrative form. . aesthetic debates on Creole language politics can be translated into the novel-form via considerations of how Le nègre et l’amiral on his home island during World War II and contains a humorous cameo appearance by anthro- 1941.| solder together without effecting a seamless integration that would result in their indistinguishability. the novel.

Georges Placide. I would suggest that this aesthetic is predicated more on demonstrating how Creole literary pro- Créolité and L’allée des soupirs. no. 7 Ibid. as they refer to it here. 303. does not imply a totalizing account of another culture 7 L’allée des soupirs - Eloge - 8 racial categories—not to mention disparate racial(ized) ideologies in a newly postcolonial context The 1959 riots thus do not so much “happen” in the novel as they are written into existence via an - conventional sense as an organizing or totalizing narrative perspective. 42 • • Justin Izzo | 91 5 approaches this problem by translating the aesthetic precepts set out in Eloge into a creole novel that ethnographically allegorizes its own conditions of production. 1999). 23. 24–25. 6 Note that holism. All translations from this novel are my own. Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences. Les émeutes de décembre 1959 en Martinique: Un repère historique operating in the novel.9 L’allée des soupirs as offering an L’allée des soupirs AS.. .” French Review 73. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 3 (1999): 301–11. 2nd ed.

and racial characteristics of - you!. 1955).| for a mode of expression capable of capturing the linguistic. In less abstract 10 and it As James Clifford has reminded us. allegory as a rhetorical device encourages us to observe representation. cultural.. 100 (emphasis in original). as novelists have narrativized creole cultural 10 These literary issues have properly anthropological antecedents.”12 If the ethnographic approaches literature and storytelling via allegory.” exclaims Chartier at one point [AS coexisting with the decidedly dystopian and disastrous cultural present of the text. - Contacts de civilisations en Martinique et en Guadeloupe (Paris: Gallimard/UNESCO. can we not claim that the reverse also holds true? In the francophone Carib- bean context especially this seems to be the case. 1958). . 11 Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography 12 Ibid. Pointing out that ethnographic writing is allegorical in both its form and content. though. Clifford sees stories and storytelling as vehicles for the production and transmission of ethno- 11 same conceptual well when they highlight how allegory “draws special attention to the narrative character of cultural representations. as ethnographers in the Caribbean have sought to Ainsi parla l’oncle Le vaudou haïtien (Paris: Gallimard.

134–43. but it is enough for our purposes to observe that he carefully explains how a creole method of approaching storytelling might reshape what we can refer to as a 13 L’adieu au voyage: L’ethnologie française entre science et littérature (Paris: Gallimard. Illiterate. allegory allows ethnographic understood in its broadest sense. reason she does not share their low extraction. other versions of this episode are also worthy of being heard” (AS what these other versions could be. 14 Texaco Ecrire en pays dominé 15 Hadriana dans tous mes rêves (Paris: Gallimard. 1988). To mention only several 13 a similar move in Texaco 14 In Hadriana dans tous mes rêves playfully constructs and defends “scholarly” ethnographic propositions as explanations for the prevalence of zomberie 15 If. This is why we can observe a relationship between - and accounts of a given event or situation (some more plausible or “magically realist” than others). as Clifford argues. 42 • • Justin Izzo | 93 representations in terms of strategies we can recognize as anthropological. . 2010). L’allée des soupirs both allegorizes debates on the aesthetic possibilities it sets out to describe. 438. she brandishes a slip of paper she claims code noir she had - the contrary to whites for whom the straight line is the shortest distance between two points.

since the aestheticization of creoleness is treated here as “a question to be lived” more than as one that would possess a cor- responding literary “solution” of some sort (EC Eloge already seems to point to how creoleness as a problem for art must be translated into lived experience. of our reality” (EC. represents only L’allée des soupirs is also in implicit dialogue with a to outline at the end of the 1980s in their now famous treatise. a crucial translational idea to which we will return below. 17 The authors do go on to state that “these realities ought not to be described ethnographically” (EC. as the . 89). ethnographic) ways of perceiving. To perceive our existence is to perceive us in the context of our history. 102–5. Above determines the patterns and structure of the imaginary. second. I suggest. EC.| literary culture differs from that which is easily recognizable to white Europeans. of our daily lives. no. Writing about Edouard Eloge in its openness and resis- Eloge Textual Practice Texaco. In this text that what amounts to Caribbean literary production is a form of writing that neither calls upon nor 16 - has characterized writing from and about the francophone Caribbean (EC. with overcoming this exteriority by dialectically writing it into a vision of postcolonial literary history that would account for the contemporary lived realities of creoleness as a nontotalizable identity (EC. 101). With its focus on the related categories of lived experience and everyday life. and accounting for the complexities of L’allée des soupirs debt.” Small Axe. 82. bilingual ed. 100). the text in many ways offers ethnographic solutions to aesthetic problems. because it translates these tenets of Eloge the creole novel. 16 Eloge de la créolité / In Praise of Creoleness.. 36 The Sense of Community in French Caribbean Fiction (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.17 ourselves” (EC (namely. 2008). Eloge de la créolité. however. interacting with. 75–87) and.

. a relationship that endows L’allée des soupirs with its generic and representational power. Negritude represents one form of literary exteriority among others (EC Contemporary French and Francophone Studies 15. where the - style and. who appears as a translator in his or her own right. Ethnography is particularly amenable to translation because as a genre it already represents a sort of conversion from the rich messiness of everyday practices. allegorizes this process in turn) also sets in motion a form of translation between ethnography and literature. what he perceives as the defects inherent to all hitherto existing poetry in poets prefer the pure air of nature. untouched. yes. no. Poetic language. translation is “scandal- ous”—but productively so—since it unavoidably creates new practices of reading and writing as 18 - a concurrent postulating of the translational relationship between ethnography and literature. Chartier indicts what he out that poetry is largely unconcerned with the social drama of everyday life. as we will see. they are able to set in motion ethnographic thought world)19 - is an outlier of sorts. it 18 See Lawrence Venuti. 1 (2011): 20. discourses. 113). untouched by man. On the one hand. by extension. and struggles to the polished ethnographic text as organized by the anthropologist. As Lawrence Venuti puts it. The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference 19 Eloge. how should I put it. - ing in translational and disciplinary free play. 42 • • Justin Izzo | 95 This passage from a theory of creole aesthetics to the literary praxis of the creole novel (which. since no one in the proletarian neighborhood of Terres-Sainville. beliefs. rather than diving into the foulness of everyday life” (AS.

| “untranslatable.” insofar as it cannot be converted into a language-based account of lived experi- Cahier d’un retour au pays natal AS - - a certain excess of the reality of island life. the two characters continue their discussion. 110). What these Later in the novel. and Chartier begins to lay out . It is the disproportion between this permanent excess AS - disproportion and démesure AS.

creole literary “hero” is also in certain respects a cultural construct. of unheard-of biological and social heritages” (AS. and migration that comprise the form. To write an “ordinary” creole character with a view toward representing everyday life is to tap into a history and ontology of the cultural present that weighs far too heavily to be treated as mere contextualization and that demands to be dealt with via a literary form capable of approaching and moving beyond “the surface of everyday life. Incredibly enough. Chartier corrects him by replying that “anyone and to scratch the surface of everyday life to realize that everyone here is the product of an incredible sum of madnesses. the repository of any number because of the histories of colonization. Or if one manages to do it. it comes at AS Chartier. then. This is a realism that is at once up to creole culture in any simplistically holistic manner.” of reality without pretending to be able to exhaust it. already distended and spilling over its own representative boundaries. indentured labor. 1 (1997): 15–16. We need to build the Creole novel with the houses” (AS patches of the social existence of ordinary human beings whose lives are sewn together in such a way that the seams are always intentionally left showing. slavery. Jean provocatively replies that le nègre must be nothing but a literary velléitaire. entrenched as he is in his 20 Cultural Anthropology 12. . no. 42 • • Justin Izzo | 97 20 Chartier a hundred or two hundred pages on his deeds and actions. since he cannot constitute a hero strong willed enough to hold a novel together. of intermingled legends.

the text is inter- Chartier near the end of the novel that he will never stray from the poetic word.| around him stems from his awareness that his poetic rhetoric does not measure up to the “excès the same time too simple and too pure. 239]). we as readers come L’allée des soupirs is precisely the novel he could have written had Since we can read L’allée des soupirs as offering an ethnographic allegory of its own produc- - . or rather they were superior to their own personal history - tions or beliefs. weigh more heavily than their meager selves” (AS story comes from the fact that he refuses to choose from among all these “heroic” points of view. - tion of the Creole language (which Chartier refers to as a “verbal elixir” [AS.

Each of these characters has her or his own life story L’allée des soupirs and because it actually enacts the terms of this debate in the very form and narrative organization of the novel. to more than creatively and playfully experiment with new conceptions of language politics. the text is in dialogue (insofar as all translation is necessarily dialogic. Additionally. Allegory in the creole novel thus allows for and facilitates the mutual translatability of the ethnographic. To conceive of translation as mobilizing various disciplinary logics and modes of representation has its entrance into and reformulation of literary history and literary modernity. the 21 22 See Apter.22 then the concept of interdisciplinary translation encourages us to observe how this provocative form of narrativization with extraliterary strategies of perception and representational modalities. which lead the novel deeper into a narrativization of everyday life. These ethnographic rep- resentations. 180–82. also lead the novel beyond itself into a metatextual allegory that relies upon the inherent suppleness and translatability translatability is part and parcel of what I have called “interdisciplinary translation” in the novel. . Translation Zone. 189–90. as and harmony with the intentio of an original)21 Eloge and creole hybridity and métissage in the francophone Caribbean imaginary. 42 • • Justin Izzo | 99 béké (white creole) community on the island. Second. and relatedly.