Alphonse de Lamartine's Toussaint Louverture and the staging of white masculinity.
The play confirms that the viability and stability of a white masculine identity are predicated on the existence of a specific kind of black male body, a body that does not exist but that has in fact to be created and molded through language and the other instruments and institutions of power like slavery and other forms of subjugation. Lamartine's play exposes the black male body then as the privileged site where the forces of power (within a white supremacist patriarchy) are deployed and played out. Moreover, in staging what is presented as the political and military conflict between Toussaint Louverture and Napoleon Bonaparte, the play demonstrates how race and gender in nineteenth-century Europe converge in a way that produces oppositional black and white masculinities that remain nevertheless mimetic, confluent, and even complicit at times. Toussaint Louverture confirms, in other words, that a hegemonic white masculine subjectivity and agency presuppose an identification with and appropriation of black male corporeality and a simultaneous denial of that identification and appropriation.
A camouflaged white masculine anxiety about gender and race prerogatives also helps to explain the ambivalence and the overall dissatisfaction that nineteenth-century spectators and readers expressed about the play (Lombard 67). A sustained examination of this anxiety illuminates as well the discrepancy between Lamartine's explicitly stated moral and political objectives in composing the drama and the unconscious moral if not political effect the play exerted on its intended readers. In the preface to the initial 1850 publication of Toussaint Louverture, Lamartine revalidates his already well established and unchallenged abolitionist credentials by chronicling the evolution of his thinking and actions (as a member of the French Chamber of Deputies and as Minister of Foreign Affairs during the provisional government of France's Second Republic) pertaining to the full political enfranchisement of black men and Haitian sovereignty. However, in the 1850 preface, the author's recollection of his political sentiments and actions is but a pretext and constitutes a screen--in the psychoanalytic sense that a screen is a false memory that protects against an unacceptable desire or fear--for the projection of this anxiety about the stability of a racial identity grounded in the body. This acute anxiety manifests a particularly masculine inflection that can best be characterized as narcissistic, fetishistic, and hysterical. (3)
Although Lamartine began composing Toussaint Louverture as early as 1839, he did not take measures to publish the play until two years after the abolition of slavery (1848); he sought a publisher at that time, in all likelihood, to underwrite some financial obligations. Because of the author's comments in the preface to the text and given the play's explicit subject, critics have generally assumed that the drama does in fact target the proslavery or antiabolitionist European reader, the "Negrophobe," to use the language of the century, in an effort to get him to alter his thinking and actions. On the contrary, the play speaks implicitly to an imagined abolitionist, the "Negrophile;" by staging his sentiments, the drama facilitates the bonding of the community of abolitionists by providing them with a common experience of racial identity. Moreover, as the preface confirms, for Lamartine, the Negrophile, like the Negrophobe, is indeed presumptively male.
It is precisely the nineteenth-century male abolitionist reader who would have had reasons to be dissatisfied and somewhat uncomfortable with the play because it both reinforces and invalidates his notion of racial identity. Moreover, although spectators at the premiere nineteenth-century representation of Toussaint Louverture appear to have appreciated Lamartine's drama (Lombard 67; Hoffmann, Introduction xii), this appreciation, as I shall explain later, has little to do with the ostensible politics of the play regarding slavery, the status of black men, and Haitian independence. Therefore, a full expose of the author's racial sentiments and political behavior does not assist in determining why the play posed such a dilemma for some of its readers in particular and if indeed the play succeeds as a literary project. Finally, since Toussaint Louverture does not accomplish what the author intends in that the play's overt political and moral objectives do not correspond to its unconscious political and moral effects, one must indeed look beyond the author's specific politics and individual psychology to understand the collective imaginary, this collective narrative of racial difference that subtends the period. (4)
THE EXPERIENCE OF RACE AND AN OBSESSION WITH THE BLACK MALE BODY
Lamartine's drama can be located within that nineteenth-century literary tradition which is antislavery, if not always antiracist, and which includes a number of French writers who represent black characters within their fiction and their plays (Hoffmann, Le Negre). As a part of this tradition (which, I have postulated, would include an 1816 text by Victor Hugo ["Victor Hugo"]), Lamartine's representation of a "black" man appears to countermand the accepted scientific views of the time which confirm that European and African men differ anatomically, psychologically, and in their moral imperative. Whereas nineteenth-century somatology--including studies in anatomy and ethnology--is unanimous in proclaiming that an obvious and impenetrable border forever segregates the races (Hailer), Lamartine's play appears on the surface at least to constitute an attempt to deny the border segregating the races. Or, at the very least, if not to deny this border, the play acknowledges it provisionally in order, ultimately, to erase it by proclaiming that black and white men, in spite of their different pigmentation, are in fact indistinguishable anatomically, psychologically, and morally.
Within the play, Toussaint is presented, for example, as possessing certain psychological traits and confronting particular moral choices facing Other (i.e., European) heroes: He is a devoted father, an intelligent, courageous, and magnanimous warrior caught seemingly between his love for his family and his duty to his country and his people. Toussaint agonizes: "Liberte de ma race, es-tu donc ace prix, / Que pour sauver mon peuple, il faut perdre mes fils? / Que pour sauver mes fils, il faut perdre ma race?" (lines 2238-40) (5) Within such a moral impasse, the character resembles a Cornelian hero of seventeenth-century drama. Yet, although Toussaint appears to speak, reason, and behave like the typical hero of Classic French drama, Lamartine is unequivocal in reiterating that his hero, in contrast to the typically young and comely hero that populates Classic drama, is old and physically unattractive. Toussaint is indeed abjectly "ugly," as he himself concedes: "Le vengeur d'un peuple qu'on outrage / Dans son corps contrefait doit en etre l'image! / Tu me trouves trop vieux, trop laid pour un heros? / Plus le bois est noueux, mieux il brise les os" (2359-63).
Still, the text, in a critical scene in the final act, reaffirms that absent the Negroid exterior, black men and white men are indistinguishable. Toussaint, in attempting to convince his black collaborators not to fear whites, recounts how he himself has come to conclude that black and white men are physically indistinguishable after comparing from head to toe two cadavers, one slave and one master, in a cemetery: "En vain je comparai [les deux cadavres] membrane par membrane, / C'etaient les memes jours percant les murs du crane, / Memes os, memes sens, tout pareil, tout egal" (2309-11).
Apart from this autopsy, no attention is paid to the white male body and there is no description of a white male body, including bodily vestments, in Toussaint Louverture, even though, I contend, white masculinity constitutes the focus of the drama in the personages principally of Father Antoine, Salvador, and General Leclerc. All three characters appear as somewhat disembodied voices; their psychologies emerge and the reader understands who they are and their motivations without an indication of their outward appearance, their corporeality. The closest exception is Salvador, the character who has fathered a daughter with Toussaint's sister and whose visage is evoked parenthetically (it is indicated simply that he is handsome) by way of a portrait of him contained in a small pendant worn by this daughter, Adrienne.
Ultimately, however, the most important character in the historical events unfolding, Napoleon, is completely absent from the text but appears as a disembodied voice twice removed. Napoleon speaks, as it were, through a determinant letter (in terms of the play's dramatic development) that he addresses to Toussaint (2:vii). It is as though the French ruler, like Jehova, cannot be represented. Yet, his specter haunts the entire play and he motivates all of the characters and all of the action. In particular, it is the absent Napoleon with whom Toussaint is obsessed and with whom he compulsively compares himself. Moreover, Toussaint is convinced that Napoleon sees him as an equal notwithstanding his black exterior (681-86).
The status of the white male body, its non-materiality, is made even more pronounced in that no male body is designated as "blanc"; moreover, the substantive "un blanc" is never used in verse (as opposed to the prose in stage directions) to designate a specific male character. The noun is usually plural and, in the singular form, it designates European men in general (both colonial and metropolitan). The only exception to this rule applies to the absent Napoleon when one of Toussaint's sons, explaining why he mistrusts the French ruler but considers Toussaint Haiti's savior, exclaims simply that "Bonaparte est un blanc!" (1342). Yet the incorporeal, invisible Napoleon is nonetheless the emblem and agent of absolute power.
Apart from this exception, the white male (body) is colorless, the first index of a denied materiality. The play therein establishes that white male corporeality, if it is a factor at all, is secondary; it establishes, by inference, that the white male intellect and moral code define the European man. He is formed by culture as opposed to nature. The incorporeality of white masculine agency has consequences for how the black male body is subsequently conceived and represented because if European men in general (and Napoleon in particular) are body-less, then Toussaint is all body. In contrast to the other characters in the play, Toussaint's body is invariably qualified as "noir" and the character is referred to and refers to himself as "un noir." Therefore, he possesses a body that is first marked by language. Moreover, Toussaint's body, as Father Antoine informs him, has a different name from that of his soul: "Toussaint [...] C'est le nom de ton corps; mais le nom de ton ame, / C'est Aurore, dit-il" (500-03). Still, it is his body rather than his soul that defines Toussaint and accounts for his entire existence. For example, it is by mortgaging his body that Toussaint has acquired his military skill and earned the right to literacy (1284-85).
In addition to possessing the only palpable body, Toussaint's body is plastic since he can transform and control it. He is able in effect to modify his body (including his posture, his gait, as well as his eyes, his entire face, and his speech) at will. In order to infiltrate the French military encampment, for example, he transforms himself from the robust, discerning general and leader of an entire people to a feeble, blind beggar dependent on the mercy of others and unrecognizable even to his closest collaborators (1038-43). It is in this way that the protean Toussaint is corpus in toto. He is the sole man in this text who is made into flesh to be tortured ("chair a torturer") (2412). Furthermore, because his flesh still displays the permanently open wounds inflicted by his former master (1055-58), his body emerges as the prototypic body marked by white masculine power: "Ne me crois pas fletri de montrer au dehors / Le sceau de l'esclavage imprime sur mon corps" (l064-65). (6)
Finally, Toussaint's body is preeminent to the extent that it is doubly present within the text. For a significant part of the play (II.ix-IV.viii), Toussaint is disguised as the old beggar so that he, like Napoleon, can be absent and present everywhere simultaneously: "Il faut etre invisible et present en tout lieu, / Autant qu'un pauvre noir peut ressembler a Dieu" (1032-33). His physical body emerges as the negative image (in the photographic sense) of Napoleon. Toussaint is presented as the European ruler's shadow because he, like Napoleon, also becomes a specter that haunts every scene of the play.
Just as Toussaint is obsessed with Napoleon's power, the Haitian leader himself, that is, his physical body, emerges as the object of Napoleon's obsession; and the play is presented as a crucial contest between the two men. The entire drama hinges upon whether or not Napoleon can either intimidate or seduce Toussaint to remain loyal to his authority or if he must annihilate this black threat to his supremacy (II.vii). As the object of Napoleon's obsession, Toussaint too then motivates all of the other characters and events. Although the resolution to this conflict between the two men does not play itself out on stage, as it were, the text does not leave the question open. The narrative logic of the play leaves no doubt that Toussaint will perish forthwith, his seared flesh excised from the (white) body politic. (7)
However, since there is no white male body anchoring this text, the black male body becomes a surrogate for it in terms of how the text must be read. The presumptive white abolitionist male reader is constrained (by the very structure of the drama) to identify with Toussaint, including, in what seems rather counterintuitive, to identify with his body. Toussaint, for this reader, is then simultaneously other and self, or, more precisely, a version of the self. This black leader embodies masculinity in its adulterated form, not as God created it but as slavery has molded it. In other words, although Lamartine's play is structured in such a manner that the reader looking at Toussaint, so to speak, is meant to be looking at himself, there are in fact two ways of looking such that the play allows for both an identification with blackness and a simultaneous denial of that identification.
In the written text, this dynamic of identification with blackness is evident in the function of Father Antoine, the character who most nearly incarnates what Lamartine professes to constitute the political and moral objectives of the drama. In addition, this dynamic of identification, one that both affirms and negates racial difference, is rendered apparent when one considers how the play was staged and the role of the actor Federick Lemaitre in the performances that took place at the Theatre de la Porte Saint-Martin in Paris in 1850.
TAKING ON BLACK SKIN: FATHER ANTOINE, NAPOLEON, AND THE (ABOLITIONIST) READER
Father Antoine is the sole white character who declares that black and white men are equals in God's eyes and who affirms that God is on the side of the oppressed (595-608). Moreover, he identifies with Toussaint. In strategic scenes (II.iv, e.g.), the play places the presumptive reader in the position of Father Antoine; that is, the reader's perspective parallels that of this character and vice versa. For example, the reader knows what the priest knows and sees what he sees. Moreover, the priest divines what the 1850 reader already knows, namely Toussaint's ultimate fate. Consequently, since Father Antoine identifies with Toussaint and the reader identifies with Father Antoine, the reader, like the character, is constrained to identify with Toussaint. However, the priest's identification with Toussaint is both narcissistic and anaclitic. (8)
Father Antoine's identification is narcissistic in the sense that when looking at Toussaint, he sees a mirror image of himself (or a version of himself). However, he sees also Napoleon when he is looking at Toussaint, that is, Napoleon's God-given qualities, his intelligence, courage, and power. He sees his own and Napoleon's divinity, in effect. In this instance, the identification is an introjection, understood in the psychoanalytic sense as the appropriating and the taking into the self those desirable qualities found in an external object. Looking at Toussaint this way, the priest (and even Napoleon, presumably, and the intended reader) sees what he himself is or wishes to be; he sees what he desires, a divine interior.
Father Antoine's identification with Toussaint is anaclitic in the sense that when looking at the rebel leader, he (Napoleon/the reader) sees abject difference in the form of a black exterior, a corrupting and corrupted corporeality. In this instance, the identification is a projection, in the sense that all of the undesirable qualities of the self are exorcised and projected onto an external object. Rather than seeing what he desires (to be), Father Antoine (Napoleon/ the reader) sees what he fears, what he is not, and what he wishes not to be; and, therein, in effect, the logic of the contradiction becomes evident. If Father Antoine fears the black exterior, he himself, nevertheless, becomes black as a result of his identification with the saintly interior. In other words, he identifies so intimately with the black struggle for liberty that he takes on black skin. When asked by Toussaint if he is betraying the white race by espousing the cause of black men, Father Antoine replies: "Je suis de la couleur de ceux qu'on persecute" (609). However, whereas in the first instance of narcissistic looking and identification, racial difference is denied, in the second instance of anaclitic looking and identification, racial difference is accepted.
The dynamics in play in Toussaint Louverture suggest then that white masculine anxiety, within the context of a nineteenth-century economy of race and gender, can be more narrowly defined as a particular instance of racialized masculinity, that is, an instance wherein a masculine hierarchy, consisting of a dominant white component and a subordinate black component, is affirmed and then reproduced or denied. By insisting on denying the hierarchy, in declaring black and white bodies interchangeable, the play renders white masculinity problematic. First, in denying a corporeal difference, the play also denies the white male body as the locus of a white masculine specificity and subjectivity; second, the play has to resort to fetishizing blackness (corporeality) and, finally, to re-appropriating the black male body onto which white masculinity is then projected. This denial is the very hallmark of nineteenth-century white masculine anxiety which results invariably in the projection of a white masculine subjectivity onto a fetishized black male corpus.
This dynamic of a simultaneous identification with and against blackness is rendered even more apparent when one considers the details of the premiere staging of Lamartine's play during which the celebrated actor Federick Lemaitre also takes on black skin, quite literally, because he performs in blackface. From a consideration of the 1850 performances of Toussaint Louverture, it becomes clear that part of the pleasure in consuming this text resides, effectively, in its ability to allow the spectator also to take on black skin, to inhabit a black body. This pleasure is contingent, however, on one's ability to discard this skin and this body. It is significant, in other words, that this blackness be superficial and provisional.
Within its very first scene then, this play structures itself irrevocably around the problematic of the white male body and the vicissitudes of white masculine subjectivity and agency. However, given the drama's ostensible subject and central character, this structuring becomes evident only if one underscores the distinction between the play in its written form and its public staging. It is in this distinction that white masculine hysteria, defined as a denial of the white male body as the locus of white masculine subjectivity and as a fetishizing of blackness, becomes more directly evident. In other words, the spectacle of the staging of the play spotlights both the unintended politics as well as the esthetics of the written text. As a result, the stage production of the play underscores the way that the black male body operates in the drama as a fetish which, understood in its psychoanalytic sense, functions, like a dream, to provide the subject mediated access to the other and to pleasure. (9) It is, furthermore, Jean Baudrillard's definition of fetish as factitious, as an artifact, as fabrication, as the work of imagination and representation that is the most apt in accounting for how the nineteenth-century public experienced Lamartine's play (91).
TAKING ON BLACK SKIN: THE STAGING OF TOUSSAINT LOUVERTURE
The opening night of Toussaint Louverture on 6 April 1850 created quite a stir, not because of the renown of the author but because of the enormous public esteem for the actor who was to play the title role. The interest and controversy, at times quite heated and involving some celebrated authors and critics (Hoffmann, Introduction xvi-xvii), revolved around the blackface performance, the very thought of which fascinated spectators but which also made them a bit anxious. In much the same way traditionally that transvestites often fascinate and frighten some men in particular (Stoller), the twenty-seven performances of the play in April and May of 1850 were a source of pleasure tinged with a bit of anxiety for the performers as well as for the public. One famous actress, for example, was not permitted to play the role of Adrienne because her father objected to his daughter being "blackened" for the stage and thus subjected to public contempt and ridicule (Hoffmann, Introduction viii). In addition, critics seemed ambivalent about the ultimate value of these blackface performances in terms of advancing a political and moral agenda (Planhol).
Yet the overall fascination with these performances is evident in part in the appearance of published illustrations that reveal the actors in the process of being made black. These illustrations, because they show white actors in various stages of blackness, provide virtual "before-and-after" images that serve to confirm that the persons on stage are indeed fictional creatures (Hoffmann, Introduction, xliv); the illustrations confirm in particular that the Toussaint on stage, this specific hideous black body, is ultimately not a threat. Therefore, the black(faced) actor, just like the role of Father Antoine in the written text, provides a common way for the spectator to know and to experience blackness. In this way, the performance underscores that aspect of the written text that facilitates the bonding of (white) abolitionist readers by means of a common experience. In other words, the blackface performance reinforces the role of Father Antoine in the text by providing a way for the presumptive spectator to objectify but yet to identify with blackness. In this way then, the performance reproduces the way the written text mediates in effect the white reader's relations with other white readers.
Although all of the black characters on stage are indeed white, it is with Lemaitre's performance in particular that white masculinity is incorporated, that white masculine agency is fleshed out on stage. It might seem ironic that an actor acclaimed because of his physical beauty and charm be chosen (or that he would choose) to portray a physically revolting black man. However, the contract between the publisher of the text and the director of the theater stipulated that only Lemaitre could be cast in the role (Hoffmann, Introduction x-xi). The actor, who had performed in blackface in other productions before 1850, was known and celebrated not merely because of his ability to perform in blackface but, according to Lamartine himself, because of the actor's uncanny ability to become black on stage (Preface 10).
Lemaitre's performance replicates in fact the plasticity of Toussaint's body within the text since the actor too is protean and can transform his body at will from white to black and back again. In other words, the actor can control blackness by making it appear and disappear at will just as Toussaint can change his body from robust, sharp-eyed general to feeble, blind beggar and back again. Since this surface blackness is provisional, as indeed the before-and-after illustrations are designed to reconfirm, the white actor as black character allows spectators to indulge their desire (to take on black skin and to identify with blackness) without being engulfed by their unconscious fear (of being black). (10) Therefore, Lemaitre's performance is palliative since it establishes that identification with blackness, the taking on of black skin, is not permanent. Through the actor's performance, the spectator too can control, at least symbolically and vicariously, a morally attractive yet physically threatening and alienating other. Lemaitre's performance is powerful and pleasurable because, as Eric Lott argues in Love and Theft for blackface performance in general, it reproduces the very anxiety that it (and indeed the written text as a whole) is destined to control if not to eliminate altogether (126-29).
It is precisely by seeing (and believing), on one level, that the person on stage is black, yet knowing, on another level, that he is white that spectators waver between identifying with and identifying against. They oscillate in effect between fascination and fear. In this way, Lemaitre's performance both facilitates and obstructs, in the final analysis, the spectators' identification with blackness. In other words, because of and in spite of a sense of difference (superiority), as Lott argues further for blackface performance in general, the white spectators' identification is facilitated by visual signs of similarity, including body and language; yet, this identification is ultimately obstructed by the repugnant black skin (126-29).
Lott limits his remarks to the comedic performances that took place principally on stages in the northeastern United States. And whereas I maintain that the psychic structures and function of blackface as comedy as it evolved in nineteenth-century North America are the same as those that motivate Lemaitre's performance (i.e., to reproduce and to palliate an anxiety about racial identity), the ultimate forms that these structures assume as well as their cultural effects are quite different. First, at the height of minstrelsy's popularity in the Unites States, around mid-century, the performances consisted of dance, songs, jokes, and skits whose hallmarks were insult and ridicule targeted primarily at black men but often delivered by way of a virulent misogyny. Moreover, American blackface was from its inception an appropriation (deformation) and commodification of certain black cultural productions; blacks and whites alike thought of these productions as capturing "authentic" aspects of black culture. This is not the case for what was taking place on the Paris stage in 1850. In this sense, as one of Lamartine's critics remarked, there was nothing "black" about this stage production of Toussaint Louverture (Hoffmann, Introduction xix) and there was no deliberate attempt to appropriate black cultural forms in general or deliberately to denigrate a hyper-eroticized black masculinity.
Nevertheless, when the curtain rises and Lamartine's drama commences, although the incorporeal (that is, color-less and unmarked) white bodies of the written text do materialize on stage, their natural appearance, that is, their unremarkable appearance only accentuates the special, marked status of the blackened bodies, the white bodies masquerading as black. In other words, the blackened bodies on stage spotlight corporeality and thus race (and gender) in a way that foregrounds and facilitates the formation of a particular white masculine identity and agency. This desire for (yet ambivalence about) black male corporeality helps to produce and cement an oppositional white masculine identity. As Lott's thesis confirms, spectators can reinforce a sense of themselves by identifying with the heroism of a real black(faced) man while at the same time disavowing and rejecting a connection to (and corruption by) blackness (126-129). The performance, in both highlighting and hiding the resemblance between white and black, reproduces the two ways of looking, narcissistic and anaclitic, that occur when one reads the play.
Lemaitre's blackface performance also makes it clear why, in the written text, Toussaint must be made physically abject. He must be rendered ugly precisely in order to nullify those moments of narcissistic looking; he must be made abject to disrupt the identification with blackness. Since a particular form of white masculine identity, as I have suggested, structures itself in this very fluctuation between a narcissistic fascination with and an anaclitic fear of blackness, this identity is reinforced by the wavering that the spectator experiences between believing that the performance is an authentic reproduction of blackness and yet knowing that it is an artifact, a literary creation, and that it constitutes a production of whiteness; in this sense, the black body on stage is a "threat and a defense against this threat" (Lott 9). The performance is a symptom of white masculine hysteria and it functions as an antidote against it by vesting white masculinity in black skin.
Lemaitre's blackface performance, as racial transvestitism, not only confirms an ambivalent desire on the part of white spectators in general to take on black skin, it also lays bare a debilitating anxiety about the stability of a white masculine identity in particular. The performance demonstrates, again as Lott's conclusions would attest, that the racial border is permeable. Therefore, the performance serves simultaneously to erect (reinforce) as well as to dismantle (transgress) the racial border. However, the experience of the spectator merely mimics that of the performer himself. For the actor especially, the experience is visceral, one of both great pleasure and some anxiety, as Lemaitre's biographer intimates (Lecomte). Performing provides a more intimate way for a white subject to appropriate black masculinity, a more intimate way to invest in black skin and, therein, a seemingly unmediated way to possess and control blackness.
Moreover, Lemaitre's pleasure as well as his apprehension about playing this role is evident not only in the unusual way that the actor influenced the logistics of the staging of the play but also in the extraordinary way that he changed the author's text because of his ambivalence. Lamartine acknowledges that the actor became in effect a collaborator who came to assume, to a degree, ownership of the text. Furthermore, Lamartine attributes the entire success of the play to Lemaitre's performance; and several of the author's critics (who regret the mediocrity of the written text) concur with this assessment (Hoffmann, Introduction x-xii). Author and actor did collaborate to modify significantly the written text, according to Lamartine, in order to increase its chances of success on the stage (Preface 5). Lemaitre is responsible ultimately for a complete reworking of the fourth act (and its elimination from the remaining 1850 performances) as well as the suppression of nearly 350 lines in the text as a whole (Guyard). In effect, since in 1850, the public experienced the play on stage a month before it was available in print and since, overall for that year, more people attended the performances than read the text, the version of Toussaint Louverture that came first to occupy the public's collective consciousness was indeed the Lemaitre-inspired version.
Finally, if it is not entirely evident from the written text that Toussaint provides the reader mediated access to (racial) difference and thus to pleasure, the very function of a fetish, then the redundancy of Lemaitre's racial impersonation re-inscribes the black male body in a way that renders its fetishistic function unequivocal and inescapable. Moreover, if it is not entirely evident that the Toussaint that readers engage on the page is a fiction, a work of the imagination, once again the redundancy of Lemaitre's blackface performance leaves no doubt that this particular black creature is factitious and has been created for public (i.e., white) consumption.
WHITE SKIN, HYSTERIA, AND MASCULINE SUBJECTIVITY
Lamartine's Toussaint, because he functions as a fetishistic object, unifies a particular community of white men (both certain characters within the play as well as its readers/spectators) by according them a common experience. The play is coherent and it does succeed as a literary project - not in spite of but because of its ambivalence toward the eponymous character. For the presumptive abolitionist, this literary Toussaint is morally and psychologically attractive. However, within the play's logic, he must be made flesh (abject); his body must metathesize and permeate history; he must live but also die for Napoleon to triumph.
The play's investment in Toussaint's body recalls what Lott, who builds upon Frantz Fanon's thesis (Black Skin, White Masks), has characterized as an over-investment in the black penis. Within the logic of cultural anthropology and psychoanalysis, Lott and Fanon show how one form of white masculine subjectivity and agency is predicated on and projected onto what is deemed a threatening (i.e., hyper-sexualized) black male body; both are paradigmatic of a school of thought that has identified a paranoid fear of black masculine desire as the etiology of one kind of white masculine pathology, one that seems to have crystallized in the nineteenth century at the very same time that fetishism (in its modern psychological sense) emerges as well (Apter). More importantly, this is a white masculinity for which an abhorrence of miscegenation, in the form of black male / white female intercourse, is the signal symptom.
However, by seeming to marginalize white and black women (e.g., Napoleon's sister and Toussaint's sister) and in spite of Adrienne's miscegenetic conception, Toussaint Louverture avoids staging miscegenation proper. (11) Although the play does highlight the black male body as a symptom of a societal disorder (i.e., one that afflicts and destabilizes white masculinity), it counterpoises this black male body uniquely against a phantom white male body such that both power and pleasure are purely homosocial, an affair between men. Yet, the relationship between black and white masculine subjectivities, as represented in the relationship between Napoleon and Toussaint (itself refracted in the relationship between text and reader and between spectator and performer), is complex and encompasses both desire and fear, attraction and repulsion, mimesis and violence in a way that defies the reductive master/slave binary that Fanon's analysis suggests. Thus in this play, Napoleon both challenges and indulges Toussaint; he embraces and assaults his doppelganger, his putative slave. Toussaint, for his part, covets and disdains Napoleon; he seeks to bond with but yet to destroy and replace his putative master, a version of himself. If at moments Napoleon and Toussaint assume discreet and conflicting postures, at other moments they remain complicit in ways that render them inextricable and indistinguishable. Indeed, as I have argued to be the case in other texts of the period ("Victor Hugo"), the racialized masculine subjectivities and agencies in Toussaint Louverture are plural and are constituted in ways that are contradictory and counterintuitive and that reveal white masculinity to be anchored by an irremediable anxiety.
However, in the context of nineteenth-century Europe in general and France in particular, it might seem just as problematic to speak of the construction of a "white" racial subjectivity within literature as it is to assume the experience of a white racial identity among writers and readers. (12) In nineteenth-century France, for example, as in other Europeans nations, class distinctions mitigated against a monolithic racial identity based on skin color. Men from the upper classes, for example, did not conceive of their skin color as an inexorable link to all of their other fellow countrymen. However, at the time, the question of abolition and the political enfranchisement of black men, in conjunction with new scientific studies in biology and ethnology that attempted to theorize racial difference, did sharpen an already nascent sense of a white versus a non-white identity (Frederickson; Jacobson). That is, the social, political, and scientific definition of black men de-emphasized class differences and antagonism and gave to white men, however falsely, a sense of sameness if not unity. The categorizing of black men as different (i.e., inherently unequal) facilitated among white men the notion that, at the level of the body, they were equal in kind (Finhenstaedt). (13)
The ideal nineteenth-century reader/spectator that Lamartine targets implicitly for his play is constrained, by the very structure of the drama and the nature of its production for the stage, to experience the text with a heightened consciousness of his skin color (though in a manner inextricable from his gender). On the one hand, the abolitionist reader, by identifying with Father Antoine, identifies as both black and white, an initial index of an hysterical subjectivity. On the other hand, the abolitionist spectator at an 1850 performance of the play mimics and identifies in addition with the racial transvestitism of the actor in the title role, therein identifying a second time as black and white. At the moment of this dual identification, the reader/spectator resembles the classic hysteric who, according to Freud, identifies with both a masculine and a feminine subject position, because he also identifies with two mutually exclusive subjectivities. (14) Also like the classic hysteric, Lamartine's ideal abolitionist risks losing the self in this oscillation between incompatible subject positions.
Nonetheless, Lamartine's play fulfills a fantasy by allowing the abolitionist to transgress the racial border and to occupy (symbolically and vicariously) the place of the black other. As in every instance of fantasizing, the abolitionist becomes the subject and the object of his own fantasy. However, his pleasure is conflicted and mitigated precisely because the fluidity of subject position is ultimately anxiety-provoking in that the abolitionist dreads losing his "whiteness." In the final analysis, Toussaint Louverture, like some other nineteenth-century texts with "black" characters, reproduces the very anxiety that it is destined to alleviate precisely because the drama inadvertently replicates and validates the same racial difference that it sets out unequivocally to countermand and to subvert.
Therefore, if one reads Toussaint Louverture as a template for a nineteenth-century cultural narrative of racial difference, a narrative that distills a collective psyche, one concludes that the construction of hierarchical masculinities is contingent upon racialization, defined, precisely, as a process of appropriating and inscribing the non-white male body in precise ways. Given the author's actual politics, the play suggests, however, that white masculine anxiety itself is not necessarily reducible to racism (as it is currently defined) nor synonymous with racial domination (as it has been historically practiced). Indeed, Lamartine's play, as a symptom of white masculine hysteria and as an inoculation against it, must be situated within the larger context of an ensemble of European images of black men that emerged in literary, historical, and scientific writings as well as in visual representations at the time (Honour). All of these images are concomitant with the specific ideological reproduction and cultural domination taking place in Europe in the 1800s, a period when the nature and status of black men are of capital concern and when black male bodies and black masculine agency would greatly trouble the collective European imaginary. (15) These images constitute both racial fantasies and products of racial fantasies because they both exacerbate and palliate the psychic distress of the culture at large. To varying degrees, all of these images, therefore, allowed members of the dominant culture to symbolize and thus to mitigate somewhat the anxiety that the presence of non-white men among them roused. A collective psyche did indeed coalesce around the surrogation of black bodies. It is within this general context that one can understand the epistemic implications of Lamartine's recasting of black masculinity. His Toussaint Louverture fleshes out white masculine anxiety: It stages a nineteenth-century white masculinity by giving visibility and a voice (corporeality) to a masculinity that is ultimately contrived and that reflects an inherent white masculine dis/ease vis-a-vis a fantasized black masculine agency.
Adams, Parveen. "Per Os(cillation)". Male Trouble. Ed. Constance Penley and Sharon Willis. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1992. 3-25.
Apter, Emily. Feminizing the Fetish: Psychoanalysis and Narrative Obsession in Turn-of-the-Century France. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991.
Baudrillard, Jean. For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. Trans. Charles Levin. St Louis: Telos, 1981.
Chow, Rey. "Male Narcissism and National Culture." Male Trouble. Ed. Constance Penley and Sharon Willis. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1992. 87-117.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove, 1967.
Finkenstaedt, Rose L.H. Face to Face: Blacks in America: White Perceptions and Black Realities. New York: William Morrow, 1994.
Fortescue, William. Alphonse de Lamartine: A Political Biography. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983.
Frederickson, George M. The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan UP, 1971.
Freud, Sigmund. "Fetishism." Vol. 21 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Ed. and trans. James Strachey. 24 vols. London: Hogarth, 1953-74. 52-157.
--. "On Narcissism: An Introduction." Vol 14 of The Standard Edition. 69-102.
--. Cinq Psychanalyses: Dora: Un Cas d'Hysterie. Trans. Marie Bonaparte and R. Loewstein. Paris: Presses Universitaires, 1954.
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Spanish and French Literary Studies
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(1) By "subjectivity" I mean the psychic structures (fetishism, e.g.) and psychic functions (to mediate pleasure and pain, e.g.) that both lead to and result from a sense of self, an identity; by "agency" I mean those actions that reinforce and crystallize one's identity for oneself and others.
(2) Although I use psychoanalytic concepts as a point of departure, I am not suggesting that one can reduce the dynamics in Lamartine's drama to a simple analogue of an individual psychic model according to psychoanalytic logic.
(3) I am considering what psychoanalysis has theorized as narcissism, fetishism, and hysteria, not as structures or functions of pathologies per se, but rather as they are constitutive of a particular kind of masculine subjectivity and agency as they manifest themselves within certain nineteenth-century works of literature. Given the way that two of these terms, narcissism and hysteria, have been "feminized" within much of psychoanalytic theory (Freud, Cinq Psychanalyse and "On Narcissism"), I have characterized this white masculine anxiety elsewhere as "testerical" ("Victor Hugo"). Testeria (which has parallels to "male hysteria" [Kirby]) is a probative term that fuses narcissism, fetishism, and hysteria because it reclaims and reinvests the male body as a metaphor in order to explore the construction and experiences of masculine hierarchies in a way that problematizes the phallus as the universal and ahistorical emblem of masculinity and in a way that belies the feminization of hysteria.
(4) The scope of Lamartine's enlightened thinking within the context of nineteenth-century debates on slavery and political enfranchisement has been well documented (see Fortescue).
(5) All citations indicate the line numbering from the Hoffmann edition of the text.
(6) Even though black women appear as ancillary characters in the play and their bodies are also described as being branded by slavery (I:i-iii), the scarring of the female body is not depicted, as are the scars on Toussaint's body, as having political, economic, and moral consequences that extend beyond these individual women. In addition, the black female body (notwithstanding the role of Adrienne who is not posited in the text as black ["negresse"]) is presented as non-threatening and thus as inconsequential in terms of Napoleon's strategy and the overall contest between Napoleon and Toussaint. Ultimately, the black female body is benign and even benefits white masculine authority to the extent that the play sanctions its violation (e.g., Salvador impregnates Toussaint's sister). That is, the white colonists and soldiers find the black female body desirable and appropriate it, ostensibly, with impunity.
(7) On the one hand, the play's insistence on Toussaint's body as "scarred" by slavery seems to substantiate the conceptualization of the human body as a social rather than a natural construct, an object that is inscribed or stamped by the discursive implements of power. On the other hand, the play's positing of the white male body as unmarked and invisible seems to substantiate the phenomenological argument that there is no "natural" body that pre-exists cultural inscription (bodies are already and always culturally determined) and the Lacanian argument of Seshadri-Crooks in Desiring Whiteness that "whiteness" is not something that can be seen, not a physical trait but a "master signifier (without a signified) that establishes a structure of relations .... [a way to organize] human differences" (3).
(8) Freud ("On Narcissism") distinguishes between two types of libidinal development in humans: anaclitic, wherein the subject seeks the object of love external to itself and which Freud characterizes as active and "masculine"; and narcissistic, wherein the subject seeks itself as love object and which Freud characterizes as passive and "feminine" (Chow 108).
(9) This definition of fetish encapsulates its most basic psychoanalytic meaning but stripped of the medical language of psychoanalysis proper. Moreover, this definition does not suggest the gender component explicit in Freud's elaboration of fetishism, nor does it suggest the therapeutic assumptions implicit in much of his work. The term "fetish" has been traced to "factum" which carries the dual meaning of "fate" and "charm" It has also been traced to the different but related "factitius" signifying "magic arts" and "work of art." And, finally, "fetishism" has been linked to "facere" and rather than fate, charm, magic, or beauty, suggests "a degraded simulacrum or false representation of things sacred, beautiful or enchanting" (Apter 4).
(10) When I write of a desire to take on black skin and to identify with blackness, I am referring, as does Lott (Love and Theft), to an imaginary blackness, to blackness as image, the product of a certain white imaginary. In this sense, I am not referring to actual beings, to real black bodies as they may have existed in the nineteenth century, but rather to objects of fantasy, to objects of representations, and to a cultural construct rather than a natural category.
(11) One could convincingly argue that rather than marginalizing women, the text at times in effect puts women center stage because it is through the women characters that masculine interests appear to be negotiated. Napoleon's sister, for example, seems to function as an intermediary between Toussaint and Napoleon (3:iv).
(12) There is an extensive, inter-disciplinary literature on the historical construction and experience of racialized subjectivities--both white identity (Jacobson's Whiteness of a Different Color) and non-white identity and agency specifically in nineteenth-century France and the Antilles (Kadish's Slavery in the Caribbean Francophone World, e.g.). However, my reading of Toussaint Louverture has been informed in particular by Lacanian analyses of race (Seshadri-Crook, e.g.) and by studies that undertake to "psychoanalyze" race ideology and racialist practice (Lane).
(13) It was indeed European and African men, as opposed to women and as opposed to the men of the other so-called races of man, who are the primary targets of nineteenth-century science and philosophy. As I have explored elsewhere ("A Grammar of Black Masculinity"), there was a veritable "reinvention" of the black male body that had begun in the eighteenth century and continued at least up to the end of the nineteenth.
(14) "An hysterical symptom is the expression of both a masculine and feminine unconscious sexual phantasy" (Penley and Willis xviii). In her fantasy, Freud's patient, Dora, like all hysterics, can identify as male or female. As in a dream, in other words, the hysteric, like the dreamer, plays all roles; all positions are interchangeable (Adams 7).
(15) By highlighting the status of black men, I am not suggesting that black women were inconsequential in terms of the politics and esthetics of nineteenth-century European cultures. In this essay, I choose to take my cue from Lamartine and to focus on a particular fantasy about black masculine corporeality and agency. In addition, my present remarks are not meant to suggest that European women at the time did not contribute to cultural production and ideological reproduction, as they clearly did so (Kadish and Massardier-Kenney, Translating Slavery).
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|Author:||Saint-Aubin, Arthur F.|
|Publication:||Nineteenth-Century French Studies|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
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