Haiti Unbound: A Spiralist Challenge to the Postcolonial Canon.
Haitians have been writing their people's independent existence ever since Haiti shattered the colonial world in its violent revolution, creating in the process the very lexicon of the postcolonial literary and theoretical discourse. Francophone before the word was invented, the country's writers pioneered the linguistic and aesthetic strategies that allow artists to turn a foreign tongue into a fit instrument for rendering the collective experience. Despite such an avant-garde role in the construction of postcolonial and Francophone literatures, however, Haitian authors have long been either ignored or subject to benign neglect by scholars in postcolonial studies, specialists of Caribbean and Francophone literatures in particular. But the intellectual zeitgeist encouragingly seems to have metamorphosed in the last thirty years, and the muting of Haitian literary voices is now a thing of the past. The increasingly hefty catalog of monographs, special issues of established journals, published articles, and journals devoted to Haitian writings constitutes the clearest sign of the enracination of Haitian letters in the North American academy. Among the most noteworthy recent scholarly contributions to this integration of Haitian literature within the field of postcolonial criticism, Kaiama L. Glover's Haiti Unbound: A Spiralist Challenge to the Postcolonial Canon stands out as an insightful study of the Spiralist novel, the narrative fiction of three of Haiti's foremost contemporary writers: the now famous Franketienne and the lesser known Jean-Claude Fignole and Rene Philoctete.
Haiti Unbound is an elegantly conceived work. Following a panoramic preface contextualizing and synthesizing her study, Glover's theorizing of the Spiralist narrative arises organically, in five integrated parts, from her textual analysis of a selection of works by the three novelists: Franketienne's Mur a crever (1968), Ultravocal (1972), and Les Affres d'un defi (1979); Fignole's Lespossedes de lapleine lune (1987) and Aube tranquille (1990); and Philoctete's Le Peuple des terres melees (1989). Through the close reading of these works she brings into relief the thematics as well as the formal and ideological characteristics of the Spiralist novel. For Glover, these texts, in "writing the postcolonial subject" (p. xix), dramatically foreground the tensions and contradictions inherent in the postcolonial. These, she proposes, are manifest in the novels' often dysphoric landscapes, the disjunction between place and identity, the recurring mythos of the zombie, and the narrative polyphony (emblematized particularly in Franketienne's "schizophonia"), among a variety of distinctive elements of form and content. Meticulously deconstructing the six selected novels and referencing the writers' own rare and reluctant theoretical pronouncements, Glover describes Spiralism as "a structural and syntactic narrative model" (p. xxi), which uses a symbolic language in its mimesis of the spiral, dynamic, and open-ended, "integrally reflective of the processes by which organisms and living systems grow and develop" (pp. vii-viii).
Glover states that "Haiti Unbound fills [...] a rather astonishingly empty place in the assessment of postcolonial Caribbean aesthetics" (p. xi). She is indulging in a bit of hyperbole here. Indeed, as she herself acknowledges, her work stands on the foundation built by scholars who preceded her in the field, notably Jean Jonassaint (2008) who has studied with great critical insight and scholarly thoroughness the writings of the Spiralist novelist par excellence, Franketienne. In a rather elegant and direct style that generally eschews the opacity of critical jargon, as she nods to these earlier scholars of Spiralism, Glover achieves superbly her stated intention in Haiti Unbound, which is both "to emphasize the singularity of the Spiralists' aesthetic and discursive interventions" (p. xi) and "to put Franketienne, Fignole, and Philoctete in dialogue with regional writers and intellectuals, and to consider the extent to which Spiralism not only connects with but significantly enriches contemporary models of literature and theory in the postcolonial Caribbean" (p. xi).
Everything considered, then, Haiti Unbound stands as an impressive scholarly achievement, a most significant contribution to the study of the Caribbean and postcolonial novel. Still, the work evidences a few surprising elisions, some insufficient emphases, and the occasional lack of factual or argumentative nuance. Thus, Glover might have positioned Spiralism as the latest temps fort in the historical development of a Haitian aesthetic of the narrative that has been consistently informed by the oral tradition, placing the Spiralist novel in a formal and ideological continuum that proceeds from the folktale to the lodyans to the marvelous realist narrative. In view of this organic connection between the oral tradition and the Spiralist narrative, it is rather astonishing that Glover omitted Franketienne's Kreyol novel Dezaf (1975) from her study. By its use of the Kreyol language, its narrative structure, its world view, and its symbolic and semantic frame of reference, Dezaf is in many ways the very template of the Spiralist novel. It is actually a very different work from Les Affres d'un defi, which some critics mistakenly think is a translation of the Kreyol work. The aesthetics of Dezafi are thus inseparable from the Kreyol language, which is ontologically Spiralist in its allusiveness, indirectness, and polyphony, and a rather efficacious instrument of subversion and discursive marronage. Finally, in contextualizing Spiralism socially and politically, Glover sometimes resorts to the facile tropes about Haiti, as in her references to the totalitarianism of the Duvalier regime (p. vii) and to the presumed alienation of Haitian writers from the realities of the masses (p. 239). In doing so, she evidences a certain lack of direct familiarity with Haiti, a country where paradoxically social relations are more fluid and political structures more dynamic than her categorical pronouncements might suggest. Generally, a more nuanced understanding of the socio-political context of the Spiralist phenomenon might have led to more finely modulated extrapolations and conclusions about the Spiralist novel and social realities.
Haiti Unbound will considerably enrich the scholarly field of Caribbean and Francophone literary criticism and theory in particular, and of postcolonial studies in general. By foregrounding Spiralism as a narrative mode rooted indeed in Haiti but with rhizome-like connections to the rest of the Caribbean, Glover's book does indeed widen the postcolonial theoretical field. Nonetheless, it calls for a sequel, one that would highlight Spiralism as a modality of the Kreyol discourse, in all its subversive capacity and symbolic power, in its maroon-like ability to liberate the postcolonial subject from an oppressive reality.
JONASSAINT, JEAN, 2008. Typo/Topo/Poethique sur Franketienne. Paris: L'Harmattan.
Department of English Language and Literature
The American University of Nigeria
Yola, Adamawa State, Nigeria
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|Publication:||New West Indian Guide|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2012|
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