Rene Depestre. Le metier a metisser. Paris. Stock. 1998. 265 pages. 120 F. ISBN 2-234-04961-X.
A resident of Lezignan-Corbieres since 1986, where he was finally able to unbox his 7,000-book library, and a French citizen since 1991 although Haitian-born with African and probably Belgian forebears, Depestre is certainly a racial metis, but that is only the tip of the iceberg as regards his understanding of metissage, for basically he means cultural crossbreeding. Self-descriptive passages like "Tcheque a Prague, Italien a Milan, Bresilien a Sao Paolo, Cubain a La Havane" pullulate significantly in this hotchpotch of a volume. Apropos of Depestre, many crossbreedings come to mind, only beginning with his Creole upbringing and language. He cites of course many less particular or more general sorts, such as the mixed cultures the world over, the multiple universes of individual poets (he often speaks of Rimbaud), surrealism's dual countries of the conscious and unconscious. His favorite symbol for crossbreeding is the banyan tree, whose roots surface in one place only to descend into the ground somewhere else. (Outside of Asia, one may think of mangrove and swamp cypress roots.) In the subtitle of part 5, he rephrases Rudy the Red's famous dictum into "Nous sommes tous des creoles en Corbieres."
In the "Pieces Annexes" section of Le metier a metisser, Madeleine Gobeil-Noel says, "Ton originalite reside dans ton optimisme foncier." This, combined with the universality of crossbreeding, brings us to the subtitle of part 7, "Que peut un poete pour la mondalisation?" Here we find this key sentence: "Le poete fait un recourt sage, prudent, intelligent a l'hominimetre." In another essay Depestre says, "Le metier a metisser a le vent en poupe."
The thrust of Le metier is as above-that is, in this one world of real or figurative mixed-bloods we must work together to bring about the good in us all. Mondialisation and hominimetre are but two of the many rare or coined words used by Depestre in the furtherance of his message, others including homme banian, hominisation, hominite, humanitude, militances. As for joining poetry and politics, he states that, while this is essential for the future, attempts to date have not been successful, but he is one of many trying to link the two. Politically, he has evolved considerably. What he participated in and witnessed in Prague, Moscow, Havana, and the like, ultimately turned him away from the Marxism of his youth, to the point of, in a letter included in Le metier, defending the 1915-34 U.S. occupation of his motherland and coming down heavily on the antiliberalism of "leftist" countries. Elsewhere he says, "J'ai vecu . . . la tragedie du mouvement communiste international." Not that communism is his main bugbear. Rather, it is toalitarianism. Also elsewhere he recalls with bitterness that the departure of American troops "allait permettre a Francois Duvalier et a ses tontons macoutes de reduire Haiti a la condition animale [his italics] qui est encore la sienne en 1998."
I have summarized Le metier a metisser as above because space prevents me from treating very deeply each of its twenty-three sections. While this of course is not the formal autobiography promised by Depestre, doubtless much of the present work will be used almost verbatim. At this point, let me skim through many of the sections.
The three sections of part 1, "La negritude debout," deal with Cesaire, Senghor, and Henri Lopes, the Cesaire essay being longer because of that author's primordial influence on Depestre, especially with his Tragedie du Roi Christophe. In the Senghor section, most likely thinking of the political aspects of L'Orphee noir that render negritude unintelligible, Sartre is referred to somewhat ironically. Part 2, "La contestation surrealiste," speaks vividly of Breton's 1945 visit to Haiti, the 1946 review La Ruche, the student strikes of the period, and his own imprisonment. In part 3, "Poesie et fin de revolution en Terre Fidelie," Nicolas Guillen is presented in all his mauvaise foi and carnality, and Che Guevara, rapidly becoming persona non grata in his own country, is depicted with high praise. Part 4, "Du realisme merveilleux," relates how Haitian givens naturally combined with surrealism to express anticolonial and antidictatorial sentiments. In part 5, some of which is covered in the summary, Depestre adds to the description of his poetic evolution and defends himself against the negative criticism leveled at the eroticism of some of his poetry. Part 6, "Courrier d'un homme a identite multiple," consists of letters to friends or acquaintances. Part 7, "Un regard de poete sur 1'an 2000," examines the role of poets in mondialisation.
While Le metier a metisser is pricelessly informative on the author and his writings, any in-depth study of Depestre should probably be held off until the publication of the formal autobiography. This should not delay critical studies of his individual works. I myself remember as if it were yesterday the seminal 1969 staging at the Cite-Universitaire theater of one of Depestre's many masterpieces, Un Arc-En-Ciel pour l'Occident chretien. If I have a reservation about Rene Depestre, it is his optimism! Take his belief that Europe and North America and certain other areas or nations, with "un merveilleux patrimoine d'experiences democratiques . . . sont en mesure de faire de la planete un modele de democratie et de civilite." Compare that to the antiliberal tenets of Les particules elementaires, the novel by Michel Houellebecq which was the coqueluche of the France of 1998!
Harold A. Waters
University of Rhode Island
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|Author:||Waters, Harold A.|
|Publication:||World Literature Today|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1999|
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