Put me in a room with a great writer, I grovel. Put me in with Roseanne, I throw up.
- When Tina Brown asked Roseanne Barr to serve as guest consultant
for a special women's issue of The New Yorker in
1995, Antiguan-American novelist Jamaica Kincaid made her negative feelings crystal clear. She trashed Brown's
protégé in the most emphatic of terms--as my epigraph demonstrates--and
eventually severed her decades-long ties with The New Yorker, accusing Brown of transforming that once venerable
journal into "a version of People magazine." In the following pages, I argue that Kincaid's hostile
reaction represents something more than an individual fit of pique on the part of a notoriously irascible and opinionated
writer; rather, her nausea at the thought of being forced to occupy the same physical and textual space as Roseanne has much
to tell us about the vexed, and very under-theorized, relations between postcolonial cultural producers (be they creative
writers or academic theorists) and what is still often condescendingly referred to as mass culture. Kincaid's testy comments
direct us toward the surprisingly uncharted territory in which postcolonial and cultural studies (don't yet) meet.
The one-sided confrontation between Kincaid and Roseanne can be read as emblematic of a failed dialogue between postcolonial
and cultural studies. In Kincaid, we have a respected author of such postcolonial (or Afro-diasporic) "classics" as
Annie John and In a Small Place, someone frequently lionized by critics as a writer who "speaks to
and from the position of the other" (Ferguson 238). In Roseanne, we have a U.S. TV icon, someone who has also accumulated her
fair share of academic plaudits from critics in disciplines such as women's and cultural studies who have lauded "her
subversive potential as a source of resistance and inspiration for feminist change" (Lee 96) or the way her show "potentially
helps restore class visibility to the overwhelmingly middle-class world of television" (Bettie 142). While Roseanne may never
have read Kincaid, the postcolonial author obviously feels that she has ingested enough of this media icon to pass definitive
judgment on the degraded form of culture she represents: only those with "coarse and vulgar" taste, like Tina Brown, could
possibly be drawn to such a nauseating figure as Roseanne.
Revealingly, in voicing this negative evaluation of Roseanne, Kincaid seems compelled to preface it with the positive
counterweight of groveling at the feet of a "great writer." Kincaid has thus staked out a double position: one of power and
contempt as regards the abject white woman she is condemning, but also one of deference to and emulation of an unnamed,
unsexed, and unraced "great writer." How are we to explain the hostility
to an icon of mass culture on the postcolonial
writer's part, and the willingness to grovel before the idea of literary
greatness? Both this hostility and this willingness
must, at first blush, strike us as decidedly unexpected, given the strong tendency in postcolonial circles to question the
legitimacy of the hierarchical thinking upon which Kincaid's intertwined evaluations of Roseanne and great writers
depends. As stated, a natural reaction to these comments would be to write them off as sports of Kincaid's querulous nature
that tell us nothing about postcolonial studies, its literatures, and its
theories. I will, by contrast, be pursuing an
"unnatural" counterargument based on the following intentionally provocative hypothesis: Kincaid's double position, and the
value judgments generating it, are in fact exemplary of the foundational
bias of postcolonial literary studies, of its
deep-rooted sense of distinction from the "coarse and vulgar" world of mass consumption.
The tension between popular culture and great writing evident in Kincaid's evaluation of Roseanne by no means exhausts the
nuances that can be read into her one-sided attack. The binary opposition Kincaid draws is complicated by the fact that she
is herself a writer whose books have gained no small success in the literary marketplace. If Kincaid is not "popular" in the
same sense that Roseanne is "popular," she nonetheless has a proven track record as a bestselling author: she is a writer
who not only generates "serious" articles by postcolonial critics but
also frothy interviews in such places (ironically enough) as
People magazine, and who has been deemed "worthy" of
inclusion in a series like Critical Companions
to Popular Contemporary Writers, where she takes her place beside the likes of Stephen King, Anne Rice, but also,
intriguingly enough, Toni Morrison (see Paravisini-Gebert). Postcolonial and Afro-diasporic Kincaid may well be, but that has
not stopped her from finding a place in the literary mainstream: or, to put it another way, she is (or, more exactly, can be
read as) a middlebrow writer, one who takes some stylistic and ideological chances in her work but who also writes
in such as a way as to be capable of pleasing a relatively broad audience. Kincaid's distinction between the "great" writer
and the "vulgar" mass media star cannot stand alone: it must be understood in conjunction with this second opposition between
two different types of popularity, the middlebrow and the lowbrow.
Are these two types of popularity as easily separable from one another as one might wish (at least if one were a postcolonial
defender of Kincaid), or is there a troubling complicity between them that needs to be thought through and perhaps even
embraced? Might not the dramatic rejection of Roseanne on Kincaid's part itself be nothing more than an anxious
attempt--unconscious, calculated, or a mixture of both--to forestall any
serious consideration of her own "popular" success,
to fence off her own identity as a cultural producer from Roseanne's, vaccinating herself against the latter by aggrandizing
a sense of distinction that might ultimately be attributed to little more than the narcissism of small differences? Might not
her middlebrow popularity be part of the very same media "buzz" as the lowbrow version she so disdainfully rejects?
This possible complicity, or (dis)connection, between two forms of popularity--what René Girard would refer to as
their "double mediation"--generates a second set of questions that needs to be addressed
in tandem with those surrounding our initial opposition between "vulgar" popularity and "great" writing. How and where do the
lowbrow and middlebrow modes of popularity intersect? Does it make any sense to speak of a writer like Kincaid as
exemplifying the "middlebrow postcolonial," given the apparent tension between the assimilative connotations of the first
term and the resistant ones of the second? If there is such a thing as the middlebrow postcolonial, how is its popularity (or
its potential for popularity) processed by postcolonial literary studies?
What about the "lowbrow postcolonial": is there such a thing
(or such a process of reading), and if so, what is its relation not only to its middlebrow double but to the mass popularity
of media icons like Roseanne or Jackie Collins?
Furthermore, to raise one last set of questions that has to be factored into the mix, what is the relation, or lack thereof,
between all these forms of popularity (mass, lowbrow, middlebrow--or what I will be referring to collectively as
the "inauthentically popular") and that long-cherished ideological
construct, a truly popular culture
created and consumed by what Frantz Fanon was so fond of referring to as "the people"? Ideally neither degraded masses nor
lowbrow or middlebrow consumers, the people--legitimate custodians of a traditional past or inspiriting lifeblood of a
revolutionary future--might presumably be thought to have better and more "authentic" things to do with their time than watch
Roseanne or read Annie John. In the failed dialogue between Roseanne and Kincaid, where are the
people situated, presuming they even exist?
The three sets of questions I have just asked lay out a clear set of overlapping oppositions--the postcolonial versus the
popular; the middlebrow versus the lowbrow, with specific reference to
the postcolonial; and the inauthentically popular
versus the "authentically popular"--that I will be addressing in the
following very preliminary account of the foundational
bias of postcolonial literary studies and its anxious and under-theorized
relation to the empirical question of popularity. In the
next section, I expand on the first of these questions, attempting to smoke out the bias toward great, or at least not bad,
writing in postcolonial studies by briefly examining the case of a neglected Martiniquan novelist, Tony Delsham; in the
section after that, I discuss the far-from-neglected Guadeloupean novelist Maryse Condé by way of expanding upon the
distinction between the low-, the middle-, and the highbrow, and its unacknowledged importance to academic readers of
postcolonial texts. After these two case studies, I conclude--aided by
Graham Huggan's groundbreaking The Postcolonial
Exotic: Marketing the Margins (2001)--with some general considerations regarding what, if anything, cultural studies,
with its concerted focus on the popular (in all its many forms), can contribute to our understanding of postcolonial
studies, and indeed, to postcolonialism's self-understanding. Will it help us imagine a room in which Roseanne and Jamaica
Kincaid can meet with a new-found respect for one another, or at least without throwing up? And, to anticipate my unlikely
point of arrival in this article, can we (re)imagine a place for the "great writer" in that very same room--if not at its
center, then at least still within hearing of the less strained, more productive dialogue between cultural and postcolonial
studies that I advocate in the following pages?
I. Pop Goes the Postcolonial: On (Not) Reading Tony Delsham
- The idea for this article came to me in the summer of 1999, while doing research in Martinique. I found myself passing
an idle hour in Fort-de-France's most upscale bookstore, perusing the impressive amount of Caribbean literature and history
for sale there. Two items on the bookshelves especially caught my attention. The first of these was a prominent display
devoted to Dérives--a recently published novel by Tony Delsham, editor of the Martiniquan weekly
Antilla. I have provided a brief account of Delsham's novel
elsewhere ("Street" 246-51), but the issue that I
want to raise here revolves around Delsham himself, and his place--or lack thereof--in accounts of French Caribbean
literature in particular, and francophone literature in general (to say nothing of that even broader and more nebulous
discipline, postcolonial literary studies).
For many years now, Delsham has been among the most
popular and visible writers in the French Antilles, if one judges popularity by the criterion of number of books
sold. Given the fact of Delsham's popularity, the question I found myself asking (and it
is a question Delsham himself has repeatedly posed) is why no one pays any attention to him in francophone--much
less postcolonial--studies, when so much critical ink has been spilled during the past decade over other prominent writers
from the area like Edouard Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Maryse Condé. Surely,
I asked myself, the popularity of Delsham's many novels, which consistently deal with local issues close to the heart of his
Antillean readers, tells us as much or more about the culture as do those other, sometimes more experimental but often very
accessible narratives that have acquired an ever-growing reputation in
France and North America? Surely a novel like
Dérives is in many respects as, or even more, relevant an example of Martiniquan literature than, say,
Chamoiseau's Prix Goncourt-winning Texaco? I then found myself asking a question that is the obligatory
rhetorical starting point of so much postcolonial literary criticism: why
is a particular author ignored by the critical orthodoxy,
and what nefarious circumstances are promoting the marginalization of this author and others like him?
One obvious factor in Delsham's critical neglect doubtless involves the way his novels are marketed. A signal difference
between Delsham and most of the luminous bodies in the firmament of Antillean literature is that the likes of Glissant and
Condé benefit from their association with well-established Parisian publishing houses, whereas Delsham is
self-published and the distribution of his books is largely a local affair, limited to the French Caribbean and certain parts
of Paris; so, at a purely logistical level, it is hardly surprising he has
(To take this difference as a critical point of departure is, to be sure, to beg the question of how and why those other
authors gained access to Parisian firms in the first place, and I will return to this question in my later discussion of the
"certain quality" of Condé's work.) The "indigenous" nature of the production and circulation of Delsham's novels
certainly helps explain his neglect, although one can easily imagine it becoming a major source of interest for some critics,
who might want to take up Delsham's cause and argue that this immersion in the local makes him more "authentic" than writers
who have acquired an international audience. Complaints about the latter, cosmopolitan writers have, indeed, been repeatedly
voiced in certain quarters in Martinique: the nationalist Guy Cabort-Masson has, for instance, lambasted Patrick Chamoiseau
for complying with exoticizing Western notions about the Caribbean and "not writing for Martiniquans" (199). Such writers
could well be regarded as appealing to "the ersatz nostalgia on which mass merchandising increasingly draws" (Appadurai 78).
With his self-publishing and self-marketing approach, Delsham might conceivably be viewed as less subject to the collusions
and compromises of this exoticizing nostalgia, and thus altogether more popular in the most positive ("authentic") sense of
the word since he has established a privileged relationship with a local readership--a readership that would not (at least
according to this line of argument) be confused with the "assimilating" masses but that, rather, would be construed
as forming part of the "oppositional" people, anchored in their
"native" context and at a purifying distance
from the global literary market and its ersatz commodities. For such critics, Delsham's popularity in the French Caribbean
might well be considered a vital source of distinction. The "writer as local hero" is, like the "writer as tragic exile," the
sort of script that postcolonial studies can live with--indeed, the sort of script it demands--and were a sociological
consideration of production and consumption the only factor in deciding who is and is not worthy of being consecrated at the
hands of postcolonial critics, it seems likely that Delsham would by now have been salvaged by a string of academics
indignant at his marginalization.
Sociological considerations of this sort are not, however, the only factor in such decisions (indeed, it is part of my
argument that such considerations are nowhere near as important as they
should be to postcolonial studies). There are
certainly any number of other reasons that might help explain why Delsham, despite his wide popularity in the French
Caribbean, has not attracted any critical attention. To cite just one of these reasons, Delsham might well be viewed as
falling short of postcolonialism's decided "preference for perfect political credentials" (Donnell 102): notwithstanding his
repeated stress on the need for class justice and his championing of a trendy cause like Créolité, the
conciliatory position he consistently preaches in his novels and in his countless editorials for Antilla--where
he styles himself an "advocate of love," one stridently opposed to angry nationalists who argue their case at "the tribunal
of history, which is the refuge of the castrated" (1 January 1999, 6)--does not offer the incendiary agenda that would be
immediately attractive to francophone and postcolonial critics programmed to sing the praises of a "denunciatory
Delsham's conciliatory "advocacy of love" may not be likely to win him a lot of fans amongst the advocates of denunciation,
although one can certainly make the argument that his emphasis on cross-cultural understanding and "normalization" fits in
with a recent turn toward "radically nonracial humanism" in postcolonial studies (Gilroy 15). However problematic his
ideological positioning, though, it certainly cannot account in and of itself for the silence regarding his work: after all,
a lot of ink has been spilled over V. S. Naipaul by critics who find his opinions on matters postcolonial utterly
reprehensible. There must, in short, be a far stronger reason for Delsham's exile from the mainstream of francophone
criticism--a reason, I would argue, that extends well beyond the relatively narrow confines of French Caribbean literary
studies and provides a conceptual base for the geographically
wide-ranging but amorphous disciplines of francophone and, a
fortiori, postcolonial studies. That reason, to put it bluntly, is
this: Tony Delsham might be an energetic journalist, but
he is a decidedly bad novelist.
Although it is a critical commonplace in postcolonial studies to lament the way in which marginalized writers have been
misidentified as "bad" by uncomprehending elitist (neo-)colonial critics, one would, to put it mildly, have to
great amount of ingenuity in order to salvage Delsham's novels on the basis of their literary value and exercise upon them in
good faith any of the multitude of interpretive strategies through which a book's "literariness" (or even its angry or sly
resistance to Eurocentric ideas of "literariness") can supposedly be confirmed. Delsham's novels are so manifestly
sub-literary that it is hardly surprising critics have ignored the rapidly proliferating mass of historical novels and
romans à thèse he has produced and that they have, instead, devoted their critical energies to
self-evidently "good" writers like Glissant, Chamoiseau, and Condé.
Or, I should immediately add, these exclusionary practices are hardly surprising in a critical environment where any kind of
premium is placed on literary value and where, indeed, the very fact of popularity (be it middlebrow or lowbrow) might be
viewed with an Adorno-like suspicion. Hardly surprising, that is to say, if one has not abandoned oneself to the ostensibly
"democratizing" insight--so prevalent in a lot of self-satisfied canon-bashing over the past several decades--that the very
idea of literary value is nothing more than a cultural construction. Hardly surprising, if one has not fully absorbed what
John Frow has isolated as "one of the fundamental themes of work in cultural studies": namely, that to place the critical
spotlight on popular culture is an excellent way of demonstrating the non-existence of its supposed antithesis, high culture,
and of thereby showing us "that no object, no text, no cultural practice has an intrinsic or necessary meaning or value or
function; and that meaning, value, and function are always the effect of specific social relations and mechanisms of
signification" (61). Hardly surprising, in other words, if one remains committed to seemingly outmoded assumptions about the
legitimacy of hierarchical distinctions between the good and the bad, the innovative and the conventional, masterworks and
What is surprising, though, is that most of what we know as postcolonial studies actually takes place precisely in this
value-affirming critical context--a context that some would call dated, Eurocentric, and (thus) morally reprehensible, but
that I will simply refer to in more neutral terms as modernist. Postcolonial studies as one of the last redoubts of
modernism? Postcolonial studies as fundamentally opposed to, rather than in accord with, a cultural studies ever intent on
voiding texts of "intrinsic or necessary meaning or value or function" by privileging the "coarse and vulgar" likes of
Roseanne or her pop-literary equivalents? Postcolonial critics as latter-day Adornos, turning their noses up at mass culture
and groveling, à la Kincaid, in the presence of the highly serious and the complex, the unpredigested and
non-standardized? This scenario might seem to fly in the face of "common sense" (which may well be another way of saying that
it radically contests the dominant--at least in academic circles--"postcolonial ideology"), but it seems to provide the only plausible explanation for how a popular writer like Delsham could
be so dramatically shunted to the margins of an ostensibly margin-hugging discipline like postcolonial studies.
Two recent critiques of postcolonial theory can help us lay the foundation for an understanding of how this unlikely scenario
might have come about: Emily Apter has disapprovingly commented on "postcolonial theory's resistance to injecting itself with
contemporaneity" (213), while Robert Young has pointed to the ways in which, largely due to Said's textualist
misappropriation in Orientalism of Foucault's praxis-oriented idea of discourse, colonial discourse analysis has
degenerated "into just a form of literary criticism that focuses on a certain category of texts" (394). Taken together,
Apter's critique of postcolonialism's (and specifically Bhabha's) insistence on the ways in which "'time-lagged'
signification" continues to be "written out in postcolonial modernity" and Young's critique of the bias toward texts (as
opposed to everyday practices and material conditions) in colonial discourse analysis point the way toward an explanation for
Delsham's invisibility as an object of critical study. As a prerequisite for gaining institutional status in the 1980s, a
geographically free-floating concept such as the "postcolonial"--even more open than its predecessor, Commonwealth studies,
to the accusation of being little more than an empty abstraction--required something to unify it. While it might have seemed
logical for this unifying force to have been supplied simply by "lived experience" and the geopolitical realities of
colonial and postcolonial practice (as Young insists), the primary emphasis in fact came to be placed on the
text, a text that could take any material form (postcolonial literature, painting, music, etc.) but that had to be
read, and read in a certain "time-lagged" way, a modernist way. Lacking a "secure" grounding in any
specific cultural territory, postcolonial studies anxiously, and
anachronistically, attempted to find a home for its "unhomely" self in (a modernist idea of) the text--an idea inseparable
from evaluative criteria that were elsewhere being seriously questioned by the relativizing outlook of both postmodernism and
What does this modernist idea of the text entail? As I see it, when it comes to the identification and positive evaluation of
cultural texts, the twin directives of modernism were as follows:
aesthetic resistance (promoting stylistic difficulty) and
political resistance (promoting social radical change). While the preference might well have been for an ideal fusion of the two
in Brechtian theatre, for instance), style and politics could, needless to say, be seen as superficially at odds with one
another, as the modernist extremes of art for art's sake and agitprop demonstrate. Notwithstanding this potential for
division, the two directives had in common an emphasis on the production, and productivity, of resistance which ensured they
would be if not always open allies then at least secret sharers. Not
surprisingly, given postcolonial theory's explicit
origins in the anti-colonial movements of the early- to mid-twentieth century, the two main strands of that theory replicate
this double directive of modernist thinking: on the one hand (the "high seriousness" hand), we have "master thinkers" like
Gayatri Spivak and Homi Bhabha, and on the other (the "resistance" hand), we have "engaged intellectuals" like Aijaz Ahmad
and Benita Parry, with certain pioneering critics like Said occupying the vast middle ground between these two extremes. A similar broad distinction might be made by way of accounting for many of the seminal
figures in postcolonial literature: a Wilson Harris or a J. M. Coetzee on
the one hand, an Ngugi wa Thiong'o or a Michelle Cliff
on the other, with a foundational figure like Chinua Achebe vacillating somewhere between these two poles.
The question is not so much what separates these two sides, but what holds them together, presuming anything does, and it has
been my contention that one of the primary factors enabling their coming together as part of the supposedly emancipatory
field of postcolonial studies is an inability to come to terms with
"compromised," inauthentically popular texts, as well
as the audiences who take pleasure in consuming them. Regardless of one's gut-level
reaction to this admittedly schematic claim regarding the modernist/textualist underpinnings of postcolonial studies, it is
obvious that a general account of this sort overlooks a number of essential distinctions in its attempt at conveying a sense
of the "whole" picture (to cite only a few: the distinction between postcolonial theory and postcolonial literary studies,
between postcolonial literature and other forms of cultural production, between postcolonial cultural production and other
material practices, etc.). There are obvious problems with any unified account of postcolonialism--even if the very
idea of postcolonial studies necessitates a belief in some such unity. For that reason, at this point in the article, having
made a general and pointedly polemical claim about the foundational bias of postcolonial studies, I should clarify that what
I say in the following section about the "middlebrow postcolonial" is most specifically addressed to the biases of
postcolonial literary studies. However, before turning to my discussion of Maryse Condé as a writer who in
many respects exemplifies this under-theorized "problem," I must add one last nuance to my account of how modernism and its
biases continue to structure our reception of postcolonial literature: namely, an hypothesis regarding how these biases have
adapted to the relativizing inroads of postmodernism.
If there is something startling about my basic argument in this article, it is in large part because the modernist biases
upon which I have insisted have been not only occluded but
also attenuated in the reception of postcolonial texts. As
modernism segued into postmodernism and its absolute meta-narratives became ever more relativized, modernist boundaries
between the "authentic" and the "inauthentic" could not, given the openly hierarchical nature of such distinctions, be simply
asserted as of old. If, for instance, the dual directives of modernism legitimized two very different but related types of
ideal audience--on the one hand, the estranged intellectual still capable of appreciating highbrow texts in the wasteland of
degraded "mass" culture (Adorno listening to atonal music) and, on the other, the "people" capable of resisting the threat of
massification and answering the call either of the ancestral past (Senghor's Africans) or the revolutionary future (Fanon's
Algerians)--it is now virtually impossible to envision such audiences without being accused of elitism, on the one hand, or
idealism, on the other. What happened as the modernist meta-narratives gave way was that the boundaries demanded by these
narratives shifted down (in the case of the first, elite audience) and across (in the case of the second, popular audience):
in the most extreme, hyper-populist instances of this shift, the very idea of any distinction between "brows" gets erased,
everything becoming part of the postmodern mix (the downward shift), and the idea of the popular ceases to be riven in two,
the mere fact of popularity becoming the central point of critical interrogation and, often, cause for celebration (the
Up to a point, postcolonial literary studies has gone along with this
relativizing tendency: first, by assimilating the middlebrow and
the highbrow, while nonetheless continuing to exclude the lowbrow from its
field of vision; second, by continuing to celebrate authentic popularity,
while tacitly accepting, without interrogating, the inauthentic popularity
that is defined by market forces rather than by the resistant desires of
the "people." Postcolonial literary studies ostensibly writes back against
the hierarchical distinctions of the "Western" canon and renders audible
the silenced voices of marginalized peoples; in fact, in its unstated
reliance on a high/middlebrow vision of literature and its reluctance to
take inauthentic popularity into serious account, it perpetuates a
watered-down version of canonical thinking and only bothers to give a
voice to the "people" when they say, do, and consume the "right" thing. In
the following discussion of Maryse Condé, I attempt to flesh out
this claim with specific reference to the "problem" that middlebrow
popularity poses the postcolonial ideology.
II. (Ab)errant Revisionism: Maryse Condé and the Middlebrow Postcolonial
- To introduce my account of Condé as a middlebrow popular writer, I must return to that same Fort-de-France
bookstore where I first came across Delsham's Dérives. The display for his novel was not the only item
that got me thinking that day about the possible (dis)connections between popular writing and the ostensibly
but surreptitiously elitist field of postcolonial studies and its unavowedly modernist vision of literature. On one of the
shelves reserved for inexpensive paperbacks, I noticed Condé's La migration des coeurs (1995), a
Caribbean reworking of Wuthering Heights. Translated into English by her husband Richard Philcox as
Windward Heights in 1998 (with an impressive array of blurbs on the back cover from a "wide" range of sources
such as The New York Times Book Review, the Village Voice, Black Issues Book Review,
and the Multicultural Review), this novel indulges in one of postcolonial literature's most time-honored
discursive moves: revising a European novel from the colonial era. As I flipped through its pages I thought to myself, with
no doubt reprehensible cynicism: "Well, here's a text that's guaranteed to generate its fair share of essays by critics
intent either on trumpeting the resistant virtues of postcolonial revisionism or on questioning the author's decision to
entangle herself in colonial narratives (a passionate but superficial difference of critical opinion that, as René
Girard taught me, hides an underlying identity of outlook)."
As I mused over the article-generating text in my hand, my attention was
drawn to a nearby novel that was, like
Condé's, published by Robert Laffont in the Pocket format, and that thus bore--superficially at least--a
rather close resemblance to Condé's. What I was looking at, it turned out, was Marie-Reine de Jaham's Le sang du
volcan (1997), second in a trilogy entitled L'or des îles that chronicles the entirety of
Martiniquan history. Although it is a well-known critical assumption that one should not judge a book by its cover, I could not help being struck by the fact that, at least up to a point, Condé and
de Jaham were being marketed in a surprisingly similar fashion (see Figure 1).
On the one hand, Condé: among the most respected francophone Caribbean writers, someone who long ago became a
"consecrated" author, in Bourdieu's sense of the word (75-78, 120-25). And on the other...de Jaham: a writer perhaps best
described as the Jackie Collins of French Caribbean historical fiction, a decidedly second-rate but prolific Martiniquan
writer of the béké (native white) caste who has lived most of her life in France, and whose first
novel, La grande béké (1989), caused a good deal of scandal amongst her caste when it came out and
proved popular enough that it was eventually made into a movie for French TV (1997; director, Alain Maline). What could these
two writers possibly have in common aside from their French Antillean origins?
(Click image for larger version)
"Not much of anything!" would be the obvious response. In terms of identity/politics, the differences seem self-evident: in
Condé, we have a "black" woman who, despite her migrant life, has solid "roots" in her "native" land, is on the right
side of the political fence when it comes to the issue of Guadeloupe's independence, and yet uses her novels not as an excuse
for making blunt political statements but rather as a forum for posing complex and irresoluble problems; in de Jaham, we have a "white" woman who has lived most of her life in Paris and whose novels,
notwithstanding the scandal they initially caused in béké circles, astoundingly repeat many of the
assumptions of nineteenth-century "creolist discourse," redeploying any number of
long-established clichés (both positive and negative) about Martinique and the central role of the
békés in shaping the island's history, and offering narrative closure in the form of straightforward
appeals (in a novel like Le maître-savane, the sequel to La grande béké) to the
healing virtues of political autonomy for the islands, albeit always within the framework of the French nation. Very
different writers, in short. Indeed, even the marketing similarities that initially struck me are, if one takes a closer
look, only "skin-deep": for instance, the exoticizing cover images that accompany both texts are supplemented, in de Jaham's
case, by the word "roman," which--as a perusal of the novel's back pages shows--marks the fact that it belongs to a series
featuring writers such as Collins and Danielle Steel; there is no equivalent list at the back of Condé's Laffont
novels, presumably signaling the distinctive as opposed to generic nature of her romans (which would also appear to
legitimize using a smaller print font for her novels than for de Jaham's). To acknowledge "differences" such as these does
not, however, absolve us from thinking through the evident similarities in the paratextual material out of which, alone, our
awareness of those differences emerges; these similarities locate the two texts, and
their authors, in an uncomfortable relation made possible by their relative marketability and draw our attention to
the under-theorized affinities and antagonisms of lowbrow and middlebrow popularity in a postcolonial context.
Given Condé's preeminent status as a francophone writer, to think of her and de Jaham as occupying significantly
overlapping spheres of production, circulation, and consumption seems almost heretical, and yet why should this appear such a
strange coupling to us? One could certainly argue for specific points of intersection between these two prolific
novelists--for instance, the way that de Jaham's career trajectory seems almost parodically to mirror Condé's,
debuting with a scandalous first-person narrative and then moving on to recuperative historical sagas, just as Condé
launched her career as a novelist with Hérémakhonon and went on to write the Segu
cycle--but such arguments are of much less interest than the plain fact that both women are among the bestselling
francophone writers with a Caribbean pedigree, each "worthy" of being marketed in Laffont's Pocket collection,
and each ubiquitous in Antillean bookstores.
After all, Condé is not simply a writer venerated by (primarily) North American francophone and postcolonial critics.
She is also, like Kincaid, the author of accessible novels that have frequently (especially in France, and especially in the
1980s) found a broad, and in the case of the multi-volume Segu diptych, an indisputably bestseller
audience. A novel like I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem (1986; trans.
1992), has made a significant impact on everyday
readers in the States, finding its way into the substantial and growing market for informative fictional texts about the
Afro-diasporic experience. Condé's novels get reviewed in all the right places in France, and translations of her work
are discussed in such places as USA Today and the Washington Post. The structural finesse and linguistic experimentation of many of her novels notwithstanding, they
are, if not page-turners à la de Jaham, nonetheless, to cite
the blurb from the Multicultural Review on
the back of Windward Heights, "engaging and well-written book[s] that [are] difficult to put down." In sum,
Condé is in many respects the very model of a middlebrow writer, with all the stylistic restrictions, political
ambivalence, and capacity for success in the literary and academic market that this adjective entails. Such is the
cultural capital attached to the name of a consecrated writer like Maryse Condé in North America, however, and such
are the a priori assumptions about the "value" of francophone
and postcolonial literature in general, that no discussion of
her as a popular writer, a writer of marketable middlebrow fiction, can take place: the consensus must be that she
is producing valuable literary work, and this value must at all costs be abstracted both from the market
forces that are so obviously at play in the promotion and dissemination of her novels amongst the greater public and
from the elitist dynamics of the creation and promotion of aesthetic distinction at work in the academic culture industry,
which has a clear stake in securing and legitimating her identity as "postcolonial subject," especially now that she has
become such a powerful figure in the U.S. academy, the very embodiment of la Francophonie. One could hardly wish for
the doyenne of francophone studies to be anything less than a "great writer," after all!
And yet the (middlebrow) popularity of Condé's novels (like that of any number of similar crossover writers such as
Kincaid, Edwige Danticat, Arundhati Roy, etc.) permits us to pose the unsettling
question that has so often been asked by the practitioners of cultural studies: "What's so great about great?" One answer to
this question leads in a skeptical, relativizing direction that undermines the foundations upon which Condé's
distinction, and that of all writers, rests: "There's nothing truly great about great, it's all a conspiracy--or, more
neutrally, the arbitrary product of institutional practices, contingent upon ideological imperatives and the like." As
someone who has never been wholly able to understand why my colleagues make such a fuss about Condé, I am sympathetic
with this skeptical approach to answering the question. And yet, this question is a double-edged one: it allows not simply
for the debunking response to which we have latterly become accustomed, but also for the same old response that people like
F. R. Leavis used to haul out when talking about the "great tradition." And this same old response, which undergirds
Kincaid's groveling comments about the "great writer," is also--let me now strategically admit at the midway point of this
article--of no small relevance to me! As someone who has read a lot of Condé and de Jaham, it seems self-evident to me
that the former is a better writer than the latter, which makes it imperative to identify those features of her work that
do make it, if not "great," then at least greater than de Jaham's. It is this double imperative, of skepticism and
affirmation with regard to literary greatness, that I am ultimately arguing for in this article. This imperative becomes
particularly visible when examining the interstitial terrain of the middlebrow, for to identify a text as middlebrow is, by
virtue of its in-between condition, to acknowledge that its greatness is troubling; any stable conception of its
actual worth is troubled by our sense that it is neither unequivocally "great" nor unequivocally the opposite of that, and
for this reason we are forced to put into question and to (re)affirm its literary value.
As this article progresses, I will return to this double-edged imperative, but for now more needs to be said about the way
Condé's place in the francophone and postcolonial literary canon has been achieved without any serious consideration
of her popularity. Critics have, obviously, not gone so far as to deny the fact of Condé's popularity; they
have simply ignored it. If her husband and translator Richard Philcox is, understandably, not shy about pointing out "the
duality of Maryse Condé's books--the way they attract both the 'greater public' and those in universities" (229),
critics have consistently proven unwilling to interrogate the double-dealing nature of her work: they will mention the
popular reception of her novels only in passing (more frequently, though, they will insinuate a case for the admirable
unpopularity of her work by stressing the indifferent or hostile reception of her first effort,
Hérémakhonon), and then quickly move on to consider the supposedly more subtle ways in which these
novels attract them. And yet it is precisely the entanglement of these two forms of attraction that most needs
addressing if the true distinctiveness of Condé's work, the "duality" of which Philcox speaks, is to be
understood amidst the welter of elitist claims for its distinction--claims based on the assumption of its "high
serious" and/or "resistant" nature as francophone and, a fortiori,
To flesh out this general scenario regarding Condé's critical reception, it is worth pausing here to discuss in detail
one random but highly influential example of a critic (mis)understanding Condé's double identity by imposing modernist
criteria of evaluation on her work: Françoise Lionnet's exemplary 1993 account of La traversée de la
mangrove (1989), the novel of Condé's that--no doubt because of its quasi-Faulknerian array of relaying
narrators and its "subversive" incorporation of Creole into a French text--has proven most popular with the critics,
generating any number of articles praising its "polyphonic" or "mosaic" poetics, its "nomadic" and "relational" politics, its
construction of an "authentically" creole or hybrid identity, and so on.
Lionnet's reading of this novel identifies it as an example of a "new Antillean humanism," and stresses the way it embodies
in textual form Condé's "return" to Guadeloupe in the mid-1980s after decades of self-imposed exile in Africa and
France. According to Lionnet, this return involved a recovery on Condé's part of her connection to
authentically popular culture: she had, as Lionnet puts it, finally
recognized "the value of the Creole language, of the
indigenous dances and tales which [...] require acceptance 'on their own terms'" (71-72). After her wanderings abroad,
Condé was now, with Traversée, in a position to ask "how a writer might derive sustenance from the
sources of popular culture in order eventually to represent this milieu better and touch the readers who belong to it"; her
new and more "humble" attitude toward her native land was generated by a "desire to come to a better understanding of the
lived experience of culture, to return to the oral traditions of a once disparaged--because poorly understood--popular
tradition" (72). In statements like this, we find the sort of appeal to
the authentically popular with which postcolonial
studies is at ease: a return to such things as "indigenous dances and tales" and "oral traditions" would appear to be just
the thing to purify Condé of whatever contamination she might have incurred only a few years before in France as a
result of the bestselling popularity of the Segu novels, to say nothing of remedying her regrettable lack of
humility when it came to "the readers who belong" to Caribbean popular culture.
Indeed, Lionnet draws an emphatic line in the sand between those bestsellers and Traversée when she
makes the claim--based largely on Condé's liberal sprinkling of Creole throughout the text--that the latter novel has
only one "true" audience, an audience presumably immersed in the "lived experience" of "popular tradition":
This astounding statement perfectly exemplifies the anxieties produced among (though seldom articulated by) academic critics
at the mainstream success of Segu--especially among those of a hybridizing bent such as Lionnet who are not
likely to be attracted to the Roots-y dimensions that critics of another, essentialist stripe might be tempted
to valorize in their own (mis)readings of Condé's bestselling historical romance about Africa. In the most manichean
of fashions, Condé's "true" readership is reduced here to the happy few, and
any paratextual gestures toward an
other readership--such as providing French translations of "Creole words and expressions" (of the sort commonly
found, for instance, at the bottom of the pages of de Jaham's novels)--is written off as being simply a "favor" to the wrong
sort of reader and, moreover, the responsibility not of Condé herself but of a misguided editor evidently not attuned
to the virtues of "defamiliarization and estrangement on the level of language" that Lionnet argues, in explicitly
modernist terminology, are this novel's central feature (180). The postcolonial novelist is here attractively (and
stereotypically) presented as both a powerful, beneficent figure, one who magnanimously bestows "favors" on an alien
public for whom she is not writing, and a distressingly victimized individual, one who is subject to the inane
"recommendations" of a foreign editor.
Although published in Paris, like her previous books, Traversée is not written for a French public; for
the first time, Condé seems to have a truly Caribbean audience in mind. Creole words and expressions are translated at
the bottom of each page, but this was done after the fact, as a favor to the French reader and on the recommendation of
Condé's editor. (73-74)
This clear distinction between a relevant and an irrelevant readership is supported in the rest of Lionnet's account of the
novel by a veritable battery of modernist assumptions and rhetorical moves. Her éloge of "oral traditions"
is, for instance, doubled by an inflated emphasis on the (admittedly ambiguous) centrality of the writer in this
novel. Her account of the ways in which Condé is inscribed within (good)
traditions--not just "popular tradition" but also "the great tradition of European realism and humanism" as well as "that of
nineteenth-century peasant literature" (76)--is supplemented by a repeated emphasis on the utter novelty of
Condé's enterprise, not only in terms of her own trajectory as a writer (the novel points us in an "entirely new
narrative direction, the appropriation of a new locus of identity, the implementation of what might almost be called a new
poetics" [75-76]) but also in terms of the history of literature itself ("she opens up the literary field to currently
thematic and stylistic possibilities" ). Finally, her account of the novel's undeniable emphasis on fragmentation is
argumentatively linked to the idea that the text provides readers with a model for how to live: it demonstrates how
Guadeloupeans' "solutions to the problems of postcolonial life are sufficiently rich and nuanced to serve as a model for
others" (77), and how fragmentation serves "as a basis for the construction of cultural models appropriate to the contexts of
postcolonial creolization" (79).
Lionnet's reading of Condé is modernist almost to the point of parody, and so it is not surprising that many of its
key elements have been put into question by other critics: Mireille Rosello has, for instance, ably critiqued the "insular"
model of a return to the native land that generates Lionnet's "line in the sand" rhetoric about Condé's readership
(186); Lydie Moudileno has shown how the ambiguously central role of the writer in Condé's
Traversée is actually part of an ironical trajectory in which, by the early 1990s, writers come to have
less and less of a role to play, exemplary or otherwise, in her novels (141-71); and Maryse Condé has herself so often
claimed that she is not interested in providing rules or models of any sort in her novels that appealing to her as a writer
of exemplary "solutions to the problems of postcolonial life" seems wildly beside the point. One can argue against many of
the specifics of Lionnet's analysis (or praise her for being honest enough to situate Condé in what, from a
postcolonial perspective, must be the disreputable "great tradition" of European humanism, even if she is at pains to clarify
that Condé's novel is humanism "with a difference"). From our perspective, though, we need only point out the extent
to which the exclusionary logic of Lionnet's account of Traversée, and its convenient distinction between
the right and wrong sort of readers (those, as it were, who impose or read the footnotes and those who do not), is generated
by the anxiety about the relation between inauthentic popularity and
literary value that I have been arguing haunts
postcolonial literary studies. A text's existence in the literary marketplace and its possibly complicitous
relation to the desires of the buying public (regardless of where that public is located) are precisely what postcolonial
literary critics have an extremely hard time envisaging and what they exile to the unspoken margins of their own self-styled
It is, to put it in more concrete terms, an easy thing for such critics to read the front cover blurb for Windward
Heights (taken from a USA Today review) and feel overcome by a Kincaid-like nausea: "Exotic and eloquent
[...] Condé takes Emily Brontë's cold-climate classic on obsessive love and makes it hot and lush." The only
"logical" reaction, from a postcolonial perspective, to such a fawningly effusive claim is to argue that it expresses an
impoverished conception of the text, or even an act of deception promoted by insidious marketers and other such cultural
mediators who have understood nothing about the work they are editing or reviewing. To speak of "co-optation,"
"misappropriation," "neo-exoticism" when faced with a blurb of this sort
is postcolonial common sense, and for me to make the
claim that this commonsense evaluation lacks any sense would simply be to replace one form of critical bad faith
with another: nausea in the face of the USA Today review's claims is, to a degree, a legitimate
reaction, but there is also a degree of exactness to its "hot and lush" evaluation of Windward Heights,
as there is to the Village Voice's by no means dismissive claim that the novel offers up a "monsoon of
Now, although my discussion of Condé up to this point might make it seem as if I am simply mounting a cranky attack on
her abilities as a writer and using the fact of her relative popularity as part of an argument against the consecrated status
she has achieved in francophone and postcolonial circles, what I am actually doing here is teasing out the preconditions for
such a status and the exclusionary strategies of reading through which it is constructed. If the drift of my argument seems
critical of Condé's work, that has less to do with my own ambivalence toward her work than with the fact that the only
way to tease out the implicit modernist hierarchies at work in postcolonial literary studies is explicitly
to adopt such a perspective, openly to entertain the possibility that distinctions between the "great writer" and lesser
writers, and between the various levels of "brow," might actually provide a (doubtful) ground for evaluating texts.
Postcolonial literary studies requires "greatness" of its writers, but cannot openly formulate this requirement because that
would put into question its non-elitist self-presentation, its insistence that the postcolonial (to quote Lionnet's
totalizing claims about the Antillean subject's imaginaire) "can be successfully articulated only through nonlinear,
egalitarian, and nonhierarchical cultural relations" (79). By contrast, I think we have to begin seriously to question what
is great (and perhaps also not so great) about a writer like Condé, what distinguishes her from
other writers and allows us to say with relative certainty that she is better than de Jaham or Delsham.
What allows for this relative certainty? What is the "certain quality" that makes Condé more marketable (and
teachable) than someone like Delsham, not quite as marketable (and very much more teachable) than de Jaham, and when
all is said and done quite possibly more worthy of being taught and
marketed than either of these writers? Viewed from a
hostile perspective (of the sort that might, say, valorize Delsham for publishing his novels in the Caribbean rather than
France), Condé's marketability and teachability could simply be interpreted as the result of having fallen prey to the
most dangerous of compromises, of having sacrificed her indigenous "opacity" to the nefariously cosmopolitan forces of
Parisian publishing houses and the U.S. academic marketing circuit. Such a perspective would be a very limited one indeed,
reducing not only Condé but virtually the entire roster of mainstream postcolonial writers to the status of literary
Quislings. No, this "certain quality" of Condé's does not (simply) have to do with betrayal and compromise; it has at
least as much to do with how "good" her books are as with how "good" they are perceived as being by certain people
(notably, publishers and academics). With my deliberately double-edged phrase "a certain quality," I am referring both to
something that is certain in the sense of indisputable ("established as a truth or fact to be absolutely received,
depended, or relied upon; not to be doubted, disputed, or called in question; indubitable, sure" [OED]) and to
something that is questionable in all sorts of ways ("of positive yet restricted (or of positive even if restricted)
quantity, amount, or degree; of some extent at least" [OED]). The indisputable nature of this quality
allows us to maintain that Condé is a better writer than de Jaham; its restricted nature renders her subject to an
array of relative judgments that will be inflected by a complex set of cultural, ideological (etc.) assumptions. The two
degrees of certainty--absolute and relative--cannot be disentangled from one another, which means that any critical
discussion of a book's worth will largely be a matter of expressing and analyzing (differing) perceptions of that worth (be
those perceptions generated by individuals or what Frow refers to as "valuing communities"); however, this does not mean that
to speak of a text's real, as opposed to perceived, worth is simply nonsensical (as the relativizing insights of some
extremist forms of cultural studies might suggest).
I will return in the final paragraphs of this article to the need for retrieving a necessarily contingent sense of a text's
real literary worth, but what needs to be pointed out here is simply that postcolonial literary studies has been reluctant to
acknowledge its own investment in the "certain quality" it demands of its authors: lumping the highest of the highbrow in
with the most middling of the middlebrow in a common ground that only seems all-inclusively horizontal rather than
exclusively vertical until one starts thinking about popular texts such as Delsham and de Jaham's that are excluded from its
field of vision, it fails to address the (need for) distinctions upon which it is founded. Pointing out this commitment to a
"certain quality" forces us to think about the (dis)connections between popularity and the resistant value ascribed to
particular texts by postcolonial critics. To what extent are they compatible and where do popularity and (a modernist
conception of) value part ways? What is at stake in tacitly privileging the latter over the former when they do part ways?
And what would happen if we were to reverse this bias, and start taking the former as, or even more, seriously than the
A crossover writer like Condé is all the more appropriate for
thinking through questions about the (dis)connections
between the popular and the postcolonial because she has herself, in both her critical pronouncements and novelistic
practice, often made a (necessarily contradictory) case for both
inauthentic popularity and literary
value. On the one hand, unlike so many of her critical advocates, she has willingly acknowledged the ways in which her own
work incorporates elements of the inauthentically popular, and somewhat less
willingly interrogated her own status as a bestselling author. On the other, she has
time and again proved willing to deploy an evaluative language that openly distinguishes between "good" and "bad" writers in
an old-fashioned way that can only be an embarrassment in the ostensibly plural world of "nonlinear, egalitarian, and
nonhierarchical cultural relations" for which, a critic like Lionnet would argue, she is laying the foundations in her
novels: nowhere, for instance, is a Kincaid-like willingness to distinguish between the good and the not-so-good more evident
than when she unfavorably compares a popular (middlebrow) writer like Isabel Allende to Gabriel García Márquez:
"I cannot say that I consider Isabel Allende a major writer. It seems to me that as a writer, she is less comprehensive, less
accomplished than García Márquez" (Pfaff 128). Examples of this double emphasis abound in her work.
Condé thus occupies a double position with regard to the value of the popular, exhibiting a self-conscious acceptance
and questioning of it. Indeed, such self-consciousness is one of the hallmark features of Condé's novels and
contributes in no small part, I would argue, to their "certain quality," their ability to attract ostensibly very different
readerships. Self-consciously occupying the middlebrow ground where different attitudes toward the value of literature
troublingly meet, her work addresses, and takes its distance from, both
inauthentically popular and academic audiences--a
trend especially pronounced, I would suggest, since the late 1980s. Indeed, if I might venture a chronological thesis
regarding the development of Condé's oeuvre, it appears to me that her novels of the 1990s, following upon
her bestseller successes of the previous decade and simultaneous with her belated immersion in and consecration by the U.S.
academy, have increasingly become a meditation on what place, if any, the popular (in all its many forms, "authentic" and
"inauthentic") can have in what she herself once referred to as the "bourgeois and elitist" genre of the novel, and how that place might disrupt the ideological expectations such novels generate among
her various audiences, especially those of academic readers singlemindedly intent on treating her as a postcolonial writer
who "speaks to and from the position of the other." In writing self-consciously middlebrow novels, Condé plays with
and disarms the expectations of her academic audience, producing visibly
hybrid texts in which the inauthentically popular
and the "highly serious" intersect in unexpected ways in terms of both content and form (unexpected, at least, within the
framework of the postcolonial ideology).
Condé's novels of the 1990s can be read as self-consciously
invoking any number of time-honored ideological and
narrative commonplaces of postcolonial literature, but in a page-turning format that troublingly evacuates them of their
supposedly "resistant" value. From my perspective, this is where the real value of Condé's novels
resides--particularly those written over the past decade: in their ability to put into question, by packaging the
postcolonial and the mainstream together in unmistakably middlebrow texts, the academic strategies of reading according to
which they ostensibly demand to be read. To be sure, it is not just those strategies of reading that are troubled by these
hybrid novels: a logical consequence of the double position Condé self-consciously occupies is that the postcolonial
dimensions of her text will trouble other strategies of reading, "subverting" the expectations of her mainstream audiences by
forcing them in a comprehensive and accomplished fashion to address normally marginalized cultural differences (race, class,
gender, language, etc.). Such arguments can (and no doubt must) be made,
although to be effective they require greater sensitivity
than is usually found in postcolonial literary studies regarding the ways in which mainstream audiences--increasingly
familiar with the basic ideological assumptions of postcolonial studies--may well expect a degree of subversion and
estranging frissons of difference from the postcolonial novels they consume. However, familiar arguments about the
postcolonial subverting the mainstream, valid as they might be, merely serve to confirm the foundational bias I have been
critically examining here; more interestingly, the self-consciously middlebrow positioning of Condé's novels forces us
to think that familiar process of "subversion" in reverse, from the postcolonial to the mainstream, and in so doing, puts
into question--without necessarily eliminating--that bias.
Nowhere, to return to the point of departure for my reflections on Condé, is this playing with the expectations of
academic audiences, this middlebrow hybridization, more evident than in Condé's decision to revise a classic
nineteenth-century British novel like Wuthering Heights. As the controversy surrounding Alice Randall's
recasting of Gone with the Wind as The Wind Done Gone shows, revisionism is now a commonplace move: be
it the Tara plantation, or going back to Manderley and telling Rebecca's side of the story, revisionism has become the
intellectual property of even the most nondescript and inconsequential writers, to say nothing of an efficient way to acquire
instant media "buzz." The revisionist move, such an attractive option for postcolonial writers in the past, has become so
familiar, so obvious, so calculated, it might be argued, that little or no case can be made for its "innovative" or
"resistant" possibilities. In the specific case of Wuthering Heights, the move is a doubly familiar one inasmuch
as over the past decade critics have, predictably enough, shown an increasing penchant for reading Brontë's novel
through a postcolonial lens, asserting boldly that "Heathcliff's racial otherness cannot be a matter of dispute," and scouring the text for references to faraway places. How are we to respond to such a
familiar, and commercially canny, move on Condé's part?
The first of two obvious responses to this question is this: blithely
disregard the unoriginality of the revisionist move and
unself-consciously pursue the "let us compare Jane Eyre and
Wide Sargasso Sea" type of approach that
has generated so many scholarly articles over the past few decades and that, even more vitally, guarantees the presence of
texts like Windward Heights on any number of course syllabi (mine included); fixate on similarities with and
differences from the originary text; chart the ways in which Condé
is rewriting the Victorians; and take sides on the
eternal question as to whether or not stressing the entanglement of the colonial and the postcolonial is ultimately a
politically useful move. The second obvious response to this
unoriginality is this: recognize it and simply refuse to play
such a well-rehearsed game. How much eventually gets published on this novel will in large part depend on which of these
two options wins the day: my own guess is that Migration will find its fair share of exegetes, but that
misgivings about the unoriginality of its revisionist move will ensure that it appears less frequently than
Hérémakhon and Traversée in Condé bibliographies.
A third response is possible, though. What if one were to acknowledge the unoriginality of this revisionist move and take it
as one's point of departure for an appraisal of the novel? What if one were to read, and valorize, it as strategically
unoriginal? As will become clear in the concluding section of this
article, such a recourse to the "strategic" is not without
its problems (and its predictability), but it does seem to me a provisionally useful way of negotiating the impasse described
in the previous paragraph. The blatant unoriginality of Condé's move puts into question, without simply doing away
with, the resistant and counterdiscursive energies conventionally associated with the revisionist subgenre of postcolonial
literature. What work can this subgenre still perform if it has become so formulaic? That is the question, it seems to me,
Condé is boldly forcing us to address with this novel, and the asking of that question is greatly facilitated by the
sheer readability of Migration, which signals the text's ready availability to middlebrow readers for whom its
genealogical connection to Wuthering Heights will not
necessarily form the primary point of interest or
interrogation, but who might be drawn, rather, to such things as the presence of romance motifs (the pleasures of the "hot
and lush") or "universal" themes (the profundities that, to quote from the review of Windward Heights in the
Chicago Tribune, make us "think about the kinds of emotions that have moved human beings throughout our
Condé takes the master narrative of postcolonial revisionism, which has caused so many critics over the past several
decades to go into spasms of high seriousness every time a name like Caliban, Ariel, or Bertha Mason gets mentioned, and
strategically redirects it toward the commodified double ground of the (middlebrow) popular, where the pleasures of the text
mingle (un)easily with its profundities, the "low" appeals of romance with "high" insights into the human condition. The
novel's culturally specific (Caribbean, womanist, etc.) aspects, upon which any attempt at reading the text as "purely"
postcolonial must in large part rely, prove inseparable from pleasures and profundities that are far less culturally
specific: this doubling and displacement of the overtly postcolonial contents of the novel, similar to the way its
revisionist form cannot be detached from an awareness of its formulaic nature, serves to relocate Migration in a
commodified (middlebrow) popular context that substantially voids, without erasing, whatever resistant values one might
originally have wished to associate with its revisionist gesture. If one were to give a specific name to this process of
doubling and displacement that Condé's strategic unoriginality renders visible, it might well be pastiche, in Fredric
Jameson's unflattering sense of the word as the monstrous postmodern double of the parody he continues, in modernist
fashion, to valorize. Following the lead of Condé herself, who once described
Tituba as "a pastiche of the feminine heroic novel" (Pfaff 60), we might well read Migration as a
pastiche of the postcolonial revisionist novel: a work that, by self-consciously exiling postcolonial revisionism to the
mainstream, refuses to play along with the evaluative distinctions that undergird the postcolonial ideology, forcing us to
confront the modernist limits of that ideology, while continuing to inscribe, weakly, the memories of resistance that it
From the very first words of Migration, Condé signals the aberrant nature of her revisionist gesture,
refusing to meet the understandable (from a postcolonial perspective) expectation that her work will contest its colonial
antecedent--as can be seen from the novel's amiable dedication "À
Emily Brontë qui, je l'espère,
agréera cette lecture de son chef-d'oeuvre. Honneur et respect!" (Migration 7; translated by Philcox as,
"To Emily Brontë, who I hope will approve of this interpretation of her masterpiece. Honour and respect!"
n.p.]). This is hardly the sort of antagonistic relationship that one would expect from a revisionist novel, and any reading
of Condé's lecture of Brontë must take this unexpectedly "respectful" dedication as its point of
departure. In interviews, Condé herself has stressed her lifelong "passion" for the novel (Anagnostopoulou-Hielscher
75), and while this passion could easily be read as the sign of an affinity between two women marginalized both by their
gender and their provincial/colonial origins (Yorkshire/Guadeloupe), a reading of the epigraph that stressed only
solidarity between marginalized women, while valid up to a point, would fail to account for the ways in which this solidarity
gets mediated by Condé's appeal to the "chef d'oeuvre"--an appeal to the elitist idea of the "masterpiece" that would
certainly have struck a sympathetic chord with the Leavises, who were themselves great fans of Wuthering
From the outset, then, we are forced to confront a number of elective affinities that divert us from a conventionally
postcolonial reading of the revisionist text: it is not subversion but passion that is highlighted here. This passion is
generated both by aesthetic and affective evaluations--evaluations that, on the one hand, rely upon the category of the
"masterpiece" and that, on the other, arise out of the sort of readerly engagement that has made Wuthering
Heights such a widely consumed and loved novel. (It is this same
engagement, to draw a relevant point of comparison,
that has made so many an academic reader of Jane Austen anxious about the ways in which Janeites appropriate her work.) The amiable dedication to Migration, pointing us toward the literary value
of Brontë's "masterpiece" and signalling the author's own affective ties to it as a reader, destabilizes the generic
assumption that, as a postcolonial revisionist, Condé must have a bone to pick with Brontë's colonial-era novel.
As the inclusion of the Creole greeting "honneur et respect" in the epigraph suggests, the novel's Caribbean content does not
in any dramatic way contest the novel's aberrant affiliation with its precursor but itself forms part of it. Condé has
simply provided Wuthering Heights with new "migratory"
contexts (Caribbean, womanist, etc.) that supplement but
do not militate against her predecessor's novel. Condé once remarked of Segu that it "is not a
militant novel, and until people understand that I don't write such novels, they will not comprehend my writings at all"
(Pfaff 52); in pastiching the postcolonial revisionist novel, aberrantly
channelling its militant energies in a mainstream
direction, Condé forces this understanding upon her academic
readers, while clearing a space for her other
The all-too-familiar revisionist strategy pastiched in Migration, to be sure, hardly exhausts its
postcolonial resonance: indeed, the novel very evidently lends itself to being read as exemplifying another narrative
strategy that is decidedly more au courant in postcolonial circles. If Migration is an aberrant work of
revisionism, as argued above, it is also an errant one, blatantly confirming Condé's investment in the
virtues of "errance," a dominant theme in her novels of the 1990s
(speaking of Desirada , for
instance, she noted that when reading it "one comes to the conclusion that wandering [errance] is an essential
ground for creativity" [Anagnostopoulou-Hielscher 73]). This privileging
of errancy is clearly relevant to the diasporic,
anti-essentialist turn of so much recent work, literary and critical, in postcolonial studies, which has seized upon
metaphors like nomadism and migrancy by way of insisting upon the virtues of tracking routes rather than exploring roots.
Indeed, it is precisely through a structural emphasis on errancy that Condé most visibly establishes the pastiche-like
nature of her revisionist gesture in Migration: where the first
third (Part I) of the novel sticks quite closely to a
straightforward transposition of the Wuthering Heights story
onto the Caribbean, with the requisite racial
recoding (e.g., Condé's light-skinned Catherine finds herself torn between a black Heathcliff, Razyé, and a
béké Linton, Aymeric de Linsseuil), the last two-thirds (Parts
II-V) of the novel rapidly loses touch with its Victorian predecessor, scrambling the latter's second-generation plot and
wandering into "new" territory that seems of little or no relevance to (a rewriting of) Wuthering Heights.
Brontë's novel ceases, at some point, to matter: it proves neither a destiny to be lamented (as in Rhys's Wide
Sargasso Sea) nor contested (as in Césaire's A Tempest); quite simply, it becomes something that
goes forgotten, and the reader waits in vain for a "return" to the obvious pattern of similarities and differences
between colonial text and postcolonial counter-text that obtained in Part I of the novel and that held out the promise of
some contestatory significance to the revisionist gesture--a promise the novel declines to keep, as it wanders away from its
premises and becomes, as it were, just another Maryse Condé novel.
There will be no such "return" to the original, modernist assumptions of postcolonial revisionism, as Condé clarifies
by her blandly obvious intertextual references to the idea of returning in various chapter headings, which are ironically
undercut by what actually happens in these chapters. The closure sought by Heathcliff/Razyé in the final chapter of
Part I, "Le temps retrouvé," is not attained: Part II opens onto the second-generation story, initiating the
novel's errant drift away from its predecessor text. His son Razyé II's "Retour au pays natal," to cite the title of
the novel's penultimate chapter, proves equally unsatisfactory: his return to Guadeloupe fails to provide him with the
catharsis and the anchor he was seeking. In Condé's open-ended migratory world, there would thus appear to be none but
the most highly ironized of places for standard modernist endings of the sort offered by Proust and Césaire, and her
emphasis on errance and displacement is certainly in tune with the privileging of hybridity (Bhabha), relationality
(Glissant), etc., in postcolonial theory of late. The way that Condé's novel migrates away from its point of origin,
away from both Wuthering Heights and the generic assumptions
of postcolonial revisionism, might be read as an
allegory for the process through which the colonial condition and the postcolonial response to it become slowly but surely
erased, opening out onto a "new" world of errancy in which some of the old world's key assumptions about the value of
categories like "nation" and "race" have come to appear as errors. An errant world, then, but also a more human world--for it
is assuredly the case that we only gain a sense of the humanity of Condé's characters once we cease to read them as
representative figures, as racialized embodiments of a text that has a revisionist point to make. The differences upon
which colonial discourse and postcolonial counterdiscourse depend blind us to this common humanity, and as Condé's
novel errantly progresses, increasingly detaching itself from the revisionist script to which it initially seemed attached,
it opens our eyes to what might be out there "beyond" the framework established by colonial discourse and perpetuated by
postcolonial responses that, in directly contesting this discourse, cannot help remaining implicated in its inhuman vision of
This possible opening beyond the all-too-familiar concerns of that
complicitous entanglement of colonial and postcolonial that I
have elsewhere dubbed the post/colonial seems akin to what Paul Gilroy, in Against Race: Identifying Political
Culture Beyond the Color Line, has identified as the opportunity made visible by the current crisis in raciological
thinking. For Gilroy, that crisis has created the grounds for envisioning a "planetary humanism" in which "out-moded
principles of differentiation" will have lost their value--a humanism in which we might exercise a renewed sensitivity to
"the overwhelming sameness that overdetermines social relationships between people and continually betrays the tragic
predicaments of their common species life," and in which we might learn how to value "the undervalued power of this
crushingly obvious, almost banal human sameness, so close and basically invariant that it regularly passes unremarked upon"
(29). As Gilroy knows full well, his insistence on "the possibility of leaving 'race' behind, of setting aside its disabling
use as we move out of the time in which it could have been expected to make sense" (29) will be branded by many as utopian at
best and irresponsible at worst by those who, in his words, capitulate "to the lazy essentialisms that postmodern sages
inform us we cannot escape" (53). Without taking sides on that issue, or raising the question of what, if any, relation there
might be between the "overwhelming sameness" valorized here and the nightmarish scenario of homogenization that haunted
modernist critiques of mass culture and that continues to feed into our understanding of the possible effects of
globalization, I would simply like to conclude my discussion of Condé's novel by noting that if its errant narrative
movement seems to point in the direction argued for by Gilroy, it nonetheless cannot help pointing back toward the very thing
that it is putting into question by pastiching: namely, the resistant tenets of postcolonial revisionism.
The novel's final chapter, after all, is entitled "Retour à L'Engoulvent," and this final return takes us back, if
only in translation and with the greatest ambivalence, to the revisionist
return to Wuthering Heights that was
Condé's apparent point of departure in Migration and that the errancy of the last two-thirds of the novel
seems to overturn. The two points--forward into the future and back into the past--meet here at novel's end, cancelling each
other out in the undecidability, the willed pointlessness, of the novel's concluding sentence: it has finally become clear to
Razyé II, who has moved back into L'Engoulvent (Wuthering Heights), that his dead wife Cathy, supposedly the daughter
of Catherine and Aymeric, was almost certainly the daughter of Catherine and his own father Razyé. This unprovable if
altogether likely scenario casts doubt on the future of his and Cathy's daughter, Anthuria, fruit either of a legitimate
cross-cultural interracial union or an unwitting act of incest.
It is with this fragment of free indirect discourse--the narrator's
statement translating the character's anxious question,
which is masquerading as a statement--that Condé's novel ends. This is no ending at all. It is only the beginning--an
errant beginning that may or may not be "cursed" by the past and its erroneous legacies. Whom are we to believe? The narrator
who seemingly asserts? The character whose nervous question is masked by a defiant assertion? The author who both asserts and
questions? How we answer this unanswerable question will, unquestionably, depend upon how much belief we can place in a truly
postcolonial future, one liberated from the accursed, inhuman entanglements of the post/colonial. But, if we as
readers can only answer, provisionally, one way or the other, the strength of Condé's strategic unoriginality, her
(ab)errant revisionism, is that it forces us to acknowledge the weakness of our every response to that question of belief. If
such a questioning of belief is, as I believe it to be, what constitutes the "greatness" of literature, then Condé is,
when all's said and done, the "great" writer she is unquestionably assumed to be. To emphasize the middlebrow dimension of
her work is not, appearances to the contrary, to deny her greatness as a writer: it is simply to suggest that we have been
looking for it in all the wrong places, not in the mainstream where her
work is so clearly, if uneasily, situated, but in an
other, less compromised place inhabited by our modernist precursors that can now be nothing more or less than an
exotic memory which has yet, for better and for worse, to go forgotten.
Il [Razyé II] s'absorbait dans la pensée d'Anthuria.
Une si belle enfant ne pouvait pas être maudit. (Migration 337)
[He was absorbed by the thought of Anthuria.
Such a lovely child could not be cursed. (Windward 348)]
III. A Spectre of Value: Living On the (Literary) Margins of Cultural and Postcolonial Studies
- My reading of Condé's Migration as a
self-consciously (ab)errant "pastiche" of postcolonial revisionism has
allowed me to do what, as a literary critic, I am most comfortable doing:
namely, arguing for the value of certain literary texts on the grounds
that they are somehow "different" from other, less intellectually
provocative works. I have tried to factor the (middlebrow)
popularity of Condé's work into my argument, to show that her novel
needs to be read less as a manifesto for some postcolonial
imaginaire than as a "hot and lush" text that, as so much
old-fashioned literature was once said to do, "makes us think about the
kinds of emotions that have moved human beings throughout our existence";
I have tried to highlight the ways in which the novel's popular
appeal needs to be factored in by academic readers who are all too likely
to overlook or dismiss it as not integral to an understanding of what
she's really doing. But in arguing for the strategic unoriginality of her
revisionist gesture in Migration I have, clearly, caved in to
the same logic generating, say, Lionnet's fervent desire to read
Condé as someone who provides "model" texts for the postcolonial
critic to valorize. I have wandered (indeed, erred) quite a distance from
the questions posed at the outset of this article regarding the
problematic place of the popular in postcolonial studies. My take on
Migration may or may not capture the duplicitous way that it
engages with multiple--academic and inauthentically popular--audiences,
but it most certainly does not resolve the question of what to do
with the likes of "lesser," and seemingly less self-conscious, writers
such as Delsham and de Jaham. The argument outlined in the preceding
paragraphs is a way of salvaging Migration for an academic
audience (and for me!), rescuing it in a paradoxical sort of way from its
"nauseating" exile in the mainstream. It is a way of saying, "Hey look,
Condé is producing work of literary value after all, even if that
value cannot be disentangled from other values that help generate its
inauthentically popular, middlebrow appeal; she's being serious precisely
by putting into question the 'high seriousness' of postcolonial studies
and its by-now predictable commitment to tired 'old' strategies of textual
resistance such as revisionism, or its equally predictable appeals to
'new' strategies such as errancy that are still very much in vogue. All of
which helps explain why she's a self-evidently better writer than Delsham
and de Jaham."
But if my valorization of self-conscious textuality and the "certain quality" of Condé's novels does not help us value
Delsham and de Jaham, then does it really help us understand the (middlebrow) popularity of a writer like
Condé? The fact that my account of Condé as pastiche artist
par excellence would not work for these lowbrow
writers puts into question, ultimately, the work I have just argued it might do for her; in the final analysis, I have
continued to privilege Condé against cultural producers like Delsham and de Jaham, falling prey to the "creator
orientation" that has informed so many critiques of mass culture (Gans 75), and placing a seemingly critical but ultimately
narcissistic emphasis in my reading of her on the ways in which Condé plays (along) with the academic reader. In the
preceding account of Migration, the text, the author, and a certain type of reader win out, and the concerted
emphasis on issues of consumption, production, circulation, and regulation upon which cultural studies insists, and that my
article initially seemed to promise, has gone by the wayside, as have many of the readers in Fort-de-France and
Pointe-à-Pitre, to say nothing of those whose daily diet of prose includes USA Today.
To explore the (dis)connections of the popular and the postcolonial must surely take postcolonial studies in other, less
author-/critic-oriented directions of the sort toward which cultural
studies has been pointing for several decades now. We
need, for instance, to take the insights of reception theory more fully
into account and to place a new emphasis on the
consumption of (what we label as) postcolonial texts in both their "place of origin" and the transnational literary
marketplace: what sorts of pleasure, for instance, do these various
audiences take from their readings of Delsham, de Jaham,
or Condé? Such questions can only be answered by the type of empirical inquiry exemplified, say, by Janice
Radway's ethnographic approach to popular romances, albeit nuanced by the
powerful objections lodged against her by the
likes of Ien Ang, who rightly criticized Radway's Reading the Romance for its failure to take account of "the
pleasurableness of the pleasure of romance reading," bogged down as it is in elitist feminist (in the context of
this article, read elitist postcolonial) meta-narratives which assume that "the pleasure of romance reading is somehow not
real, as though there were other forms of pleasure that could be considered 'more real' because they are more 'authentic,'
more enduring, more veritable, or whatever" (527). The pleasurableness of this pleasure, or the absence thereof, will
certainly differ depending on the location(s) in which a text is read, which in turn will inevitably affect evaluations of
its quality, but the important point to register is that neither this pleasurableness nor these judgments can be understood
without sociological research of the sort that is so markedly absent from postcolonial literary studies and its implied but
rarely theorized reader, who is more often than not nothing more than the critic's idealized self-portrait, or his/her
phantasmagoric portrait of the Other.
This emphasis on consumption will need to be supplemented by an increased attention to the production and circulation of
postcolonial texts (both literature and theory), which would begin to take into account such things as: the mutually
implicated relations of aesthetic, philosophical, political (etc.) values and market values; the many ways in which
postcolonial texts are commodified and distributed in an increasingly globalized market; which "marginal" books get adopted
on course syllabi and what this has to tell us about the role of canon-formation in the ostensibly anti-canonical field of
postcolonial studies; how the "postcolonial card" plays (or does not play) in current university hiring practices, and so
on. In short, one would have to highlight the ways in which the postcolonial has become possible not simply as an object of
textual interpretation, or of pleasurable (or not) consumption, but as an object of no small value to the literary and
academic marketplace alike.
To be sure, if the dominant postcolonial ideology renders the asking of such unpopular questions about various types of
popularity difficult, it has certainly not rendered them impossible. Over the past decade, there have been sporadic attempts
at inserting such questions into the mainstream of postcolonial studies. For example, it is somewhat, if not entirely, in
this spirit that Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin, the oft-maligned Australian authors of The Empire Writes Back
(1989), remark in the introduction to the final section of their Post-colonial Studies Reader (1995), entitled
"Production and Consumption," that they have included this section of
mostly outdated articles "to stimulate the production
of more current assessments of the material conditions of cultural production and consumption on post-colonial societies,"
which is, they add, "one of the most important and so-far largely neglected areas of concern" in postcolonial studies
(463-64). I suspect that the increasingly sullen reception of these pioneering Australian critics may
well have something to do not only with their supposed privileging of "literary hybridity" at the expense of "histories of
subjection," but with their receptivity to the idea of opening postcolonialism up to
these empirical studies--studies that would inevitably put into question
not only the individualist cult of the author/critic
and the fetishization of textuality that is at the heart of so much work being done in postcolonial studies (their own
included) but also the mechanical emphasis on subversion and resistance that so easily flows from the pens of those critics
who can neither honor nor respect the dubious complicities that
inauthentic popularity necessarily involves. Moreover, the
admittedly limited emphasis of Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin on "the material conditions of cultural production and
consumption," as well as the hostility directed toward them in certain postcolonial circles, may well be related to their
status as settler colony critics (like myself) who have grown up in nation-states where it is difficult, if not impossible,
to think (or imagine one is thinking) outside the boundaries of "mass" society and the forms of popularity it engenders, and
where the fact of widespread literacy, leisure time, and purchasing power ensures that, in the case of the literary field,
prestige-invested forms of cultural production such as novel-writing cannot be simply cordoned off from the dynamics of
inauthentically popular consumption.
Be that as it may, it is out of this particular milieu that the most extended and energetic intervention dealing with the
popularity of the postcolonial has recently emerged: Graham Huggan's The Postcolonial Exotic, which
comprehensively confronts many of the issues that crystallized for me around the figures of Delsham and Condé in that
Fort-de-France bookstore. Huggan's book constitutes a giant step toward breaking the relative silence surrounding the
imbrication of postcolonial studies and the marketplace: taking as his starting point the question "How has the corporate
publishing world co-opted postcolonial writing, and to what extent does the academy collaborate in similar processes of
co-optation?" (viii), he offers "a speculative prolegomenon to the sociology of postcolonial cultural production" (xvi), very
much along Bourdieuvian lines. The key move Huggan makes in order to raise the problem of the marketability of the
postcolonial is to identify the postcolonial field of production as occupying "a site of struggle between contending 'regimes
of value'" which he denominates postcolonialism and
postcoloniality (5). The latter, in Huggan's usage, is a
mechanism within the global late-capitalism system of commodity
exchange," an "implicitly assimilative and market-driven"
regime, while the former is "an anti-colonial intellectualism that reads and
valorizes the signs of social struggle in the
faultlines of literary and cultural texts" and "implies a politics of value that stands in obvious opposition to global
processes of commodification" (6). Rather than being simply at odds, these two regimes of value are "mutually entangled" and
"bound up with" one another, which means that "in the overwhelmingly commercial context of late twentieth-century commodity
culture, postcolonialism and its rhetoric of resistance have themselves become consumer products" (6). This does not mean
that the one is simply reducible to the other, the "good" opposition to the "bad" assimilation, but that they cannot be told
apart from one another, any more than the local can be kept separate from
the global: as a result of this entanglement,
"postcolonialism needs a greater understanding of the commodifying processes through which its critical discourses, like its
literary products, are disseminated and consumed" (18).
Huggan subsumes these processes under the category of the "postcolonial exotic," the exotic being "the perfect term to
describe the domesticating process through which commodities are taken from the margins and reabsorbed into mainstream
culture" (22). In a wide array of case-studies, he mercilessly analyzes
the workings of this postcolonial exotic, and the
inseparability of postcolonialism and global commodity culture to which it bears witness: examining such things as the
Heinemann African Writers Series, Indo-chic, the Booker Prize,
multiculturalism, ethnic autobiography, tourist novels, and the
Margaret Atwood Society, he maps out the innumerable ways in which "the language of resistance is entangled, like it or not,
in the language of commerce" (264). Faced with this entanglement, in which it becomes virtually impossible to distinguish
between co-optation and complicity, the choice facing writers and critics "may be not so much whether to 'succumb' to market
forces as how to use them judiciously to suit one's own, and other people's, ends" (11). As Huggan suggests throughout,
following Appadurai's lead, this "succumbing" to the market will not necessarily produce the negative, homogenizing scenario
one might expect since "global processes of commodification may engender new social relations that operate in
anti-imperialist interests, empowering the previously dispossessed" (12), and "anti-imperialist resistance is not
necessarily diminished when 'resistance' itself is inserted into global-capitalist networks of cultural consumption" (262).
This is the positive message that, doubtfully ("may engender," "is not necessarily diminished"), emerges
from Huggan's consideration of postcolonialism's complicity with the market-driven regime of postcoloniality: "lay[ing] bare
the workings of commodification" through which the postcolonial makes itself heard (and is made to be heard) will, perhaps,
not simply result in identifying a symptomatic "mode of consumption" but make possible "an analysis of consumption" that,
somehow, will challenge us to respond differently to it in the future (264).
Huggan is understandably vague about what that future and its differences might look like, preferring to concentrate on the
contemporary symptoms of the postcolonial exotic, that "pathology of cultural representation under late capitalism" (33). It
is refreshingly clear that he is skeptical of those who, faced with "the spiralling commodification of cultural difference,"
wish (like Aijaz Ahmad) "to disclaim or downplay their involvement in postcolonial theoretical production, or to posit
alternative epistemologies and strategies of cultural representation," or others who "might wish to 'opt out' of, or at least
defy, the processes of commodification and institutionalisation that have arguably helped create a new canon of
'representative' postcolonial literary/cultural works" (32). If hero(in)es there are in his account of postcolonial writers
responding to the dilemma posed by the postcolonial exotic, they are those who "have chosen to work within, while also
seeking to challenge, institutional structures and dominant systems of representation [...] [and] have recognised their own
complicity with exoticist aesthetics while choosing to manipulate the conventions of the exotic to their own political ends"
(32). These writers engage in what he calls "strategic exoticism," "strategic marginalization," and so on: for instance,
someone like Vikram Seth--even if, or precisely because, his novels are not brooded over by the academic culture industry
with the same intensity that Rushdie's are, lacking as they do "the aura of self-conscious intellectual sophistication that
might encourage, as it has certainly done for Rushdie's work, the type of theoretically informed research that is a current
requirement of the academic profession" (75)--is a novelist we can learn from because of the way that a work like A
Suitable Boy "anticipates its own reception as a technically proficient blockbuster novel that seeks (and inevitably
fails) to encapsulate a deliberately exoticised India," and is aware of "the metropolitan formulae within which it is likely
to be read and evaluated, and to some extent [...] plays up to these, challenging its readers by pretending to humour them,
to confirm their expectations" (76).
Time and again Huggan has recourse to this idea of "strategic exoticism" as a way of reconciling popularity and aesthetic
value, and it is a version of this double game that I myself could not help playing in my own analysis of Condé, even
if my invocation of her "strategic unoriginality" was put forward not in order to point out the ways in which she might be
challenging her "blockbuster" reader (as Huggan argues Seth is doing) but, rather, the ways in which she plays up to the
formula of postcolonial revisionism and the expectations it generates amongst an academic readership only to challenge those
elite readers by implicating that formula in the "troubling greatness" of a middlebrow text. Notwithstanding this difference
in focus, it is clear that my account of Condé fits in well with Huggan's general portrait of "postcolonial
writers/thinkers [...] [as] both aware of and resistant to their interpellation as marginal spokespersons, institutionalised
cultural commentators and representative (iconic) figures" (26). As to what the political value of the awareness and
resistance exemplified by strategic exoticism is, Huggan has no easy answers (and nor, as should be apparent from my analysis
of Condé, do I): as he points out, if strategic exoticism is "an option," it is "not necessarily a way out of the
dilemma" posed by postcolonialism's always-already insertedness into "global-capitalist networks of cultural consumption"
(32). Aside from confirming a sense of Condé's or Seth's "worth" as
writers (a "worth" that their popularity does not
preclude, even if the two may be inseparable from one another), one might well ask what such arguments as his or mine
This eternal question of the political value of literature, and its doubtful relation to the aesthetic value that both Huggan
and I seem interested in preserving, is the familiar (no doubt, for some readers, all-too-familiar) territory to which my questions regarding the (dis)connections of the popular and the postcolonial have led me. Of what
real help, or hindrance, is it to "know" that Condé is a better writer than Delsham? Can such "knowledge" benefit us
in any way, or is it simply part of an obnoxiously hierarchical mode of
thinking that prevents social justice from flowering
on the face of this earth? What are the consequences of foregoing such "knowledge" and attempting to consider someone like
Condé on "equal" terms with cultural producers like Delsham and de Jaham? It was precisely this leveling move--putting
Roseanne and Jamaica Kincaid in (different parts of) the same room, as it were--that provided my point of departure in this
article, and it is the sort of move without which cultural studies, with its concerted focus on the popular and the "ways of
life" that give meaning to this popularity, would not exist. The cultural studies move, valorizing what might from an elitist
perspective be regarded as inferior trash, is one--I started out by arguing--that postcolonial studies needs more effectively
to incorporate into its repertoire if it is to go beyond the sort of sanctimonious vomiting and unseemly groveling to which
Jamaica Kincaid seems prone. Identifying and breaking down the unspoken boundaries in postcolonial studies that separate the
likes of Delsham and de Jaham from other more "accomplished" (but often glaringly middlebrow) writers would be a way of
expanding the field in both a more democratic and a less homogenizing way, and thereby enhancing the field's egalitarian and
heterogenizing agenda. More democratic, because of its greater inclusivity. Less homogenizing, because issues of material
production and consumption could now be foregrounded, supplementing the fetishization of certain authors/texts (who are
inevitably found to have little more to say, politically speaking, than that "resistance to colonialism, capitalism, etc. is
good, although not always easy") with more of a sense of the diverse and overlapping cultural contexts (local, regional,
global) in which these authors/texts operate. As Huggan's study ably shows, the "postcolonial" as an institutionalized field
of study has been constituted exotically, in complicitous relation to global markets and metropolitan audiences (a complicity
that it has tried its best to ignore), and leveling the playing field of postcolonialism might enhance an awareness of other
(e.g., regional) markets and other (non-metropolitan) audiences, offering if not a way out of the dilemma that his
analysis of the postcolonial exotic and its conflicting regimes of value
situates us in, then at least some
refreshingly new perspectives on it.
All well and good. But what are we to make of these new perspectives that a cultural studies approach might offer
postcolonial studies? What, for instance, will ethnographical accounts of actual reading communities and consumption patterns
in the French Caribbean produce? What will a sociologically precise account of marketing strategies in the French Caribbean
as compared to France result in? What will be the effect of treating writers like Delsham and de Jaham to the sort of
extended analyses afforded writers like Glissant and Condé? What, in short, do we gain by making a place for the
inauthentically popular in postcolonial studies? This, of course, is a
question that cultural studies itself has had to ask
repeatedly, after its foundational act of deconstructing the idea of the
inauthentically popular and learning to take any
and all forms of popularity seriously. One dominant response has been to (over)value what had previously been devalued, as in
the work of John Fiske who, as Jim McGuigan points out, "merely produces a simple inversion of the mass culture critique at
its worst, [...] never countenancing the possibility that a popular reading could be anything other than 'progressive'"
(588). For many, however, this celebratory blanding out of the popular (or, more exactly, of the social relationships that
are constituted by and mediated through the popular), in which it is treated as being in and of itself valuable and
resistant, appears as "a deterrent to Cultural Studies' overall political and ethical project"--a radical, or at least
progressive, project which requires that the popular be, in Stuart Hall's terms, "rearticulated" as part of a "hegemonic
struggle" (Le Hir 125-26).
In 1981, at the end of his "Notes on Deconstructing the Popular," Hall vividly summed up this "overall political and ethical
project" of cultural studies and its relation to the popular when he explained that the latter is "one of the places where
socialism might be constituted. That is why 'popular culture' matters. Otherwise, to tell you the truth, I don't give a damn
about it" (453). Thus, from Hall's perspective, the popular has value, but only after it has been evaluated according to the
criteria of the larger political project in which (his) cultural studies situates it. Hall's was, and still is, a fine and
honest response to the disturbing question that the popular poses cultural (and by extension postcolonial) studies, and yet
of course it also lends itself, over twenty years later, to no small degree of historical irony by virtue of its desire to
constitute "socialism": not just because a modernist, future-oriented meta-narrative such as the constitution of socialism
has become increasingly difficult to credit, but because it was precisely around this time that the initial, primarily
class-based project of British cultural studies had begun to be challenged by other related projects with a
different/differing primary focus on issues such as gender, sexuality, and ethnicity. The irony goes further, though, because
if these other projects put into question and "interrupted" the foundational biases of cultural studies, they also appeared
to have the potential to rescue it: their "progressive," if not necessarily socialist, agendas brought a fresh energy to
cultural studies and promised a way out of the impasse it had reached by the 1980s, what with the failure of neo-Gramscianism
to stay the ongoing tide of Thatcherism on the one (practical) hand and of rampant relativism on the other (theoretical)
hand, the endless and seemingly irresoluble arguments between symbolic and economic approaches to culture, the growing
dominance of an uncritically "celebratory" approach to popular culture, the institutionalization of cultural studies in
America (analogous to what Huggan has referred to as the recent "Americanisation of the postcolonial" ), and so on. All
of these were signs of an impasse that cultural studies had reached, the flagging of its "overall ethical and political
project," which led, and continues to lead, many of its practitioners to look beyond the original class parameters of the
project and take a feminist turn, a queer turn, or a postcolonial turn as a way around that impasse.
These signs are still with us, of course, and as my analysis of the postcolonial ideology has suggested, the postcolonial
turn (which shaped a great deal of Hall's own later work, be it
added) in many respects leads not forward but back
into the sorts of questions--notably, about the value of the popular--that cultural studies started out asking in the first
place. Perhaps this circling (or more optimistically, spiraling) back is what has led Simon During--who, in his several
accounts of the "global popular" over the past decade, has been one of the very few critics to have stressed the
(dis)connections of the popular and the postcolonial--to state in the 1999 updated introduction to the second
edition of his
Cultural Studies Reader that "transnational cultural studies" is "eroding so-called 'postcolonialism,' first
nurtured in literary studies, which was so important a feature of the late 1980s and early 1990s intellectual landscape," but
which (according to During) seems to be less able to deal, at least on its own terms, with the increasingly urgent issues
surrounding globalization ("Introduction" 23). Will transnational cultural studies somehow synthesize the concerns of both
cultural studies and postcolonialism, finally, and show us the way out of the failed dialogue that I have described in this
article? One can, I suppose, always hope! But what needs to be kept in mind, as a new wave of transnational cultural studies
hits the academic beaches, is that this hope for a "way out" is only thinkable, and hence only possible, within the terms of
the original project that generated both cultural studies and postcolonial studies--a project committed to "hegemonic
struggle" and, accordingly, committed to (that is, biased toward) certain values and not others. During exemplifies
this commitment, for instance, when he argues at the end of his introduction that "engaged cultural studies" is a field
"embracing clearly articulated, left-wing values" (27). It is only from a clearly articulated position such as this that the
political value of the popular can be discerned and disengaged from other values that may or may not be compatible with it.
To be sure, finding a stable ground upon which to make such evaluations has become an increasingly hard thing to do in a
postmodern era increasingly sensitive to the contingency of all values. One might well ask, and it would be an entirely
legitimate question, why those "left-wing values" During holds so dear should be of any value to those who might be
interested in, say, popular culture but not in the "political and ethical project" that legitimizes the study of it.
From a radically skeptical perspective, there is no way around this relativizing question, but there are certainly solid
enough responses to it, as Stanley Fish argued recently in the pages of The New York Times when he responded to
a reporter who had asked him if the events of 9/11 meant the end of postmodern relativism, since such a position leaves us
"with no firm basis for either condemning the terrorist attacks or fighting back." Fish noted that so-called postmodern
relativism simply argues against "the hope of justifying our response to the attacks in universal terms that would be
persuasive to everyone, including our enemies," but that it in no way precludes taking action based upon our own convictions.
"We can and should," he stated, "invoke the particular lived values that unite us and inform the institutions we cherish and
wish to defend"; these values provide us with "grounds enough for action and justified condemnation in the democratic ideals
we embrace, without grasping for the empty rhetoric of universal absolutes to which all subscribe but which all define
differently." With this argument Fish "resolves" the superficially irresoluble question of postmodern relativism, clearing a
space for actions based upon value-judgments and effecting that "arbitrary closure" without which, as Hall has repeatedly
argued, "politics is impossible" (see, e.g., "Cultural Studies"
264). Yet, in resolving this question, Fish rather
spectacularly begs the question of who "we" are, and offers what could
easily be construed as a justification of the U.S. invading
impoverished nations such as Afghanistan and Iraq to which neither Hall nor During, I suspect, would subscribe,
notwithstanding the fact that both men are equally sensitive to the difficulties of pursuing the hard road to (socialist)
renewal in a world, as Hall is fond of putting it, "without final guarantees."
It is precisely this lack of "final guarantees" to which, I argued at the end of my discussion of Condé, "great"
literature so troublingly alerts us, displacing our certitudes and replacing us in other wor(l)ds, wor(l)ds where fictions
become possibilities but never realities. That is, no doubt, a high-sounding albeit sincerely held belief about the value of
literature; one can imagine any number of less ethereal
counterarguments regarding what makes literature of value, but the
important point to register is that valuations of some such sort are an inescapable feature of literary studies. To put
oneself in the shoes of a practitioner of cultural studies, as I did at the beginning of this article, is to take one's
distance from such aesthetic and ethical evaluations, to relativize them and gain a sense of their limits (and also, of
course, in the context of my own argument, to gain a sense of how those limits are, unavowedly, inscribed within a field such
as postcolonialism, which shares an uneasy border with both literary and cultural studies). It is important to have a sense
of the limits of what one values, no doubt, but as Fish suggests, it can also be worth defending those limits. When During
states that postcolonialism was first nurtured in "literary studies" but is now being eroded by "transnational cultural
studies," he seems almost to imply that the tainted genealogy of postcolonialism might account for its supposed erosion.
Literary studies, it would appear, cannot catch up to the incitements of globalization. Its seemingly residual status and
elitist history (implicated, as it has been, not only in hierarchical
assumptions about aesthetic value but in the material
dynamics of colonization) explains very well why, as Huggan puts it, "some of the most recent work in the [postcolonial]
field gives the impression of having bypassed literature altogether, offering a heady blend of philosophy, sociology, history
and political science in which literary texts, when referred to at all, are read symptomatically within the context of larger
social and cultural trends" (239). The foundational bias of literary studies toward "great" works could not be clearer, and
it is not surprising that even the sub-field of postcolonial studies devoted to literature might wish to avoid any but the
most condemnatory reckoning with this bias.
I have argued throughout this article that such a bias does inf(l)ect postcolonial studies in a variety of ways,
regardless of its flatteringly egalitarian self-image; however, I have purposefully developed a supplementary argument that
this bias is not something which, once unmasked, can or should be simply jettisoned. Rather, this bias must be
explored more openly and, from my own perspective as a literary critic, with a measure of belief in the value of literature,
not just as a model or a symptom but as the troubling other of contemporary (and self-evidently "progressive") disciplines
such as postcolonial and cultural studies--in short, with a measure of belief that literature and the greatness it troublingly
promises is indeed something we might "cherish and wish to defend," notwithstanding or precisely because of the
cautionary distance it allows us to take from those other, more pressing beliefs that, however provisionally, must ground the
"political and ethical projects," socialist or otherwise, about which we give a damn. As we learn to listen in on the as-yet
failed (but, we must hope, ultimately successful) dialogue between Roseanne and Jamaica Kincaid, the "great writer," I
would suggest, not only is but must remain present in our minds, exiled from the mainstream of cultural and postcolonial
studies that beckons us, a spectre of value haunting the margins of a new center to which neither that writer, nor we literary
critics, can ever return but toward which we can yet, perhaps, migrate.
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like to thank Rey Chow and Katie Trumpener for some useful feedback in the
early stages of this project, as well as Carine Mardorossian, Grace Moore,
Susan Weiner, and Robert J. C. Young for reading and commenting on drafts
of the article.
1. Quoted in
Seabrook 33 (from Newsweek 18 Sept. 1995, 10). For the comment about People magazine, see Kincaid's
interview with Salon magazine (<http://www.salon.com/05/features/kincaid2.html>).
2. In the Salon interview, discussing Brown's enthusiasm for Roseanne,
Kincaid laments "the coarseness of it, the vulgarity," and expresses a desire to "rescue [Brown] from her coarseness.
She's actually got some nice qualities. But she can't help but be attracted to the coarse and vulgar. I wish there was a
vaccine--I would sneak it up on her."
Discussing how the "passionate divisions" of Restoration France (aristocracy versus bourgeoisie, political right versus
political left, etc.) hide "the modern tendency to identity," Girard notes that "double mediation is a melting-pot in
which differences among classes and individuals gradually dissolve. It functions all the more efficiently because it does
not even appear to affect diversity. In fact, the latter is even given a fresh though deceptive brilliance" (122).
In this article I use "francophone" and "postcolonial" as relatively interchangeable terms. While not wishing to deny
significant differences between these two catch-all labels and the worlds to which they (supposedly) refer, I do not
believe that these differences greatly affect the argument I am developing here: the same foundational bias is at work in
both fields of study (by virtue of their geographically free-floating nature, as explained later in this section).
According to Gilles Alexandre, owner of the Librairie Alexandre in Fort-de-France and an
important cultural mediator in the French Antillean literary scene, only Césaire sells more books than Delsham in
Martinique (Césaire's popularity being in large part attributable to school sales). Delsham's status as
Martinique's bestselling novelist is common knowledge on the island,
although any full account of his popularity would
obviously need to be backed up by statistical research.
As just two randomly chosen examples of Delsham's neglect, it can be
noted that there is not a single index entry on him
in the recent An Introduction to Caribbean Francophone Writing: Guadeloupe and Martinique (Haigh), and that
at the 4th International Conference on Caribbean Literatures, held in his native Martinique (November 2001), not a single
paper addressed Delsham's work.
For Delsham's own account of how he came to publish and distribute his own work, see the opening autobiographical chapters
of his Gueule de journaliste (15-88).
This phrase provides a "cri de guerre" for Keith Walker's Countermodernism and Francophone Literary Culture
(1999). According to Walker, "colonialism entailed not only the power to
annex and exploit other races, but also to
textualize the racial Other [...] . It is this textualization against which francophone narratives must always
work" (13, emphasis added). In its totalizing and exclusionary claims about
what francophone narratives "must always" do, this
categorical assertion exemplifies--to the point of parody--the postcolonial ideology that I am analyzing here.
One could spend a lot of time analyzing the ways in which Delsham's
novels fail both to meet the standard criteria for
positively evaluating literary texts or to contest those criteria in a knowingly postcolonial fashion. Necessary as such a
discussion might be for "proving" my commonsense claims (widely echoed in Martiniquan literary circles) about Delsham's
dubious relation to what has come to be known as "literature," such an account is beyond the purview of a general position
paper like this.
Here, I am echoing Jerome McGann's influential account of "the Romantic ideology," and his argument about how "the
scholarship and interpretation of Romantic works is dominated by an uncritical absorption in Romanticism's own
The existence of identifiable nation-states and regions--the Caribbean, Latin America, West Africa, etc.--or longstanding
cultural groupings within a nation-state or region--Afro-Americans, Aboriginals, etc.--greatly facilitates a
coming-to-terms with the inauthentic popularity that forms such a
sticking point for a "time-lagged" postcolonial
studies, even if these readily identifiable territories or groupings are, under pressures of globalization, becoming ever
more indissociable from geographically and culturally diffuse
"ethnoscapes," in Appadurai's terms (that is, increasingly mobile
landscapes of "persons who constitute the shifting world in which we live: tourists, immigrants, refugees, exiles, guest
workers, and other moving groups and individuals" ). If a text can be located within a particular territory, then--no
matter how lowbrow or how market-driven--it can be read, positively, as
forming an integral part of a culture's "way of
life"; indeed, this is how cultural studies came about in the first place, as a way of (re)defining the parameters of the
British nation-state. To be sure, though, the "problem" of popularity that I am identifying with postcolonial studies does
not simply disappear when one finds a home for the inauthentically
popular within the limits of a particular national or
cultural grouping: one need only think, for instance, about the ways in which, in Afro-American studies, Terry McMillan
and Toni Morrison both are and are not thinkable in one and the same space to get a sense of how this "problem" persists
even in ostensibly less abstract contexts than that of the "postcolonial" or "francophone." For an exemplary reading of
this dilemma in the context of Asian-American literature, see Wong.
Graham Huggan, among others, confirms this account of the double directives generating postcolonial theory, which "might
be seen as the provisional attempt to forge a working alliance between the--often Marxist-inspired--politics of
anti-colonial resistance, exemplified in the liberationist tracts of Fanon, Césaire and Memmi, and the disparate,
allegedly destabilising poststructuralisms of Derrida, Lacan, Althusser and Foucault" (260). In Huggan's description,
however, there is at work both an historical and geographical opposition
(non-European writers from the 1940s and 1950s
versus European writers from the 1960s and 1970s) that I would dissolve by
referring both sides of the equation back to a
modernism that took worldwide root amongst intellectuals and artists in
the 1920s and 1930s.
As Simon During has noted, "'postcolonialism,' with its emancipatory conceptual overtones, only obscures analysis of the
rhythm of globalization": the emergence of what he has dubbed "the global popular" is a phenomenon with which
"postcolonial thought" must be uncomfortable since it is difficult for such thought "to concede the colonized's partial
consent to colonialism" ("Postcolonialism" 343, 347; see also his "Popular Culture").
The role of such paratextual material in (pre)determining a text's meaning is, however, of vital importance; for a
discussion of this role in a postcolonial context, see Huggan's discussion of how cover design sets up "an initial horizon
of readerly expectations that is subsequently confirmed or, more likely, modified in the narrative that follows" (168).
As Condé frequently notes in her interviews, "I have never in my life written a political tract. But there are
always errors in interpreting my writings because people think I have done so. They always look for militant or positive
heroes, and I never portray any" (Pfaff 88).
On "creolist discourse," see my reading of the 1835 plantation novel Outre-mer by the
béké Louis Maynard de Queilhe in Islands and Exiles (287-316). For a brief but
effective comment on how de Jaham's first two novels express the "ideological self-perception of the
béké," see Macey (45).
For a pioneering consideration of paratextual material in earlier Condé novels, see Massardier-Kenney (250-52).
As a glance at a bibliography of Condé shows (Pfaff 144-65), the review (along with the interview) is the preferred
forum for discussion of her novels--another telling sign of the middlebrow nature (or at least reception) of her work.
On the way in which "critiques of middlebrow culture have been
persistently gendered," see Radway 872. The particular
relevance of middlebrow writing to women as a way of subverting gendered hierarchies is not an issue that I can explore
here, but it is worth thinking about Condé in the context of Deidre Lynch's remark that "many women writers,
conscious of the gendering of these categories ['classics' and 'trash'], have been more interested in collapsing
the boundaries that separate the literary and the popular than in
policing them" (23,n13).
In a 1982 interview, for instance, Condé arrogantly commented, "In my opinion, no writer has ever spoken to
the West Indian people, because our people do not read. Certain ideas may reach them through newspapers or television. But
let's not delude ourselves: West Indians have only vague idea of novels and poetry collections published in Paris by West
Indian authors" (Pfaff 38). Condé voices a very limited understanding here of what it means to "read" in a highly
literate location like the French Antilles, and I would certainly agree with Lionnet that she becomes more "humble" in
this regard after the early 1980s.
"Condé appropriates the technique of the novel within the novel to reflect upon the role of the writer as outsider,
and of the outsider as catalyst or pharmakon, both poison and antidote, dangerous supplement, chronicler, and
aide-mémoire of the community" (Lionnet 75).
In one of her interviews with Françoise Pfaff, for instance, she happily described Segu as "a
commissioned work" and noted the way in which it depends upon many of the formulas of lowbrow popular writing: "I followed
the rules for that type of novel: coincidences, sensational developments, dramatic turns of events, and unexpected
encounters. Like everyone else, I had read Alexander Dumas's works, such as The Three Musketeers and
Twenty Years After, as well as many other cloak-and-dagger novels. In French literature there is a whole
tradition of adventure novels with surprise happenings" (49).
Given her own understandable investment in presenting herself as a "good" writer, it is hardly surprising that
Condé's relation to her own popularity is not straightforwardly positive. This ambivalence is evident, for
instance, in her comments about the differences between her reception in
France and the United States:
claim that Americans "think a best-seller is a
good thing," like so many of her sweeping cultural assertions, may or may not be true; more to the point, in the context
of my argument, is that serious consideration of this "good thing" is beyond the scope of the postcolonial ideology: the
critical scrutiny that Condé associates with her reception in France is one that, given the occlusion of
inauthentic popularity in discussions of postcolonial literature, she is
unlikely to face in the United States.
In France, writing a bestseller causes somewhat of a misfortune for the author. You have a hard time disengaging yourself from
the image of an easy book that appealed to a large readership but was perhaps not very good as a literary work [...]. [Whereas
Americans don't label one that way] because they think a best-seller is a good thing. It only means that the book appealed to
a lot of people, and there is nothing wrong with that. Here, I don't feel it is infamous to have written a bestseller like
Segu. And besides I don't know whether Segu is a bestseller in the United States. It is simply a
book considered to be very important among certain African-American sectors. Segu hasn't had the notoriety in the
United States that it had in France. (Pfaff 106)
Explaining her preference for novel writing in an interview, Condé once remarked, "the novel seemed simpler to me
[than writing plays that could "reach illiterate people in Africa and the West Indies"] because it acknowledges that it is
bourgeois and elitist. Literate people have access to novels. Books are sold in stores and you need money to acquire them.
Authors have no illusion. They know that they will be read by a limited circle of people that they can almost anticipate"
Maja-Lisa Von Sneidern, quoted in Stoneman (152). For an overview of this postcolonial turn in Wuthering
Heights criticism, see Stoneman (150-55).
In my own critical work, I have repeatedly tried to rework this account of pastiche in more
positive terms: see, for instance, Islands and Exiles (374-75).
Pastiche is, like parody, the imitation of a peculiar or unique, idiosyncratic style, the wearing of a linguistic mask,
speech in a dead language. But it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of parody's ulterior motives,
amputated of the satiric impulse, devoid of laughter and of any conviction that alongside the abnormal tongue you have
momentarily borrowed, some healthy linguistic normality still exists. Pastiche is thus blank parody, a statue with blind
eyeballs [...]. (Jameson 17)
Q.D. Leavis's comments about the Brontës, in her Fiction and the Reading Public (1932), are worth citing
here as a prime example of the sort of modernist distinctions upon which postcolonial literary studies genealogically, if
surreptitiously, depends: "The emotion exhibited in Wuthering Heights, unlike the emotion exhibited in
Jane Eyre, has a frame round it [...] [I]t is the Charlotte Brontës, not the Emilies, who have provided
the popular fiction of the last hundred years" (quoted in Stoneman 131).
As Deidre Lynch points out, in a discussion of the anxieties produced by Austen's "popularity and marketability,"
Janeite is "the term that Austen's audiences have learned to press into service whenever they need to designate
the Other Reader in his or her multiple guises, or rather, and more precisely, whenever they need to personify and
distance themselves from particular ways of reading, ones they might well indulge in themselves" (12).
29. Where Brontë's Catherine
asserts "it would degrade me to marry Heathcliff, now" (121),
Condé's elaborates: "Je ne pourrai jamais, jamais me marier avec
Razyé. Ce serait trop dégradant. Ce serait recommencer
à vivre comme nos ancêtres, les sauvages d'Afrique!"
(Migration 20) ["I could never, never marry Razyé. It would be too degrading.
It would be like starting to live all over again like our ancestors, the
savages in Africa!" (Windward 13)].
For a typical critique, see Gandhi 167-70.
It is no coincidence that the case studies I have been considering in
this article come from the French Antilles:
relatively affluent islands with high literacy rates (over 90%). If the rare attempts to think postcolonialism and
cultural studies together have generally originated from settler colonies such as Australia, it is also not by chance that
recent efforts in this vein have been greatly facilitated by expanding "postcolonial" territory (traditionally identified
with Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, the Caribbean) to include hitherto peripheral locations such as Hong Kong and China;
see, for instance, the series of essays on Hong Kong "postcolonial cultural studies" collected in Cultural
Studies 15.3-4 (2001).
Le Hir, I should note, is simply paraphrasing those (like Meaghan Morris) who make this critique of Fiske-style populism.
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