Marie Ndiaye? A great writer, but hard to classify! Here is an attempt to situate her work, based on her latest Fémina award-winning novel, Rosie Carpe. Far from identity-based ideologies, the novel is at the heart of a modernity in search of meaning.
Recent winner of the Fémina prize, Marie Ndiaye is quite serene. All that was perceptible from her award ceremony speech was her sadness at not being able to share the pleasure of having been chosen for this prize with the recently deceased head of the Editions de Minuit publishing house, Jérome Lindon. Marie Ndiaye is discreet too. Her oeuvre, which comprises a total of eight novels today, has not been accompanied by an intense media or public presence. It is quite unlike, or virtually on the margins even, of the different literary domains, whether French or the African literary domains that have emerged in both Africa and Europe.
The logic of attributing identity-based criteria that generally prevails in all critical approaches raises many questions here. Where should Marie Ndiaye and her work be positioned? With which (ethnic, national, trans-national) ensemble should this literary output be classified? Whilst it seems impossible, and not necessarily desirable, to write off this young woman’s mixed-race identity (she is the daughter of a white French mother and a black Senegalese father), it in no way constitutes a pertinent analytical perspective.
Marie Ndiaye does not belong to any existing or emerging literary trends. Her work does not reflect the revival of a now bygone literary Negritude which does not mean that the claims of this ideological and aesthetic current are entirely obsolete. Her writing is not rooted in regionalist, trans-national trends either, whose prime reference is undoubtedly Antillean « creolity ». It is impossible to class her work in emerging ethnic literary categories, such as « beur » literature, or immigrant literature in general. The North American multicultural model often behind the construction of such categories proves to be totally inoperative here too. And yet, her work is not orphaned. Published by Editions de Minuit, this immediately places the novelist in the tradition of the Nouveau Roman, favouring aesthetics over a position that focuses on issues of identity. It nonetheless remains an intensely complex work and in this respect, her latest Fémina prize-winning novel, Rosie Carpe, offers a fascinating introduction to her work.
Like all of Marie Ndiaye’s previous novels, Rosie Carpe explores the misadventures caused by identity upheavals ( ). Rosie loses the second child she is carrying, for whom she was desperately seeking a father, her womb becoming the theatre of the absurd uprooted, escheatable Carpe family tragedy in this French overseas territory.
Rosie Carpe subverts our reading habits. The image the novel gives of the Antilles is completely new in both black and French literary circles. Exotic clichés surface from the text, but are immediately deconstructed. There are no poetics of the Relation, no créolist markings, no deep-blue identity declined on a lyrical mode, but rather the dispersion of familial and social ties on an unnerving and fantastical register. Rosie Carpe deconstructs and destroys ethnicity, accentuating its doubly fictive character fictive because a construct and because the setting is novelistic fiction. Like Ndiaye’s earlier novels, Rosie Carpe places the family at the heart of the narrative a family that is abandoned, whose scattered parts are reassembled, and which is secretly hankered after when not there. This is precisely Lagrand’s tragedy, a man whose mother is mad and who cannot manage to found his own family. The Antilles, which represent an absurd prolongation of the French administrative space, do not manage to exist beyond being a symbolic prolongation of a heavy, sticky, overwhelming French sub-culture. Ultimately, it is a sombre family drama, a drama about murder and destructive fantasies. Black and white people coexist within the same identity-related neuroses. A familial novel, in the Freudian sense of the term, Rosie Carpe nonetheless poses a range of acute social questions.
The interruption of the fantastic in the real is totally different to the auto-exotic instructions of an Alejo Carpentier. A new form of the fantastic emerges. Rosie Carpe is on the margins of identity-based ideologies. It is, however, at the very centre of the stakes inherent in a modernity that has lost its meaning, where totalitarianism and fascism slide into the cracks in the real, as was already the case in Julio Cortazar’s fantastic prose. Wandering is sterile; identity is dangerously variable and never perceived in euphoric terms. Its palinode character is recurrent. Women’s wombs bear children who are condemned to sacrifice or murder without the writing adopting the voice of dolour to retrace a symbolically highly-charged path a path that leads from the Carpe womb, from the cosy nest of village ethnicity, to the womb of Paris and to Rosie’s womb. Rosie, a Cinderella in search of a black prince whose skin will nicely match her « suede loafers », a prince who will deliver her from the existential quicksand in which she is bogged down
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