Identities in Exile
Alina M. Clej (The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA) [BIO]
The paper I would like to present is part of a larger project on "Writing in Exile," which focuses on storytelling and narrative as means for contriving a new cultural identity at the crossroads of different linguistic and ethnic experiences. In exploring this hybrid form of identity I draw on Homi Bhabha's work, and his concept of in-betweenness, "that intermittent time, and interstitial space, that emerges as a structure of undecidability at the frontiers of cultural hybridity" ("DissemiNation"). Equally important in my theoretical framework is Françoise Lionnet's notion of métissage, a concept that "brings together biology and history, anthropology and philosophy, linguistics and literature" (« Autobiographical Voices »). The main part of my project will be devoted to immigrant narratives in contemporary France, a topic that has recently gained scholarly attention with the publication in 2001 of a collection of critical essays, by the same title, edited by Susan Ireland and Patrice J. Proulx.
The writer I would like to discuss in conjunction with this topic is Gisèle Pineau, who was born in Paris in 1956, in an immigrant family from Guadeloupe. This double origin seals the fate of many second-generation immigrants in France, and is obsessively explored in many immigrant narratives. Pineau's heroines are adrift in a world that excludes them, and for which they have little affinity. As a nurse in a psychiatric clinic, Pineau was able to experience first-hand the effects of mental, as well as cultural alienation that are so vividly described in her novels. In the paper I propose to present I would focus primarily on three novels, Un papillon dans la cité (1992), La grade drive des esprits (1993), and L'exil selon Julia (1996), in which the heroines attempt, with varying degrees of success, to create an imaginary redemptive space in which they could feel at home. I will discuss in particular the narrative and linguistic modalities (as well as obstacles) that attend this process. The use of a "bilingual" discourse, in which French is used to translate the original Creole, serves to conjure the absent origin, but creates at the same time a sense of dissonance that interferes with the illusion of an authentic representation. And yet, as I wish to argue, this paradox is inescapable. Rooting herself in the grandmother's memory (a common feature of Caribbean women writings) the narrator can grow imaginary roots in the past, and discover the native island, but only as a fiction. What the immigrant writer discovers, however, by the same token, is the original sources of her creativity.