by Jean-Claude Fignolé
Unreal time ! Projection of words with afflicted tones already electing the sadness of history. Fixed time! A mascarade of nouns scanning the imposition of hands and sacralizing the perverse if not odious look of the other. Murdered time! The slow march of oneself towards oneself, in the quartering and in the frenzy (tamed terror) when the earth rumbles, quakes and cracks, and above its gaping, like an unnamed wound, jubilant winds beset the naked sleep of the hills. Then the cry : Caribbean !
I bear witness here to the hillocks for which the lava of the volcanos plaited a senseless destiny. Being more sea than earth. Being only dust, scale and foam. Because the water has kept the memory of the origins, the Ocean has fixed the limits for ever and decided the reference : Caribbean, liquefied continent, hammered with anchoring points, the Islands. On the opposite shore, a few ports of light, with their steamers laid up, hook their hammock nets to some dream aground on the other side of life. Vera-Cruz, Colon, Carthagena, Maracaïbo, tirelessly orchestrate their golden legends.
So many seasons of absence !
Islands with ports, the Impulse. The Appeal. All open. Stretched towards. An unacknowledged need to break. Drifting. On the mysterious shores of what expectations? Solitude to be named of what despairs ? Out of necessity, imagined to be a choice, the islands organize the wandering and imagine it to be a passage. A way of sublimating powerlessness with regard to the intemperance of nature and history. Also living articulates its impulses around the contradictory symbolics of isthmuses and canals. That which separates and that which binds. Emptiness. Or fear of emptiness ? Living, in the Caribbean, is essentially dealing with anguish. Fluttering about.
Alas ! Making a success of geography seen as a geological detail. Cracks and faults spread, stowing away the Islands' turmoil in the depths of abysses; thrust, outgrown, errect cleavages (the English word clift carried along by the humour common to the winds and the waves) to impossible heights; stretch lines, round off shapes which vanish from the disorderly course of time. A point of equilibrium would be vainly sought around which to assemble space. To deny the emptiness. Whichever way we look, the Caribbean is outbursts. Of sweat and blood. Posted from the finite of the earth to the infinite of the heaven. Brought up from the South to the North, if it isn't the other way round, sailing, indefinitely turned towards the West. Eternal, vain remoteness of silence! An imposture (the sea surrounded by land yet the open enclosure) compels the double illusion of the periphery and the outline.
Imagination thus binds us to references which trap reality : chains of islands scattered into as many archipelagos. Chains? As if to plot out in advance for the Caribbean a destiny other than that of suffering fits of tectonic anger. Crucified ! The wind, carried by the scanning of History, summons the word to the very places of silence.
Geography is nowhere else better reconciled with history. The tragic scattering of the earth wills the dramatic dispersion of men. Coming from where? Come where? Aground! The first migrations withstand childhood memories. Native peoples. Rather a circular flow coming from somewhere or other and going we don't know where. Except for a few stops which, when even prolonged, do not suppose the end of the journey. Yet the horde, one day, bearing "banners and blessings". Intoxicated with an heroic and brutal dream, as Heredia said. And then Africa with its chants which planted the painful hope of a race all around the periphery. Finally the East, Middle and Far, up against the mutilations of History and ceasing to be eligible for recording in the annals of a millenary past.
If for some of them, Europeans and Asians, hope had a name , for the others, natives and Africans, hell was no longer a fable. In the Caribbean, the finishing line decided between wishes and constraints. From crazy enrichment to absolute impoverishment. History was founded on tensions, impelling a dynamic of contradiction which, weighing down on the destiny of the Islands, brushed over the meeting of the races. And the peoples. Involved for five centuries in a permanent confrontation with itself, (the ethnic conflicts occulting the class struggle) History has unceasingly rejected the wish of geography. Scattered the Islands remain the consequence of a same turbulence which, arranging them along the arc of a circle, prescribed them a definite fate. : Assuming the closed to be better able to question the open. That is, Elsewhere. And more symbolically Absence. What is not here. What is no longer there. A theme for dreaming, par excellence ?
On the other hand, the turbulences of History expect to give birth to the single vision of a destiny. A pretext without any doubt for fantasies. Difficulty assuming the open? Without doubt. Because it turned out that Castrism couldn't provide the appropriate answer (breaking the narrow circle of dependence) with regard to the rigors of History, here and there, the necessities of living everyday life call for converging practices which question the choices of society in the Islands and on the continental periphery. Linguistic affinities already encouraging regrouping, the economic a priori necessarily involve a concentration of means and of efforts in a single place of existence. From the confrontation of races, (the simple past) to the confrontation of potentialities (the future simple), culture shock. Not to increase disagreements but to affirm and to assume together the difference.. That is, solicit relationships and exchange. Open out. Share. The dialectics of the closed and the open.
A probable if not possible Caribbean civilisation, stamped with the taste for festivity (freedom from care, such an art of living!) causes races and peoples to break with each other. All these departures, experienced in tearing apart and shouting, - many horizons diluted in tears - needle the newcomers in the appropriation of cultural areas. Here we are now face to face in the hollow melting pot of the Islands. Compelled to hush up the rancors of history, everyday existence, that of the stray cry (astonishment) calls out to re-cognize us. The sea recomposes our uprooted beings leaning over the edges of its mirror and vows them to rerooting, which isn't at all the same as resourcing, by the life-giving cry, as much departure as arrival. The sea , a new Original womb. Caribbean, our mother. Do we have any other origins than the capers of the winds and of this land lying in childbed, made pregnant... by History ?
Peoples coming, peoples come. Peoples tied together ! even when the appeal of the open sea subjects us to all kinds of temptations and the wish to depart, lodged in the folds of our memory, too often replies to the fascination with Elsewhere. Adventurous crossings by which the quest for life sometimes dares to become confused with the quest for oneself.
Certainly designating therein the drama of the Caribbean : the identity question. So many races, so many grounded peoples, looking towards themselves and giving the others the haughty or heinous look of History. The ways of rooting are afraid of recording the sirens' voices, when our footsteps divert us from ourselves. Demanding any kind of identity which isn't Caribbean. The sea, our mother, is singularly overwhelmed, who questions : inland sea ? Closed. Where multiple impulses of refusal create the necessary conditions for implosion Intermediary sea? Open. To plural temptations. The two Atlantics, the European and the African, the Pacific and the Far East, through the Canal which remains our unalterable rift. A leaking of the emptiness. But why not a converging sea ?
All the roads of the world eat out of our hand, Saint-John Perse quoted in a moment of brilliance. He who failed to become the herald of a genuine Caribbean identity. The consciousness that we have of ourselves is never only consciousness of the other. Indian. European. African. Asian. Why not Caribbean? The double temptation of being (being here surely preventing us from being there, from being-the-there as Heidegger said) all the time orders us to situate ourselves. To define ourselves. Because our profound Being escapes us, the demands of History in the Caribbean area have given rise to a schizophrenic personality which tests itself and is fired in creating. Art collectively experienced as another way of being in the world. It has produced an understanding of the tour and the detour by which we delight at living in hiding both with our being and with our reality. Barocco. Also another way of seeing the world. Of speaking of others.
At the literary level, it's manifested in a lesion of the word which says what it means. In a lavish way. Not to have to speak ill of what it understands badly. Between geography and history, listen to the crevices, the faults, the blanks, and the leaks. A polyphony of wandering and erring ways which demand that every action be located, outside 'the transcendental Ego' according to Husserl, in a privileged site, that of saying, implying everything expressed, which asserts itself as a manifestation of the emergence of the open. Unbridled. The symbolics of a world in anticipation. Of a world in suspense. It sometimes happens that the word, in search of normality, refuses the baroque. It's intended to throw you off your tracks. Of course in this way, to quote Oury, it wanders from no other place than the symbolical one. From any other area than from itself. To be ahead of itself and to construct its in-temporality, it chooses no longer to be the questioning place of a relationship with the work. It dis-identifies. Disembodies. Classical. Yet...
The only true word in the Caribbean is about schizophrenia. You just have to listen to the political discourse (when History is written in the present) to convince yourself of it. The verb is de-structured, loses its coherence, replaces the action, self-powers and, in being transferred, assumes the ability to do. You end up with a sort of mythification of acting which, in a crafty, ritual, spell-binding way, gives rise to poetics of impotence. Of inability. Politics, with it an indispensable literature, becomes the certain place of fantasies. The delirious word considers every project as accomplished and not as a simple possibility. The gloomy what-is-to-be-experienced in the what -is-dreamed, naming morbidity as the space for creations in a free and open redefinition of Art with Life. The Caribbean on the fringe. The Caribbean in bulk. Dissociated, dispersed, scattered, it recomposes its being in dancing, music, story-telling, colors. To the great contentment of the lovers of exotism only too happy to confine it to an eccentricity which forces it, when the sun dances in its head, to back Art against History.
Caribbean O ! O ! O !
The cry is diverged through politics. The cry is refracted through Art, this multiple, densified statement. Stipulated. Out of order..Chant of the burst vacuum. The Islands emerge in a space which starting with the non-assembled (that which geography can no longer reassemble) has to be refound. It isn't strictly speaking a space. A place. It's rather an availability. The expectation... I think of Heraclitus : 'If one doesn't expect, one won't discover that which cannot be expected which is something undiscoverable and towards which there is no passage...' Here's the diagnosis of the Caribbean ailment ( ? ) expressed precisely. The Islands have developed, in living memory, a pathology of expectation. With a double point of view. A passive expectation, that of geography and of time turned in upon itself : the land in suspense. An active expectation, that of history and open time. The 'gestured' land, considering the future as something possible, orders the past to be upset by the irruption of a present which, in 1492, was already becoming. The expectation inscribes that which cannot be expected, that is creativity, in the double dynamic of rebelling and gathering. A demand : rebelling for gathering. In other words, the determination of a community of existences for carrying into effect a common destiny. From fragments into fragments, the Islands are recomposed and composed, from works into works, the Epos, the unique chant by which the new poetics (politics) of freedom are fired. The poetics of the Nous.
From one shore of the Caribbean to the other, Art confused with politics, rejoices in the chant of a world to be made. Gratifying what is scattered. Rejoicing in the chant of the man to be born. Mastering the Unique. The word , for ever in anticipation of itself, relates just for itself the stories which create it. Isn't that symptomatic of what Freud called the original repression? Literature, exceeding its own impulses, undertakes to displace its fields, substitutes the novel, poetry, theatre and cinema for History, that experienced by others, or rather, the expression of liberated, exploded time, annexes history, steals its certitudes, transmutes them and, articulated around forgetfulness (secluded memory), metamorphoses signification from what is already signified. We rediscover here the Primordial Metaphor, after Lacan's beautiful expression, when literature, un-amenable by nature to time, completely invests the present in the development of the Caribbean. To weave itself continually and, therefore, weave and reweave one's relationships with History. Developing something like a 'pathology of Being with the others'.
From one writer the other, schizophrenia as a means to liberation. Through a typology of systematised language, at the same time (the 60s - 70s), by the 'La Onda' movement in a Mexico haunted by its Caribbean banks through the apprenticeship of the role of peripheral power, and by the 'Spiralisme' in a Haïti which experienced under the dictatorship all the subtleties of the unexpressed. Elsewhere, in the same movement, Jaime Diaz Rozotto (Guatemala), Garcia Marquez (Columbia) claimed the space for creating, and the saying which occupies it, like an expanding spiral. Infinite. Always the dialectics of the closed and the open. Stretched towards Myth and History (Western criticism will have spoken of marvelous realism, thus reviving the expression of the Haitian writer, Jacques Stephen Alexis who failed to grasp the schizophrenic dimension of the West Indian experience : dissociated reality, feared both as real and as distorting itself), tossed between the desire and its object : writing the existence that they did not manage to recreate through politics (Freud wasn't far away), the writers from Carpentier to Césaire through Fuentez, Glissant, Asturias etc recorded the uneasiness and the discomfort of History - breaking of oneself with oneself - to project their Being into the World. The inevitable search for identity, in particular, caused a simplifying Carlos Fuentes to consider each Mexican as schizophrenic and, generally, invited the Caribbean to join the internal fault into which History plunges its destinies. We extolling beings to be divided. Divided beings. Different. Installed in difference, without any real possibility of establishing a coherence (the temptation and difficulty of the open particular to schizophrenics), most people of letters end up experiencing difference by situating their being in an undertaking of Mythification of Writing which produces a repetitive project : liberating geography and history. Thus achieving the liberation of oneself. Incapable of assuming History in motion unless through provocation and detour, bearing dreams which remain eternal drafts for the peoples, undertaking to define themselves (therefore to blame themselves) with regard to these peoples, certain writers launch into a headlong rush which should lead them to reducing their ego, because of wanting to kill the other part of themselves in themselves. Indianity in relation to Hispanity, but...
Indigenism or even its recent more aggressive expression, without being more combative for all that, Creolity against Francity, and with good reason... The Black Renaissance, the colored West Indian version, against Anglo-Saxon imperial arrogance, even... Contending Antillanity. Scattered in a same dream.
Looking for oneself Finding oneself again? Discovering oneself? Always exploding. Tirelessly reassembling one's pieces.: A permanent availability. For a bet. Because, what counts in the end isn't recreating oneself to compose some other personality for oneself, but to invent oneself. By inventing the Future. Simply inventing one's future. Being in relation to History, some definite past. Between Action and Creation. Rather from one to the other.
Take the leap. Fill the emptiness. Perversion or inversion (?), persuading oneself to experience Politics as a project and to reserve Writing simply for Presence in the World.
From Octavio Paz to del Paso, mentioning by name Depestre, Franckétienne, Chamoiseau, Naipaul (yes Naipaul who chose to live the life of a recluse in the Island away from the tragedy of the quartering of the islands. By refusal or because of the impossibility of identification.), there's no end to wanting to be double - being here, being there - and politics challenge literature at levels where ideology sometimes frustrates the word Living the dream, dreaming life. Maximin and Philoctète roar with laughter, torn between 'the part of their life lived and the part of their life dreamed'. Politics, in the Caribbean, appear for evermore to be the right and the wrong sides of literature whose function would be to ensure what is to be lived. Everyday eternity. Giving its rhythm to a timeless present, literature henceforth cashes in on the permanence of what has been said like an endless 'future perfect'.
Entered into living time, (politics or the progressive present of history) and through the lived-out dream (literature or impossible reality) both getting lost and saving oneself. Did you say Schizoprenics? At its loudest the cry,
Caribbean! Caribbean! Caribbean Oh!
by Jean Claude Fignolé, février 1992, Haïti
(text published in the magazine Revue Noire RN06, Caribbean vol.I, September 1992)
Jean-Claude Fignolé is born in 1941 in Jérémie (Haïti), deceased in 2017 - Founder, with Frankétienne and René Philoctète of the literary mouvement 'Spiralism'.
He has published two novels : 'Les Possédés de la Pleine Lune' (1987) ; and 'Aube Tranquille' (1990) by Editions du Seuil, Paris.