Mary Gallagher
Soundings in French Caribbean Writing since 1950, The Shock of Space and Time
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Pp. 304. £45.00

Reviewed by J. M. Dash

Mary Gallagher examines the issue of collective memory in novels from the French departments of Martinique and Guadeloupe in the second half of the twentieth century, that is, in the five decades after they became French overseas departments. For the purposes of Gallagher's study the term "Francophone Caribbean" does not include Haiti and does not extend to the Department of French Guiana, situated on the South American mainland. This restricted choice of a corpus, limited to the island departments, is dictated by current critical interest in the writers of the Créolité movement and their main theorist, Edouard Glissant. Hence the play on the word "Soundings" in Gallagher's title, which immediately evokes the anti-assimilationist championing of orality over literacy and spoken Creole over written French, which animate the poetics and the politics of the Creoliste writers, in particular Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphael Confiant.

The subtitle of this study, drawn from Wilson Harris, focuses on the question of collective memory and its relation to narrative. Collective memory and the literary forms it spawns were particularly important in the 1950s because of the need to use first-person fictional and autobiographical narratives to establish an archive of images, representative moments that facilitate the creation of a collective psyche. Such procedures are particularly important after the complete integration of Martinique and Guadeloupe into the French educational, political, and economic system after departmentalization in 1946. The French colonial policy of assimilation became intensified after 1946 with departmentalization and sought to permanently erase the memory of plantation slavery and naked exploitation by the French.

By accepting incorporation into metropolitan France, the French Caribbean departments arguably renounced the basis for establishing a separate collective identity and were forced to live with the consequences of a system that denied them otherness. The denial of difference and the illusion of sameness with France are made even more painful by the fact that the islands remained dependent politically and economically on their former métropole. The psychological need to affirm difference through memory is the main preoccupation of Gallagher's study. As she perceptively observes, "a deep concern with the co-implication of communal and personal identity distinguishes francophone Caribbean autobiographical writing" (88).

Gallagher divides her book into three sections. The first deals with the questions of history and memory, the second with place as "lieux de memoire," and the third with the three contexts of Africa, France, and the New World, within which Francophone Caribbean literature situates itself. The first section is the strongest as it contains very perceptive close readings of the treatment of time, particularly in the novels of Glissant and Chamoiseau. Gallagher traces early attempts to establish a linear continuity with the past in writers such as Joseph Zobel to the self-conscious awareness of the textuality of time and memory in later writers influenced by the theories of Edouard Glissant. The treatment of sites of resistance that follows seems less original in tracing the shift from "morne" to "l'en ville," from rural to urban in this period of writing.

Gallagher's book is part of a current trend to introduce larger postcolonial theories into French Caribbean literary criticism. Her study is generally about traumatized cultures and the therapeutic value of writing, for which the Francophone Caribbean provides a dramatic case history. To this extent Gallagher succeeds in demonstrating the way in which postmodern concepts reshape the "longing for history" among selected writers and the impossibility of establishing organic "lieux de mémoire" or any sense of an originary truth about the past. Yet, this work is haunted by the residual presence of the concrete sociopolitical reality of these departments and their real location in the Americas. If, as Glissant never ceases to affirm, "le lieu est incontournable"-meaning that place can neither be gotten rid of nor can its contours even become fully known-then these postcolonial critical forays into the Caribbean will bring a welcome theoretical sophistication to Caribbean criticism but will tell only part of the story.

Place and location cannot be exorcised despite pervasive displacement in our current globalized reality. Gallagher raises this question in chapter nine, cleverly entitled "New World Synchrony: Imagining the Local," where she correctly addresses the inadequacies of Paul Gilroy's Black Atlantic model, which neglects "Atlantic crossings within the New World" and "intra-American circulation" (my italics). Here Gallagher sees the limitation of a postcolonial model, which remains obsessively bound to writing back to the center or writing between centers. Gallagher's response to Gilroy, however, is to provide a desultory survey of Francophone Caribbean novelists who adopt a New World identity and sense a lack of commitment to "relocating Caribbean identity in relation to the specifics of 'New World' space" (250). In so doing, Gallagher not only disregards Glissant's important Faulkner Mississippi (1996) but would be disappointed to learn that his latest novel, Ormerod (2003), deals with Martinique, St. Lucia, and Grenada. Perhaps, this valuable study raises the issue that any general postcolonial perspective with a limited corpus must ultimately face: the extent to which identity politics remain grounded in the particularities and opacities of the local and the regional.