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Nicole J. Simek (Princeton University)
The Past is passé: Time and Memory in Maryse Condé’s “La Belle Créole”

Abstract: Recent globalization theorists have questioned the pertinence of history to the analysis of current global conditions and identities. Fredric Jameson and Arif Dirlik both refer to such a trend in summarizing globalization debate, the first pointing to those who equate globalization with postmodernism and observe in both the theory of “the disappearance of History as the fundamental element in which human beings exist” (“Notes on Globalization as a Philosophical Issue”), and the second highlighting one of the “paradoxes” of “our age,” namely our “preoccupation with history at a time when history seems to be increasingly irrelevant to understanding the present” (“Is There History after Eurocentrism? Globalism, Postcolonialism, and the Disavowal of History”). This paper seeks to examine Maryse Condé’s engagement with the question of history’s—and memory’s—hermeneutic value for the present in her 2001 novel, La Belle Créole. Set against the dismal background of a failed civil servants’ and workers’ strike in 1999 Guadeloupe, the novel interrogates the relation between individual (through the character of Dieudonné, a marginalized, black Other) and collective memory, experience as evidence of the disjuncture or intersection between past and present, and the problem of reading the present through literary, historical and cultural paradigms. The importance given in the novel to the acts of reading and misreading (in both the literal and metaphorical sense) in the production of Guadeloupean identity also raises questions about the novel form itself as a mode of communicating memory and thinking the present.

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