Rice University

Events at Rice

Thesis Defense

Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies
French Studies

Speaker: Adriana Umana
Doctoral Candidate

Narratives of Death and Violence in the Global South, A Poetics of Displacement

Tuesday, February 28, 2017
10:00 AM  to 12:30 PM

310  Rayzor Hall

The field of French studies, responding to the growth of Francophone studies, has begun to consider the global dimension of French while questioning the very idea of homogeneous national cultures and literary traditions. “Narratives of Death and Violence in the Global South, A Poetics of Dislocation” maps the changing attitudes towards identity and belonging through representations of death in a body of literature produced in the Global South that, though diverse, is transforming notions of national and linguistic borders. Writing death for three writers born in Haiti, Guadeloupe and Colombia marks an important pendulum swing away from the national identifications of cultural productions and towards a transnational and interconnected subjectivity that transcends linguistic and geographic borders. The forms death representations take in their texts are strikingly different from those encountered in other postcolonial works, serving to transcend tragic and accusatory discourses, and offering an emancipatory project grounded on the present. Narratives of death in the postcolonial milieu have often been viewed in terms of their position against European traditions, their desire to return to an imagined and mythical common past, their reparative impulse to reconstruct the world. Critics have underscored their connection to collective memory, political engagement and literary theorization. Still others have pointed to the revitalization these texts effect on arid national literary landscapes. And yet these narratives of death are perhaps most interesting for their fundamental preoccupation with the quotidian, with the non-heroic dimension of characters and for their categorical refusal of genealogies. In “Narratives of Death and Violence ” scenes of death by René Depestre, Maryse Condé and Santiago Gamboa are read against those of their contemporaries to show that by creating characters whose survival depends on their capacity to live in the present, to mediate preposterous situations and to collaborate with equally disparate characters, the writers are advocating for the elaboration of what I term –borrowing from Edouard Glissant – a relational poetics of belonging. Insisting that it is only by renouncing heroism and its accompanying glory that characters are granted an afterlife, I focus on the ways in which death serves to describe the reality of a global imagination where every region is inextricably connected to what happens in the rest of world, and in turn, can only grasp its full meaning after a sense of the whole. Zombification for Depestre, mourning for Condé and violent crime for Gamboa constitute a third space for mediating living in displacement and for framing new possibilities for meaning.

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