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Exil de l'auteur, exil des genres

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Pierre Gault
, 
Jean-Paul Regis

Hybridization and marginality: autobiographical writings by African-american women writers

Claudine Raynaud

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1According to Ihab Hassan, hybridization is the seventh trait which generally applies to postmodern culture and the critic defines it as follows:

  • 1 Ihab Hassan, "The Trial of Post-Modern Discourse" New Literary History, vol. 18, # 2 (Winter 87): (...)

7. Hybridization. Everywhere, today, we witness the mutation of genres in parody, travesty, pastiche. We observe promiscuous or equivocal forms: paracriticism, paraliterature, happening, mixed media, the nonfiction novel, the new journalism. Cliché, pop, and kitsch mingle to blur boundaries, "de-define" (Harold Rosenberg) the modes of representation. Throughout culture, a jumbling or syncretism of styles.1

  • 2 In my work in progress entitled "The House of Difference: Autobiographies by African-American Wome (...)
  • 3 Important studies on the slave narrative and black autobiography date back to the end of the sixti (...)
  • 4 See Domna C. Stanton, "Autogynography: Is the Subject Different?" in The Female Autograph (New Yor (...)
  • 5 An impressive number of works on female autobiography are forthcoming or have just been published. (...)

2My working hypothesis is that, although this type of hybridization, which involves parody, self-consciousness and a proliferation of genres, could be seen as characteristic of post-modern discourse, "hybridization" of a different sort is always present already when a minority writer comes to writing. The body of works which I am analyzing is a number of autobiographical texts by contemporary African-American women writers, but I must go back to the male and female slave narrative in order to understand the historical evolution of black American autobiographical practice.2 Doubly removed from the Western literary canon because of their race and gender, black female autobiographers are under-represented in the full-length books dealing with black autobiography and in current feminist literary research, although current studies are increasingly focusing on Third World and minority women's autobiographies.3 Founding the genre on gender difference, recent feminist criticism has attempted to identify a specifically female autobiographical practice and to give it a name: "autogynography."4 My own work, which analyzes a different corpus from that of the earlier theoretical studies, questions the emerging orthodoxy in terms of female autobiography and primarily disrupts the elaboration of a theory which privileges thematic content and relies on a limited number of selected texts.5

  • 6 Michel Beaujour, Miroirs d'encre: rhétorique de l'auto-portrait (Paris: Seuil, 1980), defines self (...)

3Beyond the yet-to-be-demonstrated coincidence between hybridization and marginality, it could be argued that autobiographical writing because of the loose boundaries of the genre might also be more prone to hybridization than any other more institutionalized and more clearly defined historical genre. Different subgenres or modes of autobiographical writing proliferate on the margins of this baggy monster crossing and re-crossing ever-shifting generic boundaries: the diary, memoirs, testimonies, confessions, and the self-portrait.6 William Spengemann has even claimed that autobiography epitomized modernism and thus coincided with a distrust in representation:

  • 7 William C. Spengemann, The Forms of Autobiography: A Collection of Critical Essays (New Jersey: Pr (...)

The modernist movement away from representational discourse towards self-enacting, self-reflexive verbal structures and the critical theories that have been devised to explain this movement conspire to make the very idea of literary modernism synonymous with autobiography.7

4Paradoxically, the death of the subject and the death of the author historically coincide with an increasing concern with autobiography. Minority and feminist scholars who are attempting to recover and found a fully fledged subjectivity find their position a difficult one, torn between textuality and history. Typically, Schenck and Brodzki in Life/Lines assert:

  • 8 Schenck and Brodzki, Life/Lines, p. 14.

A feminist agenda cannot include further and repeated marginalization of feminist selfhood without betraying its own political program. Instead, the feminist enterprise should, as we see it, take its cue from contemporary theory and not promote a simplistic identification with the protagonist of the autobiographical text; at the same time, however, it should provide the emotional satisfaction historically missing for the female reader, that assurance and consolidation that she does indeed exist in a world which a femininity defined in purely textual terms cannot provide.8

  • 9 Jean Starobinski, "Le Style de l'autobiographie", Poétique 3 (1970): 257-265.
  • 10 Elizabeth W. Bruss, Autobiographical Acts: The Changing Situation of a Literary Genre (Baltimore: (...)
  • 11 Tzvetan Todorov, "L'origine des genres" in Les Genres du discours (Paris: Seuil, 1978): "Pour dire (...)

5On the one hand, the attempt to define autobiography generically has given way to an examination of autobiographical writing in terms of thematic and discursive categories. On the other, the profoundly hybrid character of autobiography has been asserted as a mixture of history and discourse. Thus the scholarly debate around the value of the slave narratives as historical documents identifies these texts as dual. More than other autobiographical texts, the slave narratives are prototypical of the definition of the genre as "discourse-history."9 It has also been suggested that autobiographical writing might ultimately be better understood in light of the speech-act theory as the studies of Philippe Lejeune and Elizabeth Bruss tend to prove.10 According to Lejeune, autobiographical writing is defined as a genre in terms of the relationship of identity between the "I" in the text and the name of the author on the front-page. Unlike fiction, autobiography relies on referentiality. The reader expects the "I" in the text to be identifiable with a living person. Autobiography is also defined in terms of the identity between the narrator and the main character.11

6But let us go back to generic hybridization as the mark of a minority writer's text. The initial definition of "hybrid" in the O.E.D. is: "offspring of a tame sow and of a wild boar; hence of human parents of different races, half-breed." The literary critic had borrowed the word "genre" from the vocabulary of the natural sciences (botany and zoology):

  • 12 Tzvetan Todorov, Introduction à la littérature fantastique (Paris: Seuil, 1970): 10.

Le concept de genre (ou d'espèce) est emprunté aux sciences naturelles; ce n'est pas un hasard, d'ailleurs, si le pionnier de l'analyse structurale du récit, V. Propp, usait d'analogies avec la botanique et la zoologie12.

  • 13 Robert B. Stepto, From Behind the Veil: A Study of Afro-American Narrative (Urbana: University of (...)
  • 14 William Andrews, To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865(...)

7The coming together of two species, two "races" marks the apparition of the word "hybrid" in the language of the zoologist. In the same way, the minority writer confronts, subverts, or incorporates, makes his/hers a genre defined by the dominant discourse. The half-breed text thus created is a "mongrel"; it is heterogeneous, but its heterogeneity can in turn be re-read by the critic as a new genre or will evolve historically into a fully fledged genre. For example, Robert Stepto in his study of the slave narrative distinguishes four moments in its evolution: 1) the eclective narrative form where the authenticated documents are appended to the text; 2) the integrated narrative where the authenticating documents are integrated into the tale; 3) the generic narrative in which the authenticating documents are subsumed by the tale; and lastly, the authenticating narrative; the slave narrative becomes an authenticating document for other genres such as letters, etc.13 More recently William Andrews has defined the slave narrative as a genre in light of the speech-act theory. Andrews argues that "it seems to [him] more fruitful to treat the form as a complex of linguistic acts in a discursive field than as the verbal emblem of an essential self uniquely stamped on a historical narrative."14

8The generic precursors of black autobiography, slave narratives were written for the benefit of the white abolitionists rather than for a black readership. They were prefaced by letters attesting the authenticity of the content and guaranteeing the moral character of the author. These texts were generic hybrids primarily because they consisted in a mixture of letters and narrative. They were originally the product of a black voice constructed within the framework of a dialogue established between white publishers and white readership. This self-construction in reference to the white world and its ethics constitutes the first moment of the slave narrative according to William Andrews:

  • 15 Andrews, To Tell a Free Story, p. 1.

During the first half of this century of evolution, most Afro-American autobiography addressed itself, directly or indirectly, to the proof of two propositions: (1) that the slave was, as the inscription of a famous anti-slavery medallion put it, "a man and a brother" to whites, especially to the white readers of slave narratives; and (2) that the black narrator was, despite all prejudice and propaganda, a truth-teller, a reliable transcriber of the experience and character of black folk.15

9The second half of the century saw narrators who were less solicitous of their white readers. The slave narrator tried to alienate the reader from the supports of moral values and of literary expectations which predominated in the first period. The narrator thus freed himself through disorienting his readers and established a new complex dialogue. Hybridization defined as a borrowing of genres that are profoundly different would consequently tend towards a gradual unsettling and questioning of these genres by the empowered black voice.

  • 16 Schenck, "All of a Piece: Women's Poetry and Autobiography" in Life/Lines, p. 285.
  • 17 E. S. Burt, "Poetic Conceit: The Self-Portrait and Mirrors of Ink Diacritics 12, No 4 (Winter 1982 (...)
  • 18 Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca, NY: Corn (...)

10The disquieting opposition brought to light by the use of the word "hybrid" is between the purity of an ideal genre and the "bastardization" of that genre which results from its coexistence with other genres. The critic might want to discard the word altogether since even this preliminary exploration exposes the concern behind genre theory as a search for ideal purity. Indeed, in her examination of genre theory and its articulation with gender, Celeste Schenck comes to the conclusion that "Western genre theory remains for the most part prescriptive, legislative, even metaphysical: its traditional preoccupations have been establishment of limits, the drawing of exclusionary lines, the fierce protection of idealized generic (and implicitly sexual and racial) purity."16 The coincidence of hybridization and minority writing; would be the discovery of the transcendental metaphysics of purity inscribed within a certain generic theorizing. Should the critics then, as E. S. Burt suggests, "abandon the attempt at defining autobiographical writing as a genre altogether" or redefine generic approach in opposition to a formalist concern for specific features as Schenck offers to do in her study of the interrelation between female autobiography and poetry?17 Another solution is to resort temporarily to generic bricolage, using generic definitions as tools for exploration, tools that could be discarded before their reification in exclusionary practices and whose metaphysics (and ethics) should always be borne in mind, distrusted, disrupted. The critic would then follow Jameson's advice who comes to the conclusion that "all generic categories, even the most time-hallowed and traditional are to be understood (or estranged) as mere ad hoc, experimental constructs, devised for a specific textual occasion and abandoned like so much scaffolding when the analysis has done its work."18

  • 19 Frances Smith Foster, "'In Respect to Females...' Differences in the Portrayal of Women by Male an (...)

11Taking as an object of study autobiographies by African American women writers and looking diachronically at their use of the autobiographical genre, one is struck by the fact that their texts are a combination of different genres. This mixing of different genres is already present in the female slave narrative. In the case of Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), the autobiographical text fuses the conventions of the sentimental novel and a generic entity which might be called "the male slave narrative" if the component of gender is enough to create a counteractive oppositional genre.19 Henri Louis Gates, for his part, sees Jacobs's text as a combination of the sentimental novel and the picaresque novel joined in by the confessional mode of the narration:

  • 20 Henri Louis Gates, Jr., Figures in Black: Words, Signs and the "Racial" Self (New York: Oxford Uni (...)

The slave narrative, I suggest, is a countergenre, a mediation between the novel of sentiment and the picaresque, oscillating somewhere between the two in a bipolar moment, set in motion by the mode of the confession [...] Lydia Child, we recall, was not only the amanuensis for the escaped slave Harriet Jacobs, but also a successful author in the sentimental tradition.20

  • 21 Gates, The Signifying Monkey, suggests a vision of the Black literary tradition where later texts (...)

12Beyond the obvious historical influence of the sentimental novel and picaresque fiction on the structure and the function of the slave narrative, other genres, such as the spiritual narrative, the conversion narrative, the prison narrative, the captivity narrative are incorporated into or run parallel to the slave narrative. These myriad genres are still present in later black American autobiographies, albeit as intertextual elements, deep structures, or residual components. These later texts reflect back on the historical evolution of the different earlier autobiographical genres; intertextuality could then be rethought in terms of generic "hybridization."21

  • 22 Carol Smith Rosenberg, "Misprisioning Pamela: Representations of Gender and Class in Nineteenth Ce (...)

13Black women's position under the system of slavery means that no form was available to them for their voices to be heard. Consequently they had to resort to different existing genres and fuse them into a new narrative which would express the complexity of their condition and still be readable. Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is a combination of the features of the slave narrative and of the sentimental novel. It also alludes to other genres which preceded the apparition of and developped simultaneously to the slave narrative, the spiritual narrative and the prison narrative. The popularity of the slave narratives might owe a lot, as Gates has shown, to the picaresque genre. Indeed, some of its romantic elements might also derive from the picaresque novel or the roman d'aventures, or their nineteenth century American popular versions. And thus, "hybridization" appears hypothetically as the condition of the coming to writing of a voice, which would otherwise have been silenced by any of the genres making up the final text, had it been preferred to the exclusion of any other. Hybridization is a necessity because of the position of the author and hybridization is not enough. The female slave narrator tells her story against/with the story of her male counterpart. She also exposes her plight as a woman submitted to her master's sexual advances against/with Richardson's novel Pamela and its American re-readings or misreadings.22 Hybridization operates not so much as a proliferation of genres as a specific combinatoire of borrowed elements that ironically reflects on each of the constitutive genres. It is a kind of generic quilt-making where the seams would be made even more visible because of the inappropriateness of these various structures or molds to tell another story, that of the slave woman.

  • 23 Andrews, To Tell a Free Story: "Women like Picquet and Jacobs needed a sense of an empathetic fema (...)
  • 24 Walter Magnes Teller ed., Linda Brent, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (New York: Harcourt B (...)

14William Andrews has shown how Harriet Jacobs in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl has created an implied reader who had to be woman-identified23. Jacobs insists that she desires to "arouse the women of the North to a realizing sense of the condition of two millions of women in the South, still in bondage, suffering what [she] suffered, and most of them far worse" (Preface, xiv).24 This choice of a female reader creates a space for the telling of a story which otherwise would have backfired. Jacobs's main purpose is to expose the sexual exploitation of black women in the Ante-Bellum South. In order to escape her master's sexual advances, she will freely choose a white lover, Mr. Sands, in the hope of eventually being freed. Exposing her "sins", the black woman could expect to reinforce the general opinion that black women were promiscuous. She had to negocíate between telling and keeping certain things concealed, between exposure and secrecy, by appealing to white middle class women's moral ethics and thus eschewing a rhetoric of pornography since she eluded male readers.

  • 25 Foster, "'In Respect To Females'": "Male narrators interpret as supplements to their own experienc (...)
  • 26 See Valerie Ann Smith, Self Discovery and Authority in Afro-American Narrative (Cambridge: Harvard (...)

15Broadly speaking, the hybrid character of the female slave narrative is at least the coming together of two distinctive genres. Firstly, the female slave narrative should be generically defined in opposition to the male slave narrative. Whereas male slave narrators emphasize their lonely quest and include as one of the characteristic episodes the physical overcoming of the male slave narrator, the female slave narrator will owe her escape more to the support of other characters (her relatives, her friends) and define herself relationally.25 Jacobs, as Valerie Smith asserts, suggests "by indirection [that] as long a the genre identifies freedom and independence of thought with manhood, it lacks a category for describing the achievements of tenacious black woman."26 For the physical overthrow of the master, she will substitute the refusal to submit to her master's sexual advances.

16Secondly, woven into the structure of the slave narrative is the structure of the sentimental novel. Pamela, like Linda, will fight her master's demands, but unlike Pamela who could have fled, Linda is Dr. Flint's property and cannot take refuge at her parents'home. If the sentimental novel equips the writer with a prototypical relationship, that of master-servant girl, which can be equated with that of the master and the slave girl, it ironically spells at the same time the distance between the slave and the servant. The progress in the slave narrative is one from servitude to service whereas the progress in the case of Pamela is that from service to ladyhood, a crucial ironic opposition. The black female narrator indicates the gap between her condition and that of the heroine of the sentimental novel; she thus operates a critique of the genre. She exposes its limits, its coincidence with a bourgeois ideology. She delegitimizes that discourse.

  • 27 Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (Toronto and New York: Bantam Books, 1981).

17One of the problems posed by post-modernism is that of self-consciousness in the use of genres by the respective writers. Harriet Jacobs shows how aware she is of the convention of the sentimental novel when she informs her readers; "Reader, my story ends with freedom; not in the usual way, with marriage" (Incidents, 207). Marriage is impossible between Linda and her white lover; she had also been forbidden by Dr. Flint to marry a black man she loved earlier in the novel. That freedom should take the place of marriage as the completion of the quest is an ironic comment on the situation of black slave women and on marriage itself as feminist (re)solution. The purchase of Linda's freedom by a white woman, when played against Jane Eyre's marriage ("Reader, I married him" (Jane Eyre, p. 429), albeit to a diminished Rochester, illuminates the opposition between the two endings.27 The penultimate paragraph of Incidents ends with the sentence: "It is a privilege to serve her who pities my oppressed people, and who has bestowed the inestimable boon of freedom on me and my children" (Incidents, p. 207). The black woman does not own her freedom.

  • 28 Andrews, To Tell a Free Story, p. 262.

18The pattern of the spiritual narrative metaphorically subsists in Jacobs's narrative. God's grace is manifest in the gift of freedom bestowed upon Linda by her mistress; the autobiographer as God's servant is in this case literally a house servant in Mrs. Bruce's household. It is ironically tragic, as William Andrews has observed, that Linda, Jacobs's narrator, should have been denied the opportunity of buying her own freedom by her benevolent mistress. She has been deprived of her ultimate triumph over slavery and has incurred a debt. Harriet Jacobs had refused her mistress's offer earlier: "The more my mind had become enlightened, the more difficult it was for me to consider myself an article of property; and to pay money to those who had so grievously oppressed me seemed like taking away from me the glory of triumph" (Incidents, p. 205). She dreams of buying a house where she could settle with her children. Her narrative is open-ended.28

  • 29 See Smith Rosenberg, "Misprisioning Pamela". Rosenberg describes the plot of these popular novels (...)
  • 30 See Minrose C. Gwin, "Green-Eyed Monsters of the Slavocracy: Jealous Mistresses in Two Slave Narra (...)

19Discreet allusions to another genre, that of the picaresque novel, are also discernable throughout the narrative. The picaresque novel with its libertine becomes the model for the looseness of the mores within the plantation household. If the lascivious master can be seen as an interesting transformation within the slave narrative of the urban male who attracted the daughter of the middle class household to the city and brought about her fall, he is also a variation on the rogue of the picaresque novel.29 Although constantly refusing her plight as a "fallen woman" in the name of the moral values of her readership, Linda is another Roxana, another Moll, but with a difference. Her mistress's jealousy, a staple of female slave narratives, takes unprecedented turns30:

Sometimes I woke up, and I found her bending over me. At other times she whispered in my ear, as though it was her husband who was speaking to me, and listened to hear what I would answer. If she startled me, on such occasions, she would glide stealthily away (33)

  • 31 See Todorov, Les Genres du discours: "C'est parce que les genres existent comme institution qu'ils (...)

20The reader's voyeurism is subverted in this bedroom scene where Mrs Flint pretends to be her husband to discover whether he is Linda's lover and whispers in Linda's ears to catch her reactions. The potentiality of the pornographic scene - a woman whispering sweet words to another sleeping woman - is thwarted; the titilation of the readers of XVIIIth century novels is impossible. The reader - let us not forget that the implied reader is a woman - is left with the awareness of how women are pitted against each other by the patriarchal institution of slavery. The opposition here operated is also between the fictional world of the novel and the referential one of the slave narrative. By alluding to fictional genres, the slave narrative as discourse-history foregrounds its links to history. The abrupt confrontation of the reader with his/her own reading expectations brings about the realization that his/her "horizons d'attente" belong to another world, another place, another social history, another text, creates a malaise.31 The reversed allusion exposes the patriarchal ideology of slavery.

21Another feature which belongs to the genre of the picaresque novel, that of cross-dressing, is also present in Incidents. In order to flee North Linda dresses up as a sailor: "I had not the slightest idea where I was going. Betty brought me a suit of sailor's clothes, - jacket, trowsers, and tarpaulin hat" (Incidents, p. 114). Linda is light-skinned and she must blacken her face;

We were rowed ashore, and went boldly through the streets, to my grandmother's. I wore my sailor's clothes, and had blackened my face with charcoal... The father of my children came so near that I brushed against his arm; but he had no idea who it was" (Incidents, p. 116).

  • 32 Estelle Jelinek, "Disguise Autobiographies: Women Masquarading As Men", Women's Studies Internatio (...)

22Instead of escaping because she could "pass" for white, she ironically has to pretend that she is black. Disguise functions, like confinement, as a means of empowerment. As she later sees without being seen in the garret where she spent seven years hiding from her master, she temporarily exchanges her identity, crossing the boundaries of sex in order to gain freedom, temporary identification with a man being necessary in order to be free. Such cross-dressing seems to be a neglected chapter in the history of women's autobiographical writing as the titles of some early 19th century autobiographies indicate: Lucy Brewer's An Affecting Narrative of Louisa Baker, a Native of Massachusetts, Who Early in her Life Having Been Shamefully Seduced, Deserted Her Parents, and Enlisted in Disguise, On Board an American Frigate as a Marine, Where in Two or Three Engagements, She Displayed the Most Heroic Fortitude, and Was Honorably Discharged Therefrom, a Few Months Since, Without a Discovery of her Sex Being Made and Paul Almira's The Surprising Adventures of Almira Paul, a Young Woman, Who, Garbed as a Male, Has actually served as a Common Sailor, on Board of English and American Armed Vessels Without Discovery of Her Sex Being Made aire two typical examples of such a subgenre, which could be dubbed as "autobiographies of women who dressed up as men".32 It should also be noted that a case of female "cross-dressing" appears in a slave narrative which was published a year before Incidents. In 1848 the light-skinned slave Ellen Craft, disguised as a white southern master, ran for freedom accompanied by her dark-skinned husband; their flight is described in Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery (1860), William Craft's autobiography.

23This list of occurences is not exhaustive, but simply indicative of the different generic patterns and allusions woven into Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. A more systematic analysis is required; my concern here is to establish the status of that text, "one of the last and the most remarkable of its genre" claims the editor Walter Teller, as a generic hybrid. I will now turn to contemporary autobiographical texts to trace in their structure or in their thematic concerns borrowings from other genres. Contemporary critics of black female autobiography are intent on tracing a filiation between the slave narrative and contemporay black autobiography in an effort to construct a diachronic evolution of the genre. The second critical study to which I will refer illustrates how borrowings from the picaresque novel, which, as I have noted, are already present in the slave narrative, persist in contemporary black women's autobiographies.

  • 33 Chinosole, "Audre Lorde and Martilineal Diaspora: Moving History Beyond Nightmare into Structures (...)
  • 34 Jameson, The Political Unconscious: "When we look at contemporary genre criticism, we find two see (...)

24Chinosole's reading of Audre Lorde's Zami: A New Spelling of my Name uncovers a relationship between the autobiography of the Black lesbian poet and the slave narrative tradition primarily through the theme of Black matrilineal diaspora. Lorde is part of the same historical continuum as the runaway slave; she is the Sister Outsider, the "journeywoman" marginal and wandering. The critic locates diaspora at the core of the culture of the people of African descent who have survived despite their dispersal. The slave narrative is described as "the earliest Black diasporic literary form" and as such inaugurates the twin recurrent motifs of Black American literature: home and displacement, with their corollary the figure of flying.33 Conflicts between group survival and personal identification, tensions between survival and adaptation, often reflected in antagonistic mother-daughter relationships, the contradictoriness and fragmentation of a sense of self which automatically results from forced displacement form the continuing thematic core of these narratives. Chinosole's is an approach which we could classify as the semantic tendency of genre criticism following Jameson's opposition between semantic and structural approaches to genre criticism.34 However, the critic links the themes which she lists to the specific history of the Black people of the diaspora. A similar approach could link Maya Angelou's autobiographical works to the slave narrative since spacial displacement (horizontal movement) and social elevation (vertical ascent) are the matrix of Angelou's texts.

  • 35 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices, p. 132.
  • 36 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices, p. 133.
  • 37 See George E. Kent, "Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Black Autobiographical Tra (...)
  • 38 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices, p. 140.
  • 39 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices: "Like Moll, Angelou's narrator has definite ambitions, but where (...)
  • 40 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices, p. 132.

25Françoise Lionnet's inclusion of generic reference is altogether different. In chapter four of her book Autobiographical Voices, entitled "Con Artists and Storytellers: Maya Angelou's Problematic Sense of Audience", she traces in Maya Angelou's autobiographical work a relation to the XVIIIth century picaresque novel, the religious tradition and the sense of audience inherited from the black folk tradition. She writes that "Angelou's narrator is a much more picaresque heroine, a modern-day Moll Flanders who learns to survive by her wits."35 Her hypothesis is that "[Angelou's] stated frame of reference is fiction and literature and her style parodies that of fictional autobiographies such as Moll Flanders."36 Instead of working in terms of generic evolution, Lionnet prefers to talk about Moll Flanders as a mother-text adopted/adapted by Angelou, mediating the other (religious and blues) traditions also present in the text.37 Defoe's heroine, Moll, is also the model for the beautiful, carefree, and resourceful mother, Vivian Baxter, whom Maya, the ugly daughter, will desperately seek to imitate. Lionnet suggests "that we can read in the descriptions of this too beautiful, almost white mother, the same anxiety of authorship that Angelou the writer may feel before her literary precursors, such as Daniel Defoe, for example, whose Moll Flanders she is nonetheless trying to emulate."38 Angelou's life-story, which now spans five volumes, takes the reader from Arkansas, to San Diego, to other numerous American cities, to Europe, Egypt, Africa (Ghana) and finally back to New York. Maya is a dancer, a singer, a stripper, a performer, a journalist, a university professor. She is also an unmarried mother and manages two whores at one point in her life. The difference noted by Lionnet, however, is that Maya is interested in literary fame whereas Moll is highly pragmatic in her desire for social advancement.39 Both Maya and Moll are experts at the art of dodging fate and adversity, as well as mistresses in the art of deceiving which guarantees survival. Lionnet also traces another lineage for Angelou's text, that of the African trickster figure and the conjure women: "[Angelou's narrator] is related to a black folk tradition, but one that is perceived as more 'male': the shiftless trickster or con man, who relies on his ability to tell a good 'story' to get out of sticky situations (Brer Rabbit, for instance)."40 Her approach to genre is highly textual: Moll Flanders is the Urtext which operates as a fascinating model for Angelou the writer-autobiographer. The picaresque novel functions as textual mediator within the contemporary autobiographical tradition.

26I would like to add that Angelou's autobiography is also metaphorically a prison narrative as the title of her first volume, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings attests; she is writing from within the prison of sexual, racial and social oppression. Like Moll, she writes "tales of prison life." It must be recalled here that Linda Brent, Harriet Jacobs's narrator, wrote about her self-willed emprisonment and entitled one of her chapters "Still in Prison" (chapter 23). She poignantly labelled slavery "that cage of obscene birds" (Incidents, p. 53). Angelou's spiritual conversion, her rebirth in Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas also places her five volume autobiographical narrative under the sign of spiritual autobiography:

  • 41 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices: "Initially Maya is reborn when she enters the community of speak (...)

I found myself in the aisle and my feet were going crazy under me - slithering and snapping like two turtles shot with electricity. The choir was singing "You have brought my feet out of the mire and clay and you saved my soul one day." I loved that song and the preacher's voice over it measured steps. There was no turning back. I gave myself to the spirit and danced my way to the pulpit. (p. 31)41

  • 42 Andrews, To Tell a Free Story: "The supplementation of one narrative by a sequel, or of one style (...)

27This sketchy exploration has led to an examination of generic hybridization as the condition of production of the female slave narrative, granted a late slave narrative and, as such, prone to the "novelization" of the genre.42 Generic hybridization does not coincide with a certain evolution of literature, a certain moment of the post-modern novel and a certain paradigm; it is diachronically present. It cannot be considered as a distinctive trait of post-modern discourse. What could be termed de facto hybridization, the mark of the minority writer's coming to writing, does not exclude self-consciousness. Irony and displacement are present in the text as the writer exposes the dominant genres which s/he combines as exclusionary, as lacking categories to tell his/her story. A host of questions come to mind: is the hybrid character of the minority text only a moment of its own history? Can hybridization be seen as a norm, certain combinations prevailing over others? I am thinking here of the mixture of poetry, letters, and the chronological narrativization of events in contemporary female autobiography.

  • 43 The field of anthropology is presently run through a questioning of its very foundations. See Jean (...)
  • 44 See Françoise Lionnet, Introduction to Autobiographical Voices, "The Politics and Aesthetics of(...)

28Finally, I would like to stress my reluctance to use terms such as hybridization or métissage precisely when addressing texts which problematize the concept of race, foreground the historical fact of forced miscegenation, question the colonialist past of the West and interrogate history.43 Reclaiming these historically loaded words as concepts to describe heterogeneity, polysemy, the weaving of multiple voices within the fabric of the text (be it female or métis or both, métisse) might not be enough to defuse the traces of a metaphysics of purity and presence which presided over their apparition. Both terms bear etymological traces of their relation to a hierarchical system of "races" and are consequently problematic.44

29Françoise Lionnet rewrites métissage as mé-tissage, foregrounding the first etymological entry of the word in the dictionary. "Une toile métisse" is indeed a piece of cloth where cotton and linen are interwoven. In her Autobiographical Voices she elaborates an aesthetics and a politics of reading on the basis of that new vision of métissage:

  • 45 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices, p. 6.

We have to articulate new visions of ourselves, new concepts that allow us to think otherwise, to bypass the ancient symmetries and dichotomies that have governed the ground and the very condition of the possiblity of thought, of "clarity", in all Western philosophy. Métissage is such a concept and a practice: it is the site of undecidability and indeterminacy, where solidarity becomes the fundamental principle of political action against the hegemonic languages.45

  • 46 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices, p. 9.
  • 47 Édouard Glissant, Le Discours antillais (Paris: Seuil, 1981), p. 251. English translation: J. Mich (...)

30Métissage is a praxis; more precisely, it is a reading practice, "the fertile ground of our heterogenous and heteronomous identities as postcolonial subjects."46 In her conceptualization of a new reading practice for postcolonial texts and post-colonial subjects, Lionnet relies on Edouard Glissant's Le Discours antillais where the writer explains that "le métissage comme proposition suppose la négation du métissage comme catégorie, en consacrant un métissage de fait que l'imaginaire humain a toujours voulu (dans la tradition occidentale) nier ou déguiser."47 The problem is precisely that of negating the metaphysics of purity by advocating as a new category a term coined by and originating in this very metaphysics. Can one define métissage as a product of Western belief in the One and the Same and salvage this concept as a theoretical construct for feminist practice? Glissant would retort that:

  • 48 Glissant, Le Discours antillais, pp. 250-251.

Affirmer que les peuples sont métissés, que le métissage est une valeur c'est déconstruire ainsi une catégorie métis qui serait intermédiaire en tant que telle entre deux extrêmes 'purs'. C'est seulement dans les pays barbarisés par l'exploitation (l'Afrique du Sud par exemple) que cette catégorie intermédiaire a pu être officialisée. C'est sans doute ce qu'éprouvait ce poète antillais qui, répondant à mes réflexions sur nos cultures antillaises métissées, me disait: Je conçois la chose, c'est le mot qui me déplait48.

  • 49 Lionnet, "Métissage", p. 276.
  • 50 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices, quotes the Haitian thinker Patrick-Bellegarde Smith who speaks o (...)

31In the wake of Glissant's proposition, Lionnet asserts: "I would like to suggest that what is implied (and at stake) is the immolation of the métis, the Créole, as symbol, product, and (pro)creation of Western colonialism on the altars of Western belief in the One and the Same, in a humanism that subsumes all heterogeneity."49 For the female critic, it is clear that métissage becomes the assertion of heterogeneity outside of racism where difference is immediately reconstructed in terms of dominance or subjection. Is not this discourse still caught in a metaphysics of presence? Can one do away with the relationship of power which will be instaured by elevating the métis to a general category subsuming all the others? Françoise Lionnet is speaking in the name of those who have been silenced or even considered as insignificant; she positions herself as a métisse from the island of Mauritius.50

  • 51 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices: "The very notion of métissage, then, is something culturally spe (...)
  • 52 See Henri Louis Gates, Jr., "Parallel Discursive Universes: Fictions of the Self in Harriet E. Wil (...)
  • 53 Audre Lorde, "Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Woman and Loving" in Sister Outsid (...)

32It is symptomatic that Lionnet has to reclaim a French word "mé-tissage" since the word does not have any equivalent in the English language. She stresses that the only translation of métissage, "creolization" or "hybridization", relies more than the French on the historical reference to the Darwinian concept of races.51 Is it enough to say that a word functions cross-culturally, homonymously, to rescue its meaning in Greek (metis) and in French, and then to poeticize it, to ultimately project a Utopian vision of difference without subjugation? The problem is ultimately a question of self-naming, self-definition, opposed to other-imposed definitions within an all-encompassing metaphysics of presence. Harriet E. Wilson's fictionalized slave narrative, Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, in a two Story White House, North. Showing that Slavery's Shadow Fall Even There (1859), would prefigure the textual rhetorics of self-naming in Black American literature in order to undercut the racism inherent in a metaphysics of identity.52 The crucial act of "naming" functions within the de facto politics of language and culture at any level of discourse. The black female poet Audre Lorde asserts: "For Black women as well as Black men, it is axiomatic that if we do not define ourselves for ourselves, we will be defined by others - for their sake and to our detriment."53 My access to that beautiful and powerful concept of métissage is different from Françoise Lionnet's who, as a métisse, can claim the word and appropriate it more readily than I. The nagging question of re-presentation and who can speak for whom resurfaces. However, one can only hope that beyond the intellectual dead-end of the insistance on the referential and the biological and its unescapable political reality, mé-tissage can ultimately be reclaimed for its poetic and Utopian (hence political) dimensions.

Notes

1 Ihab Hassan, "The Trial of Post-Modern Discourse" New Literary History, vol. 18, # 2 (Winter 87): 446. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology (New York: Basic Bks, 1983) also notes this contemporary blurring of genres, especially within the social sciences. He acknowledges that this phenomenon has always gone on but concludes: "It is a phenomenon general enough and distinctive enough to suggest that what we are seeing is not just another redrawing of the map - the moving of a few disputed borders, the marking of some more picturesque mountain lakes - but an alteration of the principle of mapping. Something is happening to the way we think about the way we think p. 20.

2 In my work in progress entitled "The House of Difference: Autobiographies by African-American Women Writers I deal with the works of Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), Gwendolyn Brooks, Report From Part One (1972), Nikki Giovanni, Gemini: An Extended Autobiographical Statement (1971), Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), Gather Together in My Name (1974), Singin 'and Swingin 'and Gettin' Merry like Christmas (1976), The Heart of a Woman (1981), All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986) and Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982). I have already published the three following essays: "Autobiography as a 'Lying Session:’ Zora Neale Hurston's Dust Tracks on a Road" in Studies in Black American Literature, vol. III, Joe Weixlmann and Houston A. Baker eds. (Greenwood, FA: The Penkevill Press Company, 1988): 110-138, "A Nutmeg Nestled Inside its Covering of Mace: Audre Lorde's Zami" in Life/Lines: Theorizing Women's Autobiography, Celeste Schenck and Bella Brodzki eds. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988): 221-242; "Gwendolyn Brooks ou la mémoire fragmentée", in Théorie-Littérature-Enseignement # 7 (Université de Paris VIII: Presses Universitaires de Vincennes, 1989): 67-81.

3 Important studies on the slave narrative and black autobiography date back to the end of the sixties and the mid-seventies. See Robert Stepto, From Behind the Veil: A Study of Afro-American Narrative (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961); Stephen Butterfield, Black Autobiography in America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1974); Sidonie A. Smith, Were I am Bound: Patterns of Slavery and Freedom in Black Autobiography (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1974); Rebecca C. Barton, Witnesses for Freedom: Negro Americans in Autobiography (Oakdale #, N.Y.: Dowling College Press, 1976); Frances Smith Foster, Witnessing Slavery, 1979). Some new work has recently been produced: William Andrews, To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography: 1760-1865 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986) and Sisters of the Spirit: Three Black Women's Autobiographies of the Nineteenth Century (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986); Henri Louis Gates, Jr. Figures in Black: Words, Signs and the "Racial" Self (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987) and The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988). To date, African-American women's autobiographies have been the focus of scholarly articles: Frances Smith Foster, "Adding Color and Contour to Early American Self-Portraitures: Autobiographical Writings of Afro-American Women" in Marjorie Pryse and Hortense J. Spülers eds., Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985): 25-38; Elizabeth Fox-Genovese "To Write My Self: The Autobiographies of Afro-American Women" in Shari Benstock ed. Feminist Issues in Literary Scholarship (Bloomington: Indiana, 1987): 161-180 and "My Statue, My Self: Autobiographical Writings of Afro-American Women "in Shari Benstock éd., The Private Self: Theory and Practice of Women's Autobiographical Writings (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988): 63-89; Nelly McKay, "Nineteenth Century Black Women's Spiritual Autobiographies: Religious Faith and Self-Empowerment" in The Personal Narrative Group ed., Interpreting Women's Lives: Feminist Theory and Personal Narratives (Bloomington; Indiana University Press, 1989): 139-154.

4 See Domna C. Stanton, "Autogynography: Is the Subject Different?" in The Female Autograph (New York Literary Forum, vol. 12-13, 1984), pp. 5-23; Germaine Brée "Autogynography", Southern Review 22 (Spring 1986): 223-30.

5 An impressive number of works on female autobiography are forthcoming or have just been published. See Sidonie Smith, The Poetics of Women's Autobiography: Marginality and the Fictions of Self-Representation. (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1987); Shari Benstock, The Private Self (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), Schenck and Brodzki, Life/Lines: Theoretical Essays on Women's Autobiographies (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988), Françoise Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices: Race, Gender, Self-Portraiture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), The Personal Narrative Group ed., Interpreting Women's Lives: Feminist Theory and Personal Narratives (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989).

6 Michel Beaujour, Miroirs d'encre: rhétorique de l'auto-portrait (Paris: Seuil, 1980), defines self-portrait as a genre which he opposes to autobiography notably in so far as autobiography remains an individual's work, whereas the self-portrait aims at the general, the allegorical. He concludes his first chapter with this statement: "Ainsi tout autoportrait (à la différence de l'autobiographie, confinée, même lorsqu'elle a recours à un mythe comme celui des quatre âges, à la durée d'une mémoire individuelle et à des lieux individualisés cesse-t-il pour l'essentiel, c'est à dire pour tout ce qui n'est pas anecdotique en lui d'être individuel. La machine d'écriture, le système des lieux, les figure mises en scène, tout tend à la généralisation, tandis que la mémoire intratextuelle, c'est-à-dire le système des renvois, d'amplification, de palinodies supplantant la mémoire tournée l'avant-texte et le 'souvenir' produit la mimésis d'un autre type d'anamnèse que l'on pourrait appeler 'métempsychose'..." p. 26. See also Philippe Lejeune, "Le Pacte autobiographique" in Le Pacte Autobiographique (Paris: Seuil, 1976): 17-49.

7 William C. Spengemann, The Forms of Autobiography: A Collection of Critical Essays (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1981) p. xiii.

8 Schenck and Brodzki, Life/Lines, p. 14.

9 Jean Starobinski, "Le Style de l'autobiographie", Poétique 3 (1970): 257-265.

10 Elizabeth W. Bruss, Autobiographical Acts: The Changing Situation of a Literary Genre (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976). Part of her work has been published in French: "L'autobiographie considérée comme acte littéraire", Poétique 17 (1974): 14-26.

11 Tzvetan Todorov, "L'origine des genres" in Les Genres du discours (Paris: Seuil, 1978): "Pour dire les choses simplement, l'autobiographie se définit par deux identités: celle de l'auteur avec le narrateur, et celle du narrateur avec le personnage principal. Cette deuxième identité est évidente: c'est celle qui résume le préfixe auto, et qui permet de distinguer l'autobiographie de la biographie et des mémoires. La première est plus subtile: elle sépare l'autobiographie (tout comme la biographie et les mémoires) du roman, celui-ci serait-il imprégné d'éléments puisés dsns la vie de l'auteur. Cette identité sépare, en somme, tous les genres référentiels ou "historiques" de tous les genres fictionnels: la réalité du référent est clairement indiquée, puisqu'il s'agit de l'auteur même du livre, personne inscrite à l'état civil de sa ville natale, " p. 59.

12 Tzvetan Todorov, Introduction à la littérature fantastique (Paris: Seuil, 1970): 10.

13 Robert B. Stepto, From Behind the Veil: A Study of Afro-American Narrative (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961): 6-7.

14 William Andrews, To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986): 23. See more particularly his first chapter entitled "The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography: Towards a Definition of a Genre."

15 Andrews, To Tell a Free Story, p. 1.

16 Schenck, "All of a Piece: Women's Poetry and Autobiography" in Life/Lines, p. 285.

17 E. S. Burt, "Poetic Conceit: The Self-Portrait and Mirrors of Ink Diacritics 12, No 4 (Winter 1982): 19.

18 Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1981): 145. Jameson views genre theory in opposition to its classical function of classification: "Properly used, genre theory must always in one way or another project a model of the coexistence or tension between several generic modes of strands... with this methodological axiom the typologizing abuses of traditional genre criticism are definitely laid to rest." p. 141. On Jameson's use of genre criticism, see June Howard, "Jameson and the Dialectical Use of Genre Criticism", Critical Exchange # 14 (Fall 1983): 70-80.

19 Frances Smith Foster, "'In Respect to Females...' Differences in the Portrayal of Women by Male and Female Narrators", BALF 15 (Summer 1981): 66-67. The critic opposes male visions of women as monolythic, the stereotype of the female slave as sexual victim, and female slave narrators' depiction of women in their slave narratives.

20 Henri Louis Gates, Jr., Figures in Black: Words, Signs and the "Racial" Self (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987): 82.

21 Gates, The Signifying Monkey, suggests a vision of the Black literary tradition where later texts "signify" on earlier works. He thus charts the path for an examination of how, for instance, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings "signifies" on female slave narratives of the mid-nineteenth century or how Dust Tracks on a Road "signifies" on the flight of the female slave.

22 Carol Smith Rosenberg, "Misprisioning Pamela: Representations of Gender and Class in Nineteenth Century America", Michigan Quarterly Review (Winter 1987): 9-27. Rosenberg writes: "[his female readers] erred in reading Richardson's metaphors literally. They identified with Pamela and Clarissa not as male constructed symbols of bourgeois individualism... but as symbols of woman's powerlessness and ultimate victimization. They then took Richardson's displacements, the sexually vulnerable women, invested them with all the fears and identifications Richardson's novels had inspired and projected onto them their own particular female and American experience of class and family," p. 25.

23 Andrews, To Tell a Free Story: "Women like Picquet and Jacobs needed a sense of an empathetic female audience, not an interrogating male one, before they could speak and write freely about the woman behind the veils of silence and shame", p. 247.

24 Walter Magnes Teller ed., Linda Brent, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973).

25 Foster, "'In Respect To Females'": "Male narrators interpret as supplements to their own experiences that which they saw and deemed significant in other slaves' experiences as means of enhancing their descriptions of the crippling power of slavery. Female narrators present those incidents that most affected their development, those experiences that in Keckley's words 'influenced the moulding of my character' (p. 18), and by implication or direct statement, they extend their positive characteristics to other slaves", p. 67.

26 See Valerie Ann Smith, Self Discovery and Authority in Afro-American Narrative (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987): 28-44.

27 Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (Toronto and New York: Bantam Books, 1981).

28 Andrews, To Tell a Free Story, p. 262.

29 See Smith Rosenberg, "Misprisioning Pamela". Rosenberg describes the plot of these popular novels as follows: "Into this female American Eden came the lecherous male sophisticate. The antithesis of the pure and family-rooted daughter, he was urban and sexual. He existed outside the family. Represented by the society as a merchant or lawyer or an ambitious clerk, he invaded the family circle, ripping the flower-like daughter from her mother and carrying her off to the city, to poverty and prostitution", p. 14.

30 See Minrose C. Gwin, "Green-Eyed Monsters of the Slavocracy: Jealous Mistresses in Two Slave Narratives" in Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition, Marjorie Pryse and Hortense J. Spillers eds. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985): 39-52.

31 See Todorov, Les Genres du discours: "C'est parce que les genres existent comme institution qu'ils fonctionnent comme des 'horizons d'attente' pour les lecteurs et des 'modalités d'écriture' pour les auteurs", p. 50.

32 Estelle Jelinek, "Disguise Autobiographies: Women Masquarading As Men", Women's Studies International Forum vol. 10, # 1 (1987): 53-62.

33 Chinosole, "Audre Lorde and Martilineal Diaspora: Moving History Beyond Nightmare into Structures for the Future" (Unpublished paper, 1985).

34 Jameson, The Political Unconscious: "When we look at contemporary genre criticism, we find two seemingly incompatible tendencies at work, which we will term the semantic and the syntactic or structural, respectively... Such approaches [of the first group], whatever their content, aim to describe the essence or meaning of a given genre by way of the reconstruction of an imaginary entity - the spirit of comedy or tragedy, the melodramatic or epic 'world view', the pastoral 'sensibility' or the satiric vision... The second, syntactic approach to genre, which condemns the semantic approach as intuitive and impressionistic, proposes rather to analyze the mechanisms and structures of a genre such as comedy, and to determine its laws and its limits", pp. 107-108.

35 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices, p. 132.

36 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices, p. 133.

37 See George E. Kent, "Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Black Autobiographical Tradition", Kansas Quarterly 7 (Summer 1975): 72-78.

38 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices, p. 140.

39 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices: "Like Moll, Angelou's narrator has definite ambitions, but whereas Moll wants to become a gentlewoman, Maya wants immortality and fame" p. 143.

40 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices, p. 132.

41 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices: "Initially Maya is reborn when she enters the community of speaking humans via the medium of literature. Here in contrast, we have a 'religious' rebirth in the traditional survival mode: it is in fact a return to her black folk background", p. 155.

42 Andrews, To Tell a Free Story: "The supplementation of one narrative by a sequel, or of one style by another; the intrusion of suspect voices into black autobiography, especially those that appeal to diversionary sentiments of any sort; the deliberate fictionalizing of texts of the 1850s and the 1860s, notably through the use of reconstructed dialogue; the problems of interpreting the dialectic of 'romantic-realistic elements' that all these kinds of supplements introduce into autobiography, - are actually different manifestations of a single phenomenon. They are all features of what M. M. Bakhtin has called the'novelization'of narrative genres..." pp. 271-272.

43 The field of anthropology is presently run through a questioning of its very foundations. See Jean-Loup Amselle, Logiques métisses: Anthropologie de l'identité en Afrique et ailleurs (Paris: Payot, 1990). In his introduction Amselle defines his project as follows: "Cette longue enquête de terrain et cette réflexion théorique ont débouché sur une sorte de désenchantement de l'objet qui m'a conduit à remettre en cause l'essentiel de ce qui constitue, à mon sens, la 'raison ethnologique'. Par raison ethnologique, j'entends la démarche discontinuiste qui consiste à extraire, purifier et classer afin de dégager des types, que ce soit dans le domaine politique: société à Etat/société sans Etat, économique: autosuffisance/marché, religieux: paganisme/Islam, ethnique et culturel. Cette perspective théorique, dont l'unité est patente, est l'un des fondements de la domination européenne sur le reste de la planète: c'est une sorte de fil d'Ariane qui parcourt l'histoire de la pensée occidentale. Or à cette raison ethnologique, on peut opposer une 'logique métisse', c'est-à-dire une approche continuiste qui à l'inverse mettrait l'accent sur l'indistinction ou le syncrétisme originaire", pp. 9-10.

44 See Françoise Lionnet, Introduction to Autobiographical Voices, "The Politics and Aesthetics of Métissage", pp. 1-31. See also her "Métissage, Emancipation, and Textuality" in Life/Lines, pp. 260-278. In this essay she asserts: "This problematic would point to a notion of the female text as métissage, that is the weaving of different strands of raw material and threads of various colors into one piece of fabric; female textuality as métissage", p. 277.

45 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices, p. 6.

46 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices, p. 9.

47 Édouard Glissant, Le Discours antillais (Paris: Seuil, 1981), p. 251. English translation: J. Michael Dash, Carribbean Discourse (Charlottesville, VA: The University of Virginia Press, 1989).

48 Glissant, Le Discours antillais, pp. 250-251.

49 Lionnet, "Métissage", p. 276.

50 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices, quotes the Haitian thinker Patrick-Bellegarde Smith who speaks of those who suffer from the "traumata of insignificance" because, Lionnet carries on, "we belong to insular minorities from some of the smallest countries in our planet", p. 6.

51 Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices: "The very notion of métissage, then, is something culturally specific. The word does not exist in English: one can translate métis by 'half-bree' or 'mixed-blood' but these expressions always carry a negative connotation, precisely because they imply biological abnormality and reduce human reproduction to the level of animal breeding", p. 13.

52 See Henri Louis Gates, Jr., "Parallel Discursive Universes: Fictions of the Self in Harriet E. Wilson's Our Nig" in Figures in Black: Words, Signs and the "Racial" Self (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987): 125-163.

53 Audre Lorde, "Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Woman and Loving" in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre horde (Trumansburg, NY: The Crossing Press, 1984): 45.

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