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Borders and Ecotones in the Indian Ocean

 | 
Markus Arnold
, 
Corinne Duboin
, 
Judith Misrahi-Barak

I—Between Land and Water: Motion, Flux and Displacement

The Container and Itinerant Identity in Amal Sewtohul’s Made in Mauritius

Ritu Tyagi

Résumé

In the wake of the emergence of space as a major theoretical and philosophical concern for artists, theorists, and philosophers, there has been a recent resurgence of studies and theories on space, spatiality and place in academia. Major theorists of space tend to view space and spatiality as social and cultural productions and are more interested in the lived practices, symbolic meanings, and significations of spaces. Inspired by the recent reflections on space, this article examines the representation of the space of the container in Amal Sewtohul’s Made in Mauritius. Drawing upon Edward Soja’s notion of ‘thirdspace’ and Michel de Certeau’s ‘practice place’ and ‘bricolage’ that transform space by engaging it performatively, I argue that this space becomes a site where culture is played out and performed in a manner that ‘enables other positions to emerge, displacing the histories that constitute it’ (The Location of Culture), in order to set up new contact zones that resist structures of authority and propose new initiatives. These performatively engaging spaces are characterized by a certain multi-sitedness and lead to the construction of ‘polymorphous subjects’ (Ella Shohat) that circulate within diverse cultures and territories, continually attempting to escape fixed definitions and rigid beliefs, and in so doing, redefine notions of identity and belonging.

Texte intégral

  • 1 It is an intellectual movement that valorises the role of space in our understanding of the world (...)

1In the wake of emergence of space as a major theoretical and philosophical concern for artists, theorists, geographers, and philosophers, particularly after the spatial turn of the 1990s1, there has been a resurgence of studies and theories on space, spatiality, and place in academia. Humanities have long been dominated by ontological dispositions rather than epistemological ones favouring the temporal dimension over the spatial one. Spatial studies encourage us to interpret the world not simply through historicality or sociality, but also incorporate the spatial organisation of the society. Attempting to reinsert space within the paradigm of knowledge driven mostly by historical conceptualisations, major theorists of space such as Henri Lefebvre, Edward Soja, Michel De Certeau, Doreen Massey, and David Harvey redefine it as a dynamic entity that is both produced by social relations, and in turn, produces and reinforces new social ties. They tend to view space and spatiality as social and cultural productions and are more interested in the lived practices, symbolic meanings, and significations of space rather than the mere geometry of it.

2The space turn had its origins in Philosophy and Geography, but it has also contributed significantly to research in Postcolonial Studies. In the wake of the work of Frantz Fanon and Albert Memmi on the colonial city, Edward Saïd, Édouard Glissant, bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldùa and Homi Bhabha analyze, from the 1980s, the (post)colonial era in the light of spatial practices. Their studies reveal the fundamental role space plays in the production of society, the perception of the world, and the understanding of histories of humanity as well as relations of power. For them, space is inherently political as it holds within itself the testimony of historical change, and is therefore a determining factor in shaping identities, communities, politics, and economies.

  • 2 Sewtohul, Amal. Made in Mauritius. Paris: Gallimard, 2012.

3In literary texts, too, space cannot simply be seen as an insignificant geographical entity where stories take place, for as we shall see, it can be a driving force in the plot, conditioning its characters and their actions. Inspired by the recent reflections on space, this article examines the representation of the space of container in Amal Sewtohul’s Made in Mauritius.2 This novel, published in 2012, and recipient of the prestigious Prix des Cinq Continents de la Francophonie, narrates the story of a Sino-Mauritian born in a shipping container transported from Hong Kong to Mauritius. This first-person account intertwines with another narrative voice from time to time as Laval, the protagonist, narrates to his companion Frances, an Australian, his story—how his father had to leave Mao’s China first for Hong Kong and then for Mauritius in search of work, Laval’s life in the container, his friendship with Feisal, his marriage and divorce with Ayesha, and conflictual relationship with his son Sultan, born in Australia.

4In a tale that brings together reality and magical realism, it is, in fact, the shipping container that emerges both materially and metaphorically as the kernel of the narrative. It figures in the incipit of the novel as ‘l’arche de Noé’ in a dream-like sequence, saving Laval and his family when the entire city of Port Louis is inundated and its concrete houses are entrapped in flood waters. The novel concludes with another mythical image of the container as the ‘phare de Pharos’, a guiding light to the Aboriginals of Australia. The metal box, then, is not simply a passive space where the key events of the narrative take place, such as Laval’s birth, the shooting between the rival gangs, the ceremony of Mauritian Independence, and meetings of revolutionary groups. It is an active dynamic spatiality that plays a crucial role in triggering many of the events, thereby transforming itself into the protagonist and the essential catalyst of the plot.

  • 3 French filmmaker Jacques Tati showed the container called ‘The Yale Box’ as a decorative element i (...)
  • 4 Klose, Alexander. The Container Principle. Trans. by Charles Marcrum. Cambridge & London: MIT Pres (...)

5The container is the most ubiquitous means of transporting material goods across oceans, seas, and over land in today’s global economy. In addition to its traditional function of storage, it is used as space for offices, temporary accommodations, or kiosks etc. It has already inspired all forms of art, appeared in films, plays, and novels all over the world, and has also been used as an art form itself.3 It has undeniably become a symbol of globalization and stands to represent the most impressive face of capitalism. Several critics such as Michel Foucault, Lieven De Cauter have rightly analysed how it has succeeded in shaping diverse fields of society, and underscored the need to understand it not simply in terms of physical storage systems, but also as a powerful metaphor for spatial organisation in all spheres of our lives. Alexander Klose, for example, discusses not only containerisation but also introduces the notion of ‘container principle’, arguing that containerisation, spreading from physical storage to organizational metaphors signals such a change in the fundamental order of thinking and things that it has become a principle. He points out how containerisation has promised global availability at any time. In effectively erasing spatial distances, however, it has eliminated ‘locally distinct conditions completely in favour of a flat network of homogenously distributed location.4 He fears containerisation’s obsession with standardization and uniformity and sees in it a loss of all possibility of intensive communality and local development, thereby the loss of what has been the motor for individual and cultural evolution from the beginning. One can then say that if containerisation has been the epitome of globalisation, opening the world, connecting spaces, and people, it has also imposed uniformity and homogeneity, overlooking or assimilating differences. On the one hand, containers represent open borders, global communication networks, and free trade. On the other hand, they are used in trafficking of goods, people, and often act as fortress-like closing of certain parts of the world inaccessible to the poor. Containers have been temporary home to poorly paid construction workers with no work permit, refugees without papers and without the prospect of returning to their countries of origin. They have become regulatory structures confining asylum seekers until their applications get processed, thereby maintaining a permanent state of exception.

  • 5 ‘And the container, this container he had so often been ashamed of what kind of family were they t (...)

6Amal Sewtohul’s mythical container, where the protagonist’s family stays illegally, is an example of one such ambivalent space marked both by a sense of confinement as well as fluidity and freedom. If the container is a floating house that saves Laval and his family in the opening dream-like sequence of the novel, it is also a site marked by a sense of shame in reality, as Laval confesses, ‘Et le conteneur, ce conteneur dont il avait si souvent eu honte-quel genre de famille étaient-ils donc pour vivre dans un conteneur, alors que tout le monde avait une maison bien comme il faut, en béton5 (Sewtohul 2012: 12). This shame resonates with an intense sense of guilt and suffering experienced by his parents. This birth-place of Laval is also the site where he was conceived as a result of sexual liaison between his father and father’s cousin in the container purchased by his father’s uncle for transporting goods illegally from Hong Kong to Mauritius. On the discovery of pregnancy, they had to be married hurriedly and sent off to Mauritius in order to save the honour of the family. This departure puts an end to Laval’s mother’s dream of becoming a secretary in Hong Kong. Laval observes at numerous instances in the novel how the container is a cursed object, leading to irreparable damage and despair. Furthermore, due to the illegal status of the container in Mauritius, Laval and his family mostly stayed indoors, did not socialise much, and led a solitary existence. The container, a place of refuge, is at the same time a space that becomes instrumental in facilitating alienation, confinement, and marginalisation. This ambivalent interstitial space is characterised by an uncanny sense of unease.

  • 6 Soja, Edward. Thirdspace: Journey to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Oxford: Black (...)
  • 7 Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London & New York: Routledge, 1994; 211.

7It is precisely this malaise, the utter sense of alienation experienced by the inhabitants within the spatial reality of the container that leads to its transformation into what Edward Soja calls third space, ‘an open-ended set of defining moments’6 rooted as much in the global as in the local. The container becomes a lived space, a space of performance, of openness, of critical exchange of complex spatial organization of the social practices that shape actions and accord agency, from which emerge communities of resistance that cross boundaries of all oppressively othering categories. Drawing upon Edward Soja’s notion of ‘third space’ as well as Claude Levi Strauss and Michel de Certeau’s ideas of ‘bricolage’, and ‘practice place’ that transform space by engaging it performatively, I argue that the space of the container becomes a site where culture is played out and performed in a manner that, ‘enables other positions to emerge, displacing the histories that constitute it’,7 in order to set up new contact zones that resist structures of authority and propose new initiatives. This ‘practice place’ is characterized by a certain multi-sitedness and leads to the construction of ‘polymorphous subjects’ (Ella Shohat) that circulate within diverse cultures and territories, continually attempting to escape fixed definitions and rigid beliefs, and in so doing, redefine notions of identity and belonging. This article attempts to explore the lived space of the container first as a site of revolt, and then as a spatial complex of bricolage, two distinct approaches that the author proposes as a way to come to terms with one’s marginal status and resist the ‘containerisation’ of cultures and identities. In addition to this, the container’s role in setting up and facilitating polymorphous as well as lateral relations is also examined.

  • 8 ‘One morning, he took a pot of paint in his hands and the container turned bright red. A big yello (...)
  • 9 ‘I hated the transformation of the container into a political base, I heard every night, on the ot (...)

8The metal box transported from Hong Kong in embarrassing circumstances due to Laval’s mother’s pregnancy is an epitome of disaster for Laval’s father Lee Kim Chan that perpetually facilitates a sense of confinement and alienation. However, it later becomes a place of resistance and subversion when after the Mauritian Independence Laval’s father paints it red: ‘Un matin, il prit entre ses mains un pot de peinture et le conteneur devint rouge vif. Une grosse étoile jaune de chaque côté signalait que ce n’était pas le rouge du parti travailliste, le parti au pouvoir, ah non! C’était le rouge de la révolution8 (Sewtohul 2012: 187). Laval describes the modifications made in the spatial arrangement within the container that now becomes a meeting place for many, a site for discussions and debates: ‘Je détestais la transformation du conteneur en base politique, j’entendais chaque nuit, juste de l’autre côté, derrière un rideau rouge, alors que je faisais mes devoirs, les révolutionnaires de l’île discuter entre eux9 (Sewtohul 2012: 190). Laval becomes a witness to these developments in the container that lead to a transformation in his father who becomes politically more aware and active.

9Laval sees this resurrection of his otherwise reticent father as a revenge and retaliation towards his Uncle Lee Song Hui who had welcomed Laval’s father in Mauritius at his arrival, but never encouraged him to legalize his status for his own petty personal advantages. Let down by his own clan in a foreign land, Laval’s father finds solace in the company of other young revolutionaries who desired to bring change in the island nation of Mauritius. They reminded him of his own revolutionary struggles in 1949 that led to the birth of New China where communists had managed to give hope and dignity to the people of China. The happy days, however, did not last long, and he had to finally leave China. This revolutionary enthusiasm leads to solidarities that are based on the common goal of creating a progressive nation and tend to overlook strong ethnic differences that mark Mauritian society, thereby allowing for a subversive inter-ethnic bonding as the one between Laval’s father and Laval’s Indo-Mauritian friend, Feisal. Unlike his uncle who believed that Indians were farmers like them, and therefore did not have the right to acquire powerful positions, Laval’s father thought that farmers had brought about a revolution in China, and that there was a need to see a sense of camaraderie with the Indian farmers in their poverty and oppression.

  • 10 Hooks, bell. Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics. Boston: South End Press, 1990; 152. 

10Feisal admires Laval’s father and spends a lot of time in the container with varied people of different ethnic backgrounds, tied together in the common goal of Resistance. This bonding turns the metal box into what bell hooks calls a heterotopic shifting hybridized marginal space of resistance. She conceives marginality as a space of resistance and believes that solidarity within the marginal can create shifting and hybridized boundaries of the acceptable, liminal or heterotopic spaces in which different often opposed communities intersect in a less threatening environment and metaphorically converse, thus opening the possibility of at least acknowledging the existence of the other10. Frequently a site of abjection, the container then temporarily becomes a heterotopic margin, a third space for the Indian and Chinese Mauritians, where one moves in solidarity to erase ethnic othering.

  • 11 ‘The failure of a whole generation. It was the victory of the old, the politicians, the businessme (...)

11Later when Laval’s father takes the container to participate in the student rebellion of 1975, it falls off the truck and into the river in a scuffle between the students and the police, after which it goes missing for a long time. In the fall of the metal box, Sewtohul much like the protagonist Laval sees ‘l’échec de toute une génération. Ce fut la victoire des vieux, des politiciens, des hommes d’affaires et des prêtres sur les jeunes11 (Sewtohul 2012: 212). In the failure of the student’s rebellion in Mauritius or China’s uprising during the times of Mao in which Laval’s father had participated, the author sees the failure of revolution and looks for new ways of resistance.

  • 12 ‘My imagination, I contain it within me, like in a metal box, and I let it roam only inside the fr (...)

12If Laval’s father and Feisal, belonging to different ethnic groups, are tied together in their revolutionary enthusiasm, Laval and Feisal’s father, too, find affinity in their acts of bricolage. Unlike Feisal who seeks support and company outside in order to deal with his sense of solitude, Laval finds solace within his imagination that gives way to new creation: ‘Mon imagination, je la contiens en moi, comme dans une boîte en métal, et je ne la laisse vagabonder qu’à l’intérieur du cadre d’une toile, qui est la version plate de mon esprit-conteneur12 (Sewtohul 2012: 84). Laval’s neologism ‘esprit-conteneur’ clearly indicates how his imagination and creativity are intricately tied to the spatial dynamics of the container.

  • 13 ‘Ah, your father, what a great fellow! a real good person, yes!!’
  • 14 ‘I would have preferred yours.’

13When Feisal, stupefied with admiration for Laval’s father says, ‘Ah ton père, quel sacré gaillard! un vrai brave, oui !!’13 (Sewtohul 2012: 193), Laval who neither appreciates the political fervour of his father against the government nor identifies with him retorts ‘J’aurais préféré avoir le tiens’.14 He blatantly expresses his preference for Uncle Haroon, Feisal’s father, whom he admires, particularly the monk-like devotion he displays towards his work. Laval felt a similar sense of tranquillity and calm when he painted or created works of art in which he could find himself :

  • 15 ‘I felt good when I drew, I rediscovered the same absorption in a task that also attracted me to u (...)

Je me sentais bien lorsque je dessinais, je retrouvais cette absorption dans une tâche qui m’attirait aussi vers l’atelier de l’oncle Haroon. J’avais l’impression que c’était dans la création de ces dessins que je me retrouvais, et que c’était pour moi plus important que ces grands débats idéologiques qui me dépassaient15. (Sewtohul 2012: 196)

  • 16 ‘For Uncle Haroon was not only, as I said before, a first-rate handyman. He was, somewhere, contem (...)

Laval describes Uncle Haroon as a bricoleur. In fact, he finds him more than a simple bricoleur : ‘Car l’oncle Haroon n’était pas seulement, comme je l’ai dit plus haut, un bricoleur de premier ordre. C’était, quelque part, un contemplatif, [. . .] il aimait s’abîmer dans le bricolage’16 (Sewtohul 2012 : 142). Improvising and fixing things was not simply a profession to earn livelihood for Uncle Haroon. It was much more, almost an intense passion to which he was completely devoted.

  • 17 Baldick, Chris. The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press (...)

14The French word bricoleur refers to a handyman, who improvises technical solutions to all manner of minor repairs. Le bricolage literally means ´fiddling´, ´tinkering´, or ´do it yourself work.´17 In The Savage Mind (1962), French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss redefined the term as a cultural concept employed in the selection of elements in cultural construction. He uses the image of a bricoleur to illustrate the manner in which societies combine and recombine different symbols and cultural elements in order to come up with recurring structures.

  • 18 De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984; (...)
  • 19 In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau outlines an important critical distinction bet (...)

15In 1984, Michel de Certeau transformed the concept of bricolage and used it to describe the ways in which we practice common activities, like talking, reading, and cooking. According to him, bricoleur refers to ´users (who) make innumerable and infinitesimal transformations of and within the dominant cultural economy in order to adapt it to their own interests and their own rules´.18 He sees bricolage as an inventive tactic19 performed in order to ´make do´ with available resources within the margin of strategies. For him, it is a tactic frequently associated with originality and innovation, and an act that embodies individual agency and consciousness.

  • 20 Rapport, N. and Overing, J. Social and Cultural Anthropology: The Key Concepts. Third Edition. New (...)

16Rapport and Overing also conceptualize bricolage as an act of putting together multiple cultural forms to innovate and create something new or more fit for purpose20. In cultural studies, particularly, bricolage is used to mean the processes by which people acquire objects from across social divisions to create new cultural identities. Here, objects that possess one meaning (or no meaning) in the dominant culture are acquired and given a new, often subversive meaning. In this section we shall see how the container that houses varied and disparate objects becomes a perfect site of bricolage, as defined by the critics discussed above.

  • 21 ‘My box, my life, the life of a man in a box.’

17It is, in fact, the container and its varied contents that operate as a complex spatial dynamic capable of turning Laval into a bricoleur. It is the place where he makes his first painting as well as other works including his famous œuvre d’art that wins him a scholarship to Art School in Australia, thereby changing his life completely. Although Laval always had an intimate relationship with the metal box, it is only after the rediscovery of the container at the shores of Grande Rivière that he reconfigures his rapport with it. Before embarking on the task of making the piece of art he states ‘ma boîte, ma vie, la vie d’un homme en boîte21 (Sewtohul 2012: 223) as a testimony to the influence this space exercises on him. It is important to study Laval’s piece of art that he also calls installation artistique housed in the container, particularly his description of its process of creation, in order to understand how objects from different, distant places and cultures come together in Laval’s act of bricolage.

18This is how Laval describes the process of creating his installation artistique:

  • 22 ‘I drew on the ground a spider (. . .). On it, I stacked cardboard boxes and burlap bags to make i (...)

J’ai dessiné sur le sol une araignée [. . .]. Sur elle, j’ai empilé des boîtes en carton et des sacs en toile de jute jusqu’à en faire comme une petite colline, aux pentes irrégulières. Près de son sommet, j’ai placé dos à dos la photo de Chacha [Jawaharlal Nehru] et celle du mariage de mes parents. Sur le versant que dominait la photo de Chacha, j’ai dispersé de petites poupées, allongées sur le ventre comme des soldats prenant d’assaut la colline, avec dans leurs mains de petits drapeaux du MMM. Certaines des poupées se cachaient derrière de petites pagodes en porcelaine, de gros bouddhas joviaux et des bustes du père Laval. Les idées me venaient à l’esprit à mesure que je m’activais et, trouvant l’installation trop statique, j’ai alors vidé les boîtes et les sacs en toile de jute, puis je les ai agrafés ensemble. Ensuite, j’ai recouvert la colline de pages de chroniques de courses arrachées de Turf Magazine, de pages de La Chine se reconstruit, de photos de Hema Malini et de Zeenat Aman, et je l’ai de nouveau ornée de pagodes, de statuettes de bouddhas et du père Laval, derrière lesquelles s’abritaient les poupées MMM, et je l’ai coiffée des deux photos encadrées.22 (Sewtohul 2012: 223–224)

In this assembly of bric-à-brac, Laval puts together varied objects that belong to different and disparate cultures such as dolls from China, MMM flags, pages from the communist magazine La Chine se reconstruit, photos of Bollywood actresses, statues of Bouddhas, père Laval, dragons etc to create his oeuvre d’art, and in so doing not only re-uses but re-contextualises material and its representative potential as sign, which itself becomes the first marker of agency. He displaces the socio-cultural value these objects possess within distinct contexts leading to a revaluation of these symbols.

19L’île flottante’ or ‘Made in Mauritius’ as Laval chooses to call it, is itself a place characterized by a subversive cultural diversity wherein objects renegotiate their symbolic meaning, establishing within it a degree of plurality and creativity. Words such as empiler, placer, s’activer demonstrate an act of subversive poiesis where the artist acquires creative agency to produce an installation artistique that is both dynamic and mobile. Emphasizing the unfixed, ever changing and always adaptable character of this creation, Kumari Issur states:

  • 23 Issur, Kumari.  ‘Nationalisme, transnationalisme et postnationalisme dans Made in Mauritius d’Amal (...)

La folle entreprise de l’installation, dont les éléments constituants pris séparément ou dans leur ensemble signifient à des niveaux multiples, se renouvelle sans cesse à chaque moment. Tout nouvel ajout souligne, transforme, estompe, en tout cas interagit voire interfère avec la structure préexistante. L’impermanence de l’installation est sa seule permanence.23

  • 24 ‘At the beginning of the world, there was my father and my mother. Then came the bric-a-brac and I (...)

20Every time something new is added or subtracted, the piece changes in terms of its signifying potential. It need not be a shift immediately recognizable. Nonetheless, it alters the possible interpretations. This shifting justifies an understanding of bricolage as discursive because it is marked both by flux and fluidity. Creation of the oeuvre d’art allegorizes the process of construction of identity for a Sino-Mauritian such as Laval whose identity is composed of diverse cultures characterized not by stability, fixity but by a perpetual sense of impermanence, continuity, and mobility. Hence, it is an identité bricolée as he states himself: ‘au début du monde, il y eut mon père et ma mère. Puis vint le bric-à-brac et je fais partie de ce bric-à-brac24 (Sewtohul 2012: 224) referring not only to the objects within the container but to all the pieces of life that he encounters in Mauritius and Australia and that become a part of his subjectivity.

21Much like the container and l’île flottante, the identity of the characters in this novel is unstable, unfixed, and always adaptable to change. They are hybrid subjects who carry within them an ambivalence due to unresolved issues. They constantly adapt to heterogeneity where the degree of difference between each sign—not polarity—is what makes meaning possible, for it is precisely the heterogeneity of material and meaning that defines bricolage.

22Laval’s act of bricolage is not restricted to the creation of l’île flottante. In fact, later, he turns the entire container into a work of art, as he decides to hide Feisal within it to transport him illegally to Australia. It is by designating the shipping container as an oeuvre d’art that Laval transforms it. Once it is thus designated, its status as an object has changed and is reified, and he can thus hide his friend in it. Laval’s artistic imagination and oeuvre d’art impress the customs officer at the border, allowing him to tactfully defy immigration rules and smuggle Feisal into Australia.

  • 25 ‘The nice natives from the islands.’
  • 26 ‘For my part, I broke the floating island, and . . . I left to throw in the trash the cardboard bo (...)

23Once in Australia, Feisal and Laval quickly transform the container into a bar that becomes a meeting place for young couples and artists, where both play the role of ‘les gentils indigènes venus des îles25 (Sewtohul 2012: 249). The yellow star against red background painted by Laval’s father, signifying resistance to Mauritian Government is replaced by an exotic landscape from the tropical paradise on which Feisal paints ‘Made in Mauritius’. Much like De Certeau’s tactic that becomes useless after it has been put to its use, Laval’s L’île flottante has served its purpose and is not needed anymore. As a result, Laval decides to break it and get rid of many of the items in the container: ‘De mon côté, j’ai brisé l’île flottante, et . . . je suis parti jeter à la poubelle les boîtes en carton crevées, les poupées aux drapeaux MMM, et le réveille-matin à l’effigie de Mao. Ce faisant, j’eus l’impression de tourner la page sur mon passé26 (Sewtohul 2012: 250).

  • 27 Jean-François, Emmanuel Bruno. ‘De l’ethnicité populaire à l’ethnicité nomade : Amal Sewtohul ou l (...)

24The change in the spatial reality of the container has a significant impact on the characters inhabiting it, as it is their home in a foreign county. They, too, transform themselves along with the space they live in and evolve in new geographies as they encounter other people. They come to terms with their new identities and leave behind the past in order to surge towards a new future where, as Emmanuel Bruno Jean-François states, Mauritius remains only a space of transit, a passageway ‘qui façonne les personnages mais les prépare à la découverte du monde’.27

25Both Laval and Feisal go their own way, adapting themselves to new cultures in Australia. After Laval announces his intentions to marry Ayesha, whom Feisal too admired, Feisal disappears with the container. Both Laval and Ayesha enjoy a legal status in Australia as students, but Feisal is a sans-papier, and therefore feels entitled to take the container with him. The container again becomes the space of refuge for an illegal immigrant, this time in Australia. Laval’s marriage with Ayesha does not last long. They, however, have a son named Sultan who later gets married to an Australian. Thirty years later, disappointed by his son’s snob and elitist attitude, Laval decides to go in search of Feisal and the lost container. He is taken aback when he finds the container in its new avatar as a metal disc with light on top guiding the Aboriginals to their dwelling place in the dark. He is unable to recognize his own container at the first sight, as it is covered by the painting of a serpent considered sacred by the Aboriginals.

26Laval discovers that Feisal has become the head of a village of sans-papier that he calls Port Louis. This village was earlier a permaculture community in Byron Bay maintained by a group of ecologists. As a remote area outside the control of the police, it becomes the ideal interstitial space for Feisal to set up a village of illegal migrants. His clandestine parallel community of migrants who come from different parts of the world is outside the control of the government and offers an apt example of De Certeau’s ‘tactic’ at work that aims to tease out an existence within a society for those who are often refused access to spaces. As a community of illegal immigrants, this village was always insecure, persistently under the threat of being discovered by the police. As a result, Feisal maintained good ties with the Aboriginals who would warn them of the arrival of police in advance.

27The container now called ‘la citadelle’ is located at the top of the mountain, and in this space, Feisal has planted the Mauritian flag, the ‘Four Colour’ in which the four horizontal strips here represent four different areas of the village resided by people from different parts of the world—red for the area where people from the Indian subcontinent resided, blue for people from Africa, yellow for Chinese and Vietnamese, and green for the Arabs, Iranians, and Afghans. The citadelle with the Mauritian flag reverses the earlier image of the container at the time of Mauritian Independence when it became the platform for the ceremony of Independence and the Mauritian flag was planted in it. At that time, Feisal, Laval, and Ayesha, participating from within the container had felt excluded from the ceremony and alienated from the project of nation building. The citadelle now operates as a metal disc with a light on top to guide the Aboriginals and the immigrant population towards the community of Port Louis in dark. It is inclusive of people from different regions, races, religions, etc. In this new avatar, the container transforms itself from a non-place28 of transit and transience where human beings remain anonymous and alienated, unable to enter into any meaningful contact to an ‘anthropological place’ that offers people a space to empower their identities where they can meet others with whom they share social references and create solidarities.

28The container resonates with Soja’s third space as a source of mobilized consciousness rooted in the more immediate collective struggle to take greater control over the making of geography—the social production of human spatiality. Emphasizing the sense of resistance and solidarity created in such a space, Soja states that

  • 29 Soja, Edward. Thirdspace: Journey to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Oxford: Black (...)

(. . .) the involvement in producing and in already produced spaces and places that the oppressed, subordinated, and exploited share, the shared consciousness and practice of an explicitly spatial politics can provide an additional bonding force for combining those separate channels of resistance and struggle that for so long have fragmented modernist equality politics’.29

  • 30 Arnold, Markus. ‘Écrire le devenir-nation postcolonial, ou l’Indépendance mauricienne revisitée pa (...)

Feisal’s container in Australian Port Louis is one such place of shared spatial consciousness that has the capacity to restructure socio-spatialities and give rise to new kinds of relationships, affiliations, and identities. Markus Arnold, too, views Sewtohul’s container as a subversive and comic symbol of shifting identities, ‘identités en mouvement’.30

29In this new context, the container also becomes the site of ‘polymorphous relations’ (Ella Shohat) of reciprocity and dialogue among the marginal, for Ella Shohat explains in her book Talking Visions: Multicultural feminism in a transnational Age that

  • 31 Shohat, Ella. Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age. Cambridge: MIT Press (...)

The process of identity formation is reciprocal, dialogical; it sees all acts of verbal or cultural exchange as taking place not between essential, discrete, bounded individuals or cultures but rather between permeable, changing individuals and communities.31

30In Shohat’s analysis, all subjects are located on a polymorphous web of affiliations, and therefore what lies central to political action is identification with the multivariate affiliations of others, rather than with discrete identities. She rejects the concept of identity in favour of the notion of affiliations and identifications, allowing for alliances among disparate groups leading to varied coalitions. Sewtohul’s container becomes this kind of site of polymorphous, transversal networks that forge multivariate affiliations, linking struggles laterally, becoming a creative terrain on which minority subjects act and interact in fruitful and lateral ways. Feisal’s Port Louis in Australia is a place that is home to all sans-papier, where the Aboriginals meet the illegal migrants and other marginalised of the society. It is a space of exchange and participation where processes of hybridization occur and where it is possible for cultures to be produced and performed without mediation by the centre.

  • 32 Foucault, Michel. ‘Des espaces autres’ [Conférence au Cercle d’Études Architecturales, 14 mars 194 (...)

31Personified and elevated to the level of a character, the container in Sewtohul’s Made in Mauritius is a spatio-temporal intermediary, a contact zone where ideas, objects, and people circulate. It incarnates a space in perpetual motion, much more than a simple site of transit and transfer. It is an interface where new subjectivities are created. An instrument of spatial expansion, it contributes in forging an alternative notion of origin open to hybrid identities. It is what Foucault calls ‘un morceau flottant d’espace, un lieu sans lieu’,32 an open, osmotic, and mobile space suspended between fixity and fluidity and it is this state of being a place and non-place at the same time that is intriguing to the theorists of space, encouraging them to reconfigure their spatial conceptions.

Bibliographie

Arnold, Markus. ‘Écrire le devenir-nation postcolonial, ou l’indépendance mauricienne revisitée par le discours romanesque’, in Polyphonies littéraires francophones transcontinentales : Frontières, fronts tierces ? Annick Gendre, ed. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2019; 37–56.

Beck, Ulrich. What is Globalization? Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2000.

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London & New York: Routledge, 1994.

De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Hooks, bell. Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics. Boston: South End Press, 1990.

Foucault, Michel. ‘Des espaces autres’ [Conférence au Cercle d’Études Architecturales, 14 mars 1947] in Architecture, Mouvement, Continuité, no. 5, 1984.

Issur, Kumari.  ‘Nationalisme, transnationalisme et postnationalisme dans Made in Mauritius d’Amal Sewtohul’, in Loxias-Colloques, 3. D’une île du monde aux mondes de l’île : dynamiques littéraires et explorations critiques des écritures mauriciennes. http://revel.unice.fr/symposia/actel/index.html?id=449. Accessed on September 5, 2018.

Jean-François, Emmanuel Bruno. ‘De l’ethnicité populaire à l’ethnicité nomade : Amal Sewtohul ou la “fabrique’’ d’une nouvelle mauricianité’, in Loxias-Colloques, 3. D’une île du monde aux mondes de l’île : dynamiques littéraires et explorations critiques des écritures mauriciennes. http://revel.unice.fr/symposia/actel/index.html?id=411. Accessed on August 4, 2018.

Klose, Alexander. The Container Principle. Trans. by Charles Marcrum. Cambridge & London: MIT Press, 2015.

Rapport, N. and Overing, J. Social and Cultural Anthropology: The Key Concepts. Third Edition. NewYork and London: Routledge, 2014.

Sewtohul, Amal. Made in Mauritius. Paris: Gallimard, 2012.

Shohat, Ella. Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998.

Soja, Edward. Thirdspace: Journey to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.

Notes

1 It is an intellectual movement that valorises the role of space in our understanding of the world particularly in disciplines such as Social Sciences and Humanities.

2 Sewtohul, Amal. Made in Mauritius. Paris: Gallimard, 2012.

3 French filmmaker Jacques Tati showed the container called ‘The Yale Box’ as a decorative element in his film ‘Playtime’. The container also appears in a Czech children’s cartoon film ‘The Mole in the City’ in 1982. Christoph Schlingensief’s controversial reality show erected a deportation camp of containers. 1962 folksong ‘Little Boxes’ by Pete Seager criticizes the uniformity of the rows of houses made of containers. The container is turned into an art form ‘Mean Time’ by Darren Almond made in 2000 into which an oversized digital clock with folding numbers was built.

4 Klose, Alexander. The Container Principle. Trans. by Charles Marcrum. Cambridge & London: MIT Press, 2015; 298.

5 ‘And the container, this container he had so often been ashamed of what kind of family were they to live in a container, when everyone had a concrete house, as it should be’ (all translations are mine).

6 Soja, Edward. Thirdspace: Journey to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996; 260.

7 Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London & New York: Routledge, 1994; 211.

8 ‘One morning, he took a pot of paint in his hands and the container turned bright red. A big yellow star on each side indicated that it was not the red of the Labor party, the party in power, oh no! It was the red of the revolution.’

9 ‘I hated the transformation of the container into a political base, I heard every night, on the other side, behind a red curtain, while I was doing my homework, the revolutionaries of the island talking to each other.’

10 Hooks, bell. Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics. Boston: South End Press, 1990; 152. 

11 ‘The failure of a whole generation. It was the victory of the old, the politicians, the businessmen and the priests over the young.’

12 ‘My imagination, I contain it within me, like in a metal box, and I let it roam only inside the frame of a canvas, which is the flat version of my container-spirit.’

13 ‘Ah, your father, what a great fellow! a real good person, yes!!’

14 ‘I would have preferred yours.’

15 ‘I felt good when I drew, I rediscovered the same absorption in a task that also attracted me to uncle Haroon’s workshop. I felt that it was in the creation of these drawings that I found myself, and that it was for me more important than the great ideological debates that were beyond my comprehension.’

16 ‘For Uncle Haroon was not only, as I said before, a first-rate handyman. He was, somewhere, contemplative, [. . .] he liked to be absorbed in his odd jobs.’

17 Baldick, Chris. The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2008; 42; and Broady, Elspeth. Colloquial French 2: The Next Step in Language Learning. New York: Routledge; 77.

18 De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984; xviii.

19 In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau outlines an important critical distinction between strategies and tactics as he believes that despite repressive aspects of modern society, there exists an element of creative resistance to these structures enacted by ordinary people. According to him, a strategy is the overarching framework of the ruling institutions and their objectives (e.g. to discipline or gain profit), whereas tactics are the individual actions included in everyday activities such as walking, talking and reading. Strategies are used by those within organizational power structures, whether small or large, such as the state or municipality, the corporation or the proprietor, a scientific enterprise or the scientist. Strategies are deployed against some external entity to institute a set of relations for official or proper ends. Tactics, on the other hand, are employed by those who are subjugated. By their very nature tactics are defensive and opportunistic, used in more limited ways and seized momentarily within spaces, both physical and psychological, produced, and governed by more powerful strategic relations.

20 Rapport, N. and Overing, J. Social and Cultural Anthropology: The Key Concepts. Third Edition. New York and London: Routledge, 2014.

21 ‘My box, my life, the life of a man in a box.’

22 ‘I drew on the ground a spider (. . .). On it, I stacked cardboard boxes and burlap bags to make it like a small hill with irregular slopes. Near its top, I placed back to back a picture of Chacha [Jawaharlal Nehru] and that of my parents' wedding. On the slope dominated by Chacha's photo, I scattered small dolls lying on their stomachs like soldiers storming the hill with small flags of the MMM in their hands. Some of the dolls were hiding behind small porcelain pagodas, big fat jovial buddhas and busts of Father Laval. Ideas came to my mind as I became busy and, finding the installation too static, I emptied the boxes and the burlap sacks and stapled them together. Then, I covered the hill with pages ripped off from shopping columns of Turf Magazine, pages from La Chine se reconstruit, photos of Hema Malini and Zeenat Aman, and I once again adorned it with pagodas, statuettes of Buddha and Father Laval, behind which rested the MMM dolls, and on the top I put the two framed photos.’

23 Issur, Kumari.  ‘Nationalisme, transnationalisme et postnationalisme dans Made in Mauritius d’Amal Sewtohul’, in Loxias-Colloques, 3. D’une île du monde aux mondes de l’île : dynamiques littéraires et explorations critiques des écritures mauriciennes. http://revel.unice.fr/symposia/actel/index.html?id=449. Accessed on September 5, 2018. ‘The crazy initiative of the installation, whose constituent elements taken separately or as a whole have significations at multiple levels, is constantly renewed at each moment. Any new addition emphasizes, transforms, blurs, in any case interacts or even interferes with the pre-existing structure. The impermanence of the installation is its only permanence.’

24 ‘At the beginning of the world, there was my father and my mother. Then came the bric-a-brac and I'm part of this bric-a-brac.’

25 ‘The nice natives from the islands.’

26 ‘For my part, I broke the floating island, and . . . I left to throw in the trash the cardboard boxes, dolls with MMM flags, and the alarm clock with Mao’s image. In doing so, I had the impression of putting my past behind me.’

27 Jean-François, Emmanuel Bruno. ‘De l’ethnicité populaire à l’ethnicité nomade : Amal Sewtohul ou la ‘’fabrique’’ d’une nouvelle mauricianité’, in Loxias-Colloques, 3. D’une île du monde aux mondes de l’île : dynamiques littéraires et explorations critiques des écritures mauriciennes. http://revel.unice.fr/symposia/actel/index.html?id=411. Accessed on August 4, 2018. ‘That shapes characters but at the same time prepares them to discover the world.’

28 Non-place or nonplace is a neologism coined by the French anthropologist Marc Augé in his book Non-Places: An Introduction to Anthropology of Supermodernity to refer to anthropological spaces of transience where the human beings remain anonymous and that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as ‘places’. The concept of non-place is opposed, according to Augé, to the notion of ‘anthropological place’.

29 Soja, Edward. Thirdspace: Journey to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996; 281.

30 Arnold, Markus. ‘Écrire le devenir-nation postcolonial, ou l’Indépendance mauricienne revisitée par le discours romanesque’, in Polyphonies littéraires francophones transcontinentales : Frontières, fronts tierces ? Ed. Annick Gendre. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2019; 46.

31 Shohat, Ella. Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998; 9.

32 Foucault, Michel. ‘Des espaces autres’ [Conférence au Cercle d’Études Architecturales, 14 mars 1947 in Architecture, Mouvement, Continuité, no. 5, 1984; 48. ‘A piece of floating space, a place without a place.’

Auteur

Ritu Tyagi is Assistant Professor at Pondicherry University. She completed her Doctorate from Louisiana State University in the USA. She has published numerous articles on Francophone Literature, Postcolonial and Feminist Writing: ‘Feminine Desire in Ananda Devi’s Works’, Dalhousie French Studies 94, Spring 2011; ‘Toward Timelessness: Pluritemporality in Ananda Devi’s L’arbre fouet’ in Écritures mauriciennes au féminin: penser l'altérité, Véronique Bragard & Srilata Ravi (dirs.), L’Harmattan, 2011; ‘Les identifications polymorphes et l’altérité dans les œuvres d’Ananda Devi et Nathacha Appanah Mouriquand’, Interculturel Francophonies 28; Écrivaines de l’Île Maurice et de La Réunion: “tisser des fils épars”, Alliance Française Lecce, 2016. Her book Ananda Devi: Narra-tion, Polyphony and Feminism was published with Rodopi in 2013 and was well received by critics.

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