Death as Poetics of Dislocation in the Global South: René Depestre, Maryse Condé, and Santiago Gamboa
Umana, Adriana Umaña
Doctor of Philosophy
Fiction writing in the Global South—because of the region’s history and experience with colonialism—has been inextricably linked to questions of self-definition and collective representation. In a context of political and cultural domination, creative writers found themselves in the privileged but constrictive position of being the voice of a national community that was invested in articulating and affirming its cultural particularism. Death as Poetics of Dislocation surveys a gradual distancing from this position in the works of René Depestre, Maryse Condé and Santiago Gamboa and argues that representations of death function as the means to question notions of national exceptionalism and secure entry into a larger world literary space. Whereas the Global South translates both a postcolonial condition and an emancipatory project, it can only accomplish its decolonial purpose when writers cease to locate themselves at the periphery and in reaction to former colonial centers. René Depestre’s reconfiguration of the zombie—a historically charged symbol embodying many of the nation’s troubles—extracts Haiti and Haitians out of a position of isolated victimhood at the margins and proposes instead a view of Haitians as transnational, diasporic heroes whose agency re-enters the world in order to heal it. Similarly, Maryse Condé has recourse to mourning to deconstruct a series of myths that have shaped collective narratives in the French West Indies, ideas that have restricted individual freedom. Through the destabilizing power of grief, she accords a newfound lucidity to characters who had been relegated to silence for the sake of recovering the voice of an idealized community, but whose experience of bereavement propels them to pursue a life unbound by the place of their birth. Violent crime in Santiago Gamboa’s novels gives the writer the necessary means to abandon the exceptionalist and tragic depictions of his native Colombia, which have characterized several generations of writers. His transnational portrayal of human cruelty conveys how contemporary experience cannot be contained within any one set of national borders, but straddles several geographical locations at the same time. Depestre, Condé, and Gamboa’s poetics of death highlight the global dimension of Haitian, Guadeloupean, and Colombian writing and challenge the very idea of homogeneous national cultures and literary traditions.