115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Reflections on Interior Design: Constructions of Identity in Daniel Maximin’s L’Île et une nuit

Jason Herbeck, Boise State University

As a means of illustrating construction of identity in the postcolonial French Caribbean, this paper proposes to examine Guadeloupean Daniel Maximin’s L’Île et une nuit (One Island and One Night, 1995) in terms of both architecture (constructions in literature) and architexture (the construction of literature).

Proposal: 

It would be difficult not to make at least passing mention of the maison des Flamboyants when referring to Daniel Maximin’s L’Île et une nuit (One Island and One Night, 1995). After all, it is there, in a house that has been in her family for generations, that the novel’s protagonist, Marie-Gabriel, takes shelter from a hurricane that devastates Guadeloupe over the span of one night in September 1989.[1] The narrative structure of the novel also accentuates the privileged—and, indeed, confined—nature of this physical space, its seven chapters coinciding squarely with the seven hours of the storm’s siege. Given the clear and immediate danger associated with leaving the house during this time, and the fact that all means of communication with the outside world have been literally severed, Les Flamboyants constitutes in many regards the story’s sole setting—both in terms of its foreground, as Marie-Gabriel makes her way from room to room in an attempt to avoid and assess the cyclone’s wrath, and as its background, the sights and sounds during the night apprising both her and the reader of the house’s resistance and gradual surrender to the storm’s gale-force winds and torrential rain.

            As a means of proposing an original perspective of the construction of identity in the postcolonial French Caribbean, this paper will examine L’Île et une nuit in terms of both architecture (constructions in literature) and architexture (understood generally as the construction of literature). Constituting the third and final novel of Maximin’s Caribbean trilogy, in which “the same house, Les Flamboyants, sits at the base of the Soufrière volcano, in Basse Terre” (Lagarde 135),[2] L’Île et une nuit’s intertextual ties serve to position the house spatially and structurally in an (albeit in part fictional) historical timeframe that renders details relative to its design, upkeep, transformation and eventual destruction significant on both diegetic and mimetic levels of the novel. Consequently, I will turn first to architextual elements of Maximin’s novel—including intertextual ties to One Thousand and One Nights (Les Mille et une nuits) et Maryse Condé’s Traversée de la Mangrove (Crossing the Mangrove)—in order to illustrate the contractual implications and assumptions involved in so far as the narrative construction of the trilogy’s final installment is concerned. I will then examine, on an architectural level, the maison des Flamboyants’s conditional resistance to external forces as a means of demonstrating why the house can be considered a Caribbean architectural archetype in many ways congruous to Marie-Gabriel’s own perception (and preservation) of self. This dual architextual-architectural reading will lead me, in conclusion, to reflect on what I term the outcomes of insularity. As I will demonstrate, Les Flamboyants is not merely a backdrop to the cyclone’s seven-hour assault. While, on a mimetic level, the structure serves to frame the protagonist’s struggle for survival, it can also be deemed responsible, on a diegetic level, for the polyvalent discourse that recounts Marie-Gabriel’s solitary efforts, memories and desires over the course of the storm, and furthermore reveals, on a larger scale, the complex and ongoing negotiations of identity that are at stake in the French Caribbean due to what are the recurring—and in fact unrelenting—presence of external as well as internal forces.

[1] Hurricane Hugo crossed over Guadeloupe as a category 4 hurricane on September 17-18, 1989.

[2] Lagarde, François. “Entre histoire et poésie: Maximin romantique.” Études Francophones 15.2 (2000), pp. 135-150.