Monnaie “mythique” : A Woman’s Worth in Suzanne Dracius’ Rue Monte au Ciel

Edwin Hill, University of Southern California
samedi 28 janvier 2012
popularité : 30%

"Dracius grounds Léona’s body and beauty in her family’s multiple history of values – values that (given their different positions within the ethnoclasses of colonialism) include the diverse literal worth of their bodies, but also values in the sense of their diverse attitudes towards the ethics of their colonial subjection, as well as values in terms of their personal codes of (bodily) conduct with which they respond to that subjection."

"But what happens for the métis ? What of the historically ambivalent valuation of métissage and the woman of color’s métis body ? Through a feminist critique of Frantz Fanon’s work with the help of scholarship by Lindon Barrett and Rey Chow, I read Léona’s trajectory as a doudou’s dis-covery of her value and an attempted re-covery of her black métis body. Suzanne Dracius’ short story “Sa destinée rue Monte au Ciel” deconstructs the doudou so that she may be re-membered in a genealogy of knowledge about women’s experiences of self-worth and métissage."

"Dracius’ choice of language, “Monsieur does his business in her body,” makes connections in the violent way Léona’s métis body circulates within a colonial economy of exchange relations between her work, her performance value, and her physical abuse. Lindon Barrett’s work on value in the US context proves effective in reflecting on the construction of the doudou’s worth and the meaning of her tactical revaluations."

"At the same time as they mark the break (echoing the break of the black Atlantic : the middle passage), Léona’s plunge deep into the boundaries – “ces bonnes eaux si maternelles,” evocative of her métisses sources (69), involve fantasies of revisiting the scene of an originary transaction for an alternate sounding of French-Antillean value making.
Value is both a mythical operation and an economy of myth-making. "

"Dracius hints at the problematic nature of this love for the colonial city in her indéniablement, designating the love for city as something to be confessed, and indeed something related to passion and loss. In fact the author’s language insists on the love, “adoration,” and “fascination,” encoding the doudou’s relationship to the city as a troubled romantic affair. But the typical representation of the doudou as an urbanophile, in addition to betraying a gendered and colonialist perspective – i.e. that of the colonial white male urban colonial agent’s geographic, racial, and gender position – reflects the demands of French colonialism’s race and gender based divisions of island labor."

"Dracius connects again the economies of representation and those of sexual exploitation and labor in Léona’s fantasy of theater access.

"Dracius’ narrative points towards the particular mutual stakes of the body and the text for women of color positioned to delineate the boundaries for social order and worth, and this through and beyond the historic boundaries of slave (and ultimately colonial) society. "

« Elle l’aime, pourtant, l’or, la maîtresse. Gorgone ne crache pas sur l’or [...]. Ils rutilent tellement, ses colliers-choux, ses bracelets à fermoir pattes de lion, ses pendants d’oreilles à camée [...]. L’or serait-il bon pour elle, et pas pour Léona ? Deux poids, deux mesures. [...] Jamais assez pour un livre, malheureusement... Ni pour un billet de théâtre. Trop cher, les livres. Inaccessible, le spectacle (43). »
"Dracius employs an almost poetic syntax, cutting up the sentence through punctuation and the postposition of both subject and object. The cutting up and putting things side-to-side sets up the following : “Deux poids, deux mesures” (43). The formulation’s imagery of the ethical and monetary value of women’s desire implicates the doudou and the maîtresse."

"Through a textual retreat, which the reader senses in free indirect discourse, Léona is partially elsewhere during the scene of interrogation and abuse, an elsewhere that allows for her appreciation of the uneven character of colonial valuation."

"Léona’s resistance to the abuse of Madame comes in the form of insolent silence.
« On aurait dit que le seul son de ma voix a le don de la faire exploser. Je ne vais pas lui donner ce plaisir’, se dit Léona en jubilant intérieurement. Mais son visage reste de marbre » (35).
Materialized as marble, her body’s silence conceals the reworking of value at stake in her refusal to offer the colonial performance demanded in this scene of colonial interrogation and subjection. (The history of the scream in Antillean letters, its associations with Negritude, increases the stakes of Dracius’ representation of this specific kind of refusal.) Léona’s tactic pits the impossibility of speech against the colonial demand for confession. But later in the story, Dracius gives the scream an ambivalent status, with reports from town gossip that the screams were heard everywhere."

"This doudou realizes her marginal, stuck position within colonial narratives, yet she survives by imagining other positions from which to view/read/write her life’s worth.
Léona’s insurgent break from the everyday does not end in revolution, instead it only produces a new rhythm, a new everyday to be negotiated, a new sub-economy within which to wage value.
« De plus en plus persuadée d’aborder le bon versant de son destin, Léona a repris son chemin, par ravines, mornes et savanes, par fonds, par traces et champs de cannes, à pied, cette fois. Autrement ce serait trop cher. Il faudrait casser le Totor, et cela, elle ne le voulait pas. Celui-là, il ne la quitterait jamais »(67).
"Dracius inscribes her worth as emergent from slave culture, the specific family histories of marronnage and métissage that inform Léona’s outlook point up the contingency and contradiction of anti/colonial valuation."

"If colonial and even anticolonial constructions of the doudou figure her as a recalcitrant “material girl,” Suzanne Dracius makes one wonder again about the erasures within the history of this old colonial figure as well as the contemporary stakes of her soundtext lives."

Edwin Hill
University of Southern California

Book Chapter (extracts)

"Monnaies Mythiques : Métissage and A Woman’s Worth in Suzanne Dracius’s Rue Monte au Ciel" in Métissages et marronnages dans l’oeuvre de Suzanne Dracius, Paris : Harmattan (2010).