TEXACO as Rhizome

2 Apr

Patrick Chamoiseau‘s novel abounds with themes of the ties between nature and people; diaspora and search for a home; intertextuality; the constructed, written, and revised nature of history and storytelling; and the ones who history leaves out.  In her essay “Images of Creole Diversity and Spatiality: A Reading of Patrick Chamoiseau’s Texaco, (translated into English by Dorothy S. Blair), Christine Chivallon beautifully connects all of these themes under the explanation of Chamoiseau’s participation in the Creole literary movement of the 1980s.

According to Chivallon, Chamoiseau, along with Jean Bernabé and Raphaël Confiant, wrote Eloge de la créolité, or In Praise of Creoleness, in 1989 as a direct response to the négritude movement of the 1930s.  Chivallon quotes the work to define one of its goals, which is to use art “to present insignificant heroes, anonymous heroes, those omitted from the colonial chronicle, those who resisted indirectly and patiently and who have nothing in common with the Western or French heroes.”

The “Creoleness” the movement promotes is one of multiplicity, complexity, and chaos–not, as Chivallon says “any indescriminate chaos, not dehumanized confusion, but that of mobility, of lightness, in which nothing is fixed or rigid, but everything consists simply of traces, of salient outlines…” (318).  As such, it breaks both with previous sociological traditions, which consider the Caribbean tradition either from the viewpoint of alienation and incompleteness or the search for some kind of “authenticity” outside of the formation of Caribbean societies, as in Cesaire’s   Négritude (319).

According to Chivallon, Texaco is, essentially, “Creoleness” in action.  The novel, she says, is “astonishingly appreciative of the way identity comes to terms with space and place” (319).  She traces three major themes of identity in the novel:

  • Root identity, which “refers to unity and calls to mind the community whose continuity is linked to territorial belonging” (319).  This is the idea of the community as resulting from memory and/or from place, and leads to the ideas of an “us” v.s. a “them.”  An example of this in the novel is the collective that forms in the Mornes, which is “defined as the odyssey of a magical “Us”…the Nouteka” (322).  However, this cannot last.
  • Mobile identity, which “suggests an uncoordinated fragmentation, the absence of collective social norms” (319).  In this scheme, City is seen as an enigma, a riddle, a mobile, multiracial, multilingual, multi-historical, chaotic entity.
  • Rhizome identity, which “stands out as the image of Creoleness [Chamoiseau] celebrates” (320).  This final identity, that of “multiple roots,” combines elements of the first two.  This is a “kind of unity that transcends dispersal,” the “union of unity and multiplicity” (327).  It is “simultaneously order and disorder, unity and multiplicity, chaos and coherence.  In its relationship to space, it also unites these two opposing faces: that of taking root and that of wandering” (329).  This is Texaco.

Texaco’s major themes, therefore, act structurally as the rhizome–at times chaotic, at times contradictory or confusing, they combine in order to create a multi-vocal whole nonetheless connected, circling around the figures of Marie-Sophie and Texaco.


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