The Vulnerability of Concrete

11 Apr

I find Priyanka’s post on Chamoiseau’s argument for Relation very useful, especially when describing the relation between the country, Texaco, and City.  If City represents life, then the final age of Texaco’s history – the “Age of Concrete” – is “the definite sign of a step forward in life” (356).  Even though concrete incorporates some of the life and comfort of City into Texaco and makes the hutches more stable, Texaco retains a vulnerable relationship with City.  Marie-Sophie describes the growing vulnerability of material loss that coexists with the establishment of immobile modern comforts like concrete when she observes that “with our homes built in concrete we began to feel the need for certainties and for conveniences which, strangely enough, we would sorely miss all the sudden” (365).

The relationship Marie-Sophie describes is not just a dichotomy between urban and rural or the urban and the slums, but a multidirectional flow of people, ideas, and materials.  For example, we talked about the symbiotic relationship between City and the Quarters in class, where the clean modernity of City depends on its displaced victims in the Quarters to perform City’s dirty and menial jobs.  Simultaneously, the displaced in the Quarters rely on the trash and jobs of City in order to survive.  However, the role of concrete – and the other waste products of City and its previous manifestations (i.e. the sugarcane plantations and the sugar factories) – in this City/Quarter Relation seems to counteract this multidirectionality.  The description of the Age of Concrete in the timeline at the beginning of the book indicates a linear flow of influence from City to Texaco “as the fall of economic production inaugurates the reign of the city, glorious concrete transforms shacks into villas” (6).  In this ‘historical’ summary, the city’s concrete transforms the shacks of the Quarters “into villas,” but the Quarters have no influence on the city.  Returning to the theme of vulnerability, concrete ultimately makes Texaco more vulnerable to City, especially after City begins bulldozing unrecognized Quarters around Fort-de-France.  Marie-Sophie again tells the Urban Planner, “And we began, in deathly anguish, to wait our turn – having suddenly understood that despite the concrete our Texaco remained a fragile embryo” (369).  Whereas with hutches made of mobile materials like straw, tin, and even asbestos, Texaco could rebuild after being destroyed, concrete’s destruction is definite.

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