A New Kind of Survival Narrative

12 Apr

In Texaco, Chamoiseau spins a narrative of survival from a framework of death and destruction, and in the process proposes a new kind of survival of a people that is divorced from concepts of procreation and Judeo-Christian ideals.

 There are few ways in which he does this, but one that I find to be particularly interesting is the way in which he uses Biblical juxtaposition to turn Marie-Sophie into an activist for survival. Though the Biblical allegory is thick and convoluted throughout the novel, I think a direct case can be made that Esternome and Idomene are reminiscent of Sarah and Abraham, who had a child at 90 something and 100 (respectively). God promised them that this child, Isaac, would be the patriarch of all of Israel and populate the promised land. In this way, I think that Chamoiseau is aligning Marie-Sophie and Isaac so as to make her denial of procreative survival even more obvious.  

 Probably the most obvious way that Chamoiseau contrasts Marie-Sophie and Isaac is through her multiple abortions. While Isaac is literally the life-blood of Israel, basing his patriarchy purely the seed of his loins, Marie-Sophie violently denies herself the ability to have children. Even when she wishes to later in the novel it is clear that this is a non-starter – it is always for the sake of men who disappear or die fairly quickly thereafter. It is also interesting to note the violence that she perpetrates against men’s genitals. Though it happens quite frequently, the violent acts are very specifically focused not on the phallus but on the testicles. This again drives home Marie-Sophie’s directed violence against reproduction.

 By equating Marie-Sophie with Isaac but divorcing the concept of survival of a people from procreation, Chamoiseau is proposing a very different kind of survival narrative than that of the people of Israel. Though Marie-Sophie is Isaac by birth, she is more Moses in action. With Texaco, she proves that the survival of a people is based not in simply literal “survival” – procreation – but through the action of carving out a physical space in which those people can survive. We can see this manifested also in smaller details in the book, as almost as often as Marie-Sophie is forcibly divorced from the concept of reproduction, she is aligned with the concept of creating physical space. She is constantly being thrown into situations in which carving out her own space in which to live safely (for example, in Alcibiade’s home) is critical to her happiness, but also to her ability to continue the narrative.

 This aligns with many of the theories and literature that we have read thus far this semester – I am thinking especially right now of Oil on Water and Sweet Crude. There are persistent undertones throughout these works which show that creating a physical space in which to live is key to not just the prosperity, but the continued existence of a community. By very pointedly separating Marie-Sophie’s survival narrative from reproductive survival, Chamoiseau emphasizes the urgency of this mission to re-claim physical space as a means for existence of a people. 

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One Response to “A New Kind of Survival Narrative”

  1. zack196 April 12, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    I think the idea of actively surviving by carving out a physical space also extends to the Urban Planner Christ figure. In popularized Christian theology, Jesus’s death acts as the ultimate sacrifice for the redemption of all of humanity; all one need to do to “survive” eternity is to believe in Jesus. But just as Marie-Sophie takes on the more active role of Moses leading her people to the “promised land” of Texaco, she also takes a critically active role in convincing the passive Christ to save Texaco. So I think Chamoiseau not only “emphasizes the urgency of this mission to re-claim physical space as a means for existence of a people” but also argues that survival can never be passive or given – one must fight and work towards it.

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