I, Holding the Quill, Measured the Abyss

12 Apr

The final segment of Texaco seems to cement [I’m seeing the pun now I’m rereading this, but I’m going with it] how by committing stories, memories, and ideas to the written word, we force nebulous ideas to take shape. By preserving these concepts, we entomb them; it is a tradeoff between conserving our history and making it stagnant. The narrator acknowledges as she is writing that she is killing herself, her memories, and Texaco as she puts their stories down on paper. She and Texaco have not yet finished evolving (and Texaco never will) but they will be in a way trapped as they were when she chose to write them down. For Marie-Sophie, filling her notebooks with memories reflects the transformation of Texaco into a more permanent, accepted settlement; as her memories of Esternome and his stories become transformed as she gives them permanence by writing them down.

Language, and its connection to the personal vs. the universal, is a major theme reflecting the power of cities both to disconnect people from their roots, but to interconnect them to one another. When Ti-Cirique compares Marie-Sophie’s Creole and French writing, his hatred of Creole writing is profound, to the point that “a hiccup of disgust shook his body: My God, Madame Marie-Sophie, this tongue is dirty, it’s destroying Haiti and comforting its illiteracy…” Ti-Cirique is so focused on the universality of language, that he ignores its power to be relative. Ti-Cirique is a man obsessed with the power of words, not only in their current meanings, but he is obsessed with the shifting meanings and historical roots of these words. By tracing words in his memorized dictionary, he is trying to create permanence and a shared history in language.

Reading a translated version of this novel only drives home these ideas of language and universality, it is only because this story has been transformed into English (as even the best translations lose nuances and subtleties of the primary language) that I am able to access this story and its characters. This story had to be put into its most universal form to be approachable by a wide audience.

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