Parkour and De Gualle

12 Apr

When De Gualle comes to visit Martinique, Marie-Sophie runs after him through a stampede, foolishly thinking she’s going to invite him to her home for dinner.  She and a new acquaintance, Arcadius, end up chasing after De Gualle throughout the city:

We spend the day chasing De Gualle through City.  We went down long detours to cross his path…Arcadius rushed me down a strange shortcut to rejoin him at a so-called geometric point.  But each time he was elsewhere…at city hall…at the prefecture…at the cathedral…(331)

Although Marie-Sophie and Arcadius are not practicing parkour per se, they are certainly rushing through City as only they, as marginalized citizens, can, with their knowledge of City’s underpinnings and secret ways.  In “Light Reading: Public Utility, Urban Fiction, and Human Rights,” Michael D. Rubenstein connects the movement of parkour to the recognition of social existence in the bidonvilles of large francophone cities, as described in Texaco.  It’s an interesting connection–one I don’t think Rubenstein makes entirely convincingly–in part because Rubenstein describes parkour as movement of fleeing, rather than chasing:  “the traceur is generally running for his life, from authorities of some kind, often enough the police” (33).  In this scene in Texaco, however, Marie-Sophie and Arcadius are chasing something (as, in fact, the seekers of electricity Rubenstein discusses are as well).

What they are chasing, however, is never accessible, because De Gualle, symbol to the characters in the novel of the benevolent motherland, potential savior (to Marie-Sophie) of Texaco, is always elsewhere.  And that elsewhere is always a building of the ruling hegemony, the power structure–the government or a house of religion.  Although Marie-Sophie may know everything about the underpinnings and secret ways of City, she knows nothing of and cannot access these institutions of power, just as De Gualle can only know those institutions.  

Interestingly, in the mob scene/ stampede before Marie-Sophie meets Arcadius, the way in which she fights through the crowd could be viewed as a kind of parkour as well, from the way in which it’s described:  “…I howled with despair, leaping like a goat, insulting, knocking, beating, jumping, landing on heads…I began to run on four legs underneath…I ran in every direction” (330).  Marie-Sophie goes over, under, and through the crowd, navigating the mass of people in the same way she navigates City with Arcadius.  

While none of this is particularly insightful, nor actually parkour, these scenes in Texaco helped me better appreciate Rubenstein’s connections between movement and the search for (electricity as) social acceptance.  Both describe alternative ways of moving through a constructed landscape and highlight both exclusion and creative, productive ways of  navigating socio-physical spaces.

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