This essay examines the second installment of Martinican author Patrick Chamoiseau’s trilogy Une enfance créole, using Chemin-d’école to consider how writers from the Caribbean may deploy magic in their texts in alternative ways to the magical realist mode, which critics have argued often reinforces a false dichotomy between a rational “West” and its irrational “others.” Specifically, Chamoiseau’s memoir both portrays creole magical beliefs as a vehicle through which its school-aged protagonists resist the ideology of neocolonial pedagogies, and it consistently refers to aspects of French civilization through the lens of the magical or marvelous. Ultimately, this essay argues, Chemin-d’école looks beyond magical motifs as mere emblems of tradition or authenticity. Using them instead to portray the neocolonial “civilizing mission” as its own form of magical thinking, the narration destabilizes the very ideas of the essential difference of Caribbean cultures and of the purported rationality of the West.
Magical Thinking in Chamoiseau’s Chemin-d’école: From Quimbois to the Mission civilisatrice
Lucy Swanson is an assistant professor of French and Caribbean studies at the University of Arizona. Her current book project, “Zombie Islands,” examines how contemporary Haitian authors deploy representations of the living dead figure—what she calls zombie avatars—to interrogate varied sociopolitical contexts beyond colonization and enslavement. She has published essays in the Cincinnati Romance Review, the International Journal of Francophone Studies, and Contemporary French and Francophone Studies.
Lucy Swanson; Magical Thinking in Chamoiseau’s Chemin-d’école: From Quimbois to the Mission civilisatrice. Small Axe 1 November 2020; 24 (3 (63)): 16–30. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-8749746
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