The definition of a culture is convoluted; an amalgam of historical ambiance, traditions, and internalization of subconscious perceptions. Perhaps this complexity is what has made definition of Caribbean culture very challenging. While being governed by European aesthetic norms in a dominated colonized society, Caribbeans in Martinique often struggled to develop a concept of self; striving to free themselves, yet misguided in their approach. What resulted is a series of literary movements; each pertaining to the definition of Caribbean culture. The authors of these movements developed unique perspectives about racism through the contexts of identity, psychology, linguistics and ideology.
One such author is Mary-Magdeline Carbet, whose Point d’orgue, in 1958, showcased her native beliefs towards her Caribbean culture as well as her role of a woman in society through her poetry. Although her perspective in her poetry is vague; there are numerous undertones in her writing which are reflected in later works by Caribbean authors such as Franz Fanon and Jean Bernabé. Although Carbet does not address all the contexts of Caribbean culture, her ambivalent poetic voice within her poems is one which is indicative and symbolic of dynamic definitions of culture in French Caribbean literature. This study will analyze the contexts of culture referenced in Carbet’s poems using perspectives from later works such as Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and Bernabé’s “In Praise of Creoleness”. While the later works offers a more refined definition of Caribbean culture, there are subtle allusions to similar ideas within Carbet’s poetry.
Identity within “In Praise of Creoleness” is defined as “an interior attitude-better, a vigilance, or even better a sort of mental envelope” (Bernabe et al.886). This definition proceeds with a distinct contrast to an “exteriority”, which represents a “quasity-complete acquisition of another identity”. In this respect, Bernabé delves into the concepts of identity from a cognitive and from an environmental perspective. This is associated with one which is foreign to the Caribbeans, emulating the French. The distinct polarities of the “interior” and the “exterior” is described as “magnetized from opposite directions” to show that the divergence of Caribbean culture from the European traditions is required to attain true identity; which the authors refer to as “Creolism” (Bernabe et al. 887). This interpretation of identity is also reflected in Carbet’s “Would I Deny?”. Within this work, Carbet has a strong sense of identification with her heritage. She expresses this through a set of rhetorical questions at the end of each stanza, affirming the characteristics of her homeland. She describes physical characteristics which are reminiscent about her heritage such as “the whip of the wind”, the “smell”, the “blue velvet of the air” and the “rustling of the palms” (Hurley 58). Descriptions of “exteriority” of the island without expressing her emotional reactions to her homeland display a physical separation of the author from her homeland. The author also further describes French atmospheres such as the “sky of pale loves”. However, she confesses to herself that she has a certain “nostalgia”, which ultimately complicates her love for her island and thus her identity (59-60). This poem presents the contrast of the exterior and the interior which Bernabé described as the determinant of confusion in the Caribbean identity. In “Would I Deny?”, Carbet expresses this idea by representing alienation as a physical separation from her own identity. In the final two stanzas, the poet’s description of her Native land changes to one of underlying concern: “You want our laughter, our songs / Poignant or not, to give rhythm to your life” (59). She rejects the island, as her identity for her own fear of being rejected herself. This is characteristic of Bernabe’s descriptions on the Creole identity, where feelings of alienation...
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