"All Eyes on Me: The Tyranny of the Gaze in French Caribbean Communities."
Symposium Organized by Dr. Jacqueline Couti
All Eyes on Me: The Tyranny of the Gaze in French Caribbean Communities
While the African diaspora generally describes the dispersal(s) of African-descended peoples throughout the world from modernity to the present, it demands the sighting of various contexts, causes, results, and memories. This symposium’s focus on the African diaspora as articulated in French transatlantic contexts provides a platform that underscores diversity and the human condition in a national and transnational manner. The cultural, linguistic, ethnic/racial, and generational dynamics of the French Atlantic provide a fruitful intellectual context for exploring the roles of sight and gaze as problematic acts of agency. They too often dictate identity, place, and space and entail the oppressive use of power.
The “All Eyes on Me” mini-symposium approaches theories associated with sight, gaze and stare as quasi-inescapable instruments of self-imposed oppression often having detrimental impact on in Caribbean communities. I have invited a novelist from Guadeloupe and two French Caribbeanist scholars to facilitate discussions on the impact of gender, sex, race, colorism and colonialism, among other things, on the Caribbean gaze.
Associate Professor of Francophone Studies
University of Iowa
Anny Dominique Curtius is Associate Professor of Francophone Studies in the Department of French and Italian at the University of Iowa. She is also the Director of the Working Group “Circulating Cultures” at the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, and the Co-Director of the Caribbean, Diaspora, and Atlantic Studies Program.
Her research lies at the crossroads of Francophone Studies (Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Indian Ocean), postcolonial ecology, comparative Caribbean critical theory and cultural studies, Sub-Saharan African cinema, cultural anthropology, and performing arts.
She is the author of Symbioses d’une mémoire: Manifestations religieuses et littératures de la Caraïbe (2006) and several articles on the intricacies of affect, memory, migrations, transcoloniality, and practices of creolization. Her second book in progress is entitled Unveiling the Camouflage: Suzanne Césaire's Caribbean Ecopoetics.
Title: "Savage Martinican Muse and Marvelous Landscape"?: Suzanne Césaire’s Ecopoetic Dislocation of a Surrealist Gaze
Abstract: Suzanne Césaire (1915-1966) was an outspoken Martinican female intellectual who co-founded Tropiques (1941-1945), a major Martinican literary and cultural journal. Although she published regularly in the journal, articulated its political and theoretical orientation, and played a key role in shaping French Caribbean literary history, she is mostly known as the wife of world-renown poet and politician Aimé Césaire, and was exoticized, imagined and silenced by her peers.
For example, French surrealist writer and ethnographer Michel Leiris wrote that “one was pleased to look at her as you would contemplate a landscape that would be intelligent” (1946), and André Breton founder of Surrealism described her as being “as beautiful as the flame of rum” (1943).
My paper is twofold. First, I interrogate the silence surrounding her important presence on the Caribbean literary scene, and excavate her various visual exotic representations in poems by Leiris and Breton as well as in pictures, on the flyleaves of Tropiques, and in documentary films. Second, I contend that in her thought-provoking essays, Suzanne Césaire has shaped the epistemological underpinnings of an oppositional gaze in reaction to three contested modes of contact, namely Leiris’ phenomenology of contact with the Other, Breton’s Caribbean exotic surrealism, and a colonial exoticizing literary mentality or doudou literature.
I argue that as a counter discourse to the semiotics of the figure of the doudou, and what she called “hammock literature”, Suzanne Césaire’s cannibalistic ecopoetics is a practice of talking back that dislocates gazes and camouflages in order to reshape an aesthetic consciousness, a tidalectics of rememory, and a reappropriation of the Caribbean land.
Dominique G. Lancastre
British Airways, In-flight Services Department
Public Relations at the IALG
Biography: Dominique Gontran Lancastre was born in Guadeloupe. After his French Baccalaureate, he left his island to study at Paris XII University in France. He was awarded a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts. He letter obtained a French postgraduate Certificate (DEA) in American Studies. His graduate work focused on aspects of inequalities in schools and the education system in the United States particularly during the 1960s. He is currently employed by British Airways in the In-flight Services Department. He also manages Public Relations at the IALG (Institut Aéronautique et Linguistique de la Guadeloupe), a Linguistic and Aviation Training Institute based in Guadeloupe, one of the overseas regions of France.
While working for British Airways and flying all around the world that he has gained a new appreciation for his own Creole culture and has decided to write about it and to promote it. “ He wants to stress the transatlantic aspect of the French Antilles and their connections to the American continent. He published La Véranda (2010) for which he won the Bal de Paris Award for Overseas Books in 2011. Une Femme chambardée (A Woman in Turmoil, 2012) is his second novel. Due to the success of Dominique Lancastre’s novels, the publishing house Fortuna has decided to welcome the promising writer amongst its authors to better promote his creativity and vision. Now all of his work has been republished by Éditions Fortuna.
Title: “The French Antillean Gaze: A Novelist Perspective”
Abstract: Guadeloupean author Dominique Lancastre will consider issues associated with sight, gaze and stare as quasi-inescapable instruments of self-imposed oppression often having detrimental impact on in Caribbean communities. He will explore the impact of gender, sex, race, colorism and colonialism, among other things, on the Caribbean gaze. He will also examine the heritage of slavery and the plantation system and their influence in the ways French Caribbeans look at one another and consider themselves.
Dr. Gladys M. Francis
Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies
Affiliate Faculty, Center for Latin American and Latino Studies
Affiliate Faculty, Department of African American Studies
Institution: Georgia State University, Atlanta Georgia USA
Biography: Dr. Gladys M. Francis received her Ph.D. from Purdue University in Francophone, French, Theory and Cultural Studies. She is an Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies at Georgia State University. Her research involves Diaspora, Post/Colonial, Transnational, Visual and Performing Arts, Women and Gender Studies (in the regions of the French Caribbean, the Maghreb, and Sub-Saharan Africa). She has developed important international collaborations as well as major projects involving technology for education on a global scale. She is the recipient of various national and international grants, awards and fellowships (e.g. two Endowed Chairs in the Humanities, two Outstanding Teaching Awards). As the Director of the South Atlantic Center of the Institute of the Americas, she facilitates academic and artistic collaborations throughout the southeastern region of the United States. Dr. Francis has given invited lectures in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and North America; and is the author of several articles and book chapters. Her volume on sexuality and trauma in the French Caribbean is forthcoming, while her current book on the aesthetic of the transgressive in Francophone Caribbean Women’s Literature is nearing completion.
Title: “Shooting” the Black Body in Pain: Gazing at Slavery through the Lens of Comedy
Abstract: The French Government maintains a dearth of public narrative apropos its colonial and slavery era. Although slavery was conclusively abolished in 1848, these particular dispositions of the State have stifled efforts of recognition, commemoration, recollection and reparations that would foster healing settings for victims of the transatlantic slave trade. Indeed, it was not until 2001 that “the Taubira Law” was adopted, recognizing the slave trade as a crime against humanity.
Reckoning a handful of films on slavery, French cinema sustains comparable scant narrative on France’s colonial and slavery era, just as it gives trifling visibility to Black actors.
Flouting this cinematographic trend, in the summer of 2011, two French actors (of Cameroon origin) Fabrice Eboué and Thomas N’Gijol co-starred in and brought to the big screen Case départ, a full-length movie with a diegesis set in 1780 French colonial Martinique. An obvious box-office success, with over 1.7 million tickets sold and 15 million euros in profit; critics have prudently discussed the dismay Case départ fetched with its cumbersome association of the comedy genre to slavery (seen as a humorous and insolent treatment of slavery). However, the drawback might not reside in the grotesque fiction but rather in the buffoonish points that take the place of the actual relations of exploitation that anchored the neo/colonial regimes the film depicts.
Looking into the ideological effects of the cinematic apparatus upon spectator-text relations, I scrutinize Case départ’s politics in terms of production and consumption of a mass culture thoroughly entrenched in patriarchal, capitalist, material, and ideological imperatives. I ask if indeed Case départ challenges our sense of identity or suggests comprehensive critical interpretations on emancipation as claimed by its directors. I expose how the film fits into mainstream cinema and cultural artifacts that serve hegemonic purposes; how it commodifies (the gaze upon) the Black body in pain; how it follows mainstream’s consensus on gender (i.e. the silencing of women reified into a socially sanctioned object of erotic gazing); and finally how it presents non-heteronormative sexuality as a fate far worse than enslavement.