It will be a summer of William Faulkner!
We will be using the same site to host this virtual and interactive book club. This summer it’s Faulkner. It’s good to sweat while reading Faulkner and so I hope that all of you will consider reading with us.
It is a basic format. We’ll be reading a few texts over the season and you can jump in whenever you want on any or all of the books/stories. We hope to start a conversation fostered by posts and comments. There will also be supplemental criticism and related texts for those interested in that.
Emphasis on low-pressure and low-commitment. I know that some of you (my mother) have long-standing book clubs that already meet regularly. How long has it been now mom? I have early memories of getting kicked out of the house with dad when “the ladies who read” came over.
But TPKteam only requires you open your computer and maybe an account at your local library. Below is the reading list (the first is a short story) and I hope you will all check it out. We’ll be starting in June!
you can find some of my thoughts on the reading list here.
Summer approaches! Now where did i leave my pipe and typewriter…
Filed under: Books | Tags: bayou, french, landscape, mangrove, maryse conde, translation, water
I’ve just finished reading Traversée de la Mangrove by the brilliant Guadeloupean author Maryse Condé. (It has been translated into English) If you know me well, it will not surprise you that I am newly fascinated by this environment, the mangrove, and its watery/landy/salty goodness and its role in literature.
Have you thought about mangroves? was the question posed to me two weeks ago by Professor Valérie Loichot of Emory.
Oh my. No, I hadn’t. I thought, while feeling that sensation of omigosh I just locked myself out of the house. I’m not even completely sure what a mangrove is..
Ensuite, Professor Loichot suggested I read Condé’s book. I have and now I am thinking… what an interesting link between Louisiana and Caribbean [environment] literature!
A mangrove can be a lot like a bayou. One thing they have in common is a slippery terminology (forgive me, i was allowed no water puns in my thesis). A mangrove is a plant (image a.) a specific species with a high salt tolerance. It is also a space or land/water mass (image b.) sometimes called a “mangrove swamp.” Like the term bayou, depending on the context and employer of the word, it can refer mostly to verdure or mostly to water bodies.
image a. image b.
All that being said, they must have some critical differences or one could assume that they would be called the same thing, especially because according to Florida travel sites and Wikipedia, they exist simultaneously in special salty tropical environments such as the Gulf of Mexico.
Doubling back on the point I was just about to make, this photo highlights for me a simple thematic similarity to be found between the copious amounts of bayou literature I’ve read and the one piece of, why not, “mangrove literature,” I know.
Think of this pelican as a winged messenger of a thematic omen: “Dangerous Bend.” Watch out! Mangroves, like bayous, are dangerous.
Much evidence for the life-risking to be done in the bayou can be found for your viewing pleasure in mine and James’ current favorite reality TV show, Swamp People. Season 3 starts tonight! Check The History Channel’s website for details. (Can’t wait!)
But for depictions of the dangerousness of the mangrove, I turn back to Traversée de la Mangrove, to the moment in which the novel’s title appears in the text. Interestingly, in the novel the words “Traversée de la Mangrove” are a title of a different work, one yet to be written by the dead protagonist, Francis Sancher. We learn about the deceased Francis (unlike Addie Bundren he does not speak from the coffin) through the words and memories of other members of the town, Rivière au Sel (River of Salt).
Here is the brief scene, and I will do my best to translate it, though surely Condé’s eloquence will be lost. Francis is the first speaker and the second, Vilma.
- Tu vois, j’écris. Ne me demande pas à quoi ça sert. D’ailleurs, je ne finirai jamais ce livre puisque, avant d’en avoir tracé la première ligne et de savoir ce que je vais y mettre de sang, de rires, de larmes, de peur, d’espoir, enfin de tout ce qui fait qu’un livre et un livre et non pas une dissertation de raseur, la tête à demi fêlée, j’en ai trouvé le titre: « Traversée de la Mangrove ».
J’ai haussé les épaules.
- On ne traverse pas la mangrove. On s’empale sur les racines des palétuviers. On s’enterre et on étouffe dans la boue saumâtre.
- C’est ça, c’est justement ça (192).
- You see, I write. Do not ask me what the point of it is. Besides, I will never finish this book since, before ever writing the first line or knowing that I would put into it blood, laughter, tears, fears, hopes, well everything that makes a book a book and not a boring dissertation, out of my half-cracked head came the title: “Crossing the Mangrove.”
I shrugged my shoulders.
- You don’t cross a mangrove. You are impaled by the roots of the mangrove trees. You are buried and suffocated by the bitter, salty mud.
- That’s it. That’s exactly it.
Here the mangrove is a violent environment. It actively kills those who dare traverse it. It has many means of killing you, foolish explorer you, be it impalement, strangulation or suffocation, not to mention drowning. Francis views his life as similar to the futile effort of crossing a mangrove.
He believes that he, like his father and his father and his father before him, will die at the age of fifty. During the brief period that he lives in Rivière au Sel, a location he has traced to be the source of this familial curse, Francis speaks only of his impending death. He describes himself as “a zombie,” the walking-dead. Though he seems to ignore the laughable paradox of his impregnating two of the townswomen. But Francis waits, and he does die after all.
This post is only the beginning of a simple conclusion. The treacherous bayou (and mangrove) as representative or symbolic of the dangerous nature of life is something I consistently encounter in the Bayou Literature of the late-nineteenth century. It is an extension of the seventeenth century tropes of nature as “wild” and “untamable,” a life-threatening entity that needed to be controlled.
But perhaps the bayou and the mangrove do something a little different. While they are wild (alligators, sink holes, and floods!) in literature they always point back to freedom and refuge. This is specific to the 18th and 19th century context, and it is no coincidence that many of the characters in Mangrove refer to marooned slaves and swamp refugees.
Francis mentions is great-great-great grandfather who,
Le lendemain de ses deuxièmes noces, s’était noyé dans les marais de Louisiane où il avait pris refuge en fuyant la Guadeloupe…(223)
The day after his second marriage, was drowned in the swamps of Louisiana where he had taken refuge after fleeing Guadeloupe…
When Xaintippe became a « nèg mawon », or “marooned nigger,” the trunks of the trees protected him (241). References to the « nèg mawon » are found throughout the text.
This bipolar nature (danger/refuge) of the bayou and mangrove is consistent with what I see to be the nature of all water spaces. They will quench your thirst, but just as quickly wash you away.
Filed under: Books | Tags: eviction, invisibility, invisible man, looting, new york, protest, ralph ellison
“it’s so…… slimy, it feels oozy, if you know what i mean, in this way that it just slides into me and slithers around and makes me feel real funny.”
Those are the words of a friend describing her experience reading Invisible Man (1952). I would concur, it is an experiential this read. I am usually (too) emotionally affected by things I read, see post “on alternating,” but this novel by Ralph Ellison is particularly disturbing. My mood and physicality were altered throughout the 500+ pages of the unnamed narrator’s recount. He is now up there with my favorite male protagonists, just behind Ignatius J. Reilly of A Confederacy of Dunces.
I read the last few chapters on my recent transatlantic flight from Philly to Paris and immediately passed out upon the book’s completion. My subsequent dream centered around eviction, a major reoccurring theme/event in the text, and I believe the word “dispossessed” was even spoken by some dream-character. To quickly summarize, dream-me was some sort of street-folk visual artist and the tenant next door (an unrecognized Harvard TF) was missing, no where to be found.
Finishing Invisible Man was something like a race, so fast-paced and intense that my eyes could barely keep up with the words on the page. In a way the ending is abrupt, though the ultimate conflict was expected; I was anxious for the narrator to see the problems with the Brotherhood. The final riot scene is surreal and its almost humorous looting harks painfully back (or forward I guess) to the looting after Hurricane Katrina.
I think everyone at some point has the desire to “fall in a manhole,” to escape the above ground world and rest awhile. It’s a fantastic image–true fantasy. A cartoon really. Plop! And he’s out of the picture! And Wiley Coyote runs ignorantly overhead. Because this book is so upsetting, disturbing, “oozy,” I think everyone should read it. To finish, here is an image inspired by the book’s amazing prologue: Jeff Wall’s ”After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue”