Patrick Chamoiseau « Here we are immersed in unpredictable developments »
Patrick Chamoiseau, whose work mixes novels and stories, poems, essays, tales and theater, publishes these days « the North wind in the frozen ferns », which succeeds his recent publications with the editions of Seuil (« the Matter Absence », « Migrants Brothers », « Tales of Creole Elders », « The Storyteller, the Night and the Basket » and « Baudelaire Jazz »). He evokes for us this new opus, conducted with the linguistic verve that we know from him, where the burning questions of transmission arise in all directions.
Between « The Storyteller, the Night and the Basket », in 2019, and « The North Wind in the Frozen Ferns », there is a time gap. However, this book seems to be the sequel to the first.
When I was writing “Le Conteur…” (transcription of my course at Sciences-Po), a question arose: what happens when an old storyteller dies? I’m thinking of those I met, in 1980, in the hills of Sainte-Marie. What is left of their science? What did they transmit? Has everything completely disappeared? This question of transmission in Creole orality seemed so urgent to me that I interrupted the writing of the book to begin “Le Vent du nord…”. The oldest passed on their know-how and their know-how to the youngest. What about the relationship now?
The relationship ?
When European colonization encountered and shattered cultures and civilizations, it was a violent encounter. Civilizations, cultures, individuals have been caught in a relational maelstrom. This relational flow has given the All-world, in which everything is to be experienced globally, no longer in a fragmented way. In the relational flows into which we are precipitated, individuals become extremely mobile, cultures mix, hybridize, interbreed with the emergence of languages. It’s a chaos-world, in short. With climate change, the collapse of biodiversity, the rise of the oceans, the mobility of children, no one knows what to transmit! Here we are plunged into unpredictable developments. The digital ecosystem will soon be decisive, especially with artificial intelligence. Our digital selves are going to be almost more important than our biological selves…
“No one knows anymore in which world his grandchildren will live. Relational flows lead us into an accelerated permanent becoming. »
Has transmission become impossible?
A Pygmy passed on his art of surviving in the forest. Today, no one knows in which world his grandchildren will live. We are in a case of impossible transmission. Relational flows lead us into an accelerated permanent becoming.
The master of speech lived in the territories of the maroon niggers (1)…
In the north of Martinique – area of large plantations – the territories located on the hills did not interest the settlers. They were looking for farmland. Generations of maroon niggers and descendants of slaves have taken refuge on these heights. I told that in “Texaco” (Gallimard, Prix Goncourt 1992 – Editor’s note). There was created a microcosm where the tradition, linked to the dance, to the word, was maintained for a long time. When the plantation system collapsed, the rest of the country entered a process of modernization. Only this terroir of Sainte-Marie has survived. I had the chance to meet the last great plantation storytellers. I filmed them. They were witnessing the end of a world and the onset of urbanization.
Are the testimonials that appear in the footnotes invented?
This book contains some things that are true, some that are not. In 1986, I met a defender of the Creole cultural tradition. I was able to meet five or six storytellers that I recorded.
Who are the main characters in the book?
They are the crystallization of several real presences. Bolianno, the deceased Creole storyteller, is the quintessence of those I have come across. The storyteller is the father of literature, better still of orature. In full slavery, this illiterate produced powerful imaginary structures that would form the basis of the spirit of resistance in the Americas. It is at a time of world changeover, when slave ships and exploitation systems inaugurate world capitalism. The storyteller had to adapt. Contemporary artists – especially writers – are also facing a period of re-foundation of the world to be rethought differently, like Creole storytellers. The storyteller did not give orders such as: « Burn the fields! » Burn the masters! If he supported the runaways and the revolt, it was in a secret way. The last of them are peasants, live in their garden, raise chickens. Some are cemetery guards. These lackluster men literally transformed when they spoke.
“The digital ecosystem will soon be decisive, especially with artificial intelligence. Our digital selves are going to be almost more important than our biological selves…”
Aren’t you, in secret, the last storyteller in Martinique, the one who writes books?
This is the whole problem of the relationship between orality and writing, when the ecosystem of Creole orality collapsed and the city swallowed the plantation, wakes disappeared in favor of funeral homes. When my old storyteller disappears, something of the order of transmission must be maintained, even if it were impossible. This something is the aesthetic experience. There are several key characters in the book. Populo embodies tradition (dance and drums), Bébert, science, Man Delcas, an expert in basketry, occupies the space of the sacred, the young woman named L’Anecdote, with her headphones and her mobile phone, personifies the contemporary world. These characters climb the hills in search of the master of speech. They go from hut to hut, feeling emotions, exaltation, brotherhood. The transmission – which they seek in vain in the person of the untraceable storyteller – takes the form of an aesthetic experience. The only transmission still possible in the relationship is of this order; an aesthetic experience, instead of a transmission of practices, life skills and know-how.
This pilgrimage to the heart of the ancient word, coming from the depths of Africa, is as if translated into a language woven with a tasty orality…
When he appears, the Creole storyteller is in a hybrid situation. He listens to the stories of the New Testament on Sundays. On the plantation, he deals with the Creole language – that of slavery, with which the master gives his orders – and with the language of the master, French, at least in Martinique. The storyteller is in a situation of great complexity. When he speaks, he enters a universe of mixed expressions. It uses all forms of Creole, from the most basic to the most decreolized. He also uses an offbeat form of the French language, that is to say faulty. He crushes her, he doesn’t care. To us, writers of the Creole Americas, the storyteller enjoins us to build our language in the languages given to us.