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Entre apocalypse et rédemption : l'écriture de Gloria Naylor


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199 Pages

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Les articles réunis dans cet ouvrage partent de l'hypothèse selon laquelle les romans de Gloria Naylor oscillent entre les pôles antithétiques de l'apocalypse et de la rédemption. Leurs auteurs ont exploré l'inscription de la violence et les stratégies de survie dans l'écriture de Gloria Naylor. Le rapport des textes à un héritage littéraire et culturel éclectique brouille davantage la frontière entre le pur et l'impur, entre le corps et l'esprit, entre répression et expression, entre damnation et salut.



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Published 01 February 2010
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EAN13 9782296696037
Language English

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Entre apocalypse et rédemption :
l’écriture de Gloria Naylor

Writing In Between Apocalypse and Redemption:
Gloria Naylor’s Fiction

Textes réunis par

Emmanuelle ANDRÈS, Claudine RAYNAUD, Suzette TANIS-PLANT

Entre apocalypse et rédemption :
l’écriture de Gloria Naylor

Writing In Between Apocalypse and Redemption:
Gloria Naylor’s Fiction

Sélection des Actes du
Colloque International de Tours, 10 juin 2005

JE 2450 : « Etudes Afro-Américaines »



EmmanuelleANDRÈS,Universitésde La Rochelle etde Tours,
ClaudineRAYNAUD,CNRS, Université de Tours,
SuzetteTANIS-PLANT,INRA, Université de Tours

The author of six novels as well as the editor of an
anthology ofAfricanAmerican literature,GloriaNaylor (b.1950)
represents the generation of black women writers whose vocation
was made possible by the success of their literary foremothers.In
numerous interviews,Naylor explicitly states that reading Toni
Morrison’sThe BluestEyewas an epiphany.It showed her that
writing was a feasible endeavor for a black woman:

TheBluestEyeis the beginning. The presence of the work served two
vital purposes at that moment in my life.It said to a young poet,
struggling to break into prose, that the barriers were flexible; at the core
of it all is language, and if you are skilled enough with that, you can
create your own genre.It said a young black woman, struggling to find
a mirror of her work in society, not only is your story worth telling but it
can be told in words so painstakingly eloquent that it becomes a song.
(Montgomery, 2004, 11)

It “authorized” her to take the pen and make it her living.
Naylor is the recipient of numerous national awards,
including theAmericanBookAward for the bestFirstNovel. Yet
hers is also a popular success.TheWomen of BrewsterPlace
(1982) was a bestseller that was made into a television film
directed byDonnaDeitch (1989) and starringOprah Winfrey and
Cecily Tison. The play based onBailey’sCafe(1992) was staged
by theHartford StageCompany in the spring of 1993.


Although scholars have made her the object of intense
critical attention since she started publishing, the quality and the
scope ofNaylor’s work require renewed scrutiny in and of itself.
Their interest has primarily focused on the major women writers of
theNewBlackRenaissance such asMorrison,Alice Walker, Toni
CadeBambara, andPauleMarshall, whileNaylor was often viewed
in comparison or in contrast to them.Naylor was in very good
company indeed, yet certain facets of a writer’s oeuvre only
emerge when it is placed squarely at the center of one’s reflection.
In 2004, the publication ofConversations withGloria Naylorat the
University ofMississippiPress consecratedNaylor’s literary career
with a collection of her interviews.At that juncture, the purpose of
the 2005 Tours conference, from which most of the following
articles have emerged, was to map out the fictional space of this
majorAfricanAmerican woman writer and to assess the tensions
that run through her work fromTheWomen ofBrewsterPlaceto
1996.Founded upon the premise thatNaylor’s fiction hovers
between the antithetical poles of apocalypse and redemption,
scholars investigated inscriptions of violence in her writing.
The thrust of the research focused on a central question:
how doesNaylor write in between doom and salvation? Several
scholars first set out to circumscribe the imaginary spaces within
Naylor’s writings as well as reveal the numerous ways they reflect
the concepts of apocalypse and redemption, thereby setting the
scene for violence between the protagonists.BecauseNaylor’s
writing is often set in a dense spiritual context, other scholars
focused on the connotations of “apocalypse” and “redemption” to
place an emphasis on the sacred in its relation to the imaginary.
The concept of holiness, however, cannot be encompassed in
“mere” religiosity, and the sense of mystery and alienation
endowed by sacredness is all too present inNaylor’s secular, at
times profane, writing.
This sense of otherness may partly explain why the
insistence on the body takes on a different slant inNaylor’s writing.
Questions arose concerning the violence suffered by the gendered

The Tours conference onJune 10, 2005 was initially scheduled as part ofGloriaNaylor’s
residence at the UniversityFrançois-Rabelais for the spring of 2005.It was sponsored by
the research unit inAfricanAmerican Studies (JE2450).


body, in particular, and they also bore on textual poetics, on the
violence of the writing itself.More specifically, some scholars
asked: how does violence enterNaylor’s writing?If the territories
ofNaylor’s imagination are interwoven with powerful intertexts,
what is, then, the place of that other heritage—these other sites—in
the creation of the antithetical tension?
These initial interrogations led to unexpected findings when
readingNaylor’s latest book,1996, or placing one of her novels in
relation to a film by a contemporary black female filmmaker.
Perhaps one of the sites resides in the “materiality” of the text, in
the very construction of the narrative voices.In between1996and
MamaDay, tension is created between the chaos of voices battling
in one’s mind as a result of electronic surveillance and the saving
voice that can be claimed as one’s own. The path each scholar took
to exploreNaylor’s oeuvre in light of all these interrogations is as
In her article “GloriaNaylor’sBailey’sCafe:A Panic
Reading ofBailey’sNarrative,”AngelaDiPace gives dimension to
the two particular spaces created by the author in that book, by
putting an emphasis on the void that abutsBailey’s cafe andEve’s
garden that blooms profusely in all seasons.DiPace, in a way
similar to, but not quite likeFlorentineRosca, speaks of these
places as signifiers of recuperative space.DiPace explains that the
cafe becomes a place for some to take “a breather for a while, the
edge of the world—frightening as it is—could be the end of the
world [...]” (BC, 28).As for the garden, it has been the best garden
around since paradise was lost.However, asDiPace argues, what is
finally recuperated at these two imaginary places are the narratives
ofBailey, Sadie,Eve,Ester,Peaches,JesseBell, and Stanley.
Indeed, out of that recuperative space arises a re-semblance of
history, whereinNaylor explodes to smithereens any black/white
delusional desire not to view racism in the latter part of the
twentieth-century as a catastrophe comparable to the atomic
bombings and theJewishHolocaust/Diaspora.
Rosca begins her reading ofMamaDayandBailey’sCafe
by pointing out that careful consideration of space(s)—whether
geographical, communal or supernatural—and the people
inhabiting them are hallmarks ofNaylor’s fiction.As compared to



The Women ofBrewsterPlaceandLindenHills,Rosca finds that,
in the novels under study, insistence is laid on open spaces, be they
either the enchanted island inMama Dayor the cafe at the edge of
the world inBailey’sCafe. These are new and different spatial
configurations well worth investigating to better understand the
overall topography ofNaylor’s novels.Rosca explores the creation
of these phantasmagorical worlds, as well as their position and
strategic function in the narrative act.No matter how much
information the narrator gives the reader to locate these places, they
remain ambiguous. The stories are set on islands of
(in)determinacy.Both are, in the final analysis, imaginary islands
where the boundary between myth and reality is an indistinct and
evasive one. They are signifying spaces that validate the
experiences of the protagonists.
GermainN’Guessan bases his reading ofMamaDayon the
fact that one of the most recurrent themes in contemporaryAfrican
American women’s novels is a legitimate will to (re)connect with
the ancestral land.He juxtaposes elements found inAfrican culture
and those used byNaylor inMama Dayto explore howNaylor’s
narrative stages the reconstruction of an authenticAfrican culture
and thereby reflects this desire.He argues that althoughNaylor’s
fictive universe is far from the day-to-day lives ofAfricans, she
nevertheless tries to recreate what amounts to a coherent cultural
space.From the cult of the ancestors to naming, to sacrifices, to the
supernatural powers of the heroine, a place forAfrican culture is
established.Nonetheless, he concludes that theAfrica the novel
establishes is strikingly similar to the oneAfricanAmericans learn
about in history books and from the oral tradition of their
community.Naylor’s “Africa” is thus a product of collective
memory and imagination with an indirect link to the reality of the
black continent.
If the line cannot be easily drawn between “reality” and
imaginary spaces inNaylor’s fiction, other confusion pervades her
tales of trauma and survival fromTheWomen ofBrewsterPlaceto
1996: the body, in illness and sex, becomes the very locus of
paradox and ambiguity—the textual site where everything can be



In her paper,ClaudiaDrieling explores the
health-versusillness paradigm inNaylor’s second novel,LindenHills, where
Western standards of bodily health do not apply, as is epitomized in
the rendering of the identities and experiences of two (dramatically
different) characters.However, whileNormanAnderson and
Maxwell Smyth both go through profound bodily changes
affecting, respectively, their sense of “color” and “purity”, the issue
Drieling addresses goes well beyond race, caste and gender.In her
in-depth analysis of what she calls a “cultural narrative of systemic
illness,” she questions the very notion of health in a world which
has somehow veered away from the traditionalAfricanAmerican
notion of community as well as the humanist ideal of acceptance
and tolerance, asNaylor’s symptomatic characters exemplify.
Taking up the ever paradoxical notion of “purity,”
EmmanuelleAndrès focuses her attention onTheWomen of
BrewsterPlaceandBailey’sCafe, as well as ToniMorrison’s
Paradise.Purity and impurity are posited as the two poles of a
larger notion of the sacred, notwithstanding the fact that in these
two novels the line between “pure” agents and “impure” victims is
not easily drawn.It isAndrès’ conviction that the sacred—“that
which one cannot approach without dying” (Caillois, 25)—is at the
very heart of the novels. Various scapegoats or sacrificed pariahs
are the necessary agents of purification, as well as the conveyors of
transcendence in an otherwise apocalyptic world.Andrès furthers
her analysis by developing howNaylor’s writing is, in and of itself,
“sacred territory.” The ultimate sacrifice is the craft of the book,
engaging the reader on a cathartic journey.InMorrison’s case,
Andrès argues, the text inspires awes—it is amysteriumtremendum
which is part and parcel of the (holy) process of telling and
Ambiguity certainly pervades most instances of
heterosexual union inNaylor’s fiction, asPatriciaKurjatto points
out in her analysis ofNaylor’s five main novels,TheWomen of
BrewsterPlace,TheMen ofBrewsterPlace,Bailey’sCafe,Linden
HillsandMama Day. Though the war of the sexes is not always
clearly waged, even seemingly peaceful unions are not devoid of
violence or strife affecting women and men, but also their offspring
and, to a large extent, the home they live in: the feminine,



matriarchal element of the home is forever threatened inNaylor’s
fiction.AsKurjatto conveys, there is no place for viable
relationships—whether homo or heterosexual—in her novels;
imaginary space is no ideal place for reconciliation and/or “a strong
line of love” (Rich, 1976, 246).
As a result, bodily responses, always already in the making,
inscribe themselves intoNaylor’s texts as the testimonies of a
deeper malaise left unsaid—ever so unsettling, perhaps all too
present.Her fiction, however, is undeniably and unexpectedly
vocal. “Voices”—the voices of other texts as critics explore the
rich intertextuality ofNaylor’s fiction, the voice inscribed in the
materiality of the text (inMamaDay,Reema’s son actually tapes
the voices of the islanders), and the voices inscribed in a writer’s
mind by mind monitoring (in1996)—are the subject of the third
and last section.Each time, the issue of power relations and
silencing is paramount, and the final essays frame their responses
within the context of black women’s creativity vis-à-vis the
supremacy of male knowledge and technology.Most specifically,
Naylor’s last novel to date offers an investigation into apocalypse
and redemption as a single battle of this world to save the voice
that is rewriting oppression from a black female perspective.
Aspecialist of Shakespeare and aMorrison
scholar,AnniePauleMielle dePrinsac analyses the ways in whichNaylor’sMama
Dayinscribes direct references to Shakespeare’sKingLearand
overt echoes ofTheTempest.She also assessesOthello’s influence
on the text. She finds this fragmented intertext puzzling, in part
because ofNaylor’s overt feminist agenda, but also, she finally
ventures, in light of the writer’s former religious career as a
Jehovah witness.At firstKingLearis an element inGeorge and
Cocoa’s sexual parade as well as a badge of integration into white
culture and society. The character ofGeorge recalls the bastard
Edmund, but is in fact closer toKingLear.Like him, he is
eventually led to the wildness of nature, and, like him, he is
defeated. Willow Springs can be seen as a remake ofProspero’s
Island whereProspero’s part is played by an old woman,Miranda,
aliasMamaDay. YetGeorge, unlikeFerdinand, does not stand the
test ofMamaDay’s requirements; the magic of the island does not
work on him. The interpenetration ofKingLearandTheTempest



renders him responsible for his own demise.InMamaDay,
woman’s redemption ultimately happens at man’s expense.
Suzette Tanis-Plant’s article explores howGloriaNaylor
and theAfricanAmerican filmmakerJulieDash contribute to a
debate over new language tools to “dismantle the master’s house”
(Lorde, 98).Proceeding by intertextual resonance, Tanis-Plant uses
Dash’s filmIllusions(1983) as a means to come to a better
understanding of what new toolsNaylor is proposing. The voice, in
films and novels, is a construction in the hands of men, a crucial
mechanism in building knowledge and preempting the power that
goes with it.At the position of enunciation,Dash andNaylor are
shown to be retooling the voice.
In fact, Tanis-Plant argues thatDash andNaylor posit what
amounts to a new paradigm of how the voice can function.As such,
the voice is a “saving grace” in the otherwise apocalyptic worlds of
Mama DayandIllusions.Both women artists propose a model that
accounts for listening as well as speaking, and that bridges the gap
between the diegetic world and the phenomenal one, i.e., the
differences between the speaking women of color in the story and
us, the readers/viewers. The model opens a space for the
challenging discourses of women of color and a space for listening
to them: if you listen carefully you will realize that “the voice you
hear is your own” (MD, 10). This formalistic innovation goes
handin-hand with the dismantling of the master’s house that the texts
call for.In effect,Naylor andDash propose nothing less than a
transfigured vision ofAmerican democracy.
1996(2005),Naylor’s novel/memoir that is part fiction, part
fact, is based on the harassmentNaylor declares she suffered from
when she retired to her house on StHelena’sIsland to work on a
new novel. This surveillance is depicted as the result of a
neighbor’s brawl that escalates into mind monitoring. The book
manages to denounce this curtailment of individual rights while
Naylor, by using herself as the main character, confuses the reader
and the critic.Did all this happen to her or did she suffer a nervous
breakdown, or both?Moreover, so deftly played out is the
confusion that readers are left with an uncertainty that they may
turn back on themselves.



ClaudineRaynaud’s article shows that the generic choice of
the blend between fiction and nonfiction necessarily and
purposefully leaves that issue unsettled.Partly autofictional,1996
also presents fictional fragments that make the novel read as a spy
story or aJamesBond adventure.Intertextual elements with
references toOrwell’s1984andNaylor’s other works further
contribute to the fictionalization of the memoir.However, the
harassment, which is depicted so convincingly—backed as it is by
actual documents—leads the reader to suspend any disbelief.
Raynaud also explores the link between paranoia, autobiography
and race at the core of the book.Paranoia, she argues, is both the
substance and the form of the text. The main character (self-named
“GloriaNaylor”) and the other protagonists (her neighbor and the
fictional government agents), all suffer from paranoid disorders.
The structure and the writing endlessly mirror the condition
induced by harassment: the technology itself reproduces the
splitting of the self and provokes the delusion that characterizes this
pathology. The appended texts, a lawsuit and an online article,
restore the “real” of other cases, work as modern day
“authenticating documents,” and testify to the widespread practice
of surveillance and mind monitoring. The conclusion takes up
Naylor’s own statement that writing that book was a means to
escape from insanity.In the case of1996, the “novel/memoir” is
both crusade and catharsis.
InNaylor’s imaginary worlds, violence permeates the
spaces and the places, interpersonal relationships, the body and the
mind. Writing, then, occurs at the edge, as the result of a fight
against fear, panic, paranoia, and the narrative works as a
reassuring force to counter these visions of the end of the world.
The voices you hear might not be your own, but the very act of
writing them and shaping them creates a phantasmagoric world in
between apocalypse and redemption. The act of writing is thereby a
“sacred” territory.It is an act of salvation.




CAILLOIS,Roger. 1950.L’Homme etlesacré.Paris:Gallimard.
MONTGOMERY,MaxineLavon, ed. 2004.Conversations with
Gloria Naylor.Jackson: UniversityPress ofMississippi.
LORDE,Audre. 1981. “TheMaster’s Tools WillNeverDismantle
WritingsbyRadicalWomen ofColor, eds.CherríeMORAGA
andGloriaANZALDUA. Watertown,MA:PersephonePress,
MORRISON, Toni. 2003.Love.New York:Knopf.
RICH,Adrienne. 1976.OfWomanBorn: MotherhoodasExperience
andInstitution.New York:Norton.