Three Is the Loneliest Number: Marie Vieux Chauvet, Marie NDiaye, and the Traumatized Triptych

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Author: Andrew Asibong
Editor: Jennifer Stock
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,719 words

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[(essay date 2015) In the following essay, Asibong compares several aspects of Chauvet’s and NDiaye’s work, including their treatment of themes related to gender, race, and politics and their use of surrealist elements in their fiction.]

The purpose of this article is to facilitate a simultaneously literary and psychoanalytic encounter between Marie NDiaye (b. 1967)—in my view the most genuinely unsettling French writer of her generation—and Marie Vieux Chauvet (1916-1973), whose aesthetic, philosophical, and psychosocial concerns pre-empt and anticipate those of NDiaye in a number of important ways. Born in Port-au-Prince some fifty years before NDiaye’s birth in Pithiviers in central France, Chauvet would die in New York a few days after NDiaye’s sixth birthday. But there are a number of compelling reasons why we might want to think about the two writers in tandem. Not only do both authors complicate notions of ethnic and racialized belonging,1 they also emblematize the transgressive woman writer as moral conscience of her pathological nation. Just as Chauvet would denounce François Duvalier’s Haiti of the 1960s—and would immediately afterwards pay the price of a hurried exile to the United States—so NDiaye (admittedly under less life-and-death circumstances) would find that her critique of Nicolas Sarkozy’s France of the 2000s brought down alarming intensities of (white) French rage upon her head.2 Chauvet’s nightmarish textual landscapes, profoundly marked by schizoid phenomena, the ghost of Kafka, and a preoccupation with the psychopathology of “mixed-race” identity in Haiti, uncannily resemble the strange and sometimes fantastical French narratives that NDiaye would set about writing in her late teens.3 Hemmed in on all sides by forces that appear truly demonic, Chauvet’s and NDiaye’s protagonists find themselves coming apart at the seams, unraveling into forms and states that are no longer recognizable as human, or even fully alive. Under the pressure of continual assaults from societies bent on over-classifying and invading their bodies and minds, before attempting to wipe them out altogether, these characters splinter down fault-lines that stretch out along the wounds of unspeakable stigmata.

I want to focus my discussion on a very specific form of splitting common to Chauvet’s and NDiaye’s disintegrating creatures and the textual structures that (fail to) contain them. This is the fragmentation of the whole into three dissociated parts. If triads, trios, and tripartite entities proliferate throughout the crumbling worlds of these two writers, nowhere does the disorientating trope of one-into-three mark itself more clearly than in those instances of experimental triptychs which are themselves fissured into three split-off and only vaguely associated fragments. Taking three cases of ostentatiously triadic texts—Chauvet’s Love, Anger, Madness (1968)4 and NDiaye’s Three Strong Women (2009) and Ladivine (2013)5—I shall try to show how each book offers the reader a particular vision of a single entity being violently hewn in three. The three narrative pathways offered by each text perform a tripartite dissociation of self. What is especially worthy of note, however, is the way in which these three novels stage, in their different...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100125382