NDiaye’s Intelligent Subjects

Citation metadata

Author: Andrew Asibong
Editor: Jennifer Stock
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,975 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

[(essay date 2013) In the following essay, Asibong analyzes how the portrayals of different forms of intelligence have evolved in NDiaye’s novels and plays.]

The protagonists of Marie NDiaye’s theater and prose fiction find it extremely difficult to locate and use meaningful intelligence about the world they inhabit and that inhabits them. But what exactly is “meaningful” intelligence? How does one distinguish it from more seductive, counterfeit or “meaningless” forms? And why, when it does occasionally offer itself up for experience, is it usually pushed away with a barely concealed repugnance? In this article, I want to explore some of the key forms of intelligence, pseudo-intelligence, and idiocy that NDiaye’s texts have represented over the years, from the first novel Quant au riche avenir,1 published in 1985 when NDiaye was 17, to the 2011 play Les Grandes Personnes.2 Arguing that the cerebral brilliance of many of NDiaye’s earlier protagonists functioned as a symptom of their emotional malfunction, I go on to analyse the workings of what I perceive to be an emerging blueprint in the texts for new forms of intelligence, forms that surpass NDiaye’s hitherto established models of information-retention or spectacular—even fantastical—displays of intellectual prowess. This new paradigm of intelligence begins to emerge as a palpable potentiality in some of the relational situations depicted in texts from the middle of the 2000s onwards, such as Les Paradis de Prunelle and Mon cœur à l’étroit,4 and contrasts with earlier protagonists’ demonstrations of logic, talent, and cultural mastery in its embrace of a more fully human capacity for the acceptance of painful truths, care for the damaged self, and the growth of what we might call “aliveness.” The meaningful intelligence whose slow development I am attempting to outline here is, I tentatively suggest, applicable not only to the metamorphosing subjective and relational situations depicted in the texts themselves, but also to NDiaye as a metamorphosing artist, and to myself, as I metamorphose in my own thinking and feeling around NDiaye as writer and woman.

Idiocy, Pseudo-Intelligence and the Intellectual “False Self”

NDiaye’s writing has always contained descriptions of almost intoxicatingly idiotic people. These descriptions of a kind of ineffable stupidity have sometimes been amusing, but they have with equal frequency been disturbing, eroticized, and sad. Eugène, Fanny’s cousin and idiotic object of desire in En famille,5 is a classic example of NDiayean buffoonery. Self-centred, vain, and deeply impractical, he is characterized, above all, by his pompous refusal to see: “Vraiment, je ne vois pas, ne cessait de dire Eugène en gonflant les joues” (30). There is something obscenely ‘switched off’ about Eugène and his inability to respond to Fanny’s ostracism in an empathic manner, an inability that is duplicated, of course, by every member of her family, but which is perhaps especially upsetting where he is concerned, given his brief period of putative alliance with her, his direct observation of just how differently from him she is treated.6 Like the later...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100125379