The Greening of Marie NDiaye

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Author: Warren Motte
Editor: Jennifer Stock
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 8,315 words

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[(essay date 2012) In the following essay, Motte explores the intentional “opacity” and “ghostly quality” of NDiaye’s writing and why those features make her work difficult to categorize.]

The extraordinary promise evinced in Marie NDiaye’s first writings, such as Quant au riche avenir (1985) and Comédie classique (1987), which were published while she was still in her teens, has by now been abundantly confirmed. NDiaye’s talent is well beyond dispute, and the literary prizes she has been awarded—most notably a Femina for Rosie Carpe (2001) and a Goncourt for Trois femmes puissantes (2009)—suggest that her work appeals not merely to a small cadre of sophisticates, but to a broader, more general readership as well. There is something about her writing that masterfully resists recuperation and institutionalization, however, and that quality of her work has not escaped her critics. Perhaps it is bound up in the way NDiaye puts the very notion of marginality into play in her work, turning it this way and that, examining it from a variety of perspectives.1 Conceivably it stems, in part at least, from the way she couches the fantastic in the fabric of the quotidian, in a dynamic of mutual interrogation.2 Maybe it results from her desire to rethink literary convention, to question and to innovate.3 The three major, obsessional themes that Moudileno has identified in NDiaye’s writing, “la faute, l’anxiété, et la médiocrité” (“L’excellent français” 28), undoubtedly heighten the strangeness of her texts and thus bolster their resistance to easy normalization. And Jordan has argued that ineffability, undecidability, and a ghostly quality characterize NDiaye’s work, rendering it opaque and resistant to interpretation.4

It is that very opacity and that very resistance which interest me most closely in NDiaye’s writings, for I am convinced that those phenomena are conscious constructions. They are elaborated with a great deal of deliberation by a writer who wishes to claim an independence that is utterly particular in its terms. Among NDiaye’s texts to date, it is Autoportrait en vert (2005) which puts those traits on offer most insistently. Published twenty years after NDiaye’s first book, with a dozen well-received works preceding it, her Autoportrait stands apart from her other texts. Readers have been quick to register the hybridity of the text,5 granted that it mixes prose narration and photographic illustrations. I shall concentrate on the former rather than the latter. For one thing, those illustrations have been analyzed in detail by Jordan; for another, according to NDiaye herself, the question of illustration did not interest her in the slightest, and indeed the photographs were arranged in the text not by her, but rather by her editor (Asibong et Jordan 195-97).

Elliptical, sibylline, dense, and arduous, NDiaye’s Autoportrait offers a rich field of maneuver for an inquisitive reader, and a textuality that challenges conventional strategies of interpretation, through effects of misdirection. The first and most obvious of those effects is contained in the title, for there is very little material in the text that can be identified...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100125377