Daniel Maximin (*1947) is a Guadeloupian writer and poet who experiments with the construction of Caribbean histories in order to make them less appropriable. His style has been described as ‘post-modern’ in his refusal of a grand narrative and in his playful incorporation of other voices. As writer who explicitly seeks to negotiate between different Caribbean theoretical positions, Maximin’s novels as well as his essays are dotted with references to other, mostly francophone Caribbean authors, and sometimes even include characters reading or citing their works. Sometimes, even natural phenomena such as storms take over the narration of events. Maximin is further known for his extensive use of satire and wordplay (especially anagrams), which makes his work very difficult to translate.
Maximin’s work is driven by a search for methods of resistance to on-going colonisation, including methods to ‘decolonise the coloniser’. His key provocation rallies against what he terms the impoverished European world view – the tireless (re)production of a hegemonic and closely guarded geopolitical and geophysical ‘normality’. The limitation that Maximin satirises is the apparent European blindness to the interconnection and interdependence of the social, cultural and material – while strategically using a skewed awareness of it against its colonial subjects. For instance, European fantasies of control cannot compute natural extremes, but mobilise them as a constantly looming threat – in order for Europe and the US to impose their policies in exchange for protection. In a satire in his novel Soufrières, he stages a dialogue between a Guadeloupian official and a French scientist in which the scientist gets to hear about the ‘benefits’ of the imminent volcano outbreak.
‘Certainly not, the officer replied quickly, it would be better for everyone if she [the volcano] gave birth to something more… substantial. (…) Thanks to our abilities – and those of the volcano – we have the most beautiful opportunity to show off our capacity to control this situation and thus to ensure our legitimacy, as long as the noise of the eruption resonates in their [the Guadeloupians’] ears. The instructions from Paris are very clear in this respect: the eruption must only cause a single death – that of ‘the idea of independence’! (Maximin, 1987: 176)
This double hostage dilemma (hostage to natural or social disasters) is the main reason why Maximin enlists geophysical forces in his critique of geopolitics and in an attempted ‘decolonisation’ of Europe.
For Maximin, the Caribbean ‘is considered a natural paradise, a dream geography amidst a second class humanity’ (Maximin, 2006: 15). Understanding the toxicity of this imagination, Daniel Maximin attempts an inversion, by foregrounding not the idyllic Caribbean nature, but its natural disasters such as hurricanes, tidal waves, earthquakes and volcano outbreaks. In contrast to the paradise, which enables continued oppression (here Maxmin is inspired especially by Suzanne Césaire’s ‘camouflage’), the destructive cataclysms function as a means for liberation from Euro-American geopolitics and related interventions. With their cyclical, spontaneous and violent appearance, these cataclysms disrupt European-modelled colonial life and transform human-world relations, including space-time relations.
Maximin’s central image in this endeavour is humanity as the ‘fruit’ of geophysical forces. With this image, Maximin abandons more familiar metaphors of (Caribbean) belonging such as roots (Aimé Césaire), rhizomes (Édouard Glissant) or mangroves (Maryse Condé). In the outlining of his Caribbean geopoetic, Maximin stresses that earth forces cannot in themselves serve as a model for human socio-cultural practices. Nature, or geography, he argues, are not about human liberation, but can help us liberate ourselves from oppression – by enabling us to re‑situate ourselves. As a fruit of planetary materiality, one is of and with one’s local place of origin as well as with the ‘elements’ that constitute universal experience on this planet – though not in a uniform way (hence the emphasis on a Caribbean geopoetic).
Maximin’s geopoetics further raise awareness of the everyday presence of (socio- economic) disasters. In fact, he cautions the reader that big disasters can liberate us from noticing everyday disasters and absolve us from taking action. By contrast, Maximin’s ‘geopoetics’ stress everyone’s ability (and responsibility) to shift the imaginary horizon of human-world relationships for the benefit of others – human and nonhuman like – and to attempt this through a myriad of cultural practices.
Maximin, D. (2006) Les fruits du cyclone: Une géopoétique de la Caraïbe. Paris: Editions Seuil.
Maximin, D. (1995) L’île et une nuit. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.
Maximin, D. (1987) Soufrières. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.
Maximin, D. (1981) L’Isolé Soleil. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.
Britton, C. (2008) The Sense of Community in French Caribbean Fiction. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.
Bongie, C. (1994) The (un)exploded volcano : creolization and intertextuality in the novels of Daniel Maximin. Callaloo : a journal of African-American and African arts and letters Callaloo 17(2) 627-642.
Deckard, S. (2014) ‘The Political Ecology of Storms in Caribbean Literature’ In: Michael Niblett (eds). Caribbean Aesthetics, Politics, Ecology. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dubois, L (2006) Maroons in the Archives: The Uses of the Past in the French Caribbean. In F. X. Blouin Jr. and W. G. Rosenberg (eds) ‘Archives, documentation, and institutions of social memory : essays from the Sawyer Seminar’. Ann Arbor: Michigan University Press.
How does Maximin’s satire differ from more familiar critiques of the ‘European Worldview’ or ‘classical geopolitics’?
How does Maximin enlist geophysical forces in his call to arms – and what are the benefits and drawbacks?
How does Maximin’s critique relate to current theorisations of the ‘Anthropocene’ – a proposed geologic epoch in which humanity is re-envisioned as geophysical force?
How does Maximin try to prevent his histories and tools for decolonisation from being appropriated in counter-productive ways?
Submitted by Angela Last