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Abstract

This dissertation examines, through a literary and historical approach, the representation of figures of madness in several colonial texts, and contemporary Antillean fictions and plays from Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Haiti and Martinique. While subscribing to Foucault’s theory articulated in his History of Madness (1961), that madness is primarily a socially-constructed concept, this work considers the specificity and singularity of this process in Antillean literature. I define madness as unreason, that being the unwillingness or inability to act or to think according to cultural norms, and argue that, in the Antillean context, madness cannot only be understood as an individual mental illness but also, and above all, as the effect of a previous historical and social disorder originating from colonialism and slavery. Although my work can be inscribed in a well-established literary tradition, it addresses an understudied area in the French Caribbean literary and critical production. I also provide a new way to look at the phenomenon of madness insofar as I do not take the occidental psychoanalytical discourses on madness as my primary approach and instead opt to explore this notion through a historical and literary lens that attests to the importance of the socio-cultural and political history that has shaped the life of Antillean people. If, as Foucault states in his History of Madness, madness is contained in the West with the phenomenon of the "great confinement" (even madmen who were offered to the public gaze in the eighteenth century are now in cages), we are far from noticing a similar phenomenon in the French Caribbean colonies - at least during that time. Madness is, conversely, free and out in the open, and showcases furious and horrific scenes in the heart of a public "theater" whose strings are held by the colonizers and by the colonized. My historico-literary analysis of manifestations of madness focuses on three specific fields of investigation: “La folie merveilleuse” (Marvelous Madness), “La folie du pouvoir” (Madness and Power) and “La folie rhétorique” (Rhetorical Madness). I alternate between colonial and postcolonial texts in order to inform the birth, the evolution and the transformation of various forms of madness which are subsequently found in contemporary literary fictions. The inherent malleability of these concepts makes the analysis of representations and interpretations of madness even more fundamental. The marvelous, power and rhetoric were in the colonial and post colonial era, three areas where the white hegemonic discourse prevailed; but also, and above all, areas reclaimed by Black people in their desire to acquire a physical and intellectual freedom. The acquisition of these spaces of expression by Blacks will nevertheless not be battle-free, hence the large production of discourses on madness.

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