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Enduring Negativity

Representations of Albinism in the Novels of Didier Destremau, Patrick Grainville and Williams Sassine


Charlotte Baker

This study focuses on fictional representations of albinism in the work of the French writers Didier Destremau and Patrick Grainville, and the Francophone Guinean writer Williams Sassine. The focus on selected novels allows for an in-depth study of each narrative and sheds new critical light on these under-studied writers, permitting a comparative discussion of the novels in relation to other writing about albinism. A series of common themes can be found in these novels, which, although present in different combinations and intensities, echo the preoccupations of all fictional writing about albinism. They include a recognition of the problematic relationship between inner and outer reality (in both bodily terms and in relation to notions of inclusion and exclusion), the challenging of accepted categories and designations, and the consequent problematisation of the relationship between Self and Other. Bound up with these issues, of course, are questions of identity and power.


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Chapter 4 - Inhabiting the Margins -113


Chapter 4 Inhabiting the Margins Liminal space, in-between the designations of identity, becomes the proc- ess of symbolic interaction, the connective tissue that constructs the dif ference between upper and lower, black and white […] the temporal movement and passage that it allows prevents identities at either end of it from settling into primordial polarities. The interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains dif ference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy. — Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 4 Characters with albinism in the novels of Destremau, Grainville and Sas- sine are defined by their otherness, set apart from society and placed firmly at the margins. In this sense the novels can be seen as representative of all fictional writing about albinism since, irrespective of the background of the writer, the cultural context of the work or its subject matter, writers of fiction insistently locate the figure of the albino at the margins, as a mysterious, excluded figure. However, Chevrier signals the possibilities of the margins in his study of Sassine’s fictional work, suggesting that the margin is an interstitial space, ‘entre l’ici et l’ailleurs, espace que l’on peut aussi qualifier, sans que la formule soit nécessairement péjorative, de “non- lieu”’.1 Indeed, where Destremau, Grainville, and Sassine in particular, do succeed is in resisting the tendency to portray the marginality of people with albinism as purely negative. Preferring to portray the margins as a space removed from the constraints of society,...

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