Paradoxes of insularity: Re-navigating the island through the contemporary Mauritian francophone novel

Namrata Poddar, University of Pennsylvania


From Bernadin de Saint-Pierre's pastoral idylls to postcolonial euphorias over pluralist Creole worlds, a long standing literary tradition has posited small islands as socio-political or ecological utopias. Modernist art, postmodern theory and tourism industry have further appropriated the paradigms of flow and fluidity to celebrate transoceanic mobility and insularity as a catalyst to positive transformations of self, art or society. In response to a continual idealization of islands, my doctoral thesis pursues a critical inquiry into the multi-layered experience of insularity as voiced by the contemporary Mauritian novelists. The three chapters focus on the representations of three interstitial maritime sites that I consider fundamental not only to the understanding of island cultures but also to a history of geographic exploration, commerce and colonization: the boat, the metroport (or the port-capital) and the beach. Each chapter begins with a brief history of representation of the boat, the metroport and the beach respectively, in a prevalent cultural imaginary that continues to associate maritime mobility and islands with idyllic escapes and positive transformations. Through a primary corpus of nine extreme contemporary novels, I then examine the ways in which Mauritian fiction destabilizes a celebratory discourse on insularity by foregrounding the spatial experiences of marginalized migrant communities from across the world at different points of history. Caught between mobility and immobility, desire and frustrated desire, I show how the (anti-)heroes of Mauritian fiction experience both sea-travel and the island-prison of Mauritius as a recurrent narrative of claustrophobia, inertia, dystopia and disenchantment. Finally, I conclude each chapter and my thesis by highlighting the ways in which a Mauritian poetics of insularity opens up a uniquely transnational/transcolonial space that connects various marginalized histories, geographies and cultural legacies.

Subject Area

African literature|Sub Saharan Africa Studies

Recommended Citation

Poddar, Namrata, "Paradoxes of insularity: Re-navigating the island through the contemporary Mauritian francophone novel" (2010). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3429174.