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by Richard Price

Pub Date: Feb. 23rd, 1998
ISBN: 0-8070-4650-7
Publisher: Beacon

A subtle, personal, and possibly overburdened interpretation of colonialism's recent impact on Martinique. To convey the price--cultural assimilation--paid by residents of Martinique for modernization, Price (Anthropology/William & Mary Coll.) adopts an indirect approach. By examining a particular event and person in terms of their reality and the subsequent memories of them, he tracks a reconstruction of social consciousness. The "war" at Diamant in 1925 pitted native and reformist interests against the economic and political elite in a clash over efforts to rig an election that ended in violence. Medard Aribot, born in 1901, went from a marginal life as an artist and Robin Hood-style thief to lengthy imprisonment in a French penal colony as a result of the Diamant incident and then back to his original life until his death. While Price found, when he arrived in Martinique in the 1960s, that both Diamant and Medard constituted "powerful historical metaphors," by the 1990s memories were dim and distorted. Aggressive modernization during the intervening years had changed perceptions of the past as well as living conditions. Price's explanation is that political and economic integration into modern Europe required "postcarding" history to fit a European view of colonialism consistent with "a broadly participatory rather than contestational political practice in the present." This conclusion is potentially powerful, and even Price's lengthy acounts of his anthropological exploits are interesting. Unfortunately, throughout the volume we always seem to be circling the subject rather than grasping it, adding layers of meaning through hint and metaphor. The result is more intriguing than persuasive, and it's not clear that personal observations can support a conclusion of this weight. In the end, reading this book is like viewing a work of abstract modern art: You're not quite sure what it all means, but you have no doubt that something profound is in there somewhere.