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Writing one’s plurality on Le meilleur système by Anne-Sarah Huet

by Mihena Alsharif

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“In the train it was no longer a question of being aware of my body in the third person but in a triple person. In the train I was given not one but two, three places [...]. I am overdetermined from without. I am the slave not of the "idea" that others have of me but of my own appearance [...]. And already I am being dissected under white eyes, the only real eyes. I am fixed."1

Through this existentialist analogy, Frantz Fanon illustrates the dislocation of his subjectivity as a colonised person, hemmed in by the perception of the Other, the white man, the coloniser.

Anne-Sarah Huet takes this analogy quite literally; the characters in her novel– Acad, Seventiz, Little and others– are both singular and multiple. They seek a form of coexistence between opposing and self-dependent subjectivities; in short, the best system. The question weaves itself through the text’s trials and errors: how do we situate ourselves in the mixed processes of racialisation when our social context is identified in shifting and ambiguous ways?

“Because it is subjugated, plurality has become strategic”2 writes the author; making explicit the intimate adaptations in the face of what she later describes as “The subjectivity of a descendent of the colonised in a mouth perceived as white.” This incongruity of racial passing is the true quest at the heart of the book. The others, that set the pace of the narrative and that the characters strive to follow– deciphering the angel numbers and solving the murder of young Ibrahim– are only pretence to exploring this intimate, genealogical and identity entanglement.

While this categorisation of passing is an analytical crutch that provides a framework for introspection, it is not without limits. The origin of the term dates back to the Jim Crow era between 1877 and 1964, in the American South, which saw a series of segregationist laws aiming to undermine the rights acquired during the Civil War. It refers to the act by some African-Americans of presenting themselves as white in order to circumvent racial discrimination. As pointed out by Solène Brun, passing “consists [...] in escaping minority racialisation and ultimately disappearing as black.”3 The sociologist describes passing as a “transgression of the social order”4 and, as such, as having a voluntary dimension.

Le meilleur système clashes with this initial view of the term; the person benefiting from it is described as an agent unwillingly infiltrated in whiteness. Anne-Sarah Huet writes about the characters who make up the narrator: “For most of the time spent outside of our family, we were white and non-diasporic. [...] Every statement by others identifying us as such reinforced this circumstantial identification, and by doing so excluded us from our minority groups. [...] Aggression (Islamophobic, racist) designated its subject as “them”. We found ourselves dissonant, anxious, having to make a difficult decision.”5 Passing works until the infiltrated agent is forced to abandon their privileged social cover and reveal their minority identity. In contrast to its original apprehension, in Le meilleur système, it is political in its unveiling rather than its enactment.

Passing, like every analytical category, leads to other frameworks yet to be constructed. This research can be found here in a hybrid literary form. The text reflects this split subjectivity: it oscillates between  the novel and the poem, at times even becoming falsely scientific incantations, economic theories and an unabashedly intimate narrative. It becomes fan fiction of theoretical works as Frantz Fanon is almost a character of the book, along with Sarah Ahmed, Frédéric Lordon and Audre Lorde. They circulate within the narrative as literary ersatz and their thoughts are in dialogue with the poetic wanderings of the system. Le meilleur système is a perfect testament to the elasticity of literary forms in service of the complexity of a quest for embodiment.

Anne-Sarah Huet

Le meilleur système

Afterword by Meryam Benbachir

Published in January 2024

ESAAA Éditions

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