The Convict and the Colonel

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9780807046517: The Convict and the Colonel

The life of Medard Aribot of Martinique óartist, convict, madman, legend óspans much of the twentieth century. Born in 1901 when slavery was a living memory, Medard was allegedly sent to a French penal colony for carving a bust of a colonial official that rioters hoisted overhead during a 1925 massacre. Today, the peculiar house he built for himself late in life is a major tourist attraction in Martinique.

With an exciting combination of scholarship and storytelling, award-winning anthropologist Richard Price takes us on a search for the real Medard. Using the Diamant massacre and the life of Aribot as emblems of Martinique's transition from a colonial society to a modern society, the author shows how the fishing village he encountered on his first trip to Martinique in 1962 has been transformed by a heavily assisted welfare-based consumer economy. And Medard, whose life was once a subversive symbol of anticolonial sentiment, has been silenced by contemporary myths . . . or has he?

Part historical mystery, part biography, part cultural studies, The Convict and the Colonel is a fascinating story of a society in transition and the role of the prophetic figure in historical memory.
"Price quotes a phrase from colleague Sidney Mintz about the kind of anthropology that is 'at the fault line between the large and the little.' In this intellectually daring book, he gets as close to the fault line as possible."

--Publishers Weekly

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About the Author:

Richard Price is professor of anthropology at William and Mary College and author of several books, including the award-winning Alabi's World. He has lived intermittently in Martinique for more than twenty years.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A subtle, personal, and possibly overburdened interpretation of colonialism's recent impact on Martinique. To convey the pricecultural assimilationpaid 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 Hoodstyle 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. (2 color and 100 b&w illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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