Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Integration and Togolese Abroad - Togo
Chief Negotiator of ACP Group for Post-Cotonou 2020 agreement - Professor of Political Philosophy

Prof. Robert Dussey

Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Integration and Togolese Abroad - Togo
Chief Negotiator of ACP Group for Post-Cotonou 2020 agreement - Professor of Political Philosophy

New novel: The goat

Thus begins The Goat, or precisely, the story of the goat, unfolded linearly and chronologically over 170 pages (if we exclusively adhere to the narration of actions), and divided into four chapters with titles that are explicitly informative:

  • Between life and death
  • Early love
  • HIV
  • Divine encounter

However, from the beginning to the end of the story, there has never been any mention of a goat understood by you and me as the male of the goat, a ruminant animal that I won’t draw you a picture of.

In reality, it is essentially the story of the life of Koné, the only son of Christopher and Christelle.

Is that all?

What interest?

Would one exclaim if a reading note of The Goat only stuck to this observation.

However, it is about a life that is too short (since Koné will be taken within a fortnight by HIV-AIDS); a life of debauchery and sexual wandering; a life marked by setbacks for Christelle, who will lose her husband too soon and in tragic circumstances), until her realization of the meaning of her life through her encounter with the divine through the holy scriptures of the Bible.

Thus, the reader quickly realizes that in the context of this narrative, which essentially revolves around Koné, the other characters, at best, play secondary roles. Koné’s life, during his short existence, corresponds to the image reflected by The Goat in terms of his sexual behaviors: he lacks self-control and is rather subject to his sexual impulses. Calling someone a goat is not a compliment, at least not in the Guin-Mina and Adja-Tado space to which I belong. Unlike the “rooster,” which connotes pride, a way of being of the dominant male. A “Gbogboè Atrikui,” inclined towards incest, is by no means a positive reference like a Don Juan, for example. It’s an insult. Not to mention its very strong odor (a stench) that signals its presence from afar. The goat thus symbolizes total ostracism, the reintegration into the social body being conditioned by its castration, which puts an end to its strong odor (or rather attenuates it), without necessarily disciplining its behavior.

In doing so, the author assimilates his character to an animal, the goat (in the most trivial sense of the perception one could have of this animal). This implies that one of Robert DUSSEY’s intentions, (if not obsessions), would be didactic.

Humans must be able to control their impulses and discipline themselves. The Goat could thus be read as a social critique that challenges not only parents regarding the proper upbringing of their child (there is a certain laxity in Christelle’s upbringing of her only son Koné because, being an orphan, she wants to spare him), but also all the partners in education who, at some point, abdicated their responsibility. In fact, the president of the parents’ association of Koné’s college acknowledged their share of responsibility following the discomfort established in the college when cases of tuberculosis were clinically diagnosed in the institution.

The novel could also be read as an attempt to answer the question of Evil. Thus, as in Camus’ The Plague, disease sometimes appears as the manifestation of Evil of which man is sometimes the author, sometimes the victim. However, man’s fall, his expulsion from Eden following the sin he has committed, would not be irreversible; redemption is possible through piety, a necessary and sufficient condition for salvation. Therefore, biological evil, through the modulation of the theme, takes on a metaphysical amplitude. This recalls the assimilative analogy made by the ancient Greeks between the paronyms “soma” (the body) and “sama” (the prison).

Indeed, according to this conception studied by the Kabbalists in their initiatory journey, the fall of the soul into the body certainly corresponds to a regression on all levels and exposes man to vices: here, lust reigns in the school environment, of which Koné is the main victim.

Innocent or guilty? one might wonder. Nevertheless, let us remember that at his birth, considering the series of misfortunes that followed, “the wise men of the town, attached to symbols and tradition of which they alone held the secret, were already pessimistic about the future of this child, because at his birth there was talk of the unexpected visit of well-identified sorcerer birds who had roamed the surroundings at night” (p.29). We are in the midst of a world conception based on the ability to perceive the supernatural in the natural. Some will speak of indigenous religions or belief.

But Robert DUSSEY, who does not wait to simplify our thinking, will introduce us to another field: that of Christianity. Thus, the last chapter of the novel, “The Divine Encounter,” is structured by the exchanges between Christelle and the Pastor. This chapter presents itself as a confrontation, an ideological conflict that will reach its turning point, its climax, through Christelle’s rebellion against a certain bad faith of God, reminiscent of the verbal altercation between Dr. Rieux and Father Paneloux in The Plague, faced with the agony of a child sick with the plague. The man of God justifying the epidemic as a divine punishment for the sins of men.

For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” Exodus 20:5

However, here, unlike in Camus’ novel, the man of God has succeeded in convincing Christelle, who “is now delivered from her rebellion against God.”

Furthermore, the reader of The Goat, upon reading the last chapter, cannot help but question the author’s religious convictions. Indeed, an easy reading of the novel, victim of the impulses of Christianity that saturate the pastor’s argument, could quickly conclude that it is a profession of faith by the author who recalls his courses in Fundamental Theology and Dogmatic Theology at the seminary. A sort of Notebook of a Return to the Native Land. And yet, we are quickly contradicted since the excerpt from the first chapter read at the beginning of my remarks, which in the order of narrative principles would be considered narrative anachronism, implies that Koné is a predestined character as in classical tragedies and in so-called indigenous religions: the signs (or omens) of nature announcing his birth, the various obstacles that will punctuate the process of his birth (I leave you to discover them), culminating in the tragic death of his aunt, Joliota, his father’s younger sister, and the death of his father by drowning…

o many announcements that the debauched life of Koné will confirm, leading him to his death. This does not always conform to the norms of Christianity. Even though it is true that resorting to Jansenist theories might lead us to suppose that Koné is a Christian who lacked grace, as Sartre said of Phaedra. This is another debate.

In essence, the treatment of the character of Koné, on the ideological level, escapes the reductionist prism of the canons of a specific religion. Some might invoke some religious syncretism. They are free to do so. This does not diminish the literary quality of The Goat, which is rather appealing (even if the goat is repugnant in reality): a linear narrative with zero focalization by an omniscient narrator that facilitates understanding of the sequences in chronological order; a simple style that corresponds to the supposed level of the characters, making the events “realistic,” even though at the level of vocabulary, some scholarly words manage to evade the author’s attention, betraying his academic background; the use of suspense techniques that keep the reader on edge, etc.

Ultimately, for me, The Goat is a literary maturity novel by Robert DUSSEY in fiction. The essayist has nothing more to prove. The Goat echoes Life without Life, his first novel published in 2000 which takes up the theme of his first work, Africa Facing AIDS, published in 1996.

But if the author’s concerns have not changed (how to effectively fight against the evil symbolized by HIV-AIDS?), his vision is not despairing. This is why The Goat ends on a note of hope: reading of page 177.

Could The Goat be an updated rewriting of Life without Life?
Professor of Literature, Literary Crit

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