Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Oana Panaïté's "The Colonial Fortune in Contemporary Fiction in French"

Oana Panaïté is Associate Professor of French at Indiana University-Bloomington and the author of Des littératures-mondes en français: Écritures singulières, poétiques transfrontalières dans la prose contemporaine / On World-Literatures: Singular Writing and Transfrontier Poetics in Contemporary Literature in French (2012).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, The Colonial Fortune in Contemporary Fiction in French, and reported the following:
From page 99:
I would argue that a similar belated and unexamined colonial sensibility resurfaces in the novels of Laurent Gaudé, winner of the Goncourt prize in 2004 for the Mediterranean-inspired family saga Le Soleil des Scorta, which vacillate between melancholy and “presentism” (Hartog 2003) as their narratives attempt to establish a delicate balance between the empathic re-enactment of the past, in its material and affective manifestations, and the critical scrutiny of its social and political underpinnings. On his blog, Gaudé details his sources of inspiration: the journey “to faraway lands” or “remote past eras,” the shout (“le cri”) “or those who passed on without being able to voice it,” Antiquity and the Mediterranean. Combining empathy and sympathy, these categories relate to the concept of Einfühlung, or “feeling into,” described as an embodied (emotional and physical) response to an image, a space, an object or a built environment (Keen 209).

The writer’s mention of the shout (“le cri”) is strikingly reminiscent of the central idea of the Négritude movement, yet this reference remains unacknowledged by Gaudé. What might appear to be an ambiguous, if not unethical, use of an important intellectual contribution by African and Antillean French-language writers could by the same token be construed, in the light of the paradigmatic shift away from what Simon Gikandi calls “theories of difference” (Gikandi 2001, 5) to what Stuart Hall calls “the politics of articulation” (Hall 1986), as a new manner of integrating Senghor, Césaire and Damas’s thinking into the mainstream cultural vocabulary without indexing their difference and intellectual contribution. To test this hypothesis, we can turn our attention to three of Gaudé’s novels: Cris (Shouts), Eldorado and La Mort du roi Tsongor (The Death of King Tsongor). Each of them relies on the fictionalization of Africa, in an explicit or allusive manner, whether as a central theme or a secondary narrative feature, such as a character or a backdrop.
This excerpt from page 99 reflects the book’s main thesis that contemporary writing in French (fiction, autobiography or essay) by metropolitan and non-metropolitan authors who are not necessarily involved or engaged with the legacy of French colonialism is nevertheless characterized by the subtle yet persistent presence of colonial history. This latent memory is captured in idea of the “colonial fortune” which brings together issues of imperial nostalgia, neo-orientalism, fate, economics, legacy, and debt and allows us to gain a greater understanding of the current French artistic and political landscape.
Learn more about The Colonial Fortune in Contemporary Fiction in French at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue