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  • La formule Bardey: voyages africains
  • Ambroise Kom
La formule Bardey: voyages africains By Alain Ricard Bordeaux: Editions Confluences, 2005. 288 pp.

Despite a subtitle that offers clues to the book's content, the expression "Formule Bardey" remains rather enigmatic for lack of use. Across their diversity, all 23 texts in this collection are in some way studies of various voyages across the continent made by the author throughout his career as an Africanist. The work was inspired, he says, by Alfred Bardey's tagline, "commercial explorer and traveler at the end of the nineteenth century." Bardey "was a fearless young man, a clairvoyant, broadminded. [. . .] Alfred, in the twilight of his years, left us the formula that he applied to his journeys. [. . .] Countries, people, situations, etc. are too diverse for a one-size-fits-all formula, but I can give the one I used, perhaps because of my temperament, and which can be inscribed in the new manner: COS—Confidence, Optimism, Solidarity" (19).

Although Alain Ricard thus privileges the tone and style of his tales, the importance of the field he is covering deserves emphasis. His ballads in the shape of dizzying tales of travel lead us from Ibadan to Lake Victoria, from Lomé to Timbuktu, from Lubumbashi to Dar es Salaam, and from Africa to Europe, etc. Yet we are not dealing with a banal travel guide but rather with examples of cultural anthropology. The author who, one suspects, has a high opinion of himself, delivers to us highly developed images of his various interlocutors. Whether these are scenes of daily life (funeral wakes in Lomé, police reports, scenes of modern life in circumstances of conjuncture, etc.) or whether negotiating—or rather buying—his border crossings ("the graveyard of Pan-African ambitions," 38) in a highly corrupt environment, Ricard always effectively holds his lived experiences at an objective distance.

The work likewise offers us an impressionistic portrait gallery of artists and intellectuals who are living or working on the continent: Wole Soyinka, Ebrahim [End Page 218] Hussein, Nurudin Farah, Kangni Alem, Clémentine Nzuji, Léo Kuper, Robert Escarpit, Agbota Zinsou, János Riesz, etc. Of all these tableaux, Soyinka'shadow imposes itself with a particular insistence. The author explains: "I had the chance to know Africa in part through the vision given by Wole Soyinka and I have never had cause to complain about this first teacher. He removes barriers between practice and theory, and forces us to rethink a notion such as that of engagement [. . .]. He is not a writer in exile, he is not in prison, but neither is he in power, or in the underground [. . .]. An anti-imperialist, he is also anti-Marxist, and his satire of the 'leftocracy' offers no enticements over his satire of 'kleptocracy.' He belongs to an antitotalitarian left that the French—and francophone—intellectuals have trouble situating on their mental map of the intellectual universe" (232–33). Such a portrait indicates that La formule Bardey is above all the work of an informed literary critic. Moreover, although Ricard suggests that in France comparative literature is a discipline headed for disappearance, many of the texts he offers for our reading prove that he is a nostalgic if not a fervent representative of that discipline. The same may thus be said for his texts on Amos Tutuola and Soyinka, or his study on what he calls the "Eyadema generation."

La formule Bardey is inscribed in what today is called cultural studies, given the nature and diversity of the field he has embraced as well as the point of view he has adopted. In this respect, selections such as "Thinking about Rwanda" or "France, Mother of the Arts . . ." deserve attention. Here, the objective distance that was previously noted is no longer in place. About Rwanda as well as about francophony, Ricard speaks as an intellectual as well as a French citizen: "Black Africans are in short the sharpshooters of francophony: summoned to furnish troops, but not given a voice" (192); "Thus in Rwanda, France was manipulated by an extremely adept clan that was assured of their impunity. [. . .] An investigative commission is more than ever needed [. . .]" (241–42).

In sum, La formule Bardey...


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