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Countermodernism and Francophone Literary Culture; the Game of Slipknot
Keith L. Walker. Countermodernism and Francophone Literary Culture; the Game of Slipknot. Durham: Duke UP, 1999. x + 300 pp.
This is an accomplished and thoroughly innovative study of six authors from the French-speaking world. While traditional approaches to the study of francophone literature are often restricted by boundaries of race and geography, Walker departs from this narrowly circumscribed field and works with writers from places as widely separated as Martinique, Haiti, French Guinea, Senegal, and Morocco. Through close reading, Walker attempts to establish the historical links between Aimé Césaire's powerful writing and the work of Léon Gotran Damas, Mariama Bâ, Tahar ben Jelloun, Ken Bugul and Gérard Etienne. Walker makes an important and fascinating contribution to both francophone literary culture and postcolonial studies in general by exploring how these six writers have been influenced by the legacy of the Négritude movement. The book is organized like a musical score in which Walker stays close to the texts he analyses while arguing throughout that "francophone literary culture, being neither modernist nor antimodernist, refuses and slips the knot of binary oppositions, thereby asserting itself as countermodernist." Walker's close readings both highlight and complicate the unique ways these texts "slip the knot" of modernism's binary oppositions.
The main focus of section 1 is to show how countermodernist francophone literary culture dwells on the consequences of colonialism and the postcolonial condition. Section 2 presents the writings of Mariama Bâ; Tahar ben Jelloum, and Ken Bugul as narratives of counterstorytelling in which the concrete experience of colonized subjects is spoken as anaesthetics against colonial discourse. In section 3 Walker concentrates on Gérard Etienne, who has elaborated an allegorical mode of reading as a way of dismantling the materiality of the past. Etienne's reading praxis denounces violence and raises consciousness among Haitian people. While attentive to differences in historical perspective, Walker develops a central thesis about all the writers he analyses: each of these writers has produced "counterdiscourse" and each denounces modernist humanist discourse as a way to claim "a new subjectivity formed through the negotiation of an alternative modernity." [End Page 540]
Most intriguing about this study are the condensed retrospective analyses it offers of a Francophone denunciatory tradition that confronts, contests, and counters the dehumanizing excesses and legacies of colonial domination. One recalls the famous Discourse on Colonialism and Notebook of a Return to the Native Land where Césaire vehemently shows the dehumanization of French colonialism. In his poetry, Léon Gontran Damas refuses to embody French politics of assimilation. Ken Bugul's text The Abandoned Baobab questions the pitfalls of postcolonialism while Mariama Bâ's So Long a Letter criticizes man's excesses and laments women's systematic participation in polygamy. Tahar ben Jelloun's The Sand Child gives voice to racism and the poor working conditions that Moroccan men endure as guest workers in France. Gérard Etienne's site of opposition is Haiti, the "First Black Republic," where Négritude was first celebrated. Walker's study is a valuable contribution to the field of Francophone literature that clarifies our understanding of the illusions of modernity often discussed in the francophone literary tradition. This fascinating and stimulating book will be profitably read by scholars in the field of francophone studies as well as nonspecialists.
University of Michigan