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Empire's Intimacies: The Quotidien in [Post]colonial Contact Zones Renée Larrier En attendant, je regarde et je vois, partout où il y a, face à face, colonisateurs et colonisés, la force, la brutalité, la cruauté, le sadisme, le heurt . .. — Aimé Césaire1 AS AIME CESAIRE ATTESTS in Discours sur le colonialisme, close physical contact between colonizer and colonized is characterized by violence. For that reason, pairing the concepts of empire and intimacy appears contradictory, oxymoronic even. Empire implies conquest, intimidation rather than intimacy, and often domination from a distance, while intimacy conjures up physical and emotional closeness. Nevertheless, in certain instances empire and intimacy did coexist. Owen White examines the widespread practice of consensual unions between European men and local African women and the offspring they produced in his recent Children of the French Empire: Miscegenation and Colonial Society in French West Africa 1895-1960? However, the uneven power dynamic of these kinds of intimate interracial relationships is illustrated by the fact that most of the children were abandoned by their father when he returned to France. Many were placed in orphanages against their mother's wishes, as was Andrée Blouin, who articulates the dire psychological consequences of the experience in My Country, Africa: Autobiography of the Black Pasionaria? Yet fictional narratives that depict colonial administrators, military men, and settlers in contact with local women ignore the power differential and its inevitable exploitation, usually presenting instead the women as seductive concubines and congais, which was very often not the case.41 would like to expand the narrow vision of intimacy as sex in the French Empire and explore other levels of physical and emotional closeness that characterized everyday life. Spatial proximity in the quotidien of the colonial period as represented in post-independence fiction and film reveals an unexpected but no less fascinating discourse of intimacy, especially among men and among women. Mary Louise Pratt's notion of the contact zone and Michel de Certeau's theory of appropriating space will inform my analysis. At its largest the French Empire included overseas colonies, protectorates, and territories many times the size of the métropole with an indigenous population in the millions. In contrast, the settler population in L'Afrique Occi96 Spring 2004 Larrier dentale Française, L'Afrique Équatoriale Française, Les Antilles, and L'Union Indochinoise was minuscule by comparison. This disparity in numbers was offset by the institutions of colonialism that granted political and economic authority and control over the land to the minority. Frantz Fanon reminds us in Les Damnés de la terre that colonial space was highly segregated: "Le monde colonisé est un monde coupé en deux."5 Marguerite Duras hints at this situation in L'Amant, in which not only do the French socialize at an exclusive club, but the seats on the ferry across the Mekong River linking Vinhlong and Sadec are segregated. These kinds of strict spatial divisions become a major point of reference in Ousmane Sembène's novel Les Bouts de bois de Dieu. The town of Thiès in Senegal is separated into the cité of "taudis, des soupentes branlantes, des tombeaux renversés," where the Africans go hungry during the strike, and the "Vatican" with the villas and ornate gardens of the employees of the French administration.6 Exemplifying wealth, privilege, leisure, exclusivity, and isolation, the "Vatican" reflects the power differential in Muslim-majority Senegal. In addition, water is such an abundant commodity in the European section that lawns are watered regularly and children play with hoses, while in nearby Dakar the women gather around the communal fountain with large containers waiting for the water, a powerful tool of domination and control, to be turned on. While Fanon's formulation of colonial society is based on binaries, Pratt provides a more nuanced interpretation. "Contact zones" are locations where colons et colonisés share space: the space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality , and intractable conflict... in an attempt to invoke the spatial and temporal copresence of subjects previously separated by geography and historical disjunctures, and whose trajectories...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 96-107
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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