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  • L’écriture décentrée: La langue de l’Autre dans le roman contemporain
  • Patricia Geesey (bio)
L’écriture décentrée: La langue de l’Autre dans le roman contemporain, ed. Michel Laronde. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1996. 211 pp. ISBN 2-7384-4779-1 paper.

This collection of essays on francophone literatures of immigration brings together a talented group of scholars from the United States and Europe. The organizing principle of this volume is the notion of “de-centering writing,” or “writing from off-center.” According to Michel Laronde’s introduction, the difference between the notion of “de-centered writing” within the French context and that of anglophone postcolonial writings is that this collection of essays addresses an important literary trend present within the Hexagon. Originating in such integral concepts as creolization, métissage, and hybridity, the critical positions taken by the contributors to this collection examine examples of contemporary literary production in France that maintain a linguistic and ideological décalage (gap, space), or separation from mainstream, or dominant, French language and culture.

The fictional works that are the focus of the essays in this volume are most often classified under the heading “immigration literatures.” This category includes novels by Beur (Parisian back-slang for second-generation North Africa, or Arab) authors, Calixthe Beyala, Romain Gary (aka Emile Ajar), and Didier Van Cauwelaert’s 1994 Prix Goncourt-winning novel Un aller simple. As Laronde notes in his introduction, in the past, Beur writing has had difficulty gaining its rightful place in French-francophone contemporary literature. The critical and literary establishment has considered this literature to be either a by-product of Maghrebian French-language writing or an example of “minor literature” from within France. Laronde points out that the goal of this collection of essays is also to break Beur fiction out of this “ghetto” status and situate it within the context of contemporary French literature. However, this is not to lose sight of the fact that Beur fiction and other examples of de-centered writing analyzed in this volume challenge and subvert the very canonical standards against which they themselves are measured.

According to the articles presented in this volume, de-centered writing most often accomplishes its task of unsettling, and perhaps even directly challenging the reader, by appropriating and deconstructing the Other’s language. The most common occurrence of this strategy is the way in which stereotypes and “discours sur l’Etranger” ‘discourse on the foreigner’ are subverted, pillaged, and “poached” (from Michel de Certeau’s notion of “braconnage”) in narratives that qualify as “de-centered.” The authors studied in this collection (as well as their fictional protagonists) occupy, for the most part, an “outsider” status in dominant French culture. Their [End Page 219] exogamous perspective, in turn, results in a fascinating linguistic wordplay in which “les faux-pas” (Gaulino) and “les défauts de langue” (Durmelat) contribute to deconstructing and reappropriating stereotypes and clichés about the ethnic Other which are hallmarks of “de-centered writing.”

The first six essays of the collection examine several important works of Beur fiction including Ahmed Zitouni’s Aimez-vous Brahim? (1986), Farida Belghoul’s masterpiece Georgette! (1986), Akli Tadjer’s entertaining Les A.N.I. du “Tassili” (1984), and Azouz Begag’s classic Le gone du Chaâba (1986). These essays on Beur writing greatly contribute to shifting the study of Beur literature away from previous sociological analyses toward an in-depth study of the linguistic and narrative techniques the novelists employ in order to focus the reader’s attention on the language of racial and ethnic stereotypes. In Martine Delvaux’s piece on Zitouni’s Aimez-vous Brahim?, her analysis of Zitouni’s use of an ethnic slur by Brahim to address the narrator (both are Beur mental patients confined in a hospital) raises important questions about the notion of “fixed” identity and cultural belonging, or “appartenance” (16).

Sylvie Durmelat and Caroline Eysel have both written on Belghoul’s Georgette!, a narrative told from the perspective of a nameless seven-year-old girl who must negotiate between the expectations of her French schoolteacher and her Algerian immigrant parents. In their examinations of this work, both...

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pp. 219-222
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