- Packaging Post/Coloniality: The Manufacture of Literary Identity in the Francophone World
Though arresting, the title of this incisive and well-written book does not immediately convey the richness of its content. While the back cover suggests that Watts ‘reads Francophone books by their covers’, the book is less about covers than about the paratextual mediation of texts by prefacing. It is only in his final section about the material ‘packaging’ of canonical ‘francophone’ texts that he really dwells on the actual covers of translations of these works into American English. It is important to note that Watts has opted not to contest the problematic if persistent use of the expression ‘francophone’ to refer less to all work in French, or even to all work from outside metropolitan France, than exclusively to work in French from France’s ex-colonies. The book’s principal aim is to study ‘how the paratext to francophone literature enacts the mediation and translation of the text’s foreignness for its largely metropolitan French readership’ (p. 9). This application of reception theory is extremely productive not just because Watts chooses very interesting case studies, but also because his readings are insightful and persuasive. His book has a lot to offer even to specialist readers of Henri Lopes, Édouard Glissant, Aimé Césaire’s Cahier, Werewere Liking, or Assia Djebar, for example. It also illuminates the relationships between certain postcolonial authors and their ‘literary mediators’ (Senghor and Sartre, Glissant and Chamoiseau, and so on). Watts presents his work as breaking with Gérard Genette’s concern with identifying ‘generic truths about the paratext’ in order to concentrate on the ‘more sociologically and historically inclined field of the history of the book’ (p. 15). Studying how paratexts mediate the book’s ‘passage from the cultural domain of its production to the dominant cultural field of consumption’ (p. 12), he views them not just as markers of the book’s ‘commodity status’, but also as ‘palimpsest[s] of cultural conflict’ (p. 12). The first of three sections studies the ‘Colonial Paratext and its Imperial Desires’ and is divided into two very substantial chapters. In ‘Black Text, White Masks’ Watts reads the strategies of prefatory patronage in Diagne’s Les Trois Volontés de Malic (1920), Hazoumé’s Doguicimi (1938), and Bakary Diallo’s Force-Bonté (1926). In ‘The Felicitous Graft’ he examines the anxiety informing colonial theories of the cultural hybridity in Indochina and North Africa. The second section examines the ‘Textual Itineraries of Decolonization’ (in relation to Senghor and Césaire), and the final section studies ‘Postcolonial Transfigurations of the Book’ through two rather compact studies: firstly on the influence of gender on the postcolonial paratext, and secondly on teaching ‘Francophone Literatures’ in (American English) translation. It is not only Watts’s interest in the ‘worldly concerns regarding [End Page 380] the exercise of power, both real and symbolic’ (p. 15), but also the very wide cultural reach of his critical inquiry that make this study so stimulating and so engaging. His book thus fully merits its own enthusiastic (back cover) endorsements from Christopher Miller, J. Michael Dash, and F. Abiola Irele.