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Of Irony and Empire

Islam, the West, and the Transcultural Invention of Africa

Laura Rice

Publication Year: 2007

Of Irony and Empire is a dynamic, thorough examination of Muslim writers from former European colonies in Africa who have increasingly entered into critical conversations with the metropole. Focusing on the period between World War I and the present, “the age of irony,” this book explores the political and symbolic invention of Muslim Africa and its often contradictory representations. Through a critical analysis of irony and resistance in works by writers who come from nomadic areas around the Sahara—Mustapha Tlili (Tunisia), Malika Mokeddem (Algeria), Cheikh Hamidou Kane (Senegal), and Tayeb Salih (Sudan)—Laura Rice offers a fresh perspective that accounts for both the influence of the Western, instrumental imaginary, and the Islamic, holistic one.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series, Explorations in Postcolonial Studies


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Of Irony and Empire

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p. vii


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p. ix

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1. Prologue: Of Irony and Empire

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pp. 1-44

One day a poor man who had only a piece of bread to eat was walking by a restaurant in the village. In front of the restaurant, barbecues were smoking away cooking mechoui for the noon meal. The poor fellow looked longingly at the lamb roasting on the grills. Famished, he held his dry bread in the smoke over the meat to give it a hint of the smell before he ate it. ...

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2. African Conscripts/European Conflicts: Race, Memory, and the Lessons of War

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pp. 45-77

In Henri Camus’ 1917 black and white watercolor, Tirailleur dans les barbelés [Tirailleur (infantryman) on barbed wire], we see the isolated, distorted body of an African soldier hung up on a few strands of barbed wire and leaning posts (figure 1). Shot dead, his body arcs back, face toward the sky, one knee forever straddling the top wire. Behind him is the empty gray of no-man’s-land, ...

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3. Ambiguous Adventure: Reading Cheikh Hamidou Kane

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pp. 79-123

Cheikh Hamidou tells the story of how, at an art exibition, he was astounded by a canvas by Paul Klee “who painted extremely mechanized figures, beings almost reduced to the state of machines.” The anguish expressed in the painting, and so intensely felt by Kane, he extends to any African, leaving his native land, his world of trees, and animals and men, whose longest journey is limited to...

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4. Heimlich Un-Heimlich: Of Home as Heterotopia in Salih, Tlili, and Mokeddem

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pp. 125-174

This chapter begins with a discussion of Foucault’s theories of heterotopia, which he began developing when he was an expatriate in Tunisia, and Freud’s comments on the uncanny (unheimlich) as the unhomelike. Using their insights into the connections between the “non-place” of language and our feeling of being at-home or not at-home in the world, I look at how Tayeb...

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5. Epilogue: The Ends of Irony

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pp. 175-195

One of the ends of irony (an alert, skeptical irony, self-irony) is to maintain good conscience in the face of a contradictory and evolving reality. In Toward the African Revolution and in his larger vision of a world not ruled by oppression, Fanon points to Jankélévitch’s understanding of irony as “good conscience” because it creates that space in the mind that is tough and tender at...


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pp. 197-206


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pp. 207-223


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pp. 225-240

SUNY series, Explorations in Postcolonial Studies

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p. 241

E-ISBN-13: 9780791479520
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791472156

Page Count: 251
Illustrations: 1 figure
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: SUNY series, Explorations in Postcolonial Studies
Series Editor Byline: Emmanuel C. Eze See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 191684322
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Of Irony and Empire

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Subject Headings

  • Rulfo, Juan -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • War in literature.
  • Literature, Modern ‡x History and criticism.
  • Europe -- Relations -- Africa.
  • African literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Islamic literature -- Africa -- History and criticism.
  • Africa -- Intellectual life.
  • Islamic countries -- Intellectual life.
  • Africa -- Relations -- Europe.
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