- Postcolonial Theory and Francophone Literary Studies
The emergence of a specifically "francophone" field of postcolonial enquiry may seem unnecessary and even hazardous, especially given the French-language origins of much postcolonial thought and the risks of fragmentation that such monolingual approach may seem to imply. The manoeuvre nevertheless serves a two-fold purpose, strategic and provisional, challenging the anglophone emphases of much postcolonial criticism while at the same time permitting "francophone studies" itself to develop (much in the same way as "Commonwealth studies" moved on a decade or so ago). Postcolonial Theory and Francophone Literary Studies is the latest in a series of volumes to map the francophone postcolonial field, its specific aim being to explore the [End Page 189] intersections of postcolonial theory and francophone studies. The volume sees its key terms—"francophone" and "postcolonial," the semantic fields of which are rigorously explored in Coursil and Perret's contribution—as enabling rather than disabling, thus avoiding the taxonomic anxiety that tends to paralyze certain strands of postcolonial inquiry. The result demonstrates the variety of approaches, discourses, and critical positions that constitute the field sketched out, ranging from Hurley's opening demolition of postcolonial appropriations of Fanon to Hargreaves's rehabilitation of Barthes as a postcolonial precursor (albeit a problematic one). The complex origins of the francophone field is suggested by Mudimbe-Boyi's study of Toussaint Louverture, and its potentially wide geographical spread illustrated by Brière's serious consideration of Quebec—as colonized and colonizer—in a comparative postcolonial frame. It is Brière (along with Larrier), who additionally tests the limits of the volume's object of study, and explores the implications for francophone identities of transnational and translingual displacements: Brière presents Dany Laferrière's early work as that of an author "bypassing la francophonie" (166) by writing North American literature; and Larrier studies Haitian novelists such as Edwige Danticat, writing in English yet continuing to perform in Krèyol, and accordingly "disturb[ing] the francophone studies frame" (211).
Haitian exceptionalism—or, in other terms, Haiti's precursory status as the producer of a postcolonial literature that has "always been transnational" (217)—provides a clear illustration of the possible contribution to postcolonial debates of these cultural spaces hitherto peripheral to postcolonial studies. The volume similarly demonstrates the potentially constructive input in the elaboration of critical paradigms of thinkers such as Glissant (as well as Khatibi, whose major work is not yet available in English translation). Prabhu and Quayson relate the former's notion of Relation to more mainstream (and now more orthodox) postcolonial discussions of hybridity, suggesting the attenuation of the concept that such a wider field of reference permits. Thomas—foregrounding the work of Achille Mbembe—similarly lobbies for the prising open of the postcolonial field by increased attention to the work of "African theorists [. . .] silenced by the economy of words—distribution of knowledge, economics of publication, circulation of human resources in the global academy" (242). Thomas's essay is additionally concerned with the institutional and disciplinary impact inherent in the issues the volume presents, suggesting that "a traditionally conservative version of French studies," resistant to or ignorant of the postcolonial turn, "will inevitably result in its disappearance" (249).
These wider disciplinary implications underpin two key questions that emerge from the collection: the status of the literary, and the status of France itself. In relation to the first, the title's emphasis on francophone literary studies is slightly misleading, especially given the claim in the introduction that "this book is not primarily literary criticism" (2) as well as the inclusion of two essays on post/colonial cinema (Woodhull on Pabst's 1938 Drame de Shanghaï; Harrow on Mémoires d'immigrés). Despite the recent work of critics such as Chris Bongie and Nicholas Harrison, many of those active in the francophone postcolonial area remain similarly unclear as to whether their activity represents an extension of cultural studies or a return to the literary. In relation to the second question—i.e., the...