- Postcolonial Violence, Culture and Identity in Francophone Africa and the Antilles
In her editor’s introduction, Lorna Milne notes with surprise that comparatively little academic work has been done on the representation of violence in creative texts by francophone postcolonial writers and filmmakers. This is a gap that her well-conceived collection of essays makes a very successful attempt to fill, ranging as it does from Charles Forsdick’s opening essay on the representation of colonial massacre in Metropolitan and African literature and film, to three chapters on West Africa, two on the Maghreb, and two on the French Caribbean. The slight imbalance in favor of works on Africa seems entirely appropriate, since two of these essays, by Aedín Ní Loinsigh and Jeanette den Toonder, are on the representations of the Rwandan genocide, which, with a francophone context in particular, is surely one of the most pressing and recent examples of the horrors of postcolonial villence, and one that has already given rise to a growing body of creative texts. These two essays also engage with current work in trauma studies, as do the two later essays on Caribbean fiction, by Maeve McCusker and Milne herself. As McCusker’s excellent essay in particular points out, the spectacular, corporal violence that characterized slavery has made the latter the foundational Caribbean trauma in ways that are still only just beginning to be recognized. What these essays also make clear—and this point is made in several of the other essays, too, and is central to Anne Marie Miraglia’s chapter on North Africa—is the way in which (post)colonial violence so often manifests itself as sexual violence against women. This, in turn, reveals the extent to which it is necessary, when confronting the realities of colonial and postcolonial violence, to acknowledge the violence perpetrated not only by the colonizers but also by those who were once themselves subject to colonial violence.
All of these essays, then, are primarily concerned with maintaining a focus on actual, historical and material violence, as well as on the privileged role that creative work has in enabling such violence to be articulated. If there is a weakness here, it lies perhaps not in the collection itself, but in parts of the introduction. Here, the editor sometimes seems unnecessarily torn between a need to “refocus” postcolonial debates on “the political and social reality of brutality and suffering” that she claims has been underplayed by postcolonial theorists preoccupied with “epistemic violence” (12), and an impulse to claim this study as a contribution precisely to the “theoretical work of colonial discourse analysis” (25). As Andy Stafford ably demonstrates in his essay on Leïla sebbar and the photography of Marc Garanger, these two forms of (post)colonial violence need not be—and indeed cannot be—seen as separate. A more sustained and nuanced opening discussion of their inevitable interrelationship might, therefore, have been instructive, and might also have brought the collection together more fruitfully than the long and detailed summaries of each chapter that make up such a large section of the present introduction. On the whole, however, and in an era of continued (post)colonial violence (Abu Ghraib is mentioned on more than one occasion), this [End Page 160] volume is both timely and engaging and makes an excellent addition to existing work on francophone postcolonial writing and film.