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  • Histoire des littératures de l’Afrique subsaharienne
  • Pius Ngandu Nkashama
Histoire des littératures de l’Afrique subsaharienne Alain Ricard Paris: Ellipse, 2006. 128 pp.

The publishing house Ellipse proposed the publication of a collection of practical works focusing on the specific fields of world literatures. The series contains titles devoted to German, English, Chinese, Korean, and Italian literature, and even the literature of the United States. In this regard, ordering a book devoted solely to sub-Saharan Africa is already an indicator for readers about the narrow framework of the literary productions. Indeed, here it is but a question of a seemingly strategic paradox, for the hypothesis returns on many occasions from the fact that it applies to the author himself: “le chercheur francophone éprouve un malaise à devoir traiter des ‘langues africaines et des littératures’ ” ‘the francophone scholar is ill at ease at having to treat “African languages and literatures”’ (61). The goal of [End Page 151] colleting facts is readily affirmed from the very first lines and done so in all frankness: “l’Afrique est le continent qui a été connu le plus tard et encore aujourd’hui celui qui figure le plus bas dans les diverses statistiques qui mesurent le progès social et économique. C’est aussi un continent sur lequel il est aisé de généraliser, dans la mesure où notre ignorance est grande” ‘Africa is the continent that was come to be known the latest and even today the one that figures lowest in the various statistics that measure social and economic progress. It is also a continent about which it is easy to generalize, in as much as our ignorance is great’ (5).

These preliminary remarks announce the editorial approach, which consists in bringing to the explictly designated readership of France, condensed elements for an appreciation of African literatures throughout the centuries. It indeed covers “toutes les littératures” ‘all the literatures,’ oral and written, in African languages as well as in the European languages of English, French, and Portuguese.

The work is divided into seven main chapters that are designated first of all by references to scriptural supports such as the profusion of markings or graphic symbols (ch. 1), the metalinguistic distinction between tradition and orality (ch. 2), the use of the manuscript, the culture of the voice, or African languages (ch. 3–4), and then with respect to historical periods, necessarily ranging from the period of colonization (ch. 5, 1900–1945) to postcolonialism (ch. 7, 1970–1994), by way of the decisive phase of nationalism (ch. 6 1945–1970).

For the different stages, this little work sets out the names of writers as well as the titles of published works according to a chronological order. This format is sometimes accompanied by a brief commentary that permits an understanding of groups of themes. Nevertheless, it places greater emphasis upon the receptivity reserved for the literary product, and most especially in French environments. In this sense, this 128–page manual can be welcomed as a qualified document, insofar as it assembles an interesting bibliography. For a novice to the field, it could constitute a useful compilation for overcoming problems due to prior lack of knowledge.

The author paid close attention to the coherence of his project and worked by geographic areas such as East Africa and West Africa, Central Africa, or the southern part of the continent. In each instance, the determining element remains the relationship with the former European metropolis as well as the representative missionary activities, the language of cultural assimilation, or the overwhelming role played by colonial administrators. Furthermore, the arguments employed come almost exclusively from the same autocratic or ethnological references, as if they had concluded once and for all the incomparable validity of these “literatures of sub-Saharan Africa.”

It is important to note that the original intended audience, as well as the complicit partner that is invoked throughout the chapters is specifically designated “”the reader from continental France. The “we” referred to in the interlocution occurs repeatedly: “les catégories dont nous peinons à nous défaire” ‘the categories we are working hard to undo for ourselves’ (5); “la même complexité nous...


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pp. 151-155
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