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Reviewed by:
  • “Wo ist Afrika”? Paratopische Ästhetik in der zeitgenössischen Romanliteratur des frankophonen Schwarzafrika / “Where is Africa?” Paratopical Aesthetics in Contemporary Novel Writing from Francophone Africa South of the Sahara)
  • Flora Veit-Wild
“Wo ist Afrika”? Paratopische Ästhetik in der zeitgenössischen Romanliteratur des frankophonen Schwarzafrika / “Where is Africa?” Paratopical Aesthetics in Contemporary Novel Writing from Francophone Africa South of the Sahara) By Thorsten Schüller Frankfurt am Main: IKO-Verlag für interkulturelle Kommunikation, 2008. vi + 288 pp.

Thorsten Schüller’s book represents an informative, thought-provoking, and innovative contribution to the ongoing process of theorizing African literature. His core argument concerns the paradigm shift between two major generations of francophone African writers: older writers such as Ahmadou Kourouma, Tchichellé Tchivela, and Sony Labou Tansi, whom he labels the “tame rebels,” and the “children of the postcolony,” a group of writers of African descent who have spent most or all of their life in France, also known as “Afrique sur Seine” or “Migritude”1 (Sami Tchak, Kagni Alem, Kossi Efouis, and Alain Mabanckou). Their general stance is what Schüller defines as “paratopical,” meaning that they transcend the two poles “African” and “European.” Using Bourdieu’s concept of the literary habitus, he distinguishes the two generations according to their handling of the “hypotext,” an inventory of signs and codes from African languages and a precolonial African past, and the “hypertext,” the French language, in which all of the authors write their works. According to Schüller, the “tame rebels” strove in their early novels to enhance the African hypotext in order to subvert the French hypertext. In Les soleils des indépendances, for example, Kourouma uses linguistic structures from the Malinke language to undermine and Africanize the French1 [End Page 148] hypertext. While Schüller recognizes this as a militant habitus, he suggests that in their more recent novels, the same writers tend to subsume their works under the demands of a global market. Hence their use of pluriglossia becomes a purely aesthetical literary game to please and not to disturb the reader; it has lost all emancipatory quality. For the “enfants de la postcolonie,” on the other hand, the question of African vs. European text has become obsolete; for them, literary creation comes first, the epithet African second. Thus, they do not experience exile as dilemma and do not show any nostalgic longing for Africa, but rather a sort of loathing for the backwardness of life in Africa. Sami Tchak’s novel Place des fêtes (2001), for instance, challenges in a crudely scatological and arbitrarily sexist language any form of essentialist African romanticism and deconstructs the false attitudinizing of political correctness surrounding notions of ethnocentrism. Hence, Schüller perceives these writers as militant heretics indulging in an aesthetics of uncommitted playfulness. Their texts engage with a wide range of intertextual, or rather, intermedial, references to the global sphere of pop music, jazz, film, or television—the high priority that they lend to forms of new orality and to music generates a kind of “singing back.” Thus, Schüller arrives at the noteworthy observation that these writers, for whom the notion of Africanness has ceased to exist, have created their own completely new, artifical hypotext that they draw from paratopical global art discourse. While for them generic differences between “high” and “low” or popular literature and culture are diluting, their manifold allusions to the universe of modern media do not render their texts trivial but enrich them in a most original way. Schüller wraps up his distinct analysis with an astute and far-reaching conclusion. While the postcolonial writers, the “fathers of the postcolony,” were still entangled in the binary reference system of Africa vs. France and thus still defined themselves via the former colonizer, it has become the prerogative of the “children” to free themselves from the burden of history and its inherent discourses and thus ultimately overcome the cultural fetters of colonialism.

Although this, like some of Schüller’s points, might appear debatable, his book certainly opens a whole realm of new ideas and highlights important paradigmatic shifts in African writing. Of great benefit especially for readers not familiar with recent developments...


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pp. 148-149
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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