Research in African Literatures 33.1 (2002) 178-180
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Black Paris: The African Writers' Landscape
Black Paris: The African Writers' Landscape, by Bennetta Jules-Rosette. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1998. xviii + 350 pp. ISBN 0-252-02066-0 cloth/ 0-252-06935-8 paper.
"People wander aimlessly into the Présence Africaine bookshop on rue des Ecoles [. . .]. A customer takes a book from the shelf and asks for it to be placed on hold, while a--flamboyant author claims a complimentary copy of his latest book," writes Bennetta Jules-Rosette (1). "As a collective physical and ideological space, black Paris is a landscape of memory that encompasses the subjective perspectives of African writers" (149). Scholars familiar with Jules-Rosette's The Messages of Tourist Art: An African Semiotic System in Comparative Perspective (New York: Plenum, 1984), Terminal Signs: Computers and Social Change in Africa (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1990), and her important essay, "Conjugating Cultural Realities: Présence Africaine" (The Surreptitious Speech: Présence Africaine and the Politics of Otherness, 1947-1987, ed. V. Y. Mudimbe, Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988, 14-44), know that she is a meticulous social science researcher, an astute reader of social semiotics whose scholarship blurs boundaries between Social Science and Humanities. "We" surely can agree that without reliable conceptual frameworks and material support, "blurring boundaries" both as a mode of scholarly inquiry and assessment is risky business. Yet, Jules-Rostte successfully takes on the challenge. Black Paris: The African Writers' Landscape is a well conceptualized. book. African writers actively participate in the construction of Jules-Rosette's literary landscape.
The book architecture (its dust jacket representation of Paris's Marché Déjean ); black cover; temporal arrangement of textual material, placement of interviews and photographs) bespeak Jules-Rosette's stated intent: "I explore the writers' worlds in order to disclose the social and cultural conditions under which African works in France have been produced and received" (2). Her substantive introduction, "Generations of African Writers in Paris"; followed bypart one (ch. 1-2) "Narratives of Longing and Belonging"; part two (ch. 3-5), "The African Writers' Challenge"; part three (ch. 6-8 ), "Parisianism and Universalism"; a conclusion, "Particularism and Universalism in African Writing"; twoappendices, "Chronology of Key Events" and " Immigration Statistics" (1982-90); notes; references; followed by anindex;a tense Simon Njani foreword;and Jules-Rosette's ownprefaceforeground the book's architectural landscape.
Jules-Rosette builds on her essay "Conjugating Cultural Realities: Présence Africaine," constructing it into a circular framing narrative that opens and closes Black Paris: The AfricanWriters' Landscape. Substantive interviews with African writers and culture icons in Paris and Abidjan (Calixthe Beyela, Bernard Binlin Dadié, Christiane Yandé Diop, Paul Dakeyo, Paulin Joachim, Simon Njani, and Jacques Rabemananjara) and conversations with African and French publishers on the Paris city scene provide original data for the author's interpretation. 1947 to 1960 and 1970 to 1993 serve as temporal frameworks. Although periodization generates its own set of repetitions and questions in African literary studies, [End Page 178]
Jules-Rosette thereby creates an informative, "speakerly" topography of African writing, spanning three generations.
There is much to unpack in Black Paris, beginning with a statement that appears in the forewordby Njami, an influential African writer of black Paris: "It has been nearly ten years since I met Bennetta Jules-Rosette. [. . .] I have always kept my distance from that literature called African. [. . . S]he was more anxious to learn and to discover than to develop a hermetic thesis, for which the writers cited would be only an illustratio"n" (ix). Jules Rosette occupies and writes from that troubling space between the writer-critic divide, a space that African literary scholars know well. For sure, Jules-Rosette's version of Black Paris: The African Writers' Landscape does not involve critical and theoretical patterns of analysis that African literary scholarship and scholars have already provided, continue to develop, and even may expect to read in a book subtitled African Writers' Landscape. To remind the reader that she is a social scientist at work, Jules-Rosette intervenes...