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Africa Today 47.1 (2000) 149-151

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Miller, Christopher. 1999. Nationalists and Nomads: Essays on Francophone African Literature and Culture. Chicago: Chicago University Press. 258 pp. $46.00 (cloth) $19.00 (paper).

One of the many objectives of Nationalists and Nomads is to remedy what it sees as a major weakness of contemporary francophone literary criticism--its "distortion" of French-speaking Africa's literary history. This task is meticulously pursued in Chapter 1. Published here for the first time, the chapter brings to light fascinating new material on the origins of French-language African literature: literary texts, newspapers and essays. Drawing on his own research and that of such scholars as Iba Der Thiam, Miller argues that writing in French from Africa did not begin in the 1930s (the standard version), but in the 1920s. Over a decade before the negritude movement, men like Lamine Senghor (1889-1927), Kojo Tovalou Houénou (1887-1936) and, writing in Arabic, Sheikh Musa Kamara (1864-1945) were already penning down more radical critiques of colonialism than were to be produced in the 1930s. More radical, Miller argues, because their authors were not the privileged intellectuals of the 1930s generation, but demobilized soldiers and veterans who felt deceived by France, whose promise of citizenship to them in exchange for their participation in World War 1 was never fulfilled.

The book's remaining five chapters deal with various topics including nationalism and intercultural literacy. Chapter 3, published here for the first time (the rest appeared in various publications between 1993 and 1996), analyzes "the visual and verbal rhetoric" of the International Colonial Exposition of 1931. Miller "reads" the exposition as a finely choreographed performance of France's imperial power and mission civilisatrice, complete with its grand impresario (Marshal Lyautey), producers (the organizing committee), actors (the colonized), a lavish stage set, a décor, props and so on, many of which are reproduced in the book. He is particularly attentive to the slippages in this display that reveal, in spite of the rhetoric of "solidarity" between colonizer and colonized, the reality of unequal relations between them, and devotes a section to the counter exposition organized by André Breton, Aragon and their surrealist friends.

If Miller maintains a certain detachment of tone in these chapters, he appears more vested in the last. This is because at stake in this chapter-- [End Page 149] on the nomadology of Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus--is the discussion of no ordinary topic, but of the very principles of a responsible, ethical criticism. But why A Thousand Plateaus? It is the text, to him, that provides the foundations, through Glissant, to a contemporary francophone nomad criticism with whose ideology Miller admits to being at odds. While he acknowledges the valuable contributions of this criticism, (in Françoise Lionnet's work especially), he also finds that its postmodern-inspired critique of "difference" has become "judgmental," an article of faith rather than an analytical tool (p. 6). It excoriates nationalist identitarian discourses as wrong-headed and morally inferior (p.7), and also scholars who study these discourses on the latter's own terms, and in their contexts. In short, Miller sees emerging a climate of intolerance in which self-proclaimed enlightened "nomads" (theoretically against exclusionary, hierarchical thinking, and all for migratory or rhizomatic identities) ironically end up excluding their poor, totalizing "nationalist" colleagues.

But nomad thought, to Miller, has no basis for such self-righteousness. He finds it, and the procedures of its construction in A Thousand Plateaus, flawed and riddled with inconsistencies. It claims to be unconcerned with specific historical cultures, to be non-representational in other words, and yet constantly uses that most representational of disciplines --anthropology. It abhors authority, but drapes itself with the authority of the anthropological text. It proposes a theory of universal nomadism from "the ancient Hyksos and Mongols to modern-day North Africans" (p.178), and yet limits its archive to the high thinkers of Europe, with only 13 sources to real nomads out of 68 pages (in the American edition) of...


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