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THE SITE OF WESTERN MODERNISM IN POSTCOLONIAL AFRICAN IDENTITY: NANGA, GIDE, KRISTEVA, AND THE OVERCOMING OF BETRAYAL Donald R. Wehrs Bernard Nanga's 1984 Cameroonian novel La Trahison de Marianne describes an African student's disülusionment with a France he has idealized from afar. As a schoolboy in colonial Africa, the protagonistnarrator had identified France with "Marianne," the figure on the franc, the feminized emblem of Western humanistic republicanism, and had structured his own identity around desire for Marianne, that is, desire for a fictive Other anchoring a symboUc order. La Trahison de Marianne describes how the narrator, as a university student in provincial France, encounters not the ideal unknown country Marianne seemed to promise, but an impersonal, mechanistic society marked by unthinking, pervasive racism; in doing so, the novel evokes the mood and themes ofnow-canonical works recounting the disenchantment of young African men with Western modernity, such as Bernard Dadié's Un Nègre en Paris (1959), Cheikh Hamidou Kane's L'Aventure ambigue (1960), and Cámara Laye's Dramouss (1966). At the same time, however, Nanga delineates how the protagonist's identity is shaped positively as weU as negatively by the naive and colonizing love for Marianne that leads him to value French modernist culture . In particular, his devotion to André Gide proves crucial to his overcoming the depression into which he is plunged by Marianne's "betrayal" —that is, the betrayal of the ideals of French humanism and republicanism —as expressed by the slogans of 1789—by French racism and Eurocentricism. Instead of suggesting that the unmasking of betrayal leads the hero unproblematicaUy to a better, "decolonized" consciousness , Nanga portrays the narrator's depression over betrayal in terms quite simUar to JuUa Kristeva's analysis of melanchoUa in Black Sun. Loss of trust in the Other that structures the symboUc order in which identity is situated leads to a loss of meaning, a postmodern severing of signifier from signified that coUapses the distinction between signification and counterfeiting. This coUapse in turn disaUows the psychic investments necessary to sustain love (3-68; Soleil noir 13-78; also, Kristeva , New Maladies 3-63). Surprisingly, Nanga valorizes Gide's influence in restoring the protagonist to psychic health after a season in postmodern heU; it is Gide who aUows him to regain the faith in meaning upon which the possibUity oflove, and ethical engagements that are not counterfeit, is shown to rest. Such an unexpected plot turn, making the novel appear eccentric and inexpUcable except in terms of biography,1 involves more than rejecting uncritical nativism, simpUstic individuaUst/communaUst oppositions , and postmodern hopes that resistance, or oppositional/shifting/ Vol. 25 (2001): 22 ??? COHPAnATIST sUding "positionaUties," can take the place of"grounded" identities in the brave new world offoundationlessness. Rather, Nanga's depiction ofhow Gide "saves" the hero affirms—in the teeth ofboth postmodern readings ofmodernism and postmodern notions ofwhat postcolonial identity must entaU—that at least some of the values or self-understandings peculiar to Western modernity are, as Charles Taylor puts it, not only "very worthwhüe" but also "unrepudiable" (23). Indeed, the portrait ofthe narrator 's depression and recovery combines Kristeva's stress upon the role of an Other in organizing psychic space so as to aUow meaning and love, and Taylor's stress upon how, in modernity, "I am caUed upon to Uve my Ufe" in "my way," "not in imitation of anyone else's," for otherwise "I miss what being human is for me" (28-29).2 Nanga's novel describes how the narrator comes to learn that his way must involve making the West part of himself, making Western modernism a site within postcolonial identity , without letting the West, as it did both in his days of naive trust in Marianne and in his days ofnihüistic despair, colonize him by inducing him to take on credit various forms of counterfeit cultural currency. The narrator's desire for Marianne is Unked to the symboUc murder of a father. His French school in Africa had so weU assimüated its pupüs to coloniaUst ideology that when an old man in African dress accused them ofbeing degenerates, his classmates responded with the taunt, "Il...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 22-49
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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