- “Astres et désastres”: Histoire et récits de vie africains de la colonie à la postcolonie
As director of the Lehrstuhl für Romanische Literaturwissenschaft und Komparatistik of the University of Bayreuth, János Riesz has invited numerous prestigious African and “Africanist” colleagues as well as many African writers to his center. He has organized many colloquiums on African literature and culture and trained some of today’s most eminent professors in those fields. For many years Bayreuth has been one of the world’s centers for the study of African literature and certainly has been one of the most open and dynamic. János Riesz has, of course, written at length about this literature himself, whether in the context of the activities of his institute or for presentations at conferences in other countries and other continents. Having closely followed the work done at Bayreuth’s center, I can say that this production of Riesz is an application of the precepts according to which he designed his center. As the author states in his introduction, this new book “Astres et désastres”: histoire et récits de vie africains de la colonie à la postcolonie is the follow-up to the first volume, De la littérature coloniale à la littérature africaine—prétextes, contextes, intertextes, published by Karthala Editions in 2007. It is also a collection of articles previously released from 1987 to 2008. One could think that articles about such diverse topics, written over such a long period of time, would [End Page 204] not be exactly homogeneous. However, all things considered, the book is coherent, as is demonstrated from the beginning by its first article. There is a fundamental dichotomy between the perception of the historical encounter of Europeans and Africans. The French justify their colonial actions through a discourse having moral pretentions, while Africans see colonization as the most disastrous event of their history. African history, literature and society are determined by these antagonistic views of this relationship.
The articles are assembled in three sections. In the first section, “Historical Discourse in Literary Texts,” Riesz examines important historical events such as the Thiaroye drama and its literary representations. The second section, “Life Narratives and Autobiographical Writings,” covers narrations of African life by Africans or edited by Europeans. Finally, the third section analyzes “Hopes and Failures of the Independences” as they are symbolized by writings about African heroes such as Lumumba or in the works of writers such as Ahmadou Kourouma, Léopold Senghor, Senouvo Agbota Zinsou, and movie director Sembène Ousmane. In my opinion, what makes these articles masterpieces of literary study is that they have just the right amount of historical, sociological, and cultural documentation, combined with a sophisticated literary analysis, as is the case in “Une si longue lettre de Mariama Ba comme roman d’éducation.” The literary value of the analyzed works is thus illuminated by the contextual information. In the cases where the context is the most pertinent to analyze, the scrutiny of the literary subject or object is used to explain and illuminate this context. Such is the case with “Patrice Lumumba—une vie romanesque sans roman.” The texts in this volume are, I believe, some of the best examples of comparative literature studies because they allow the reader to come to a better understanding of African literature and culture as well as of European literature and culture.