- Haunted Bodies and Haunting Memories:Transference and Transcendence of "h/Histoires" in Calixthe Beyala's Tu t'appelleras Tanga
While being a renowned French-African writer, Calixthe Beyala has become notorious for having plagiarized, among others, Howard Buten's Quand j'avais cinq ans, je m'ai tué and Romain Gary's La Vie devant soi in her own Le Petit Prince de Belleville.1 She was condemned in 1996. According to Nicki Hitchcott: "On the one hand, she is something of a postcolonial celebrity: a prolific and successful author who is regularly invited to contribute to television talk shows. On the other, she is reviled as a literary fraud who lacks a sense of propriety" (100). Despite the public attacks and official condemnations, Beyala was never blamed by her readers, publishers or other allies. In court, she first protested that the judges were being racist before switching gear and reminding her audience that many great authors had plagiarized before her. Randall writes:
Having been previously convicted of breach of copyright - a decision she left uncontested - . . . Beyala shifts the ground of her defense from her own intentions or lack thereof and directly accuses her accusers, appealing to the guilty conscience not only of the institution but of the nation and, as well, of her natural allies, the 'left wing' whom she alienated by her lack of first-world political correctness.(186) [End Page 171]
After her public demise, Beyala became an embarrassment to the French political as well as literary sphere: she was a rebel who had pointed to France's shameful colonial history.
My goal in this paper will be to prove that Beyala is not a literary fraud. I will explore Beyala's writing mechanisms to show that her admitted plagiarism stems from a history of colonial abuse that left its victims with no other choice than to entrust the white voice with their stories, at the risk of losing their own agency. In her second novel, Tu t'appelleras Tanga, it is through the body of a young African prostitute dying in prison that Beyala conveys her message. This paper will focus on the space that the black body occupies in the novel, and the various ways in which its borders are transgressed. In Tanga, the black body surrenders to its imperfect reflection, a white body, which becomes the receptacle and vehicle for its story. Using early feminist works such as Hélène Cixous' and Gayatri Spivak's, but also contemporary theories such as Diane Harriford and Becky Thompson's concept of haunting, I will unveil the way in which Beyala's writing, originating from a dark minor literature cell, is successful at transcending the textual and cultural borders that were set up by French colonization.
"Avant, j'existais, je rêvais," says a young African woman, dying in a cell at the beginning of Tu t'appelleras Tanga. Looking back on her past as a child-prostitute, she continues: "Je ne sentais rien, je n'éprouvais rien. Mon corps à mon insu s'était peu à peu transformé en chair de pierre" (15). The body, more specifically the black body, is at the center of Beyala's work. Reading her novels, one can feel her need to invent or actually recreate words and phrases in order to express the black body and its sufferings. In Tanga, the young heroine is dying in an African cell and the little life she has left in her, she will use to recount her story to another woman. This woman is Anna-Claude, a Jewish professor, who voluntarily exiled herself from France in search of an imaginary lover named Ousmane. Anna-Claude was imprisoned after having lost her mind and disrupted the locals' daily lives. She is described in the text as an "élément subversif et incontrôlable" (12). The presence of Anna-Claude, a white woman, becomes indispensable in the novel for Tanga to be able to tell her story, and testify to the world of all the abuse she has been through. In the cell, Anna-Claude is starving for communication, "d'autant plus qu'elle savait que désormais seuls les mots pouvaient la nourrir...