- The Contemporary Francophone African Intellectual ed. by Christopher Hogarth and Natalie Edwards
This book has the merit of contributing to current debates in francophone literary studies, but it might be of limited use for those engaged in teaching or researching the historical context of francophone postcolonial intellectual thought. Although the Introduction makes reference to critics of some African works from the francophone literary corpus, it is unclear to the reader what actually constitutes a francophone postcolonial intellectual. The Introduction does not always engage with the relationship between the ‘writer’ and the ‘intellectual’, which are two distinct terms. The combination of ‘contemporary Francophone’ and ‘African intellectual’ in the title — which presupposes the existence of an historic (old) francophone African intellectual — promises a volume that will attempt to develop the contemporary understanding of the African intellectual or francophone thought. Unfortunately, the book does not necessarily deliver on this promise, the incongruent nature of the eight chapters reflecting the volume’s origin as a conference; it mostly deals with individual texts or authors as opposed to [End Page 431] thinking out the shape of a new francophone intellectual field. The very pertinent interview with Souleymane Bachir Diagne, published here as the eighth chapter, might have been better contextualized had the Introduction explored in greater depth the notion of an African intellectual. Despite this reader’s misgivings about the overall underlying principle of the collection, there is no doubting the quality of some of the essays. Marie-Therese Ellis provides an intelligent examination of the growing characterizations of the African intellectual, addressing the function of intellectual, historical revisionism in Sultanes oubliées by the Moroccan francophone Fatima Mernissi (Paris: Albin Michel, 1990). A prolific intellectual, Mernissi has challenged some of the most controversial subjects in Muslim-influenced societies. Sultanes oubliées invites wide-ranging interpretations which, like the work of Assia Djebar, transgress the limits of women’s expression by imparting her vision and thoughts into a version of consecrated history. Written in either English or French, almost all the chapters have a literary focus, and the volume is split between those chapters which deploy biographical examinations in their analyses and those which adopt traditional approaches, ranging from complex description of what are here considered ‘intellectual figures’, to a more textual commentary. Although the book as a whole appears to put emphasis on the ‘activities’ of the chosen writers, it also engages tangentially in a cultural analysis of African francophones from North and Sub-Saharan Africa. The volume offers an opportunity, in C. Wakaba Futamura’s chapter, to discover Hélé Béji, a native of Tunisia who unlocks her reflections in her theoretical and autobiographical work. Futamura’s chapter examines the motifs that symbolically point to the predicament of Tunisia’s disappearing past, and the intellectual’s role in contemporary history. The collection will be of interest to those seeking francophone postcolonial material on the particular texts or writers dealt with in individual essays.