- The Littérature-monde vs. the Parisian Publishing Empire
le français est beaucoup plus qu’une langue. il est un lieu d’échanges et de rencontres. ses frontières se sont dissoutes dans la totalité du monde, ce qui ne signifie pas un déracinement ni une vulnérabilité, mais au contraire une plus grande liberté, une audace et une résonance nouvelles.J.M.G. Le Clézio
In March 2007, forty-five French-language authors published in Le Monde a manifesto “Pour une ‘littérature-monde’ en français,” declaring their independence and the independence of the French language from the center, the Hexagone itself. They called their movement a Copernican Revolution. For France, the putative “point depuis lequel était supposée rayonner une littérature franco-française,” had lost its place as the center of the French-speaking world (Le Bris et al.) The preceding autumn, all of the great literature prizes had been awarded to authors from outside of France, signaling an overwhelming decentralization. The Le Monde manifesto proclaims: “le centre, nous disent les prix d’automne, est désormais partout, aux quatre coins du monde” (Le Bris et al.). The signatories further declared that the colonial pact had been broken and that “la langue délivrée devient l’affaire de tous” (Le Bris et al.). The publication of Pour une littérature monde, a collection of essays by twenty-six of the manifesto’s signatories, edited by Michel Le Bris and Jean Rouaud, followed in 2007. Though the ideas and ideals presented in the manifesto find broad support, the questions and tensions provoked by the manifesto and subsequent collection of essays deserve more attention. In her introduction to the collection of essays Les littératures de langue française à l’heure de la mondialisation, a response to Pour une littérature monde (PLM), editor Lise Gauvin insists that one cannot help but agree with and [End Page 495] applaud certain aspects of the manifesto and essays (17). Yet, insists Gauvin, the manifesto raises many questions, and, while PLM provides some answers, much is left unresolved (17).
Along the same lines, I argue in particular that the practical and logistical impediments to publishing on a large scale are a significant aspect that has not been given sufficient attention when considering a de-centered, liberated world-literature in the French language. How powerful is the manifesto for a littérature-monde against the near monopoly of the Parisian publishing industry? Though many other options exist for publishing, especially in Quebec, Switzerland, and Belgium, Paris as the center and a threshold through which most must pass to publish literature in the French language maintains its strong grasp on a so-called “French” literature. The “Galligrasseuil”s of Paris resist a loss of power and dehierarchization of literatures in the French language, however passive the struggle may seem.1 As Jacques Godbout affirms in his contribution to PLM, Paris has remained “le banquier de la littérature,” and France “accrochée à son espace littéraire national, et ses maisons d’édition à leurs réseaux hexagonaux” (104–05).
The distinction between writers whom publishers portray as “French” – principally, those lacking any distinguishing physical difference from the predominantly white, European French – and writers labeled “Francophone” – those outside of the white, Christian European mold – is easily maintained, especially in the print world, as long as the name of these latter writers remains distinctly not “French.” As Anna Moï has pointed out, publishers readily classify white authors from the North as French and authors from the South with “black” or “yellow” skin as Francophone (Le Bris 24). In these cases, successful authors like Calixthe Beyala may still find themselves published under editions such as J’ai lu. J’ai lu, though well known, is not the edition of choice for high literature. Rather, according to its website, since J’ai lu’s creation in 1958, it has specialized in popular literature and publishes in a number of domains: general literature, detective novels, science fiction, fantasy, romance, esoterism, well-being, and erotic novels. Earlier versions of the website included “le pratique, le manga et plus récemment la...