- The Transcontinental Maghreb: Francophone Literature across the Mediterranean by Edwige Tamalet Talbayev
In francophone literary studies, there has been a clear move in recent years away from reflection on national culture as a counter to colonial heritage, and towards an emphasis on transnationalism and interculturality. Influenced by growing interest in the notion of ‘world literature’ since critics in the Anglophone world, such as David Damrosch, rehabilitated the term in the early 2000s, as well as by the controversial littérature-monde en français movement pioneered by Michel le Bris and Jean Rouaud, critics are increasingly insisting on the importance of the connections between francophone postcolonial literatures and the cultures of other nations and regions. Claire Joubert’s concept of the ‘transcolonial’ has also shed new light specifically on how we think about post-colonialism in and beyond the francophone world, as she argues more specifically for a better understanding of the reciprocal relations between colonialisms in different spaces and periods. Edwige Tamalet Talbayev’s The Transcontinental Maghreb evidently emerges from this context, then, but does an excellent job of focusing this notion of cultural relationality on a specific history and thereby manages to avoid some of the vague and sweeping visions of literary transculturality found in some theories of ‘world literature’. Her work is built not just out of abstract theorisations of hybridisation, but out of an understanding of the particular transcontinental history of the cultures of the Mediterranean. Her study of francophone literature demonstrates how the Mediterranean is a crucial ‘contact zone’ for the multiple cultures that encounter one another along its shores, and in this way it reveals both the short-sightedness of nationalist thinking in the Maghreb, and the complexity of the transcultural relations facilitated by the Mediterranean sea in that region.
The Transcontinental Maghreb is a highly sophisticated and perceptive study of transculturality in the Maghreb, combining original historical reflection as well as intricate close reading of important literary texts by a range of Maghrebian writers. Talbayev explores the figure of the Mediterranean as a challenge both to nationalist-based histories and to restrictive assumptions opposing North and South in a rigid dichotomy. Her incisive Introduction tackles the difficulties of existing and dominant readings of the Mediterranean as the border space dividing European and predominantly Christian cultures from a purportedly retrograde Islamie culture on the southern shore, in order to draw attention to, ‘other configurations [that] have emerged that bring to light the infinite imbrications, translations and overlaps that make the Mediterranean a key space for the study of transnational interactions and tensions’ (p. 2). The study also, however, seeks to critique simplistic nostalgic conceptions of the Mediterranean and to explore its reconstruction as a site of modernity. Talbayev’s framework is one that privileges cross-cultural, transcontinental connectivity, with the sea as a space that allows cultures to encounter one another, whether through conflict or through exchanges of various sorts. Her study at the same time understands the plurilingualism of Mediterranean cultures, as she foregrounds instances of intercultural influence across presumed linguistic frontiers and figures language itself as a site of relationality. A major influence in [End Page 117] Talbayev’s theory here is Abdelkébir Khatibi’s Maghreb pluriel, where the ‘pensée autre’ that transcends the atavisms of both colonialism and theocracy at the same time requires the open creativity of a ‘pensée en langues’. Talbayev’s focus on the Mediterranean allows a better understanding, however, of how that linguistic interaction comes about.
The four in-depth chapters of the book develop this notion of the Mediterranean as a chequered and criss-crossing space in a number of ways. In the first chapter, Talbayev explores texts that set out explicitly to resist the myth of nationalism and monological identity. She first traces the significance of the Mediterranean in the work of writers of the ‘École d’Alger’, such as Audisio and Camus, and notes how, despite Camus’s misguided desire to retain the French presence in Algeria, his vision of Mediterranean synergy nevertheless leaves an important legacy in Algerian literature...