- The Migrant Canon in Twenty-First-Century France by Oana Sabo
At a time of increased globalization and cultural commodification, scholars of French and francophone literature have turned to analysing more precisely the material conditions and contexts informing the publication and consecration of texts (see for example the work of Ruth Bush, Pascale Casanova, Sylvie Ducas, Danielle Dumontet, Graham Huggan, Paul Jay, Véronique Porra, Subha Xavier). Oana Sabo’s study contributes to the argument that globalization is affecting how books are produced (and written) by looking at mostly fictional texts pertaining to migration. Taking the 1980s as her starting point, she argues that a ‘migrant canon’ has taken shape, the development of which reveals the major mainstream editorial and commercial shifts currently at work. For her, the ‘construction of value’ relative to this new canon and its reception attest to the existence of a transnational and ‘globalized French literature’ (p. 162). In speaking of a global literary field, Sabo expands on the critical framework provided by Bourdieu to underline that, in its growing cosmopolitanism, the migrant genre has become a valuable tool for understanding the interrelated aspects of ‘aesthetics, market forces, and institutional practices’ (p. 163). Culture and its appreciation can no longer be dissociated from commerce. The critical arc of the book spans an état des lieux of French literature at the turn of the twenty-first century, an in-depth investigation of its contemporary elaboration, and a particularly interesting discussion of the new digital media that participate in its assessment, via reviews by online readers, for instance. Sabo contends that contemporary literature is increasingly evaluated by non-professional critics who weigh in in new and potentially useful ways, redefining the language and tenor of traditional criticism. Sabo also insists (and perhaps over-insists) on the role of the Prix littéraire de la Porte Dorée, which she sees as creating a ‘migrant archive’ central to French institutional cultural discourse and its (neo-colonial/ideological) appropriation of otherness. The author rightly underlines [End Page 504] that the global fashioning of this migrant canon continues to be informed by historical French national contexts and organizing principles, as proven by the enduring concept of the ‘protection’ of the French language. Overall, Sabo’s book proposes original avenues for understanding contemporary French literature at a time of transition: the field is increasingly heterogeneous, heteroglossic, and interdisciplinary, and its commercial expansion and viability are accelerated by a rising number of translations from and into French. This ambitious study raises complex and timely questions in informed and perceptive ways. While its structure could be more fluid, the book accomplishes its aims with great intellectual clarity and elegance.