- Inter-Tech(s): Colonialism and the Question of Technology in Francophone Literature by Roxana Nydia Curto
What roles did technology play in both the colonization of Africa and the Caribbean and the liberation of these spaces from French colonial rule? How did African and Caribbean authors envision technological advances in relation to the discourses of post/colonialism, science, and modernity? What are the ways in which technology unsettles received ideas on African and Caribbean sociocultural and philosophical norms, especially the stubborn notion that traditional beliefs resist modernizing innovations? These are the central questions that Roxana Nydia Curto takes up in Inter-Tech(s): Colonialism and the Question of Technology in Francophone Literature. In this important and engaging book, Curto examines representations of technology, broadly understood, in Francophone literature and film of the colonial and post-independence eras. She contends that, rather than portray technology as a predominant Western power, many writers conceived of it largely in terms of its potential as "a liberating, democratizing force" (3)—a "universal patrimony" (20) to be claimed in the name of social progress and economic development.
For Curto, the question of technology has been neglected in Francophone studies, despite the fact that various technologies have long featured in Francophone literature. The corpus of Inter-Tech(s) betrays the author's ambition to take another look at some canonical works of the twentieth century and to consider the implications of their reflections on technology for "some of the broader debates in francophone postcolonial studies" (18). The drawback of this approach is that readers are left to wonder how less well-known writers, and especially women writers, might enrich the book's overarching argument. The catchy title, "intertech(s)," is meant to convey how technology mediates the myriad relations that defined the colonial enterprise and its aftermath; in a subtler way, it also alludes to the material and symbolic power of the literary text as a technology in its own right. Curto focuses on the phenomenon of "technology transfer" (3), or how modes of transportation and forms of media and communication shifted from colonizer to colonized. That is, in these works of Francophone literature, tools of extraction, exploitation, and control—from physical infrastructure, such as railways and dams, to the radio [End Page 207] and the Internet—are reimagined and reappropriated to bring about social and political change, even revolution. As a result, Curto argues, they are redeployed in efforts to decolonize newly sovereign countries and regions. Moreover, as Curto shows, inasmuch as these technologies are viewed positively in these texts, their depictions raise compelling questions about critiques of capitalism in post/colonial societies and particularly its role in the ecological degradation of the Global South.
Inter-Tech(s) is composed of seven chapters, with an introduction and epilogue. The introduction provides an efficient overview of critical vocabulary, especially the different meanings of "technology," over time and between French and English. It also asks a series of questions that probe the tension between the cultural specificities of a given technology and its universal value, or how the particular worldview that attaches to it can be transformed by another cultural perspective. The chapters are organized more or less chronologically and strike a balance between close readings and reflection on historical and theoretical contexts. The first two chapters, on Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor, respectively, consider the place of technology in the works of these poet-statesmen, particularly as it shaped their foundational contributions to the Negritude movement. The third chapter, on Frantz Fanon, explores the Martinican's view of the power of the radio to cultivate political awareness of the oppressed in colonial French Algeria and thus to imagine and create community. The fourth chapter turns to the Senegalese novelist and filmmaker Ousmane Sembène and offers a thorough study of the place of certain technologies in Sembène's double-edged critique of traditional practices and the imperialistic aims of globalizing powers. The fifth chapter highlights the novels of Olympe Bh...