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T W O Francocentrism and the Acquisition of Cultural Capital I felt such a strong affinity for this country that I did not know, and whose genius and beauty I had been taught to sing since childhood, that I wondered whether I had not perhaps been French in a previous life. Ferdinand Oyono1 The European elite undertook to manufacture a native elite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of western culture; they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to their teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, white-washed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed. Jean-Paul Sartre2 The return to the colonial era as a point of entry to recent debates on questions of immigration and national identity in contemporary France seems a necessary gesture. Such a return offers the opportunity to carefully delineate the advantages of a transcolonial approach, but, more importantly , to relocate the origins of immigration discourse and migratory flows according to a specific set of cultural, economic, political, and social coordinates that are indissociable from a colonial, postcolonial, and global geometry. The discussion of immigration has tended to locate it as a post-Independence practice associated with the politics of decolonization , when in fact population flows were central to the colonial project as sub-Saharan Africans migrated to the metropole to pursue educational training, serve in the French military, or enter global labor markets. In fact, not only has this dimension not received the concerted analysis it deserves , but further consideration of these issues has much to reveal about the manner in which the French civilizing mission was deployed, and early assimilationist models constructed under direct rule. Immigration legislation has certainly been central to the politics of postcoloniality, as once-colonized peoples and the former colonial powers have attempted to redefine the parameters of their relations and adjust, accordingly , population movement between these topographic spaces. Indeed , as the authors of La République coloniale: Essai sur une utopie have insisted, “The reconsideration of the legacy of the colonial Republic concerns France as much as it does its former colonies.”3 The voluntary or forced displacement of African subjects has a long history that we can begin to address only by extending our analysis to a consideration of texts produced in the colonial era that enact a mediation between fiction and the evidential component of a given sociopolitical time frame; this will allow us to assess the symbiotic network of constitutive historical trajectories . Central to the discussion in this chapter will be a consideration of the particularities of French direct rule and colonial education as the markers of both a theorization of assimilation and the resulting counter-discourse produced by African writers. To this end, Pascale Casanova’s consideration of the centrality of Paris is pertinent to the question of francocentrism,4 since “innumerable descriptions in novels and poems of Paris in the nineteenth century and, especially, the twentieth century made the city’s literariness manifest,” and naturally it is this construct that in turn circulated in colonial pedagogy and curricular orientation.5 “These countless descriptions of Paris—a literary genre inaugurated in the late eighteenth century —were gradually codified, so that over time they amounted . . . to a ‘recitation’—an immutable leitmotif, obligatory in form and content” (Casanova, 26). Naturally, given the colonial education received by African writers, such findings are to be found in the work of Ousmane Socé, for example, but they also, of course, provide the source of engagement for Bernard Dadié’s challenge to this myth of universalism, according to which “Paris was thus doubly universal, by virtue both of the belief in its universality and of the real effects that this belief produced” (Casanova, 30). Paris is the key topographic site to which protagonists travel, but also operates as an interchangeable metaphor for France itself. Accordingly, the myth of Occidental superiority as an intrinsic component of the expansionist project must be scrutinized in order to better locate contemporary immigration discourse and to delineate the transcolo42 black france nial nature of African and French relations. The focus will be provided by francophone sub-Saharan African novels published between 1937 and 1961 that address various tenets of French colonial rule and that are anchored in that historical moment. The authors selected for extended critical attention originate in...


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