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T H R E E Textual Ownership and the Global Mediation of Blackness But I am African. Why would I go looking for something in the United States? I don’t have to search for an identity. I’m an African. For me, Africa is the centre of the world. The United States and Europe are on the periphery of my world. Ousmane Sembene1 The two historically possible solutions are then tried in succession or simultaneously. He attempts either to become different or to reconquer all the dimensions which colonization tore away from him. Albert Memmi2 Will verify subject’s residence and ascertain his activities upon his return to the United States from France, presumably in September, 1946. If possible, secure the subject’s reason for his trip to France. Federal Bureau of Investigation file on Richard Wright3 Colonialism and the accompanying violence of Western language literacy, which was indissociable from the pedagogic mechanisms of the French imperial ambition, have left indelible marks on francophone literary production . In fact, francophone writers have by definition been compelled to mediate their aesthetic and political projects through a linguistic domain that is inextricably linked to this historical context. This mediation has led writers to align themselves with or distance themselves from existing models , inaugurating a paradoxical gesture, given that each choice has served to reinscribe the centrality of the very paradigm whose periphery they sought. Postcolonial theory has addressed these circumstances through concepts such as “abrogation” (which “involves a rejection of the metropolitan power over the means of communication”) and “appropriation” (through which “language is adopted as a tool and utilized in various ways to express widely differing cultural practices”).4 As useful as this terminology may be, it does not explicitly incorporate the broader lexicon to which it is tangentially connected though categories such as intertextuality, plagiarism , and recycling. Francophone writers have invariably found themselves ensnared in complex creative circumstances requiring a mediation with established aesthetic conventions. While innovation is of course a precondition for the transformation, mutation, and survival of literary genres—from Oulipo, the nouveau roman, and magic realism to reformulations of various postmodernist models—francophone texts have only rarely been embraced for their originality.5 Critics have often generated the kinds of reductive readings epitomized by Jacques Chevrier, who argues, “One must agree that the novel is, to a great extent, a Western form imposed on Africa as the consequence of the brutal encounter between two cultures, and one can easily recognize Balzac and Zola in the literary models that have for the most part inspired Negro-African novelists of French expression.”6 The claim that African writers are merely Black variations of canonical authors has of course been denounced by a range of critics, who have insisted on the intrinsic originality of francophone texts by adopting anthropological approaches to the study of literature (Miller), explored the centrality of ideology (Irele), or maintained the validity of theorizing the national (Bjornson, Huannou, Midiohouan, Thomas) in order to account for the specificity of cultural and sociopolitical circumstances.7 In turn, many francophone sub-Saharan African writers have challenged and even played with these assumptions in their attempt to confuse these power relations. Asking in his essay “Orphée noir” (“Black Orpheus”) what negritude might be, Jean-Paul Sartre is paradoxically forced to acknowledge the incapacity of language to define the term: “European languages do not have the vocabulary with which to explain the term.”8 In turn, Sony Labou Tansi claimed, “I have never had recourse to French, it is rather French that has had recourse to me,” insisting on the imperative of political engagement while foregrounding creative integrity.9 Fundamental questions pertaining to textual ownership remain central to critical readings of texts produced by francophone practitioners, and there is a strong record of scholarship on the most notable cases: those of Yambo Ouologuem, Calixthe Beyala, and Laye Camara.10 In fact, these Textual Ownership and the Global Mediation of Blackness 83 considerations have been central to literary analysis and criticism for some time now; for example, theoreticians such as Julia Kristeva and Roland Barthes stressed the importance of considering intertextuality, and Jacques Derrida’s theory of deconstruction emerged from the concern with exploring the tenuous relationship of and the contradictions between the writer ’s consciousness and his or her projects, the various intertextual influences that invariably inform the process of creativity; and in doing so it complicated questions of textual ownership.11 The objective of this...


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