Automne / Fall 2020
Edited By Marc Maufort
Julie K. Allen, Eugene L. Arva, Jean Bessière, Helena Carválho Buescu, Vanessa Byrnes, Chloé Chaudet, Yves Clavaron, Christophe Den Tandt, Catherine Depretto., Theo D’haen, Caius Dobrescu, Dong Yang, Brahim El Guabli, Nikki Fogle, Gerald Gillespie, Kathleen Gyssels, Oliver Harris, Sándor Hites, Michelle Keown, S Satish Kumar, Jacques Marx, Jessica Maufort, Marc Maufort, Jopi Nyman, David O'Donnell, Liedeke Plate, Judith Rauscher, Haun Saussy, Karen-Margrethe Simonsen, Chris Thurman, Anne Williams, Janet M. Wilson, Chantal Zabus, Gang Zhou
Yves Clavaron. Francophonie, postcolonialisme et mondialisation. Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2018. Pp. 258. ISBN: 9782406069751. (Nikki Fogle)
University of Georgia, Athens
As the title indicates, Yves Clavaron’s monograph revolves around the concepts of “francophonie,” postcolonialism and globalization, three concepts that the author proposes to bring into play. Clavaron undertakes “to examine the place of French-speaking literatures in the context of globalization while widening the reflection to phenomena not specifically French-speaking, in order to link the cultures of decolonization” (13).1 He proposes to “build new transnational literary spaces, where the French language renews political models” (13). The author also considers that “la francophonie” and its literature provide an “opportunity to humanize globalization” (12). This work is organized in five sections, which advance the following thesis statement: “the decline of the nation-state nourishes cultural and literary practices which seek to become both transcultural and anti-imperialistic” (13). This paradigm shift suggests a post-francophonie on a global scale as inspired by a world literature which transcends cultural, national and linguistic borders. The concept of “world literature in French” subsequently appears to be a catalyst for the development of such new dynamics.
In the first section, “The World in French,” Clavaron’s theorization of a “post-francophonie” avoids a franco-centric view and brings together postcolonial studies and the English-speaking world in general. This dialogical move is seen as a counterweight to western imperialism. Indeed, the scholar shows that epistemological and theoretical rivalries ←307 | 308→reveal French-language literatures as a field of confrontation for western imperialism; but they are above all, because of their diversity, “a remedy to the pitfall of standardization” (29). This serves to counterbalance globalization and its attempt to homogenize the world according to the western model. As Clavaron elaborates, “[c]ontrary to colonial binarism and vertical antagonisms, a certain vision of the world today tends to favor an entropic mixture of cultures, a euphoric reconciliation of opposites while postcolonial spaces, whether French- or English-speaking, are striving to create spaces of solidarity and reconciliation through a practice of hybridity” (32–33). Because it was born out of the rejection of a franco-centrism which jeopardizes diversity in the French-speaking sphere, “world literature in French” paves the way to a post-French-speaking world which rids “French language literature of nationalist shackles and allows us to envisage an architecture of literatures written in French in a more inclusive manner” (30).
According to the author, “world literature refers to a literary corpus which would ignore the borders of nations and would recognize the transnational nature of the francophonie, which would cease to focus on the former metropolis to favor a dialog between different French-speaking regions, rethinking the relationships between center and periphery through the phenomena of migration, exile and diaspora” (30). Therefore, world literature in French kills three birds with one stone: it dissipates the colonial heritage associated with the concept of the French-speaking world, while at the same time neutralizing French hegemonic tendencies as well as the risk of westernization of the French-speaking world globalization. By means of world literature in the French language, the francophonie resolutely enters into a new era in which the issues of colonization and decolonization as well as their conflictual implications give way to a globalization devoid of western imperialism, i.e. a post-francophonie.
The second section of this work, entitled “Globalized Spaces,” underlines a desacralization of the nation-state in favor of “transnational strategies,” namely transculturality and hybridity, intended to build globalized spaces, such as the Latin American and Caribbean spaces. Clavaron clarifies that “[u]ntil then, the nation-state had been a stable referent: within it, the dimension of the local took on great importance, giving members of society their privileged anchor” (54). However, migrations on the one hand, and media flows on the other, have upset the established order: “Globalization is a process of blurring national borders ←308 | 309→and subversion of existing benchmarks” (54). The author notes that space is “desensitized” through “flows” and “diasporas,” now characterized by “transgression” – a sense of crossing a territory and overcoming a static standard (53). Hybridization, therefore, becomes a logical and inescapable outcome of “space sharing.” For the critic, “globalization tends to question binary and antagonistic models of functioning” (61). Proceeding from that premise, he resorts to Homi K. Bhabha and defends a “sublimation of bipolarity” in order to trace “how the phenomena of cultural contact and encounter interfere with identity and cultural issues in a postcolonial context” (70). Clavaron then reviews the theories by which Latin American and Caribbean thinkers and artists account for the phenomena of transculturality. He concludes that Caribbean theories aim to move beyond the exoticism of cultural diversity in favor of the recognition of a truly effective hybridization, within which cultural difference can flourish, not without sometimes conforming to a form of mythology (notably that of the “mixed race” notion). This constitutes one possible way to challenge colonial and western binarism, “to go beyond the rectified oppositions between center and periphery, identity and otherness as did postcolonial theories, which privilege the negotiation of cultural differences and consider hybridity as migration” (82).
Entitled “Ocean Crossings,” the third section demonstrates how European imperialism is today undermined through the same channels by which it was once built. Considering that it is largely through travel accounts that Europe established its hegemony over the rest of the world, Clavaron analyzes the different forms by which the postcolonial travelogue questions the centrality of Europe. Two tendencies in contemporary western travel accounts can be observed: “the rewriting of a travel account of the colonial era, on the one hand, and the postcolonial re-visitation of imperial geographies, on the other hand, both accepting or even claiming a loss of authority over the space visited” (90). These travelogues adopt the narrative forms of postmodernity. In the face of colonial travel accounts, we are witnessing “counter-travel accounts, journeys upside down” to use the expression of Romuald Fonkoua (117), whose authors are non-Europeans. Written in either French or English, these counter-narratives use strategies such as irony and revisionism. Clavaron borrows from Steven Clark’s formula and concludes that the travel literature of the 20th and 21st centuries has ceased to be a one-way traffic (100).←309 | 310→
Christopher Columbus’ journey is the European “founding act of imperialism” (106). The history of the slave trade that it generated created a transcontinental “space of mobility and fluidity” (127). Moreover, Clavaron adds, the “European imperialism which was built on the Atlantic feeds new cultural and literary dynamics, migrant and transcultural writings which attack the very principles of the imperial powers” (119). Clavaron then advances the existence of a transatlantic literary space derived from this historical current, which should prompt us to re-read the literary phenomena taking place on the continents bordered by the Atlantic. Indeed, western imperialism has nurtured new literary dynamics that strongly challenge it by weaving in transnational relationships no longer operating by verticality but by horizontality.
Dealing with “Historic Crossings,” the fourth section envisions subalternity studies as a challenge to Euro-chronology and “western historiography” and shows the role of these concepts in English-speaking and French-speaking novel writing. After providing useful theoretical clarifications on subalternity studies, Clavaron discusses how novels by Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy deconstruct the story of colonial history by including characters who appear as absolute subordinates. Just as historiographical practice aims to challenge the monolithic tales of colonial and national history, literary writing multiplies the narrative and disarticulates its structure according to the relativistic aesthetic of postmodernism. Clavaron’s long analytical journey in this section leads him to the conclusion that “postcolonial literature now affirms the existence of an autonomous domain of political action in the universe of subordinates who are destined not to remain so” (189).
The fifth and final section entitled “Of the World as an Ecosphere” establishes affinities between the postcolonial and ecocritical issues in order to advocate a postcolonial ecocriticism which would question the world in its social and natural globality. This is accomplished by calling into question the notions of anthropocentrism, eurocentrism, logocentrism and western humanism. Clavaron further elaborates by stating that western thought is based on a binary logic which induces a relationship of domination between the West and its otherness. Racism, sexism and colonialism are thus symptomatic of what Val Plumwood calls “hegemonic centrism” (Plumwood 4), i.e. a set of attitudes which reinforce one another to exploit nature and exclude anything and anybody that is considered as non-human (198).←310 | 311→
In different ways, the author finally notes, ecocriticism and postcolonialism constitute a resistance paradigm. Postcolonial literature in varying degrees criticizes the endangerment of nature and the destruction of ecological balance by neocolonial practices or forms of internal colonialism. This new, “post-European humanism rethinks human relationships with nature by deconstructing anthropocentric and hierarchical prejudices, a ‘pan humanism’ conceived as a heterogeneous flow and network of solidarities and interactions between humans and non-humans” (209).
All in all, Francophonie, postcolonialisme et mondialisation is a dense, linear work that encapsulates several interrelated themes. While reading this work, I felt at times overwhelmed by the sheer amount of detailed information contained in its pages. However, as my reading progressed, I reveled in Clavaron’s multiple unveilings of new vistas and literary approaches that added immensely to both my historical and literary knowledge base. The scholar’s valuable contribution is a must read for comparative literature scholars, French literature scholars, and world literature scholars.
Bhabha, Homi. K. Les lieux de la culture. Une théorie postcoloniale. Trad. F. Bouillot, Paris: Payot, 2007 .
Clark, Steven. Travel Writing and Empire: Postcolonial Theory in Transit. London & New York: Zed Books, 1999.
Fonkoua, Romuald, « Le ‘voyage à l’envers’. Essai sur le discours des voyageurs nègres en France ». Le Discours de voyages. Afrique-Antilles. Ed. Romuald Fonkoua. Paris: Khartala, 1998. 115–45.
Plumwood, Val. Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. London: Routledge, 2001.←311 | 312→←312 | 313→
1 All English translations of Clavaron’s original text are mine.