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René Maran’s «Batouala»


Susan Allen

The polemic excited by Batouala’s controversial Preface has conditioned an enduring, near-universal acceptance of a disjunction of Preface and novel. This is the first book to challenge that premise. The fallacious underpinnings of the origin persistence of this view are shown to lie in Western, dichotomously structured thinking. Through offshoots of the civilised- versus-savage dichotomy, namely oral- versus-written, form- versus-content and music- versus-narrative, Batouala’s Signifyin(g) discourse spills beyond the novel’s borders to reveal the sterility of dichotomy as a conceptualising structure. Dichotomy’s anachronism is thrust upon it through the work’s faithful representation of African ontology, whose water-inspired philosophy precludes it. Batouala’s structural basis is compared with that of jazz, which similarly bridges European and African civilisations, and whose African philosophical stance also acts as a provocation to the dichotomous thinking model. As Batouala «Fixed» transmutes to Batouala «Free», the pejorative implications of its widely touted ambiguity evaporate to expose a novel that is both lucid and coherent when viewed as jazz-text and jazz performance.
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Bibliographic information published by die Deutsche NationalbibliothekDie Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the DeutscheNationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data is available on the Internetat ‹›.

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data: A catalogue record for this bookis available from The British Library, Great Britain

Library of Congress Control Number: 2015936243

The cover illustration by Fernand Léger is from “Civilisation ...!”, a composition for voice andpiano. Music by Paul Arma, from his series Chants du silence; words by René Maran, from thePreface of Batouala. The illustration is reproduced with the kind permission of the legal beneficiariesof Paul Arma, who was granted permission for its reproduction by the artist at the timeof its creation, and of the publisher, Editions Alphonse Leduc-Heugel, Paris. Collection particulière / Private collection.

Cover Artistic Direction: Sue Johnson, Alameda, California

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