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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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Abbreviations and Key Terms


1.The novel Batouala (Preface and novel proper), is italicised, while Chief Batouala, the novel’s central character, appears in plain text (Batouala). Modifications have been made (to the title of journal articles, for example), in order that the distinction is at all times clear.

2.Batouala’s Preface is indicated by a capital ‘P’ throughout, with a lower case ‘p’ used for the generic term. The term, “novel”, is used for the novel proper as well as for the work as a whole: the surrounding context will determine which meaning the term carries. “The work” is another term applied to Batouala’s Preface and novel proper.

3.Chapters in Batouala are written as Chapter One, Chapter Two and so on, while the chapters of this book are written as chapter 1, chapter 2. Chapters of other publications are written with a capital ‘C’ and a numeric sign (Chapter 7, for example).

4.The text referred to is the 1938 edition, unless otherwise specified, and is noted as (B, p.). Reference to the original edition is noted as (B [1921], p.) and to the most recent English translation as (B [1972], p.). Page numbers throughout correspond with the most recent French edition of Batouala (Paris: Albin Michel, 2001).

5.All text is written in Australian English, with the exception of quoted material where American English spelling is preserved (although “z” has been altered to “s” in words such as organisation, civilisation and so on). Dates are noted as day/month/year.

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