Prof. Cheikh Ndiaye

Union College Department of Modern Languages

Reawakening the Repressed:
Postcolonial narrative strategies in Calixthe Beyala's Tu t'appelleras Tanga, Patrick Chamoiseau 's Texaco, and Rachid Mimouni's La Malédiction.

Abstract:  This study considers narrative strategies in three postcolonial novels, all written in French but each one functioning within a particular socio-cultural space.

In their attempt to awaken the subconscious that had been repressed during the colonial period, many postcolonial writers define their work as a "cultural reconstruction", seeking to find a new national identity. Henceforth, they question all power structures forged by history through the tool of language. Paradoxically, the implementation of this cultural reconstruction is experienced through a forcibly imposed language, that of the former colonizer. But these postcolonial writers reconsider their relation with this language, which they now "appropriate" and "rearticulate" to mirror local meanings and repressed desires. This is why the language of these texts, at first glance, destabilizes their readers, especially those from outside, by confronting them with hitherto unfamiliar images, figures, and symbols. At the same time, this particular language surpasses the mimetic style of certain earlier writers, mostly colonial, with regard to "universal" literary models.

The writers whose works I analyze, although from spaces geographically and culturally different, share the French colonial experience and its legacy. Calixthe Beyala is from Cameroon, which similarly to many West-African countries, experienced the passage to independence in the sixties but the political autonomy is still a small legal step in a far more complex process leading to full cultural autonomy. In North-Africa where Rachid Mimouni is originated, the recent rise in strict Islamicism following in the wake of a prolonged struggle for independence in Algeria have made social healing and the passage to democracy a receding hope. In the Caribbean where Patrick Chamoiseau is from, Haiti has been independent since the early 1800's, and Martinique and Guadeloupe have opted for ambiguous status as French "départements".

Calixthe Beyala brings an original voice to African postcolonial literature, one written from a female perspective. She uses a provocative tone and graphic violence in her writing, which echoes her desire to emancipate women. Patrick Chamoiseau reconstructs the "Totality" of the Creole culture in referring to Martinique as a Caribbean entity with a very different history, while Rachid Mimouni uses allegory as a strategy to deconstruct imposed conflictual ideologies under the pretext of religion and secular power in today's Algeria. In addition to the particular use of language, these original voices attempt to surpass colonial quarrels by mobilizing their discourse to the specific realities they individually experience and witness.

First, I give the historical, cultural, and literary contexts from which these texts have emerged. Secondly, I analyze the ways these writers translate the implications of events they experience and/or witness, and the different strategies they apply to those implications. I focus on the ways language is used as a cultural device that dynamically participates in the construction of these writers' "vision" of the world. Finally, I trace the similarities and the differences between these texts with a focus on their particular meaning in the emerging literatures of the postcolonial world in French.

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