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19 - Postcolonial writing in France

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 January 2012

Ato Quayson
University of Toronto
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Our problem is that we did not invent printing or the Bic pen, and that we’ll always end up at the bottom of the class thinking we could write the history of our continent with spears. Do you get my drift? And what is more, we have a bizarre accent that comes out in our writing, and people don’t care for it.

Introduction: framing postcolonial France

By the end of the nineteenth century, the British and the French shared the ambiguous prestige of wielding the most powerful empires and colonies. Their respective projects varied considerably in terms of geographic spheres of influence, and naturally so did the cultural strategies deployed. Any consideration of the legacy of these historical encounters must necessarily acknowledge these factors, particularly when one analyses the mutually constitutive nature of cross-cultural contact between these regions of the world. The shared historical experience needs to be foregrounded: ‘France and Africa share a common history, expressed jointly by the role France has played for centuries in Africa north and south of the Sahara, and by the more recent presence in the Hexagon of Africans who have, in turn, through their actions, their work, their thinking, had a concrete impact on the course of French history.’ In this regard, the French context is all the more complex given the concerted effort made by the colonial authorities in shaping policy through a civilizing mission determined to establish cultural prototypes in France overseas.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2012

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