The 2007 manifesto in favour of a ‘littérature-monde en français’ has generated wide-ranging debate both within French/Francophone Studies and in literary studies more generally. Praised by some for breaking down the hierarchical division between ‘French’ and ‘Francophone’ literatures, the manifesto has been criticized by others for recreating that division through an exoticizing vision that continues to privilege the publishing industry of the metropolitan centre of the former empire. For scholars working at the intersection of ‘French’, ‘Francophone’ and ‘postcolonial’ studies, the nomenclature, ambition and bravado of the manifesto make it impossible to ignore, and it has prompted a series of probing questions about the nature, shape and evolution of French-language literary studies. Does the declaration of a littérature-monde signal the advent of a new critical paradigm destined to render obsolescent those of ‘French’, ‘Francophone’ and/or ‘postcolonial’ studies? Or is it simply a passing fad, a glitzy but ephemeral publicity stunt generated and promoted by writers and publishing executives from whom scholars and critics should maintain a sceptical distance? Despite – or perhaps because of – its polemical tone, might it serve as a catalyst for new thinking leading beyond current impasses in the theoretical and institutional practices of teaching and research on literatures of French expression? These are among the key questions raised by the manifesto and the debates to which it has given rise.
We do not wish to suggest that these debates are entirely new. The meaning and pertinence of the distinction between ‘French’ and ‘Francophone’ studies have already been at the heart of much critical work over the past two decades.