Here are the sessions sponsored by our division at the 2014 MLA Convention:
61. Literature and/as Ethnography
Thursday, 9 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Ontario, Sheraton Chicago
Program arranged by the Division on Twentieth-Century French Literature
Presiding: Alison S. James, Univ. of Chicago
1. “Sortir des livres: The Ethnographic Impulse in Twentieth-Century French Literature,” Vincent Debaene, Columbia Univ.
I would like to explore the notion of ethnographic impulse in connection with the evolutions of both literature and the anthropological discipline in France in the 20th century. I intend to consider this notion in comparison and contrast with another notion (which can be considered both as an analogue and a converse), namely that of “temptation.” Indeed, while Roland Barthes refers to his own “tentation ethnologique,” Pierre Bourdieu clearly states that social sciences need to resist any “tentation littéraire” – on both sides, the issue is framed in terms of impulse and resistance or repression. The comparison between the logic of impulse and the logic of temptation thus provides an interesting perspective on the exchanges between literature and anthropology throughout the 20th century.
2. “For a ‘Relational Ethnopoetics,'” Maxime Philippe, McGill Univ.
In 1936, Antonin Artaud travelled to Mexico. During this trip, he visited the Sierra Tarahumara to participate in the Tarahumara rituals dedicated to the sun and to the peyote. After his return, Artaud wrote several texts about this experience, which he kept rewriting till his death. Artaud included one of these texts in his last radio broadcast To Have Done With The Judgment of God as he associated closely these rituals with his critique of western tradition and theatre and considered them as a model for his project of a new Theatre of Cruelty. These narratives have been studied and their ethnographic relevance discussed, as Artaud’s narratives are highly subjective and influenced by his concerns. It is possible to trace how Artaud’s primitivism and his mysticism have altered his perception of this experience. Nonetheless, Artaud is a good example of what James Clifford calls a “surrealist ethnography” and could be an inspiration for a new practice of ethnography: a poetic one. I would like to consider more specifically the truly poetic aspect of this experience and contemplate how Artaud’s experience has informed his poetic practice. In Artaud’s work, the Tarahumaras stand for more than just a primitive non-occidental tribe. I will argue that this practice could be termed a “ relational ethnopoetics” as it shows how the establishment of a Relation (Glissant) with another culture can help an artist to criticize and challenge artistic institutions. I will consider similarly how the reference to other non western rituals as the Balinese theatre and the Hindu rituals in Artaud’s work reveals a deep understanding of these cultures that helped the author to redefine his artistic practice encompassing a multiplicity of media.
3. “Michel Leiris and Ethnographic Intertextuality,” Justin Izzo, Brown Univ.
This paper examines the interplay of autobiography and anthropology in Michel Leiris’s La Règle du jeu. In an autobiography that often reads like an ethnography of the self, one that investigates such classically anthropological notions as the sacred and mystical language, Leiris’s literary writing is in conversation both with his prior fieldwork in Africa and with his dissatisfaction with his foray into the social sciences. I argue that Leiris’s strategy is one of “ethnographic intertextuality,” a vision of literature as wholly informed by anthropological discursivity but one that, paradoxically, evinces its discomfort with certain of anthropology’s epistemological premises.
4. “Des non-lieux aux lieux imaginaires: Le geste autoréflexif chez Marc Augé et Didier Van Cauwelaert,” Anna E. Navrotskaya, Penn State Univ., University Park
Pour Marc Augé, un texte ethnographique est une narration au deuxième degré: une interprétation d’une interprétation de l’altérité (Non-Lieux). Un ethnologue observe l’Autre et s’observe à le faire. L’écriture ajoute un niveau de plus à cette série de mises en abime. Dans Un aller simple de Didier Van Cauwelaert, on retrouve une succession similaire d’identités jumelées et de gestes autoréflexifs, y compris celui de l’écriture. L’invention et l’improvisation sont des caractéristiques habituellement invoquées dans le discours théorique sur l’art et la créativité. Dans ma communication, je démontre que l’autoréflexivité est également une caractéristique essentielle de tout acte créatif. Elle permet d’établir un lien de parenté entre le discours ethnographique et la fiction comme deux expressions de la créativité. Un Ethnologue dans le métro et Le Metro revisité comparés à Un Aller simple présentent un cas propice à examiner. Le processus de transformation d’un non-lieu en un lieu personnifié et celui d’invention et modification d’identités sont deux exemples de l’émergence du Moi face à l’altérité de l’Autre. Selon Emmanuel Levinas, c’est la rencontre avec cette altérité qui nécessite la prise de conscience du Soi et engendre « l’œuvre de l’identité ». C’est un geste autoréflexif au cœur de toute relation, mais également de toute création.
252. Where Is French Theory Today?
Friday, 10 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Superior B, Sheraton Chicago
Program arranged by the Division on Twentieth-Century French Literature
Presiding: Danielle Marx-Scouras, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
1. “Foucault’s Foresight: Mapping the Rise of the Neoliberal Age in The Birth of Biopower,” Rosemarie Scullion, Univ. of Iowa
2. “Aller-Retour: The American Afterlife of French Theory,” Bishupal Limbu, Portland State Univ.
3. “Radical Critique between the Arab Spring and Littérature-monde,” Neil Doshi, Univ. of Pittsburgh
4. “New Directions in Francophone, Postcolonial, and Subaltern Studies: Bayart’s ‘Carnaval académique’ or Glissant’s ‘Querelle avec l’Histoire’?” Jennifer Therese Howell, Illinois State Univ.
552. Francophone African Writers and Anthropology
Saturday, 11 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Missouri, Sheraton Chicago
Program arranged by the Division on Twentieth-Century French Literature and the Division on African Literatures
Presiding: Vincent Debaene, Columbia Univ.; Justin Izzo, Brown Univ.
1. “Paraliterary Ethnography and Colonial Self-Writing: The Student Notebooks of the William Ponty School,” Tobias Warner, Univ. of California, Davis
2. “Bizarre Bodies: Parody and Improvisation in Amadou Hampâté Bâ’s Writing of Culture,”Jonathon Repinecz, Univ. of California, Berkeley
3. “Kourouma and the Hunters, Kourouma’s Hunters,” Karim Traoré, Univ. of Georgia
This session critically addresses an insufficiently explored corpus: the numerous works by French-speaking African writers who engaged with anthropology in the 20th century.
Such an engagement is indeed a noticeably widespread and diverse phenomenon. One need only think of authors such as Paul Hazoumé, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Amadou Hampaté Bâ, Fily Dabo Sissoko, Amadou Kourouma or Yambo Ouolouguem: all of these figures either wrote ethnographic texts, texts about anthropology, or literary works which incorporate elements of anthropological discourse. This interdisciplinary literary approach leads us to reconsider the generally accepted historical narrative which too often conceives the relationship of African authors with anthropology as a rebellion of the “Native” against a violent and reifying discourse created by the West. Contemporary visions of literature and anthropology have led scholars to assume that literature offers a discourse of resistance against a colonial discourse of “scientific” knowledge production. However, this opposition is not as clear-cut as it appears at first glance.
Senghor and Hazoumé graduated from the Institut d’ethnologie de Paris, for instance. Hampaté Bâ was first an informant, then a professionally trained ethnographer. Sissoko produced several ethnographic articles before turning to autobiographical essays. Kourouma, for his part, explicitly acknowledges his debt to Malian anthropologist Y.T. Cissé’s work on the oral genre of the hunters’ epic. Even Aimé Césaire’s famous rejection of Griaule’s school of “ethnographers who go in for metaphysics” in his Discourse on Colonialism is part of a wider argument defending the anthropological works of Michel Leiris and Claude Lévi-Strauss.
The three panelists all study works of African literature in terms of the reappropriation of anthropological discourse rather than in terms of competition or outright rejection. Moreover, they all demonstrate careful consideration of their texts’ cultural and historical conditions of production. This approach follows Christopher Miller’s recommendation in his seminal book, Theories of Africans (1990), that a “fair Western reading of African literatures” cannot “take place in the vacuum of a ‘direct’ and unmediated relationship with the text” and “demands an engagement with […] anthropology” ( 4).
Tobias Warner will begin by setting up both the historical context and the terms of the debate with an analysis of the Student Notebooks of the William Ponty School. Beginning in 1933, West African students at the Ecole Normale William Ponty – the “elite” French colonial teacher-training college – completed their studies by writing monographs known as devoirs de vacances. Students were required to produce ethnographies of some aspect of their community of origin during their summer vacation. There are over 700 of these monographs, collectively known as the “Cahiers Ponty” (Ponty notebooks). While the Ponty notebooks have long served as background sources for social scientists, they have never been studied as a genre in their own right. Based on extensive primary research, this paper explores how Ponty students stretched and contested the limits of the literary and the ethnographic as modes of seeing and speaking for the social world. It argues that the Cahiers Ponty played a far reaching (if poorly understood) role in shaping the contours of colonial modernity and early francophone literature in West Africa.
Working from this useful historical overview, Jonathon Repinecz focuses on the use of anthropology in the work of Amadou Hampâté Bâ, who famously turned down entry into the Ecole Normale William Ponty in 1921. As punishment, the governor appointed him to an administrative position officially described as that of “an essentially precarious and revocable temporary writer”. Such a position led him to crisscross French West Africa in the 1920s and 30s, documenting African, as well as colonial, customs and finally becoming in the 1940s a professional ethnological researcher, reading and meeting major figures of French anthropology. However the narrative L’Etrange destin de Wangrin (1973) puts a number of twists on this activity of documentation and collection, especially through the description of Gongolooma-Sooké, the deity to whom Wangrin is consecrated and who reflects the ambiguity of his protégé, a black colonial interpreter whose characterization is modeled both on the trickster figure and the epic hero. Hampâté Bâ’s portrayal of the deity exemplifies the concepts of débrouillardise (Bayart) and bricolage (LéviStrauss) and needs to be read as a dynamic act of writing culture, against the idea of a unified Bambara worldview as it has been depicted by French colonial-era ethnographers like Léon Tauxier or Germaine Dieterlen.
Finally, following up on his book Le Jeu et le sérieux. Essai d’anthropologie littéraire sur la poésie épique des chasseurs du Mande (2000), Karim Traoré investigates Ahmadou Kourouma’s appropriation of the Mandé hunters’ epic (their maana) in his novel En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages (1998). Professor Traoré traces this appropriation back to Kourouma’s main source, namely the studies of the Malian anthropologist Youssouf Tata Cissé. He explores the consequences, for the novel as a whole, of this borrowing from a unique source and studies the effects of this fictionalization of Mandé hunters for a readership presumed to be unaware of the Manding donso culture.
With these papers, we hope to contribute to recent trends in both 20th-century French and Francophone literary studies and the history of anthropology (trends that demand a detailed and comparative reexamination of anthropology’s past and effects, beyond the idea that the discipline was fatally flawed by its inscription in the colonial situation), while shedding a new light on twentieth-century African cultural production.