The Colonial Unconscious: Race and Culture in Interwar France

The Colonial Unconscious: Race and Culture in Interwar France

The Colonial Unconscious: Race and Culture in Interwar France

The Colonial Unconscious: Race and Culture in Interwar France

Synopsis

France between the two World Wars was pervaded by representations of its own colonial power, expressed forcefully in the human displays at the expositions coloniales, films starring Josephine Baker, and the short stories of Paul Morand, and more subtly in the avant-garde writings of René Crevel and Raymond Roussel. In her lively book, Elizabeth Ezra interprets a fascinating array of cultural products to uncover what she terms the "colonial unconscious" of the Jazz Age-the simultaneous attraction and repulsion of exoticism and the double bind of a colonial discourse that foreclosed the possibility of the very assimilation it invited. Ezra situates the apotheosis of French colonialism in relation to both the internal tensions of the colonial project and the competing imperialisms of Great Britain and the United States. Examining both the uses and the limits of psychoanalytic theories of empire, she proposes a reading of French colonialism which, while historically specific, also contributes to our understanding of contemporary culture. The enduring legacy of empire is felt to this day, as Ezra demonstrates in a provocative epilogue on the remarkable similarities between the rhetoric of colonial France and accounts of the French victory in the 1998 World Cup.

Excerpt

In recent years, there has been an explosion of interest in what is loosely referred to as [postcolonial studies.] This fashionable topic has spawned what amounts to an academic industry, with dissertations, books, symposia, and conferences devoted to it. Yet, in the rush to label texts, practices, and discourses [postcolonial,] there has been comparatively little consideration of the colonial period. Perhaps this curious and rather glaring omission is a function of postmodernism—there's that prefix again—in which aftereffects are emphasized over sources. Or maybe an era can be fully appreciated, or at least properly scrutinized, only in the harsh light of historical distance: as postmodernism is, perhaps more than anything, a metamodernism, so perhaps postcolonialism is, above all, a metacolonialism, a temporal space in which to take stock of that which precedes it.

When I began this project, around 1990 little work had been done in the field of French colonial studies. To a large extent, the problem was, and still is, that colonialism was not only temporally subsumed in the vague term [postcolonialism]; it was also geographically subsumed in the study of the British empire. To adapt an old political slogan, it is as though all colonialism were postcolonialism, and all empires British. At the same time, the welcome surge of interest in Francophone literatures within French studies has had the ancillary effect of deflecting attention from colonial discourse in metropolitan France, with the result that the images that were disseminated in the hexagone at the height of the colonial era have not been given due consideration. Yet an understanding of these images is vital to understanding French culture of the twentieth . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.