Vietnam and the Colonial Condition of French Literature

Vietnam and the Colonial Condition of French Literature

Vietnam and the Colonial Condition of French Literature

Vietnam and the Colonial Condition of French Literature

Synopsis

Vietnam and the Colonial Condition of French Literature explores an aspect of modern French literature that has been consistently overlooked in literary histories: the relationship between the colonies- their cultures, languages, and people- and formal shifts in French literary production. Starting from the premise that neither cultural identity nor cultural production can be
pure or homogenous, Leslie Barnes initiates a new discourse on the French literary canon by examining the work of three iconic French writers with personal connections to Vietnam: André Malraux, Marguerite Duras, and Linda Lê.
In a thorough investigation of the authors' linguistic, metaphysical, and textual experiences of colonialism, Barnes articulates a new way of reading French literature: not as an inward-looking, homogenous, monolingual tradition, but rather as a tradition of intersecting and interdependent peoples, cultures, and experiences.
One of the few books to focus on Vietnam's position within francophone literary scholarship, Barnes challenges traditional concepts of French cultural identity and offers a new perspective on canonicity and the division between "French" and "francophone" literature.

Excerpt

[I]t is arguable that dominant European movements … may them
selves, in fact, be more indebted to the cultural effects of the material
practice of colonization and its aftermath than is usually acknowledged.
In fact, the history of literary and critical movements in the twentieth
century is, as one might expect, deeply determined by an interaction
with imperialism.

— Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin¹

In an interview with Xavière Gauthier in 1974 Marguerite Duras spoke briefly of her childhood in colonial Indochina and of her attempts, once in France, to separate herself permanently from childhood and the native land to which she would never return. She then conceded: “But the Mekong still remained somewhere. This Mekong next to which I slept, played, lived for ten years of my life, it stayed with me. Then when I say, ‘What is that murmuring? …,’ it’s the Mekong speaking.” Duras was born near Saigon in 1914 and lived primarily in the southern regions of French Indochina, including Sadec, Vinh Long, and Prey Nop, until her definitive departure for Paris in 1933. and yet, though a considerable amount of critical work has been devoted to examining the sexual, psychic, and ideological significance of these sites as they appear in Duras’s oeuvre, there is still much to be learned about the ways in which this symbolic Mekong River may have conditioned her fiction. in other words, Duras criticism has yet to account fully for the formal influence of the colonial experience on the development of her writing. Moreover, this oversight is representative of a larger aporia in . . .

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