Narratives of Catastrophe: Boris Diop, ben Jelloun, Khatibi

Narratives of Catastrophe: Boris Diop, ben Jelloun, Khatibi

Narratives of Catastrophe: Boris Diop, ben Jelloun, Khatibi

Narratives of Catastrophe: Boris Diop, ben Jelloun, Khatibi

Synopsis

Narratives of Catastrophe tells the story of the relationship between catastrophe, in the senses of "downturn" and "break," and narration as "recounting" in the senses suggested by the French term recit in selected texts by three leading writers from Africa. Qader's book intervenes in important ways in the current scholarship on African literatures. It shows the contributions of African literatures in elucidating theoretical problems for literary studies in general, such as storytelling's relationship to temporality, subjectivity, and thought. Moreover,it addresses the issue of storytelling, which is of central concern in the context of African literatures and which still remains limited mostly to the distinction between the oral and the written. The notion of recit breaks with this duality by foregrounding the inaugural temporality of telling andof writing as repetition. The final chapters examine catastrophic turns within the philosophical traditions of the West and in Islamic thought.

Excerpt

This project is the culmination of years of thinking through some of my dissatisfactions regarding the field of African literature and its relationship with certain theoretical directions in literary studies in general. While African literature in general (and specifically Francophone African literature, the primary area of my study) has been, since the second half of the twentieth century, one of the most fecund fields of literary production, it remains on the margins of literary studies. Though many American and European universities have specialists in African literatures and though Francophone literature has gained a place of visibility for itself, the study of African literature still remains the business of the few: not incorporated into literary and theoretical discussions and developments in general, still framed primarily by the discourse of postcoloniality. Moreover, the critical and theoretical discourse on African literatures, both within and without the continent, has been dominated by the political, social, or anthropological, rendering texts documents. Even those who admit that the literary is not the same phenomenon as the social, the political, or the cultural have not always managed to escape the pitfalls of appropriating literature for these domains.

The historical relationship of African literatures with anthropology has been difficult to debunk. Simon Gikandi, in a speech at the African Literature Association Conference in 2000, gave voice to the frustration of many in the field when he spoke about his experiences teaching Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. He explained the difficulties and the resistances he confronts in trying to break with the overarching tendency to render the main character, Okonkwo, immediately representative of the Igbo people and culture. Gikandi imputes the origin of the problem to the discourse of modernity, especially its valorization of rationality and universal reason, arguing that by repudiating difference from the center of its production, namely Europe, it did not eliminate difference but rather pushed it toward the margins . . .

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