French Tropicalism

At the occasion of the recent publication of Senegalese philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne’s book ‘African Art as Philosophy: Senghor, Bergson and the Idea of Negritude’ (originally published in French in 2007) and listening to this interview where he speaks about his new book, ‘Bergson Postcolonial’, I intended to write a short post wondering why it often takes years before important work by African authors (both fiction and non-fiction) that is originally published in French becomes available in English — if at all. Browsing through English news and culture blogs focussing on ‘all things African’, one does find a lot of visual work (by francophone artists, fashionistas or musicians) because that work is easy to blog and reblog (Tumblr & co), but when it comes to engaging with French opinions and writings… it’s a desert out there.

It’s hard to shake off the feeling the result is a virtual and cultural space consisting of two separate worlds missing out on each other’s written work. Short, a post on why French African authors matter and why they are often absent on English platforms.

Until I came across the argument above, by Souleymane Bachir Diagne himself, who expresses their importance far more eloquently than I could have. (As a scholar of Léopold Senghor’s work and as a friend of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Diagne couldn’t leave them out of the argument.) In English.

I’ll still make that list of French works which I believe need to be translated and read — another day.

2 thoughts on “French Tropicalism

  1. Looking forward to the list!
    As a Senegalese living in Australia, that is exactly what struck me: I discovered many books (in english) that are completely unknown in the francophone world and I think it’d be the same for an english speaking person settling in France or Quebec.
    Very witty intervention by Souleymane Bachir Diagne, one of the brightest minds from Senegal

  2. I grew up in Congo and was exposed to a huge and varied French writers, but as I went through my Masters in English, people were didn’t know most of these writers that made me fall in love with literature. My head gets dizzy just thinking about the Italian, Spanish, German, Russian works that must be worth to be read, but I might never get too. I still try to keep an eye on internationally published writers though.

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