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The Limits of the Literary: Senegalese Writers Between French, Wolof and World Literature


This dissertation argues that the category of the literary emerged in colonial Senegal through the exclusion of some indigenous textual cultures and the translation of others. In readings of Mariama Bâ, Ousmane Sembène, Cheikh Aliou Ndao, Maam Yunus Dieng and others, I examine how postcolonial Senegalese authors working in French and Wolof have responded to this legacy. Through analyses of a variety of 19th-20th century texts, this dissertation explores how the Senegalese literary field has been crosscut by a series of struggles over how to define proper reading and authorship, and what the shape of a future literary public might be. I argue that Senegalese writers working at the interstices of French and Wolof have engaged with a variety of crises of authorship and audience by addressing their work to a public that is yet to come.

The dissertation begins in the 19th century with a reading of works by an influential 19th-century métis intellectual, the Abbé David Boilat, in whose scholarly activities one can perceive the discursive preconditions of a future francophone literary field. From there, the dissertation turns to the early 20th century, when literary studies were introduced into the French colonial curriculum as a discipline for cultivating new and putatively modern modes of authorship and reading. The focus then shifts to the 1960s-70s, where I explore the postcolonial politics of language and the emergence of modern Wolof literature and film in Cheikh Aliou Ndao's Buur Tilleen (1967) and Ousmane Sembène's Mandabi (1968). I then investigate how the circulation of Senegalese literature as World literature echoes the ideals of colonial literary study. Here, I reconsider the reception history of Mariama Bâ's Une si longue lettre (1980), contrasting the terms in which that novel became internationally acclaimed with how it has been reworked by a Wolof writer, Maam Yunus Dieng. Finally, in a Coda, I query how the `work' of Wolof literature has been transformed in the age of structural adjustment - through readings of Boubacar Boris Diop's Doomi Golo (2003) and Cheikh Aliou Ndao's Mbaam Aakimoo (1997).

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