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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Display on Display: Migrating Identities in Contemporary Francophone Literature and Music

  • Author(s): Knox, Katelyn Elizabeth
  • Advisor(s): Thomas, Dominic
  • et al.

"Display on Display: Migrating Identities in Contemporary Francophone Literature and Music" examines Francophone cultural works of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries that grapple with constructions of sub-Saharan African immigrant identity in France. Its cultural studies methodology responds to a current lacuna in traditional philology-based literary studies that divorces literary expression from its wider cultural context, bringing to the fore questions of corporeality, history, and identity formation. The texts this project analyzes--broadly defined to include literature, music, fashion, dance, and visual art--lay bare the ways in which articulations of alterity, paradoxically, helped to solidify images of Frenchness. The works, I argue, critique rigid notions of identity in two principal ways. The texts examined in the first half of this study--by Didier Daeninckx, J. R. Essomba, Salif Ke�ta, and Me�way--call into question how 1990s French political discourse ignored the ways in which the larger histories of colonization and the slave trade laid the foundation for contemporary migratory pathways. By resuscitating these historical moments in conjunction with sub-Saharan African immigration, the works call into question immigrants' exclusion from historically-based notions of national identity. Yet by associating the black body with these historical moments, these works risk suggesting that there exists a homogeneous black community in France that would share such histories. In the second half of this study, thus, I turn to more recent works by Alain Mabanckou and L�onora Miano that both establish and question the existence of a black community in France (and its relationship to diaspora and origin), scrutinizing the criteria upon which such a community would be based. Each of the works selected for this study also exposes how specters of the borders the immigrant figures cross are remapped onto the landscape in which cultural objects (including the texts themselves) circulate. Keenly attuned to the generic classifications--"Francophone," "world music," and "African immigrant literature," among others--that package them and their authors, the works (just like this project) ultimately seek to transcend such disciplinary boundaries.

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