French Tropicalism

When it comes to engaging with French language opinions and writings in English, it’s a desert out there.

Image Serigne Diagne. Via Flickr CC.

Recently the University of Chicago Press published ‘African Art as Philosophy: Senghor, Bergson and the Idea of Negritude‘ by Senegalese philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne (originally published in French in 2007). It is how I found myself listening to this interview with Diagne 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 initially published in French becomes available in English – if at all.

Browsing through English news and culture blogs focussing on ‘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). Still, when it comes to engaging with French language opinions and writings, it’s a desert out there.

It’s hard to shake off the feeling that the result is a virtual and cultural space 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 below, 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 I believe need to be translated and read. Another day.

Further Reading