Roland Barthes, his Grandfather and Côte d’Ivoire

“He had nothing to say.” That’s how French philosopher Roland Barthes described his grandfather Louis-Gustave Binger, the archetypal French colonialist: “Il ne tenait aucun discours.” And yet. Explorer of the Niger Loop, Louis-Gustave Binger was the author of Du Niger au Golfe de Guinée (1891). He was the founder of the Côte d’Ivoire colony and was appointed its governor in 1893. He was “officially” considered the “father” of the nation. He founded and set up the first capital, gave his name to the second. He features on the country’s stamps:

Binger also wrote Le Serment de l’Explorateur, a novel in which an explorer heads off “to Africa” leaving his wife and daughter behind. The photographs taken during Binger’s explorations are the first photographs ever taken in Côte d’Ivoire.

But, “It is as if neither honours nor books ever existed for Roland Barthes.”

A few years ago, Vincent Meessen has made a short film, “Vita Nova,” about Roland Barthes’ peculiar silence about his grandfather’s colonial life, which you can now watch online:

Read an interview with Vincent Meessen about “Vita Nova” here. Meessen is currently working on a new film, La Poule d’Ombredane, which takes its cue from the Congo-based experiments by French psychologist André Ombredane (1898–1958).

Further Reading

A private city

Eko Atlantic in Lagos, like Tatu City in Nairobi, Kenya; Hope City in Accra, Ghana; and Cité le Fleuve in Kinshasa, DRC, point to the rise of private cities. What does it mean for the rest of us?

What she wore

The exhibition, ‘Men Lebsa Neber,’ features a staggering collection of the clothes and stories of rape survivors across Ethiopia.