As a discipline, francophone postcolonial studies defaults to several familiar tropes. In the Maghrebi context, one of them involves substituting historical events for literary ones. History has long offered the primary organizational rubric for many forays into the field, whose long and ongoing colonial struggles remain unresolved on either side of the Mediterranean littoral. A common battleground of the region’s postcolonial aesthetic and sociological configurations revolves around the choice of language: Should the postcolonized continue to write in the colonizer’s language? A postfrancophone poetics disrupts much of this terrain. It gestures toward one way out of the postcolonial lingual deadlock by eschewing the historical event as structuring principle and offering literary rather than historical markers—a constellation of references that isolates the fundamental plasticity of the french language and mollifies it with translation and intertextuality. Beneath the surface tension of francophone Maghrebi literature’s invariably french-language appearance, the modernism of french poetics and the deep historical intertext of Islamic scripture and classical Arabic lyric freely, incessantly weave in and out of one another. A postfrancophone poetics ciphers historicity, ever on display for the curious reader.
Arabic and the Postfrancophone Poetics of Maghrebi Literature
Arabic Literary Theory
The Arabic language has a rich history of literary criticism and theory, starting from the 8th century ce up to the 21st century. This literary criticism and theory engages with a poetic tradition that dates back to pre-Islamic times. The inquiry into literary quality was motivated by an interest in evaluating poetry, a general concern with eloquent speech, whether in verse or prose, and by the desire to articulate the beauty of the Quran. The transmission of Aristotle’s Poetics into Arabic also spurred interest in the poetic, particularly in Arabic philosophy. The study of eloquence crystallized into a standardized science by the 13th century ce, with branches focusing on (1) the role of syntax in literary beauty (the science of meanings); (2) simile, metaphor, and metonymy (the science of elucidation); and (3) rhetorical figures (the science of rhetorical figures). The aesthetic developed in the early criticism of the 9th and 10th centuries was concerned with articulating the merits of an idealized classical style of pre-Islamic poetry, from which the “modern” poets of the early Abbasid period diverged. This classically oriented aesthetic was dominated by a concern with the truthfulness and naturalness of poetry, typical of the style of the “ancients,” on the one hand, and the limits of unrealistic imagery and affected artificiality, which characterized the more ornate modern Abbasid style, on the other. This binary outlook shifted after the 10th century, however, to an aesthetic of wonder. A theory of aesthetic experience began to develop, therefore, which was based on the ability of poetic language to evoke wonder in the recipient. As a result, wonder-enhancing characteristics such as strangeness, the unexpected, and the rare became essential components of aesthetic judgment. Moreover, the ability of language to make meaning manifest in ways that allow for an experience of discovery and hence wonder, became the foundation of aesthetic inquiry in post-10th century Arabic literary theory.
Postcolonial Avant-Garde Fiction
Postcolonial novelists face a difficult double bind. On one hand, they are expected to produce fiction that accurately represents the political and social circumstances of the nations to which they belong. Yet realism came to them as an inheritance of imperial rule, and as such it served as a tool for organizing colonial understandings of time, social relations, and interior experience. On the other hand, experiments in novelistic form that would break with the tenets of realism are often understood as frivolous capitulations to Western fashions or as bitter attacks on cherished traditional aesthetics. For if literary experiments are conducted with the intention of transforming popular tastes, they may very well be taken as analogues of the imperial civilizing mission, which claims to be justified in forcing cultural transformations on colonized populations by virtue of their purported indolence and backwardness. Evidently there is no position that a postcolonial writer can adopt that does not involve some kind of complicity with imperial interests or mimicry of its aesthetic forms. Yet the postcolonial avant-garde can be defined by its refusal of the binary choice between colonial-national and metropolitan-imperial imperatives. Its aesthetic innovations are defined by the intention of challenging not simply the realities created by empires but the very social imaginary, often uncritically adopted by colonial or postcolonial populations, on which the imperial project rests. Writers working in this tendency develop non-, pseudo-, or para-mimetic narratives to force readers to entertain the possibility of realities existing outside the terms of the real as this has been prescribed by dominant agencies, including imperial ones; alternatively, they turn their prose to ends other than representation in order to demonstrate the embeddedness of ordinary language in imperial discourses and to indicate other possible usages of a shared tongue. Magical realism, most influentially and spectacularly, began as a challenge to the disenchanted and positivist nature of the Western gaze: writers like Alejo Carpentier, Gabriel García Márquez, and Ben Okri reveal the everyday power of forces not recognized by modern secular reason. Other writers, like Samuel Beckett and Clarice Lispector, disclose the relation between realist literary representation and the very order of rationality that consigns heterogeneous or dissident elements to the status of madness. Postcolonial avant-garde fiction is thus distinguished intellectually from realist writing by its assault on the presuppositions or unconscious preconditions of imperial domination as these have been taken up among colonized populations. Insofar as imperialism, in its liberal varieties at least, works through an epistemological register to transform the ways in which colonized populations think, avant-garde artists must direct their polemical energies against both foreign and domestic audiences simultaneously. The obscurity and difficulty of postcolonial avant-garde fiction is thus the result not only of the novel narrative and descriptive strategies it employs but also of the tenuous and often untenable situation of the avant-garde writer in the postcolony, a gadfly to all implied readers. The formal innovations developed by postcolonial avant-garde writers are vast, but all serve the project of offering new modes of perception that cannot be contained by either imperial or nationalist worldviews. In this sense the avant-garde is a democratizing agency, opposing consensual fictions and opening up multiple possible avenues for experiencing and responding to the problems and potentials of postcolonial existence.
Olivia C. Harrison
Since the beginning of the 21st century, scholars of race and empire have been invested in exploring the horizontal vectors that stretch across and between imperial formations, displacing the vertical axis of North-South relations taken to be characteristic of early postcolonial theory. An analytical framework that seeks to capture the relationality of empire and the transversal modes of resistance against it, transcolonial studies offers a methodology for apprehending the coloniality of the present. The term transcolonial was coined in the 1990s, but the horizontal relationalities it describes are as old as empire itself. Europe’s colonial ventures were relational from the start, driven by competition for hegemony over seas and land and modeled on the likeness of empires past and present. Likewise, resistance to colonial conquest and governance took shape in relation to liberation struggles elsewhere and drew inspiration from previous and ongoing revolts in Haiti, Algeria, Vietnam, and Palestine. The movements for racial justice and decolonization that have followed in the wake of empire are similarly rooted in practices of solidarity that span subject positions without conflating them, from Standing Rock to Gaza and Black Lives Matter. Such unexpected solidarities among heterogeneously racialized and colonized subjects and their majoritarian allies work to undo the reified identities produced in colonial and racial discourse, undermining the competitive identitarian model inaugurated by the divide-and-conquer methods of high colonialism. To describe these alliances as transcolonial is also to acknowledge that Euro-colonial modernity continues to shape the purportedly postcolonial present. The prefix trans is temporal as much as it is geographic and political.
The Turkish Novel as Transnational
Ayşe Özge Koçak Hemmat
The novel in the Turkish tradition has been a transnational genre, both in terms of its inception and production during the late Ottoman era, and by virtue of the novelists’ transnational experiences and the reflection of these experiences in their novels. Imperial transnationalism—intra- and inter-imperial exchanges and relations that predate the modern nation-state—is an essential lens through which to study the Ottoman novel, with its multiple sources and cross-cultural engagement and output that expand the scope of the “Ottoman novel” to the non-Turkish-speaking and non-Muslim subjects of the empire. Following the split of the former Ottoman territories into nation-states that began in the 19th century and culminated after World War I, the Republic of Turkey attempted to forge a unique Turkish identity, an effort that involved cultivating a national literary tradition distinct from that of its imperial predecessor. The Republican-era novelists nonetheless continued to reflect on their transnational and cross-cultural experiences in their work. Some of these authors wrote while residing abroad for reasons ranging from exile to diplomatic service, illustrating the complexities of the concept and the reality of nation, imagined or otherwise. As the form and the substance of the Turkish novel evolved and flourished, culminating in the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Orhan Pamuk in 2006, Turkish novelists enjoyed wider and more international audiences. Some recurrent themes in transnational Turkish novels are identity and language, belonging at home and abroad, and reconciling the past with the present. While Turkish novelists now enjoy increased mobility and the ability to reach an international audience, with more of their work being translated and published abroad, and read and studied across the globe, the scope of international scholarship on the Turkish novel is still confined to the work of a small group of authors. This highly selective reception not only limits the range of works to which international audiences are exposed, but also suppresses the genre’s entanglement in the Turkish literary tradition with the crossing of boundaries—temporal and traditional, as well as physical. A transnational approach to studying the Turkish novel thus provides insight into the genre’s origins, evolution, circulation, and reception, but it also highlights its transgressive nature in a wide network of world literary and social developments through its evolution via travel, translation, and adaptation in different regions, and its negotiations with other literary forms.