Aminata Sow Fall, oralité et société dans l’œuvre romanesque

By Médoune Guèye

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Gueye offers the first comprehensive study of the novels Aminata Sow Fall published from 1976 to 1993. The monograph features five chapters and an addendum in the form of an interview with the novelist. Gueye’s main goal is to analyze and interpret the various strategies Fall uses to create « un univers traditionnel jusque là porté par l’oralité » (34). The centrality of oral tradition and society for the narrative technique and novelistic discourse in her novels is duly noted through a methodology that infuses textual with cultural analysis.

Following an informative bio and bibliographical introduction, the first chapter unveils the sociocultural, historical and literary context that shapes these novels. It is thus that Guèye stresses the social commitment of the writer, the context of her writing and the creative tensions of literary language in her work. He conducts a historical exegesis of Francophone African women’s writing highlighting the particularity of Senegal and ofthe feminine novel which transcends the pure « representation of la condition feminine » (21) to depict the human condition. Relying on African critics, Guèye points to the variety of subjects Fall fictionalizes and her moral commitment to social progress. The second part addresses the much debated issue of orality and writing, which Guèye believes needs further and deeper perusal. He ventures a rather delicate argument accordingly: « l’originalité africaine se trouve dans ses rapports avec les formes de la littérature orale » (27). He then proposes a reading that acknowledges « la présence des formes d’expressions culturelles de l’oralité dans le roman » (28), given the context in which African works are produced. Such an approach is linguistic and intertextual, as it traces oral traditions in modern African literature. The critical method Guèye outlines may circumscribe the creativity of modern African literature to its engagement with past traditions. Yet, his initial point led to a celebration of the linguistic creativity among African writers who practice of what he termes « écriture sous tension » (30). Guèye refers here to the tensions « entre les langues et les univers symboliques »; these entail « une dualité esthétique » (32) fleshed out through the encounter between a foreign language and oral literature. Thus Fall’s creative work is a testimony of the Africanization of the novel as a Western form, Guèye would argue.
Dwelling on Le Revenant,the second chapter ushers in a discussion of Fall’s choice of the « roman de mœurs », a genre, she believes, adequately depicts the postcolonial Senegalese society and its woes. The critic subsequently underlines two distinctive features of her work, viz. her keeping with traditional oral literature and her panegyric of the Wolof philosophy. Furthermore, Guèye deconstructs her novels’ dualistic nature, which reflects the structure of the African folktale. The critic rightly underscores Fall’s tendency to create narrative techniques that mirror different types of folktales, as her multifaceted narrative indicates. The gist of his argument highlights the intertextual nexus between her novels and the African folktale along with her mixing of folktales. Le Revenant provides the model, for it combines « la structure du conte de type I, ascendant, et du type II, descendant » (39). What follows is a case study of certain characters’ behavior in relation to the structural paradigms pertaining to these two types of folktales; Gueye also carries out an interpretation of specific local proverbs Fall uses in this novel to bring to bear the consistence of Wolof thought and ethics as they relate to the protagonist and his family. Honor is a recurrent virtue in this exegesis.
Guèye gives a reading of L’Appel des arènes that equates the tripartite structure of this novel with that of the Wolof folktale in the third chapter. Here again, the argument is fleshed out through a study and a clear schematic distribution of the novel’s characters as vehicles of desire, initiation, action and communication. Guèye sheds light on the symbolic nature of the protagonist’s initiation, which is effected through the traditional sport of wrestling while mirroring the epic of the Kajoor embodied by Lat-Dior. In the end, one of the critic’s most striking arguments points to a double and balanced initiation that fits traditional practices within a modern framework. His ultimate reading of Monsieur Niang’s role and of Nalla’s symbiotic experience is spot-on.
The fourth chapter of the book features La Grève des Bàttu and l’Ex-père de la nation. The critic stays on course by drawing a parallel between the life experiences of the characters presented in these two novels and « l’action des héros et des anti-héros de la literature traditionnelle » (96). The novelty resides in his reference to the hero/anti-hero folktale-like component, and the promise of a political reading of Fall’s novels, both aspects being duly noted in the somewhat long summary and the thematic study of characters that follow. A formal conclusion appears for the first time in the monograph, and it stresses Fall’s message of « une politique sociale communautaire comme garant de l’équilibre et du progrès dans la société » (124).
Guèye returns to the single novel analysis in the fifth chapter, but he remains consistent in his exploration of the duality that is a characteristic of her fictional work. The critic thus dissects the latest novel, Le Jujubier du patriarche, whichis respectively fictionally Romanesque and poetically epic in its narrative chronology. The interest lies in the focus on writing in its dual form as a « contre-discours ethnic-nationaliste sur la société sénégalaise » (126). The recurrent oral folktale structure seems to be left out of the analysis for the first time. A new paradigm is put forth, as the theory of the novel permeates the argument. Both accommodate some key concepts of the Wolof philosophy dramatized in Le Jujubier du patriarche. Guèye stresses not just any novel, but the modern novel with which Le Jujubier du patriarche interestingly shares one common trait, namely the act of telling many stories in lieu of one. This plurality of stories reflects a collective narrative that is the sum total of a variety of actions; hence the correlation between form and content in this novel. It is worth noting the absence of the word « conte » in the section on « l’écriture Romanesque ». In « l’écriture épique », Guèye returns more explicitly to the presence of orality in Le Jujubier du patriarche, which he presents as a scriptural rendition of the one hundred and ten thousand verse epic story of Almamy and his lineage. This task is carried out through the complimentary oral interaction between, on the one hand, the main narrator and the characters as his audience, and the traditional narrator or griot and the latter group, on the other. With this communal oral practice, « Aminata Sow Fall donne à l’épopée du Foudjallon (sic) les traits distinctifs du modèle sahélien » (140). The role of the griot in this epic rendition is fairly underscored in his account. It emphasizes the importance of the context of enunciation and the centrality of musical instruments for this temporal genre. His analytical description of the epic song of Foudjallon gives the reader an insight into its content and double narrative function in Le Jujubier du patriarche. Such double narrative comes through the respectively subversive and orthodox griots, Naarou and Yelli. The juxtaposition of these two accounts of the Foudjallon story pertains to an aesthetic of synthesis or métissage that runs counter to the « discours ethno-nationaliste sur la société sénégalaise » while highlighting « la polyphonie sociale » also grounded on the intertextuality between the epic and the Romanesque.
Guèye’s final conclusion retraces the main theses put forward in his piece. The critic does not simply summarize the book’s five chapters; he sets the record straight about his study of l’africanité in Fall’s work. He does so by adopting an approach that dwells, not on his own ideological beliefs, but on language, as well as on social and textual data that point to oral practices of African traditional literature. What is striking in this conclusion is Guèye’s inclusion of the Western in the definition of the African novel: « […] parler du roman africain, c’est parler du roman, genre d’origine occidentale » (164). Yet, he is not interested in the African novel as a Western legacy. The African contribution to this genre proves more of an allure to Guèye whose book incorporates different theoretical perspectives, historical studies and textual readings, as the bibliography testifies. A couple of spelling errors have to be pointed out, however, and these can be easily corrected – i.e « Ndiattou » for « Diattou » and « Bodji » for « Mbodj ». Furthermore, the inclusion of an addendum at the end of the book is a fairly good opportunity for the novelist herself to talk personally about her work, beliefs and methodology. The organization of the book is twofold; it transcribes two dialogues, the first offering the critic’s reading of fictional texts, while the second engages him with Fall more personally. The latest dialogue is threefold in its outline, and it sheds light on issues a textual reading may or may not have brought forth. The addendum shows some redundancy because of its repetition of certain quotes encountered in the first part of the book. In lieu of the addendum, Guèye could have incorporated more folktales that would shed a greater light on their affinity with Fall’s novels. Overall, his piece provides a unique and comprehensive a reading of important literary texts.

///Article N° : 10693

Les images de l'article
Le Jujubier du patriarche d'Aminata Sow Fall © Serpent à plumes, 1993
© L'Harmattan
Portrait d'Aminata Sow Fall ©,
La grève des bàttu d'Aminata Sow Fall © NEAS, 1998
L'Ex-père des Nations © L'Harmattan, 2000

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