Towards transcendence

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The ambiguity of authenticity looms behind exile, a question that at times distorts the debate! The series of norms that build up around the issue of origin need to be exploded…

« It is here that exile is most in bloom
it is here that the sun is most patient
it is here that I will set out more keenly
to capture other fecund seasons ».
Tchicaya U Tam’si

It is not vain to pose the question of the writer’s exile (we will only retain the idea of the displacement of the person from the possible definitions) in the light of the collusion existing between the notion of literature and that of the origin, as it raises multiple questions, not least of which, as far as African literature is concerned, being the question of the authenticity of a work conceived and published outside of the author’s country of origin.
This question takes the form of the doubts expressed about the opportuneness of speaking about Africa. Some claim to represent Africa, although they are a long way from the economic, political, social realities that constitute daily life.
Before going any further, let us note the supposition that presides over this way of looking at the question: African writers speak about Africa. From this supposition we slide towards a similarly implied obligation: African writers must speak about Africa. And from this presupposed theoretic injunction, a critical discourse is erected which does not discuss its premises. Thus, as Sony Labou Tansi stressed, there is no discussion of African literature without the « paradox of being published elsewhere than at home » being evoked. To which he replied: « I am alas at home all over the world. »
But it takes more than a universalist pirouette, however poetic it may be, to strip the question of the importance it accords itself. If we pause to consider it a moment, we cannot fail to notice that it is not undissociable from a certain way of conceiving the relations between literature and the origin, which authorizes a critic to produce terms like, for example, « public of the heart » and « public of reason »: the public of the heart being the readership of the country of origin and the public of reason the Western clientele whose expectations can only spoil the work, threaten it with extraversion, prod it in the direction of the buyer’s exotic desires. In addition to the fact that the affirmation that the quest for exoticism suffices to characterize all non-African readers of African authors is a petitio principii, the use, in the analysis, of parameters like « public of the heart » and « public of reason » is in danger of fixing a part of the readership in an irredeemably determined alterity. And in the same logic, it assigns an original, guaranteed public of the heart to all work, even before it is written.
A first conclusion imposes itself here, then: if we refer to the paradox pointed out by Sony Labou Tansi so much, and one of whose drawbacks we have just analyzed, it is because we base ourselves on a vision of literature that purports that its link with the origin is that it expresses its sort of essential truth.
This brings us back to the question of authenticity again, reframed via the angle of the surdetermination of the origin: a doctrine that would like literature to be the expression of a sensibility shared with the tribe, or that remains within the framework of values that one would like to see triumph within one’s group of origin. The authenticity of a work is thus measurable by the resonance it has within the author’s community of origin.
Nothing could be less true. Beginning with the idea of a surdetermination of the work according to an initial cultural context. For, whilst it is true that all literary works bear the trace of the cultural mould the author comes from, it is no less true that the act of writing is an effort that always verges towards a rupture with the initial conditioning. José Angel Valente: « The form comes through the radical deconditioning of the word. » This experience of writing is also a deconditionning of the self, the permanent testing of the image of the self that we have inherited, of the founding discourses which collectively structure us. Accordingly, we refuse all comforting representations of ourselves as transparence and clarity. In this sense, exile is at the heart of the act of writing. In delivering him/herself from a given origin and the original community, the writer designates him/herself the space of a more original desert where he/she can let his/her imagination run freely. All major experiences of literature testify to the execution of this supposition… Anybody can advance their supposition in relation to anybody else who, through the gesture of opening the book, is willing to embrace the request of the exploded origin, and thus, from novel to novel, the tales of singular exiles multiply, the accumulation of debris from the exploded unique home.
It is the major supposition that literature is the explosion of the origin that makes it so threatening. Fethi Benslama finds, I my opinion, the right words to designate what I have personally experienced as an invitation in literature, that is an invitation outside with the sentiment of challenge that accompanies it: « Step outside if you’re a man« . A call I have heard reading Dead Souls by Nicholas Gogol, l’Aventure ambiguë by Cheik Hamidou Kane, Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye… A call that I still hear today when, reading a book, I suddenly find myself distant from what I thought was familiar. As for geographic exile, the sufferings of the social ego of the exiled writer are of the same nature as those of the exiled engineer or baker. And there would be nothing to insist upon here if it were not possible physically to feel what the writer already lives on a symbolic level. The upheavals that lie in store, and which sometimes go as far as changing the language of writing, are all episodes in an adventure that the writer began along time ago in different forms. « You, you live in Congo; the Congo lives in me« . That was the answer Tchicaya U Tam’si gave a certain Henri Lopès who asked him why he didn’t come back home. It is possible to think of Tchicaya U Tam’si as a travelling writer, even if he does not fall into this tradition, and even if he has not written travelogues. But he understood what Sony Labou Tansi called transcendence and which he defined at the art of turning one’s back on the self.

Born in 1962 in Anfouin (Togo), Kossi Efoui has a Master’s in philosophy from the University of Bénin (Togo). In 1989, he received the Tchicaya U Tam’si Inter-African Theatre Grand Prix for his play Le Carrefour.
Author of several theatre plays, including Que la terre vous soit légère, he now lives in Paris. La Polka (Le Seuil, 1998) is his first novel.///Article N° : 5337

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