Video of lecture by Françoise Lionnet in which shares perspectives on recent artistic and literary works inspired by migrant crises in both the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean sea and focus more specifically on the Comoros archipelago and the island of Mayotte, that "ultra peripheral" region of "Europe," she considers the multilingual work of poet and dramatist Soeuf Elbadawi to test the critic... read more
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Hello I think this is working.
Great, I'm Joe Honor, I'm a dean of academic affairs and professor of music.
And it's a great pleasure to be here as part of this wonderful event in this
residency by Francoise Lionnet, who's been here yesterday and today.
And has met with a lot of people and done a lot and
you'll be hear more about her in a little bit.
this is I was thinking that's the title of the talk that's very esoteric you know.
The... the The title of the talk dealing with
migrant identity in the migrant experience.
It's hard to think of a more important issue for
the Mellon Sawyer seminar and comparative global humanities to deal with.
With the huge populations currently effected by migrant
crises around the world and I think we're just at the start of it's gonna get
much more extreme with the global crises, environmental crises around the world.
There's in the Boston Globe today there was a feature about this new art
installation in the Fort Point channel that's called safety orange swimmers.
And there are these human figures that are clutching on to
inner tubes floating around in the Fort Point channel.
And I've just seen pictures but it's kind of striking.
And the artists for that describe
these these kind of vulnerable floating figures there is a metaphor for
the seas across which people have always traveled in search of shelter, freedom,
prosperity and safety, seas on which they've often lost their lives.
The swimmers symbolize the world's refugees and migrants, and the long
history of global migration on which our city and nation are largely built.
And as Professor Lionnet's work, is going to wrestle with,
it's almost well it is impossible to really come to terms with
the numbers of people involved in In these crises.
As well as the individual experience and I think you'll be negotiating that.
And if you think of these figures, these 22 floating figures in the Fort Point
channel, each of those would have to represent ten million people to really
come close to the numbers of people who are currently with migrant experience.
So I look forward to your talk.
Since this is also my first time to get to say something here at a CHAT event I wanna
really take this opportunity to thank Lisa Lowe for her amazing amazing work, and
the big team of people that she's assembled many of whom are here
to develop the Sawyer Seminar and to develop the series of events for the year.
It's been a really team effort and I think Lisa and her team have catalyzed
an enormous group of faculty and students as well in building this.
I wanna thank her and I also wanna thank the Advisory Board for
the Center and I'll just say who they are some of them are here today.
Alisandra Campana, Peter Levine, Andrew McClellan, Kris Manjapra, Susan Napier,
Pedro Palou, and Kamran Rastegar, it's a wonderful group of faculty and
a real sense of the kind of energy that Lisa has catalyzed here.
So I'll thank Lisa and then I'll turn things over to Lisa to for the next stage.
>> Thank you Joe and thank you to everybody for coming.
We often describe this contemporary moment as being a global one.
By which we mean that formerly bounded locations are increasingly connected
to other cultures, nations, and economies through accelerated trade, migration,
And yet, the work of scholars like Francoise Lionnet makes evident
that global relation is not new.
That in the ancient and early modern world, there were empires,
conquests, slavery, trade, and Diasporas.
With European colonial expansion from the 16th century to its heights in
the 19th century the interconnection of the world increased of course.
But in this sense this modern era of what we might we might
call globalization is relatively new.
Neither evenly integrating, nor rendering homogeneous different parts of the world,
global processes have occurred differently and
unlike parts of the world providing a rich set of new materials and
new archives for the interdisciplinary humanities.
That is the topic of our theme of the Mellon Sawyer seminar this year.
All of Francoise Lionnet's research publication and
professional activity has been directed towards this project
of innovating the fields of comparative literary studies and theory.
So that it can take account of the encounters, conflicts, and
Creolization of cultures in the Caribbean, in North Africa and in the Indian Ocean.
Over the last three decades, Francoise Lionnet has been at the cutting edge of
the study of the multilingual and polyglot expressions in the literature, arts, and
cultural theory from these regions.
Tracing in them the layers of contested lives and contested histories.
FranÃ§oise Lionnet is the Professor of Romance languages and literatures and
African and African-American studies at Harvard University.
She's on leave from her appointment at U.C.L.A.
where she is a distinguished professor of French and
Francophone Studies, Comparative Literature, and Gender Studies.
Her research focuses on the longue durÃ©e [long-term view] of colonialism and
migration to and from Europe, North Africa, the Caribbean and
She's the author of many books including The Known and
the Uncertain: Creole Cosmopolitics of the Indian Ocean,
Writing Women and Critical Dialogues, Postcolonial Representations,
Women, Literature and Identity.
An autobiographical voices, race gender and self portraiture.
She's also the editor of several very important volumes with Shemashee,
minor transnationalism and
the creolization of theory, as well as special issues of journals such as Signs,
Yale French studies, Comparative Literary Studies, and others.
Today she'll speak to us about the expressive culture of migrants and
refugees and as Dean Honor has already said this is an increasingly
important question, problem and site of study.
By some estimates one sixth of the world's population will be migrants by the end
Where social scientists have captured these changes demographically through
numbers that convey population movement, writers,
musicians, and visual artists express differently the human experiences of
individual migrants and their families.
In her lecture today literary routes migration islands in the creative economy
Professor Lionnet will share her perspectives on the recent artistic and
literary work inspired by migrant crises in both the Indian Ocean and
Please join me in welcoming Francoise Lionnet.
>> [APPLAUSE] >> Thank you very much Lisa for
this generous introduction.
Thank you all for being here.
It's a lovely fall day and I am delighted to be here to talk about my work.
It's always a pleasure to share my research and
yesterday the seminar was wonderful.
I had a great time so I'll be happy to
also take questions from all of you about what I will present today.
The talk is taken from a long essay that is co-authored with Bruno Jean-Francois,
a professor of French, Francophone,
and Comparative Literature at Penn State University,
who is like me from Mauritius and who was a post doc fellow in my program.
And with whom I decided, we decided, to do some work together, so
This very long essay is coming out in PMLA relatively soon, I
think by the end of the year, and it's too long to present all of it to you today.
So what I thought I would do is to just begin by
giving you a bit of an overview of what the goal of the whole essay is and
then just present quite a few images that don't end up in the essay.
And then I will talk about that and then focus very specifically on the work
of a writer from the Comoros, Soeuf Elbadawi,
which is more of my part of the essay.
So we began to work on this project, Bruno and myself, because we wanted to
think together three linked factors, the accelerating patterns of migration,
the homogenizing forces of globalization, and the transnational sites of creativity.
Sites, by that we mean how
writers as well as artists are finding new outlets for their work.
So the essay highlights the contributions of Francophone voices from islands of
We discuss the critical effectiveness of literature as an agent of cultural change,
and we focus on the diversification of the knowledge economy thanks to
the authorial agency of so-called minor writers who reach wide
audiences by negotiating new pathways into the literary marketplace.
The Comoron Soeuf Elbadawi, the Malagasy Jean-Luc Raharimanana,
the Mauritians Ananda Devi and Shenaz Patel, and
the Tahitian Chantal Spitz are the ones we focus on.
And these writers all instigate literary dialogues
that underscore ways of re-imagining our world and redefining world literature.
The issues they raise reveal with dramatic clarity the resilience and
relevance of literary studies and its interpretive approaches
to a full appreciation of human diversity, which cannot be
captured by purely quantitative methods as Lisa just mentioned also.
And I will discuss more this question of the quantitative versus
the qualitative in a minute.
Using the metaphor, the assemblage, the network, and the archipelago,
which we see as analogous ways of thinking through certain issues.
So using this metaphor as a method for bringing isolated subjects or
insular issues into relation, our hymn is to demonstrate how
island literatures resist capitalist globalization by complicating
our understanding of natural borders and symbolic frontiers.
We reflect on what it means for an insular writer to go global and
discuss the work of these insular writers in relation or
in light of Jean-Luc Nancy's idea of les monde and le monde and
Glissant's concept of the Tout-monde.
And we also analyze the critique that these writers
produce about the politics of publishing and
how big publishers can often be complicit with the imperialist epistemic
violence that has deprived so many peoples of their own vision of the world.
In my own thinking process I constantly ask myself a number of
questions related to these issues.
Those questions are, for example, what accounts for
the worldliness of the world when we talk about world culture, world literature,
world music and so on as represented in the global marketplace?
And what constitutes the world?
Whose world are we talking about?
And from what perspective?
How do we read the world and its frontiers?
How do we read globalization from the margins, not just vertically but
also horizontally and transversely?
Can global voices be distinctly insular?
how do we integrate these voices into our definition of the world?
Is it just about being inclusive and
taking onboard as many of the existing local expressions as possible?
Or are we talking about authorial agency or
authorial practices and interventions that are profoundly transformative
of the way we think both of creative activity and critical methodology?
To a certain extent, therefore, one of the reasons why we start our paper with
a concrete example, and I'll show you some images of that, of migrants crossing from
various islands of the Comoros Archipelago to the French DÃ©partement of Mayotte,
Is to better make the argument that postcolonial island literatures
disrupt the hierarchical ordering of the world by engaging In a world-remaking
activity in the creation of sites where processes of worlding take place.
And when we say worlding, we are obviously not referring to a normative or
homogenizing process, but to the role that is precisely played by decentered and
decentering narratives as they contribute to producing alternative and
multiple definitions of the world.
Indeed, to break away from the ideological positioning
that has reduced islands to bounded, distant, or
remote places is to engage with the multiplicities we study.
This requires that we situate our discourse
within frameworks that are transnational.
Transcolonial is another term I've used.
And I don't have time to go into detail about this here, but
keeping in mind those two trends, concepts.
In other words, because we know that the history of Western imperialism and
its effects on the creative economy cannot be undone,
when we explore the pathways of migration, exchange, and collaboration of writers and
eventually publishers, our intention in the essay is to highlight on
a more structural level the types of networking and rhizomatic links,
which border crossing agents tactically engage in.
And sometimes through rather subversive and
infiltrating means in order to feature and nurture transversal dialogues,
democratic solidarity and epistemic justice.
So that is the context I wanted to give you at first, and now I want to go through
a bunch of slides and talk about them, and then I'll get back to reading my text.
But I prefer to show you the slides first, and
then when I'll be talking about certain things you'll remember them, I imagine.
And it'll be easier than stopping and doing the slides.
Okay, yesterday, well, I guess I need to stay by the microphone.
I used that map all ready just to indicate from the 17th century
an area of the world that is called the [Indes Orientales], the East Indies.
People tend to forget that the East Indies, at the time and throughout
that period of the colonial history, it isn't just India and the Far East.
It starts on the east coast of Africa.
This is a map of the French colonial empire.
I like to use these maps in classes a lot just to remind students that
there were these stages in the colonial Expansion of the French nation,
first throughout North America as you can see, and then Asia.
Lots of blue in India and Southeast Asia and then the darker blues,
which are the 19th century settler colonial
expansion in Africa and in Southeast Asia in Madagascar.
This doesn't, does it point?
Yeah, the islands I'm talking about and
I'll show you bigger maps of them in a minute are Mauritius which is to the east
of Madagascar in the middle of the ocean, a tiny dot there.
And the Comoros, which are to the northwest of Madagascar.
So this is what a current map of the area looks like.
The Seychelles to the north, the Comoros to the left of Madagascar and
Mauritius in the the square to the east of Madagascar.
This is Mauritius which is an independent multilingual nation.
And the map of Africa with the Comoros situated there in the ocean.
These are the four islands of the of the Camorra archipelago.
Grande Comore, Anjouan, MohÃ©li and at the bottom corner right,
Mayotte, which is the 101 department of France and
the fifth [Departement du ].
Now this is Soeuf Elbadawi.
Who is, now we'll talk about him in detail in a moment,
I just wanted to show you what he looks like.
He's talking to the these high school students in Paris.
He does a lot of activism but he's primarily a poet and
a dramatist who does one man shows that are really very powerful and effective.
This is a quote from an interview.
I'll read the English part.
For me, the term colonialism is out of date, he says.
It has lost its dynamism.
I prefer domination which is less specific, more universal.
It is not because they are Comorians, sorry it should be Comoran.
That I talk about the drowned but because theirs is a human tragedy.
And the drowned are the migrants who are drowning every night,
crossing between the islands of the Comoros that are still, that are not,
that are the independent Comoros and that are trying to cross over
into Mayotte because that French territory is a European territory and
they're hoping to have a better life perhaps there.
If you keep up with what is getting published this fall in France,
you might know that Natasha Appanah, who is a wonderful writer from Mauritius,
has just published a wonderful book called
[Topiques du la Violence] [Topics of Violence], which is on the list for
several prizes such as the Goncourt and the Medicis and the Femina.
So hopefully and it's all about the Comoros, it's about the situation of
migrants especially the children who are left behind and who live in this island.
In terms of examples of what the creative economy,
that is how the the theme of migration has influenced so many artists.
This is Isaac Julien, the Afro-Caribbean British writer.
A wonderful, colorful installation, a video installation that he
did of those small boats that washed on the shore of Lampedusa,
the island between Tunisia and Italy where so
many migrants are at the moment, have been for a long, long time.
There are big camps there.
And of course when these boats washed ashore,
what that means is that the people who were in them have all drowned, of course.
But what I and this is a kind of cemetery where those boats get put and
hidden away from the beaches so that tourists can still go to the beach and
pretend like it's just normal vacation time for everyone.
This I found extremely evocative.
It's a group of high school students who with the help of their
art history teacher decided to enter into this competition of Visual Arts.
The theme was Crisis Challenge because on the shores of Cyprus,
two small boats wash up and and
the mayor of the town did not know what to do with those boats.
And so the children and their teacher asked if they could have some
of them in order to do this art installation.
So they put figures in paper machÃ© in the boat and
they won this prize that the Saatchi Gallery gave out.
And, okay, before I go that, so
I guess it's just, yeah, that's it.
So now the book I want to talk about and actually,
Put a picture of cover on up there, too.
So it's the way Elbadawi uses the material that he writes.
He does a one man show when he's traveling in Europe and doing his performance.
But when he is in Mayotte, he tends to use seven or eight other actors and
they perform together on stage.
But whether it's the one man show or the one with the actors,
he has a video that is playing as a loop in the background and
it is of of these Comoran swimming towards the beach in Mayotte.
So these are not really migrants, I mean it's a performance.
it's there in the background while he talks about the text that he has here.
So this is the book that I'll be talking about and
I want to dwell on the language that is being used here.
So dikr in Arabic, plural, means remembrance.
Dikr as used here is from the Comorian Shikomori language in the Bantu
group of languages with Arabic but less so than in standard Swahili.
So it's in that family of languages.
And there are variants of the Shikomori which are the and the Shimaori,
approximately 8, 900,000 speakers, maybe even a million by now.
I think my statistics are a few years old.
Now the Sovereign Union of the Comoros, so
those are the three islands that do not include.
I mean it's four islands, but the three independent ones have three official
languages, Shikomori, Arabic and French.
And their population is about 800,000.
Mayotte, the French [Departement], has only one official language and
it is French, but Shimaorii or [UNTRANSLATED FRENCH] in French.
And Kibuishi which is a Malagasy language.
The most widely spoken, and Mayotte's population is approximately
220,000 and they think there's 100,000
undocumented people living in Mayotte on top of these 220.
But according to some reports I've read, it's probably more likely equal
number of the population that is actually documented and counted, and
it's a pretty small island so it's very complicated for everybody.
And then I wanted to point out that the union of the Camorros is a full member of
the African Union, The Organisation internationale de la francophonie, and
the Arab League, so you'll have these multiplicities of allegiances and
languages that are there in that region and that's very important.
And I would not be talking about this but the book also tries to
be very subversive vis a vis the French culture, the symbols of the French nation.
Can anybody tell me what inspired this?
I don't know, why [UNTRANSLATED FRENCH].
Rise up drown brother, the day of mourning has arrived, against us tyrannies wind
blows, bloody sharks a coming for us, coming for us to arms children of whores,
bastards and mongrels, pardon let's go for we are nothing here.
Okay, so this is the opening of the book.
Open big your ears, hold your breath from one shore to the other,
disaster shared, last night they announced the death of one of ours,
my cousin, snapped up by a wave, crushed by the water, voracious ocean,
it made its point again, as it has since this wall of hatred.
I've got this little explanation that I should have removed but
this means that they feel that there'd a kind of aquatic Berlin Wall that
separates my yacht from these other islands and which in other words,
separates family because people in the Comoros have families and
all of the islands which are really quite close to each other 50 miles between them.
And then, the truth of the vanquished void truth even so, right.
So this part of my paper that I'd like to read is entitled "Small narratives and
significant details", and sort of to repeat a bit of what Lisa just said,
I wanted to say that we are in the age of big data and you probably all know
what big data is when massive statistics captured everytime we use the Internet,
our mind determine [COUGH] the contours of our social identities,
map our moves, pry into our conscious and unconscious wishes.
Mastery of such computable objective evidence has
also become the goal of much research and education,
but mining data is certainly not digesting data.
Statistics are curated to fit research purposes and
the other narrower definitions of truth emerging from this information overload
make the teaching of critical approaches to literature a Sisyphean challenge.
activist of Comoran artist Soeuf Elbadawi provides a luminous path up the hill.
Aggrieved like so many from one shore to the other by the relentless clandestine
migration crisis, he shows that it is a disaster shared widely
despite global silence about the daily tragedy
in his Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros off the coast of East Africa.
Audible or legible, truth is always a question of power.
And the truths of the ultra peripheral regions of the world are often negated or
curated out of official state narrative to suit its policy objectives.
Literature unsettles the selective ordering of knowledge,
I'd like to claim [COUGH] and contributes alternative
insights that illuminate other realities the truths that cannot be quantified.
The qualitative and aesthetic goals of our interpretive disciplines
provide a crucial counterpoint to the ostensibly unbiased but
always incomplete quantitative perspective.
As a scholar of what Shu-mei and I have called minor transnationalism, whose
research intersects within many areas of the Quantitative Social Sciences that
also study cultural identity, mobility, migration, and the flashpoints of empire.
I've often had to explain what the literary approach contributes
beyond what anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, and
legal experts that already offer all the more so
now that some of these colleagues use literature art and film as examples
of testimonials worth including in their empirical research and teaching.
So what can we, literary humanists, add to knowledge
about the global transformations that have put diverse people, cultures,
and languages into close contact over long historical periods.
As Lisa mentioned, patterns of acts of migration are accelerating today.
Social scientists capture these movements through numbers that they used to try and
understand those predict the trends in those population movements and
the large scale problems that they are going to create.
They also use these big numbers to study the changes that emerge from what
all Rick Beck the German sociologist has called the globalization of biography.
[COUGH] Writers and visual artists by contrast,
give us [COUGH] the human interest stories that are a powerful point of entry
into the concrete lives of individual migrants and their families.
So as a humanist, I am interested in these more narratives,
these significant details that give us the texture of the fabric
of human interactions in the contacts zones of migratory flows.
Now I want to understand what it means to be caught in such currents and
why do many brave the elements in search of what Laila Lalami,
the Moroccan American writer has termed in search of hope and dangerous pursuits.
How do we appreciate and evaluate the experiential dimensions and
intangible cultural consequences that cannot be captured by big data but
that singular poetic images convey with exquisite precision and affective depth.
Large numbers only numb the senses and blunt our ability to respond.
They do not convey the full impact of losses suffered,
but visual and verbal testimonials can.
Poetry and tragedy verses or incantations unquestionably do.
the 2015 photograph of the drowned Syrian child on the beach did more to
mobilize the good people of the West about the crisis in the Mediterranean.
Than the numerous news reports and dry statistics that only routinize and
depersonalize the interminable disaster.
The media spotlight in 2015 was trained daily on the swelling numbers of families
and children afloat in the Mediterranean.
This summer, same problem, even more people.
there were 6,000 people floating on the Mediterranean this summer.
And the migrant camp at Calais, as you may know,
is in the process of being dismantled.
Border problems in Macedonia, Austria,
Hungary and elsewhere in continental Europe continue to grow.
But the poetic and theatrical work of Soeuf Elbadawi reminds us that
this crisis is a global phenomenon
that reaches deep into the Southwestern Indian Ocean and in the Comoros.
In this group of islands as I mentioned,
[UNTRANSLATED FRENCH] became independent in 1975, independent from France.
But Mayotte, the closest to Madagascar,
voted to retain its colonial ties to France.
Making it officially, and that's the way it's defined,.an ultra
peripheral region of the European Union.
In 2011, It became the fifth [Departement d'outre-mer].
As a result of the 2009 referendum in which the population
voted overwhelmingly in favor of a change of status.
That now puts it on an equal footing with the other [Departement d'outre-mer]
in the region which is [UNTRANSLATED FRENCH] in the Mascareen archipelago.
The proximity of French Mayotte to the rest of the Comoro Islands, whose 800,000
inhabitants, as I mentioned, as I showed you on the slide, share relatives,
languages, cultural practices, and religion with the [domienne].
This is the term used for the people of the [Departement d'outre-mer],
who acquired full French citizenship in 2011.
So the proximity of Mayotte to these other
islands has created a situation whereby thousands take to the sea
in order to reach the shores of this European territory.
They hope to escape dire circumstances in their own islands.
Where general revenue and living standards are ten times
lower than those of Mayotte, itself desperately poor and
saddled with 50% unemployment currently.
Over the past two decades, thousands have drowned trying to make the clandestine
crossing under cover of darkness.
In the small, overcrowded fishing pirogue,
which are nicknamed kwassa kwassa K-W-A-S-S-A, kwassa, kwassa.
Which is a deformation of the French expression [c'est quoi Ã§a][what is that].
Government reports of this tragedy suggest that between 500 and
1,000 Comorians die each summer during the austral summer.
So, because [BLANK AUDIO] the prevailing
winds shift and there are hurricanes.
But anyway, for complicated reasons,
there is a short period when it's safer to cross.
Nonetheless, during that safest of the periods of the year when they can cross,
in a period of one or two months, about 500 to 1,000.
But these are the official estimates so
it's probably far more than that die each season.
Many of these people trying to cross are, in fact,
children, minors who are sent by their parents.
Who think the children will not be expelled by French authorities if they
And if they should survive the 50 some mile journey between
the island of Anjouan and that of Mayotte.
And in fact, many, many more take to the sea during the calmer
weather periods only to perish by the boatload.
In [UNTRANSLATED FRENCH] Elbadawi learns of a cousin's fate at sea on his local radio station.
The names of 98 bodies claimed that night by the waves are recited in a prayer loop,
that is the ritual decree of the book's title.
He mourns the dead, commenting that one more body
would have rounded the numbers to 99.
And he begins to focus on the 99 names given to God in the Quran.
A God who he says must have been asleep that night
instead of protecting the migrants.
And I quote, where were you, God of the unaware, the lifeless,
to prevent the unthinkable?
And this is, I quote from the book,
an announcer chants the names of the dead and repeats tirelessly,
[la Ilaha illâAdhwahu la Ilaha illâAdhwahu la Ilaha illâAdhwahu].
We never asked anything from indifferent Heaven,
save the right to die in peace in the land of believers.
The news is rough, 98 names lost overboard.
They met their death in the water.
98 names that spell as many tidal waves pounding into our body of islands.
Rebelling against God and the injustice of the world,
the narrator is not afraid of being sacrilegious.
And I quote him again, the keepers of the faith will accuse me of blasphemy.
He laments the fate of his cousin, who was not religious and
allowed himself to be lured by the mirages of the West.
Elbadawi dissects the motivations and
desires of the would-be migrants and insists on making them real.
While deploring the priorities of the French evening news.
What he calls in the text [UNTRANSLATED FRENCH], the 8 O'Clock news clips, which neglect
to mention the daily personal tragedy that impacts so many local families.
Indeed, in official reports, the dead are rendered invisible and nameless.
And the dignity of those whom even God seems to have abandoned.
His duty to the dead is, he says, to name the horror of these massive drownings.
And to mark the invisible water graves
that swallow fellow Muslims who will never get a ritual burial.
So how might his poetic intervention be truly heard
by those who are addressed in the first line of the book,
those willing to open big their ears?
Elbadawi's subtitle, [La rage entre les dents], teeth clenched in rage,
broadcasts his anger toward the powerful, in this case God and
the state, while also paying his respects to his relatives and fellow islanders.
He is apostrophizing the inhabitants of his archipelago and the world at large,
daring us to listen and take notice even when the media would not.
His short poetic volume is well distributed across
Francophone areas, largely because it is printed and
marketed, excuse me, by Vandayeur.
In fact, you could circulate [INAUDIBLE].
I mean, I really want to focus on the the book,
the object itself and how it manages to get to us.
And so it is printed and marketed by Vandayeur,
a publishing house based in [UNTRANSLATED FRENCH] in the south of France.
That has been doing much to bring these cultural [UNTRANSLATED FRENCH]
These elsewhere to the attention of the world, perhaps to the detriment,
of course, of local efforts to develop expressive pathways and
create job opportunities for the youth tempted by dreams of migration.
How then to reconcile the contradictions of the French departmental system,
which includes access to both the state-owned TV station denounced by
the text and the publishing house that gives them a platform to voice and
distribute the denunciations?
On the one hand, the system obfuscates the plight of local migrants,
routinely excluding them and their families from the news but
on the other, it provides the print vehicle by means of which
their stories can be shared with a global audience.
Acutely aware of these African dilemmas,
we return to Mayot in 2005 after living and performing in Paris
since the early 1990s he actively contributes to the theatrical
life of the community and the university in the capital, Malawi.
While occasionally being censured for his outspokenness, censured by his
more pious compatriots, by the European expatriates, who of his native city and
by the French authorities who routinely give him trouble when he's performing.
He has returned home but there is no doubt that Europe figured as
a site of mediation enabling his insertion into a global creative
economy that began with his work as a journalist at [UNTRANSLATED FRENCH] international,
and continued with his stage and
filmmaker productions in Paris, [UNTRANSLATED FRENCH], Marseilles, and in Brussels.
As I mentioned in Europe because it's too expensive,
he does the one man show but at home he employs seven,
eight, nine actors that help him when he's touring just in the Indian Ocean.
Because he's also performed in Madagascar,
in Harinyo in Mauritius [COUGH] so
the range of his interventions qualify him as a powerful transnational figure
from the peripheries of both the African and European continents.
With a distinct voice that tirelessly questions the political elite,
Elbadawi's physical displacement to Europe and
then back to the Comoros marks out a route of departure and
return increasingly common for many intellectual and
economic migrants, from global writer performer based in the Western
center to minor transnational creator who's work engages with and
critiques multiple overlapping temporalities.
And such as the secular and the religious, the Dumia and the independent,
the European and the African while also foregrounding the disjunctive
geographies of the French Indian Ocean region and its Muslim neighbors.
In a volume that Shu-mei Shih and I co-edited we argued that the global and
the transnational represent two different spatial or
temporal concepts that can be theorized as follows.
And I will, just go through this quickly.
In that book we say whereas the global is defined vis a vis homogeneous and
dominant set of criteria, the transnational designates spaces and
practices acted upon by border crossing agents be they dominant or marginal.
The logic of globalization is centripetal and centrifugal at the same time and
assumes a universal core or norm which produces a hierarchy of subjects
between so-called universal and particular.
The transnational can be conceived as a space of exchange and
participation, where it is possible for cultures to be produced and
performed without necessary mediation by the center.
The transnational can occur in national, local or
global spaces across different and multiple spatialities and temporalities.
And, of course, what I mentioned just a moment ago is that
of course we are interested in these exchanges and encounters,
these dialogues that can happen without the mediation of the center, but
in the case of someone like Elbadawi, his prominence in the on the literary scene if
one can call it that is precisely because there was a mediation by the center.
So it is by no means, you know, the only story that's up there but
things got very complicated.
And Elbadawi's writing that is indicative of the tensions
between the centripetal pull of homogenizing globalization and
the unscripted multidirectional creativity of transnational sites of production.
His publications and performances open a window on the work literature performs
in the world understood as an assemblage of multiple temporal,
spatial, and cultural folds rather than as a sphere,
as a globe whose orbit attracts difference to its core only to neutralize it.
[UNTRANSLATED FRENCH] remaps the shifting borderline borders and
tectonic plates that disrupt archipelagic transformations
in that whole region of the Southwestern Indian Ocean.
But its 2013 publication in France also points to the widening
gap between local and global publishing resources that continue to skew
the ability of peripheral voices to be heard and thus to share the significant
aspects of their lives typically hidden under the mass of numerical data
that can only tell a disembodied story of contemporary dispossession.
Thank you, there is much more I could say but I think I'd rather
just have a dialogue with you about all of this so thank you again.
>> [APPLAUSE] >> All right
from the next sections in the paper.
I just wanted to put up this quote from Chantal Spitz who is a really wonderful
writer from Tahiti and who struggles with this question in what language to
write and she says when we write and wish to be published, we have only two choices.
Either write in Tahitian and hardly anyone will publish us, even the the Tahitian
academy is at pains to publish its writing which are viewed as second rate, or
we can write in French but if we wanna be published in France,
we must be culturally relevant and politically correct.
That's when we'd have the chance, and
by politically correct she means you have to conform to the political
understanding of the French of who you are and where you are situated.
Or else you must conform to the high standards of high literature held by
the French furthermore, writing goes against the myth for
the Polynesian as a child whose hand needs to be held.
It is not because we are an oral people that we do not write some of us have
internalized this excuse.
So we feel we need to justify ourselves, justify our writing because we
come out of an oral culture but as a Frenchman ever gets asked why he writes.
And this is from, another one woman show that was written
by Shenaz Patel, this Mauritian writer who's done some wonderful writing as well.
Paradisblues is about a woman who,
it takes place in a mental institution, she's been put there because
what's the word she [UNTRANSLATED FRENCH], what is [UNTRANSLATED FRENCH] in English?
I mean, she pulls out, her mother dies, and
she pulls out her mother's tongue from the body,
and people think she's crazy.
So they put her in this asylum.
And the book, which is this one,
not very long as you can see, also a one woman show with this wonderful
actress who is on life in some ways recounted by Shenaz Patel in the story.
So she reflects on her life, and what brought her here,
very, very powerful language.
For example, it's all about [la langue], the physical tongue but it's of course,
a metaphor for the language, the Creole language versus the French language.
[Langue, tu dois savoir la tenir, ta langue, langue de vipere, bave, crapaud,
pas un price Charmant, non, un crapaud,
un vrai, vert et de pustules couvert, Non mais t'as vu ta gueule, petasse, Tiens,
prends ca, Prends ca dans ta gueule, tu vas la fermer, ta gueule,
tu vas la fermer?] [Tongue, Tongue, you should learn to hold it, your tongue,
your spiteful, forked tongue, drool, toad, Not a Prince Charming, no, a toad,
a real one, Green, and covered with pimples, Hey, you look like ****,
you ****, take that, take that on your trap, Shut up,
will you shut the hell up?].
And the show is extremely, the tension and
the energy is extremely strong and powerful.
And then at another section in the text, this is when she was a little girl,
her mother would take her to the market.
[seccion viande, ]. [Section viande, l'odeur crue du sang,
ces quartier alignes sur le marbre blanc,
les nuees de mouches animant la chair bleme d'une etrange ondulation, a code de
l'amas flaccide d'une cervelle de boeuf qui ressemblait a un lacis d'intestines,
cette chose, cette masse rouge, compacte et ferme, sans os, comme un bloc de sang
coagule, C'est quoi, maman, dis, c'est quoi, cette chose, Une langue, dit-elle,
une langue de boeuf.] [Meat section, The raw smell of blood, beef parts aligned on
the white marble, clouds of flies create a strange ripple over the pale flesh,
next to a flaccid ox brain that looked like a tangled web of tripe, this thing,
this red heap, compact and firm, boneless, like a lump of coagulated blood,
what's this, Ma, tell me, what's that thing, A tongue, she says, an ox tongue].
And this is in English, I just wanted to finish
on this description of the writer's need or
the person's need to talk.
Words come to me like hurried hikers.
They bump along my throat.
So I open my mouth wide, giving way to their clamor.
With these words, I say that I will not just be an extra.
No, I will take center stage.
Soaked with tears and laughter.
I will open wide my mouth for words to cascade and resonate.
With these words, I will tell the islands that inhabit us.
>> I'm wondering, the Vietnamese author,
born in Vietnam who lives in France, the one who [INAUDIBLE] people.
Who I heard she has lots of images of migration, you probably know her.
>> And she has lots of images of migration in her novels.
Images of mental hospitals, etc, etc,
the world turns upside down [INAUDIBLE].
And at first, she was not welcome, and now she's become extremely welcome.
And I'm wondering if the authors are speaking and
writing on a few things, even the importance of libation
today if they will become as well-known as she is?
>> Well, I hope so, I'm doing my part to make them known.
Speaking of the Vietnamese writers of Vietnamese origin,
there's a wonderful Vietnamese-Canadian writer named Kim Thuy.
I don't know if any of you have read her work.
I just finished teaching one of her books in one of my undergraduate classes.
She has three books out now, and the first one is called Ru,
simply R-U, which in Vietnamese is a word that means lullaby,
but in old French a ru also means [UNTRANSLATED FRENCH] a small book.
And it's a very wonderful, very well-written, lovely, small book also,
very powerful about all this.
Kim Thuy won the Governor General's Award in Canada, so
her work has really been recognized in an important way.
>> Thank you so much for the wonderful suggestion, and I know you've written so
eloquently about how the use of language, even use of French or English,
is sedimented with these layers of different encounters and transformations.
I wonder, I can see how the language
>> Pulling it from its origin.
>> But I wonder if there are other ways that if you might
tell us more about use of language?
>> In fact, I did not keep that slide in there,
I tucked another slide from the book where I read something.
The French in the book is mixed with some incantations which are in Shimaori,
so there's a willful effort on his part to not be comprehensible to everyone.
And this is opacity, this obscurity that he wants to maintain,
is in fact, a way to undermine the supposed clarity and
a perfect understanding that the reader might presume to have about
the culture just because they can't read what he's writing.
I think in one part of the paper we also quote from a book that Antoinette Burton
and Isabel Hofmeyr have done together where they talk about
the use of western languages by colonial, post-colonial writers.
And defend the fact that the so-called imperial language is not
just the language of the Europeans who first used it.
And it is been appropriated, and the way it's appropriated and transformed by these
linguistic hybridities within the text is a way of remaking the language and
That's why I also showed you his take on so yes,
it's a very interesting way of pointing out the sort of violence that was
originally in anyway, but using it to a different purpose here.
So I think there are all these strategies of subversion that exist in his work and
in the work of these other writers, and
that's what makes it so rich because it's also.
They are truly talented writers, they're not just advancing that sort
of thematic or political agenda, they do reveal aesthetic for
their language, and so it's layered, and it's very rich in that sense.
>> So in a broad context when you're learning another language,
you're actively learning about another culture.
And things that they values, and the things that are important to them.
So you brought in your perspective by doing so.
I think there's a tendency to try to see your own language and
your own identity in that other writers, in other cultures, homogenization.
So, how can you avoid that problem with
between individuals and cultures?
>> Do you mean to say that as you learn in other language,
you are sort of translating it into your own vision of the world, rather than
adopting the vision of the world that that language might be able to bring you?
>> I think that's a [INAUDIBLE] [INAUDIBLE]
it is a complicated question, but hopefully,
if we became sufficiently fluent in the other language your mind
would be transformed by the adoption of that other language.
Frantz Fanon famously said in his book Black Skin,
White Masks to learn another language is to adopt a culture.
Whether you want to add it, but
even if you think you are bringing your perspective into that other language,
that other language is going to have an impact on you.
So you are inevitably transformed by the learning of that other language
which is why it is important to learn it.
Because you can have this relativizing approach to various things.
So I would say, I don't know, it's to be conscious of the problem that might exist.
But also to be aware, when you're learning language, that words offer history, and
that the etymology can reveal to you a lot about the language that you are learning.
And to remember that it's not a language in it's present moment, but
has sedimented set of significations, meanings that are attached to the words.
And new meanings are not necessarily the old meanings.
And all of that helps you better navigate the problem you described I think.
>> Thank you very much for this time, it was really wonderful.
And I sorta figured you'd presented to us a really incredible work [INAUDIBLE].
I wanted to ask in addition to language how do the people you
are writing about perhaps talk about other ways of expression in terms of style or
ordinary accent that are not only in words?
How is it in the manipulative French-ness or
what else is embodied in the language of French
>> That is why they are performers,
they're writers but they also want their works to be recited, performed, staged.
Because they realize that a lot of it is in the accent and
in the way that the body assumes the language.
The body, the way it moves on the stage and what it's trying to
communicate by using the words but by also using gestures and so on.
But what's fascinating is that although therefore they're performance pieces,
they're performance pieces that are extremely poetic.
I think the snippets that I gave you reveal that poetic quality, so
it's retaining that very highly literary poetic approach to the words but
also performing it in a very popular context, in a very popular way.
And especially when Elbadawi performs and behind him are these images,
in this loop of the people swimming, washing ashore.
I mean, you cannot help but see the words in the context of the crisis and
the tragedy that is ongoing.
So it's very effective in that way, so for me what it does is it
once again reiterates something that I have tried to do in my own work.
That is to break down the border between the aesthetic and the popular,
or the aesthetic and the political to show that it is doing
a disservice to a writer to say yes, this is just political work.
Because there are writers who value language and
who are making a big effort to communicate on an aesthetic level as well.
And so respecting that desire to develop a certain kind of aesthetic approach,
I think is the right way to approach them.
>> Thank you very much, really looking forward to reading the paper.
So, my question is in terms of how you set up the talk and I dont know,
I may be the only sociologist in the room.
>> And I ask it from that perspective.
I'm sympathetic to your critique.
And at the same time, when I think about the choice of setting it up that
way in the sense that there is a [INAUDIBLE].
There's a rich tradition in terms of the social sciences,
about narrating peoples lives, that is not all about big data.
So, I was just wondering about the choice on that.
>> Well, you are perfectly right.
On the other hand when I started realizing that my colleagues in the social
sciences were using what I considered to be my texts in the humanities
to illustrate concepts or issues or problems they were discussing,
I started thinking well are we- have we become obsolete and unnecessary.
And then what I think we do that, the social scientists
do not do is to focus on this second quality that I was talking about.
How these narratives of lives,
whether they are straightforward narratives of lives or
poetic narratives of lives are being communicated in language.
Language that is always problematic in the sense that language is
never completely equal to the reality that it's describing.
So you have to have a reflection on how it is that representation functions.
And I don't think sociologists, and historians, and
anthropologists stop to talk in their work or in their classes about
how it is that this representation functions in the medium of language.
So that is one of reasons why I did this.
One of the other reasons is I have been working here in
the university a lot about big numbers, big data and
it's transforming our lives at all kinds of levels.
So I wanted to make that distinction for my own purpose.
And of course, I'm falling back into some kind of dichotomy that I'm trying to undo,
of course I'm well aware of this.
And my son who is studying economics gave me this book,
I forgot who the author is, but it's simply called Big Data.
Where the author explains that of course, the value of big data
from that perspective is that it has shown that the claim of statistical sampling
that political scientists and others used to do in the past are completely wrong.
What big data is allowing people to discover is all these theories and
methodologies that social science was using up to the moment they started
using big data have now been proven completely erroneous.
So I chuckle a little because I think okay, it's great big data has
shown that these previous modes of statistical analyses were wrong.
But there again, we see that, by themselves these kinds of numerical
approaches to knowledge and understanding are insufficient.
So, whether the humanities can truly add something to?
I certainly believe that and I certainly hope that the people who run universities
continue to support the humanities, as obviously, it's being supported here.
It's great because it is very very important and
we would lose all of this knowledge and perspective on these realities
if we only looked at them as a problem that is a problem of numbers.
The other thing is I'm not interested in numbers.
Is it more important to talk about the 6,000 that
were drowning in the Mediterranean in August or
the 100 that drowned perhaps last week in the Southwestern Indian Ocean.
I mean, how do you conceptualize the difference between 6,000 and 100?
Or six million, six billion migrants?
I mean not six, one billion migrants, one-sixth of the world's population.
I mean, those numbers, they don't mean anything to us anymore.
It doesn't touch me whereas these stories touch me and
that's, I think, the value of that kind of work so,
>> I was hoping to say a little bits of some other
aspects were common example of the drones in particular.
And I'm thinking about majority has kind of
a conventional [INAUDIBLE] in the Indian ocean.
>> But what about the kosher histories certain convention they make and.
>> Yeah, I know, sure, yeah.
>> And are there traces of that in your picture?
>> Yeah, well it certainly is in the language that he apologizes because
Shikomori can change Arabic, some Swahili, some older Malagasy languages.
So evidently if you were to study and
I do not speak Shikomori I can understand certain words only the that
way that you write in sometimes so yes this is a very rich area of.
It's the Indian Ocean is the oldest traveled ocean.
People were in contact around its shores.
Long before the Atlantic or the Pacific so people crossing those oceans and
transforming the regions of the rings of those oceans.
So yes it's a very ancient part of the world and those traditions are there.
Certainly many of the religious practices.
The kinds of you know one of you studied the Dao,
there the Dao that crossed the Indian Ocean I mean those kinds of boats.
The objects that are used for practices and so on absolutely, yeah?
>> I have a question about the archaic language.
And then like a good [INAUDIBLE] language like the Tongan language so
I don't know if you have done extensive research in
this area there are again people who [INAUDIBLE].
And there are people who adopt the language from parents like for
example me like learning English.
>> After learning Korean.
>> Because they were dominantly used the world so like you can found a difference
between like employ it at home like a languages in those cases in literature
like you know compared to people who are forced to use that language.
>> Yes of course I mean if you think in the field of literature somebody like
Joseph Conrad, the great British writer,
old British writer in the 19th century, his native language was Polish.
He chose to use English to write his novels.
So that's a somewhat different situation than the writer who say,
grew up in North Africa from a Berber
background where his mother taught him Berber or Amazigh, as it's called.
And has to learn French in school because that's
naturally meets the obligation of all the children to learn French.
And it doesn't only happen in terms of that kind of colonial context.
There are regional languages of Europe that have vanished because the dominant
language of the nation is imposed on the children of the families
from these regional areas.
So, yes, there, I think that is a major difference in whether you adopt a language
voluntarily, which presupposes that you are already an adult who can make those
choices for yourself, rather than the child who is forced to learn the language.
And what's interesting in the Shenaz Patel story of the woman and
the question of the tongue is that there's a sense of the throat become the very site
of the conflict and the struggle between the languages that she speaks so
it's sort of a vivid image of that kind of conflict and how the body traumatizes it.
And that's why it's also interesting to me is how the body expresses those conflicts.
>> Yeah, I feel like you are certainly is it French the same like English being
a dominant language in the world.
>> Yes. >> It is a power of colonization as well.
>> Feel like there's similarities at the same time you know.
>> Well it's of course global English takes over and
there are languages dying every day I mean Africa and elsewhere in the world because
people don't see the usefulness of continuing like those peopled languages.
And that's of course is a problem because since we were talking earlier about how
having adopting a language or speaking a language is adopting a culture then losing
a language you are also losing something fundamental to the history of humanity.
Yeah, so English may be dominant right now.
Maybe in 50 or 100 years it will be another language?
It might be Mandarin, or Spanish right so.
>> Thank you so much for this very [INAUDIBLE] talk.
I was just thinking about you know what the effect of our evolved literature or
the aesthetic sort of performance does that big numbers don't, right?
And it's a cultivation of empathy in some ways.
>> Like being able to imagine the reality that another lives in, even that,
actually sort of holding that in some form or another it's in any language,
multiple languages, or through a performance, whatever it might be and
so, I mean, I am just thinking about the role of empathy.
What does that mean, and even in thinking about literature, right?
And world performing and what is the role of the imagination.
In talking about the creative economy because what these artists
are doing is in some ways cultivating a certain kind of
imagination in the viewer or in the reader.
>> Yeah so that affective dimension of course.
>> There have been critiques of this question the affective dimension
it's another way of depoliticizing issues around crisis situations like that one.
That's a pretty complicated issue that I'm not even sure where I stand myself on,
it is a very some complicated issues around it.
I think the problem with a kind of affective approach to certain things
is that you risk universalizing the affect,
imagining that all human beings are going to react in the same way to
the representation of certain emotions, feelings, situations.
So I think being aware of the risk of that universalizing something
is sufficient for me at the moment anyway to continue to value
the sort of affective work that literature does to you.
As long as I'm well aware of this affective dimension you
are going to be perceived by me from my context in a certain way
that wouldn't be the same as the spectators of the show or
the readers of his book situated elsewhere in the work, by itself.
>> I so enjoyed this talk, thank you.
As you or others have pointed out, I just kept thinking of Caribbean writers and
we saw in particular that also it points [INAUDIBLE] And
I was wondering a couple of things.
First, I was thinking of the imagery of this Scene that comes out
[INAUDIBLE] they were referring to the Middle Passage.
But, I was wondering if Elbadawi's work sees
itself in any way a conversation with that or
in a sort of, I dont know like common tradition?
>> One part of the paper that I couldn't present today makes the argument that
these writers from the various islands, whether it's Chantal Spitz in Tahiti,
people in Guadalupe or Jamaica or Trinidad or Mauritius.
So there is a sense in which people writing from islands are also
in dialogue with each other, read each other's work and try to maintain a kind of
effort together to kind of create a new form of epistemology or
a new approach to knowledge from where they are situated.
So, they are is this dialogue in fact, amongst various writters.
>> It's silent, but they are linked to each other.
The sea does not separate them, but they are quite the contrary,
the sea served as a means of travel and the connections,
and in some ways enables more dialogue than otherwise.
And you are completely right to bring up the Caribbean you mentioned because,
even if the writers dont actually mention it specifically in their work.
In the work of Patel, there are echos of MSSL,
this idea of the tongue [CROSSTALK] they used to swallow their tongue,
so they would have it's a form of suicide, because they have no
other means of hurting themselves, except for being hurt by others.
So, yes, absolutely, there is a multiple levels of conversation
among the writers, who are more or less explicit sometimes.
Sometimes the author might not even be conscious of evoking some other
great writer of the Francophone tradition.
But, is there, they read each other, absolutely.
Please join me in thanking [INAUDIBLE].