Race, violence and biopolitics in Francophone postcolonial studies

Special Issue of International Journal of Francophone Studies, volume 17, numbers 3 & 4, 2014

A volume that problematizes the construction of race and power. Biopolitical readings here provide new insights into a range of postcolonial situations, and point the way to new enquiries into dominant powers’ persistent and insidious grip over life.

Fort-de-France, Martinique

Fort-de-France, Martinique


Charlotte Baker, Necropolitical violence and post-independence Guinean literature

Alessandro Corio, Anagrams of annihilation: The (im)possible writing of the middle passage in NourbeSe Philip and Édouard Glissant

Judith Misrahi-Barak, Biopolitics and translation: Edwidge Danticat’s many tongues

Michael Wiedorn, Death and the creole maiden: Do Chita and Youma haunt today’s creolization?

Louise Hardwick, Creolizing the Caribbean ‘Coolie’: A biopolitical reading of Indian indentured labourers and the ethnoclass hierarchy

Chong J. Bretillon, ‘Ma Face Vanille’: White rappers, ‘Black Music’, and race in France

Dominic Thomas, Fortress Europe: Identity, race and surveillance


Visiting scholar at Emory University, Atlanta US

Emory Campus - the main quad

Emory Campus – the main quad

I have been spending more than a month as a visiting scholar at Emory, invited by Professor Valérie Loichot and thanks to my Marie Curie fellowship. It has been an amazing experience! Emory is one of the best universities in the United States and it is such an exciting environment where to do research, meet other scholars and discuss with them about literature and philosophy. During this period, I have been attending many different conferences, museum guided tours, readings, theatre shows, talks and presentations (in French studies, Italian studies, gender studies, African cinema studies etc.) and I had the opportunity to meet other scholars and discuss about my work with such important academic personalities as Valérie Loichot, Geoffrey Bennington and Elissa Marder in the Department of French and Italian and in the Comparative Literature one. Emory University has really huge resources and equipment for research, and a very good library, too. I could work on my monograph, especially on a chapter that I am currently developing on Glissant, Nancy and Derrida on the subjects of community, hospitality, relation and the stranger. I have also made a public presentation (or ‘guest lecture’) of the first chapter of my book, that I have submitted as an article, too. The text I have presented and discussed at Emory is entitled ‘Le lieu tremblant du poème-monde chez Glissant et Heidegger’. It is about the complex relation between poetry and the place (glissantian ‘le lieu’, heidegger’s ‘ort’) and the conflictual-agonistic aesthetic that derives from it in both the German philosopher and the Martinican poet and philosopher. In particular, I have focused on the late Heidegger’s essays on language and poetry and on Glissant’s Soleil de la conscience (1956). The article has been well received by the audience and gave birth to very interesting discussions that are certainly going to influence my future work on this topic. During my stay, I have also applyed for many academic positions in the States and both Valérie and Michael Wiedorn helped me a lot in the application procedures (it’s a very hard job!). Well, fingers crossed! I have also assisted to a couple of Valérie’s courses in both English and French (to understand better how is teaching in the States) and I have also participated in some activities of the Italian ‘side’ of the department, especially with Simona Muratore (who also works on Italian migrant literature I am very interested in).

Emory is an exciting place to do research, but I have also received a great human welcome and met people that have deeply marked my intellectual journey. I would like to thank them all, even if I cannot quote all their names here. Everyone gave me great inputs that will deeply influence my future work and maybe push it in new directions that I hadn’t considered before (and this is what makes research a great thing and gives it its most authentic and creative sense, isn’t it?). The contacts I have established and developed here will be very useful for my career, but above all I hope that I could give my personal contribution to the development of this exciting intellectual community.

The Emory Library reading room

The Emory Library reading room

A trip at Sweetwater Creek, enjoying the fall colours.

A trip at Sweetwater Creek, enjoying the fall colours.


The Black Jacobins Revisited: Rewriting History

On Sun 26th and Mon 27th October, Dr Louise Hardwick will participate in The Black Jacobins Revisited Conference jointly organised by the Universities of Glasgow and Liverpool and the Liverpool International Slavery Museum and supported by a UK Arts & Humanities Research Council grant held by Dr Rachel Douglas.

The event will be an invaluable opportunity for Louise to hear international speakers presenting the latest research on C.L.R. James and the Haitian Revolution, material which will inform our joint research project, and which Louise also teaches at Undergraduate and Graduate level here at Birmingham.

You can view further details here.

Postcolonial events at University of Birmingham

Alessandro is busy processing some of the data collected in Martinique, so today it’s Louise here, with updates on postcolonial events we have attended this week at the University of Birmingham.
We have been spoiled for choice, with two guest lectures taking place here which both expertly demonstrated the range of interdisciplinary research being carried out into colonialism’s legacies. Both lectures presented fascinating insights into economic histories of slavery, exploring the colonial and postcolonial with close attention to processes of “capitalism” and “economic extraction”. In addition, both speakers are responsible for the creation of very different online resources, encouraging researchers, and the general, or rather international public, to embark on new interactive relationships with research thanks to modern technology.
On Tuesday 30th April, we attended the Birmingham Centre for Modern & Contemporary History Annual Lecture, given by Catherine Hall (UCL), Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History. Professor Hall’s lecture, ‘Reconfiguring race after slavery: the stories the slave-owners told’ examined the roles and influence of slave-owners within British society in their lifetimes, tracing their major legacies after their deaths. Her major research project, ‘Legacies of British Slave-Ownership’, set out to examine the impact of slavery on the formation of modern Britain, and the project created a publicly-accessible online Encyclopedia of British Slave-Owners, launched in February 2013, which acts as a hub for regional efforts to show how communities in Britain were linked to slavery. The lecture revealed hitherto concealed networks of economic transfer, as “compensation” monies paid to British slave owners after abolition were reinvested elsewhere in the British empire. Afterwards, I was delighted to be able to meet Catherine and discuss her work in the light of my recent research on Edouard Glissant and his 2007 publication Mémoires des esclavages,
a text which offers a French perspective on many of the questions Catherine is exploring.
The following evening, on 1st May, our attentions turned to the Hispanophone and Francophone Caribbean, as we attended the annual Henry Thomas Guest Lecture, by Lisa Paravisini (Vassar College, New York), Professor of Caribbean cutlture and literature. Professor Paravisini runs, with Professor Ivette Romero-Cesareo, the trail-blazing Caribbean cultural blog Repeating Islands, which has become an invaluable research resource for anyone interested in all aspects of the Caribbean. Her lecture was entitled ‘Food, Biodiversity, Extinctions: Caribbean Fauna and the Struggle for Food Security during the Conquest of the New World’. Professor Paravisini discussed her current research project which spans the fields of colonial literature, ecocriticism and environmental history and presented a detailed and utterly persuasive case as to why the contemporary concerns in the Caribbean regarding food insecurity can be better understood with reference to studies of colonial and postcolonial literature and culture. By reading old texts about colonial conquest through the filter of ecocriticism, it becomes apparent that the Caribbean’s astonishing biodiversity has been subjected, since ‘discovery’ by Columbus, to a series of man-made environmental catastrophes, which continue to the current day. After the lecture, several of us joined Lisa for dinner to thank her for her lecture and continue our multilingual, comparative exchanges on Caribbean literature and culture at one of Birmingham’s curry houses.
These kind of international, interdisciplinary exchanges are really valuable moments to exchange and test out research ideas, and it has been fantastic to benefit from two excellent visits to the University of Birmingham in one week! It’s back to the books now though…

Séjour de recherche en Martinique

Je viens de rentrer d’un très beau séjour de recherche en Martinique, avec ma collègue Louise Hardwick, du 8 au 21 avril. C’est mon troisième voyage dans cette île magnifique des Caraïbes et désormais je peux dire de la connaître de mieux en mieux. Cette fois-ci, nous avons séjourné à Schoelcher, une commune tout près de Fort-de-France, juste au nord sur la côte Caraïbe. Nous avons loué une voiture et cela nous a permis de nous déplacer tranquillement, soit vers Fort-de-France soit vers le Nord et le Sud de l’île. Ça a été un voyage intense et plein de visites et de rencontres humainement et intellectuellement enrichissants (deux aspects de la « recherche » qui ne devraient jamais être séparés). Nous nous sommes rendus plusieurs fois à la Bibliothèque Schoelcher à Fort-de-France (un magnifique bâtiment en style art nouveau, exposé à Paris et ensuite déplacé en Martinique, ouvert en 1893). Nous avons visité aussi le très joli Écomusée de la Martinique à l’Anse Figuier (où il y a en ce moment une importante exposition sur Joseph Zobel), le Musée Régional d’Histoire et d’Ethnographie et les Archives Départementales.

Bibliothèque Schoelcher à Fort-de-France

Bibliothèque Schoelcher à Fort-de-France

On a aussi profité des beautés de ce pays fascinant: pas seulement de ses plages magnifiques et tellement différentes (de la baie du Diamant, aux plages noires du nord à l’eau cristalline et calme de l’Anse Figuier), mais aussi de ses petits villages (Les Anses d’Arlet, Saint-Pierre, Tartane, Carbet, Rivière Pilote, Gros Morne, Fonds-Saint-Denis etc.), de ses routes qui traversent la forêt tropicale, comme la Route de la Trace, de sa capitale créole Fort-de-France, avec ses belles librairies (comme l’ancienne Librairie Alexandre, où nous avons acheté des livres sur la littérature et l’histoire antillaise, qu’on a parfois du mal à trouver ailleurs), ses églises, ses marchés, ses quartiers populaires, comme Texaco et Trenelle, et la Place de la Savane, qui vient d’être réaménagée. Nous avons aussi visité le campus de l’UAG à Schoelcher et le nouveau Campus Caribéen des Arts, qu’on vient d’ouvrir à Lamentin.

Moi avec Saint-Pierre et la Montagne Pelée, vus de la Vierge des Marins

Moi avec Saint-Pierre et la Montagne Pelée, vus de la Vierge des Marins

Mais surtout, on a fait des rencontres très intéressants pour nos recherches : avec un journaliste, traducteur et écrivain comme Rodolf Etienne (notamment traducteur en créole de “Les Indes” de Glissant et de “La tragédie du Roi Christophe” de Césaire et avec lequel nous avons fait un entretien à propos de ses traductions et de ses idées sur la pan-créolité). Nous avons rencontré aussi deux grands amis d’Édouard Glissant, comme le chercheur et écrivain Manuel Norvat, qui vient de soutenir une thèse de doctorat sur l’œuvre de Glissant à Paris III, et le céramiste-sculpteur Victor Anicet, dont l’œuvre s’est beaucoup inspirée de la longue amitié avec son compagnon, commencée dans les années ’60. Il nous a expliqué tout cela lors d’une visite de son atelier, pendant laquelle il nous a montré son travaille artistique et raconté son engagement culturel et politique. Nous avons visité l’espace Foudres d’Édouard Glissant, dédié à l’écrivain par son ami José Hayot à l’Habitation Saint Etienne (HSE). Nous avons aussi été interviewés par Rodolf Etienne pour la page culturelle de France-Antilles, le quotidien le plus important de l’île. C’étaient des rencontres intéressants, avec des personnes généreuses, soit sur le plan humain que sur le plan intellectuel, et qui nous ont beaucoup appris sur la littérature, l’art et la culture martiniquaises et créoles.

Espace "Les Foudres Édouard Glissant" à HSE

Espace “Les Foudres Édouard Glissant” à HSE

Un moment particulièrement émouvant a été pour moi la visite de la tombe de Glissant, réalisée par Anicet lui-même au cimetière du Diamant : il s’agit d’un lieu chargé d’une énergie formidable, coincé entre les maisons du petit village et une de plus belles plages de monde, balayée de vents et de houles très puissants, dont les quatre kilomètres de sable blanche et noire aboutissent au promontoire de la « femme couchée » et à l’îlot volcanique du Diamant. Pas loin de la tombe de Glissant, il y a d’un coté sa maison, où j’avais déjà été avec lui en 2009 lors du Prix Carbet, et de l’autre côté, juste au-dessous du Morne Larcher, l’étonnant monument du Cap 110, dédié aux esclaves morts ensuite au naufrage d’un bateau négrier dans cette baie. J’espère que mes images pourront mieux raconter ce formidable voyage, sur lequel je reviendrai avec plus de détails dans les prochains jours …

Monument du Cap 110 - Anse Cafard

Monument du Cap 110 – Anse Cafard

La tombe d’Édouard Glissant, réalisée par Victor Anicet au Diamant

La tombe d’Édouard Glissant, réalisée par Victor Anicet au Diamant

Conference trip to Atlanta – Georgia Institute of Technology

Back from my first conference trip in the USA! It has been amazing! As I wrote in the previous post, Dr Louise Hardwick and me have attended an important annual conference, co-organized by 20th and 21st Century French and Francophone Studies International Colloquium and the Georgia Institute of Technology, on the theme of ‘Traces, Fragments, Remains’. We both presented a paper, in a panel chaired by Louise and entitled ‘(T)Races, Memories, Identities’. This was the program of our panel:

CHONG WOJTKOWSKI BRETILLON, City University of New York, Some Kind of Other: Invisibility and Whiteness in French Hip Hop Music

ALESSANDRO CORIO, University of Birmingham, L’errance violente du poème: the ambivalence of the Trace in Édouard Glissant

LOUISE HARDWICK, University of Birmingham, «Comment répondre à ces pourquoi d’enfants» Tracing Childhood, tracing slavery in Francophone Caribbean Literature

I have also attended many other interesting panels, among which two panels on Glissant, with Valérie Loichot, Michael Wiedorn, Hugo Azérad, Ania Kowalik and Lovia M. Mondésir.

Louise, Michael and me at the Georgia Tech

Louise, Michael and me at the Georgia Tech

We were invited and hosted (in his beautiful house) by Dr Michael Wiedorn, a specialist in Francophone Caribbean Literature at Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts – Georgia Institute of Technology. Michael helped us to know the city, the Georgia Tech and Emory campus, Martin Luter King birthplace and museum (and some very nice coffee shops and restaurants, to taste the gorgeous tasty food of the south!)

This visit was conceived in order to develop future projects with a view to nurturing links between the University of Birmingham, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Emory University in order to explore future funding opportunities, research conferences and joint publications. We developed plans with Michael Wiedorn for a one-day International Research Colloquium, Postcolonialism, Race and Biopolitics, to be held at the University of Birmingham on 26th June 2013. Michael has accepted to be a keynote speaker at this event.

I have also met Prof. Valérie Loichot (specialist on Glissant and Caribbean Literature) and Prof. Geoffrey Bennington (specialist on Derrida and French Theory), from Emory University, and they suggested me to spend one month at Emory next year as Visiting Scholar, to work on Glissant and literary theory.