What if no one is at the center of the world anymore? This is the premise on which seems to have been built the first World Congress of French-speaking writers, which was held this weekend in Tunis, immediately after the Estates General on the French-language book in the world.
With a skewer of around thirty writers, we celebrate the Francophonie in all its diversity, freed from its complexes towards France. French mixed with Creole, Arabic or Kinyarwanda, French rooted in its real environment, whispering multiple realities. There is also a hint of Quebecois with a small delegation of writers from La Belle Province, including Kim Thuy who participated by videoconference, to testify to the vigor of local literature.
The idea of this congress is from Leïla Slimani, French of Moroccan origin, who has been, since 2017, special advisor to the French President, Emmanuel Macron, in matters of Francophonie. “He gave me a mission which was a refoundation mission,” she said in an interview. The idea was to look to the future and also make a diagnosis of what was wrong with the Francophonie. I immediately thought that the best actors, the best people to do that, were the writers, because the language is their territory, it’s their country, it’s what they like and they fight. »The writer, who won the Goncourt Prize in 2016 for her novel Soft song, has also given itself the mission of “deringardiser” the Francophonie.
For its first edition, the Congress joined forces with the organization of the Étonnants Voyageurs festival, which has brought together Francophone writers every year for 30 years in Saint-Malo. “We have the same DNA, continues Leïla Slimani, this idea of a world-literature, of a creolized, pollinated literature, that is to say of a French language which feeds on everything that comes from the world. ‘outside. “
Formerly founded by Michel Le Bris, who died last January, Étonnants Voyageurs is now run by his daughter Mélani. “Leïla Slimani’s idea somewhat met that of Michel (Le Bris). After all the festivals that we have done in Haiti, or in Bamako, in French-speaking countries, there was a rant from 2007. People were saying “There’s enough of France, when she speaks of Francophonie, it seems that it is not part of it. She looks all around, the Francophonie, it is Africans, North Africans, but we are not French speakers ”. “
Francophone or French?
The writers attending Congress provided abundant examples of this reality. The Belgian Grégoire Polet remembers that he had been offered, while he was studying, to work on a French-speaking writer. Enthusiastic, he offers to work on Mallarmé. But he was told that Mallarmé was not French-speaking, but French. The writer of Vietnamese origin Anna Moï also says that she was taken back because she had cited Marcel Proust as being a writer of the Francophonie.
In 2007, a group of 44 writers, including Jean-Marie Le Clézio and Édouard Glissant, signed a manifesto for a world-literature in French, which demanded a radical redefinition of the Francophonie.
“Being a writer would be enough for me; but I am also a French-speaking writer, then said the writer Anna Moï, who writes in French. Like Marcel Proust and Boualem Sansal. Francophonie is an exclusive concept in the world. See: Anglophony does not exist. The Anglo-Saxons refrain from brandishing the promise of membership in a linguistic and cultural community. »
Moreover, under the French language, it is often the accents of other languages that surface, disturbing its smooth appearance, evoking other cultural universes.
La Francophonie is an exclusive concept in the world. See: Anglophonie does not exist.
Several languages in one
“My aunt used to say ‘I dream in French and I have nightmares in Arabic’,” says Leïla Slimani. Even in a text in French, various cultural accents are evident. For Kim Thuy, they often take the form of silences, which are important in Vietnamese culture. “My translator tells me that what she finds most difficult to translate in my books are the silences. Kim Thuy, who has lived in Quebec for more than forty years, also says that the infinitive being the privileged tense of the Vietnamese language, she has great difficulty choosing the tenses of verbs in French.
Leïla Slimani considers French as her mother tongue, and says she has poor command, like many Moroccans, of literary Arabic. “If we speak French, it’s because we have been colonized. My two parents went to colonial school, that’s why they raised their children in French. There shouldn’t be any shame in that, ”she said.
The fact remains that the World Congress of Writers has all the same included in its program discussions on themes such as: “Is the French-speaking a traitor?” “, Or” French, a spoils of war? “. This expression is from the Algerian writer Kateb Yacine, who thus described the French language in Algeria after independence.
For the Tunisian writer Ali Bécheur, the French left behind by colonization is a treasure to be taken advantage of, like a window open to a world. For the Togolese author Sami Tchak, learning French, compulsory at school in his community, which spoke Tem, was rather a factor of estrangement from his family of origin.
Our journalist was the guest of the Estates General on French-language books in the world.
This report was funded with support from the Transat International Journalism FundThe duty.