Malian famed writer, Yambo Ouologuem, has been out of site for more than 3 decades. But lately, he seemed to have been in a rebound—thanks to a committee of Malian expatriates based in Paris. Le Devoir de Violence of which the English version is titled Bound to Violence won the Renaudot Prize for literature. The writer, who’s disappeared from the public view since the late sixties, rose to prominence instantly after the release of Le Devoir in 1968.
If Ouologuem gained fame in a white world for which he advocates while criticizing his African heritage, he was harshly rebuked by the frontline leaders of Sub-Saharan Africa and by many prominent figures of the African Diaspora.
Indeed, the book is harshly critical of African nationalism, and the author aims his harshest criticisms at African leaders for violence committed during national liberation struggles in the 1960s. Some critics felt that the praise and initial response of “authenticity” for the novel, which is often historically inaccurate, was a Western response. Many of his critics viewed Le Devoir as a rejection of African history, like a review in The Nation which says that Ouologuem has “shattered the … myth of a glorious African past.”
Some of his critics even saw him as an Uncle Tom, and his writings were being used as a Western response to the war of dialectic. Below is an excerpt from the author’s interview with Linda Kuehl, journalist from the African-American journal The Chicken Bones.
Linda Kuehl: Were there any technical difficulties in writing this novel?
- O. The technical difficulties came from not wanting to write a mere story. I wanted to convey the rhythm of Africa, the rhythm of the blues when I was singing despair, sometimes the rhythm of jazz. And, of course, it’s horrible to try to translate the beat of music and the idea of pure sound into phrases and sentences, though not because I was writing in French per se, but because French was for me a foreign language. I had to be somewhat half black and half white because I was dealing with a foreign civilization. But I understood the language is nothing but a tool and that one can be oneself by mastering it, and I was mastering French by giving it the very breath of the black past. So too could the black American master Western civilization, have a hold on it, put it at a distance, have a critical view of it, and so make it something different. I don’t consider myself a Frenchman or a French writer. I am an African conscious of his whole history and tradition and that’s why nothing can offend me. I have a background on which to rest. And I am not boasting about that past or about my family but just showing it because that’s life. And what’s important in life is not making money but believing there are important things to be done and being linked with tradition because that’s what makes a man be a real man—not the fact that he’s universal. Universality begins with individuality. That is to say, it is when you are yourself that other people recognize themselves through your own humanity. If you belong to nothing, you are an artificial man.