‘Le monde s’effondre? Translating anglophone African literature in the World Republic of Letters’

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


This article considers translations of African texts from English to French in the context of recent conceptualizations of world literature as a critical approach. Translation is a key mechanism, dynamic and metaphor in world literature. However, its idealized connotations should not distract from the material realities of a process governed by uneven structures of production and reception. Two cases are illustrative: Amos Tutuola’s L’Ivrogne dans la brousse (The Palm-Wine Drinkard) (trans. Raymond Queneau 1953; 1952) and Chinua Achebe’s Le Monde s’effondre (Things Fall Apart) (trans. Michel Ligny 1966; 1958) published respectively by Gallimard and Présence Africaine. The rapturous mainstream reception of Raymond Queneau’s stylistic appropriation of Tutuola is here contrasted with the subdued reception of Achebe’s text in France in the late 1960s. The translators’ spectral presence in text and paratext is key to understanding the position of the translated texts in relation to the aesthetic, political and commercial stakes of their publishing contexts. Colonial and postcolonial book history thus confirms the material instability and relationality of any totalizing model of a world literary system and the methodological limits of a singular abstract concept of world literary time or space.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)512
Number of pages525
JournalJournal of Postcolonial Writing
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


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