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Author: Annedith M. Schneider
Title: Book Review
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
Summer 2001

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Source: Book Review
Annedith M. Schneider

vol. 3, no. 1, Summer 2001
Article Type: Book Review

Annedith M. Schneider

Sabanci University, Istanbul

Christopher L. Miller. Nationalists and Nomads: Essays on Francophone African Literature and Culture. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1998. 248 pp. $46.00

Christopher Miller's Nationalists and Nomads brings together several essays that explore the history of francophone colonial literature and its links to discussions of postcolonial literature and recent critical trends. Four of the six main chapters are revised and expanded versions of articles already published elsewhere. These revisions, however, tend to be more than cosmetic and do merit reading, even if the reader is already familiar with the earlier versions.

The title of the collection, Nationalists and Nomads, refers to Miller's own shorthand for, as he puts it, "those who divide the world" and "those who don't." In this context Miller takes Françoise Lionnet to task. Miller argues that, while characterization of some literature as nomadic, hybrid, or plural may be on target, Lionnet's claim to "subvert all binary modes of thought" (qtd. in Miller), in fact, depends on a binary opposition of its own in which nationalist thought is inferior to pluralist non-nationalist thought. His argument is not with Lionnet's interpretations of specific works (in fact, he praises her work as "some of the most rigorous thinking about francophone and postcolonial literatures"), but rather with the application of what he calls "prescriptive deconstruction," or the ideological valuation of, ironically, one side of a dichotomy over the other. In this same vein, Miller devotes all of his last chapter to a critique of A Thousand Plateaus, an essay which should be required reading for scholars interested in Deleuze and Guattari's work.

Overall, Miller's work offers not only insightful critical commentary, but also a wealth of historical and archival research to back up his arguments. The third chapter is a particular case in point. As it explores the images of the 1931 International Colonial Exposition, it provides photographic evidence and explanation for many of the arguments Miller has made in the previous chapter in which he juxtaposes analysis of the Exposition itself and analysis of an early African novel, the action of which takes place at the Exposition.

Similarly, the opening essay, which is published for the first time in this collection, considers the historiography of African francophone literature, which traditionally has located its origins in the négritude movement of the 1930s. Instead, Miller argues convincingly, scholars must look to the 1920s and to works that were of perhaps lesser aesthetic quality, but which are important precisely because their authors were less indebted to the French cultural system than were later writers of négritude and because they express early resistance to colonialism that could not be easily expressed in the colonies themselves.

Perhaps because many of the chapters have been published in earlier forms, the collection as a whole suffers from some slight repetition. More importantly, Miller's text and footnotes occasionally leave the reader with the impression of having stepped into the middle of a debate without knowing all of the arguments that have gone before. In the original context in which some of these essays were published the context of the debate may have been more evident. Of course, there's nothing wrong with referring a reader to another source for further details, but when that source is key to the argument, or when the writer's argument is in direct rebuttal to another argument that has appeared in journals, a fuller setting out of the case would let the reader more easily follow the debate. Miller does this well in his critique of Deleuze and Guattari, less well in his arguments with Lionnet.