The University of Salamanca researches literature from 'la Francophonie'
José Pichel Andrés/DICYT The Faculty of Languages of the University of Salamanca is studying French literature from outside France, in particular from six especially powerful areas: Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, the Maghreb, Black Africa, and the Antilles. The geography, culture, and history of each area influence the thought of the series of countries that form la Francophonie.
“The aspects that give French a more modern and contemporary slant are above all the different cultures and literatures in the language that are not from France, which contribute not only exoticism but also originality and quality”, DiCYT was told by Carmen García Cela, a lecturer of the French Department of the academic institution of Salamanca.
The weight of the culture of the Maghreb expressed in French, for example, is not only measured in literature but “also in the thoughts it has offered the world”, the expert comments, remembering that Jacques Derrida, one of the most relevant contemporary philosophers, was born in Algeria.
“What makes the difference is not the language but rather the context, which is geographical, cultural, and historical”, and although France exerts a hegemonic influence, the shared language creates strong links between the remaining countries. In the content of the Algerian War of Independence a post-colonial discourse was born that has had been a major influence on other places. “Curiously the Algerians provided Canada with texts in the 1960s in the heat of the fight; French-speaking Canadians made them their own so as to make their own claims to the English-speaking world”, Carmen García Cela points out.
Switzerland and Belgium were not part of la Francophonie when it was founded as an international organisation in the 1970s as they never were French colonies; some interpret this organisation as an extension of the colonial world. However, Algeria is not a member either. In fact France's dominant position becomes relative when the remaining countries establish links between themselves. The explosion of the mass media and the publishing world of the 20th century means that ideas and books circulate very fast.
For example, 'The colonizer and the colonised' by the Tunisian author Albert Memmi is “an essential text” and a work of reference for Canada, according to the specialist, and reflects an unusual occurrence as it inverts the usual north-south orientation that generally channels the influence of cultural models.
Curiously, the first great novel from Black Africa in French, 'The suns of independence' by the Ivorian Ahmadou Kourouma, goes back to 1970 and was published precisely in Canada as he found no backing in France. This was despite the fact that the latter is a “very tolerant and open-minded” country that today publishes most of the best African literature in French. “It should also be stressed that a movement such as that of Négritude, which extols the cultural values of the black people, was supported by Sartre but championed by the Senegalese poet Senghor and the Antilles author Césaire and reveals the south-south links between black people from Africa and black people from America”, he adds.
The laboratories are the books
For carrying out this type of study “our laboratories are the books”, the lecturer explains; she recognises that literary research requires more time than economic resources. Currently one of its great sources of information is the National French Library, which is digitalising all its publications once their copyright expires 100 years after they are published; this year it is therefore working on those of 1915. Although access to the works of the ex colonies is more difficult, Internet has become a very useful tool for locating and acquiring books in their various formats.
This work of the French Department is likewise arousing great interest in the countries involved, the institutions of which aim to make it easier for noted speakers to visit Salamanca; they are a good source of information for researchers and at the same time complement students' training.
“What we are researching benefits work in class”, emphasises Carmen García Cela, who mentions that the Spanish educational system needs to attach more importance to languages. “In France arts students who finish their secondary education have a final examination in which they can opt for five languages, while here in Spain they only have English and occasionally French”. In her opinion, “in the world of today you have to speak languages and it is not a case of beginning to improvise at the age of 18; it comes from further back”. English has become indispensable, but “a system should be established to offer a compulsory second language, not only because of the cultural importance of a language such as French but also because of the relevance of German, Italian, or Portuguese and the drive of others such as Chinese or Arabic”.