Grayson H (2018) The Movers of the Text: Monénembo’s nomad subjects. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 81 (3), pp. 513-531. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0041977X18001039
Transnational African author Tierno Monénembo is known for his unstable narratives and travelling storytellers. In this article I will discuss two of his novels, Pelourinho (1995) and Les Coqs cubains chantent à minuit (2015). Drawing on nomadic thought, the article will argue that Monénembo's lesser-seen subjects are figures of mobile débrouillardise who embody and play out a collective nomadic thinking with which they mediate unstable space. Translation is indirectly addressed here as part of that débrouillard practice, whereby stories, situations, and agency are mediated by these secondary characters. Monénembo translates their wily movement and flexibility into French by keeping mobility at the centre of his structural and linguistic choices. This reading will be framed in an understanding of subjectivity as always conditioned by mobility (after Braidotti), an essential lens for viewing postcolonial African subjects in the era of ongoing decolonization (Mbembe). Though written 20 years apart, the novels are remarkably similar in their depiction of space and character. Mirrored journeys westwards across the Atlantic seek to draw out the African heritage of lost relations in Latin America. Encounters with multiple, unfamiliar faces are reflected linguistically in the collision of several languages, and I will suggest that where such translingual environments are hostile for some, there is a simultaneous emergence of creativity. This happens both at character level and with the author's own negotiation of different languages and styles. Monénembo demotes protagonists and place to emphasize secondary characters who shape their own space. Drawing on the work of Rosi Braidotti, I use nomad thought to frame these figures as always mobile, savvy, and innovative. This is a positive vision of subjects as dynamic entities, ready to transform, and to translate.
Monénembo; transatlantic; translation; Braidotti; resilience
Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies: Volume 81, Issue 3