Theses Doctoral

“La Mort dans l’âme” : The Ethics of Writing Violence, Trauma, and Recovery in Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa

Lindberg, Molly

When authors write fiction about real, traumatic events, they face ethical challenges about how to portray trauma and its impacts. This dissertation employs methods of close reading and application of theory to investigate authorial choices. I argue that authors writing fiction about trauma often make aesthetic choices that blur the line between figurative and literal language in order to portray bodily experiences. This dissertation takes as its subject novels from sub-Saharan Africa that depict traumas caused directly and indirectly by colonialism. Authors including David Diop (1966-) and Birago Diop (1906-1989) have used these techniques to write about tirailleurs sénégalais, West African men conscripted to serve France’s military in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

I bring these authors together with Boris Boubacar Diop (1946-) and Véronique Tadjo (1955-), who wrote books about the Rwandan genocide, because they also perform this translation for the body, asking readers to approach these works with a sensitivity to the ways the body endures trauma. The effect of these choices is a humanizing and integrated portrayal of trauma as a phenomenon that challenges the mind-body separation of cartesian influence and complicates human experience of time as linear. These works create space to think about trauma and recovery as individual as well as communal, to map similarities of human responses to trauma without pathologizing it. Ultimately, these works point to the conclusion that living through/with trauma is possible when the trauma can be incorporated into a new conception of the self.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
French and Romance Philology
Thesis Advisors
Diagne, Souleymane Bachir
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 24, 2023