Empire of Language

Empire of Language: Toward a Critique of (Post)colonial Expression

Laurent Dubreuil
Translated from the French by David Fieni
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Empire of Language
    Book Description:

    The relationship between power and language has been a central theme in critical theory for decades now, yet there is still much to be learned about the sheer force of language in the world in which we live. In Empire of Language, Laurent Dubreuil explores the power-language phenomenon in the context of European and, particularly, French colonialism and its aftermath. Through readings of the colonial experience, he isolates a phraseology based on possession, in terms of both appropriation and haunting, that has persisted throughout the centuries. Not only is this phraseology a legacy of the past, it is still active today, especially in literary renderings of the colonial experience-but also, and more paradoxically, in anticolonial discourse. This phrase shaped the teaching of European languages in the (former) empires, and it tried to configure the usage of those idioms by the "Indigenes." Then, scholarly disciplines have to completely reconsider their discursive strategies about the colonial, if, at least, they attempt to speak up.

    Dubreuil ranges widely in terms of time and space, from the ancien régime through the twentieth century, from Paris to Haiti to Quebec, from the Renaissance to the riots in the banlieues. He examines diverse texts, from political speeches, legal documents, and colonial treatises to anthropological essays, poems of the Négritude, and contemporary rap, ever attuned to the linguistic strategies that undergird colonial power. Equally conversant in both postcolonial criticism and poststructuralist scholarship on language, but also deeply grounded in the sociohistorical context of the colonies, Dubreuil sets forth the conditions for an authentically postcolonial scholarship, one that acknowledges the difficulty of getting beyond a colonialism-and still maintains the need for an afterward.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6751-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[viii])
  3. Prologue
    (pp. 1-12)

    Colonial! The word is everywhere. In newspapers, journals, and books; at conferences, lectures, and symposia. At times it seems as though the present has been invaded by the colonial past. And not just in Europe. What are we to make of the former colonial “possessions” that remain in thrall to an unresolved history, or to the nations of the Americas (from Brazil to the United States) that still resist complete repudiation of their former practices of domination? As for this most recent period of globalization, it sometimes feels as though we are currently experiencing the rebirth of the same imperialism...

  4. Part One: Phraseologies

    • [Part One: Introduction]
      (pp. 13-14)

      One may kill without a word; so they say. But every colonial empire speaks, and speaks of itself. The colony is also a site within language, often a topos. Writing both describes and alters it. This book is itself an addition to the seemingly innumerable texts already produced on this site, bookish continents. It thus interrogates, reflexively, the fact of speaking the colonial and the postcolonial. We have seen a growing body of research in recent years on the history of empires, as well as much theorizing about the effects of this colonial history. Literatures in European languages are still...

    • Chapter 1 (Post)colonial Possessions
      (pp. 15-35)

      The colonial phrase that we are assembling will speak first in French. We may then see how our examination might be extended to other languages. This choice of language is clearly a function of the space I am privileging in this work. The concern with discrepancies among languages will make extrapolations possible. We will have the opportunity to remember that language is not irrelevant when it comes to colonial politics; it, too, commands configurations and positions of discourses.

      One word will detain us and contain other words: possession. Possession is a common synonym for colony during the ancien régime. Like...

    • Chapter 2 Haunting and Imperial Doctrine
      (pp. 36-56)

      When it is uttered in a political space, the phrase of possession also helps us to grasp the principal colonial and postcolonial doctrines, which tend both to invoke and to revoke enchantment. Reestablishing the tacit links these doctrines bear to haunting is thus a supplementary gesture of interpretation. I want to show here that theories and words are articulated all the same, and that it is permissible to rearrange them in their connection to (post)colonial possession. (Post)colonial languages make use of multiple paradigms that tell without telling (qui disent sans dire). Each dogma thus contains an internal tension that both...

    • Chapter 3 The Revenant Phrase
      (pp. 57-80)

      The colonial phrase of possession is made possible by the encounter of multiple elements: these include a discourse relating to the appropriation of the earth, the language of the slave trade, and a description of the supernatural. Depending on the histories of the specific places and languages, this possibility is more or less achieved both in the colony and in the texts that contribute to the life of empire. Discursive exploration that is not merely ornamental effectively touches the world without being equivalent to it. One should also add that not all (post)colonial speech is destined to form and deform...

  5. Part Two: Giving Languages, Taking Speech

    • [Part Two: Introduction]
      (pp. 81-82)

      Who speaks—can she? Is there a force or an instance that authorizes us to speak, or to write? Social language usage certainly privileges some actors and orators over others. However, speech cannot be given unless someone in fact takes it. In other words, it is only the right to proffer that may be conferred; to withhold a word, that is another story: here, it is ours. These opening sentences doubtless bring us to the nagging question of my own legitimacy, and of all legitimacy, for the interpretation of the colonial adventure. For the present, I am much more concerned...

    • Chapter 4 The Languages of Empire
      (pp. 83-101)

      With the prescribed articulation between language and speech (langue et parole), we enter a more clearly theologico-political space. The term “theologico-political” merits clarification. It is taken from Spinoza’s 1670 Tractatus theologico-politicus, written in Latin. This text aimed to establish the possibility of a philosophy that would be indentured neither to religion nor to secular power. The final chapter of Spinoza’s work affirms the possibility for “everyone” to publish “what he thinks.” “Speaking” is “licit” (dicere licere, the chapter title affirms), desirable even, from the point of view of priests and princes. These two perspectives are considered in sequence, in the...

    • Chapter 5 Interdiction within Diction
      (pp. 102-118)

      We have seen all the uncertainties and limits concerning linguistic transmission; we will now examine how a modification in the practice of French becomes fused with all these uncertainties. The ultimate goal of these changes is the canceling out of the speech of the colonized. The phrase remade syntax. Because language is henceforth charged with a power that identifies it with the colonial nation, French can only be granted on the condition that it make itself impregnable. Without which, possession would cease. This ambition to control the speaker through language eventually fails as unexpected literary and discursive events emerge. The...

    • Chapter 6 Today: Stigmata and Veils
      (pp. 119-128)

      The advent of speech is never achieved once and for all. And although it does not definitively undo interdiction, indigenous speech does open a breach in the colonial edifice. The insistence of indigenous discourses in French, in tandem with the wars for independence, has made it difficult for colonial verbiage to claim to represent the language without being ridiculed. Has interdiction disappeared? I suspect that it hasn’t. Today, in singular fashion, the most clear-cut and persistent methods of interdiction exist foremost in the most widespread forms of censure.

      I have shown how real acts of withdrawing speech have occurred. No:...

    • Chapter 7 Reinventing Francophonie
      (pp. 129-144)

      Speech is born from the unheard-of in language, it alters already existing connections, it reforms usage. It can contribute to the construction of a phrase—that collection of sedimented utterances, words, idea-grammars, and parts of speech. Speech is therefore an event, never original, that breaks with an established order with which it communicates; it is also liable to be combined with other discourses. One never speaks once and for all, and spoken words die out often enough. For verbal posterity, the glorious act of yesteryear may sometimes appear an insufficient expression. Yet enough force can remain in a gesture to...

  6. Part Three: Disciplining Knowledge

    • [Part Three: Introduction]
      (pp. 145-146)

      If one must speak the colony, then it is necessary to decide which discourse of knowledge is capable of such speech, and by means of which disciplines. What I first called the phrase designates the buildable linguistic agglomerate that encircles and expresses the colonial adventure. We have seen how a political theology of languages attempted to determine how the indigene could speak up, including the double-sided invention of francophonie. In these configurations, the discourse of knowledge does not constitute an end; my ultimate goal is not to constrain colonial experience within science as the only licit discourse. This final part...

    • Chapter 8 Formations and Reformations of Anthropology
      (pp. 147-158)

      In the Greco-European lineage, it is possible to trace the first anthropological narratives back to antiquity, to Herodotus, for example. We see these narratives renewed by the experience of the New World, by authors such as Jean de Léry. However, if we consider “anthropology” in terms of a discipline, as a way of organizing knowledge in the enactment of a shared method, then the first attempts are instead found toward the end of the eighteenth century. In France, La Société des Observateurs de l’Homme, created in 1799, regulates the practice of collecting information about human beings through the writing of...

    • Chapter 9 The Impossible Colonial Science
      (pp. 159-180)

      For all of its imaginable points of acquaintance, there is nothing about anthropological discourse that makes it particularly adequate in relation to colonial diction. On the contrary, in the multiplicity of its postures, anthropology always requires recourse to a disciplinary exteriority. The project Marcel Mauss announces, where research would be joined to imperial expansion, is exemplary on this point. It was a matter of simultaneously legitimating, perfecting, and instituting a process of knowledge—and also of inserting that process of knowledge into a larger space. At the end of the nineteenth century, the idea of a “colonial science” truly emerges...

    • Chapter 10 Who Will Become a Theoretician?
      (pp. 181-196)

      The work of Homi Bhabha diverges between what it says and the saying of it. Interdisciplinarity is in no way adventitious, but its ambition must be distinguished from the concept of hybridization that it explains. In general, the new forms within the Anglo-American university must pass through interdepartmental clusters. Bhabha moves beyond the logic of the multiple, where Spivak decided to remain. The inter is not, however, commanded by the hybrid, nor is it secreted by an internal necessity for postcolonial enunciation. If interdisciplinarity is reappropriated by Bhabha, there is nonetheless no constraining postcolonial nature that leads to the creation...

  7. After the Afterward
    (pp. 197-202)

    Silence is so often eloquent. To not speak of the colony, to evoke it as little as possible, as happened for several decades in France, may entail the unremitting return of a jargon that has already been heard so many times. In public speech, in the clamor of the media, in language teaching, scholarly discourse, and literary texts, a postcolonial phrase still persists, with its own accents and syntax. So-called rational thought exploited the indigenes in order to write its own progressivist legend, giving them the poisoned gift of permanent possession, or of languages booby-trapped with a supplementary usage. In...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 203-218)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-230)
  10. Index
    (pp. 231-240)