August 22, 1940 |
|Pen name||Utto Rodolph|
|Education||Doctorate of Sociology|
|Alma mater||École Normale Supérieure, Paris|
|Genre||Historical fiction, Essay, Poetry|
|Notable works||Le devoir de violence (1968)
Lettre à la France nègre (1969)
Les Milles et un bibles du sexe (1969)
|Notable awards||Prix Renaudot
1968 'Le devoir de violence'
Yambo Ouologuem (born August 22, 1940) is a Malian writer. His first novel, Le Devoir de Violence (English: Bound to Violence, 1968), won the Prix Renaudot. He later published Lettre à la France nègre (1969), and Les mille et une bibles du sexe (1969) under the pseudonym Utto Rodolph. Le Devoir de Violence was initially well-received, but critics later charged that Ouologuem had plagiarized passages from Graham Greene and other established authors. Ouologuem turned away from the Western press as a result of the matter, and even today remains reclusive.
Yambo Ouloguem was born an only son in an aristocratic Malian family in 1940 in Bandiagara, the main city in the Dogon region of Mali (then a part of French Soudan). His father was a prominent landowner and school inspector. He learned several African languages and gained fluency in French, English, and Spanish. After matriculating at a Lycée in the capital city of Bamako, he went to Paris in 1960, where he studied sociology, philosophy and English at Lycée Henry IV and from 1964 to 1966 he taught at the Lycée de Clarenton in suburban Paris, while studying for a doctorate in sociology at the École Normale Supérieure.
His major work, Le devoir de violence (1968), resulted controversy and a continuing academic debate over charges of plagiarism.
In 1969, he published out a volume of biting essays, Lettre à la France nègre as well as an erotic novel, Les Milles et un bibles du sexe, published under the pseudonym of Utto Rodolph.
After the plagiarism controversy over Le Devoir de violence, Ouloguem returned to Mali in the late seventies. Until 1984, he was the director of a Youth centre near Mopti in central Mali, where he wrote and edited a series of children's textbooks. He is reputed to have been leading a secluded Islamic life as a Marabout since then.
Le Devoir de violence
His major work, Le Devoir de violence (published in English as Bound to Violence) was published in 1968 by Editions du Seuil. It was met with wide critical acclaim, winning the Prix Renaudot that very year, the first African author to do so. Ouloguem became a celebrity, and Le Monde called him one of "the rare intellectuals of international stature presented to the world by Black Africa", comparing him to Leopold Sedar Senghor. It was translated into English (Bound to Violence) by Ralph Manheim in 1971.
Ouloguem's novel is harshly critical of African nationalism, and "reserves its greatest hostility for the violence Africans committed against other Africans". Some critics felt that the praise and initial response of "authenticity" for the novel, which is often historically inaccurate, was a Western response. These critics viewed it as a rejection of a glorified view of African history: a review in The Nation says that Ouologuem has "shattered the ... myth of a glorious African past".
However, it was soon mired in controversy, as some of the passages appear to have been plagiarized from Graham Greene's It's a Battlefield and the French novel The Last of the Just (Le Dernier des justes, 1959) by Andre Schwartz-Bart. After a lawsuit by Greene, the book was banned in France, and has only recently been re-published. At the time, Ouloguem claimed that he had originally used quotations on some of the controversial passages, but his original manuscript is not available to verify this. He also claimed that in some early interviews, he had openly spoken of excerpting these passages, which is why it was not as controversial in France. Since 1977, the English edition carries the note: "The Publishers acknowledge the use of certain passages on pages 54-56 from It's a Battlefield by Graham Greene."
Le devoir de violence delineates the seven-and-a-half centuries of history of central Mali (the Dogon region), from 1202 to 1947, when a fictitious nation, Nakem-Zuiko, is on the threshold of independence. The first part of the book deals with several powerful Malian empires, particularly the pre-colonial Toucouleur Empire which had Bandiagara as its capital, and the pre-Islamic Bambara Empire it replaced.
It points out how African rulers collaborated with the slave traders, selling a hundred million citizens to be carried off into slavery. The narrative is marked by violence and eroticism, depicting sorcery and black magic as natural human activity. In the second, colonial part of the story, the protagonist, Raymond Spartacus Kassoumi, descended from slaves, is sent to France to be groomed for a political career. The story also highlights the process by which servility or "negraille" (a word coined by Ouologuem) is ingrained in the black population.
The book is notable for its "cultural sweep: legends, myths, chronicles, religious matter woven into an opulent narrative; for eloquence: the cadence and music of the prose".
The book has been defended by a number of critics including Kwame Anthony Appiah, who views it as a rejection of the "first generation of modern African novels—the generation of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Laye’s L’Enfant noir". Despite the controversy, the book remains one of the landmarks of postcolonial African literature.
Ouologuem's best-known works were republished English in The Yambo Ouologuem Reader: The Duty of Violence, A Black Ghostwriter's Letter to France and The Thousand and One Bibles of Sex, by Africa World Press, 2008. His legacy is explored in a contemporary light in Yambo Ouologuem: Postcolonial Writer, Islamic Militant, a recent anthology edited by Christopher Wise that includes an account of Wise's own attempt to find Ouologuem in Africa. Wise has called "Ouologuem's decision to return to Mali and wash his hands of writing in French ... an incalculable loss to world literature.".
Ouloguem has also written notable poetry, some of which has appeared in Nouvelle Somme. He is anthologized in Poems of Black Africa (ed. Wole Soyinka, 1975) and the Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry (1984).
- Bound to Violence - Yambo Ouologuem: Bio-Sketch & Review. ChickenBones: A Journal.
- Christopher Wise, Yambo Ouologuem: Postcolonial Writer, Islamic Militant, 1999, Lynne Rienner Publishers.
- Yambo Ouologuem Forum.
- Amardeep Singh, "Richard Posner on Plagiarism; the Case of Yambo Ouloguem", January 9, 2007.
- Richard Serrano, Against the Postcolonial: Francophone Writers at the Ends of the French Empire, Lexington Books, 2006, ISBN 0-7391-2029-8, p. 23.
- Yambo Ouologuem edited by Christopher Wise, The Complete Review.
- Interview by Linda Kuehl, "Yambo Ouologuem: on Violence, Truth and Black History". ChickenBones:A JournaL.
- Yambo Ouologuem - Critical Essays. Enotes.
- Milet, Eric & Jean-Luc Manaud. Mali. Editions Olizane (2007). ISBN 2-88086-351-1. (French).