Jane Hiddleston answered some questions about her new book, Writing After Postcolonialism: Francophone North African Literature in Transition.
How would you describe your book in one sentence?
It’s a study of the role and status of francophone literature in North Africa from the 1980s to the present.
What drew to you writing about this subject?
I’ve worked on francophone postcolonial literatures for a long time, and my previous book was a study of a group of major literary writers who were also political figures during the period of decolonization. Writing After Postcolonialism looks at the following generation, to see whether perceptions of the power of literature have changed. This is also a crucial period because it’s one where writers have been treated with intense suspicion: some were killed in Algeria during the 1990s, and many across the region have seen their work banned. I wanted to explore why it was that literature could provoke such reaction, and also to reflect on how this climate changed the ways in which writers think about their work.
How long have you been researching it? How did you come to study it?
Much of the thinking for the book was germinating for quite some time, while I was working on my previous study of intellectuals and decolonization. I’ve always been interested in the relationship between literature and politics, and the recent period in North Africa is one where that relationship has been particularly fraught. I began thinking in detail about the texts chosen for close reading in 2012, though some of the writers, such as Assia Djebar have interested me for much longer – I published a book on her back in 2006. I did a lot of the writing for Writing After Postcolonialism while on a Leverhulme Research Fellowship in 2014-15.
What does your book focus on that hasn’t been explored elsewhere?
The book looks at a broad corpus of francophone North African literary works published between 1980 and 2015, and offers an overview both of contemporary cultural politics in the Maghreb and of the complementary literary critical fields of postcolonial criticism and ‘world literature’. The specific focus on literarity, however, is also important, and means that the book should be relevant not only to readers interested in North Africa but also to literary theorists more broadly.
What initially drew you to Literary Studies?
Literature is a powerful source of inspiration and a fuel for creative thinking. As the book tries to demonstrate, it’s also a forum that encourages its readers to think for themselves, to ask questions, to contest orthodoxies, to doubt. For this reason it seems crucial to me to the survival of free thinking and to the creation of a more ethical world.
Which Bloomsbury Lit Studies books have you read? Which are your favorites, and why?
I like Maria Lauret’s Wanderwords: Language Migration in American Literature, also in the New Horizons in Contemporary Writing series. Lauret’s interest in the use of different languages in literary works ties in with my current research project on multilingualism and world literature. Her study also demonstrates how the creative use of language in literature can encourage openness and cultural dialogue.
Jane Hiddleston is Fellow and Tutor in French at Exeter College, University of Oxford, UK. Her previous books include Understanding Postcolonialism (2009) and Postructuralism and Postcoloniality (2010).