Writing the Wrongs of French Colonial Africa: Voyage au Congo and Le Retour du Tchad

  • Walter Putnam


André Gide’s 1926–1927 Congo journey began as a pleasure jaunt into the exotic and the erotic: “Everything here seems to hold the promise of bliss, voluptuousness, and forgetting.”1 It survives as a text, a travel narrative addressed primarily to a European readership about the author’s close encounter with the social and political reality of French colonial Africa. Gide’s very decision to publish his travel writings and to take a public position based on his personal observations reveals a political strategy that he will pursue over the subsequent decade. The epistemological shift necessary for him to engage in this public debate carries with it a fundamental assumption about the writer’s role in the social and political community. “What is at stake in writing is the very structure of authority itself,” affirms Barbara Johnson (48). Gide had made strategic use of writing as a way to self-knowledge and revelation throughout his career. He now had to turn to the revelation of a different kind of scene of compelling dramatic importance, one that only tangentially overlapped with his personal concerns: the colonial situation in French Equatorial Africa. Political discourse exerts its power in the public sphere when it becomes visibly and tangibly connected to the author’s presence. Gide’s maneuvering and positioning vis-à-vis the colonial power structure, while overtly dealing with abuses witnessed during his travels in French Equatorial Africa, have a more direct bearing on his own cultural politics. His strategic opposition to colonial practices and policies underscores his desire to establish his own authority in a public debate taking place not in the Congo but in Paris, intellectual, cultural, and political capital of France’s colonial empire. In a highly self-referential way, Gide inscribes his opposition to the very culture of French expansionism in which he gravitates and to which he addresses his critiques.


Journal Entry Travel Journal French Colonial Colonialist Discourse Colonial Empire 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Works Cited

  1. Allégret, Marc. Carnets du Congo: Voyage avec Gide. Introduction and notes by Daniel Durosay. Paris: Presses du C.N.R.S., 1987.Google Scholar
  2. Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.Google Scholar
  3. Clifford, James. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988.Google Scholar
  4. Coquery-Vidrovitch, Catherine. Le Congo au temps des grandes compagnies concessionnaires 1898–1930. Paris: Mouton, 1972.Google Scholar
  5. Delay, Jean. La Jeunesse d’André Gide. Vol. I. Paris: Gallimard, 1956.Google Scholar
  6. Durosay, Daniel. “Le livre et les cartes. L’espace du voyage et la conscience du livre dans le Voyage au Congo” Littérales 3 (1988): 41–75.Google Scholar
  7. ——. “Le Voyage au Congo et son livre-fantôme——la mise en question du Journal.” Littérales 7 (1990): 121–147.Google Scholar
  8. Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., ed. “Race,” Writing, and Difference. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.Google Scholar
  9. Geldof, Koenraad. “Authority, Reading, Reflexivity: Pierre Bourdieu and the Aesthetic Judgment of Kant.” Diacritics 27.1 (Spring 1997): 20–43.Google Scholar
  10. Gide, André. Experiences in the Congo: France’s Inefficiency as a Colonial Power. Berlin, 1940.Google Scholar
  11. ——. Journal 1889–1939. Paris: Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1951.Google Scholar
  12. ——. Voyage au Congo, suivi de Le Retour du Tchad. Paris: Gallimard “Idées,” 1927, 1928.Google Scholar
  13. Girardet, Raoul. L’Idée coloniale en France de 1871 à 1962. Paris: La Table Ronde, 1972.Google Scholar
  14. Johnson, Barbara. “Writing.” Critical Terms for Literary Study. Ed. Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. 39–49.Google Scholar
  15. Miller, Christopher. Blank Darkness: Africanist Discourse in French. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.Google Scholar
  16. Porra, Véronique. L’Afrique dans les relations franco-allemandes entre les deux guerres. Frankfurt: Verlag für Interkulturelle Kommunikation, 1995.Google Scholar
  17. Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London: Routledge, 1992.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Rabinow, Paul. “Representations are Social Facts: Modernity and Post-Modernity in Anthropology.” Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Ed. James Clifford and George E. Marcus. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. 234–261.Google Scholar
  19. R[emos], V[ince]. “Un éditeur au-delà de tout soupçon.” Peuples Noirs / Peuples Africains 13: 29–34.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Tom Conner 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Walter Putnam

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations