Contemporary Mauritian Literature: (De)Colonisation, Globalisation, Multiculturalism

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Modern Languages and European Studies

Abstract

In February 1999, violent riots erupted across Mauritius, in response to the death in police custody of the popular Creole ('Afro-Mauritian') singer, Kaya. The highly ethnicised nature of the sudden, violent turn of events, and its revelation of a deep-seated 'malaise créole', prompted an urgent reconsideration of Mauritius's previously received status as a model multiethnic, post-colonial society (Lionnet, Caroll & Caroll).

The past decade has also witnessed an unprecedented blossoming of francophone Mauritian literature, with the emergence of powerful new voices (such as Appanah, Patel, Sewtohul, Pyamootoo) and the critical affirmation of more established ones (including Devi, Souza, Humbert, Le Clézio and Collen). My book, entitled 'Contemporary Mauritian Literature: (De)Colonisation, Globalisation, Multiculturalism', aims to introduce an important but missing literary dimension to ongoing, socio-political debates on the future of Mauritius's multicultural model, by examining literary representations of 'post-Kaya' Mauritian society in a range of contemporary novels.

Despite the rich diversity of Mauritius's recent literary production, and the continued burgeoning of Postcolonial and Francophone Studies in general, Mauritius remains a relatively neglected area of study. No book-length study of contemporary Mauritian literature has yet been published, in either English or French. My monograph aims to fill this gap, offering new perspectives on a fascinating and unjustly underread literature.

Whilst Mauritius's small size and geographic distance from Europe or the United States may well have contributed to its critical neglect, the issues facing 21st-century Mauritius are of pressing contemporary relevance to much broader, critical and socio-political, debates. My book will examine, for instance, the novels' common concern with the place of the individual in a complex, multiethnic society, and with the problems facing a small, 'post-colonial' island nion in an era of mass, neo-colonial globalisation.

Whilst the main emphasis of the book will be on literary analysis, an introductory chapter will place the novels studied in their historical and contemporary contexts. It will discuss Mauritius's very particular status as a 'postcolonial' nation, and analyse the eloquent parallels implied, in the novels, between the recent effects of globalisation and the historical legacies of colonisation. It will explore the ways in which Mauritius's history of dual, French and British colonisation, its linguistic diversity and its multicultural society are reflected in its literature. The rest of the book will consist of a series of comparative, critical readings of its corpus of six core novels (by Barlen Pyamootoo, Carl de Souza, Amal Sewtohul, Natacha Appanah, Shenaz Patel and Ananda Devi), all written between 1999 and the present. Rather like the diverse groups that make up Mauritius's multiethnic society, each novel will thereby constitute a distinct, but interconnected, part of a composite, literary map of 21st-century Mauritius, the intricate, shifting development of which will be plotted.

As 'Contemporary Mauritian Literature' will explore, the common literary depiction of a modern-day Mauritius, riven by unemployment, disaffection and exploitation, runs counter to nationalist discourses of Mauritius's harmonious 'rainbow nation'. It also does much to debunk the anachronistic, exotic clichés of an external, tourist-centred vision of Mauritius. Indeed, one important aspect of the particularity of the Mauritian context is its contestation of prevalent postcolonial paradigms of 'hybrid' or 'creolised' identities, originally developed in other contexts. Importantly, the book will discuss the significance - both for Mauritius and for transnational, critical and socio-political, debates - of the kinds of 'home-grown' senses of community and identity suggested in the novels, forged in the wake of the 1999 'Kaya' riots.

Planned Impact

My book's examination of the social, economic, political and cultural contexts in which the novels were produced means that the potential, non-academic beneficiaries - in Mauritius, the United Kingdom and France, in particular - are remarkably diverse.

One of the principal broad aims of my monograph is to increase the profile, and hence the readership, of this unjustly neglected body of literature. My research will therefore be of direct benefit to the authors studied, to their French and Indian Ocean publishers, and to the Mauritian literary and cultural environment more generally. At present, only a handful of Mauritian novels has been translated into English. It is intended that my monograph will contribute to creating a greater demand for their translation, so increasing exponentially the potential international readership of Mauritian literature.

In Mauritius, my research will contribute a comparative, literary dimension to important, ongoing debates - amongst politicians, government organisations, social activists, development workers and community groups - about the present and future state of Mauritius' multicultural, multilinguistic model. My analysis of literary representations of individuals and groups marginalised in Mauritius's purportedly inclusive 'rainbow nation', will help nuance local and international understandings of the ways in which multiculturalism (inadvertently) works to exclude disadvantaged minorities. My examination of the alternative models of multicultural coexistence suggested in contemporary literature might also help inform discussions on potential solutions to such patterns of exclusion.

Mauritius illustrates, in microcosm, many issues of urgent importance in our putatively postcolonial, increasingly globalised world. In numerous contexts, political bodies and the wider public are interested in debates about community cohesion and identity formation in multicultural societies. My research's comparative and contextualising analysis of the novels' common concern with (i) the place of the individual in a complex, multicultural society, and (ii) the problems facing a small 'postcolonial' island-nation in an era of mass globalisation, will thus be of potentially far-reaching interest to diverse international beneficiaries, with a professional or general interest in these issues.

The general public, in both Anglophone and French-speaking spheres, has a voracious reading appetite for 'postcolonial' or 'world' literature, as demonstrated by the huge international success of such figures as Rushdie, Naipaul, Condé or Chamoiseau. It is hoped that my research on Mauritian literature will help to add new, Mauritian writers to the pantheon of 'world literature', so enriching and expanding understandings of the cultural diversity of this important, transnational corpus.

An issue with which several of the novels engage is tourism and its effects. Mauritius is a popular, high-class destination for both British and French tourists. The wider public will thus gain a more nuanced and informed picture of the issues affecting contemporary Mauritius from my monograph's contextualising analysis of recent Mauritian novels, than it would from the exoticising images of an island paradise pedalled by the tourist industry or, indeed, by more readily available 19th-century European narratives.

My monograph will be targeted primarily at a specialist academic audience, but will be broad enough in scope also to be of interest to undergraduates, graduates and more general readers. The lack of a critical study of the kind proposed may well have contributed to the current absence of courses on Mauritian literature from university syllabuses. This book, and the novels it covers, could therefore be a useful teaching and study resource for an undergraduate or masters-level module on the subject - so simultaneous

Publications

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Description The main output from the research funded by this grant has been the 80,000-word manuscript for a monograph, titled The Francophone Mauritian Novel: Fictions of Belonging, that is under contract with Liverpool University Press and scheduled for publication late 2017 or 2018 - in time for the 50th anniversary of Mauritian independence.

Belonging - a sense of attachment to, and identification with, a place or people - is a particularly urgent and fraught issue in the small, post-colonial island-nation of Mauritius. With no original, in-dwelling inhabitants, Mauritian society is made up entirely of the descendants of immigrants - from France, Africa, Madagascar, different parts of India, and China - who were brought to the island, over the past three centuries, by the brutal transnational flows of slavery, indenture, imperialism, global capitalism and economic migration. Reflecting these historic influences, belonging in Mauritius is today still predominantly associated with ethnic rather than national allegiances. In 1999, simmering inter-ethnic tensions erupted into violence, following the suspicious death in police custody of the Creole singer, Kaya. My project in the current study is to investigate how novels written after the 1999 unrest respond to the fraught issues of belonging and, conversely, of exclusion and disaffection, that the riots brought to the fore in such devastating and spectacular fashion. Belonging, as we shall explore, can be expressed in many different ways and is tied up with highly personal and subjective notions of feeling safe or 'at home' in a place or of 'fitting in' with a people, as well as with broader notions of nation and citizenship. The divisions and inequalities that the Kaya riots revealed behind the national facade of 'unity in diversity' impact negatively on specific groups' or individuals' ability to affirm such feelings of inclusion, familiarity, safety and attachment to place and, particularly, to their fellow citizens. My book investigates how such issues of inclusion and exclusion are articulated in the contemporary literary imaginary and how - or even if ? alternative, more inclusive, non-ethnic forms of belonging are imagined. My aim is not to impose a particular, would-be unifying model of belonging upon my diverse corpus, but rather to explore the patterns of convergence and difference that emerge from their various, literary responses to the common problem of belonging in Mauritius.

The five chapters of my book analyse different approaches to the conundrum of belonging in a range of 21st-century francophone Mauritian novels. My broad findings can be summarised as follows. First, a deep-seated anxiety about the problem of belonging in multi-ethnic Mauritius is central to the twenty-first-century Mauritian literary imaginary, of which my corpus is representative. Second, the prevalent communalist model of belonging, based on ethnic and religious allegiance to ancestral homelands, is universally critiqued and rejected. Third, nearly twenty years after William Miles made his provocative observation about the enigmatic nature of Mauritian nationhood, still no single, 'overarching sense of national unity' emerges to replace the divisive, communalist, multicultural model. Instead, fourth, a diverse range of models of affective belonging, both individual and collective, are tentatively imagined. These alternative 'images of communion' are, however, also consistently debunked by the characteristically self-reflexive forms that the novels take, revealing, fifth, a common, arguably 'nomadic' resistance to fixity and grand narratives of all kinds. Finally, despite the many differences - of scale, form, perspective and content - between the different kinds of belonging imagined, there also emerge several striking areas of convergence; the trope of the journey or quest; moments of epiphany, when characters connect with the island's natural beauty; the haunting presence of the stateless migrant or internal pariah as the physical, human embodiment of exclusion; and, most contentiously perhaps, Indo-Mauritian characters' implicit but insistent attempts to connect with Creole characters and, through them, with an elusive, purportedly more authentic Mauritius that existed prior to the arrival of their own (Indian) ancestors. As we shall explore, these convergences, combined with the texts' common resistance to prescriptive identitarian models, betray a strong underlying commitment to the ongoing project of Mauritian nationhood and to the always evolving, mobile, future-orientated process of belonging to its place and people.
Exploitation Route Once my book and other articles are published - and my period as Head of Department over - further impact and dissemination activities will be achievable.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description The 'Mauritian Diaspora in Question' conference, at the Mohatma Gandhi Institute in Mauritius in December 2015, to which I contributed was attended by politicians, diplomats, cultural activists and the media. A report delivered at the end of the conference, and based on the general findings of participants, made the case for greater support of and communication with diasporic Mauritians across the globe, including a dedicated radio station. I do not know if any of the recommendations have yet been acted upon, however. I would not wish to overstate the direct impact of my own research, although its findings - about the mobile but enduring links between diasporic Mauritians and their island - were cited in the concluding report.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description 'Belonging to the island: place and gender in Natacha Appanah's Blue Bay Palace and Ananda Devi's Ève de ses décombres', Les femmes et les milieux urbains international conference, King's College London, 30 May 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk sparked questions and discussion afterwards, raised awareness of Mauritian literature and issues of belonging in contemporary Mauritian society within broader context of women's relation to space. Approached re possible publication in edited volume on 'Les Femmes et les milieu urbains'.

Have been approached by three PhD students for advice on aspects of their own research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description 'Differently Mauritian: Heterogeneous Belonging in Contemporary Mauritian Fiction', at annual international Mellon conference, (Re)mapping Global Modernities: Heterogeneous Time and Space, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), 7-8 March 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk sparked questions and discussion afterwards. Very useful research contacts made with colleagues across USA, Mauritius, France. Potential collaborations and publications discussed.

Extending research networks, connecting individuals and groups with common interest in promoting under-researched area of Indian Ocean studies. Discipline-building, profile-raising.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description 'Fictions of creolisation: place, gender and belonging in the works of Natacha Appanah and Ananda Devi', at international conference, 'Iles/ Elles', Université de la Réunion, St Denis, Ile de la Réunion, 28-29 November 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity
 
Description 'Les rejets de la grande usine de l'histoire': Diasporic Belonging in Amal Sewtohul's _Made in Mauritius_, 'Mauritian Diaspora in Question' conference, Mohatma Gandhi Institute, Mauritius, 2-4 December 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/parliamentarians
Results and Impact My talk prompted heated debate about the official political discourse in Mauritius of 'unity in diversity' and 'happy multiculturalism', foregrounding the rifts and inequalities underlining Mauritius's 'economic miracle.' My literary analyses contributed to a broader discussion about the real, economic and political, links between Mauritius and its diaspora.

The conference resulted in a series of recommendations, delivered to invited policy-makers and politicians, calling for improved engagement with Mauritian diasporic communities via the media and internet, and for financial support for Mauritian students abroad.

I also made fruitful contacts with the music teacher, Patrick Allen (SOAS) and the immigration barrister, Jacques René, both of whom work with the Chagossian community in the UK. We hope to work together, bringing together both literary, musical, legal, academic and applied approaches to the issues of integration and cultural specificity affecting this displaced community.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description 'Mobile Belonging: Nation and Migration in Recent Mauritian Fiction', Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies conference, 13-14 November 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact My talk provoked lively discussion and questions. Made useful contact, both in UK and overseas.

Several colleagues and PG students, working in loosely related fields, stated that they wish to read the texts discussed - and my forthcoming monograph.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description 'White Skin in a Rainbow Nation: the Problem of Franco-Mauritian Belonging in the Works of Bertrand de Robillard', annual French Studies Conference, University of Aberdeen, 30 June-2 July 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk sparked questions and discussion afterwards - notably about points of convergence and divergence between the three papers on the panel, and between the contexts of the French Caribbean and the francophone Indian Ocean. Very interesting debate about contentious issues of skin colour, race, racism and privilege in postcolonial societies.

Since my talk, I have been approached by several colleagues and PhD students, with requests for information on Mauritian society and literature, so raising the profile of this under-researched area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description International conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presented paper ('Over the Rainbow: The Problem of Belonging in Contemporary Mauritian Fiction') and participated in discussions at 'Mauritius after Fifty Years of Independence: Charting the Way Forward', Africa Partnership Conference, University of Mauritius, 28-30 June 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.uom.ac.mu/index.php/news-events/126-news-and-hightlights3/876-50yrsmru
 
Description International conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Conference paper for 'What is Africa to Me Now? The Continent and its Literary Diasporas' conference, 21-23 March 2013, University of Liege, Belgium.

Talk sparked questions and discussion afterwards. Since been contacted by several colleagues, with requests to review articles, give papers, answer research-related questions.

I have since been asked to review 3 articles for publication, have been invited to publish an article in a collective volume, have been invited to give a talk at another conference.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Presented research paper at workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presented research paper, 'A Franco-Mauritian in Paris: Errance and Alienation in Bertrand de Robillard's L'Homme qui penche', at 'Paris, Past and Present' workshop, organised by Cities@SAS, Senate House, London, 19 April 2016. Presented to an international audience of scholars, postgraduates, writers and general public. Disseminated findings on Mauritian literature, sparked questions about (little-known) writer, Bertrand de Robillard, and sales of his novel.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Visiting Professor 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited Visiting Professor at Université de Rennes II (under Erasmus+ staff mobility scheme), 4-7 March 2015: included co-organising and co-convening MA workshop on francophone postcolonial cultures, at which I delivered paper on 'Belonging to the moment: Carl de Souza's Les Jours Kaya (2000)'. Interesting discussions, with both students and academic colleagues, both about the content of my paper and about possible future research collaborations and/or teaching exchanges.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015