In the late period of nineteenth- and twentieth-century French imperialism, French thinkers, artists, and colonists had long held a fascination with the “others” inhabiting France's colonies. Intimate contact and cross-cultural encounters led to descriptions and often violent differentiations of these groups that helped define French identity. But what might we learn by employing a “postcolonial praxis” that seeks new ways of interrogating identity from anti-imperial actors? Taking the perspectives of three key anti-imperialists—Frantz Fanon, Ousmane Sembène, and Simone Lellouche Othmani—this article unearths their perceptions about France and French identity. For these figures, France could represent either an unfulfilled promised land or a place of exile. Frenchness, likewise, ran the spectrum from a set of desired if unattainable qualities, an immoral culture to be resisted at all costs, to a national identity to be deployed for political strategy. This radical approach turns Frenchness into an “other” while contributing to the emergence of new postcolonial identities. At the same time, it demonstrates how three important definitions of France and of Frenchness depended upon both peripheral positionality and intimate access to French culture.
Burleigh Hendrickson is an Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. His research focuses on decolonization, transnational activism, and human rights in the Francophone world. His current book project, tentatively entitled “Decolonizing 1968: Student Activism and Beyond in Tunis, Paris, and Dakar,” focuses on the transnational and postcolonial relationships between France and its former colonies during the global protests of 1968. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org