France: “Diversity” Boosted by the Obama Effect?

A small portrait of the translator

November 12, 2008 @ 22:15 UTC

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Countries:
none
Candidates:
Barack Obama
Issues:
Civil Rights & Ethnicity, Government & Politics
 

“The Obama effect,” the new set phrase for change French-style, from economics to sports to nearly every area of life, is shaking up the literary as well as the political communities. Whatever the agenda displayed by those concerned, diversity – meant as the contrary of discrimination in jobs, society, politics, etc… - seems, if not to be moving quickly, then at least to have sped up recently.

Take the world of literary prizes, the season of which is at its height every November, after the yearly – and plentiful – start of the literary calendar. It is often caricatured as a combat area for a few market-leader publishing houses. On the same day, Nov. 10th, to everybody's approval, the prestigious Goncourt Prize was awarded to Afghan writer Atiq Rahimi (Fr) for his first French-written novel , «Syngué Sabour» («Stone of Patience»), while the Renaudot Prize went to veteran Guinean novelist Tierno Monénembo for his book «Roi de Kahel».

Le grand journal, the “daily of French-speaking people in Mexico”, comments :

Est-ce un effet Obama ? Les prix Goncourt et Renaudot ont été attribués à des auteurs marqués par la diversité de leurs origines et de leur culture. Ils couronnent un Franco-Afghan et un Guinéen. Tous deux s’expriment en exil sur la guerre et l’oppression.
Pour Bertrand Visage, éditeur de Monénembo aux éditions du Seuil, « la littérature a précédé l’effet Obama. En effet, depuis dix ans, les jurés Renaudot ont joué la carte de la diversité et couronné trois auteurs d’origine africaine, Amadou Kourouma en 2000 et Alain Mabanckou en 2006. De leur côté, les Goncourt ont souvent ouvert la porte à des auteurs d’origine étrangère comme Andréï Makine et Jonathan Littell […]

Is it an Obama effect ? The Goncourt and Renaudot prizes have been awarded to writers characterized by the diversity of their origins and culture. They reward a French-Afghan and a Guinean. Both express themselves in exile on war and oppression.
For Bertrand Visage, Monénembo's publisher at Editions du Seuil, «literature was ahead of the Obama effect. The Renaudot board has indeed played for ten years the diversity card and awarded three African native writers, Amadou Kourouma in 2000 and Alain Mabanckou in 2006. For their part, the Goncourt [board] often opened the door to writers from foreign origins, as Andréï Makine and Jonathan Littell […]

Destin de l'Afrique analyzing the book, the context, and the author's biography, wonders :

Faut-il y voir une reconnaissance (tardive) de la créativité des plumes ‘noires’ ou s’agit-il un simple effet Obama, comme s’est interrogé un critique français ?

[…] Does that show a (belated) acknowledgement of the creativity of «black» pens, or is it only a matter of Obama effect, as a french literary critic was wondering ? […]

Chantal Serrière voices her enthusiasm in her blog, Ecritures du Monde, at Le Monde :

Un vent plus léger venu d'ailleurs souffle sur les prix littéraires, cuvée 2008. Soudain, on respire mieux. L'écriture se partage donc! D'un continent à l'autre! D'aucuns parleront d'effet Obama. Comme s'il s'agissait d'un phénomène de mode. Peut-être. Peut-être aussi s'avérait-il imposible de ne pas reconnaître enfin qu'on écrit en français, quelles que soient les origines de l'auteur, à Paris et même hors de l'hexagone. Bravo au jury du Renaudot pour ce choix!

A lighter breeze from abroad is blowing on the literary prizes, 2008 vintage. All of a sudden, you breathe again ! So writing can be shared ! From a continent to another ! Some will speak of an Obama effect. Maybe. Maybe it was also impossible not to at last acknowledge that [people] write in French, whatever the origins of the author, in Paris and even outside of the Hexagon. Congratulations to the Renaudot jury for their pick!

More about Atiq Rahimi here.

President Sarkozy was not outdone, and appointed a Cameroon-native prefect: in Fred-lille's words :

Nouveau préfet des Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Pierre N'Gahane est le dernier en date des hauts fonctionnaires issus de la diversité et promus par le président.

The new prefect in the Alpes de Haute Provence [department], Pierre N'Gahane is the latest high-ranking civil servant stemming from diversity and upgraded by the President.

Asked whether this appointment was aroused by the Obama effect, Minister of the Interior Michèle Alliot-Marie answered: “It means no more than acknowledging the qualities of a man who already exercised prefect duties.” [he was not yet a head of department, but was in charge of promoting equality of opportunities in nearby Bouches du Rhône department]

Political parties are all taking their stand in this new competition, claiming they did not just wait for Obama to jump on the scene to give minorities the visibility they deserve. This kind of competition led lowblogging to make fun of the current French Socialist Party's leadership warfare:

Bertrand Delanoë et Martine Aubry n’ont cessé de le répéter au micro des journalistes ces trois derniers jours : la France aurait tout à gagner à suivre la voie ouverte par les Américains qui ont accordé leurs voix à Barack Obama. Pour trancher avec une classe politique française assez monochrome, Bertrand Delanoë et Martine Aubry auront tout loisir de mettre en accord leurs vœux pieux avec leurs actes en votant pour Ségolène Royal au Congrès de Reims. Née à Dakar en 1953, Ségolène Royal deviendrait ainsi la première Africaine de l’histoire à accéder au poste de premier secrétaire du Parti socialiste. His-to-ri-que ! His-to-ri-que ! His-to-ri-que !

Bertrand Delanoë and Martine Aubry constantly said it again in front of the jounalists' mikes during the three last days : It would be France's best advantage to follow the road which was opened by the US people who gave their votes to Barack Obama. To contrast sharply with a rather monochromatic political class, Bertrand Delanoë and Martine Aubry will have all the leisure to put their pious hopes in harmony with their action by voting for Ségolène Royal at the Reims Party's Conference. Born in Dakar in 1953, Ségolène Royal would become this way the first African woman in history stepping to the position of First Secretary of the Socialist Party. His-to-ric! His-to-ric! His-to-ric!

And finally, let's speak hope, with the CRAN (Fr) (Conseil représentatif des associations noires de France), an organization federating French black associations, according to YannDarc:

FIERE de ses métissages (sic), la France, pays des Lumières et patrie des droits de l’homme, aura-t-elle un jour son Barack Obama au sommet du pouvoir ? Patrick Lozès, président du Conseil représentatif des associations noires de France (Cran) reçu hier à l’Elysée par le chef de cabinet de Nicolas Sarlozy pour demander que les élections européennes et régionales en 2009 et 2010 ne soient pas des scrutins « monocolores » , y croit.

PROUD of her mixed origins (sic), will France, country of Enlightment and motherland of Human Rights, have some day its own Barack Obama on the top of power? Patrick Lozes, President of CRAN, who was met yesterday by the head of Nicolas Sarkozy's private staff to ask for 2009 European and Regional elections not being monochrome polls, believes so.

[…]

Un Manifeste pour l’égalité réelle, initié par Yazid Sabeg, enfant d’immigré devenu industriel, signé par des responsables politiques de droite comme de gauche et soutenu par Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, propose, depuis ce week-end, de lancer un « Grenelle de la diversité ». Et vite, histoire de surfer sur la victoire d’Obama qui a suscité de l’espoir auprès de millions de citoyens bien décidés à saisir l’occasion de se montrer enfin.

A Manifesto for a real equality, started by Yazid Sabeg, a son of an immigrant turned manufacturer, signed by political right as awell as left wing officials, and supported by Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, has suggested since this week-end to launch a «Grenelle for diversity.» And quickly so, just to surf on Obama's victory, which aroused hope among millions of citizens who are quite determined to seize the opportunity of asserting themselves.

Well, let's hope this «Grenelle of diversity» (as a reference to the Grenelle agreements which put an end to the May 1968 upheavals) will be luckier than the current «Grenelle of environment», a great package of good resolutions in danger of getting mired in the global economic crisis.

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