Gachanja, Peter Mwaura
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This dissertation examines the aesthetics of memory in five of Sembene’s texts: Le Dernier de l’Empire (a novel), Vehi-Ciosane (a novella) and three films (Ceddo, Emitai, Camp de Thiaroye). I argue that the literary and cinematic productions of Sembene invoke and construct memories that generate debate about testimony and survival. While I do not disagree with Samba Gadjigo who has defined Sembene’s fiction as self-defense literature and proposes that he became an author in order to escape his situation as a docker in Marseilles (2004), I go on to show that, throughout Sembene’s forty-eight year literary career, he creates an aesthetics of memory that writes back both to the Hexagon and his own African and Caribbean counterparts. The dissertation further shows that Sembene proposed his own theory of writing in which fiction meets (auto)biography. In the introductory chapter, I trace this theory to the preface of L’Harmattan (1964); this theorizing is further developed eighteen years down the line in Le Dernier de l’Empire. Thus, Sembene becomes the critic of his own writing and describes his ideal readers as he designates a number of theorists, many of who engaged in prolific writing even as they enjoyed remarkable political careers (Nyerere, Nkrumah, Cabral, Senghor, Mondlane, Césaire). I observe that, apart from a quest for self-identity within the realm of the imaged and the imagined, Sembene’s aesthetics of memory and history further opens the door to the study of auto-referentiality, the author as a survivor, and writing as testimony. The main hallmarks of this aesthetics (as they emerge in my study) are: fictionalization of history; historicization of fiction; interweaving memory and (inter)textuality; and the omnipresence of trauma in fiction. This highlights the importance of Sembene’s literary and cinematic production in postcolonial studies.