The Making Of A Distinguished Reader: Francophone Stories Of Literary Initiation
language arts education
Drawing on an interdisciplinary blend of sociology, didactics and literary scholarship, this dissertation discusses representations of early engagement with literature as they are conveyed in the semi-fictional and autobiographical writings of Patrick Chamoiseau (Une enfance créole, Ecrire en pays dominé) as well as in other contemporary autobiographies de lecteur. It builds on the concept of literary initiation, a social construct that I define in terms of symbolical power. I first follow the evolution in visions and practices of French language arts instruction since the early 20th century, which largely amounts to tracing the formation and persisting power of a specifically French imaginary – and / or ideology – of l’entrée dans la littérature. I proceed to offer a survey of theoretical and empirical perspectives on reader trajectory narratives that reveals the extent to which social structures and social agents often perpetuate a problematic legacy of representations about ‘literary’ reading development. In postcolonial contexts particularly, I argue, autobiographies de lecteur expose the complicated bearing of dominant (i.e. metropolitan) representations of literary initiation on recollections of the process. An important part of the dissertation rests on the notion, hardly considered in French education research or literary studies, that variation in cultural frames of reference may affect the imagination relative to literary initiation and its discursive rendering. Over two chapters, I address the complex ways in which Chamoiseau’s coming-of-age story is one of both resistance and yielding to the Hexagon-centered imaginaire littéraire. Throughout the dissertation as a whole, I show that the widespread internalization of an elitist vision of advanced literacy is a matter of concern to which we – literature scholars who are also teachers – should grant more attention. The works of Gilles Béhotéguy, Bertrand Daunay, Brigitte Louichon, and Bruno Védrines, among others, are essential to this demonstration. Ultimately, I contend that contemporary Francophone narratives of literary initiation do not teach us about developmental and educational processes past or future as much as about the importance of comprehending and embracing “the imagination as a social practice” (Arjun Appadurai).