Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Re-viewing Disability in Postcolonial West Africa

Ousmane Sembène’s Early Resistant Bodies in Xala

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2016), 10, (2), 207–221.

Abstract

Postcolonial Francophone sub-African literature and film is inhabited by a legion of physically disabled characters, yet most critics see them as mere signifiers of the failure or tragedy of the postcolonial state. While disability studies has been slowly “cripping” the global and the postcolonial, postcolonial studies has, for the most part, turned a cold shoulder to its crips within. Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène’s 1975 film, Xala, calls for both a clinical unseeing of disability and a “coming out all over” of disability in Postcolonial Francophone Studies to recalibrate our focus toward those bodies that dwell in the frame but somehow end up not really mattering. Through the attentive study of varying valences and materialities of visibility, the article argues that Sembène’s film offers an early theorization of disability as a powerful visual counter-narrative to dominant discourses of the postcolonial nation and its hygiaesthetic body politic. Expanding on Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s notion of ethical staring as well as David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder’s “disability as multitude,” the article teases out the ways in which this film forces the viewer not only to stare at disabled bodies, but also to behold them and even anticipate their coming.

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Chivers, Sally, and Nicole Markotić. “Introduction.” The Problem Body: Projecting Disability on Film. Ed. Sally Chivers and Nicole Markotić. Columbus: Ohio UP, 2010. 1–21. Print. Introduction. The Problem Body: Projecting Disability on Film. 1 21 Google Scholar

Davis, Lennard. “Disability in the Media or, Why Don’t Disabled Actors Play Disabled Roles?” The End of Normal: Identity in a Biocultural Era. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2014. 31–42. Print. Disability in the Media or, Why Don’t Disabled Actors Play Disabled Roles? The End of Normal: Identity in a Biocultural Era 31 42 Google Scholar

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Diop, Momar-Coumba. “Quelle approche des ‘fléaux sociaux’?” La Folie au Sénégal. Ed. Ludovic d’Almeida. Dakar: Association des chercheurs sénégalais, 1997. 55–83. Print. Quelle approche des ‘fléaux sociaux’? La Folie au Sénégal 55 83 Google Scholar

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Fall, Aminata Sow. La Grève des Bàttu, ou les déchets humains. Dakar: Nouvelles Editions Africaines, 1979. Print. La Grève des Bàttu, ou les déchets humains Google Scholar

Flaugh, Christian. Operation Freak: Narrative, Identity, and the Spectrum of Bodily Abilities. Montreal: McGill-Queens UP, 2012. Print. Operation Freak: Narrative, Identity, and the Spectrum of Bodily Abilities. Google Scholar

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia UP, 1996. Print. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. Google Scholar

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Staring: How We Look. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print. Staring: How We Look. Google Scholar

Gugler, Joseph. “Xala: Impotence Sexual, Cultural, Economic, and Political.” African Film: Re-Imagining a Continent. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 2003. 126–38. Print. Xala: Impotence Sexual, Cultural, Economic, and Political. African Film: Re-Imagining a Continent 126 38 Google Scholar

Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2001. Print. Empire Google Scholar

Harrow, Kenneth. Postcolonial African Cinema: From Political Engagement to Postmodernism. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 2007. Print. Postcolonial African Cinema: From Political Engagement to Postmodernism. Google Scholar

Hennebelle, Guy. “Sembène Ousmane: ‘Je refuse le cinema de pancartes.’” Ecran 43 (1976): 46–50. Print. Sembène Ousmane: ‘Je refuse le cinema de pancartes.’ Ecran 43.1 46 50 Google Scholar

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia UP, 1982. Print. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Google Scholar

Mbembe, Achille. “Notes provisoires sur la postcolonie.” Politique Africaine 60 (1995). 75–109. Web. 12 December 2014. Notes provisoires sur la postcolonie. Politique Africaine 60 75 109 Google Scholar

McRuer, Robert. Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York and London: New York UP, 2006. Print. Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability Google Scholar

Mitchell, David T., and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2000. Print. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse. Google Scholar

Mitchell, David T., and Sharon L. Snyder. “Disability as Multitude: Re-working Non-Productive Labor Power.” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 4.2 (2010): 179–93. Print. Disability as Multitude: Re-working Non-Productive Labor Power. Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 4.2 179 93 Google Scholar

Mulvey, Laura. “Xala: The Carapace That Failed.” Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader. Ed. Laura Chrisman and Patrick Williams. New York: Columbia UP, 1994. 517–34. Print. Xala: The Carapace That Failed. Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader. 517 34 Google Scholar

Nack Ngue, Julie. Critical Conditions: Illness and Disability in Francophone African Women’s Writing. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2012. Print. Critical Conditions: Illness and Disability in Francophone African Women’s Writing. Google Scholar

Piga, Adriana. “Pauvreté et exclusion dans les capitales du Sahel.” Développement, inégalités, pauvretés. Ed. Nicola Boccella and Andrea Billi. Paris: Karthala, 2005. 143–71. Print. Pauvreté et exclusion dans les capitales du Sahel. Développement, inégalités, pauvretés. 143 71 Google Scholar

Quayson, Ato. Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation. New York: Columbia UP, 2007. Print. Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation. Google Scholar

Sembène, Ousmane. Xala. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1973. Print. Xala Google Scholar

Shohat, Ella, and Robert Stam. “The Third Worldist Cinema.” Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. New York: Routledge, 1994. 248–91. The Third Worldist Cinema. Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. 248 91 Google Scholar

Siebers, Tobin. “Disability as Masquerade.” Disability Theory. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2008. 96–119. Print. Disability as Masquerade. Disability Theory. 96 119 Google Scholar

Snyder. Sharon L., and David T. Mitchell. Introduction. “Ablenationalism and the Geo-Politics of Disability.” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 4.2 (2010): 113–26. Print. Ablenationalism and the Geo-Politics of Disability. Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 4.2 113 26 Google Scholar

Stoler, Ann Laura. “Making Empire Respectable: The Politics of Race and Sexual Morality in Twentieth-Century Colonial Cultures.” Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives. Ed. Anne McClintock, A. Mufti, and E. Shohat. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997. 344–73. Print. Making Empire Respectable: The Politics of Race and Sexual Morality in Twentieth-Century Colonial Cultures. Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives 344 73 Google Scholar

Stoler, Ann Laura, ed. Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination. Durham: Duke UP, 2013. Print. Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination. Google Scholar

Xala. Screenplay by Ousmane Sembène. Dir. Ousmane Sembène. 1975. New Yorker Films 1977. Google Scholar

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Author details

Van Dam, Julie C.

Van Dam, Julie C.