Summary (Mbougarian style and the reinvention of the novelistic mold in La plus secrète mémoire des hommes)

Abibou Samb§

Summary: With La plus secrète mémoire des hommes, Mohamed Mbougar Sarr has revealed, better than his peers, the wonders of true literature in the mirror of the whole world. Bypassing the consensus that has long defined the literalness of a work, this young novelist has dared to carve out a bold new individual itinerary where only the reader's experience, talent and maturity in the renewed manufacture of the novelistic mold remain the true criteria that decide the greatness of a work and of the writer. So, to explore all the mysteries of writing and get the players to rethink the definition of literature, he draws on an imaginary sad story about an author and his book. With this, he hooks us with a fantastic style and invites us to share with him the singularity of his language structures and the reinvented form of the novelistic wheel.

Keywords: novel, style, talent, literature, reader, writer

Abstract: With La plus secrète mémoire des hommes, Mohamed Mbougar Sarr has revealed us, better than his peers, the wonders of real literature to the mirror of the whole-world. At the detour of the consensus that have been for a long time defined literality of a piece of work his young novelist has dared creating a new individual itinerary where only the experience of the reader, talent, and maturity in the renovated factory of the roman mussel are the real criteria which testify to the greatness of both a piece of work and a writer. Thus, to use all the mysteries of writing and bring actors to rethink the definition of literature, he lays on an imaginary sad story about an author and his book. In fact, he hooks us up with a fantastic style and invites us share with him the singularity of his language structures and the renovated form of the roman wheel.

Keywords: Novel, Style, Talent, Literature, Reader, Writer


Far from leaving us baffled or speechless, reading Mohamed Mbougar Sarr's La plus secrète mémoire des hommes compels us to embrace the author's talent, the depth and diversity of his culture, the topicality of the subjects raised, and the originality and modernity of his narrative. In fact, in the posture of a "gentleman" writer, he dared to "walk alone towards a literary destiny" (Sarr 56). Never before has the publication of a novel, despite the prestigious distinction it has been awarded (the Prix Goncourt 2021), provoked so much debate about the morphology of the narrative and the author's own identity. The author anticipates these lively reactions in the following comment by Béatrice, a character from the writers' seraglio: "A real writer," she added, "provokes mortal debates among real readers, who are always at war; if you're not ready to duck in the arena to win his remains as in the game of bouzkachi, get the hell out" (Sarr 14). In contrast to European critics, who struggle to conceal their delirium in the face of the work's level of success, certain patent readers (hasty or less astute, I'd say) or, above all, censors of morals and guardians of decency (perhaps ignorant of the workings of the literary act), if they don't refrain from doing so, tend to stigmatize the author.

          At the crossroads of all these debates, this contribution intends to explore in detail the aesthetic foundations underlying the singularity of this fiction. From the outset, it should be made clear that to venture to build this reflection on the analysis of a few aspects of this novel, where everything, down to the smallest detail, is of interest in the performance grid, would be, a priori, a sufficient option to disqualify our literary adventure or misadventure. Of course, we're well aware that nothing exists, futile and isolated, in the framework of this imaginary crowning glory of the all-world. But we can tolerate questioning certain lines of force that strip away the pretentious maturity of Mbougar's style, and the new orientations that the author dictates to the matrix structure of the narrative, when we know, in extenso, that not everything in a work can be analyzed. So, thanks to narratology and French-speaking semiotics, which, in the Peircian (1958) sense of the term, are based on the maieutics of narrative fabrication and the system of encoding and decoding signs, we will begin by studying the characteristics that irrigate the pre-eminence of Mbougar's style. Secondly, we will endeavor not only to pinpoint the various manifestations of the materials mobilized in this narrative, but above all to dwell on the diagnosis of the innovative stamps that Mbougar has forced into the narrative to reinvent, once again, the narrative virtuosities of all-world grinds.

1. Making language structures, a gift of talent

          Literature is a vast domain that imposes, or rather requires of its players (writers, readers, critics...) a certain number of intellectual dispositions in order to tame it. Like a ravishing young woman, easy to approach at first but difficult to conquer, a true literary text must "seduce" the reader and create, in the words of Paul Ricœur, "a space of enjoyment. [...]. The possibility of a dialectic of desire" (Ricœur 11-12). In this fiction, the attractive side of the text is illustrated first and foremost by the feats of language. However, in order to analyze the rhetoric experimented with in the genetics of this fiction, we will, in the catalog of figures of style mobilized, take an indicative interest in the renovation of personification and metaphor. As for writing techniques, we'll focus our study on the edge of perversion, which would seem to offer her literary language greater subtlety and fulfillment.

1.1. Literary language: from words to images

          Through the homodiegetic narrator Diégane Latyr Faye, whom the reader suspects to be the incarnation of the author, we are impressed, at first glance, by this beautiful courtesan image personifying, in this context, the aesthetic relationships that link the axes of production and reception:

Literature appeared to me in the guise of a terrifyingly beautiful woman. I stammered and told her I was looking for her. She laughed cruelly and said she belonged to no one. I got down on my knees and begged her: Spend one night with me, just one miserable night. She disappeared without a word (Sarr 46).

In addition to seduction, the reader and/or author must engage in a passionate and enduring exchange with the text; a kind of courting conquest. This posture, laborious and conflictual, boring and playful, delicate and formative, remains an essential lever in the process of incubating the creative genius of any aspiring writer or good reader. Talent, in literature, cannot be given away, but rather snatched away through a great deal of rich and diversified reading. So, if T. C. Elimane, the idol writer of Diégane Latyr, has succeeded in loosening all tongues with his "biblicide", Le Labyrinthe de l'inhumain, it's because he has read everything. A revelation supported by Albert Maximin (a symbol of literary criticism) in the following terms: "One loses oneself in his Labyrinthe (even if it is inhuman) with happiness, despite all his useless virtuosity as the first in the class who has read everything" (Sarr 99). The narrator, invested with this ambition, is aware of it and, from his first steps in high school, Diégane Latyr, fond of literature, set to work:  

In 2008, I was in my first year at a military boarding school in northern Senegal. Literature was beginning to attract me, and I had a teenage dream of becoming a poet. [...]. As a result, I began to lose myself in poetic anthologies and dictionaries of synonyms, rare words and rhymes. I made some awful ones, punctuating wobbly hendecasyllables full of "blettes larmes", "ciels déhiscents", "hyalines aurores". I pastiched, parodied and plagiarized (Sarr 16).

          In many respects, a little indexing work focused on the terminology of the text, the names of authors and titles of works listed, would testify to the author's encyclopedic culture. The bibliographical information also illustrates Mohamed Mbougar Sarr's brilliant intellectual and literary career.[1]. But to get bogged down in general considerations and/or to recognize, ad libitum, the author's talent would not, under any circumstances, suffice as reliable arguments to decree his dexterity in the gestation and production of fictions haloed by prestige. So, in the panorama of criteria that plead for his intellectual erudition and stylistic maturity, we can retain his fascinating mastery of French rhetoric and his particular use of figures of speech, in this case, personification and metaphor.

          A key figure in the manufacture of the fantastic register, personification confers human attitudes on animals and abstract, animated things. In fact, it worships the reader's taste and alienates his passion. Mbougar uses the wonder generated by this linguistic wax to embellish and imbue his text with originality. Already in the epigraph, which Gérard Genette defines as "a word or generally a quotation found at the edge of the work and not in the work" (Sarr 134), the author introduces us to the vermeilles of renewed personification. Also, in the hollow of the excerpt below, which carves the literary act into the silhouette of a seductive young woman who refuses to be tamed, the Mbougarian mold personifying literature reveals to us, in a flow of conjunctive subordinates built on the model (que + infinitif ou substantif + ne suffit pas), the full perimeter of the aptitudes of what makes the writer great:

But there always comes that terrible moment, on the road, in the middle of the night, when a voice [the voice of literature] resounds and strikes you like lightning; and it reveals to you, or reminds you, that willpower is not enough, that talent is not enough, that ambition is not enough, that having a fine pen is not enough, that having read a lot is not enough, [...]; and the voice goes on to say that all this can be, and often is, a condition, an advantage, an attribute, a strength, certainly, but the voice immediately adds that essentially none of these qualities is ever enough when it comes to literature, since writing always requires something else, something else, something else. (Sarr 46- 47)

Once again, the shot below, which personifies death, seems to be the most unprecedented. In a long, familiar letter to Diégane Latyr by e-mail (on pages 379 - 392), the character Musimbwa depicts the tragedy caused by death, disguised as a human being and accompanied by his children, during the Second World War. This passage from those pages could serve as an illustration: 

So I heard the fat laughter of the children of death, I heard the sound of their belts being unbuckled and thrown on the ground, I heard their comments on my mother, her buttocks, her breasts, her sex, her mouth [...]. Then I heard the men's moans, their wild cries, the obscenities. But I didn't hear my mother. Time passed, then death said:

- That's enough of that. Go ahead. I'm going to finish. (Sarr 385)

The finesse with which he interweaves narrative and epistolary discourse is explained by the diversity and flexibility of his aesthetic whims in the elaboration of a hybrid narrative. On more than one occasion, in the caricature of his complicity with Le labyrinthe de l'inhumain, the narrator provides us with this pictorial and picturesque setting in which their relationship is personified: "Since then, I've held the book close to me. It has carried me over ridges and chasms, through space and time, among the dead and the survivors. And now here we are, or here we are again, in the land of our origins" (Sarr 394).

          In fact, while the use of personification is an obvious indicator of the maturity of the author's style, the metaphorical clichés, distilled at every turn, are also important devices. In fact, what's most striking about Mohamed Mbougar's stylistic technicality is the duplicity of his pen. To his credit, Mbougar knows how to imbue the grotesque with captivating imagery. Better still, he knows how to coexist on both sides.[2]. What's more, his framing techniques, like those of a photographer or painter, enable him to represent ideas in decorative tableaux. This dual vocation, visible on virtually every page of his novel, is revealed in this passage:

Stop being so formal, stop calling me Madame Siga, it's ridiculous, and stop getting a hard-on, deflate me, mënn na la jurr, I could be your mother, Diégane. - Kone nampal ma, then make me suckle like a mother, I replied, [...].She was about to get up before interrupting herself: Unless you'd rather I nampal you here and now?

She concretized the proposal and almost immediately pulled the collar of the ample boubou low over her throat; and then a heavy breast, the left one, sprang from the undone bodice. Do you want it?" said Siga D. "Here's the thing. The large areola medal burst forth in its brown hue, an island in the middle of an ocean of abundance of lighter hues. (Sarr 25)

Alongside the framing, the symbolic representation of things and ideas has further impressed the author's genius for mastering the techniques of the art of language. In this passage, the narrator uses a bitingly sharp allegorical cliché to convey the shameless, audacious character of Marème Siga D., "a mature woman who had never shrunk from either pleasure or pain" (Sarr 28):

It was a beauty entangled with pain; an immodest body, tested, reproved; a body without harshness, but which the harshness of the world did not frighten. You just had to see it to know it. I looked at Siga D. and I knew the truth [...], she was a spider, the Spider-Mother, whose immense work crossed billions of threads of silk, but also of steel and perhaps of blood. (Sarr 28)

With regard to Diégane Latyr's attitude, compared to a hunter caught in his nets, the character narrator chooses the following symbolic tableau: "and I was a fly entangled in this web, a big greenish fascinated fly, caught in Siga D., in the lace and density of her lives" (Sarr 28). In the same vein, after informing the reader of his sexual adventure with Siga, the narrator closes his erotic fresco with a coded metaphor in which the images explain the entire pornographic scenario, but this time in a modest tone: "La grosse mouche sortit ainsi de la toile" (Sarr 38).

In essence, the particular charm of Mbougar's pen lies not only in the renewed use of these figures of speech, far from being ignored by any author, but in the duplicity, finesse and perspicacity in the choice of images and their shaping. In the end, we concede him this grandeur and aesthetic originality, for everything in this text is imagery, and what's more, impressive imagery, all alive with life. In fact, the author has succeeded in pulling out all the stops. According to Debussy, in the words of Paul Ricœur, he has "humbly sought to please" (Sarr 33). In addition to this dexterity in the unprecedented use of personification and metaphor, the author's maturity is further illustrated, in the geometry of this imaginary, by the use of subversive procedures that give his language of writing a certain provocative allure. 

1.2. The subversive edge and the prowess of literary language

          The author has not only used and diversified all the techniques of language, but has above all succeeded in imposing his own timbre on each of them. For, as Tahar Ben Jelloun suggests:

What's special about a language is that it's a huge house with frameless doors and windows, permanently open to the universe; it's a country with no borders, no police, no state, no prisons. Language belongs to no one in particular; it's there, available, malleable, lively, magnificent and always full of mysteries. (Le Bris and Rouaud 121-122)

This metaphorical sentence, drowned in licentious liberalism, insinuates that literary language flourishes only under the blade of perversion and the trampling of grammatical norms. In this "heterology by plenitude, where language is reconstructed elsewhere by the hurried flow of all the pleasures of language, where all the signifiers are there and each one hits the mark" (Barthes 15), the author's first touch is much more visible in the make-up of French with borrowings and neologisms. In his style, without saying so, let alone claiming it, the author instructs the reader in his belonging to the Serer culture. At the same time, he flaunts his Africanness, spares his "linguistic conscience" (Weinrich 1991) and recycles the ideological ideal of "the civilization of the universal" cherished by Léopold Sédar Senghor. The playful, unashamed use of expressions such as " laya ndigil ", " un bol de sàcc fu lipp ", " boo feet ndax Roog ", scattered throughout the text, not to mention the onomastic denominations specific to Serer culture: "Mboyil", "Ndé Kiraan", "Mossane", "Mbin Madag", bring Mbougar closer to what Blachère (1994) calls "negrification" (105). This is a linguistic practice that consists of "inserting into literary French, the use of a set of stylistic devices presented as specifically Negro-African, aimed at giving the work a stamp of authenticity, translating the Negro being and challenging the hegemony of French from France" (Manirambona 8). It is in this vein that we should rightly echo the words of Charles Becker and Waly Coly Faye: "The proper name serves at once to identify [an individual, a family]; to classify and to signify [...]. Thus, in every culture, proper names constitute a system that provides valuable insights into the way in which social groups arrange reality" (Becker and Faye 15). 

In addition to the idioms borrowed from the Serer language, Mbougar also fertilizes his novel with Wolof linguistic cues: " mënn na la jurr ", " kone nampal ma " (Sarr 15), Dutch: " Als het erop aan komt " (29-31), Lingala: " Nkolo, pambola bord oyo. Yango ne mutu eko sunga mokili..." (69), to name but a few.

Moreover, in this poetics of "transmutation" (Barthes 44), the acerbic repetition of certain expressions and the use of wordplay constantly demonstrate the author's swiftness in crafting her style. On pages 190-191-193 of his novel, "elle raconta" or "elle + action verb" is repeated several times; an expression in which the personal pronoun "elle" is sometimes used for the narrator Marème Siga D., sometimes for the narrator Marème, a sex maniac and philosophy student at UCAD. We find this same format on page 41, with the coordinating conjunction "or": "Beyond that deadline, I'll have to manage: find a real job, or go back to [...], or live on the street, or become [...], or write a book of personal regression [...]. Or die" (Sarr 41). This technique, to the displeasure of purist linguists, deconstructs the syntax of the sentence and bends the subject into a kind of delirium where nothing is taken seriously. From this angle, the reader discovers a certain precocious dementia in the author, who opens himself up to surrealist writing where the thinkable, under the dictation of automatism, overpowers the thought. In the process, all the obscenities uttered by the character, under the spell of these seemingly disjointed sentence flows, come under the register of humor. This surprising passage in the poet's words "[...] what he had done and lived and suffered and hidden" (194), violates the rule on the use of the coordinating conjunction "and" which, instead of being repeated, must be replaced by a comma and should only appear between the last two words.

In the "Second biographem", entitled "Three cries in the midst of trembling" (Sarr 175-185), the author, in a transgressive, almost crude style, crushes the point of the grammatical sentence. As if in a jumble, he undertakes to transcribe, without censorship, whatever crosses his mind. Thus, to do as the surrealists did in automatic writing, Mbougar, in this excerpt, "[and so I answer I don't know to the question of the earth," (Sarr 177), deletes the period and relaunches the point with a capital letter. On the same page and following the same pattern, this time he precedes the capital with a comma: "she started to tremble, so I insisted, I don't know, [...]" (177). Still in the register of his stylistic acrobatics, we note a coquettish arrangement configuring a play with words that rhymes with the body of his narrative:

I wrote a short novel, Anatomie du vide, which I published with a rather confidential publisher. [Nine hundred and nineteen comments were received. "Congratulations!", "Proud!", " Proud of you! ", " Congrats bro! ", "Bravo!", "It inspires me!" (and I breathe out), "Thank you bro, you make us proud", "Can't wait to read it In Sha Allah!", "When's it coming out?" (I had indicated the release date in the post, though), "How do I get it? "(This was also in the post), "How much does it cost?" (idem), "Interesting title!", "You're an example for all our youth!", "What's it about?" (this question embodies Evil in literature), "Can we order it?", "Available in PDF?", etc. (Sarr 21)

Through this telegraphic style, the author conveys his youthfulness, the high sense of modernity of his language and his openness and readiness to mix languages. However, to break into juvenile jargon, the author mixes language levels, making oral and written codes copulate with the complicity of digital technology.

In the final analysis, to take the risk of studying all the writing techniques experimented with by Mbougar's pen in this article would be to bestow laurels on critics who would dismiss our reflections as partial. In reality, Mohamed Mbougar Sarr's work on his writing language is unprecedented. Not only has he summoned all the constituent aspects of the language into his text, but he has, above all, made use of each element in a way that had previously lain fallow. Nothing about the way language works has been left out. Admittedly, Mbougar has understood that "writing has no fetish language" (Le Bris and Rouaud 197). As a result, he has dared to cross the impassable, and has risked fishing in the muddy waters of language to extort from it all that it has been unwilling to give. But one thing is certain: if the author has managed to achieve such feats, it's because he's been initiated. This initiation, beyond the skills acquired in the original factories of literary language, also inspired the author to reinvent the internal matrix of the novel in order to blur the shelving in the nomenclature of genres.

2. The novel put to the test of rewriting: decline or trigger

Any description implies a choice of elements, proportions to be established, lines of force to guide. Thus, in the study of this imaginary that divorces itself from aesthetic consensus, both in form and content, our investigation intends to explore a dual perspective anchored, on the one hand, in the analysis of the paratextual arsenal and, on the other, in the genetic structure. To put it plainly, our first aim is to show how the author remains innovative in the paratextual space of his text. Secondly, we will "dissect" the textual structure to "sniff out" its composite nature, its generational level and, finally, to arbitrate on the thickness of its literality.

2.1. Paratextual spatiality between confusion and creativity

According to Gérard Genette: "For us, then, the paratext is that by which a text becomes a book and offers itself as such to its readers, and more generally to the public. More than a limit or frontier, it is a threshold or [...] a 'vestibule' that offers everyone the possibility of entering or turning back" (Genette 7). It is an integral part of the text, offering the reader, in one way or another, intuitions of meaning. In its organic composition, we have the title, intertitles, epigraphs, prologue and epilogue, as well as the illustrations and information on the cover pages. First of all, we can point out that an author, in cahoots with his publisher, can write a work and publish it anonymously; but never without a title. Indeed, for Roland Barthes (1973), the title has a power of "authenticity and identification" (53) and, in many cases, inspires hypotheses of meaning about the author's writing project. However, if we take a closer look at the title of our novel in question, "La plus secrète mémoire des hommes" (The most secret memory of men), this duality is far from being verified. While readers may be able to identify the genre by the transcription of the word "novel" on the front cover, their curiosity about Mbougar's literary project remains intact. This approach places the author on the margins of the field, and distances him from most of these theses. By way of illustration, with " Black Bazar ", the reader can bet on the choice of fragmented writing; with " Celles qui attendent ", the thematic project on immigration and its corollaries is on display; " Les pieds sales " won't move away from the theme of exile and wandering either. Had it not been for the epigraph in which the title of the novel in question appears in full, the reader would have no idea of Mbougar's literary intentions; intentions which, if we refer to the quotation, are intended to unfold on the subversive edge, on the indocile "literarily", a source of debate. 

Gérard Genette explains that an "epigraph" or "exergue" is "a word or generally a quotation found at the edge of the work and not in the work" (Genette 134). It's a small fragment of speech at the head of a page that quotes the thought of an author other than the one in the text. "Of Greek origin, it means 'inscription' and its use, as early as the seventeenth century, by certain classical authors, is justified by its status as an illuminator of meaning" (Sarr 147). So, the allusion to Yambo Ouologuem (6) and the quotation from Roberto Bolaño, taken from Les Détectives sauvages (9), could enable the reader to formulate two hypotheses about Mbougar's adventurous work. It should be remembered that Ouologuem was the first black-African novelist to write an imaginary novel, " Le devoir de violence ( 1968)", which has been the subject of much debate, both for its tendentious theme and for the controversy surrounding "the plagiarism the Malian is said to have committed by borrowing passages from the works of Graham Greene and André Schwarz-Bart" (Mabanckou 129). Like Alain Mabanckou in Le sanglot de l'homme noir, Mbougar recycled this episode in a parodied format on pages 206-226 of his novel under the title: "Qui était vraiment le Rimbaud nègre? Odyssée d'un fantôme. By B. Bollème" (Sarr 202). With regard to Roberto Bolaño's quotation, the reader would easily understand that the author intends to provoke the usual criticisms and readership dispositions in order to put his text at the heart of debates. On the subject of "intertitles", which Genette declares to be "an occasion or a respiration of the narrative text [appearing] as demultiplications of the title" (Genette 281) and which are subdivided into "thematic and rhematic intertitles" (281), Mohamed Mbougar has made marginal use of them and, above all, has innovated other motifs that escape Genettian nomenclature. Already, in their use, the author has preferred to challenge Gérard Genette by blurring this declension in order to provoke debate. Equally, what will most amaze the reader about this aspect of the paratext is the singular imprint the author has made on it. Along the way, Mbougarian creativity has expanded and enriched the thickness of the textual escort with new models, neither thematic nor rhematic, such as this one: "Amitié-amour х littérature = ?" (Sarr 307),


branching out into ["J-5" "J-4", "J-3", "J-2", "J-1", "J", "J+1"] on pages 308 - 372. To this we can add the dates on all the narrative sequences on pages 39-110. This practice refers not to paratextual aspects of the novel, but rather to the diary. In this respect, we could compare Mohamed Mbougar with Abdourahman Ali Waberi, who makes full use of it in his novel Passage des larmes.

In short, in addition to the cavalier touch imparted to the anatomical alchemy of the novel, now in the throes of a death-renaissance, the author's genius has profoundly disfigured the classical geometry of the novelistic structure with a view to renovating and promoting it.

2.2 Aesthetics of the deformed and enunciative modernity

The novel's charm and peculiarity, from a physiological point of view, can be appreciated in several dimensions. On the thematic axis, the novel doesn't seem to be interested, as usual, in a classic schema of a plot woven around a fixed story. In fact, here it puts to the test a certain Diégane Latyr Faye, a narrator character who substitutes himself in most cases for the novel's characters, who goes in search, as in detective stories or adventure fiction, of a certain untraceable T. C. Élimane, author of the famous novel, Le labyrinthe de l'inhumain, the source of much debate in the literary world. In the course of this character's life, the author has scattered many preoccupations that concern the life of man and, above all, the world of literature. What's most impressive about this novel is the specificity and modernity of many of its subjects. At times, the author loses himself on less-frequented routes, at other times he breaks the silence on subjects that are difficult to deal with, and at other times he tackles unprecedented themes. In this triple declension, we can argue that, while authors such as Alain Mabanckou in Black Bazar (2009), Fatou Diome in Les veilleurs de Sangomar (2019) and Sami Tchak in Al Capone le Malien (2011), among others, have addressed in their fiction some of the characteristics of what makes a literary work, never has it been so present and prominent with Mbougar in a novel. From the metaphorical definition of literature to criticism, the functions and motives of the literary act, sources of inspiration, the condition of the African writer in exile, the foundations of true literature, the relationship between the author and his book, between the book and the reader, plagiarism, the processes of writing and rewriting, literature and the press, literature, institutions and editions, nothing has been treated as a poor relation. The author's pen was everywhere. By way of illustration, and in the jumble, we can retain this passage that highlights the close relationship between a great book that rejuvenates the author and matures the reader:

A real writer," she added, "provokes mortal debates among real readers, who are always at war; if you're not ready to duck into the arena to win his spoils like in a game of bouzkachi, get the hell out and go die in your lukewarm pissat that you take for superior beer: you're anything but a reader, and even less a writer. (Sarr 14)

As for the author-centered motives of the literary act and the functions of literature that challenge the reader, they are, in a satirical tone, highlighted in this comment:

But why continue, why try to write after millennia of books like Le Labyrinthe de l'inhumain, which gave the impression that nothing more needed to be added? We weren't writing for the romanticism of the writer's life - he caricatured himself - nor for money - that would be suicidal - nor for glory - an old-fashioned value, preferred by the times to fame - nor for the future - he hadn't asked for anything -, nor for transforming the world - it's not the world that needs transforming - nor for changing life - it never changes - nor for commitment - let's leave that to the heroic writers - nor do we celebrate free art - which is an illusion, since art always has to be paid for. (Sarr 48)

With regard to the quarrel between generations and the relationship between literary fields, not to mention the status and condition of the African writer in exile in the face of criticism, we can think of no better illustrative extract than this:

We then commented at length on the sometimes comfortable, often humiliating ambiguities of our situation as African writers (or writers of African origin) in the French literary field. Somewhat unfairly, and because they were obvious and easy targets, we blamed our elders, the African authors of previous generations: we held them responsible for the evil that had befallen us (Sarr 48).

In addition, the string of excerpts from reviews on pages 79 to 104, which approach Le labyrinthe de l'inhumain from different angles, sometimes labelling it a plagiarist, sometimes a forger, sometimes a masterpiece with a premature erudition for a black writer, open a breach in the polemics focused on plagiarism and the processes of writing and rewriting. The pornographic fresco, described in all its detail in an immodest language disguised with Wolof borrowings " kone manpal ma ", " je te manpal " (Sarr 25), to designate the sexual act, falls within the scope of taboo subjects for a certain category of readers. These sequences, which deal with sexual exhibitionism, now fashionable among post-colonial novelists, can be found on pages 68 - 70. Moreover, to recycle Edouard Vigier d'Azenac's outrageous remarks in the following extract:

The barbarity of Africans is not just imaginary: we saw it at the front, during the Great War, in those brave but terrible phalanxes of negroes that horrified the Germans and the French alike. Africa already scared us a little. Now it repulses us properly. Colonization must continue, and the Christianization of these unfortunate and damned souls must continue" (Sarr 86),

would be of a boisterous nature, if the author's race is anything to go by, to rekindle debate on disturbing subjects. In the same vein, the height would be reached when Mbougar, despite his nationality and religious affiliation, which are displayed by his first name "Mohamed", not only dares to open up about homosexuality and its corollaries, but also approaches it with an apologetic pen:

The world of libertines. It was a world of secrets, masks and shadows. People weren't interested in your curriculum, or even your identity. They just wanted to make you an erotic ally. [...] We didn't know much about Elimane's intimate, I mean erotic, life. [...]. I didn't know him to have a lover, or any lover for that matter. [...]. In these circles, one feasts only on novelty, unknown flesh, the thrill of discovery. Elimane, in addition to possessing all this, was African. Even in this world of enlightened, cultured people, there was no escaping stereotypes about Africans and their sexuality. He quickly earned a fine reputation as a lover. He was in demand. Everyone wanted to discover Elimane, to taste him, to see if the gift he was said to have was true (Sarr 13-14).

Again, the gravelly allusions employed in passages such as: "X. is the first lesbian writer to have her book published in inclusive writing", "Y. is bisexual atheist on Thursday and cisgender Mohammedan on Friday: her story is beautiful and moving and so true!", "Z. killed her mother by raping her, and when her father comes to see her in prison, she jerks him off under the parlor table: her book is a punch in the face" (284), to caricature certain literary critics, would risk, beyond debates on talent and aesthetic maturity, stigmatizing or even suspecting the author's identity.

However, to want to circumscribe the singularity of this fiction, which has been awarded the highest literary distinction for the year 2021, to novel and/or licentious themes, would be a less reasonable attitude. For it must be remembered that virtually all the major and recurring themes were also visited and revisited in the hollow of this imaginary world. But what remains most impressive about his thematic axis is the literary contribution that Mbougar has reserved for the treatment of certain burning issues such as euthanasia and the revolt of African youth, to name but a few. To explain the reasons behind the deliberate choice to die, the author tells us the story of the illness of Mbar Ngom and Ousseynou Koumakh, the healer. Over four pages (279-283), the author, through the mouth of Ousseynou Madag, manages to convince the patient to choose death:

If you agree to join the other world of your own free will, the spirits waiting for you there will give you the chance to heal. A new life in community awaits you. The spirits know that the life of the soul is much longer than that of the body. It's the soul that we heal. There's time to care for it on the other side. You can become someone again, take the time to find yourself. Here, there's nothing left for you. Nothing but suffering. [You hold on to your life here despite your pain. But it's on the other side that real life begins. Come and see (Sarr 82).

In short, we can say that the author's bold thematic adventure has placed his work at the heart of the debate. This fascination with the carnivalesque fabrication of narrative is also illustrated in his poetic option to disfigure the narrative mold, in terms of its narrative and actancial schema, modes of representation and the person of enunciation, among others.

On first contact with this fiction, the reader is struck by the depth of the narrative's "disaggregation" (Baroni 16). The "causal links" (Najjara 32) that sustain its narrative structure are, a priori, far from visible to a hasty reader. Sequential chronology is diffuse and disjointed. The author wants to play with the reader's patience and finesse in an exercise in mending. From the outset, even if the reader manages to grasp the contours of the initial situation, he or she is easily lost later on, since T.C. Élimane's book, Le labyrinthe de l'inhumain, which was initially the object of the narrator Diégane Latyr's thirsty quest, is found in the very first pages of the story in the hands of his first conquest Siga D. A denouement then in a beginning; which would be a farce, a perversion of the grammar of storytelling. Moreover, after reading the book several times, the hero character was left hungry, all the more so as Le Labyrinthe refused to deliver its contents, despite the support of other fellow writers: " Le Labyrinthe de l'inhumain has impoverished me. Great works impoverish and must always impoverish. They strip us of the superfluous. When we read them, we always come away impoverished " (Sarr 39). Under this unsuccessful relationship, the narrator seems to abandon the narrative on Le labyrinthe and takes an interest in the world of literature through dated snapshots that hark back to a diary. Thus, to disconnect the sequences and disguise the linearity of the narrative, the author, through an "internal analepsis" (Fontaine 44), has the reader explore the erotic adventures between Béatrice and Musimba and the telephone correspondence with Diégane, who is tempted, this time, to seek out T.C. Élimane to be edified on the enigma of the mythical tale recounted by the author (the prophecy and the King). Then, to educate the reader about Elimane's identity, he uses proleptic collage of press article excerpts to blur the theory of the story and, in turn, deconstruct its classical mold. Also, to disrupt the temporal order and diversify the writing process, he layers narrative syntagms between or within the flow of articles. This same procedure can also be seen in the "Fourth biographem" entitled "Les lettres mortes" (Sarr 373). Introduced into the narrative chain using the cut-and-paste technique, the catalog of articles dealing with "biblicide" in the "First biographem" entitled "Trois notes sur le livre essentiel: Extraits du journal de T.C. Elimane" (110), could confuse the reader.

Incidentally, the first part of the second book, "Le testament d'Ousseynou Koumakh" (Ousseynou Koumakh's will), which stretches out and twists around the genealogy of T.C. Elimane, enabled the author to rework the syntax of the narrative, the person of the enunciation, focalizations and, at the same time, autobiography. Returning to Diégane Latyr's quest, the character of Siga D., narrator-turned-narrator, relaunches the rest of the story with a pointed, almost surreal description of the family universe of T.C. Elimane's parents. As a result, the enunciative "I" used by the main narrator (Diégane Latyr) refers to Siga, who, after Ousseynou's introduction, once again becomes the narrator-narrator. The fact that Ousseynou Koumakh becomes the narrating "I" reflects the author's desire to confuse the reader and parody autobiography, which leads us to rethink the de facto classification of focal points. Siga, who was supposed to be the narrator, finds herself, like Diégane Latyr, the narrator. Better still, to play on the relationships of order and duration between narrative time, the author uses an external analepsis (Fontaine 40), by regression, to thread (Shklovski 170-196) several secondary narratives on Elimane's family. Once again, to exacerbate the story's deformity and prompt critics to reconsider the genre, the author, in interview format, returns to the history of The Labyrinth and its author. Brigitte Bollème's account of the "Rimbaud nègre" affair, reported by Siga D., remains for him an aesthetic alibi enabling him to break into the commercial world, copyright and the plagiarism controversy.


Ultimately, if Mbougar, with La plus secrète mémoire des hommes (The most secret memory of men), has succeeded in carving out for himself, in 2021, the best literary prestige, it's because his novel has imposed itself by its originality in reinventing the geometry of the enunciative factories of the all-world. This success, which praised the author's merit, was illustrated by the feats noted in the spectacular transmutation of words and ideas, all of them, into images by means of rhetorical figures privileging personification and metaphor. Better still, in the construction of literary language, the author has revealed that the resources and fullness of language can be found in the sinuosities of the subversive edge. In reality, transgression of linguistic heritage, far from being a crime, or at least a programmed decline of artistic language, remains a trigger for creativity and innovative processes for writing and rewriting all-world imaginations. It should also be noted that Mbougar has restructured the morphology of paratextual spatiality, challenged Genettian classification and innovated other, hitherto unknown motifs. However, in order to reinvent and modernize narratology, the author's genius was able to convince readers and critics alike that the deformation, even devaluation, of the enunciative device, long jealous of its classical form, is incubating wonders. Clearly, the author has demonstrated and proved that the wheel of enunciation, in perpetual reinvention, remains a work at the service of the author's talent. As a result, we might well question the relevance of conformist criticism if we admit that the completed model (if it exists at all) kills literature.

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How to cite this article:

MLA: Samb, Abibou. "Mbougarian style and the reinvention of the novelistic mold in La plus secrète mémoire des hommes". Uirtus 2.1. (April 2022): 296-315.

§ Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar / [email protected]

[1 ] Student at the Lycée Prytanée Militaire in Saint-Louis, Senegal. Best Terminale student at the 2009 concours général - Student in literary preparatory classes at the Lycée Pierre - d'Ailly in Compiègne - Student at the Ecole de Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) - Master's degree in Arts en Langages - Winner of the Prix Stéphane Hessel for his short story La cale ( 2014) - Prix Ahmadou Kourouma and Grand Prix du roman métis for Terre ceinte (2015) - Prix littérature monde at the Festival Etonnants voyageurs de Saint- Malo for his second novel Silence du chœur ( 2017) - Prix Goncourt for his novel La plus secrète mémoire des hommes.

[2] In Le plaisir du texte, Roland Barthes defines the two edges as follows: "a wise, conforming, plagiarizing edge (the point is to copy language in its canonical state, as fixed by school, good usage, literature, culture), and another edge, mobile, empty (apt to take on any contours), which is never more than the locus of its effect: where the death of language is glimpsed", Roland Barthes, Le plaisir du texte, Éditions du Seuil, 1973, p. 13.