Professor Chris Bongie
Office: Watson 426
Research Interests & Publications
Most of my published work has been in the field of colonial and postcolonial literary and cultural studies. My first book, based on my Stanford dissertation, was entitled Exotic Memories: Literature, Colonialism and the Fin de siècle (Stanford UP, 1991): it examined late nineteenth-century exoticism and its thwarted desire for an “elsewhere,” focusing in particular on Jules Verne, Pierre Loti, Joseph Conrad, and Victor Segalen. The concluding chapter brought the story of European exoticism forward to the 1960s and ‘70s with a consideration of the role of neo-exoticism in the work of Italian writer and film-maker Pier Paolo Pasolini.
The chapter on Pasolini anticipated the more contemporary focus of parts of my second book, Islands and Exiles: The Creole Identities of Post/Colonial Literature (Stanford UP, 1998), which was a study of the “creolization” process and its relevance to both colonial and postcolonial literatures. The texts studied in this book ranged in date from the late eighteenth century (Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s Paul et Virginie) to the present (chapters on francophone Caribbean writers Edouard Glissant and Daniel Maximin, but also sections on anglophone writers such as J. M. Coetzee and Keri Hulme). Shuttling back and forth between colonial and postcolonial literature, with a few intermediary stops on the way (such as an extended discussion of the role of Haiti in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!), I developed the concept of the “post/colonial” in order to identify the ways in which “the colonial and the postcolonial appear uneasily as one, joined together and yet also divided in a relation of (dis)continuity.”
Islands and Exiles produced several spin-off projects: notably, a translation and critical edition of Victor Hugo’s 1826 novel about the Haitian Revolution, Bug-Jargal (Broadview, 2004), and an archivally-based edition of Jean-Baptiste Picquenard’s Adonis (1798) and Zoflora (1800), the first novels ever written about the Haitian Revolution.
The way in which Haiti has been represented by both colonial novelists and contemporary politicians is one of the central concerns of the “sequel” to Islands and Exiles, Friends and Enemies: The Scribal Politics of Post/Colonial Literature (Liverpool, 2008). The main preoccupations of Friends and Enemies can be summed up in the title of its Introduction: “Politics, Memory, Literature.” This book, which examines, both to question and to promote, the “political turn” of postcolonial studies over the past decade, is a three-pronged study primarily focused on (1) early (1798-1833) and (2) recent (1998-2004) representations of the abolition of slavery in general, and the Haitian Revolution in particular; and (3) the marketing of “great” Caribbean literature (Walcott, Condé, Glissant).
I have just completed a translation and edition of Baron de Vastey’s Le système colonial dévoilé (The Colonial System Unveiled), which was published in April 2014. Vastey can legitimately be called, for better and for worse, the first Haitian intellectual: he wrote a number of books in the 1810s while working as a publicist for the régime of Henri Christophe, and his Colonial System Unveiled is a scathing denunciation of neocolonialism, as well as being a moving memorial to the ravages of slavery. This translation/edition is a collaborative project that includes essays about post/colonial Haiti (1804-1825) written by prominent literary scholars in the field of Haitian revolutionary studies.
Vastey is a good example of what I have dubbed (following Régis Debray) the post/colonial scribe, someone whose writerly identity cannot be detached from his connections to an intellectual elite charged with mediating various forms of institutional power. My argument is that “great” writers define themselves through a disavowal of their ineluctably scribal identity; the following brief article should give some sense of how this argument cashes out in relation to one particular postcolonial writer, the Haitian novelist Lyonel Trouillot:
- “Universal Envy: Taking Sides in the Trouillot-Hallward Debate,” Bulletin of Francophone Postcolonial Studies (2010). (Posted courtesy of the Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies.)
As can be seen from the preceding overview of my research interests, most of my work has been in French and Francophone literature, ranging from the late eighteenth century to the present. As a long-time professor of English Literature, there is thus a certain discrepancy between the research I’ve done and the courses I’ve taught/the projects I’ve supervised. As my graduate teaching and supervising history at Queen’s shows, I am (perforce!) very open to the idea of working around my fields of specialization as opposed to in them.
Since my arrival at Queen’s in 2002, I have taught the following graduate seminars:
- “Exiles on Main Stream: Popular Postcolonialism” (1)
- “Contemporary (Black) British Literary and Visual Culture” (2)
- “The Spectre of the Real: Photography and Late Victorian Literature” (3)
- “From Page to Screen: Adapting Masculinities in Postwar Britain (1945-1960)” (1)
- “Remembering Slavery: History, Memory, and the Caribbean/Diasporic Novel” (2)
- “Secret Witnesses: Abolition, Revolution, and the Transatlantic Imaginary” (1)
Over the past few years, eight of my doctoral students have completed their dissertations, and the titles of these works should give a good sense of my willingness to supervise a relatively wide range of topics:
- “ ‘The Camera Cannot Lie’: Photography and the Pacific Non-Fiction of Robert Louis Stevenson (1888–1894)” (March 2014)
- “Hope in the Most Unlikely Spaces: Thawra and the Contemporary Arabic Novel” (September 2011)
- “The Beloved and Other Monsters: Biopolitics and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation in Post-1994 South African Literature” (December 2010)
- “Infectious Entanglements: Literary and Medical Representations of Disease in the Post/Colonial Caribbean” (November 2010)
- “The Politics of Legibility: Writing and Reading Contemporary Arab American Women’s Literature” (September 2009; co-director, Rosemary Jolly)
- “Fictions of a New Imperial Order: WWII Nostalgia in Contemporary British Literature” (September 2009)
- “‘The Perennial Dramas of the East’: Representations of the Middle East in the Writing and Art of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt” (June 2009)
- “Domestications and Disruptions: Lesbian Identities in Television Adaptations of Contemporary British Novels” (May 2009)
I am currently (September 2014) serving as supervisor for four under-way dissertations (including a project on African child soldier narratives, and a sociological account of Caribbean diasporic fiction). I am thus available for one or two new supervisions at the moment, and would especially welcome students interested in working on writers from the Caribbean and its diaspora, as well as on colonial and exotic fiction from Britain and France. As my record shows, however, there is a wide array of projects in nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature that I would be happy to have a go at supervising.