Examining the author’s use of sound in novels to construct and negotiate identity

Sounding Off

Rhythm, Music, and Identity in West African and Caribbean Francophone Novels

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Julie Huntington

A title in the American Literatures Initiative.

"Huntington’s emphasis on the interconnections of the related arts—music, poetry, fiction, oral tradition etc.—is one of the few to treat systematically, and in a sound, sophisticated theoretical and ethnographic framework, the important traits of African literary, oral and musical productions. Sounding Off will make a great contribution to the interdisciplinary study and thus provide a deeper understanding of musical and literary-artistic productions in African and diasporan communities."
—Daniel Avorgbedor, Ohio State University, Columbus

Intrigued by "texted" sonorities—the rhythms, musics, ordinary noises, and sounds of language in narratives—Julie Huntington examines the soundscapes in contemporary Francophone novels. Through an ethnomusicological perspective, Huntington argues that the range of sounds—from footsteps, heartbeats, and drumbeats—represented in West African and Caribbean works provides a context in which identities are shaped and negotiated.

Sounding Off attends to how sounds function in such as Ousmane Sembene's God's Bits of Wood (Senegal), and Patrick Chamoiseau's Solibo Magnificent (Martinique). These writers—like composers—create distinct soundscapes, constructing transpoetic and transcultural links that resonate. The voices, cadences, and sonorities in these narratives create a rich soundtrack to the characters' lives, framing them with a rhythmic polyphony that helps form social and cultural identities. Huntington’s analysis shows how these writers and others challenge the aesthetic and political conventions that privilege written texts over orality and invite readers-listeners to participate in critical dialogues—to sound off, as it were, in local and global communities.



Read the Introduction (pdf).



"Huntington finds new ways to read often-compared West African and Caribbean Francophone novels and offers fascinating insights into language and culture. Her concept of ‘instrumentaliture,’ along with her referencing of African scholars, discussion of drum language, funerals, and veillées, is original. Sounding Off will appeal to scholars of African, Caribbean, Diaspora, and comparative literature, and popular culture."
—Renée Larrier, Rutgers University

"Particularly impressive is a lengthy discussion in which she introduces the reader to the role of music, rhythm, and other sounding phenomena in West African life....[T]he study is valuable in establishing, or reestablishing, the element of music and rhythm as part of the vital context for Francophone African and Caribbean literary works. Summing Up: Recommended"

"[Huntington] revisits the subject of orality and identity in her study of West African and Caribbean francophone novels.... At times, Sounding Off reads like a travel book, as we follow her to a small village in West Africa where she is welcomed and sensitized to the importance of rhythm to everyday life....Sounding Off is at its best when it opens up new critical terrain with the concept of instrumentaliture."
Research in African Literatures


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1. Rhythm and Transcultural Poetics
Rhythm and Transculture

2. Rhythm and Reappropriation in God’s Bits of Wood and The Suns of Independence
Language and the Language of Music
Rhythm and Reappropriation in the Novel
Instrumentaliture at Work
Rhythm and Transformation
Ordinary and Extraordinary Rhythms

3. Rhythm, Music, and Identity in L’appel des arènes and Ti Jean L’horizon
Rhythm, Music, Subjectivity, and the Novel
Rhythm and Identity in L’appel des arènes
Rhythm and Identity in Ti Jean L’horizon
Rethinking Rootedness

4. Music and Mourning in Crossing the Mangrove and Solibo Magnificent
Memory, Mourning, and Mosaic Identities
Rhythm, Music, and Identity as Process
The Sounds of Death and Mourning
Configuring Rhythmic and Musically Mediated Identities

Concluding Remarks
Works Cited


About the Author(s)

Julie Huntington is an Assistant Professor of French at Marymount Manhattan College

Subject Categories

Literature and Drama
Music and Dance
African Studies

In the series

African Soundscapes, edited by Gregory Barz.

African music has been a topic of considerable scholarly and general interest. The books in this new interdisciplinary series will highlight contemporary African music in its cultural contexts and the contributions of African expressive culture to global music traditions. The series will include works by scholars based in Africa.



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