n French Studies in Southern Africa - La carte d’identification : Saartjie Baartman et le langage de classification dans 53cm de Bessora

Volume 2018 Number 48
  • ISSN : 0259-0247


If scholars have written much about Saartjie Baartman over the past few years, it is because she has become embedded in the collective unconscious of the postcolonial imagination. Examined, measured, weighed and, after her death, dissected and placed into jars by the anatomist Georges Cuvier and displayed to the public until as recently as 1994, Saartjie Baartman represents that which the West perceived as the knowable Other. In 53cm, Bessora reverses the gaze placed on Sara Baartman; the novel is set in contemporary France and is narrated by Zara, a gaulologue whose aim is to document French culture in her quest for the talismanic “ca’t de séjou”. In the meticulous dissection and classification of the elements of the culture she encounters, Zara misunderstands and misrepresents it, not unlike the ethnographers and anatomists of 19th century Europe. This article aims to show how, with the use of irony and hyperbole, Bessora systematically dismantles the power that racist, ethnographic discourse has on cultures that are considered foreign to France and agents of that culture, including immigrants, by appropriating the language used by naturalists such as Cuvier and Montandon, and by using it to exoticise mundane and ordinary aspects of life in Paris. Using Jacques Derrida’s theories on deconstruction and Homi K. Bhabha’s notion of the Third Space, this article argues that it is not only the language used by these ethnographers that Bessora seeks to reclaim and reinterpret, but the French language itself.

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Article metrics loading...


This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error