To be or Not to be French, Or How Paul Smaïl Reconfigures La Francité

Dr. Mootacem Bellah Mhiri
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Paul Smaïl is the pen name for a self-identified young author from the Arab diaspora living in France. In this paper, I examine Smaïl’s autobiographical fiction in order to shed light on his rather unique approach to identity construction among so-called Beur writers. Focusing on the work of Paul Smaïl, I analyze how a contemporary global (transcultural and transnational) intellectual confronts the ideological hegemony of French cultural nationalism and the Eurocentricity of la francité [French-ness] as an ideological group identity.

My analysis will illustrate how his journeying within and beyond the physical and “psychological” borders of the nation-state is not an indication of Smaïl’s identitarian ambivalence, as in most Beur narratives, but a sign of Smaïl’s evolving global consciousness. Indeed, Smaïl insists on constructing his identity as a French writer. Yet, he simultaneously deconstructs and redefines the meaning of being French (la françité). Hence, what is meant by the global consciousness of Smaïl is his awareness that being French today means participating inevitably in a transcultural and transnational culture, even if that culture is still largely encapsulated within and mapped on the old national territory of the French nation. France becomes in this sense an open international network, rather then a closed national community, despite official and popular resistance to various forms of miscegenation and dilution.

Keywords: Paul Smail, French-ness, Immigration, National Identity, Global Citizenship
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies, Ethnicity, Difference, Identity, Immigration, Refugees, Race, Nation
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Mootacem Bellah Mhiri

Visiting Assistant Professor, Africana Studies, Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, NEW York, USA

Ref: H06P0464