Tchicaya U Tam'si Criticism - Essay

Thomas R. Knipp (essay date Summer 1974)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Negritude and Negation: The Poetry of Tchikaya U'Tamsi," in Books Abroad, Vol. 48, No. 3, Summer, 1974, pp. 511-15.

[In the following essay, Knipp examines the themes of negritude and the alienation of the modern African in Tchicaya's poetry.]

The Congolese Felix Tchikaya U'Tamsi is the most prolific and gifted of the second generation of francophone poets. He is also the most difficult. His surrealism reaches back through Aimé Césaire to André Breton and others in the 1920s. In this sense he is an old-fashioned poet—even bookish and academic. But his poetry, which in the hands of Gerald Moore, Sangodare Akanji and others seems to translate well, is...

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Clive Wake (essay date 1975)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Tchicaya U Tam'si," in A Celebration of Black and African Writing, edited by Bruce King and Kolawole Ogungbesan, Oxford University Press, 1975, pp. 124-38.

[In the essay below, Wake provides a thematic overview of Tchicaya's works, suggesting "ways in which one might gradually penetrate the mysteries" of his poetry.]

Tchicaya U Tam'si is a major African poet, the most outstanding French-speaking African poet of the younger, or what one might perhaps call the post-Négritude, generation. His work has not, however, made the same impact on the black world as Senghor's, for reasons which are more closely related to the political evolution of Africa than to...

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Eric Sellin (review date Autumn 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Les cancrelats, in World Literature Today, Vol. 55, No. 4, Autumn, 1981, p. 715.

[In the following review, Sellin praises Tchicaya's literary achievement in Les cancrelats.]

African fiction of French expression has tended, since the early 1950s, to conform not only to French linguistic stringencies but also to French literary models. The African writer adopted certain forms which conformed to his predilections, notably the diary, the epistolary exchange, the autobiography and the short story or fable.

A new, more boisterous fiction, which made the French language and consequent literary tradition bend to its will rather than vice versa, emerged in the late 1960s with the publication of Ouologuem's irreverent Le devoir de violence and Kourouma's Les Soleils des Indépendances. This free-wheeling assault on the French love of order and conformity—paralleled in North Africa by the writings of Kateb, Boudjedra and Khaïr-Eddine—seemed to herald a new and vital African idiom. Two swallows do not, however, make a summer, so to speak, and the arrival of another major novel in this lineage may therefore be viewed as something of a literary event.

Les cancrelats is a first novel by Tchicaya U Tam'Si, a world-renowned Congolese poet. The plot is labyrinthine and contains subplots, but essentially it deals with the activities of two generations in a French colonialist family and in the family of the elder colon's servant. The precise nature of the plot is almost incidental, however, to the texture of Les cancrelats, a texture which is deliberately rough and abstract, like one of those experimental wall hangings by weavers. The main pattern interweaves missionary-style Christianity (in the novelists mentioned above Islam is a major force, but in the Congo we are south of the reach of Islam's proselytizing), the proverbial wisdom of traditional African culture and a highly charged style with a unique vocabulary.

Tchicaya has bent the French language to fit his narrative without breaking it. There is a sense of translucence in which the African proverbial diction glows vigorously through the otherwise Cartesian light of the French language. Tchicaya has written fables and stories and retold African legends, but with Les cancrelats he establishes himself as a novelist of major proportions and significantly enriches the corpus of Francophone African literature.

Eric Sellin (review date Winter 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of La main sèche, in World Literature Today, Vol. 56, No. 1, Winter, 1982, pp. 162-63.

[In the favorable review below, Sellin maintains that the stories in La main sèche "deserve the most careful intellectual scrutiny."]

Tchicaya's short stories [in La main sèche], published the same year as his first novel, Les cancrelats, have the same triple thrust as that novel. First, there is the surreal and fascinating style; second, there is the blend of Western Christianity and African tradition; and third, there is the proverbial tone to the diction. Particularly salient in these tales is the fascinating blend of Christian elements and the personal African optics of the narrator. A black baby who takes the place of a papier-mâché Jesus in a crèche has been abandoned by its mother. Or are we actually witnessing the Second Coming? In another story a talking mouth ("noire et lippue, bien sûr") retraces the evolution from sea organism to Homo sapiens.

Tchicaya has often been assimilated into the surrealist movement because of his unusual imagery and his interest in Rimbaud. Now, with the stories of La main sèche, Tchicaya reinforces that association, especially in the oneiric passages of "Rebours" and in the plotless urgency of several other stories. These tales are not slices of life but rather slices of consciousness lent a palpable dimension. The major coordinates of Tchicaya's world are African and French conventions. If Tchicaya is a "surrealist," it is on his own terms. His devotion to the Rimbaldian tradition of the hallucination simple is embraced somewhat cynically, and his prime world view remains African—namely natural rather than supernatural. Tchicaya brilliantly reverses one of Europe's most famous existentialist quotations when he speaks of people entering a judge's chambers, including "un certain Pascal qui, dit-on, enseignait aux arbres la mauvaise foi des humains." In this reversal lies the clue to the fundamental difference between European surrealism and African surreality.

Tchicaya's stories, which at first appear casual, deserve the most careful intellectual scrutiny.

Victor Carrabino (review date Spring 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Les Méduses, ou les orties de mer, in World Literature Today, Vol. 58, No. 2, Spring, 1984, pp. 310-11.

[Below, Carrabino compares Les Méduses, ou les orties de mer to a detective novel.]

Within twenty-four hours, two friends, Elenga and Muendo, die. Their third friend, Luambu, is found comatose between the two friends' graves, yet he appears and disappears, much to the dismay of the people. André Sola, supervisor of the C.F.C.O. where Luambu was employed, goes through great pains to uncover the mysterious death of the two friends. Obviously, there are two versions of the story: the story told by the "civilized people," who blame...

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Kenneth Harrow (review date Spring 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Ces fruits si doux de l'arbre à pain, in World Literature Today, Vol. 62, No. 2, Spring, 1988, pp. 322-23.

[In the following review, Harrow briefly comments on the family relationships, mystical aspects, and Congolese politics of Ces fruits si doux de l'arbre à pain.]

Tchicaya U Tam'si's first two novels, Les cancrelats and La main sèche, both appeared in 1980. Now, after a lacuna of seven years, we have a third novel in the vein of the first two. Three elements characterize U Tam'si's latest efforts [in Ces fruits si doux de l'arbre à pain]. The first is the focus on family relationships as a vehicle for developing...

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Irving Malin (review date Fall 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Madman and the Medusa, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 223-24.

[Below, Malin considers The Madman and the Medusa "as an epistemological and linguistic mystery."]

Although Tchicaya's brilliant novel [The Madman and the Medusa]—part of the acclaimed Caraf series—can be read in several ways, I would like to look at it as an epistemological and linguistic mystery. From the very first page we see the uncertainty principle at work. We are told in an "introduction" that "this story took place about the same time when, so they said, a white man used to wander at night through the native village of...

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Betty O'Grady (essay date Winter 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Tchicaya U Tam'Si: Some Thoughts on the Poet's Symbolic Mode of Expression," in World Literature Today, Vol. 65, No. 1, Winter, 1991, pp. 29-34.

[In the essay below, O'Grady assesses Tchicaya's literary achievement, analyzing the imagery, symbolism, rhythms, and sociopolitical context of his poetry and prose.]

The death of Tchicaya U Tam'Si on 22 April 1988 at the age of fifty-seven sent shock waves through the world of African literature. Tchicaya, the oldest of a generation of important Congolese writers, is one of the few whose reputation has reached beyond the confines of Francophone Africa and France. During his lifetime, however, he never reached the...

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Chaibou Elhadji Oumarou (essay date Summer 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Writing a Dynamic Identity: Self-Criticism in the Work of Tchicaya U Tam'Si," in Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature, Vol. 19, No. 2, Summer 1995, pp. 223-37.

[Below, Oumarou explores the rationale behind the critique of Négritude and Africa in Tchicaya's works, determining that such self-criticism functions to "free [oneself] both from the vestiges of colonialism and from the stifling African traditions."]

Je suis en rupture avec la tribu, je suis en rupture avec l'ethnie, je suis en rupture avec l'Afrique. 'I broke with the tribe, I broke with ethnicity, I broke with Africa.'


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