Experiments with Empire

Anthropology and Fiction in the French Atlantic

Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: Published: June 2019

Author: Justin Izzo

Anthropology, Literature and Literary Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In Experiments with Empire Justin Izzo examines how twentieth-century writers, artists, and anthropologists from France, West Africa, and the Caribbean experimented with ethnography and fiction in order to explore new ways of knowing the colonial and postcolonial world. Focusing on novels, films, and ethnographies that combine fictive elements and anthropological methods and modes of thought, Izzo shows how empire gives ethnographic fictions the raw materials for thinking beyond empire's political and epistemological boundaries. In works by French surrealist writer Michel Leiris and filmmaker Jean Rouch, Malian writer Amadou Hampâté Bâ, Martinican author Patrick Chamoiseau, and others, anthropology no longer functions on behalf of imperialism as a way to understand and administer colonized peoples; its relationship with imperialism gives writers and artists the opportunity for textual experimentation and political provocation. It also, Izzo contends, helps readers to better make sense of the complicated legacy of imperialism and to imagine new democratic futures.


"Experiments with Empire deserves an audience beyond the academic. Izzo makes some perceptive points about how seeing the connections between ethnography and fiction can help us reimagine the world."  — Emilie de Brigard, The Arts Fuse

“The book’s scope is bold and impressive…. Izzo’s study is an important contribution to research on the French Atlantic and on speculative forms in general, and it offers a fresh look at the crossings between ethnography and fiction that go beyond questions of truth and veracity, mimicry and resistance.” — Christina Kullberg, New West Indian Guide

“Justin Izzo's fascinating study brings to life the experimental ethnographic fictions created by writers and filmmakers in French colonial spaces on both sides of the Atlantic, revealing alternative modes of life and ways of knowing the world that arise within empire from below. He shows us how these twentieth-century experimentations open potential avenues for developing democratic futures in our time.” — Michael Hardt, coauthor of Assembly

“Taking up a set of important issues regarding anthropology, colonialism, and the politics of representation, Justin Izzo shows how ethnographic fictions not only demonstrate the limitations of anthropological knowledge, they become alternative anthropologies of colonial and postcolonial encounters. Experiments with Empire should be read by scholars interested in questions of empire, knowledge production, and aesthetics. It grapples with the kind of political and epistemological questions that should be central to the next generation of postcolonial studies.” — Gary Wilder, author of Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World


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Price: $26.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Justin Izzo is Assistant Professor of French Studies at Brown University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction: Ethnographic Fictions in the French Atlantic  1
1. Ethnographic Didacticism and Africanist Melancholy: Leiris, Hampaté Ba, and the Epistemology of Style  17
2. The Director of Modern Life: Jean Rouch's Ethnofiction  55
3. Folkore, Fiction, and Ethnographic Nation Building: Price-Mars, Alexis, Depestre, Laferrière  98
4. Creole Novels and the Ethnographic Production of Literary History: Glissant, Chamoiseau, Confiant  134
5. Speculative Cityscapes and Premillennial Policing: Ethnographies of the Present in Jean-Claude Izzo's Crime Trilogy  169
Conclusion: Empire, Democracy, and Nonsovereign Knowledges  203
Notes  217
Bibliography  257
Index  273
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0400-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0370-0
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