'Les cinq noms sonores': the French voice in the story of British India 1763–1954

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The domination of the Indian subcontinent by the British between 1763 and 1947 is a recognizable narrative within British anglophone culture and colonial history. In contrast, the persistence of five French comptoirs (small trading posts) on the Indian subcontinent until 1954 remains largely ignored by both French and British historians of French colonialism. In briefly examining French-language representations of India (written during this period or later), the present article demonstrates the prevalence of discourses of the 'non-real' – counterfactuals, nostalgia, fantasies, utopias – within such representations, and the importance of 'India' as a reference point within French cultural production. This critical investigation into the strategies of representation used problematizes existing anglophone theoretical models, by critics such as Said, Bhabha and Spivak, for the analysis of colonial discourse. Interrogation of French-language writing on India reveals that representations cannot be fully appreciated without engaging methodologically with France's politically subordinate status in India. The article thus challenges the commonly accepted binary between colonizer and colonized, proposing in its place a triangular model composed of the colonized (India), the 'subaltern' colonizer (France) and the dominant colonizer (Britain).
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