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Narrative, contingency, modernity: Jean Rouch's Moi, un Noir (1958)

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This article deals with the ethnographic production of modernity in Jean Rouch's film about Nigerien economic migrants in pre-independence Ivory Coast, Moi, un Noir. Following Fredric Jameson's assertion that we can conceive of modernity as a rhetorical trope and a narrative category that is subject to potentially limitless rewritings, the article suggests that Moi, un Noir's improvisational narrative allows Rouch to re-stage a narrative of modernity that relies on contingency and a geographical triangulation of idea(l)s of the modern between the United States, France and West Africa. Further, this article examines Rouch's doctrine of collaborative ethnographic work, what he calls shared anthropology, in relation to the collective nature of Moi un Noir's narrative, which relies on the spontaneous participation of Rouch's actors (who were also his research subjects) who were shown a rough cut of the film and prompted to discuss their lives as they saw fit. Finally, the article explores, how Rouch's unique, experimental blend of fictional and documentary cinematic forms positions him as both a provocative theorist of modernity as well as a reflexive anthropologist avant la lettre.

Keywords: Moi, un Noir; Rouch; West Africa; anthropology; ethnographic cinema; modernity; narrative

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Duke University.

Publication date: May 1, 2011

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  • The International Journal of Francophone Studies offers a critical preview for a new development in the understanding of 'France outside France', with a thorough insight into the network of disciplinary issues affiliated with this study. The journal complements the thriving area of scholarly interest in the French-speaking regions of the world, bringing a location of linguistic, cultural, historical and social dynamics within a single academic arena.
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