Research in African Literatures
This paper examines how Bassek ba Kobhio's 1995 film Le Grand Blanc de Lambarene uses music to deconstruct the iconic figure of Albert Schweitzer. At key moments throughout the film, the doctor encounters a young drummer with whom he attempts and fails to communicate musically. The moments have little to do with the otherwise linear narrative. Nevertheless, they structure the film's argument and demonstrate the ways in which an expressive medium becomes an essential ingredient in Western ordering and mastering of the world. Having established this connection, ba Kobhio proposes another model of social identity in which music offers a synthetic and improvisational open-endedness. This point in the film marks the defeat of the Schweitzerian order and announces an alternative to the Western authoritarian model. Unfortunately, it also begins a reification of this musical function that ignores the material conditions of the African present.
This article was published as Francis Higginson, "The Well-Tempered Savage: Albert Schweitzer, Music, and Imperial Deafness," in Research in African Literatures 36, no. 4 (2005): 205-222. No part of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted, or distributed, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photographic, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Indiana University Press. For educational re-use, please contact the Copyright Clearance Center (508-744-3350). For all other permissions, please visit Indiana University Press' permissions page.
Higginson, Francis. “The Well-Tempered Savage: Albert Schweitzer, Music and Imperial Deafness.” Research in African Literatures 36, no. 4 (2005): 205-222.