The players in the history of decolonization and its aftermath have always competed in creatively asserting and re-asserting the narrative of the past. Representative figures on both sides of the colonial divide have therefore told and repeated stories that have tended to smooth out the kinks of incongruous minority experience and internecine struggle. However, the publication at the turn of the century of numerous personal accounts irreconcilable with both Algerian and French hegemonic narratives, and the anniversaries of recent years — 2012 (fifty years since Independence), 2016 (fifty years since Gillo Pontecorvo’s La Bataille d’Alger), and 2017 (sixty years since the height of the historical Battle of Algiers) — have invited scholars and invested parties to re-examine the misleading and generalized stories that have shaped Algeria’s imaginary. Scholars have responded by organizing conferences, workshops, and publications, and it is in the University of Leicester’s 2012 conference, ‘Algeria Revisited: Contested Identities in the Colonial and Postcolonial Periods’, that the essays of this volume find their genesis. Dividing their book into three parts, which investigate historical colonial conflicts and relationships, postcolonial literary and filmic identity construction, and postcolonial memory conflicts, the editors have assembled a wide range of extremely well crafted essays that share a common profundity and rigour in their presentation of arguments based on fresh research and re-examination. Through Michelle Mann and Rabah Aissaoui’s nuanced investigations of the ‘Young Algerians’, Arthur Asseraf’s groundbreaking study of Algerians in the French parliament from 1958 to 1962, Rachida Yassine, Samira Farhoud, Carey Watt, and Sophie Bélot’s chapters on literary and filmic works of feminine representation, and Blandine Valfort’s work on the identitarian poetry of Jean Sénac, figures of liminal identity and ambiguous desire, both historical and literary, complicate a binary picture of colonial and postcolonial relations. Moreover, political agency is re-ascribed to figures of the colonial past misconstrued by French discursive reduction in Samuel Kalman’s fascinating examination of banditry in the Constantinois. And, in the final part of the book, Jennifer E. Sessions, Claire Eldridge, and James McDougall develop and complicate our understanding of the battleground of postcolonial memorialization. What is particularly refreshing in their analyses, in particular in Sessions’s disentanglement of the competing demands that lead to the movement and installation of monuments of colonial origin, is a willingness to set the postcolonial lens to one side, to treat postcolonial factors as objects of study while avoiding making of them inflated objects for study. This approach is reflected in what is perhaps the boldest essay in the collection, Patricia Caillé’s analysis of ‘Algerian cinema’ as a category construct that, in her analysis, cannot respond to expectations, national and cinephilic, placed upon it. Indeed, this volume is perhaps at its most rewarding and powerful for both scholars of Algeria and scholars of other geographical regions, where it takes on a quasi-Saidian epistemological approach, warning off even enthusiastic mythologization. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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