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Polygraphies: Francophone Women Writing Algeria

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of Algeria's independence,Polygraphiesis significant and timely in its focus on autobiographical writings by seven of the most prominent francophone women writers from Algeria today, including Maïssa Bey, Hélène Cixous, Assia Djebar, and Malika Mokeddem. These authors witnessed both the "before" and "after" of the colonial experience in their land, and their fictional and theoretical texts testify to the lasting impact of this history. From a variety of personal perspectives and backgrounds, each writer addresses linguistic, religious, and racial issues of crucial contemporary importance in Algeria. Alison Rice engages their work from a range of disciplines, striving both to heighten our sensitivity to the plurality inherent in their texts and to move beyond a true/false dichotomy to a wealth of possible truths, all communicated in writing.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3293-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction. The Witness Stand: Where the Truth Lies
    (pp. 1-24)

    Much of contemporary writing in French by women from Algeria is arguably, and uniquely, autobiographical, but not in a traditional sense.Polygraphiesexamines the ways in which seven writers subtly insert the self into the text in order to speak of the lives of others. Allowing the personal to punctuate the literary work is not meant to call attention to the individual in an egotistical move but is instead a measure that enables the writer to express the experiences ofmany:the polyphonous nature of the text is striking, even when the solitary subject seems to be the focus. Each...


    • CHAPTER 1 Le moi à plusieurs reprises: From Confession to Testimony in the Autobiographical Writings of Hélène Cixous and Assia Djebar
      (pp. 27-45)

      Hélène Cixous and Assia Djebar have composed prolific oeuvres that are quite different, but that have in common recurring autobiographical elements. Cixous, in works both theoretical and fictional, repeatedly comes back to personal topics, establishing a veritable “myth” surrounding her history and her family as they are presented from different angles in the written text. Djebar has also often returned to idiosyncratic themes, especially in the three volumes of the projected autobiographical quartet, as well as in her 2007 novel titledNulle part dans la maison de mon père(Nowhere in my father’s house). These various autobiographical texts provide readers...

    • CHAPTER 2 La singularité de l’altérité: Self-Portraiture and the Other in Maïssa Bey
      (pp. 46-58)

      In 1993, Maïssa Bey accorded a substantial interview to Martine Marzloff, and their conversation was published as part of a book five years later. The interview came at a critical moment in her life, as Samia Benameur had recently decided to take up a pen name, and take up the pen in a new way, writing now for public consumption instead of for her private enjoyment. She explains in the appropriately titledÀ contresilence(Against the silence) what it meant to bring an end to her silence by becoming a writer:

      At the end of a whole life of silence...


    • CHAPTER 3 La Terre Maternelle: Algeria and the Mother in the Work of Marie Cardinal, Hélène Cixous, and Assia Djebar
      (pp. 61-85)

      La terre et la mère—the native land and the mother—arguably constitutethesubjects of reflection at the heart of Marie Cardinal’s oeuvre.¹ While homeland and family are central to most autobiographical works, these two themes of predilection are particularly striking in the case of this woman writer from Algeria. As apied-noirchild, born in 1929 to a French bourgeois family in Algiers, the young Cardinal lived for years between the two very different cultures that surrounded her, feeling part of neither one and yet earnestly desiring acceptance from both. The external environment of the multilingual, multiethnic “mother country’’...

    • CHAPTER 4 “La célébration d’une terre-mère”: Albert Camus and Algeria according to Maïssa Bey and Assia Djebar
      (pp. 86-96)

      The quotation that makes up the title of this chapter is from a unique publication by Maïssa Bey, a work initially written for a talk delivered in the heart of Paris, at the Centre Pompidou, on the occasion of a colloquium entitled “Albert Camus and Falsehood.” Bey’s reflections in this text are both academic and personal in nature. Catherine Camus, the daughter of the celebrated author to whom the two days of this 2002 conference were dedicated, was deeply touched by Bey’s speech, as she explains in her preface: “Listening to Maïssa, I found my father again. Not a famous...


    • CHAPTER 5 Écrire les maux: Hélène Cixous and Writing the Body over Time
      (pp. 99-108)

      Hélène Cixous is known in many critical circles for one remarkable text: “Le rire de la Méduse.” In this renowned essay, she incites women to ‘‘write their bodies’’ in an exhortation of what has become a key concept for women’s studies in the years to follow. Theécriture fémininechampioned by Cixous in the mid-1970s continues to be evoked and critiqued as a useful yet problematic notion for contemplating writing by women and its possible differences from writing by men.¹ A glance at the entry under this term inThe New Oxford Companion to Literature in Frenchreveals the positive...

    • CHAPTER 6 Sexualités et sensualités: Corporeal Configurations in the Work of Maïssa Bey, Assia Djebar, Malika Mokeddem, and Leïla Sebbar
      (pp. 109-126)

      If Hélène Cixous encourages women to write their bodies with such fervor in “Le rire de la Méduse,” her passion is related to her early experience in Algeria. She states inLa Jeune Née(The Newly Born Woman), published in the same year (1975), that what she witnessed in her homeland set the stage for her attitudes to come: “I am three or four years old, and the first thing I see in the street is that the world is divided in two, hierarchized; and that it maintains this distribution through violence” (85). In this divided society, as we have...


    • CHAPTER 7 Ruptures intimes: Sentimental Splitting in the Work of Assia Djebar
      (pp. 129-139)

      Much has been written about Assia Djebar’s multiple cultural and linguistic affiliations, and the various separations that have occasioned her many belongings. In this chapter, I explore another aspect of her oeuvre, one that has not yet been examined in detail: the portrayal of love relationships in recent novels. In a number of works by Djebar, long-lasting relations between heterosexual couples prove scarce. Breakups recur frequently in Djebar’s literary production, a fact that Beïda Chikhi addresses in the following general terms: “These love stories, often problematic from the point of view of the Muslim morale, were experienced in silence, in...

    • CHAPTER 8 Lourds retours: Coming Back to Algeria in Malika Mokeddem’s L’Interdite
      (pp. 140-150)

      The depiction of male-female love relationships, and their eventual, inevitable endings in Assia Djebar’s recent writings, finds an echo in a recent text by Malika Mokeddem titledMes hommes(My Men). In this autobiographical work, Mokeddem revisits her relationships with various men in her life, and the final chapter reveals that like Djebar, this Algerian-born novelist has not found a passionate love to last her lifetime, though she remains optimistically open to the possibility. In light of this lack of continuity in her love life, Mokeddem states her awareness of the importance of returning to her childhood in order to...

    • CHAPTER 9 Fille de harki: Relating to the Father, Country, and Religion in the Writing of Zahia Rahmani
      (pp. 151-163)

      Zahia Rahmani’s literary work stems in many senses from a need to testify to a torment that is intense, immense, and inevitably extends beyond expression. It is no accident that she often has recourse to the terminology of the trial in her writing, for she has repeatedly felt a need to defend herself against a slew of accusations directed at her person. But as Anna Kemp has pointed out with respect to Rahmani’s first novel, “The narrator may not be able to fully bear witness to her father’s life and acknowledges that her attempts to do so inevitably constitute a...

    • CHAPTER 10 Fabulation et imagination: Women, Nation, and Identification in Maïssa Bey’s Cette fille-là
      (pp. 164-185)

      Maïssa Bey’s 2001 novelCette fille-làis not strictly autobiographical, but its ambiguous status is offset by the clear personal investment of the writer in the text. While a young woman who is not the author serves as the narrator of this creative work, Maïssa Bey is present in undeniable ways, as exemplified in a specific textual “slippage,” whereby the words attributed to this narrator within the text are reproduced on the back cover as pertaining to Maïssa Bey.¹ This rich, polyphonic text is illustrative of how fictional renderings of lived experience can become powerful pieces of prose, telling testimonies...

  9. Conclusion. Mass in A Minor: Putting Algeria on the Map
    (pp. 186-196)

    In her autobiographical work of fiction titledManhattan: Lettres de la préhistoire(Manhattan: Letters from Prehistory), Hélène Cixous recounts the trip of a French scholar to the United States in 1965, nearly forty years beforeManhattanappeared in print, in 2002. The young woman who visits various libraries to consult manuscripts is convinced that the people she meets during her travel have no awareness of Algeria. To illustrate the general geographical ignorance she expects to encounter, the first-person narrator relates a conversation that takes place on a small plane heading from Ithaca toward Buffalo, New York. When her interlocutor asks...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 197-214)
    (pp. 215-226)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 227-244)