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Experimental Nations

Experimental Nations: Or, the Invention of the Maghreb

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Experimental Nations
    Book Description:

    Jean-Paul Sartre's famous question, "For whom do we write?" strikes close to home for francophone writers from the Maghreb. Do these writers address their compatriots, many of whom are illiterate or read no French, or a broader audience beyond Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia? InExperimental Nations, Réda Bensmaïa argues powerfully against the tendency to view their works not as literary creations worth considering for their innovative style or language but as "ethnographic" texts and to appraise them only against the "French literary canon." He casts fresh light on the original literary strategies many such writers have deployed to reappropriate their cultural heritage and "reconfigure" their nations in the decades since colonialism.

    Tracing the move from the anticolonial, nationalist, and arabist literature of the early years to the relative cosmopolitanism and diversity of Maghrebi francophone literature today, Bensmaïa draws on contemporary literary and postcolonial theory to "deterritorialize" its study. Whether in Assia Djebar's novels and films, Abdelkebir Khatabi's prose poems or critical essays, or the novels of Nabile Farès, Abdelwahab Meddeb, or Mouloud Feraoun, he raises the veil that hides the intrinsic richness of these artists' works from the eyes of even an attentive audience. Bensmaïa shows us how such Maghrebi writers have opened their nations as territories to rediscover and stake out, to invent, while creating a new language. In presenting this masterful account of "virtual" but veritable nations, he sets forth a new and fertile topography for francophone literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2564-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  5. INTRODUCTION Is an “Experimental” Nation Possible?
    (pp. 1-10)

    For a majority of the French at the time of the Third Republic (1870–1940), Algeria could be summed up by a few clichés from Alphonse Daudet’s 1892Tartarin de Tarascon, one of the contemporary classics for elementary school children. During this same period, the vast stretches of Algerian territory began to serve in the imaginary of a decadent elite as a kind of stock of images, animals, and workers where differences could flourish under the protection of the French flag. Perceived as a mix of sensuality and proud purity, of oasis and desert, Algeria became a catalyst for writers...

  6. 1 Nations of Writers
    (pp. 11-26)

    In a speech at the first Algerian National Colloquium on Culture (Colloque National Algérien de la Culture), the Algerian historian and former Minister of Education Mostefa Lacheraf asked the following question in regard to the minimum conditions necessary for the development of an “authentic” culture in Algeria: “At what point—a point already attained or one that is yet to be attained—does a national culture cease to be mere entertainment, becoming instead as basic as the bread we eat or the air we breathe?” In the context of postcolonial Algeria, it is obvious that this kind of culture, as...

  7. 2 Cities of Writers
    (pp. 27-46)

    The logic and rhetoric used to understand the European city as it has evolved from the Renaissance to the present are radically different from those needed to understand the origins of the Medina as urban fact or reality. Thus, in this chapter I begin with the problematic of the city as elaborated by Michel de Certeau in hisThe Practice of Everyday Life¹ in order to shed light on what I call the distinct poetical-rhetorical imaginary of the Medina.

    In his chapter entitled “Walking in the City,” de Certeau proposes three parameters for understanding the modern city and its role...

  8. 3 Nabile Farès, or How to Become “Minoritarian”
    (pp. 47-66)

    All exile presupposes a center, a point of origin from which one stands out or moves away. As “eccentric/ex-centric” as Nabile Farès’s work may seem, rather than moving away from a specific point, it actually draws nearer to new points, new ideas, and assembles around them multiple centers. In any event, Farès’s main idea seems to be that all genuine becoming presupposes an exile of some kind, the experience of either something outside of (one)self or outside of one’s origin to which one couldreturn. Both becoming and exile in Farès’s work are thus presented asparadoxical experiences of going...

  9. 4 Postcolonial Nations: Political or Poetic Allegories? (On Tahar Djaout’s L’invention du désert)
    (pp. 67-82)

    At a time when studies termedpostcolonialwere still in the first stages of theoretical elaboration, Fredric Jameson’s article inSocial Textentitled “Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism”¹ immediately sparked an outcry perfectly indicative of what the future would hold for the project of postcolonial theory.² Jameson’s thesis formulated the relationship of the literary text to political and historical reality in what could not have been more pointed terms:

    All third-world texts are necessarily, I want to argue, allegorical, and in a very specific way: they are to be read as what I will call national...

  10. 5 (Hi)stories of Expatriation: Virtual Countries
    (pp. 83-98)

    In an interview with an Algerian journalist who asked about the difficulties of understanding her filmLa Nouba¹des femmes du Mont Chenoua, Assia Djebar replied, “My film is not a difficult film. What I ask of the viewer is some effort.”² Indeed, what struck Maghrebi viewers when the film came out was the absence of points of reference that would allow them to become engaged or taken by the film.La Nouba des femmes duMont Chenouaoffers viewers none of the classic narrative perspectives that would enable them to close the circle and enter fully into the subject matter...

  11. 6 Multilingualism and National “Traits”
    (pp. 99-148)

    In a passage from his journal dated October 24, 1911, Franz Kafka made the following comment:

    Yesterday it occurred to me that I did not always love my mother as she deserved and as I could, only because the German language prevented it. The Jewish mother is no “Mutter,” to call her “Mutter” makes her a little comic (not to herself, because we are in Germany), we give a Jewish woman the name of a German mother, but forget the contradiction that sinks into the emotions so much more heavily. . . . Mama would be a better name if...

  12. 7 The Cartography of the Nation: Mouloud Feraoun’s Le fils du pauvre Revisited
    (pp. 149-158)

    Mouloud Feraoun was one of the first writers to have experimented brilliantly with the idea of the future nation. Although he was long overshadowed by Kateb Yacine, Feraoun was in fact one of the first to have understood the obstacles Algerian Francophone writers had to overcome in order to rise to the different demands made on them on the eve of Revolution: to givevoiceto the nation, when it existed only in a virtual state; tobear witnessin writing to the sufferings of his people, when an audience of readers worthy of this name was as yet being...

  13. 8 By Way of a Conclusion
    (pp. 159-164)

    In the final chapter of her book on contemporary postcolonial theories, Ania Loomba asks the following:

    Are academics located in the West, or working in Western conceptual and narrative paradigms, incapable of opening up the perspectives within which we can view the non-Western world? Or have they adopted reactive perspectives which lock them into a reductive position whereby they can return the colonial gaze only by mimicking its ideological imperatives and intellectual procedures?¹

    In the context that interests us here, it is obvious that a question of this kind is not innocent and deserves to be considered in all seriousness....

  14. APPENDIX Le Dépays: On Chris Marker’s Lettre de Sibérie (1957)
    (pp. 165-170)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 171-204)
    (pp. 205-208)
    (pp. 209-215)