AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

Absent Witness: The Politics of Fiction in the Postcolony (Algeria 1962-2003)

by Jill Jarvis

Institution: Princeton University
Year: 2016
Keywords: Algeria; Francophone; Translation; War
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2074080
Full text PDF: http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/dsp013n204151m


Absent Witness: The Politics of Fiction in the Postcolony, Algeria 1962-2003 sets out a history of Algerian literary fiction as a critique of state violence in the late-twentieth century. Modern Maghrebi literature emerged in conditions of colonial terror and anticolonial resistance, and has long been read as closely bound to the project of postcolonial nation-building. To this day, Algerian novelists in particular remain preoccupied by problems of testimony, violence, and justice as they grapple with questions inherited from those writers first charged with the task of forging national sovereignty by way of literature—yet so many of their fictions run counter, rather than conforming, to the demands of nationalism and the state. In short, this dissertation defends the dissenting and transformative capacity of fiction in a context that has been dominated by the prerogatives of area studies and development discourse. It brings together literary texts in both French and Arabic with documents concerning torture and executions that circulated clandestinely during Algeria’s revolution (1954-1962) and civil war (1988-2001). I show how writers such as Yamina Mechakra, Assia Djebar, Tahar Djaout, and Waciny Laredj experiment with testimony’s ambivalent structure—between the veridical and the unverifiable—to imagine justice beyond the limits of the juridical. This project recognizes Algeria as an important center of aesthetic and theoretical innovation rather than as a post-colonized periphery relevant only through connection to the former colonial métropole. Highlighting the Franco-Algerian scene as an obscured prehistory of the neoimperial present, I argue that our thinking about modern state violence must place the unfinished project of decolonization at its center—and that this project is one of imaginative training, which is the domain of literature. Advisors/Committee Members: Baer, Ben C (advisor), Gikandi, Simon (advisor).