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Women and Representation, I830 to the Present
Ranjana Khanna
List of Figures
Introduction: The Living Dead
r. Frames, Contexts, Community, Justice
2. The Experience of Evidence:
Language, the Law, and the Mockery ofJusrice
3 The Battle of Algiers and The Nouba of the Wi>men:
From Third to Fourth Cinema
4- Wi>men of Algiers in Their Apartment.
Trauma, Melancholia, and Nationalism
5 Latent Ghosts and the Manifesto:
Baya, Breton, and Reading for the Future
6. "Araby" (Dub liners) and A Sister to Scheherazade:
Women's Time and the Time of the Nation
L1 Makam Al-Shahid, Algiers (The Martyrs' Monument) 19
!.2 Cimetiere arabe 23
I.1 Photograph of]acques Derrida, age three 32
I.2 Zineb Sedira, "Don't do to her what you did to me!,"
still from video installation 63
L3 Zineb Sedira, "Don't do to her what you did to me!,"
still from video installation 64
L4 Zineb Sedira, ('Don't do to her what you did to mel/'
still from video installation 64
Zineb Sedira, "Quatre generations de femmes,"
installation 66
r.6 Zineb Sedira, "Quatre generations de femmes,"
installation detail 67
L7 Zineb Sedira, "Quatre generations de femmes,"
installation detail 67
Still from Gillo Pontecorvo, The Battle of Algiers II5
Still from Gillo Pontecorvo, The Battle of Algiers II9
Still from Gillo Pontecorvo, The Battle of Algiers II9
Still from Assia Djebar, La Nouba des Femmes
duMont Chenoua 127
Eugene Delacroix, Femmes d'Alger dans leur
appartement (1834) 141
4-2 Eugene Delacroix, Femmes d'Alger dans leur
appartement (1849) 141
xii Figures
43 Pablo Picasso, Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement
(December 29, 1954)
44 Pablo Picasso, Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement
Ganuary r, 1955)
Pablo Picasso, Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement
Ganuary 24, 1955)
Pablo Picasso, Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement
(February 14, 1955)
47 Pablo Picasso, Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement
(Decen';ber 13, 1954)
Houria Niati, No to the Torture, mixed media installation
Baya Mabieddine, Mere au bouquet (
Baya Mabieddine, Femme bleue a l'oiseau (1945)
H Helene Smith, Text no. I8 (October ro, 1897)
in Theodore Flournoy, From India to the Planet Mars
5-4 Helene Smith, "Martian Landscape,"
in Theodore Flournoy, From India to the Planet Mars
"Plate 32: So That the Angle of the Head Can Be Varied "
in Andre Breton, Nadja (r96o) '
"Plate 29: The Lovers," in Andre Breton, Nadja (r96o)
Baya Mabieddine, Au bord d1 !a riviere (1945)
Baya Mabieddine, Femme et oiseau en cage (1946)
59 Baya Mabieddine, Deux femmes jouant de !a musique
Baya Mahieddine, Femmes pourtant des coupes (1966)
I 56
I 57
The immediate provocation for writing this book came from my
sense of horror at the recent war against civilians in Algeria, and at how
women have been affected by what some have referred to as a partied'
lady "virile war."
Systematic collective rape, kidnapping, and murder of
women are common in all wars, of course; the current war in Algeria is
no exception. Such incidents are rarely reported, however, or given ade-
quate attention in the media, either within Algeria or outside. The work of
a few feminist reporters-notably Salima Tlem<;ani, Salima Ghezali, and
Ghania Mouffok in Algeria-has been exceptional in this regard.
is also striking in Algeria is the way in which feminists, and others who
correctly or incorrectly have been viewed as '(westernized," have been sin-
gled out for persecution in the war against civilians that has been waged
since 1992. In the 1960s and even into the 1970s, Algeria set itself up as the
avant-garde third-world nation that had effectively rid itself of the imperial
machine and was working on an Islamic socialist model to build the state
in a manner that would value the work done by men and women alike
during the war of independence. It was; only in the early 1980s that wom-
en's access to public space began to be severely curtailed, with the insti-
tution of the 1984 Family Code, which clearly made women legally into
citizens of a different class who would have to seek permission from men
in the family to do things previously considered to be part of everyday life.
The Family Code was significantly amended, but not abrogated, by Presi-
dent Abdelaziz Boureflika in February 2005.
My commitment to a transnational-or perhaps more appropri-
ately, a new internationalist-feminism demanded that I consider what
had gone so wrong in Algeria, and also what structures of violence have
shaped women's lives in the colonial and postcolonial period in Algeria.
Focusing on both the colonial relationship between France and Algeria
XIV Prefoce
and the neocolonial situation of Algeria in the era of globalization, my
research on Algeria has encountered ethical and scholarly problems arising
from the corrupt colonial history of protofeminism in cross-border anal-
yses. But a commitment to the idea that justice cannot be sought unless
done so on an international scale caused me to start writing about Alge-
ria in spite of claims of limitations that could (with some justification)
be leveled against me from a nativist angle. My focus on Algeria derived
from an interest in a kind of feminism that could reach across borders-
indeed, from a feminism thar would not deserve that name unless it had
some global reach.
In recem years, much research has been conducted on colonialism
and how its historical narrative has to be revised in the light of postcolonial
societies. Competing historical accounts suggest alternative posifioris on
women in nationalist histories. Algeria Cuts assesses the ways in which fig-
ures of woman hav!_ qitically:i!QiWrhe construction of these nationalist
stories of the past, thus demonstrating, in the interstices, an engendering
of the pursuit of justice, both material and imagined. By analyzing how
national cohesion is simultaneously s\lstaill_ed and br()_ken .. through
conceiving a shared history, an inassimilable ethical remainde; can be per-
ceived. The concept of "shared history" involves more than the power of
institutional molding of groups. It also involves psychical investment in
the idea of ethical responsibility to the group. Algeria Cuts provides a way
of understanding how the shift aw;1y from group identification toward crit-
ical identification paradoxically engenders rhe pursuit9fj\lstice. The criti-
cal apparatus I have employed involves resistance to the identity is
formed through to others within a group, particularly
when empathy involves projectiveiClentiflcaiion. The book instead looks
to and develops the idea identification )nd the refosal of identifi-
cation. I argue that it is this breakdown of assimilative identification that
provides a critical agency in pursuit of justice.
Each of the chapters considers, through different media, what it
means to write as a response to injustice performed on others and in the
interest of achieving justice for others. Each also addresses forms of respon-
sibility appropriate to feminism as it acts across borders to try to listen
to the damage done by persons, events, or manifestations at a\1d beyond
those borders. The philosophical, literary, fine art, filmic, legal, and pol-
icy examples that make up the book provoke questions about represen-
Prefoce xv
rational politics and about the forms of women's political reasoning that
cause damage to the masculinist frames currently dominating world poli-
tics. More pointedly, it considers how the figure of woman cuts into the
masculinist frame of the Franco-Algerian relationship and manifests itself
in the works discussed.
Algeria Cuts represents an interest in three periods of Algerian history:
the period of French colonialism (1830-1962), the Algerian Revolutionary
War of Independence (1954-1962) and the intriguing role women played
in it, and contemporary Algeria and the feminist issues that have arisen
there, where feminists, once strong and respected figures, have recently
been singled out for persecution by both religious fundamentalists and the
state (1962 to the present). The manner in which the imagined construct
of the nation and the figure of woman that emerges alongside it has mate-
rial consequences is a core concept of the book.
Given the cultural forms employed to elaborate the argument of this
book, I propose a model of national hlstory as developed through cul-
ture. Rather than construct a national history out of cultural enunciation,
or indeed reduce culturr;; to politics, economics, and history, my aim is to
understand cultural artifacts as out" of nationaJ identities in
their complex My concern ;;-;;;- how
individuated histories are the force field of the nation and in
the context of colonial conceptions of the past through cultural artifacts. It
is also to understand how the nationalf()rc:e field creates supplements and
how those supplements manifest themselves, and damage, or cui_ fb.rqygh,
the frame.
I have studied a variety of cultural artifacts to demonstrate the three
phases of this complex relationship between France and Algeria. For the
first phase, which spans the early years of French colonial rule, I include
Delacroix's Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement (1834 and 1849) and early
French colonial documents on assimilation. The second phase of colonial
history I address is the 1930s to the 1960s, that is, from modernism to the
early years of Algerian independence, when Algeria attempted to con-
ceive itself as an entity separate from France, and France struggled with
separation. The artifacts from this period include surrealist and neoreal-
ist work ranging from Breton's Manifoste des I2I (1960), which protested
the treatment of Algerians by the French during the war, and the First
Surrealist Manifosto (1924), both of which blur the distinction between.
XVI Prefoce
cultural artifacts and realpolitik. Also included are analyses of the paint-
ings ofBaya and Picasso's Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement, and nar-
ratives of torture by Algerian women, including legal testimony, mock
trials, and Pontecorvo's film The Battle of Algiers, which, in keeping with
a neorealisr style, presents us with a fictionalized documentary. For the
third and final phase, the period following independence, in which the
nation-states were separate yet struggled with the politics of separation
and the deferred effects of hybridity, I consider the books and films of
well-known Algerian Francophone writer, filmmaker, and historian Assia
Djebar and other contemporary films on and from Algeria, and mock and
real trials. Ine-erspersed throughout the book is a reading of the current
work of "French'' or "Franco-Maghrebi" scholars working through their
nostalgerie while Algeria has been split apart in civil war.
The book is divided into three sections. "Theorizing Justice" dwells
on the ways in which a theoretical notion of justice emerges in the Franco-
Maghrebi context. This includes chapters on Derridean notions of justice,
and on mock and real trials in Algeria. The second section, "Melancholic
Remainders," explores the legacy ofPontecorvo's Battle of Algiers and DeJa-
croix's Women of Algiers in Their Apartment to reveal how the figure of
woman challenges notions of representational politics and restitution. The
final section, 'Algeria Beyond Itself," is organized around the paintings of
Baya and the writings of Assia Djebar in a comparative frame that ques-
tions comparison by thinking through mutual constitution. These two
final chapters of the book take the questions raised by the figure of woman
in the Franco-Algerian context beyond that site of mutual constitution
and conflict in order to parochialize surrealism and modernism respec-
tively, bur also to provide a means of understanding modernist ideas of the
international from the global periphery, as a cut into its dominant frame-
work. The final section questions the space of the nation as an exclusively
determining framework.
Algeria Cuts conceives of the relationship between individualized
imagining and group formation in terms of history and memory, and in
terms of conceptions of the past that seek to understand how the pass-
ing of a historical moment, framed as it is through global and local poli-
tics and economics, is introduced into the cultural imagination of the
citizens or subjects of an artificial group such as the nation-state. One
way of imagining the relationship to the past, the function of which is to
Prefoce xvu
sustain a cohesive group into the future, has been through the concepts
of mourning and melancholia. I argue that early models of the French
nation-state required that the national subject be in a mournful relation-
ship to the history of the state. In such a relationship, a series of events
are workJ:!i_rhrough and remembered as forgotten, as Ernest Renan would
formulate it, and successfully introjecred i.nto rhe national self. These cuts
through Algerian history on my part foct!s on the inassimila],le, the barely
'-- ---
and the melancholic traces that in turn cause damage to the
force field of mournful national history that fails to introject them. In
my readings, a focus on the figure of woman allows for a different politi-
cal reason to emerge, one that cuts through the force fields that allow for
injustice, looks to the future, and allows for the emergence and pursuit
of justice. The conceptual weight of the t:tJ!, coup_er, gr coupureis primar-
ily Anglophone and Francophone in this project. the politics of
language in Algeria, I hope the book will be cut through with the Arabic
th' or ...,..,.;, or the Tamazight anegzum or 'gzem, or with the appropriate
i..; Kabyle, Chaoui, Chenoua, Hassaniya, or other languages when-
ever necessary.
Wirh this focus onjusrice, Algeria ultimately becomes more and. per-
haps less than its history because it ultimately cannot be seen in this book
only;;-;;_;; ontology. Aig;,ria becomes the occasion for about dif-
ferent forms-of-knowledge -production, and my intellectual investment
in Algeria also becomes philosophiCal. How metropolitan epj}J<:._11J"S were
written our_of their relationship to col()nies emerges as one of the foci of
thep;;;j;(ct, particularly how conceptions of alterity_ (in abstract as well
as in political categorizations of the foreign and the female) were theo-
rized with, but in __g!Jout, c9loni-ality. Questioning
the within whi-;;h-philosophical questions were posed clarifies the
implications of understanding some "French theories" as Franco-Maghrebi
theories shaped through the complicated history of decolonization from
France faced by the countries of the Maghreb region. To some extent, this
questioning foregrounded the shortcomings of accounts that neglected the
context, pretext, subtext, and discipline of colonialism and decoloniza-
tion in recent intellectual developments. But what also emerged was rhe
necessity of a theory of the inadequacy of causality, biography, and foun-
dationalism as ways of accounting for the production of certain forms of
knowledge. The introduction and first chapter of the book lay out, and.
xviii Preface
subsequent chapters expand on, how deconstructive reading techniques
produced through the years of Algerian decolonization are particularly
pertinent in the work of pursuing justice internationally, and are account-
able to the history of decolonization, its psychical as well as its historical
impact, and its reshaping of the world's subjects.
There are many people to thank for their assistance in the research
for this book, and for their intellectual engagement and friendship. I spent
a semester as a Rockefeller fellow at the University of Rochester's Susan B.
Anthony Center for Women's Studies, where I started researching Algerian
film. I thank everyone who was part of my brief stay in Rochester for their
hospitality and comments. Sarah Apple, Lisa Cartwright, Douglas Crimp,
Elizabeth Ezra, Brian Goldfarb, John Michael; Tom DePiero, and Sharon
Willis made my stay there particularly memorable. A year at Cornell's
Sociery for the Humanities saw a chapter on torture come to fruition. At
Cornell I would particularly like to thank Anne Berger and Jim Siegel for
their kindness and generosity, and for thinking I had something impor-
tant to say about Algeria. Anne Berger was kind enough to invite me to
present at two conferences about Algeria, from which I learned a great
deal. Cornell's particularly intense intellectual environment was added to
by conversations with Brett de Bary, Assia Djebar, Salah Hassan, Domi-
nick La Capra, Tim Murray, and Hortense Spillers. Satya Mohanty's skep-
tical questions were particularly useful. My time there was greatly enriched
for me by dear friends, interlocutors, and colleagues Mieke Bal, Natalie
Melas, Ramez Elias, Mitchell Greenberg, Marie-Claire Vallo is, and Eleanor
Kaufman. At Duke, thanks go to many sustaining friends and colleagues,
including David Aers, Ian Baucom, Tina Campt, Alberto Moreiras, Negar
Mottahedeh, Diane Nelson, Fredric Jameson, Charlie Piot, Teresa Vilaros,
Priscilla Wald, Robyn Wiegman, and Susan Willis. My writing partner
Carol Mavor has given me immense help and has read many drafts of the
Many have helped with specific chapters of the book, including Joyce
Goggin and Michael Burke at the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analy-
sis. Thanks also go to the image librarians at the Louvre; to Monsieur