Narrativizing foreclosed history in
‘postmemorial’ fiction of the
Algerian War in France:
October 17, 1961, a case in point
The larger question of institutional violence and its erasure from public consciousness by the manipulation of the representation of violent events in collective memory has been brought to the forefront of postcolonial studies for
some time now. More precisely, in the specific domain of immigration studies in France, understanding how camouflaged acts of State violence surface
naturally or forcibly in, and through, cultural
Filmmaker Karen Thorsen gave us James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket, the award-winning documentary that is now considered a classic. First broadcast on PBS/American Masters in August, 1989—just days after what would have been Baldwin’s sixty-fifth birthday—the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1990. It was not the film Thorsen intended to make. Beginning in 1986, Baldwin and Thorsen had been collaborating on a very different film project: a “nonfiction feature” about the history, research, and writing of Baldwin’s next book, “Remember This House.” It was also going to be a film about progress: about how far we had come, how far we still have to go, before we learn to trust our common humanity. But that project ended abruptly. On 1 December 1987, James Baldwin died—and “Remember This House,” book and film died with him. Suddenly, Thorsen’s mission changed: the world needed to know what they had lost. Her alliance with Baldwin took on new meaning. The following memoir—the second of two serialized parts—explores how and why their collaboration began. The first installment appeared in the sixth volume of James Baldwin Review, in the fall of 2020; the next stage of their journey starts here.
An Excerpt from Bill V. Mullen’s New Biography, James
Baldwin: Living in Fire, and an Interview with the
Bill V. Mullen
This excerpt from James Baldwin: Living in Fire details a key
juncture in Baldwin’s life, 1957–59, when he was transformed by a
visit to the South to write about the civil rights movement while grappling with
the meaning of the Algerian Revolution. The excerpt shows Baldwin understanding
black and Arab liberation struggles as simultaneous and parallel moments in the
rise of Third World, anti-colonial and anti-racist U.S. politics. It also shows
Baldwin’s emotional and psychological vulnerability to repressive state
violence experienced by black and Arab citizens in the U.S., France, and
Uses and Misuses of International Humanitarian Law and Humanitarian
in 1859, leaving more than 30,000 dead and wounded in a single day
of combat. Henry Dunant, a Swiss citizen who was trying to get in contact with
Napoleon III to request a concession in Algeria, came upon the battlefield and the
dying, and the spectacle shocked the fervent evangelical (he was one of the founders
of the Young Men’s Christian Association, later known as the YMCA). Dunant
took an active part in organising first aid for the wounded, regardless of
wasn’t until 2013, when two ACTED employees were kidnapped in an area of
Syria where we were also present, that the directorate and Board of Directors
met to set up a crisis unit.
Task Two: Developing a Risk-Management Methodology for the Field
From 2012, I organised one-day risk-analysis workshops during each of my visits
(be it Colombia, Myanmar, Algeria, the Sahel or the Democratic Republic of
and the Congo, or the British and Mau Mau, or the French in Algeria. As the Americans joined the
fray post World War II (after Nazi Germany’s attempt to exterminate the Jews, and after
the US dropped two atomic bombs on civilians without warning), we can fast-forward to the use of
nerve agents in Vietnam, the mass bombing of civilians in Cambodia, the giving of a green light
to the government in East Pakistan to commit genocide in what is now Bangladesh or the political
support the US gave to Pinochet and the Khmer Rouge. We can go back to the
French rule in Algeria ended in 1962 following almost eight years of intensely violent conflict, producing one of the largest migratory waves of the post-1945 era. Almost a million French settlers - pieds-noirs - and tens of thousands of harkis - native auxiliaries who had fought with the French army - felt compelled to leave their homeland and cross the Mediterranean to France. Tracing the history of these two communities, From Empire to Exile explores the legacies of the Algerian War of Independence in France. It uses the long-standing grassroots collective mobilisation and memory activism undertaken by both groups to challenge the idea that this was a ‘forgotten’ war that only returned to public attention in the 1990s. Revealing the rich and dynamic interactions produced as pieds-noirs,harkis and other groups engaged with each other and with state-sanctioned narratives, this study demonstrates the fundamental ways in which postcolonial minorities have shaped the landscapes of French politics, society and culture since 1962. It also helps place the current ‘memory wars’ deemed to be sweeping France in their wider historical context, proving that the current competition for control over the representation of the past in the public sphere is not a recent development, but the culmination of long-running processes. By reconceptualising the ways in which the Algerian War has been debated, evaluated and commemorated in the five decades since it ended, this book makes an original contribution to important discussions surrounding the contentious issues of memory, migration and empire in contemporary France.
In the twenty years between the end of the First World War and the start of the Second, the French empire reached its greatest physical extent. At the end of the First World War, the priority of the French political community was to consolidate and expand the French empire for, inter alia, industrial mobilisation and global competition for strategic resources. The book revisits debates over 'associationism' and 'assimilationism' in French colonial administration in Morocco and Indochina, and discusses the Jonnart Law in Algeria and the role of tribal elites in the West African colonies. On the economy front, the empire was tied to France's monetary system, and most colonies were reliant on the French market. The book highlights three generic socio-economic issues that affected all strata of colonial society: taxation and labour supply, and urban development with regard to North Africa. Women in the inter-war empire were systematically marginalised, and gender was as important as colour and creed in determining the educational opportunities open to children in the empire. With imperialist geographical societies and missionary groups promoting France's colonial connection, cinema films and the popular press brought popular imperialism into the mass media age. The book discusses the four rebellions that shook the French empire during the inter-war years: the Rif War of Morocco, the Syrian revolt, the Yen Bay mutiny in Indochina, and the Kongo Wara. It also traces the origins of decolonisation in the rise of colonial nationalism and anti-colonial movements.
Between 1954 and 1962, Algerian women played a major role in the struggle to end French rule in one of the most violent wars of decolonisation of the twentieth century. Our Fighting Sisters is the first in-depth exploration of what happened to these women after independence in 1962. Based on new oral history interviews with women who participated in the war in a wide range of roles, from members of the Algiers urban bomb network to women who supported the rural guerrilla, the book explores how female veterans viewed the post-independence state and its multiple discourses on ‘the Algerian woman’ in the fifty years following 1962, from the euphoria of national liberation to the civil violence of the 1990s. It also examines the ways in which these former combatants’ memories of the anti-colonial conflict intertwine with, contradict or coexist alongside the state-sponsored narrative of the war constructed after independence. Part of an emerging field of works seeking to write the post-independence history of Algeria, this book aims to go beyond reading Algeria through the lens of post-colonial trauma or through a series of politicised dichotomies pitching oppressed citizen against oppressive state, official commemoration verses vernacular memory or contrasting narratives of post-independence decline with post-colonial success stories. Instead, this book is about the contradictions and compromises of state-building and nation-building after decolonisation. Its wider conclusions contribute to debates about gender, nationalism and memory.
Legacies of colonial empire are present in the demarcations of state borders, in architecture, on the pedestals of monuments, in books, and in other forms. Heroic men have not been forgotten but at the same time erstwhile insurgents rebelling against the colonial order are now celebrated as freedom fighters. Even commodities of daily life, such as coffee or rubber, bear the deep imprint of their colonial histories. This book presents imperial history as a history of interwoven, overlapping, partly contradictory memories in which non-European outlooks are considered on a more equal footing, alongside the recollections of former colonial masters. These include imperial architecture in nineteenth-century Algeria, the Koregaon obelisk in India, the Hungarian monument commemorating the thirteen martyrs of Arad, and Japan's twentieth-century post-war repositories of memories of war, empire, suffering and heroism. The heroes and villains of the imperial era include the Dutch colonial governor Jan Pietersz Coen; Robert Clive, the victor of Plassey; and the explorer and missionary David Livingstone. Other manifestations of memory include Imam Shamil who resisted the troops of Tsarist Russia. The book looks at the fragility and precariousness of repositories of imperial memory. It traces the cycles of obliviousness and remembrance, of suppression and political instrumentalisation that have accompanied the history of Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. The history of Berlin's Botanical Garden is intimately intertwined with Germany's colonial endeavours but this important aspect of the institution's history has remained all but suppressed.