Remembering French Algeria: Pieds-Noir, Identity, and Exile

Remembering French Algeria: Pieds-Noir, Identity, and Exile

Remembering French Algeria: Pieds-Noir, Identity, and Exile

Remembering French Algeria: Pieds-Noir, Identity, and Exile

Synopsis

Colonized by the French in 1830, Algeria was an important French settler colony that, unlike its neighbors, endured a lengthy and brutal war for independence from 1954 to 1962. The nearly one million Pieds-Noirs (literally "black-feet") were former French citizens of Algeria who suffered a traumatic departure from their homes and discrimination upon arrival in France. In response, the once heterogeneous group unified as a community as it struggled to maintain an identity and keep the memory of colonial Algeria alive.

Remembering French Algeria examines the written and visual re-creation of Algeria by the former French citizens of Algeria from 1962 to the present. By detailing the preservation and transmission of memory prompted by this traumatic experience, Amy L. Hubbell demonstrates how colonial identity is encountered, reworked, and sustained in Pied-Noir literature and film, with the device of repetition functioning in these literary and visual texts to create a unified and nostalgic version of the past. At the same time, however, the Pieds-Noirs' compulsion to return compromises these efforts. Taking Albert Camus's Le Mythe de Sisyphe and his subsequent essays on ruins as a metaphor for Pied-Noir identity, this book studies autobiographical accounts by Marie Cardinal, Jacques Derrida, Hélène Cixous, and Leïla Sebbar, as well as lesser-known Algerian-born French citizens, to analyze movement as a destabilizing and productive approach to the past.

Excerpt

In preparation for yet another move to another country, in late 2010 I began sifting through my belongings and letting go of what I could not take with me. As part of that effort, I reviewed videos of my travels and my family that had been stored on a camera for more than five years. As I watched the moving images of people who are no longer a part of my life and places I had forgotten, the experience of viewing what was not originally seen and long since forgotten recalled my vicarious returns to Algeria. Having never been to Algeria myself, my experience of the country is intertwined with shared memories from the Pied-Noir community and Algerians living in France. In 2007 I attended the Amicale de Saïda’s eighteenth reunion in Toulouse, France. Five-hundred PiedsNoirs, along with their friends and family, came together to watch Saïda, on revient ! Sur les pas de notre enfance, an amateur film chronicling a return voyage to Saïda, Algeria, undertaken by numerous members of the association in 2006. The shaking amateur footage assembled from the cameras of multiple travelers attempted to offer a unified trip back in time. I struggled through my motion sickness to see Algeria, as it is and as it was. The Pieds-Noirs both on the screen and in the audience called out their recognition of the places of their past. Although the tension between what was being displayed on the screen and what the audience (as well as the travelers in the film) were seeing was apparent to me . . .

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