Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Silence as Resistance in Pat Barker's Regeneration and Assia Djebar's Children of the New World

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Silence as Resistance in Pat Barker's Regeneration and Assia Djebar's Children of the New World

Article excerpt

Pat Barkers novel of 1991, Regeneration, and Assia Djebar's novel of 1962, Les Enfants du nouveau monde--translated as Children of the New World under the aegis of the City University of New York's Feminist Press in 2005 (1)--offer their readers hidden, or what Mary A. Favret has termed "negative," histories of the First World War and the Algerian War of Independence respectively (2010, 145). Both authors reveal how war is present in the apparently safe domestic spaces conventionally characterized as nurturing, such as the hospital and the family home, and both propose a feminized resistance to war that takes silence as its most powerful weapon. My inquiry begins by considering Regeneration in order to develop a theory of silence as resistance in the context of a war in which physical coercion akin to torture was an unrecognized and murky component of the military's internal functioning. The dominant presence of the psychiatrist Dr. W. H. R. Rivers in Regeneration, however, may seem to leave little room for the literary critic to perform much further analysis in a novel in which images and dialogue are the continual subject of extremely specific interpretations. Barker's project, however, opens up important questions at stake in the far more elusive and formally complex Children of the New World, to which I will turn in the latter half of my essay. I have drawn on the substantial body of theory that has emerged since the Holocaust--such as the work of Giorgio Agamben (1999), Anne Cubilie (2005), and James Dawes (2002)--that considers language's role in war and suffering through the paradigm of the witness. Where such work emphasizes the importance of bearing witness, my argument suggests that the possibility of not speaking is an equally valuable act of resistance in the face of war and the atrocities it inevitably causes.

Despite the increasing prohibitions established by international law in the twentieth century, warfare continues to affect noncombatant populations. Physical violence is frequently visited upon individuals who are perceived as enemies of the state, regardless of their apparent status as civilians, in a form of war that is unseen and sometimes even undeclared. Often such violence takes place in a structure of dominance that revokes any potential agency on the part of the victims. Barker and Djebar try to represent the experiences of these unseen participants of war through their consideration of feminized silence, not only as "an enforced position" but also as "a strategic choice" (Glenn 2004, 13). In light of efforts by scholars of rhetoric like Cheryl Glenn to reclaim the role of women and the potential force of silence, the ways in which these novelists write the silent voices of war come more clearly into focus. Barker and Djebar entreat their readers, as Adrienne Rich put it, not to "confuse" silence "with any kind of absence" but instead to recognize that "it has a history a form [sic]" (quoted in Glenn 2004,1). In this essay, then, I contend that Barker and Djebar work to find metaphorical voices through silence, particularly in the context of conflicts in which characters appear to be silenced as their particular subjectivities--voices that may or may not have been previously rendered as actually audible--are suppressed. A crucial issue in these novels is whether speakers choose silence or have silence forced upon them. By virtue of their novelistic form, these texts can represent the unvoiced thoughts and feelings of their characters. In Children of the New World these are indicated by quotation marks that represent internal monologues. (2) Similarly, in the closing pages of the novel, a character prepares herself to respond with "silence, immuring silence ... refusal ... challenge" (CNW197).These ellipses in the original text finally figure silence as a script like the "mysterious but lethal script" the planes draw over the mountains of Algeria (1). The novel form might seem to be fundamentally opposed to silence, but Djebar, in particular, makes silence legible through extra-linguistic markers. …

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