Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Specters of Orientalism in France, Algeria, and Postcolonial Studies

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Specters of Orientalism in France, Algeria, and Postcolonial Studies

Article excerpt

In that double-figure which haunted the moment of the enlightenment in its relation to the otherness of the Other, you can see the historical formation of the time-lag of modernity.

Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture

Can there ever be anything other than a distorting and manipulating orientalism, trading nostalgically on its own past, perhaps, but mortally wounded by the very deconstructive instruments that it has helpedto forge.

J.J. Clarke, Oriental Enlightenment

In an essay on Algeria found at the end of a recent issue of Le Nouvel Observateur bearing the title "La France, c'est l'Algerie," Bernard Frank laments the impossiblities of a dispassionate French interest in Algeria in the postcolonial era, an interest that would be somehow untainted by the specters of French orientalist and colonial history. Evoking the recent history of Algerian immigration and the suspect nature of postcolonial French desire for cultural exchange with Algeria, Frank expresses the wish of many French to visit the former colony: "Pas en conquerants, pas en civilateurs, pas en touristes, pas en medecins sans frontiers [...]pour le plaisir. [...] Je n'ai jamais de ma vie en Algerie. J'aimerais bien enfin y aller. Sans idee derriere la tete. [...] C'etait, parait-il, si beau l'Algerie. C'est curieux, on en parle toujours au passe. Ou comme s'il s'agissait d'un fait divers" (66). Referring to the phantom heritage of the colonial era accompanied by what Edward Said terms an underlying "imaginat ive geography," those orientalist impulses that generated phantasmic images and desires of Algeria. Frank's observations on the predicament of contemporary Franco-Algerian relations point, in many ways, to dilemmas one finds in many of the attempts of those working in the field of postcolonial studies to approach the "Orient" and, in particular, Algeria, innocuously and with contemporaneity (Reflections 199).

As an oppositional practice seeking to unveil the repressed histories of colonialism and to return them to the realm of postcolonial consciousness, postcolonial studies performs a belated exercise of recovery that presents knowledge of Europe's guilty past. In bringing repressed colonial histories to light, much of this work rightly suggests a collaboration among the ghosts of colonial and orientalist domination in contemporary cultural division, particularly in Algeria and France. Yet, little critical attention has been paid to the theorization of postcolonial studies as an effective oppositional practice in relation to the edification or reinscription of what one might term, following Pierre Nora, an orientalist lieu de memoire, within a postcolonial context marked by European guilt and Algerian victimization (23).

Given its own present conflicts and the prominent role it played and continues to play in orientalist history and in France's imperialist heritage, Algeria presents a particularly important case study. With the influx of thousands of Algerian immigrants in France and the specters of French colonialism lingering in Algeria, discussion of postcolonial Franco-Algerian relations seems to remain inevitably linked to the colonial past, confirming Ella Shohat's observations that "the postcolonial implies a narrative of progression in which colonialism remains the central point of reference" (133). As a driving discourse of colonial culture, orientalism, too, remains a fixed point of reference in postcolonial criticism, reappearing in the form of past images and fantasies to haunt the contemporary cultural scene.

The motif of haunting and spectrality evoked here is particularly relevant to contemporary notions of postcolonial and Franco-Algerian cultural relations because the invisible yet perceived persistence of a colonial past and desire linked to orientalist practice continues to condition both postcolonial and Franco-Algerian relations as well as critical responses to them. …

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