Academic journal article Critical Studies

Community and the Politics of Memory

Academic journal article Critical Studies

Community and the Politics of Memory

Article excerpt

This essay reflects on the "politics of memory" essential to the construction of a national community in relation to Jacques Derrida's conception of the archive. To do so, it focuses precisely on two films by the Franco-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb (.Indigènes [Days of Glory], 2006, and Hors la loi [Outside the Law], 2010). These two fictional narratives try to draw a history of the origins of the Maghrebi community in France, opposing the usual French account of the same history. It will be posited here that Bouchareb's films place us, as spectators, in "a spectral moment, a moment that no longer belongs to time" (Derrida Specters xx). Moreover, meaningful spectral effects are provoked by the fact that Bouchareb chooses not only to create a historical reconstruction of the past, he also frames these films in two stereotyped genres while using the same actors to represent different characters in different historical periods.

As it is widely spread since Benedict Anderson's work, nation is a question of imagination: a nation stems from a narrative that establishes the nation's origins and destiny, and this narrative is presented as a true version of historical facts. At the same time, the individual feeling of belonging to a nation is created and fed by different types of narratives: political, folkloric, literary, musical, cinematic and culinary discourses, among others, contribute to shaping the feeling of being part of a historical community. Memory plays a crucial role in these discourses, since a nation must locate its roots in ancient times in order to reinforce this feeling of belonging in its members, and their belief in an entity that exceeds and subsumes them. "Historical memory" is thus a constituting essence of national communities; however, since this "collective memory" is conveyed by narratives, fact and fiction-if this distinction has still any meaning-melt together in those narratives, although most of them present themselves as true. Most people who feel themselves members of a national community do not acknowledge that what is presented and believed as truth has an ideological function, and that facts are always subjected to interpretation. This is why historical discourses are capable of provoking passionate controversies among non-specialists-and also among historians, of course.

A "politics of the archive" is also involved in this construction of national communities. As Jacques Derrida has stated, "there is no political power without control of the archive, if not of memory" (.Archive 4, note 1). In this passage, he also refers to the "patriarchive," involving gender in this politics of the archive. In French, "patriarchive" resonates not only with patriarchy, but also with patrie, the homeland. Not only are the majority of influential historians in France male, as Derrida mentions in this note, but, most importantly, the traditional historical discourse favors masculine figures and deeds in order to build a national narrative.

This essay will not, however, deal with historical academic discourses but with historical cinema, understood as that which focuses on relevant moments of the past and attempts to build a consciously ideological narrative, through fictional characters who appeal to the audience's emotions and, sometimes, to personal memories too. Cinema is especially interesting in relation to the politics of memory because they share a fundamental feature, according to Jacques Derrida: they both relate to mourning, at least when mourning consists of "attempting to ontologize remains, to make them present, in the first place by identifying the bodily remains and by localizing the dead" (Specters 9; his emphasis). Derrida claims that this mourning involves a "politics of memory" (xix). Moreover, in the interview "Le cinéma et ses fantômes" (The Cinema and its Phantoms), the philosopher links cinema and "spectrality," which results in an emphasis on the inherent presence of the dead-or of death itself-in cinema. …

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