Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism

By Ewa M. Thompson | Go to book overview

4
The Central Asian Narrative in Russian Letters

In Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said presented an analysis of Albert Camus's novels that departs significantly from the canonical interpretation of the latter as a seeker of meaning in the meaningless world. Said's interpretation dislodged Camus from his customary existential setting and placed him in the context of French imperialism. In so doing, Said seriously disturbed the taxonomy within which a variety of critics, from traditionalists to deconstructionists, had left Camus for the foreseeable future. Instead of reasserting Camus's view on the human condition and reconfirming the validity of his modern antiheroes, Said reminded us that the plots of two of Camus novels, The Stranger [ L'Etranger] ( 1942) and The Plague [ La Peste] ( 1947), unfold in Algeria and that their major protagonists are French colonialists; also, their point of reference is France rather than Algeria, and the experiences of the characters are French experiences. The narratives fit squarely within the tradition of French cultural history, while the history and traditions of the Arab world remain suppressed. True, remarks Said, Mersault kills an Arab, but "this Arab is not named and seems to be without a history, let alone a mother and father."1 Similarly, in The Plague the leading French characters have names and histories, whereas the Arabs are largely nameless and faceless. This, contends Said, is one indication of how the geography of Algeria was politicized by Camus and of how instead of being a territory in which the Arabs acted out their history, Algeria became a background against which the French were invited to play yet another historical role, that of benevolent victors taking possession of a land without memory and inscribing the history of France onto it, while erasing the experience of the conquered peoples. In Camus's novels, much of what is pertinent to Algeria has been blocked off, and the reader is treated virtually exclusively to European perceptions and problems, as if it were possible to extend the boundaries of Europe by rhetorical proclamation and without the conscious consent of the people involved.

-109-

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Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgment vii
  • Introduction: - Nationalism, Colonialism, Identity 1
  • Notes 12
  • 1 - The Problem 15
  • Notes 47
  • 2 - Engendering Empire 53
  • Notes 81
  • 3 - The Consolidating Vision: War and Peace As the New Core Myth Of Russian Nationhood 85
  • Notes 106
  • 4 - The Central Asian Narrative In Russian Letters 109
  • Notes 125
  • 5 - Imperial Desire In the Late Soviet Period 129
  • Notes 150
  • 6 - Scholarship and Empire 153
  • Notes 193
  • 7 - Deconstructing Empire: Liudmila Petrushevskaia 199
  • Notes 221
  • Selected Bibliography 223
  • Index 233
  • About the Author *
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