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The Reparative in Narratives

The authors studied in this book can be visualized as the islands that constitute an unknown, fragile and trembling literary and cultural Francophone archipelago. The archipelago does not appear on any map, in the middle of an ocean whose name we already know. No Francophone anthology would put these authors together as a matter of course because what connects them is a narrative grammar rather than a national origin or even a language. Yet, their writing techniques and their apprehension of the real (the ways in which they know and name the world) both reflect and actively participate in our evolving perception of what Gayatri Spivak calls the "planet". The Reparative in Narratives argues that argue that they repair trauma through writing. One description of these awe-inspiring, tender and sometimes horrifying tales is that their narrators are survivors who have experienced and sometimes inflicted unspeakable acts of violence. And yet, ultimately, despair, nihilism, cynicism or silence are never the consequences of their encounter with what some quickly call evil. The traumatic event has not killed them and has not killed their desire to write or perform, although the decidedly altered life that they live in the aftermath of the disaster forces them to become different types of storytellers. They are the first-person narrators of their story, and their narration reinvents them as speaking subjects. In turn, this requires that we accept new reading pacts. That pact is a temporal and geographical signature: the reparative narrative needs readers prepared to accept that healing belongs to the realm of possibilities and that exposure and denunciation do not exhaust the victim's range of possibilities. Rosello contends that this context-specific yet repeating pattern constitutes a response to the contemporary figuration of both globalized and extremely localized types of traumatic memories.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements Introduction: From the Debate on `Repentance' to the Reparative in Memorial Narratives 1. Algerian Humour: `Jay Translating' Words and Silences 2. Rene-Nicolas Ehni: Matricide and Deicide as Figures of Unforgivable Violence and Redemption during the Algerian War of Independence 3. The Truth of False Testimonies: False Brothers in Michael Haneke's Cache 4. Gisele Halimi's Autobiographical and Legal Narratives: Doing to Trees what They Did to Me Conclusion: Repentance and Detective Fiction: Legal Powerlessness and the Power of Narratives Notes Bibliography Index

About the Author

Mireille D. Rosello is Chair of the Program of Comparative Studies at the University of Amsterdam and was previously Professor of French literature and comparative literary studies at Northwestern University. Her many books include 'Postcolonial Hospitality' (Stanford University Press, 2001), and 'France and the Maghreb: Performative Encounters' (University of Florida Press, 2005).


The question of France's colonial past and its memorialization in the present day remains one of the nation's most challenging issues. France is far from alone in its struggle to come to terms with the legacies of colonialism, but it has become notorious for its apparent reticence to do so. As this excellent book shows, however, the 'colonial fracture' cannot begin to be repaired without a full and open national conversation about the past of genocide and torture and its meanings in the present. Mireille Rosello taps into what has become a 'cacophonous ensemble of voices' (p. 3) working to reveal or suppress the memories of French colonialism, and particularly of the Algerian War. The originality of Rosello's approach lies in seeking to go beyond the 'disciplinary melancholy' (p. 3) created by the resurfacing of past unresolved traumas in the present. Searching for the 'reparative' in texts on French colonialism is presented here as a step beyond the recuperation and study of trauma. The reparative is also a movement away from the debates around 'repentance', the for-and-against arguments on contrition and atonement that for Rosello constitute a 'false dilemma' (p. 5). The reparative - a concept adapted from the work of Eve Sedgwick - promises to redefine the parameters of the memory debate by avoiding the 'rhetorical trap' (p. 6) of repentance, and proposes a 'working through' of memory rather than the constant argument and counter-argument that characterize the repentance debates. It is a process of recapturing and recovering memory without pretending to 'fix' the past or restore individuals or communities to a state of plenitude. Indeed, the narratives that Rosello analyses often give up on the idea that the past can be repaired, and accept that the 'harm is done'. These narratives are not confined to literary works, but extend to comedy, cinema, theatre, and legal discourse. The broad scope of Rosello's analyses is a further highly original aspect of the work, and together the four chapters constitute a particularly rich exploration of the reparative and its possible uses in diverse fields. The first chapter deals with the Algerian humorist Fellag, and focuses on issues of multilingualism and his use of language to disrupt power relations between 'native' French and their Maghrebian others. The second chapter turns to Nicolas Ehni's Alge'rie roman, and identifies in this novel, written from the perspective of the torturer, questions on the limits of forgiveness and reparation. Chapter 3 carries out a comparative analysis of the films Cache' and Indige'nes, and argues that the former offers more potential for collective memorial reparation. The final chapter reflects on the work of the lawyer Gise'le Hamini and her particular battles with colonial violence. While the book focuses on North Africa, its subtle and convincing arguments on history, testimony, and memory will have significant ramifications for similar debates relating to other areas of the post-colonial world. Engagingly written and brilliantly argued, this is a landmark work that will shape critical thinking on memory and colonialism in France and beyond. Engagingly written and brilliantly argued, this is a landmark work that will shape critical thinking on memory and colonialism in France and beyond.

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