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MLN 122.4 (2007) 904-924

"Remains" of Algeria: Justice, Hospitality, Politics*
David Carroll
University of California, Irvine

The most personal of the things that were said moved me deeply, in particular everything that went back to my "remains" of Algeria [mes "restes" d'Algérie], what remains Algerian in me and keeps me Algerian.

Jacques Derrida (Rencontre de Rabat, 1996)1

A Judeo-Franco-Maghrebian genealogy does not clarify everything, far from it. But could I ever explain anything without it? No, nothing of what preoccupies me, engages me, keeps me in motion or in "communication," nothing of what summons me sometimes across the silent time of interrupted communications, nothing, moreover of what isolates me in a kind of almost involuntary retreat.

Monolingualism of the Other or the Prosthesis of Origin [End Page 904]


What remains after death of remains (restes) that were already remains well before death? What remains before death of what no longer was and therefore what could not continue to be and yet that nevertheless persists in some form to inform, to give form to something, to many things, although not to everything? What remains of remains when remains are all that remain?

In response to comments made during a conference at Rabat in 1996, Jacques Derrida admits that he was deeply moved by references made in a previous discussion to what he calls his "'remains' of Algeria." In Monolingualism of the Other, however, he acknowledges that after leaving Algeria for the first time in 1949, he felt he had to repress, and in fact thinks he did successfully repress, the most obvious exterior signs of his Algerian "roots." Not necessarily his accent when speaking French, the speed with which he talked, or the tone and volume of his voice,2 but rather, and more important, anything too explicitly "Algerian" that might appear in his writing, anything, one would imagine, that could be treated lightly or haughtily dismissed by the French philosophical and literary establishment, by his professors and then later by those who spoke and judged from a position of cultural superiority and authority, and acted as if they occupied the place of legitimate heirs of French thought and culture.

Derrida acknowledges that what was most important was to eliminate all written traces of Algeria, except, of course, when he himself explicitly acknowledged them: "I would like to hope, I would very much prefer, that no publication permit anything of 'my French of [or from] Algeria' [mon français d'Algérie] to appear. In the meantime, and until the contrary is proven, I do not believe that anyone can detect by reading, if I do not declare it myself, that I am 'a Frenchman of/from Algeria' [un Français d'Algérie]."3 His goal was thus to write [End Page 905] only "French" French," the French of French literature, culture, and thought, the French of "France," properly written by a proper French subject, with absolutely no traces (remains) of another French, a "French of Algeria" written by a "Frenchman of Algeria"—assuming, of course, there could be agreement both as to what "proper French" is and what "français d'Algérie" might look like.

Whatever "Algeria" meant to Derrida after he had left home for the first time in 1949 for that other land called France or "la Métropole,"4 and then after 1962 when Algeria was no longer his pays or that of the overwhelming majority of the French who had previously inhabited it, it could be argued that in many, if not most of his written texts, and increasingly in his later texts, and not only when overtly declared, "remains of Algeria" can in fact be discerned—certainly not in the way he writes French, in the impure "purity of his writing,"5 but evident, that is, readable, rather in the political commitments that take form and are manifested in his work. This is especially the case in the different texts in which the question of justice is linked to the condition of immigrants, refugees...


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