- Narrating the Tribe: Rachid Mimouni and Dystopia
Mais il y a également, conjointement aux urgences matérielles de toutes sortes, une tâche dont la nécessité ne peut souffrir, elle non plus, aucun délai: libérer la parole. Non pas la parole opprimée, ni la parole d’une majorité empêchée par une minorité. Non. Mais la parole emprisonnée par nous-mêmes, la parole séquestrée en nous; cette parole bloquée dans les replis des couches génétiques et historiques de notre société et qui ne guette que l’occasion de fuser à l’air libre. Car elle est là, tapie dans l’ombre des siècles, et elle attend, comme effrayée d’elle-même et de sa puissance.
There is also, along with the urgency of all sorts of material matters, a task so needful that it cannot allow, any more than the others, any delay: liberating speech. Not oppressed speech, or the speech of a majority hindered by a minority. No. Instead, the speech that we ourselves have imprisoned, the speech sequestered within us; the speech that is trapped in the folds of genetic and historical layerings of our society and that is simply waiting for an opportunity to shoot like a rocket into the open air. And there it is, shut away in the shadow of the centuries, waiting, as if afraid of itself and its power.—Kaddour Zouilaï, “L’individu algérien” (151–52)
Civil war, dissidence, a strategy of intimidation and rationalized terror: political observers and historians have not failed to enumerate the political forces involved when the contemporary Algerian crisis arose. Recent accounts can shed light on the bitter landscape of Mimouni’s fiction. 1 It is nonetheless clear that beyond the ideological and strategic divergences that separate these accounts, they all agree on the necessity of restructuring the relationship with the past, the need to get beyond the conflictual opposition between individual and community, as well as that of liberating “la parole séquestrée en nous; cette parole bloquée dans les replis des couches génétiques et historiques de notre société et qui ne guette que l’occasion de fuser à l’air libre” / “the speech that is trapped in the folds of genetic and historical layerings of our society and that is simply waiting for an opportunity to shoot like a rocket into the open air” (from the epigraph by Zouilaï, above).
This whole history of imprisoned speech, this need “[de] retrouver cette part essentielle mais subtile de vous-mêmes . . . d’apprendre à déchiffrer notre idiome” / “to rediscover that essential but subtle part of yourselves . . . [to] learn to decipher our idiom” (HT 10/10) set the writings [End Page 135] of Rachid Mimouni in motion. It is no accident that as “nostalgic” narratives—in the strictest etymological sense of “nostalgia” (nostos, return; -algie, pain)—Mimouni’s novels are founded precisely on the narratological mode of analepsis (“carrying back” or “recollection”). They also proceed from a hypersensitive awareness of history. The disillusionment grows deeper with each novel, sounding the death knell of a doomed project, voicing the anti-utopian knowledge that the democratic process has failed, that it has been usurped by the political forces of centralization and by corruption. Thus, long before the crisis of the 1990s, in book after book Mimouni delivers a rigorous indictment of a national history commandeered away from its progressivist premises toward violence and tyranny. He creates the allegorical documentation of history immobilized, stripped of its humanity and ready to be recuperated as Official History (Naïr 926).
The general outline of this anti-utopian narrative of a gangrenous democracy and of the corrupting force of power is easily noted from one text to the next. In a Nietzschean caricature of the true masters—those who come to attain “la conscience pure des bêtes de proie” ‘clear conscience of beasts of prey’ (Peine 7)—from the beginning, the writings of Mimouni place on stage the tyrannical spirit that will overthrow the hope of the revolution and that will destroy the dream of...