When a poet dies, the entire earth shivers. The heart, then, catches cold and begins to rhyme its grief.—Idir, “Ameddyaz” (“The Death of a Poet”)
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This special issue devoted to Algeria brings together a culturally distinguished group of artists and scholars—writers, filmmakers, journalists, and academics (literary scholars, historians, anthropologists, psychoanalysts, and linguists)—-who have been writing on Algeria for decades, several for half a century. Over half of the contributors come from Algeria and attest to the ethnic, linguistic, and religious pluralism that is her heritage. They are joined by colleagues from Tunisia, France, Great Brit ain, Canada, and the United States.
In bringing together such a diverse group to reflect directly or indirectly on the question of dissidence as it pertains to Algeria, I have sought to move beyond the Manichean divisions that all too often characterize political discourse on Algeria today. If, indeed, “the line that divides progress from reaction, in the cultural sphere, does not coincide exactly with the dividing line in the political domain” (Vittorini 105), it behooves us to see what light a cultural analysis and critique that draws fro m such disciplines as literature, anthropology, linguistics, philosophy, history, psychoanalysis, and film theory sheds on Algeria. The inherent pluralism of Algeria, whose rich history and cultural heritage have placed her at the crossroads of Africa, th e Middle East, and Europe, is perhaps best served by an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural analysis that circumvents the polarizations of political discourse. 1
In a departure from our standard editorial line, this issue is framed by two poems. Assia Djebar, Algeria’s most prominent woman writer and film- maker, opens the issue with “RAÏS, BENTALHA . . . A Year Later.” An historian by training, Djebar is als o a novelist, dramatist, essayist, poet, and filmmaker. The closing poem, “Letter to the Silenced Voices,” is by the distinguished Tunisian poet, novelist, and literary scholar Hédi Bouraoui. The line that separates the poet from the prose writer, the novelist from the journalist or scholar, the writer from the filmmaker, and even the writer from the translator, is at best a tenuous one if we consider the works of Djebar, Bouraoui, Jean Daniel, Réda Bensmaïa, Tahar Djaout, Kateb Yacine, and others writing or written about here. The crossing over and blending of genres is, to a large degree, the result of the intermixing of languages and cultural traditions that characterize Algeria. But perhaps there is even more at stake in such a lite rary endeavor.
In his preface to Yamina Mechakra’s La grotte éclatée, Kateb Yacine remarks that this text is “a long prose poem that can be read like a novel,” but since it is written in French, it implies “a double alienation, writing a novel ‘to s neak in poetry,’ and addressing [one’s] fellow Algerians in a [End Page 1] foreign tongue” (7). The correlation between sneaking in poetry and writing in French merits reflection.
Several contributors address the language question, in particular, Djebar, Daniel, Réda Bensmaïa, and Tassadit Yacine (the editor of Awal, a journal devoted to Amazigh—Berber—culture). The intensive Arabization of Algeria has not only been directed against the French language, but also against Tamazight (the Berber language), and even spoken Algerian. Although the Kabyle composer/singer Lounès Matoub was assassinated on 25 June 1998, presumably by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), let us not forget that he was as much against the government’s politics of Arabization as he was against the fundamentalists. A “rebel” (see Matoub) in the true sense of the word, he sang of freedom in love and politics...