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The Face, the Nation: Vichy from Afar Steven Ungar C ALL THIS AN EDITORIAL. A return visit to Morocco this May after an absence of twenty-six years reminded me how much por­ traits of King Hassan II were integral to the spaces and rhythms of everyday life. Because Morocco remains an Islamic kingdom, the author­ ity invested in the king is singular and pervasive. Hassan II is very much a providential figure, both ruler and spiritual leader of the Moroccan peo­ ple. Photos of the king are literally everywhere. Not just in post offices, airports, and government buildings in the urban areas of Rabat, Fez, and Casablanca, but also on the walls of shops and cafés in remote moun­ tains and desert villages. Something in the royal portraits struck me as oppressive. Was I resisting an evolved cult of the strong leader? I tried to dismiss my uneasiness by telling myself that my reaction was probably no different from that of visitors to the United States who encountered official portraits of the American President displayed in government buildings. If I were Hassan II’s faithful subject, my response would be less self-conscious and, presumably, less resistant. Returning to the United States via Paris, I learned with some relief that my response to the photos was not isolated. What I had considered a personal reaction (overreaction?) was determined to a large extent by cultural specificity: “ Like others who have journeyed to Morocco, when walking down local streets I found myself gazing at the face of the cen­ tral monarch. In mountain hamlets, city markets, and desert camps, the king is powerfully present. Present in words, pictures, and deeds, he is occasionally present in person also.” 1Only after the fact do I see the extent to which my uneasiness about the power of the royal portrait in Morocco drew on an iconography related to France’s ongoing obsession with the memory of Vichy. In April 1992, furor over the dismissal of charges against alleged war criminal Paul Touvier led to a barrage of press and television coverage. The effect was uncanny. Images of Maréchal Philippe Pétain were suddenly on newsstands and television screens everywhere while headlines such as “ Maréchal, nous revoilà” extended the illusion of a time warp as minor nightmare. As a profusion of signs of the past circulated anew, it was mode rétro with a vengeance. The revived (renewed? recycled?) images of Pétain sent out minor Vo l . XXXIII, No. 1 111 L ’E s pr it C r éa teu r shock waves. The memories they conveyed were clearly more oppressive and more complex than the portraits of Hassan III saw a month later in Morocco. This was the case for at least two reasons. A first was that belatedness enhanced an interplay of difference and repetition, blurring distinctions between past and present as well as those between the real and the fictive. The undeniable separation of two moments in real time did not compensate for the jolt their simulated conjuncture produced, as illusory and as implausible as that conjuncture might be. Each image of the Maréchal was overdetermined, doubled in the signs of the recent past it imposed ever so briefly on the present. The effect was especially unset­ tling because these signs remain contested among a majority of those who were born after the liberation as well as among the surviving wit­ nesses who had lived it. What to do about—what to do with or to—Vichy? Fifty years after the fact, this question remains complex and unresolved. More to the point, it remains current: une question d ’actualité. Henry Rousso has argued forcefully that France’s evolving responses to the memory of the occupation amounted to an extended syndrome that has bordered on obsession.2 What Rousso called the Vichy syndrome was more than a brief postwar phenomenon. It extended instead to issues ranging from the rise of the Front National movement under Jean-Marie Le Pen to the status of charges against alleged war criminals such as Touvier and Klaus Barbie. These issues were real and specific; they could be debated on the basis of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 111-116
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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