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  • “I See Myself Elsewhere”:The Works of Marie Cardinal and Assia Djebar
  • Tzu-Shiow Chuang

Homi Bhabha once said in The Location of Culture, “Remembering is never a quiet act of introspection or retrospection. It is a painful re-membering, a putting together of the dismembered past to make sense of the trauma of the present” (90). It is through this “painful re-membering” that this study brings together the works of two contemporary francophone women writers from Algeria, Marie Cardinal and Assia Djebar. Writing outside Algeria, Cardinal and Djebar engage in a retrospective recollection of their traumatic past inflicted by the sociopolitical influences of France’s colonialism and Algeria’s post-independent terrorism. In Au Pays de mes racines (1980), the Algerian-born French writer Cardinal remembers her past during her trip back to Algeria, where she reconnects with her lost motherland twenty-four years after being expatriated at the outbreak of the Algerian war of independence. In Le Blanc de l’Algérie (1995), Franco-Algerian writer Djebar addresses an immediate demand of memory of the lives of her friends murdered by Islamic fundamentalists in Algeria’s civil conflict. The urge to remember the painful past of Algeria’s history and their respective personal lives becomes the motif for these two authors’ writings, in which they both seek to create a space where their sense of being can go beyond restrictions of gender, exclusivism of the other, and French or Algerian nationalism.

Cardinal was born to a wealthy family of French settlers in Algeria and raised in the context of a colonialist culture and Catholic ideology. As a pied-noir exiled involuntarily from her birthplace, Cardinal feels both French and Algerian and, paradoxically, neither French nor Algerian. Cardinal’s double consciousness and in-between existence is echoed by Djebar, as the latter writes in French, which is seen as an act of betrayal under the control of post-independent Algeria’s regime, whose monolingualism of Arabic leads to the horrific victimization of the Algerian intelligentsia. Djebar is of Arab-Berber descent, a daughter of a Muslim family. However, [End Page 18] she received a French education supported by her father. Writing in French outside of Algeria, Djebar suffers the pain of dislocation and exile. Although Cardinal and Djebar appear distinct from each other when placed within an ethnic and political context, they both share an inner struggle of biculturalism, which results in them a sense of displacement. Through their memoirs, they both strive to reconcile with their French and Algerian origins.

This paper will examine how Cardinal and Djebar create a textual site to express their displaced “I” and how they use their geographic and social position as outsiders to critically analyze the sociopolitical problems in both cultures to offer their vision of a pluralistic Algeria acting as a counter-discourse against French or Algerian monolithic discourses.

A Place Forever Called Home in Cardinal’s Au Pays de mes racines

In her study of nostalgia in Pied-Noir literature, Amy Hubbell contends that while some expatriated pieds-noirs choose to return to Algeria to relive their past, others refuse to revisit the country in fear of facing a changed Algeria. An example of the latter is Hélène Cixous, who is unwilling to return to her birthplace because she wants to conserve her “virginal memory of the past” (66). Unlike Cixous, Cardinal declares her urgent need to return to Algeria, as she feels an ineffable “necessity” to search for something beyond “the order of reason” in the country from which she was violently separated. Au Pays de mes racines begins with her declaration of this urgency: “Nécessité de partir là-bas. D’y retourner.…Ce que je vais chercher n’appartient pas…à l’ordre de la raison.…Non, c’est quelque chose qui vient de la terre, du ciel et de la mer que je veux rejoindre” (7). Au Pays is a travel journal in which Cardinal describes her complex feelings about her two-week trip back to Algeria after living a twenty-four-year nomadic existence between Europe and North America. Through her autobiographical travelogue, the author attempts...


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