Algerian Women and the Traumatic Decade: Literary Interventions
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Algerian Women and the Traumatic Decade
Literary Interventions

Discourses of trauma are common in Algerian literature and are inseparable from the political, social, and economic situation of the country. This article seeks to challenge official narratives and to highlight discourses of trauma in relation to two aspects of such discourses. The first is about the way Algerian women writers have coped with the traumatic history of Algeria and used writing to remember, to heal, to construct, and to unveil layers of history. The second is about celebrating polylingualism and multiculturalism and promoting the variety of languages used to dismantle the hegemonic narratives of the past (precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial).

Polyglossia in Algeria is not new; it did not start with French colonialism but rather goes back to Greek and Roman invasions of the Berber territories, followed by those of the Arabs in the 600s: "From this moment until the 12th century, Berber, Arabic, and Latin were used in Algeria. Turkish and Spanish invasions from the fifteen[th] century onwards added to the already present linguistic pluralism."1 Linguistic trauma narratives can be understood only within the long histories of trauma, with local cultural, religious, gender, and social oppressions in mind. In this article, special attention will be given to the Algerian civil war of the 1990s, known as the Black Decade, which has been eclipsed from memory and remains unknown to this date due to the Amnesty Law (1999, 2005), [End Page 41] which forbids Algerians from dealing with that period. I also provide the historical context that led up to the 1990s, followed by theoretical reflections on trauma in literary narratives. The final section is an analysis of selected Algerian women's writings, including Fadhila Al Farouq's novel Taa al khajal (1998), written in Arabic,2 and Assia Djebar's three novels written in French, as reactions to the civil war: Le blanc de l'Algérie (The white of Algeria, 1995), Vaste est la prison (So vast the prison, 1995), and Oran, langue morte (Oran, dead language, 1997). I also mention Ahlem Mosteghanemi's novel Dhakirat al-jasad (Memory in the flesh, 1993) to illustrate and challenge narratives of the colonial past in a comparative way. This selection of novels purposefully illustrates Algerian trauma narratives in literature written in Arabic as well as in French, with the aim of establishing whether language choice influences the textualization of the content. Furthermore, the comparison between the three writers exposes two different historical periods in Algerian history (the War of Independence and the Civil War). For example, Al Farouq's novel deals with the conflict in the 1990s and highlights rape as a recurrent theme in the history of Algeria. As a specifically sensitive issue, loaded with cultural assumptions and values, rape is chosen in this study not only to construct discursive narratives of trauma but equally to highlight other trauma narratives that are woven into the fabric of Algerian society, like patriarchal discourses and regionalism, which are accepted and normalized. In other words, while rape is the overarching theme in Al Farouq's novel, other, equally important, traumas are embedded in Algerian society and need to be shown as social traumas.

A War That Refuses to Speak Its Name?

The history of Algeria's colonial era and its war of liberation are well known and well documented, as is the complex social situation in postindependence Algeria, which eventually gave the Front de Liberation National (FLN) complete control of the country.3 The FLN was responsible for narrating and formulating the official historiography of independent Algeria and "set out to decolonise history."4 The official war of liberation narratives were framed by what is also known as "the Arabophone intellectual elites' role in shaping national history."5 In practice, this meant that narratives of war became the work of men only. The two points raised in [End Page 42] this section (the FLN's power and the male/masculine system of the "decolonization of history") seem to be separate. In reality they are not only interrelated, as I will show, but also extremely complex, and they represent the core of a struggle in independent Algeria.

The question...