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The Colonial City and the Question of Borders: Albert Camus's Allegory of Oran David Carroll "Camus is an Algerian Writer."—Mohamed Dib1 FOR NUMEROUS HISTORICAL, ECONOMIC, AND POLITICAL REASONS, hybridity and the modern city seem inseparable. It would be difficult to think of what a modem city would be like if it were not cosmopolitan, hybrid, culturally diverse. The idea of a completely homogeneous city, a city where everyone was of the same linguistic, cultural, religious , and ethnic background would have to be considered at best incredibly boring (isn't that what suburbs are for?), and at worst a nightmare, sheer horror, part of a brave new world only imaginable as the horrible result of some form of nationalist, religious, cultural, or ethnic "cleansing." Cities of course are constituted not just by external borders separating them from the suburbs or banlieue where the well-to-do have fled or the poor have been driven, but also by numerous intemal borders which are called either neighborhoods , boroughs, villages or arrondissements, on the one hand, or barrios or ghettos, on the other. In the French colonies of North Africa these borders separated distinct areas that had names such as la cité européenne, la Casbah, le village nègre, or le quartier juif, names that left little ambiguity as to which segments of the population lived in each of them. During colonialism, these intemal borders delineated, and in postcolonial cities today they in fact continue to delineate , areas where peoples from specific ethnic, economic, linguistic, religious, and cultural backgrounds, by choice or necessity, live in miniature cities within the city, both as a part of the city and apart from the city as a whole. In colonial cities passages across the borders separating the neighborhoods of colonizer and colonized were of course severely limited and closely monitored, at least in terms of the colonized. But we need to ask ourselves exactly how such borders differed from those in the postcolonial cities we now inhabit. It might even be possible to argue that there is something profoundly colonialist about the modem city itself, something that was part of the very formation of the intemal borders within modem cities and that persists after the demise of colonialism. The differences between the intemal borders of the colonial city and the postcolonial city could even be argued to be not of nature but of degree, primarily having to do with how closed the intemal and 88 Fall 2001 Carroll external borders are and how difficult (or at times impossible) it is to move back and forth across them. In other words, in what ways and how severely borders were and still are policed and how the rights of residency and passage across borders are guaranteed or denied to specific populations. But I also would suggest that the circulation, exchanges, and passages across or around borders in the city have always been more unpredictable and uncontrollable than political authorities, police or military forces, economic determinants, or ethnic, religious, and cultural restrictions or prohibitions would have allowed—not only in the postcolonial era but also, although certainly not to the same extent, already under colonialism itself, no matter how segregated colonialist societies necessarily were. Do these passages across ethnic, cultural, religious, and economic borders, I wonder, also reflect something fundamental about colonialism, a post- or anti-colonialist possibility the colonized city itself also possessed? A possibility that our cities still possess but have not yet fully realized, a possibility (or hope) that arises because peoples from different cultures live and work next to each other, no matter how unequal their economic and political status, and interact in various ways, not all of which are or can be determined by economics, the values imposed by the dominant culture(s), or the laws of civil and military powers? It is above all in the city that the hope arises or simply the necessity exists that the different peoples sharing/dividing up its space will not just oppress, exploit, and do violence to each other because of their differences and the borders separating them and privileging certain groups over others. The hope is also that they will learn and borrow...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 88-104
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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