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Mapping Memory: Architectural Metaphors in Djebar's Unfinished Quartet Clarisse Zimra Notre histoire η 'a fait que s'effriter dans sa démarche. Elle ne peut nous arriver qu 'en débris. — Assia Djebar (YaIe symposium, April 2002) CAN MEMORY RECREATE A NATION? Or is the current civil war in Algeria revealing the final agony of a country so long divided against itself that it has lost the will to survive? Pondering the question on the occasion of the fortieth year of Algerian independence, some writers have argued that, given the persistently violent exercise of power in the homeland, one can no longer harbor any hope of a homecoming. ' Either suspect or suicidal, unfulfilled and surely unfulfillable, the wish to return delivers a metaphorical death sentence to intellectuals, along with—alas! —the all too real death sentences that have befallen so many. The prolonged bloodbath has foreclosed the birthing of the nation. Hence, there can no longer be an authentic "diasporic" writing—other than, perhaps, in the virtual "lieux de mémoire" erected by works that simultaneously intertwine real mourning with imaginary anamneses. Architectural metaphors abound in such texts, scriptural mausoleums that document not the end of history but its vanishing point, a lethal recession of absent origins. "Fiction, the head blown off (20), bemoans Assia Djebar in her closing dirge for Oran, langue morte.1 As Salman Rushdie has suggested, one way to reclaim the nation is to "write back" simultaneously to and against a violent epistemological center that postcoloniality has yet to dislodge. But there remains the very real temptation to reinscribe such binaries even while attempting to displace them. Desire shapes narratives torn between either paralyzing nostalgia or selfimmolation . It may well be that all that will remain of an Algeria in the throes of suicidal madness is this obsessive rewriting of something that could not come to pass. And this may explain why, in moving so ceaselessly over hallowed ground, Djebar's quartet-in-progress has yet to come to closure. Instead, it plunges ever further back and down into chthonic rememoration, from the ancestral Dara caves of the first colonial war in L'Amour, la fantasia (Paris: Lattes, 1985), to the African desert-womb in which Tin Hinan entombs herself in Vaste est la prison (Paris: Albin Michel, 1995). Her lethal reterritorialization , "Tin Hinan, ensevelie dans le ventre de l'Afrique" (Vaste 165), 58 Spring 2003 ZlMRA encapsulates the primal rebel, Yougourtha, raised in Rome by his conquerors and betrayed on ancestral ground by his own people. Given the present civil war, the political subtext is clear. Between oscillations that map centuries and invest an entire continent, the quartet pauses with Ombre sultane (Paris: Lattes, 1987) for a brief respite whose twice-twinned narrators explore a memory-space they cannot occupy. The fourth installment, to which the writer provisionally refers as "Les larmes de Saint Augustin," and on which she has been working these past five years, has yet to appear. It is to be devoutly wished that this narrative consumption remains deferred. For to write the nation thus would be to murder it anew—perhaps forever. The predicament does not call for an either/or choice but, rather, an either/and. Nostos/algos, the amnesia that silences its primal violence confronts the gaping ache of dispossession that will not close over itself. Guyana's Wilson Harris, the other diasporic practitioner of finished and unfinished quartets, has aptly called it "the wound of history," a condition that embraces madness as its attendant metaphysical double.3 Bensmai'a's Year of Passages (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1995) speaks to both. An analeptic textual scar stands here in lieu of— "au lieu de, " a pregnant and poignant spatial metaphor—that which it can neither locate nor replace; nor even, create. One might wonder where this leaves Assia Djebar, now exiled in spite of herself, "fugitive et ne le sachant pas." In her poetry, Djebar laments the massacres, "Raïs, Bentalha...," with repetitions that function like so many throbbing gestures of deferral.4 In Vaste est la prison, the third installment of the projected quartet, the memorial excavation undertaken in the first, L'Amour, la fantasia, seems to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 58-68
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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