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Mimicry, Mixed Couples, and Odalisques: A Hybrid Re-membering of the French Republic Peter Stranges SHÉRAZADE, the teenage heroine of Leila Sebbar's Shérazade, 17 ans, brune, frisée, les yeux verts cultivates an ambiguous relationship with French (neo)Orientalism, a masculinist/colonialist discourse of domination . Shifting between complicity and oppositionality,1 this Beur runaway challenges, appropriates, and rescripts the reductive labels the social mainstream imposes on her. In order to neutralize what Anne Donadey refers to as the "epistemic violence" French Orientalism commits by objectifying its Arab Other (117), Shérazade mimics odalisque paintings and other discursive configurations of hegemony. Shérazade's mimicry—a hybrid stance of identification and distance—is hardly an internalization of Western stereotypes.2 Rather, the Beur employs mimicry to "[repeat] an Orientalist discourse with a difference" (Donadey 103). Mimicry, as repetition with a difference, brings to exotic clichés an excess of meaning that "highlight[s] the presence and agency of the Algerian people" (107). By rewriting the Other as the Same, mimicry deconstructs the hierarchy between master and slave, colonizer and colonized, native-born and newcomer. Shérazade's mimicry of exotic clichés turns Orientalism's rock-solid binarisms into rubble. From this discursive mess, Leila Sebbar's runaway reconstitutes colonial era odalisques as paradigms of her own hybrid, open-ended subjectivity . Destroying Orientalism's binary coded language also enables Shérazade to reterritorialize France's self-image as hybrid. Allegorical figures of a multicultural polity, Shérazade's rescripted odalisques remind France's mainstream and minority communities that, despite their cultural differences, they occupy a common ground. Colonialism has bequeathed the French and Algerians a shared past, present, and—most importantly—a future. While reconciliation— the recognition of common ground—is a long, painful road marked by xenophobic detours, Shérazade's social and aesthetic interactions demonstrate that Franco-Arabic dialogue is the only path that leads to the creation of a more just and equitable French Republic. Remembering hybridity—past and present—is a necessary first step towards re-membering France's divisive communities. Shérazade's complicated relationship with her neo-Orientalist boyfriend, Julien, is an apt metaphor for the laborious process of reconciliation through cross-cultural dialogue. Shérazade stays with the pied-noir because, despite Vol. XLIII, No. 1 81 L'Esprit Créateur the threat of epistemic violence, he contributes to her hybrid subjectivity. He exposes her to aesthetic components from both coasts of her colonial heritage, such as Arabic poetry, Matisse's paintings, Wagner's opera, and Marc Garanger's war photography. Without him, she would lack the material necessary for rewriting the collective identity. Cross-cultural exchange also alters the hegemonic culture's self-image. Shérazade's growing complicity with Orientalist art positions her to mimic her pied-noir companion's stereotypical views of Arab women. Recasting odalisques as real postcolonial subjects—as clichés imbued with an excess of meaning—Shérazade effectively rewrites Julien's hegemonic relationship with the Other as sameness. During one of their many visits to the Louvre, Shérazade interrupts Julien with a question about the Algerian war as he extracts the Orientalist quintessence —the otherness —from Eugène Delacroix's Femmes d'Alger. This question disrupts his hegemonic discourse, a discourse that masters the Other by "making statements about it," "authorizing views of it," and "teaching it'": in a counter-hegemonic move, she asks her teacher, "[EJt la guerre?"4—aiming to unmask Orientalism's epistemic violence and to suggest the Other's resistance to it. "Et la guerre?" is also an identitarian question. On a personal level, it expresses a teenager's curiosity about her colonial past and postcolonial present . As Donadey points out, the Algerian war was the apotheosis of centuries of Franco-Arabic conflict. It was also the founding event of Algeria's independence , the Fifth Republic, and the North African diaspora to the Hexagon (15). This occluded event informs Shérazade's past and present. Shérazade's query is also a commemorative gesture intended to orient France's divisive communities towards a more unified national identity. Through this interrogative , Shérazade undogmatically asks the French and Algerians to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 81-89
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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