Frequently mentioned but almost never shown, Algeria haunts the margins of the Balzac's La Comédie humaine in unexamined ways. This article considers the epistemological and representational stakes of that absent presence. Algeria, I argue, exposes a number of fissures in a nascent Balzacian realism. Functioning as a metonym and repository for the tendency over time of class encounters to produce unclassifiable results, the colony works to contain—and exacerbate—a creeping breakdown in signification at the heart of the Balzacian project. It also figures the limits of the spatial poetics so key to Balzac's panoramic ambitions. All of this, I conclude, symptomizes a basic disjuncture between the colonial periphery and realism's capacity for representing it, and helps explain the relative paucity of colonial settings in Balzac's work and in that of his realist inheritors.


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pp. 35-56
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