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  • Healing the Wounds of the Algerian Revolution in Assia Djebar’s Women of Algiers in their Apartment
  • Michael J. Rulon (bio)

The history of colonialism and its aftermath is a history of violence and war. Certainly, this includes physical violence and conventional warfare, but to acknowledge such violence is to acknowledge only a part of the damage of colonialism. As Martinican-born psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon observes, colonialism is a form of insidious psychic and social violence, and the process of decolonization is a form of counter-violence. In the opening to his work, The Wretched of the Earth (1963), he postulates that:

National liberation, national reawakening, restoration of the nation to the people or Commonwealth, whatever name is used, whatever the latest expression, decolonization is always a violent event. At whatever level we study it…decolonization is quite simply the substitution of one “species” of mankind for another. … In actual fact, proof of success lies in a social fabric that has been changed inside out. … The need for this change exists in a raw, repressed, and reckless state in the lives and consciousness of colonized men and women.

(Fanon 1963, 1)

Colonialism is, at its most fundamental level, a form of warfare against the psyche and the self of the colonized. Although the physical violence of colonization is much more visible, it is intimately intertwined with the psychic violence, and this multifaceted attack on the colonized is essential to the colonial project. In order for a person to be colonized, the colonized person’s sense of self must be destroyed in order to replace the pre-colonial self with a new, broken, colonized self. But colonialism attacks not only the individual self; as Fanon notes, the colonial project also targets the collective self. Colonialism is an attack against the societal bonds that form a people. In some cases the colonizer attacks the economic, social, and political structures that create a cohesive society of individuals and replaces them with structures that place the colonized people in a subordinate position to that of the colonizing power. The collective self must be destroyed in order to replace it with a new, subservient collective self that is subsumed by the imperial [End Page 225] identity. In other cases, the colonizing power imposes a collective identity on a group of people that previously had no national identity or sense of collective self beyond family or perhaps tribe. Regardless, the act of colonization forces a collective identity that fundamentally alters the construction of self-hood. Decolonization is thus a form of counter-violence that consists of both the rejection of the colonized self and the re-formation of an independent self. Decolonization is a form of two-pronged warfare that consists of both destruction—the destruction of the oppressive power—and healing.

Whereas Fanon goes into great detail in discussing the violence of decolonization, the question of healing remains contentious and unresolved. At what point and by what means does the violence end, and how does a people go about building a sense of a collective postcolonial self? What power structures come into place as the new society develops? What is the relation between the individual and the society? The purpose of this article is to examine the ways in which this healing takes place within literature of the Algerian Revolution, specifically Assia Djebar’s 1980 novella, “Women of Algiers in their Apartment.” Based on Suad Joseph’s concept of intimate selving, this article will identify the ways in which female characters have been wounded by the revolution and then identify the means by which these characters are able to heal these wounds.

Though women have played diverse roles in warfare throughout history—roles that span both the military and the domestic/civilian—it is only in recent years that these roles have been made visible and examined by scholars and the media. As miriam cooke and Roshni Rustomji-Kerns argue in their collection, Blood into Ink: South Asian and Middle Eastern Women Write War (1994), the omission of women’s stories from the war narrative occurs because war is a heavily gendered phenomenon. They explain, using World War II as an example:

Although stories of...


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