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  • French Orientalist Literature in Algeria, 1845–1882: Colonial Hauntings by Sage Goellner
  • Seth Graebner
French Orientalist Literature in Algeria, 1845–1882: Colonial Hauntings. By Sage Goellner. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2018. x + 135 pp.

Sage Goellner's book offers a new approach to literature sometimes dismissed as 'exoticist' or otherwise of secondary importance: the travel writing and fiction that represented North Africa to nineteenth-century French readers. Examining one text each by Théophile Gautier, Eugène Fromentin, Gustave Flaubert, and Pierre Loti, Goellner demonstrates the significance of the ghostly, haunted, supernatural, or otherwise disquieting episodes in literature from and about colonial Algeria. She argues that 'whether psychological, collective, or metaphysical, they demonstrate certain ambivalences about the new colony in texts that were to become classic illustrations of colonial French Orientalism' (p. 5). Her approach, inspired by Jacques Derrida's concept of 'hauntology', is novel in its application to colonial-era literature. In this book, its application is broad due to Goellner's definition of it, which appears quite expansive. The 'hauntological' field in this study seems at times to include virtually any gloomy or disquieting aspect of the studied texts: ghosts, but also the macabre generally; any atmosphere of darkness or uncertainty; and any element of pain or death, however sensed by the author or represented in the text. Corpses, torture victims, ghosts, and dim light are, equally, fodder for this analysis, although they do not all signify in the same way. Goellner does not do the extensive work needed in order to make really new claims about the literature in question: other scholars have already pointed out the ways in which these authors' depictions of North Africa were ambivalent, problematic, self-doubting, and not always as pro-colonial as their historical timing would imply. Goellner's work demonstrates rather that 'hauntological' analysis furnishes new explanations for these already known characteristics of the texts. Several features limit the author's conclusions. First, her study explicitly disclaims investigation of the history of haunting or other ghostly manifestations in nineteenth-century French culture, including in the other writings of authors represented in the monograph (p. 4 and p. 29, n. 29). Second, despite her claim to be 'focusing steadily on material from historical archives' (p. 8), Goellner makes very little reference to the large field of travel writing, journalism, topographical writing, and fiction representing Algeria but falling outside her corpus. The chapter on Flaubert's Salammbô does better, as it argues that the novel expresses 'France's ambivalence surrounding the events in Algeria in the first half of the nineteenth century' by echoing contemporary fears of a 'lost war buried in the defiles and sands of Africa' (pp. 68 and 69). Even here, however, a significant number of typographical errors and dubious or hasty translations undermine the work. In the book's Afterword, Goellner notes the way in which the colonial past continues to haunt the present in France, a trend that may demonstrate the relevance of the 'hauntological' in the face of Macron's efforts to do for the Algerian War what several of his predecessors did for Vichy. [End Page 325]

Seth Graebner
Washington University in St Louis


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