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  • Absent the Archive: Cultural Traces of a Massacre in Paris, 17 October 1961 by Lia Brozgal
  • Patrick Lyons
Lia Brozgal. Absent the Archive: Cultural Traces of a Massacre in Paris, 17 October 1961. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2020. Pp. xiv + 351.

Lia Brozgal’s Absent the Archive provides a vast, richly detailed account of cultural production dedicated to an event that was repressed for decades in France: the massacre of scores of peacefully protesting Algerians by the Parisian police on October 17, 1961. In the sixty years following the massacre, an impressive, wide-ranging archive of cultural works—novels, documentaries, [End Page 168] films, performances, graphic novels, and internet experiments—has proliferated in several discernable waves, which Brozgal draws into a cohesive narrative about the ebb and flow of national memory.

Absent the Archive, however, is not a work of historiography per se. It is a book “about the value and function of literature and cultural production, about how they make the silences of history speak, and to what ends” (6). The book’s central intervention is to bring together a transhistorical and trans-medium collection of primary creative sources on the October massacre, “to articulate its internal divisions and to speculate on its synergies,” and to “make the anarchive visible” (24). Drawing upon—and moving beyond—work by Derrida in Archive Fever and Brian Massumi’s dispatches from his “Sense Lab,” Brozgal’s concept of the anarchive is situated oppositionally to the archive as an (often state-) institutionalized, orderly site, and opens onto a more chaotic assemblage, lacking authority or common origin. Many elements of the October 17 anarchive, in particular, emerged in the shadow of aggressive censorship, their recovery necessitating a “rogue form of historiography” (313). The guardian of the anarchive is the literary scholar, who gathers, interprets, and works to unravel and “make signify” (26) its composite elements.

In Chapter One, Brozgal periodizes cultural responses to the events of October 17 across three “waves”: immediate (and largely state-censored) impressions from 1961 to 1963, the “beginning to the end of forgetting” (40); from 1983 to 1999, a period marked by the trial of Maurice Papon; and a “Post-Papon” anarchive emerging from 1999 and continuing through to the present. Chapter Two focuses on the police archives: the story of their eventual declassification, Brozgal’s own experience in the archive, and the archives’ prominent role as indices of reality in “October 17 Fictions” (91). Chapters Three and Four consider October 17’s representation in terms of the urban space in which it unfolded. Of particular interest is Brozgal’s attention to the role of the Seine itself as a “witness” within the October 17 anarchive. Chapters Five and Six critically examine issues of race (and “race talk”) and the cultural memory of Vichy and the Holocaust as they intermingle with retellings of the October 17 massacre. In a brief epilogue, Brozgal points to the absence of the October 17 massacre in discourse following the November 13, 2015, terrorist attacks in Paris, the latter quickly named the “bloodiest day in France since World War II” (311). She then closes with a series of reflections on the future of the anarchive as an oppositional concept, as access to information about the massacre continues to proliferate, suggesting its potential, eventual inclusion within the French roman national. Impressive in scope and meticulous in detail, Absent the Archive will no doubt set the bar for future critical studies of the cultural afterlives of October 17.

Patrick Lyons
University of California, Berkeley


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pp. 168-169
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