Unveiling Frantz Fanon: On Agency, Cixous and Algeria

Exploring Notions of Agency, Femininity and Body Politics in the Algerian War of Independence

On Killed Darlings, Methodology and the Textual Veil

killed darling

I realized that I haven’t written anything in over a week, and this realization has been haunting me ever since (that is, ever since the last 5 minutes, but I must say 5 excruciating minutes). So I decided to give you a quick update of where I am at with my research.

I am currently writing my final paper. Me and my supervisor decided to take another, unexpected turn; my research paper, or final essay, whatever you like, will be a methodological one. Since I myself have been cracking my head over the term ‘methodology’ and what it exactly entails, I will spare you this painfull process and try to explain as briefly as possible what this entails. A methodology is a theoretical discussion of my ‘tools’. My ‘tools’ within this research are textuality, the textual veil and the performance of writing. With these ‘tools’, I will formulate a new concept that goes under the name of ‘textual veiling’. My theoretical discussion of my tools then, or my methodology, will be the very formulation of the textual veil by elaborately exploring and deconstructing the ‘tools’ which will result in the formulation of ‘the textual veil’. Consequently, this ‘textual veil’, and the tools that weaved this veiling cloth together, will allow me to consider the notion of ‘the textual subject’; a subjectivity that is inscribed textually, and a textuality that inscribed subjectivity. A cyclical movement, if you like.

But a methodology would not be a methodology if I did not discuss how this textual veil can be ‘used’ for the analysis of (literary) texts. In order to legitimize this textual veil, and to demonstrate its usability, I will briefly discuss three texts in relation to this veil; Assia Djebar’s Fantasia; An Algerian Cavalcade, Hélène Cixous’ contribution to Veils, and Monique Wittig’s The Lesbian Body. The discussion of these texts will foreground how the textual veil enables a textual subjectivity, and how this textual veil is also veiling its own textuality (how I love these twisted word games).

But, one may ask, what about Fanon? What about  his texts, are you not going to deconstruct his texts, my fair lady? The answer is neither yes nor no. Whereas this research started at Fanon, it brought me to questions of textuality, language, subjectivity and the veil. Along the way, I took different paths and roads, which eventually led me to a place where Fanon is but merely a vague dot in the horizon. Obviously, I will discuss him in my final paper, but whereas this research started with vague feelings of anger and resistance towards Fanon, it ended in a feeling of gratitude for him. If it were not for his masculinist implications expressed in his ‘Algeria Unveiled’, the chances of me creating a corpus consisting of Cixous, Derrida and the textual subject would have been nihil.

The deadline of my final paper will be in the near future, and for those of you who hanged on long enough, and are curious about the results/writings born out of this research, feel free to contact me and ask me for my paper. I would feel honoured (and terrified, since sharing something that is originally written in a Word file is somehow really more scary than simply writing something on the mighty World Wide Web).

A little sneak peak of my final paper can be found at the top of this post, depicting a small fragment of my 9 page counting word file entitled ‘killed darlings’, whereas ‘genocide of my darlings’ would be more appropriate since it was a heartbreaking, bloody and violent killing spree.

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An Old Hat: An Essay on Djebar, Derrida and Derrida’s Singularity

Assia_Djebar

Since I have been very busy these last few days, I have not been able to produce anything new for this blog. Yet since even I got a bit tired of looking at the same blogpost for over a week now, I decided to ‘reproduce’ an essay that I wrote for a course last semester called ‘Literature Across Cultures’, taught by dr Birgit Kaiser. Yes, an extremely lazy move, but on the other hand this essay relates so well to this topic that I feel that it is a move that I, in all my supposed laziness, must make. Now sit back, relax, pour yourself a cup of coffee and be ready to be drawn into an Opera composed and sung by my three hero(ine)s: Djebar, Cixous and Derrida

A Polyphony of Singular Voices: On Djebar, Cixous and Derrida

 loaded words defused themselves as soon as uttered, that by their very nature they lost their power to touch me (…). The word had simply drowned before reaching its destination…

(Djebar 1993: 126)

Ouverture

Assia Djebar’s highly poetical and thought provoking book Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade (1993) is one that hardly gets by unnoticed by the literary- and postcolonial scholars. Chock full of linguistic props, blurred gender binaries and colonial horrors, the book does not only make an appeal on History with a capital H, but also on the silenced, long-forgotten Algerian women. Djebar’s oeuvre is characterized by themes such as exile, otherness, femininity, identity and, last but certainly not least, the Algerian war of independence. Djebar, born in 1936 as Fatima-Zohra Imalayen in Algeria, experienced the events around the struggle for independence in Algeria from up close. The French had colonized Algeria since the 1830s. Spurred by the Front Libération National, the Algerian war of independence started in 1954 and lasted until 1962, the latter date indicating the official year that Algeria gained independence. The Algerian war of independence did not only leave its traces in the colonial history and collective memory of France and Algeria, but also in the Francophone literary- and cultural theories. Influential philosophers such as Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous formulated theories in which they relate the search for a singular identity to the notion of ‘the mother tongue’. Their specific relation to the French language is an ambiguous one; French is the ‘imposed’ language through the French colonial school system, but also functions as a global language of emancipation and modernity. Derrida, in his Monolingualism of the Other; Or, the Prosthesis of Origin (1998) discusses the myth of the mother tongue; one does not own a language, but rather naturally inhabits one. Cixous on the other hand focusses on the mother in mother tongue: not only is the French the colonizer’s language, ‘language’ as we know it in our daily lives is also a phallocentric language; centred around, and ‘ordered’ by, the symbol of the phallus. Cixous therefore coined the notion of ‘écriture féminine’, a language for and by women, a language that allows women to speak in a language that is not oppressive, but liberating. Écriture féminine is a means to re-inscribe and reclaim the feminine body. In this essay, I will explore the ways in which Cixous’ and Derrida’s voices resonate in Djebar’s Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade. By focussing on écriture féminine and Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other, I will be able to foreground the tension between the plurality, and consequently, the tension between orality and writing in Djebar’s quest to rewrite of the histories of the Algerian women.

Azione Teatrale. Djebar’s Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade (1993)

Djebar’s Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade, which appeared originally in French as L’amour. La Fantasia (1985), is characterized by its fragmented writing style. Already at first glance, when one opens the book and peers to its table of contents, this becomes evident: all chapters are divided in chapters, which in its turn are again divided in subchapters. Especially part III of Djebar’s novel, ‘Voices from the Past’ appears to be crumbled. Each subchapter in part III is followed by another subchapter, all of them named ‘voices’, which are subsequently followed by other subchapters. Almost all of these latter subchapters are inscribed in italics: ‘clamour’, ‘murmurs’, ‘soliloquy’. Already at the very beginning of the book the reader is made aware of the multiplicity of stories included in Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade. In her book, Djebar combines archival historical sources with her own as well as other women’s testimonies. The first part of her book mainly consist of Djebar’s ‘own autobiography’, alternated by French historical reports of the conquest of Algeria during the late 19th century. In this way, Djebar aims to reconstruct an Algerian history by adding to it Algerian, feminine voices. Jane Hiddleston, in her chapter ‘War, memory and Postcoloniality’ (2006) states that, “[Djebar’s] narrative, carries within it hesitant traces of multiple other voices that both interrupt and structure her perception of her own, and Algeria’s past” (Hiddleston 2006: 55). These multiple voices, which both interrupt and structure Djebar’s narrative will be key in this essay. It is not only the way in which Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade is structured, but also Djebar’s constant reflections on, and her awareness of, this fragmented (collective) identity. Djebar, who attended both the French colonial school system in Algeria as well as the Quranic school, is in a constant struggle between her ‘paternal’ language (French) and the Arab or Berber language. Birgitte Weltman Aaron (2008) writes that

First, the language she [Djebar] uses in her writing, French, not by choice but by the necessity imposed by French colonization (“Territoires de langues,” 29), is deprived of the affect of the mother tongue, Arabic (24). At the same time, French is associated with movement and space (27), in the sense that unlike her female cousins, she did not stop attending schools when she turned eleven, and went to college in another town “with the complicity of the father” (27). This complicity functions both with and against the colonizer, a duality on which Djebar always insists.  (Weltman-Aaron 2008: 143)

Djebar uses language, words and poetics to reconstruct Algerian female voices, and to bring light into their darkness. Yet the French language is the language of the colonizer. How to translate the untranslatable Algerian femininity into the language of the conqueror?

Cantralto. On Cixous, Djebar and Écriture Féminine

Writing language through the body and writing the body through language is the focal point of écriture féminine, are also key in Djebar’s Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade. Écriture Féminine as an actual term was first coined by Hélène Cixous in her influential essay ‘The Laugh of Medusa’ (1976). Here, Cixous argues that the symbolic order as we know it (and still use in our everyday lives) is phallocentric; it is a language that can only express itself in binaries and dichotomies. Ann Rosalind Jones, in her article ‘Writing the Body: Towards an Understanding of Écriture Féminine’ (1981), paraphrases for us the thought that supports and constitutes this phallocentric order:

“I am the unified, self-controlled centre of the universe,” man (white, European, and ruling class) has claimed. “The rest of the world, which I define as the Other, has meaning only in relation to me, as man/father, possessor of the phallus.” (Jones 1981: 248)

The notion of the phallocentric order is thus based on a language which expresses itself by ‘othering’ all that is not the self: man/woman, I/you, he/she, black/white, etc. It is a symbolic order constructed of irreconcilable divisions between the self and the other, the centre and a periphery.

Cixous, then, proposes a new symbolic ‘order’, one based on pluralities, multiplicities and differing sexualities (rather than ‘opposing’ sexes). In the phallocentric order, ‘the woman’ is always the one who is represented, not the one who represents. In the phallocentric order, she is mystified and marginalized, and cannot be the owner of this order, since a woman is not symbolized by a phallic oneness, but rather by multiplicities of sexual organs (the multiple lips of the vulva). Driven to create a new order, Cixous writes:

Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies-for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Woman must put herself into the text-as into the world and into history-by her own movement. (Cixous 1976: 875)

If a woman wants to reclaim and free her body from a patriarchal, heteronormative and phallocentric order, she must write her-self. She must translate her body into text, and the text must become body. How abstract this notion may sound, if one actually reads Cixous’ ‘Laugh of Medusa’, one quickly understands what this écriture féminine might actually look like: fragmented, lacking punctuation; all over the place. No binaries, no structure, no beginning, no end. When one expects to read a recognizable sentence, it is soon interrupted by another, and by another, etcetera. Luce Irigaray, who is considered another founding mother of écriture féminine, performs this feminine writing just the same in her text ‘When Our Lips Speak Together’, where she states that

Your language doesn’t follow just one thread, one course, or one pattern, we are in luck. You speak from everywhere at the same time. You touch me whole at the same time. (…)“You? I? That’s still saying too much. It cuts too sharply between us: “all.” (Irigaray 1980: 74, 79).

Écriture féminine does not speak on behalf of a you and an I, nor does it grow from one root; rather aims to speak everything and everyone at once. It aims to speak from a jouissance, a space where male no dominance or phallic power exists; a place where the Law of the Father does not reign.

Écriture féminine, and consequently Cixous, constantly displaces the ‘self’. As Irigaray showed, writing écriture féminine does not aim to write with notions such as ‘you’ and ‘I’. Cixous argues that the phallocentric order is based on the notion of possession; possession of the phallus, the holder of power. Moreover, Cixous argues, women have always been ‘within’ the phallocentric discourse (a within as an illusion of ownership). Cixous argues that

If woman has always functioned “within” the discourse of man, a signifier that has always referred back to the opposite signifier which annihilates its specific energy and diminishes or stifles its very different sounds, it is time for her to dislocate this “within,” to explode it, turn it around, and seize it; to make it hers, containing it, (…) inventing for herself a language to get inside of. (Cixous 1976: 887)

Cixous argues that, if a woman has always been “within” the discourse, it is her task to constantly dislocate this ‘within’, displacing the ‘I’ with the ‘other’, and vice versa. In discussing language, or the symbolic order, as a notion that can be dislocated and displaced, Cixous emphasizes the spatiality of language, and consequently, the unsettling movement one can make through this space; it is an order through which one can move, a space in which one can explode. The ‘I’ in écriture féminine, and in Cixous’ theoretical and poetical language is, as Jane Hiddleston eloquently puts is in her book Poststructuralism and Postcoloniality (2010), an unsettling ‘I’. Hiddleston states that Cixous’ displaced sense of the ‘I’ in her writings “does not seek fusion with its image, but quite the reverse; it is continually changing and becoming, and looks perennially beyond itself” (Hiddleston 2010: 48). This constant wandering between the self and the other, this ongoing displacement, is also expressed in Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade. As mentioned earlier on in this essay, Djebar interweaves her autobiographical notes with those of other women and with archival historical sources. Her stories are constantly interrupted by other voices, and these voices consequently interrupt the historical accounts and Djebar’s autobiographical notes. Djebar’s narrative is one that remains fragmented and open. The ‘I’ in Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade is never truly at ‘home’ or at rest, neither in the (cultural) history of Algeria, nor in the French language, “a language imposed as much as by rape as by love” (Djebar 1993: 216). Djebar’s Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade is a book that remains open, since none of the voices are ever done speaking, or can speak without being interrupted by another voice. As the epigraph of this essay already shows, “[t]he word had simply drowned before reaching its destination” (Djebar 1993: 126), drowned in a sea of infinite voices, ready to be heard but not capable of fully expressing themselves. Later on, at the end of the book, Djebar writes:

I journey through myself at the whim of the former enemy, the enemy whose language I have stolen (…). While I thought I was undertaking a ‘journey through myself’, I find I am simply choosing another veil. While I intended every step forward to make me more clearly identifiable, I find myself progressively sucked down into the anonymity of those women of old – my ancestors! (Djebar 1993: 216-217)

Again emphasizing the travel through the spatiality that Djebar’s feminine writing allows, she also expresses an anxiety, a failure to move forward, the impossibility of moving closer to her ‘true’ identity. Djebar is being pulled down by other voices, those of her female Algerian ancestors. Cixous, according to Hiddleston, occupies this same position in her writings (and which are consequently also expressed as a creation of écriture féminine). Hiddleston argues that “Cixous stresses her attempts to remain open to the other’s difference. In writing about otherness, about other subjects writers and texts, she seeks not to possess her object of inquiry but to leave herself open to transformation by the encounter” (Hiddleston 2010: 49). Both Cixous and Djebar are displaced by their position; at the confines of language, deprived from a mother tongue, they seek to voice counter-histories and identities by encountering the other’s voice, and letting unstable and unsettling notion of ‘the self’ be transformed through this voice.

Cadenza: On Derrida and his Universal Specificity.

The terms that keep sneaking around the corner are ‘possession’, ‘mother tongue’ and ‘identity’. But how can one identify ‘the self’, if one cannot be at rest in the language in which one writes? Already on page one, Jacques Derrida, in his Monolingualism of the Other; Or, the Prosthesis of Origin (1998), states that

“I have only one language, it is not mine” (Derrida 1998: 1).

This paradox, of having something which is not one’s own, resonates through his entire book. Derrida, himself a Jewish Franco-Maghrebian, inserts his own autobiographical notes into his philosophy. In doing so, he does not only emphasize his specific situatedness, but he also makes a “move from the universal to the specific” (Hiddleston 2010: 39). The universal indicating the “alienation in language experienced by all speakers, including those who claim hegemony [i.e. the colonizer, white Western male]” (Hiddleston 2010: 39, emphasize added), and the ‘specific’ referring to Derrida’s own situatedness as being a Jewish Franco-Maghrebian. Derrida, in calling ‘himself’ and his situation in language ‘specific’, underlines the absurdity and the importance of this paradox; no one owns a language, not those who claim they do, and not those who specifically argue that they are intentionally deprived from a language. No one does.

Derrida argues that language is not natural, that it is not a given, but is rather always already owned by the other; we learn languages from the other, to whom we consequently direct the language. Through language we can encounter the other. The language we speak, therefore, is only directed to the other, others whom we encounter, yet it is not totally ‘other’ since we seek to inhabit it, and making it our own; it is the only language through which one can formulate and express oneself. Derrida calls this “alienation without alienation, (…) inalienable alienation” (Derrida 1998: 25). Meaning that one is alienated from this language because it is always the language of the other, but since this language is on the other hand is the only language one speaks and through which the self is expressed. Alienated from something that has no core, no property, no center, and therefore is unalienable. But, more importantly, Derrida argues that language was never anyone’s property; it has always been a monolingualism of the other. In claiming that one does own a pure mother tongue or language, this is merely the expression of a desire to actually obtain a natural, pure tongue; a nostalgia to return to something that never was.

Derrida then poses a question, which brings us back to Cixous and Djebar:

How can one say and how can one know, with a certainty, that one shall never inhabit the language of the other, the other language, when it is the only language one speaks (…). Invent in your language if you can or want to hear mine; invent if you can or want to give my language to be understood, as well as yours, where the event of its prosody only takes place once at home. (Derrida 1996: 57)

Why is it that only the specific (i.e. the colonized, the women, the Jewish Franco-Maghrebian) claim to be diaspora’s in language, when it is actually a shared universal ‘home’-sickness? We must face the fact that there is no pure, essential mother tongue. The (male, colonizer) West does not have a monopoly on language; no one can claim that they ‘possess’ or speak the language better than others, since no one naturally owns this language. In denying the existence of an owned mother tongue (which was supposedly owned more by some than by others), one is allowed to see expressions of language as articulations of unique, singular bodies. Indeed, Derrida argues for language as articulated by singular bodies, instead of articulated from a natural and pure ‘mother tongue’. As Birgit Kaiser argues, in her article ‘A new German, singularly Turkish. Reading Emine Sevgi Özdamar with Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other’ (2014,) is that “Derrida affirms simultaneously that on that basis we are required to account for the fact that there are singular bodies expressing themselves in uniquely inflected tongues” (Kaiser 2014: 973). If we want to hear expressions of other singular bodies, others than ‘our own’ expressions, we must open up this one language to let in the differences, the singular articulations, and we must encounter these bodies as singular, again transforming the articulations of the self in singular, unique ways.

Trio: On Djebar, Cixous, Derrida and the Singularity of the Orality of Writing

Since Derrida, already the first page, kicks off by stating that the I has no language, the reader is suspicious of the identity of the author; how can Derrida, then, even claim that there is an ‘I’ in language? The unsettling movements of the ‘I’, then, refer to Derrida’s idea that there is no identifiable ‘I’, not in his nor in anyone’s monolingualism of the other. Rather, the ‘I’ is always in the process of becoming. Derrida argues that “an identity is never given, received or attained; only the interminable and indefinitely phantasmatic process of identification endures” (Derrida 1998: 28). The existence of an ‘I’ is not a given, but is always liable to change. It is always opened up and moved by singular articulations of the other. Derrida’s own singular articulation through his autobiography strengthens this notion of this ‘identification’; through language, one is always in the making, always narrating the self. As we have seen, both Cixous and Djebar respond to this process of identification, and the articulation of a singular body. Djebar too shifts from the specific to the universal, from the Algerian war to specific situations of women in a specific village, from the ‘I’, to the ‘We’ to the ‘Us’. Archival accounts are constantly disrupted with ‘cries’, ‘murmurs’ and ‘whispers’ by Algerian women. She moves from expressions and testimonies of women to philosophical reflections on the ontological apparatus that is language; she does not own French, yet it is the only language in which she is ‘allowed’ to articulate.

Djebar tries to articulate singularity through her autobiography and women’s testimonies. She wants to write her body and those of other women, since they have been excluded from language since forever.

To attempt an autobiography using French words alone is to lend oneself to the vivisector’s scalpel, revealing what lies behind the skin. The flesh flakes off and with it, seemingly, the last shreds of the unwritten language of my childhood. Wounds are reopened, veins weep, one’s own blood flows and that of others, which has never dried. As the words pour out, inexhaustible, maybe distorting, our ancestral night lengthens. Conceal the body and its ephemeral grace. Prohibit gestures – they are too specific. Only let sound remain. (Djebar 1993: 156)

Djebar’s attempt to write the body into language, into the French language, is a violent act. Blood, flesh, everything is torn off, only to be transcribed into words. By turning flesh into words, the childhood is abandoned; the connection with the mother, or the mother tongue, is cut off. Yet, by calling her ‘childhood language unwritten’, and by violently inscribing the body and its flesh into the colonizer’s language, Djebar foregrounds the sound that remains. Soheila Ghaussy, in her article ‘A Stepmother Tongue: “Feminine Writing” in Assia Djebar’s Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade’ (1994) argues that, “Linking language to the (female) body is another aspect of écriture feminine that is crucial for Djebar: Arabic, for example, is described in Fantasia as “oral”: it is open and fluid, flirtatious and sensual” (Ghaussy 1994: 460). Djebar inscribes the bodies of her long lost Algerian sisters, separating them from their childhood (language), yet it is through this process of inscribing the bodies that the orality remains. For Djebar, this orality is inherently linked to the Arabic language. Moreover, Djebar argues, this is also an orality that cannot be accessed through language. Djebar makes this more specific later in her book, where she writes that

In our towns, the first woman reality is the voice, a dart which flies off into space, an arrow which slowly falls to earth; next comes writing, with the scratching pointed quill forming amorous snares with its liana letters (…) Exposed, a woman’s  body would offend every eye, be an assault on the dimmest of desires, emphasize every separation. The voice, on the other hand, acts like a perfume, a draft of fresh water for the dry throat. (Djebar 1993: 180)

In this we can trace back the movements of Djebar in the French language. It is through her very employment of the French language that she foregrounds her ‘lost’ mother tongue; the Berber/Arabic tongue. Arguably, Djebar attempts to blur the line between spoken and written language by expressing the inaccessibility of the very thing Djebar is trying to inscribe. Ghaussy rightly points out that

[i]t is precisely for this reason [the oral interweaving with the written] that in Fantasia the female body is disembodied, transformed into liquid, scent, sound, or silenced, paradoxically, in order then to speak and relate back to its own physicality. (Ghaussy 1997: 460).

This resonates with Cixous’ idea of écriture féminine, where there are no divisions, no binaries: not between speech and writing, between song and literature (Cixous 1975: 881). The binary oppositions that cause women to be separated from the men, the ‘I’ separated from the O/other, and the colonizer separated from the colonized.

Djebar’s inscription of an almost tangible tension between the oral and the written, between the Arabic/Berber and French, between the man/woman, can be said to be an articulation of her singular body. This singularity is articulated through a French that is not structured the way the colonizer would want it to. No, it is a French through which multiple (feminine) voices and languages all speak at once, voices and languages that themselves were not allowed (and consequently obscured) to speak in the French language (literally and figuratively: they were not allowed in the colonial school system, nor where they mentioned in French, historical archives). Djebar makes the French language a language of the body (see also Djebar 1993: 184), which can then speak in silence the chant-like words of love in Arabic. Hiddleston (2006) argues that “[t]he language with which she [Djebar] tries to express herself is unable to access the infinitely contingent kernel that she wants to describe” (Hiddleston 2006: 77). Indeed, whereas the French language is not capable of accessing the voices of her Algerian female comrades, it is the only language through which Djebar can express the existence of these bodies. She inhabits only one language, yet this language is not hers. One might go as far and say that Djebar stitches together a female body made out of flesh and words, only to let it sing, since one cannot sing without a tongue and vocal cords. Cixous, in ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, shows the same fascination with the writing and the song. Cixous states that “[i]n women’s speech, as in their writing, that element which never stops resonating, which, once we’ve been permeated by it, profoundly and imperceptibly touched by it, retains the power of moving us-that element is the song (Cixous 1976: 881). Women’s voices are obscured and censored by denying them a bodily presence, both through the phallocentric order as through the myth of the mother tongue (and who is ‘allowed’ to own a mother tongue).

Claque: The Last Song of the Show.

To refresh where it all started, the purpose of this essay was to set up a triangular conversation between Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other; Or, the Prosthesis of Origin, Cixous’ écriture féminine as formulated in her text ‘The Laugh of Medusa’ and Djebar’s Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade. What binds these three is that all have a specific relation towards ‘the possession’ of a mother tongue. Derrida, Cixous and Djebar all have experienced the best and the worst of the French colonial school system from up close. They therefore inhabit a specific position towards the French language. Whereas Derrida and Cixous formulate the anxieties of possession and lack of a ‘mother tongue’ in a more ‘theoretical fashion’ (whereas the term ‘theoretical’ is a rather problematic one, since both Derrida as Cixous ‘practice what they preach’ in their texts), Djebar’s novel is a literary reflection on Cixous’ and Derrida’s notion of language. One of the main themes in Djebar’s Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade is silence; silence that is superimposed on Algerian women by both the French colonizers, as by patriarchal male oppression. In her book, Djebar aims to reconstruct these voices by voicing their testimonies, which are interlaced with both Djebar’s autobiography as French Archival sources that where produced during the French colonial presence in Algeria. Derrida, Cixous and Djebar all write their text from their specific situatedness, and interrupt their reflections on the French language with their own autobiographical notes. In doing so, they demonstrate that there is not ‘one true voice’ able to express and articulate a singular body, but rather multiple voices and articulations.  In Djebar’s book, this quest for a ‘feminine, Algerian plural body’ is illustrated in a poetical, literary fashion. As Derrida called for, Djebar invented ‘her’ feminine language to hear other languages, other sounds, other songs sung by her Algerian feminine comrades, yet her own singular identity remains unstable and in-the-making. Moreover, as argued earlier in this essay, Djebar is caught in the translation of the untranslatable; the tension produced in this ‘translation’ is what articulates Djebar’s singular being. The tension between the oral and the written, between French and Berber, this tension then is the space from where Djebar articulates. Yet this articulation of Djebar’s singular body takes multiple encounters with other singular expressions of singular bodies; Djebar’s singularity is one that emerges out of a plurality.

Breaking the Fourth Wall: On Phallo(go)centrism, Context and Jouissance

Femme Algerienne 1960

In my extensive reading process on this research (and I am terribly sorry for the long radio silence), I am starting to dive deeper and deeper into the notion of ‘agency’, Islamic feminism and the embodied agent. Sinc e I still have a lot of reading to do, I will be dear to you my beloved reader, and feed you the information is small yet delicious chunks.

The first article I want to discuss is Nancy J. Hirschmann’s article ‘Western Feminism, Eastern Veiling and the Question of Free Agency’ (1998), or rather, I want to express my gratitude to this article. While reading Hirschmann’s rather dense and complex (but highly competent) article, I was eagerly looking for some sort of portals: statements, quotes, gaps, blanks, that allowed me to form a path to Cixous, Derrida and the question of agency/writing (and the veil).

The main focus of Hirschmann’s article is, as the title already tells us quite specifically,  on ‘free agency’ and the act of veiling and the ‘issue’ of the Western feminist perspectives on the (act of) veil(ing), deeming the veil as an oppressive cloth. Moreover, Hirschmann (and if we must believe her, many many other with her) is that the context in which the veil is being picked up (by either the ‘veiled woman’ or the Western Feminist) is a context created and constituted according to patriarchal norms and standards. She uses the Hijab as an example, which, in most Islamic countries, must be worn if a woman leaves her house or if she wants to work. On the one hand, then, Hirschmann argues, the veil is one some level liberating; it allows the woman to move through the streets, and have a proper job. On the other hand, these ‘norms’ or values (that a woman must cover her body, that she must be covered to move the streets) is constructed against male desire; the man may not be distracted by a woman’s physical appearance. It is easier for men to change the norms or rules of (patriarchal) culture/society than it is for women, since it are mainly the men that established and created these norms (obviously, there are a lot of cases where the opposite could be argued, but isn’t that the case with everything?). The veil, and the highly charged agency that is ascribed to it, raises another question:

The act of choosing is necessary, but not sufficient. What is also needed is the ability to formulate choices, and this requires the ability to have meaningfull power in the construction of contexts (Hirschmann 361)

She then continues by posing the question:

How can one make “free” choices to control and direct their lives if all such choices are circumscribed by patriarchy? (Hirschimann 362)

Hirschmann shifts the focus of ‘choice’, ‘free will’ and the ‘act of veling’ to the very notion of ‘spaces outside patriarchy’, since the current space from which we are aiming to view the ‘veil’ is mostly circumscribed by patriarchy, the very thing we want to address, if not scrutinize. Hirschmann’s article is an extremely complex article that not only focusses on instances where the veil may or may not be an act of agency, but also the very ontological and epistemological meaning of agency (and I highly recommend you read it).

After reading the earlier quoted statement about a context ‘circumscribed by patriarchy’ is the context in/through which we are considering the veil, the big eureka! moment hit me right in the face. In thinking about Cixous and (consequently) Derrida, their notion of the ‘phallo(go)centric’ order, as discussed earlier in my blog, comes in handy. That is to say that Hirschmann;s article inspired me to look at other aspects of poststructuralism and deconstruction in relation to this research; before, my focus lie on the liberating act of writing itself (not sure if I discussed this focus, but there you go), and now I suddenly realized that the space in which the act of writing takes place is also extremely significant. If indeed Cixous’ (and Derrida, as I shall in my next post) notion of écriture feminine (which is almost impossible to explain ‘theoretically’, since this term only lends itself to explain itself in its ‘own terms’, yet for those who want to see my effort in trying to explain it anyway, see my post on Cixous and the Laugh of Medusa) is a feminine writing that flourishes in a ‘space’ or a ‘state of becoming’ that is outside the phallo(go)centric order, and instead written from the (Lacanian?) jouissance, this ‘space of writing’ relates perfectly to Hirschmann’s posed question. Then again, as my supervisor of this research highly recommended me, Hirschmann’s article, how interesting it may be, is not the basis of my research, nor does the article is the very foundation on which my entire argument will support. First of all this will be a big misstep, since Hirschmann and my (poststructuralist) ‘other’ literature speak another theoretical language, and therefore do not share the same theoretical background. Second of all, I learned that one can also just be inspired by an article; how interesting and illuminating Hischmann’s article was, I feel like I must emphasize (and learn) to let myself be inspired this one time, without incorporating and inhabiting Hirschmann’s article until I am done with it.

Writing the body in a space that is not contextualized and framed by patriarchal circumscriptions allows the writer, and consequently the reader, to be immerged in an ‘feminine’ experience of the veil. Re-inscribing and re-claiming the (un)veiled body by veiling it in text, and veiling the text with bodily presence.  Obviously, this could be considered as a perhaps utopian, if not naïve way of hoping to provide an answer to the question of the veil, agency and Algeria. It could be, yes. But on the other hand it certainly does provide a fruitful link between writing, the body and the veil. For ages the ‘discussion of the veil’ has been central is debates between Western and Eastern feminists, so why not contribute to this debate with a different, fresh perspective? One that does not aim to judge the act of veiling nor the woman who (chose) to do so,  but rather one that seeks to locate a new space in which the debate can flourish?

What Happens Next? On War, Masculinity and the perks of ‘Non-Essentializing’

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In my previous posts I have mostly focussed on how Fanon’s ‘Algeria Unveiled’ deprives women of agency, I did not yet discuss what else African and/or Algerian women warriors faced during war times. Aaronette White, in her article ‘All the Men Are Fighting for Freedom, All the Women Are Mourning Their Men, but Some of Us Carried Guns: A Raced‐Gendered Analysis of Fanon’s Psychological Perspectives on War.’ (2007) gives a lengthy account of the actual circumstances – an confused/stereotypical genderoles – that resulted from women fighting in independence wars. What I find particularly striking about White’s text is that she not only takes Fanon’s text to the actual lived world (it is important to take into consideration that Fanon himself died a couple of years before the Algerian war of independence ended), and that she also answers the question ‘what next’, a question that I addressed in my post on ‘Resurfacing the Surface’. Throughout my research, I have not yet encountered articles that address both the psychological/psychoanalytic as well as the geopolitical and sociohistorical circumstances at the same time. Chapeau, White!

In her article, White makes several claims about women warriors that fight in anti-colonial and independence wars. White claims that

 Although Fanon did not completely ignore the gendered aspects of nationalism and pre-war mobilization, he understated their pervasiveness. Fanon attributed any narrowness within nationalism to class issues, placing particular emphasis on the myopia of the national bourgeoisie (1968, 148–205). Concerning their efforts to create new governments, Fanon warned the colonized not to perpetuate “the feudal tradition which holds sacred the superiority of the masculine over the feminine” (1968, 202). Despite this warning, Fanon’s failure to address the gendered struggles of African men under colonial subjugation as thoroughly as their race and class struggles contributed to his overly optimistic expectations concerning the transformative power of the Algerian revolution. (White 2007: 863-864)

Starting from the same starting point as this research, White explores how the conditions for women have changed during and after the war. Important to note, is that White argues that for independence war for women meant more than just getting rid of their colonial oppressor: it could also be the moment when women could shake of the (presumably) oppressive patriarchal structures (White 2007: 865-868). In other words;

 Liberation wars constituted an important means through which the colonized regained their agency and dignity. Rather than remaining victims of historical conquest, they became creators of history. (White 2007: 859)

Wars of independence, how horrific they may be, did bring with them a promise not only of nationalistic liberation, but also ways to rewrite and regain historical and political agency. This is not only what White explains, but also what is focal in (the oeuvre) of Fanon. Yet what Fanon did not acknowledge is the inherently masculine aspects of warfare and the military. If indeed women wanted to participate in the military (and therefore liberating herself from the confined private and locked up spaces), she could either employ or mobilize her sexuality (she could become a sex worker, prostitute), or continue her daily ‘ascribed’ chores (but this time for the militiamen). Another option was the option that Fanon focused on; she could become an active member of the military. Whereas this latter ‘option’ is one that seems to promise to be the most ‘liberating’ one, White immediately opposes this. She rightly points out that,

 Women who assumed masculine military roles, including combat, were seen as exceptions, and their nontraditional activities were often interpreted as temporary and as helping the men (White 2007: 869)

White continues by elaborating how war can be gendered; Fanon’s revolutionary tactics, as well as the overall notion of war, can be considered as a notion that promotes hypes masculinity, macho behavior and male bounding. White writes that:

 In addition to the authoritarianism that pervades the military as a social institution, the stereotype of the supermacho combat soldier perpetuates hypermasculine attitudes and values that also work against a male soldier’s recognition of a woman soldier (or any woman) as his equal. South African feminist sociologist Jacklyn Cock elaborates: “War does not challenge women to prove that they are women, whereas wars have been historically symbolized as the touchstone of ‘manliness.’ The concept of war as a proving ground of manliness has centered on the notion of combat, which is understood to be the ultimate test of masculinity, and thus crucial to the ideological structure of patriarchy” (1991, 235–36). (White 2007: 865-866)

The women who were allowed to fight along had to prove that they are ‘man enough’ to fight along. They did not had the opportunity to liberate their gender from its (supposedly negative) connotations, since they had to mimic men.

White’s perspective, and her ‘gendering of war’, allows us to consider warfare and Fanon’s text in a different way; the means to come to liberation as advocated in Fanon’s book is one that, from the very beginning, does not really allow a space for women to explore their ‘femininity’, nor is she allows to mobilize it herself. Moreover, White’s article is based on first-hand accounts of these women warriors, adding to her argument the weight of the female witness.

White’s article continues by arguing that not much has changed after these wars; the women warriors did liberate their country indeed, but did not change the patriarchal structure on a large scale. White writes that

 Contrary to Fanon’s optimistic predictions, participation in revolutionary violence does not necessarily contribute to the mutual recognition and equality of women in the aftermath of war. Indeed, many aspects of gendered violence work against it. Contradictions between the values of democratic revolution and militarism, postwar pressures on women soldiers to censor reports of nontraditional roles as well as gendered tortures that many experienced, and the pressure to resume traditional female roles leave only a select group of women feeling empowered by the war. (White 2007: 880)

Whereas I can imagine that you, my dear reader, might think; is she really again trying to tell how and where Fanon is wrong? The answer is: yes. Why? Because White’s text is a text focussing on the actual lived experience, and its aftermath, which is extremely important, especially considering the fact that I am ‘critiquing’ Fanon, since now, on an exclusively textual way. In other words, up till now, I have only considered the power of Fanon’s words, and how his words can be contradicted by feminine words without alluding to ‘what actually happened’; the women and men that Fanon talks about, and I as well, are not beings that exist out of time, space and history (and usable for one’s own philosophical and literary goals), but are also susceptible to actual historical and temporal circumstances.

As for my next post, I have planned one on another topic; agency and Islamic Feminism. Therefore, my dear comrades, stay tuned…

The Iraqi Film Project That Became a French Play and an Arabic Novel

Whereas this is an ‘Iraqi film project’, and not ‘Algerian’, I highly recommend you read and watch this diamond (which will be screened during the International Women’s day). As it says in this (reblogged) post (I feel really up-to-date and digitally competent), this film, entitled ‘The Ungodly Woman’, tells the following story:

“The play and the novel both tell the story of Fatma/Sophie. After Fatma’s husband goes on a suicide mission, Fatma is threatened with marriage to one of the local militiamen. So she smuggles herself into Europe, where she changes her name to Sophie and develops two personalities: Fatima during the day and Sophie at night. The “ungodly” of the title refers both to Fatma/Sophie and to a woman she saw stoned to death for adultery when she was just a girl.”

Arabic Literature (in English)

When Ali Bader’s The Ungodly Woman is published by Dar Noon, it will already have been an incipient film project, a part of the Iraqi arts exhibition at the Venice Biennale, and a French play, produced by a feminist organization in Belgium:

10306079_556396064465062_2131979232720977754_nBader — author of the acclaimed Papa Sartretwice longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction — took a circuitous route with his latest novel project.

While seeking a job in Belgium, Bader says he met a filmmaker, to whom he told the core story of The Ungodly Woman. The filmmaker encouraged Bader to write it, but later they found their styles were very different, each seeing the matter from a different angle.

“So I left him and wrote it as a play for  a feminist organization in Bruxelles,” Bader wrote. “But from the beginning I imagined it as a novel.”

The play, written in Arabic, was translated into French by Charlotte…

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I Write Like a Painter; I Write Like the Sun.

I am really excited to share this short movie clip with you of Cixous at the NYS Writing Institute. In a beautiful, poetical way, Cixous tells us that ‘she writes like a marathon runner’, and when she doesn’t write, she sleeps (this may sound like a recognizable time table for my fellow Comparative Literature peers), and when she sleeps, she dreams. And what is it to dream? Indeed, to dream is to write.

Not only is this short clip extremely inspiring, it is also important to hear from Cixous herself the very materiality and fluidity of writing; the visuality, the physical effort and the dialogues that are at stake while inscribing the word. Oh and have you noticed the sun is shining again?

Reading Recommendation, Or; The Unveiling of the Emotional Rollercoaster

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Not sure if it’s an coincidence or not, but again a sunny day to talk about the same sunny person as the previous post. Even though the word ‘talk’ might indicate yet another long, dense if not excruciating post. But do not fear, my comrades, since this post is dedicated to share with you the text that I am now reading. Since, as you all may know by now, I am looking into Cixous, and how her texts can help us in unveiling Fanon by adding to his text the ever-lacking notion of (embodied) agency. The ‘signification, interpretation and (re)appropriating’ of the veil is focal in this deconstruction; how can we relate the body, écriture féminine, agency and the veil and form it into a strong, solid theoretical framework? While Googling (Scholar, obviously…) for some additional texts that I could use in my research, I almost cried when I found the book entitled Veils, written by Cixous and Derrida (who is also ‘one of the Francophone Algerians’). According to the Publisher’s site, Stanford University Press, Veils entails

Something of a historical event, this book combines loosely “autobiographical” texts by two of the most influential French intellectuals of our time. “Savoir,” by Hélène Cixous, is a brief but densely layered account of her experience of recovered sight after a lifetime of severe myopia, an experience that ends with the unexpected turn of grieving for what is lost. Her literary inventiveness mines the coincidence in French between the two verbs savoir (to know) and voir (to see). Jacques Derrida’s “A Silkworm of One’s Own” complexly muses on a host of autobiographical, philosophical, and religious motifs—including his varied responses to “Savoir.” The two texts are accompanied by six beautiful and evocative drawings that play on the theme of drapery over portions of the body.

Veils suspends sexual difference between two homonyms: la voile (sail) and le voile (veil). A whole history of sexual difference is enveloped, sometimes dissimulated here—in the folds of sails and veils and in the turns, journeys, and returns of their metaphors and metonymies.

One may suspect why finding this book was perhaps too much for me; it was a true emotional rollercoaster indeed. Whereas I am still in the process of carefully and critically reading this book (with a focus on Cixous’ contribution to the book, whereas I am aware that the book should be read as a whole), I am particularly struck with the connection that Cixous makes between ‘to know’ and to see (as paraphrased in the latter quote by SUP). To be knowledgeable and visible, to make visible and to see, to un-see and to be invisible. Are you joining me in this rollercoaster? If so, I would be happy to hear your opinions on this book, or, if you are already familiar with this book, some previous experiences that you had while reading Veils? Did a sudden myopia hit you, causing you to doubt what you know and what you don’t? Either way, feel free to share your enthusiasm, curiosity, chagrin, anger, happiness, tears, sweat or blood.

Click here for the PDF of Derrida’s and Cixous’ Veils