Imen Cozzo – A Post/Colonial Feminist Reading of Assia Djebar’s Women of Algiers in their Apartment and Malika Mokeddem’s Je Dois Tout a Ton Oubli

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Imen Cozzo

العربية | Français

“Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”

Khalil Gibran, The Prophet. 

In the present tradition/modernity war that unsettles the social and the political life in Algeria, violence, silence and war continue the scenario of the colonial period.[1] Algerian women’s silence is perhaps an involuntary social, cultural and ideological act of resistance, a way to bury the atrocious truth and to seal it into a forgotten tomb, shutting it out of world gaze. Silence was imposed by a colonial reality and continues to be enforced by a postcolonial tradition and society. It is sometimes a voluntary refusal to speak as a sign of virtue and humility, in other times it is a weapon of resisting evil.

During colonial time, silence was a refusal to speak the language of the oppressor, as an act of resisting the loss of identity. After independence, many Algerian writers use the same coloniser’s language to resist their assimilation into a backward process or the fight over “outer” and “inner” spaces.[2] Therefore, silence becomes a political act through which women subvert the oppressors’ discourse, by retaining their secret world/word.

The idea of the struggle over space covers the dilemma these states faced after gaining independence. Space is divided into public and domestic spheres, forcing after-war politics to decide whether to agree on women’s presence in the outer space that used to be the arena of militancy against the coloniser; or to send women back to the traditional role of mothering and serving the family. It seems that the Algerian government opted for the latter. Nevertheless, women had participated in the struggle for Independence, fighting in the same way men did, learning the different ways of torture and resistance, hence becoming different from the pre-war portraits. Women proved to be equal to men in war; and so, they sought a better condition of peace after the birth of the State for which they had fought. Yet, peace was utopic, as the country entered in an internal war, against extremism and against modernity as the model imported by the coloniser. Algeria, where the historical situation of colonization and decolonization was more complex than the ones in Morocco and Tunisia, shows slower social transformation (for example the family code/code de la famille). In fact, women are marginalised by law, tradition and society when the texts put women secondary to men in decision making, or by allowing polygamy for instance. The new war to fight is the one of emancipation-liberation. The gaze at a silent/secret woman enhances its exotic being in European representation of the harem. These vague expectations of women are kept in motionless silence on Delacroix’ canvas, produced in 1834 and 1849. For Assia Djebar, Delacroix’ depiction reveals a Western conception of Maghrebian women and by analogy of the Maghreb.

The conclusions about violence and silencing women in the colonial period are extended over the present. Malika Mokeddem belongs to the post-colonial Algerian generation for whom colonisation is perhaps a memory mystified by a harsh present. In her autobiographical novel published in 2008, Je Dois Tout a Ton Oubli/ I Owe Everything to your Oblivion, Mokeddem alternates between France and Algeria that is compared to the mythical Medea. This paper expounds the two writers’ premises about “silence and violence,” “silencing as rape,” and the way their protagonists cope with such agonies.

*****

In Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, Djebar tells of the agonies and the massacres committed Algerian women bear after the Algerian war against French colonization during the “civil war” of the 1990’s. The collected feminine voices and the writer’s reflections on the paintings are the main focus of Djebar’s work which is presented as the “fragmented… murmurings” that the writer puts together as pieces of a broken mirror that reflects an “underground” reality, heavily veiled by a mainstream discourse. The writer opens her book by a long overture to sum up her approach, themes and techniques,

These stories, a few frames of reference on a journey of listening, from 1958 to 1978. Fragmented, remembered, reconstituted conversations […]. I could have listened to these voices in no matter what language, non-written, non-recorded, transmitted only by chains of echoes and sighs. […]. An excoriated language, from never having appeared in the sunlight, from having sometimes been intoned, declaimed, howled, dramatized, but always mouth and eyes in the dark […] tones of voice still suspended in the silences of yesterday’s seraglio […] Words of the veiled body, language that in turn has taken the veil for so long a time.[3]

The stories depict women from different backgrounds: the intellectual, the rifi (country women), the young, the old, the fighter and the silent. Djebar’s protagonists live in Algeria or France and struggle daily with their scars left from the independence war, the civil war and the social and political oppression. There is the educated surgeon’s wife seeking to help her French childhood friend and the old woman who carries water at the public bath recalling what she has endured and lost in the course of her life. Although different, these women share the experience of rape, imprisonment, exile, widowhood, prostitution and silence. Their silencing by a harsh law and society is furthered by the silence of their male mates, brothers and fathers, who, according to the interviews and narratives of these women, usually kill them, beg their assailants to kill them or exile them and deny them family and name; and by doing so selling them to prostitution. The collection of stories from 1958 to 1978 conveys how war ravages women.

Algerian women today are observed in the water-carrier of the bathhouse’s depiction. In a solo first-person stream of consciousness, the labourer unveils her ‘underground’ burden as she narrates how she had been sold into marriage at the age of thirteen and how her life has been torn away in perpetual servitude with the innumerate joys she is denied. She cries out in silence: “Where are you, you fire carriers, you my sisters, who should have liberated the city… Barbed wire no longer obstructs the alleys, now it decorates windows, balconies, anything at all that opens onto an outside space.”[4] The Carrier of water in the bathhouse goes on to speak of other abuses, always expressing the sense of space and its striking fluctuation between inside and outside.[5]

The work of Djebar seeks cultural identity through the reconstruction of a female identity by the writing and narrating the stories of women that passed from one generation to the other orally, in dialect, or by using the language of the Other. For centuries, women have been locked in a confined and separate space; taking their stories from behind the closed doors is an emancipating act of revealing secrets and hearing the previously silenced voices. Here are the words of the French Anne, one of the protagonists of Women of Algiers in their Apartment, to describe Algiers:

[…] In this strange city, drunk with the sun, but full of prisons that close from above every street, every woman lives for herself or, above all, for the long chain of women that have been locked in the past, generation after generation, while outside it poured the same light as an unchanging blue, rarely clouded?[6]

In Anne’s words, one feels the difficulty to find the authentic voice of women, beyond silence and isolation. By being able to speak and to recreate, these women regain possession of the space and take control of their own glance, steer freely in space where their desires for liberation and creation are possible. The freedom of the eye corresponds to its liberation of body and mind, independently of the space where the person dwells.

Djebar’s effort then becomes not to “speak on behalf of” or “about”, but “Near”[7] women, in a gesture of solidarity to which Djebar calls on all women. This act brings the writer to move always in the field of “underground” voices and to oscillate between memory and its transcription through first hand witnesses. These silenced voices are meant to conquest the public space through the possibility of writing as an expression of freedom and movement, also, through the revelation of secrets and the inner life of characters, as an act of re-appropriation of the image and an exposure to worldview.

The artistic experimentation of Djebar in polyphonic writing perhaps corresponds to the attempt to destabilize the status of representation and is therefore a way to give back the image its fluctuating nature, its relationship with fantasy, and with originality. She plays on the boundaries between visible and invisible, spoken and the unspoken, and between reality and imagination. Through the work of recreation or rewriting, Djebar tries to reconstruct a clear image of the hidden and to give voice to the previously silenced by the cultural and the political systems that rejoice their power in silencing and rendering women invisible.[8]

Through the gaze of the Other, caught in an outer public space, in which women appear veiled and marginal, Djebar introduces her readers to a reflection on the gaze. The analysis then becomes more specific, highlighting the Western gaze in the East as a woman. A voyeuristic or inquisitive look reflects the whole experience of colonization. Through silencing and imprisoning women or the colonised, the West exercises its powers in interpreting Algeria.

This same idea is elaborated by Rania Kabbani’s Europe’s Myth of the Orient that traces the possible common features of Western travellers in the Middle-East as a space of possibilities,

Europe was charmed by an Orient that shimmered with possibilities that promised a sexual space from the dictates of the bourgeois morality of the metropolis. The European reacted to the encounter as a man might react to a woman, by manifesting strong attraction or strong repulsion. E. W. Lane described his first sight of Egypt, the Egypt he had dreamed of since boyhood, thus: “as I approached the shore, I felt like an eastern bridegroom, about to lift the veil of his bride […].[9]

 In confronting the Orient, the traveller perhaps unconsciously, as Kabbani puts it, ‘discloses his preconception of the territory’. However, the Orient and its derivative concepts are used in the following analysis as inclusive of the North African region, which is often depicted as completely different from the rest of the Arab world from a Berber, African and Mediterranean perspective.

The many possibilities that the Orient offers to the colonial voyeur seem to include liberating Western inhibitions rather than observing the real space. This means that the Orient is already depicted in the traveller’s mind by his tradition of writing on the Other rather than a discovery from scratch. The interplay of identity and difference is often the controversy that the writer on the Orient faces. The “mysterious and exotic” space becomes the Other, who offers what the proper place denies. Nevertheless, the perplexed space resists the image of the colonising culture and its power to define and diffuse. The Western concept of the Orient is based, as Abdul JanMohamed argues, on the Manichean allegory (seeing the world as divided into mutually excluding opposites): “if the West is ordered, rational, masculine, good, then the Orient is chaotic, irrational, feminine, and evil. Simply to reverse this polarizing is to be complicit in its totalizing and identity-destroying power (all is reduced to a set of dichotomies, black or white, etc.).”[10]

Colonised peoples are depicted as diverse in their nature and in their traditions, and their world is often explained by a geographical division of the planet, in which people are “totalised” or “essentialised” — through such concepts as a black consciousness, Indian soul, aboriginal culture and so forth. In fact, it is no coincidence that the two literary works considered most representative of the “colonial encounter,” The Tempest (1623) and Robinson Crusoe (1719), enact the arrival of Europeans in uninhabited territories, which are not really uninhabited, and of which they declare themselves the masters, depriving the native peoples of their right to their land. In the Orient the first impact is different in that the territories are partially emptied, but completely silenced. In silencing their subjects, the travellers in North Africa fill into a linguistic void and speak on behalf of the native inhabitants.

Therefore, the construction of specific images of the Other was functional in the support and implementation of the various projects that made up the program of the colonial enterprise. The colonial theory has been primarily built upon the pioneering work of Edward Said. In Orientalism (1978), Said examines a range of literary, anthropological and historical texts in order to illuminate how the West attempted to represent the Orient as a silent Other. By portraying the East as culturally and intellectually inferior, the West was simultaneously able to construct an image of western superiority. In order to sustain these beliefs, purportedly objective statements were produced in a manner claiming realism.

Said’s work is configured as a critical theory on the representation of the Other that has most influenced the post-colonial criticism, establishing itself as one of its founding texts. It laid the groundwork for the emergence of the critical current. In Orientalism (1978), Said believes that the Orientalist discourse should not be understood as a product of colonialism, because the first precedes the latter. Said repeatedly stresses that Orientalism is not, by itself, caused by colonialism, but also states that the complex ideological apparatus and representation of the East by part of Europe has been one of the major thrusts of the colonial experience. Said offers one main definition of Orientalism. It refers to the possibility of considering Orientalism as “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.”[11] Said implies that Orientalism is a cultural fabric rather than a natural or geographical fact. In fact, the space is not only created but also “Orientalized” by the West, and hence he tries to debunk and depict the spurious claim on otherness.

An important interpretation of Said’s concept of Orientalism comes from Homi Bhabha. Referring to Said’s ideas concerning the way the West intervenes within that system of representation by calling for a scrutiny of the varied European discourses, which represent “’the Orient’ as a unified racial, geographical, political and cultural zone of the world,”[12] Bhabha agrees with Said’s designation

Orientalism very generally is a form of radical realism; anyone employing orientalism, which is the habit for dealing with questions, objects, qualities and regions deemed Oriental, will designate, name, point to, fix what he is talking or thinking about with a word or phrase, which then is considered either to have acquired, or more simply to be reality…. The tense they employ is the timeless eternal; they convey an impression of repetition and strength.[13]

The realism generated by the colonial discourse is one of the key ideas in Djebar’s work. Djebar expresses the desire to rewrite Algeria, considering that the atrocities that the space experienced were thrice amplified when the subject is the Algerian woman. These women of Algeria are silenced and marginalised by tradition, colonisation and patriarchy.

In her Women of Algiers in their Apartment, Djebar dedicates a whole section to speak of the arrival of the French painter Delacroix in Algiers in 1832, where he had the opportunity to contemplate and pierce, for the first time in his life, in a harem or the space where women and children are gathered “lying in the middle of a pile of silk and gold.”[14] This unexpected and shocking experience will ensure that, after his return to Paris, the painter works for a few years on “the image of his memory,”[15] supported by some notes made at the time of his visit to the harem. He realises his tableau of “Women of Algiers in their Apartments” in 1834 and another in 1849. Djebar analyses and compares the two works with the subsequent paintings created by Picasso between 1954 and 1955.

Pablo Picasso, ‘Les femmes d’Alger, version H’, 1955 <http://search.it.online.fr/covers/?m=1849>

In his paintings, Delacroix depicts three women half-lying, absent, looking at the void, wrapped in an aura of mystery and sensuality; they are surprised by the gaze of the viewer and supervised by that of a black servant. In their luxurious prison, these women are suspended or “Frozen” in an eerie silence. The enigmatic silence of their gaze, shown on the canvases of the French painter, becomes the index of the male domination perpetrated over the centuries on the body of women, and was accentuated during the period of colonial rule, as a form of defence and preservation of culture and tradition with the arrival of the stranger/intruder.

Djebar reacts to the fixity that the theft gaze at Algerian women in their suspended and postponed presence epitomises in the tableau. Her reaction is against the intellectual closure and the oppressive act to make of the colonised sub-culture “closed, fixed in the colonial status, caught in the yolk of oppression. Both present and mummified, it testifies against its members. The cultural mummification leads to a mummification of individual thinking.”[16] In the core of the postcolonial Algerian thinking, silence is crucial in the construction of “otherness.” In the making of the colonial history, women are relegated to a greater silence and invisibility. The harem becomes a prison that enhances the Orientalist voyeuristic play on the exoticised feminine. This gaze metaphorically strips these Women of their traditional veil and so they become “naked” and defenceless. After independence, a past perceived as irretrievably lost, in which the woman was not only allowed to watch and encourage with her screams the men in their battle, but to join the fight in a heroic manner, the Algerian male took over the same strategy of the coloniser. As Djebar argues, for a woman to remove her veil used to be tantamount to “going naked.”[17] Women who tried to join public spaces were socially repudiated because they refused to be veiled. “Public life and public discourse can easily be compared to entering a hostile, almost exclusively male enemy territory,”[18] where Algerian men and “even women’s defensive discourse about themselves often provides the voyeur with additional weapons so women must avoid displaying their innermost selves (and their femininity) in order to avoid being vulnerable to reductionism and physical and verbal aggression.”[19]

Outside the harem, the veil is both an opportunity for women to move freely in public places through the subtraction of the body to the gaze of others, and a form of control, a sign of belonging and domain. Veiled women seem to be a danger, “a possible thief in the male space”[20] and, at the same time, an object of male honour and dignity. In Delacroix’ “Women of Algiers in their apartment,” the silent or absent look is generalised to cover Algerian women during the period of colonisation and after.

On the other hand, the stolen gaze of the painter is the prohibited gaze of the Other. The frame of the tableau and the space as beheld by the eye become then the image of imprisonment, which Picasso will explore in his paintings, creating flying lines, cancelling the door of the harem, illuminating the room with light and portraying the body in motion. As for women, the different versions gave them freedom to be covered and to be naked, to face their painter with an alluring smile or to be a face without specific features. The absent features and identity put the painter into a silent position, it is Picasso who silences his brushes and gives free rein to infinite faces and fantasies. Picasso declares a radical shift in perspective; he calls his tableaux by alphabetic letters in disorder so that his audience reads the letters inside the movements and features of the Algerian women who write different words every time one looks at them. By giving infinite verbal interpretations in his tableaux, Picasso breaks their silence and creates a response.

Yossi Waxman, ‘Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement,’ 2009. <http://www.newmasterartist.com/artist/yossi-waxman/artworks>

In 2009, Yossi Waxman interprets ‘Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement’ giving them universal attires by mixing their physical features so one can hardly see them as Algerian, mixing their colours and finally dissolving them as if washed away by their momentousness.

The liberation from the condition of imprisonment, however, does not pass through the conquest of space and the possibility of movement, but through the introduction of speech and dialogue between women. Djebar comments,

New Women of Algiers which, starting from the last few years, they can freely circular […] these women are (we are) completely free from the shadowy relationship maintained for centuries with their body? They speak truly, dancing, or thinking…[21]

*****

In Malika Mokeddem’s Je Dois Tout a Ton Oubli/ I Owe Everything to your Oblivion, the image of women’s silence and rape is extended to the French space. Rape is the physical, moral, psychological and symbolical weapon of war. By physical I mean usurping one’s authority over her body. By moral I pinpoint to the association of women’s body to family or tribal honour. In the act of rape, mainly the ones committed by the coloniser, there is a psychological feeling of supremacy and putting hand on the desired territory. This leads to the symbol of the land by a woman’s bodies. By impregnating these women with the ‘enemy’, the land will be peopled by the enemy’s offspring. This is why, in time of war, raped women are killed by their families, sent back to her abuser to be killed or sold into prostitution. These destructive aspects of rape make of it the most degrading weapon.

Published in 2008, Je dois tout à ton oubli of Malika Mokeddem highlights the situation of women in Algeria after the wars the country survived in the Twentieth Century. In this novel, the protagonist Selma is a paediatrician in France. She is tormented by her past, mainly when a man came with the urgency to save the life of his son. For the first time, Selma has a flashback that freezes her and makes her decide to go back to her hometown and face her torments. In the process, she decides to face her mother and Algeria. She rediscovers rape, silence and perpetual violence against Algerian women.

The theme of women’s condition as marked by difficulties and suffering is represented by two distinct figures. The narrator fluctuates between two extremes. On the one hand, one sees the traditional woman, represented particularly by the mother, as the best role that Algerian society accepts and esteems in women. The mother represents the tradition that links the virtual woman to her submission to the dictates of patriarchy. On the other side, there is the rebellious woman, the “different,” who is mainly active and participant in social life, and who fights for dignity and emancipation, as seen for example in the character of Selma.

To Malika Mokeddem, the maternal figure is fundamental and the symbol of an Algeria gripped by a pernicious inaction that undermines the new generations’ striving to achieve a proper psychic and cultural development. Selma’s mother is illiterate, constantly silent, an idolizer of silence. Mokaddem explains the clash between generations of women by the absence of education as one of the main reasons behind the conflict between Selma her mother and the women who live with her:

Elles [les femmes de la famille de Selma] ne travaillent pas. Elles vivent avec leurs enfants chez leur mère. […] Soudain Selma a l’étrange impression de traverser un cimetière pour vivants à mille lieues de toute conscience humaine. […] Le manque d’instruction les maintient ensembles, démunies.[22]

In the extract, ignorance and illiteracy hinder the revival of women. Confined in their houses, as perceived by Mokaddem’s protagonist Selma, Maghrebian women do not know the historical evolution and therefore tend to believe in the immutability of the times and customs.[23] Prisoners of an era parallel, Selma’s mother is unable of developing a divergent thinking because she does not have access to an alternative thought to the one she seems to live through for centuries.

In her novel, Malika Mokeddem shows that ignorance is the cause of the general backwardness of Algeria. Ignorance, a harbinger of a generalized poverty, descends silence that characterizes the childhood memories of the protagonist. Silence is prevailing on the lives of these women. These women teach tradition to their daughters and avoid talking about their feelings, as though things should be the same for any woman.[24] Things should happen in silence; yet, Mokaddem depicts Algerian women’s position in the fighting winds of revolution, independence, nationalism, extremism and modernity, as central in setting future parameters and values of the Algerian society.

The novel shows the presence of a common attitude of silence that characterizes women’s behaviour and the more general context of Algeria. The conspiratorial silence and secrecy of Selma’s mother is emblematic of a widespread Algerian attitude designed to conceal, even the most heinous crimes. Only silence guarantees the refuge from the danger of change. In fact, the narrator describes Selma, her mother and Algeria, in a relationship governed by silence

Quand avaient-elles passé du temps ensemble? Toute leur vie, elles n’avaient fait que croiser leur silence. Un silence si vertigineux qu’il les maintenait à distance. S’il lui fallait trouver un mot, un seul, qui puisse définir la mère, ce serait: jamais. Du reste, la mère resterait muette devant elle. Il en a toujours été ainsi. N’en a-t-elle pas eu la plus évidente démonstration cette nuit?[25]

Tant de violences ont été commises ici sans que jamais justice soit rendue. Tant de traumatismes toujours niés, toujours mis sous le boisseau.[26]

Selma’s mother tends to distance herself from the rational conversation that favours questioning. She refuses to have a contact with her daughter, who already feels distant, critical to those centuries-long established family behaviours.

Silence is not a solution; it only paves the way to chaos and misunderstandings. Indeed, Mokeddem highlights the parallels between her mother and Algeria. The country is torn between Selma with her Occidental philosophical ideals and the mother or tradition that threatens renovation. In fact, Selma feels threatened by her mother’s repudiating words and considers that between her and her mother, “il y a toujours eu un obstacle d’autant plus inquiétant [qui] ne s’exprimait que par le sentiment d’une vague menace.”[27] Violent towards difference, Selma’s mother is described as the immovable protector of all those pillars of the Algerian culture. Indeed Selma recognises Algeria in her mother: “C’est elle [l’Algérie] qui a fomenté des violences, des exactions avec cette sorte de jouissance destructrice.”[28]

In the event, the rift that separates Selma from her mother is foregrounded as the clash between Selma and her past. Among the virtues that a good mother must necessarily possess is to defend honour: the preservation of the marriage bond and the diligent observance of religious dictates are to be strenuously protected. If they are threatened even the most heinous crimes can be done to ensure their protection. Selma’s mother will kill her new-born nephew because he was the fruit of an extramarital affair. The revelation is hard on Selma, it is her uncle who raped his sister. In fact, the mother continues to repeat a particularly emblematic sentence: “Qu’est-ce que tu voulais qu’on fasse? On était bien obligés de tout étouffer! ”[29]

Selma’s mother is unable to understand the questions her daughter raises because the two women refer to incompatible beliefs. Selma chose not to live in her home land and to escape from the abuse and the violence. The mother, however, has to defend tradition and to fight modernity or reasonable thinking in the matters of women and sexuality. It is interesting to note that Selma’s mother does not use the first personal pronoun ‘je’ during her confession. She prefers the impersonal pronoun ‘on’ because it was not an act dictated by an individual conviction, but a necessary act to protect honour. The act of silencing culminates in the murder of the new-born:

La main de la mère qui s’empare d’un oreiller blanc, l’applique sur le visage du nourrisson allongé par terre auprès de la tante Zahia et qui appuie, appuie. Cette main qui pèse sur le coussin et maintient la pression. Les spasmes, à peine perceptibles, du bébé ligoté par des langes qui le sanglent de la racine des bras à la pointe des pieds. Le cri muet des yeux de Zahia qui semble tout figer.[30]

Medea is the mythical figure that Mokaddem alludes to in describing Algeria. In The Complex of Medea, 2006, Rita El Khayat chooses to compare the mother to the sorceress Medea to destabilise the patriarchal beliefs held by women. Fundamental to reflecting on the relationship between a mother and her daughter, the productions El Khayat propose an idea of femininity and motherhood that Mokaddem agrees on to a certain extent.

The study of Rita El Khayat reflects on violent motherhood through the evocation of the Greek myth of Medea. Medea thus becomes the symbol of a mother’s brutality and murder. For Selma, Medea becomes the mother and the country:

L’image de Médée hante Selma. Elle s’est imposée dès que celle du meurtre est venue lui dessiller les yeux lors de cette brusque restauration de sa mémoire. Mais comment risquer la comparaison quand la mère comme la tante feraient si pâle figure aux côtes de Médée? […] Médée méprise souverainement la notion du mal et tue pour se venger d’un époux et des puissants avec lesquels ce dernier fait alliance. Elle leur inflige un supplice radical et s’en vante. […] Seules la honte et la menace du déshonneur ont présidé à la décision familiale d’un meurtre. La mère n’en a été que l’exécutante. […] En vérité, c’est au pays tout entier, à l’Algérie, que sied le rôle de Médée. [C’est elle] qui a assassiné les uns, exilé les autres, fait incinérer des bébés dans des fours, abandonnant d’autres enfants avec d’indicibles blessures. Elle continue à se mutiler en reléguant la moitié de sa population, les femmes, au rang de sous-individus dans les textes de sa loi.[31]

Algeria appears to the eyes of the writer as a despotic land. To Mokaddem, Algeria is the reincarnation of Medea: enchantress, powerful, murderous, and ruthless. The thought of the invariable Algerian land accompanies all those women, who like Selma chose exile in silence. If they continue to live there, it means that they will accept things in silence.

Moreover, it is interesting to note that Malika Mokeddem’s interpretation rejects all forms of nationalist rooting, expressed by the majority of postcolonial authors. Malika Mokeddem flees Algeria to a refuge in France, which she does not consider France as her exile. The writer wants to be homeless, stateless, in a town of an indistinct ailleurs.

*****

To conclude, women’s silence is a frequent theme and an integrating component in Algerian stories. In Mokaddem’s Je Dois Tout a’ ton Oubli, silence is criticised as an act of acceptance and submission if not the perpetuation of that same oppressive tradition. In Djebar’s Women of Algiers in their Apartments, the portrayal of silence is given a colonialist reading and its later explosive interpretation of Picasso as an emancipating act of Algerian Women today. Thus, caught between tradition, colonisation and patriarchy, Algerian women endure the violent act of silencing and rape; yet many of them, like Selma’s mother, perpetuate absence and displacement.

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Merini, Rafika. Two Major Francophone Women Writers, Assia Djébar and Leïla Sebbar A Thematic Study of Their Works. New York: Peter Lang, 1999.

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[1] French presence in Algeria lasted from 1830 to 1962.

[2] Amel Grami, “Gender and War”, (Conference: University of Birmingham, School of Arts and Music, Department of Modern Languages, Arabic Section, UK, 10 /10/ 2014.

[3] Assia Djebar, Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, Trans., Marjolijn de Jager (The University of Virginia Press, 1992), opening page.

[4] Djebar, Women, 44.

[5] Barya, “The Segregated Gaze: Assia Djebar’s Women of Algiers in Their Apartment” (February 4, 2014) <http://www.africanwriterstrust.org/the-segregated-gaze-assia-djebars-women-of-algiers-in-their-apartment/>

[6] Djebar, Women, 66.

[7] Djebar, Women, 14.

[8] Assia Djebar, Ces Voix qui m´assiègent: En Marge de ma Francophonie [These Voices that Besiege Me: Outside of my French-Speaking World] <http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ta-MLTOyh5YC&pg=PA309&lpg=PA309&dq=ASSIA+DJEBAR,+THESE+VOICES+THAT+BESIEGE+ME&source=bl&ots=D3VcGzNp7_&sig=t8tJhyY36DmcTC4X3zAuoGqCRY0&hl=it&sa=X&ei=TeFtVL- kDbaSsQT9mYGwCg&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=ASSIA%20DJEBAR%2C%20THESE%20VOICES%20THAT%20BESIEGE%20ME&f=false> 107.

[9] Rania Kabbani, Europe’s Myth of the Orient, (London: Pandora Press, 1986), 67.

[10] S.X. Goudie, “Theory, Practice and the Intellectual: A Conversation with Abdul R. JanMohamed,” <http://english.chass.ncsu.edu/jouvert/v1i2/GOUDIE.HTM> (13/09/2014).

[11] Said, Orientalism, 3.

[12] Bhabha, Other, 1.

[13] Bhabha, Other, 8.

[14] Djebar, Women, 160.

[15] Djebar, Women, 161.

[16] Bhabha, Other, 9.

[17] Rafika Merini, Two Major Francophone Women Writers, Assia Djébar and Leïla Sebbar A Thematic Study of Their Works. New York: Peter Lang, 1999, 2.

[18] Merini, Two,3.

[19] Merini, Two,3.

[20] Djebar, Women, 165.

[21] Djebar, Women, 14.

[22] Mokeddem Malika, Je dois tout à ton oubli, (Paris: Bernard Grasset, 2008), 68. “They [the women of Selma’s family] are not working. They live with their children at their mothers’ house. […] Suddenly Selma has the strange feeling of crossing a cemetery for the living that is far one thousand miles from any human awareness. […] their lack of education keeps them concerted in poverty.” [Translation mine].

[23] Kelly Debra, Autobiography and independence selfhood and creativity in North African postcolonial writing in French, (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2007), 286.

[24] Mokeddem, Dois, 85.

[25] Mokeddem, Dois, 85. “When had they spent time together? All their life, they had only to cross their silence, a so dizzying silence that kept them at bay. If she had to find a word, only one, which could define the mother, it would be ‘never’. Moreover, the mother remains silent before her. It has always been so. Does not she have the clearest demonstration that night?” [Translation mine].

[26] Mokeddem, Dois, 86. “So much violence has been committed here without ever a glimpse of justice; as trauma has always been denied and put under a bushel.” [Translation mine].

[27] Mokeddem, Dois, 88. “There has always been a particularly worrisome obstacle [which] is expressed by the feeling of a vague threat.” [Translation mine].

[28] Mokeddem, Dois, 92. “It is her [Algeria] which fomented violence and abuses with such a destructive pleasure.” [Translation mine].

[29] Mokeddem, Dois, 71. “What do you expect us to do? We were obliged to stifle it all!” [Translation mine].

[30] Mokeddem, Dois, 11. “The hand of the mother who grabs a white pillow, pressing on the face of the infant lying on the floor with aunt Zahia, pressing, stifling and crushing. The barely noticeable Spasm of the grieving infant, tied up from head to toes. The silent cry of Zahia’s eyes seems to freeze everything.” [Translation mine].

[31] Mokeddem, Dois, 84-5. “The image of Medea haunts Selma. It imposed itself as soon as the murder came to open her eyes at the sudden recovery of her memory. Nevertheless, the analogy would appear futile as the mother and the aunt pale in comparison to Medea. […] Medea sovereignly abhors the notion of evil and kills to avenge her husband and the powers with which he made a covenant. It inflicts a radical punishment and praises it. […] Only the shame and the threat of dishonour pushed the family to a decision of murder of which the mother was a mere performer. […] In fact, it was the whole country: Algeria that plays the role of Medea. [She’s] the one who murdered some, exiled others cremated babies in ovens, and left other children with untold injuries. It continues to mutilate itself by relegating half of its population, women, who continue to be cast sub-individuals in its texts of law.” [Translation mine].

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