Writing and filming the cries of silence.
- Assia Djebar, Women of Algiers in Their Apartment(1)
If the harem no longer exists, its structure persists today. If words unveiled during and because of the war of liberation, words such as rape or electrocuted genitals(2) (WA, 150), remove a semantic barrier parallel to the veil, to silence, to claustration, one returns to "the heavy silence that puts an end to the momentary restoration of sound" (151). The silence of feminine voice in the past returns with and in spite of Algerian independence, a silence ever more resounding which is textualized by Assia Djebar from her very first novels of 1957 and 1958, then throughout her works to the present. The evolution of silence in the novels, short stories, play, and films of Djebar tells the story of a writer and filmmaker, the history of an Algerian people, the history of resistance, and the history of Arab women's speech.
For Djebar, silence is a synthesis of a number of polar opposites: on the one hand, historical asphyxiation (absence of sound), on the other hand the oral tradition of tribal legend close to extinction (lost presence); or, at one extreme, collective solidarity, and at the other, solitude. In the works of Djebar, women's silence can express submission to masculine norms or defiant refusal of these norms or other oppressions. In a house or an apartment - always enclosed spaces - silence can be a protective retreat, a place of feminine solidarity, a symbol of submission, or a prison.(3) Silence can be the boredom of an interminable wait inside or, completely the opposite, an invisible cover protecting a woman when she ventures outside for the first time unveiled. It is the emptiness of noncommunication and the lyricism of nature. During a war, silence nourishes an awakening of consciousness when a woman is driven into a cave by an enemy, left alone in a house after the departure of her husband for the maquis, tortured in a prison where she must resist all interrogations in silence, a challenge she learns to overcome for the survival of her comrades. Silence covers, suppresses a world of speech in the past as well as in the present, for many narrators and especially for their author, all voices distanced from their mother tongue, finding themselves lost once again in the writing of a language foreign to love.
The act of writing silence realizes two important transformations: silence into nonsilence, by the speech act alone. On a metaphysical plane, the speech act(4) of writing silence also questions, according to Jacqueline Michel, the "threshold of the un-fathomably deep Silence of before and after, of origins and of destination, tracking down every human being."(5) Silence would then be the first language, writing a second or third which translates (veils and unveils) the first. Writing gives voice and form to the silences/signs of the temporal and spatial infinity which give meaning to life.(6) Making the invisible visible, making silence speak on all planes from the simplest to the most philosophical, is the implicit project of the docufiction of the works of Assia Djebar.
"There were many cool, clear nights, and silence."(7) At the beginning of La soif, Djebar's first novel (1957), silence fills the refreshing obscurity after the stifling heat of a summer day on the Algerian coast. At once natural, spatial, social, and psychological, silence brings together many meanings in one system of binary perception of multiple affirmation and rejection on the part of the author. Silence is natural with regard to the night, the water, the body of the solitary strolling Nadia. It is spatial and social in the home of her sister and brother-in-law, psychological in Jedla's husband's obsessive admiration of his wife, who is also silent as she walks at his side, lies in her sickbed, rides in the car, or sits on the beach. Silence is a refuge and the ephemeral promise of future joy. But the couple out for a quiet walk are not happy, and the silence in the main characters' lives is not a true refuge but rather the silence of sleep and of death. It is an unhealthy silence between husband and wife and the obsessive silence maintained by Jedla which brings about the death of their child, and that of Jedla herself, since in her jealousy, in her doubt fed by the bad faith of Nadia, she lets herself fall into the abyss of an abortion, which causes her death shortly afterward. The child who should have been a promise of happiness cannot save her from her solitary pride, nor from her deadly silence. Nadia, who serves as her foil, wanting so much for women to reject all submission to their husbands as well as to the empty, flat contentedness of maternity, does not understand the thirst of which she speaks, confused as she is by her "European" education.(8) She does not yet know how to translate into action her own thirst for a free and productive life, the thirst for a voice in the symbolic desert of masculine norms, already seen as deadly menace by the young author.
Dalila, the impatient young woman of Les impatients (1958), like Nadia, begins in the leisure of a cool, dark, silent house. She lives isolated by her civil status as a single woman, by her stubborn attitude toward freedom, by the fact that she is living in reclusion when most of her friends are not. Alienated as well by a rage for life, Dalila lives in the silence of solitude. She learns how to act with men: "The essential thing with them was to be silent" (32), almost to disappear in the face of their brutal indifference. That silence is the polar opposite of revolt. Revolt shakes her laziness, pushes her toward life, both a life that she does not understand and a voice that she does not yet know how to exploit. Intellectual girls revolt from the preceding generation's silence by discussing the evolution of the role of Muslim women; bored by such discussions, Dalila revolts by going out surreptitiously with Salim, the handsome, tall, intelligent cousin of her girlfriend. She leaves her adolescent slumber to enter the new world of men and the freedom a man can offer, "on tip-toe, silent,"(9) meeting Salim in town without her family's knowledge. At the cafe with him, she enjoys listening silently to him; sometimes their shared silence offers her a delicious immobility, which transforms her into a witness outside the framework of time.(10) She listens. She watches the spectacle of the cafe, of the street, of the port. The liberty of the silent gaze, of the company of Salim, and of the fact of being part of a couple with him is a fragile and temporary moment of freedom; returning home, she learns to lie about her secret life, which one does best, she says, by keeping quiet (45). This latter is the silence of bad faith born of laziness, of cowardice, and of the temptation of the man who can give her access to city life.
But the opaque silence among family members, between husband and wife, between girlfriends, and particularly the lies lived in silence destroy the life driving the naive and egotistical young woman. She begins to understand that she must abandon her own silent lies: a superficial friendship with Mina, her rendezvous with Salim in town, a year's wait to marry Salim so that public gossip over their meetings may subside. Gradually she rejects these lies (though she will hide her actions from Salim later) and sets in motion a chain of both liberating and tragic events. For good reason, she forces her mother Lella to tell the secret of her own past: abandoned by her fiance, Lella had let herself fall into a number of short-term romantic adventures, the last of which was with the same Salim, now her daughter's fiance; he had paid a family recently arrived in Algiers to pass her off as a relative and to marry her honorably. In the confusion following this revelation, Dalila escapes to Paris, where Salim is studying; she spends several days there before contacting him and never mentions this fact to him. She feels the need to go out, to be free to act on her own, yet to live with or as close as possible to Salim, but she continues to take the easy way out, to hide outings and visits from a girlfriend, both of which are unacceptable to Salim. Is it the double act of disobeying him and keeping secrets from him that poisons their relationship, leading him to lock her in her apartment in Paris and to beat her when she succeeds in opening the door? The silence which seems necessary on a short-term basis certainly feeds the menace of male rejection of all freedom of movement for the young woman.
Dalila's definitive escape is as symbolic as is it physical; she is once again and evermore alone, since the fact of breaking the last silence, of telling the most intimate secrets, explodes the fragile stability of the world of their family and actually kills her fiance and her mother. For Lella must reveal her secret to her son Farid and to Salim, who never knew whom Lella married after his generous act long ago. When Salim goes to meet her, Farid sees him with her and kills them both, without letting them speak to defend their actions. Dalila has realized the connection between authenticity, voice, and personal freedom, and she has learned the high price one must pay for abandoning silence. Dalila's voice has brought about death and given new life; too long suppressed, the feminine voice explodes in a painful cry, incurring the instant and deadly (family) male blow of repression. After the tragic events toward the end of the novel, however, the elder family member Si Abderahmane sends for Dalila to meet with him in a room of the house she has never seen before, to offer her, face to face, to support her morally and financially should she continue with her studies: "You must take up your studies again, then. . . . Science, above all, now" (233). Death yields to life, silence to speech, claustration to university study for the young woman. The insidious cycle of silence is broken.
In the new world of Djebar's third novel, Les enfants du nouveau monde (1962), family silences are no longer desired but for the most part endured. Peaceful moments of silence, such as the meditations of a man in prayer (the man free to move, leave, act, or speak) or a woman alone in a room with pieces of silk cloth strewn about the floor (the woman confined to the house and to her solitude, limited in action and speech), are like forgotten portraits of another world, another epoch. They recall Lila's favorite painting of the two courtesans of Carpaccio, "pinned down in their boredom."(11) The pictorial representation of silence brings together and juxtaposes the visual arts of painting and writing, as well as the silence and immobility in which Djebarian women tend to live. The leitmotiv will be taken up again in Women of Algiers in Their Apartment (1980), a collection of short stories with a closing essay critiquing paintings of the women of Algiers by both Delacroix (1834, 1849) and Picasso (1954-55).
In all but the earliest works of Djebar silence often alludes to war. In Les enfants du nouveau monde (1962) it expresses the suffering caused by war: the moment of suspense when one expects a shell to explode on the patio (15); the self-questioning of a woman whose husband has left her to go to the maquis (20); the fear that a husband or a son cannot return before nightfall, before dawn, or ever again (23); the silence with which a frustrated Amna, who has just hit her children, suffers the blows of her husband, who has come home horrified at the thought that he has tortured and killed a fellow Muslim at the police station. In the depths of the household, protection and refuge of tradition, the wound of oppression bleeds. The women, left behind in body or in spirit by their husbands, look at one another, look at others, think about acting, going out, finishing their life of waiting. Below the surface their silence nourishes an awakening of consciousness.
A proud new silence cries out in the newly constructed prison, where one risks one's life by refusing to speak during interrogations and torture. When Lila arrives at the prison, having realized how far behind she is in comparison with her husband in terms of a nationalist consciousness, she quickly learns this new silence, since she has known it so well in other contexts: "You want me to tell and I will tell nothing, of what I know, of what I don't know. What I am most familiar with is silence, shutting oneself away . . . refusal . . . defiance" (309). She has already resisted being modeled into what Ali considered a perfect woman, she has revolted against the death of her child, she has lived in solitude. In her personal life she has come to know that thrill of revolt which transformed the past of submission and silence into what Ali used to call the revolt which had "inflamed the mountains" (68); she knew death, not only that of her own six-month-old child, sick and dead in a single day, but also her mother's death when Lila was barely ten years old.
For the young adults who are "children of the new world," silence is often part of their learning experience, of their personal relationships - "friendship without words or discourse" (211), "hours spent facing each other in mute confrontation" (248), "A silence. They [Khaled et Lila] continue to walk" (252) - as well as part of their nationalist commitment: Hassiba contacts Youssef in silence, recognizing him "according to prearranged signals" (195); later, she wants to know what happened to the displaced Beni Mihoub tribe, but she dares not ask. "Silence is pure," she comments (295). When Tawfik kills his sister Touma, informer for the antinationalist police, no one is willing to be a witness of the event. The thin shepherd guide of the maquisards, too, does his job in silence, "gazes fixedly at the ruins, saying nothing," to show them where to hide (293). All the young people reflect long and often, making an effort to understand this complex and difficult moment of the beginning of the resistance struggle: Lila is silent, "not a word more; but the discourse continues within" (244). As he comes to the decision that he must kill his sister, Tawfik realizes the evolution of his thinking; to him Touma is no longer a shameful image but now a victim of fate, whose instrument he has become (274). Youssef, who has left for the maquis, is surprised to realize he had forgotten his wife. Silence of complicity, silence of heroism, silence of the forgotten, silence learned and silence conquered - the new force of silence blossoms in complexity in both men and women, together and differently, sometimes negative and sometimes positive, especially related to the concept of commitment, which, in Les enfants du nouveau monde, is expressed in terms of morality as well as politics.
Political commitment is the raison d'etre of the "alouettes naives" or "naive larks" of the novel of the same name published in 1967, as well as that of Djebar's one published play, Rouge l'aube (Red Is the Dawn; 1969). The label "alouettes naives" was the nickname the French legionnaires gave to the bejeweled, silent dancer-prostitutes of the Ouled-Nails region in Algeria.(12) In the Algerian War it refers to the young women of the resistance, naive in their political faith and their commitment. The flight of these "larks" into political commitment, with its concomitant freedom of movement and speech, symbolizes for men the danger of women's independence after the war. This point is best transmitted by a male narrator, who understands the problem of the loss of control of speech; he repeats to himself that this wartime equality will have its costs, "that the war ending between peoples will be reborn within couples" (423). The masculine point of view of this narrator, Omar Hellal, carries with it the silence of the unexpressed feminine point of view. This young man implicated in the story is, interestingly enough, lacking in commitment or purpose and gives the impression of being adolescent in spite of his adulthood; he offers the perspective of a weakness against which are juxtaposed the force, and faith, and the tenderness of the women characters, Nfissa in particular.
Nfissa subverts traditions and reacts silently from her childhood on. As a girl, she concentrates on drawing and pretends to be ill in order to avoid studying (71); in bed she reads a novel prohibited by her father (74). When she first goes outside alone, she looks at everything: "She walked and was all eyes . . . the shop windows, the stores, the cafes, all sorts of things stood out before her eyes" (63). Her silence helps make her invisible in the eyes of those who would denounce her: "Marvelous anonymity! Never did she dream that she had wanted it unconsciously to protect herself . . . from the vindictive eye of older aunts and other relatives" (64).
Silence also expresses deep sorrow. Although she feels profound grief, Nfissa reacts stoically to the death of Karim, resistance leader and her fiance. It is an act of faith, first for the protection but also for the esprit de corps of the resistance network, a confirmation of the maquisard principle that each individual death is a small sacrifice for the liberty of a nation, for which those in the resistance give their lives. Nfissa also keeps her thoughts to herself about her sister Nadjia's disappearance, in order to protect the youngest sister, who is incarcerated in a non-civil prison where she must resist all torture and mental traps laid to make her reveal what she knows about the maquisards.
In Djebarian women, silence also has a surprisingly tender, maternal, and protective quality rarely exhibited by a masculine character. One clear exception to this rule is Rachid, considered exceptional for his openness regarding the behavior of women. He is loved for his sensitivity, one could even say for his "feminine" qualities. After his sister Zhor dies in childbirth, for example, his silent sorrow is revealed in his lyrical stream-of-consciousness description of his reaction to her death: "the day in which the crystal of the soul first cracks, then pours out in the remains of sobs, of silence."(13) The language, the tenderness, the intimacy betray a perspective one tends to characterize as feminine suffering. It is much closer to the reaction of Nfissa to the death of Karim, for instance, than to that of Hassan to the death of his grandmother in "The Dead Speak."(14) Hassan can no longer feel the importance of the loss of his grandmother after all the death he has seen during five years of war. The most intimate scenes in the works of Djebar, whether murmured or silent, take place between women or, in Les alouettes naives, between Nfissa and Rachid.
Later, Nfissa, who has had a miscarriage after being struck by a car, lets her thoughts wander, thinking about her child and perhaps also about the greater suffering or the possible fate of her sister, who has disappeared. Her silence is born of grief, patriotic faith, love, memories of the past, and hopes and despair for the future, all of which she keeps to herself. Troubled, she reflects on the abortion chosen by her friend Julie when three months pregnant, without speaking of it aloud to Farid or Rachid.
As for the future, the deaths of the children of Julie and Nfissa add to that of Jedla's child in La soif, Zineb's miscarriage in Les impatients, and foreshadows that of the child Hajila aborts in Ombre sultane. So many infant deaths cry out the silent warning that if the relationship between mother and child has sometimes contributed to suppress feminine voice by keeping a woman in the home and under the thumb of her husband, it is the child who symbolizes woman's fecundity, her creative force, her voice, even her life. The child seen as "child-as-chain" impedes the woman from all departures, be they to the maquis, to Paris, to study, or simply to leave the premises of her husband's house. The "child-as-promise," on the other hand, symbolizes procreation, the freedom of the child, the hope of the future, spiritual comfort for the mother and her shelter in old age. A conflict is seen between these two liberties, particularly at a time during the Algerian War when the suffocation of infant life corresponds to a stage one could consider necessary for the complete participation of a woman in the resistance struggle, where, in addition, she too is exposing herself to death while in search of her authentic voice, as she consecrates her life to the liberty of all her compatriots.(15)
Collective fear and pain are expressed in silence, though differently according to one's gender. The men are afraid of not being able to keep secrets from the authorities: Nfissa's release from prison and return home, for example. The fear is masculine, according to Nfissa, since it is the men who are surrounded by others, while the women dream of their freedom of circulation, of light, of speech, women who are already prisoners "in homes which are not even harems any longer" (69). For women, the collective fear is for the well-being of their husbands and sons who are in an incomprehensible "outside." Nfissa explains the women's reaction: "All our women are afraid . . . they do not even admit it, they rush to have child after child to stifle their fear" (68). A particular collective silence of traditional women expresses their pain of exile, as well as their solidarity with the nationalist cause: they refuse celebrations while in the land of exile, they give no you-you, make no noise of celebration, extend no invitations, sing no songs, all to affirm the importance of their Algerian traditions and of the moment of the return in freedom to their homeland. The women protagonists withstand the challenges of seven years of war and the "silent, crude misery" of the life of exile (204). The painful yet proud silence of a powerful collective social behavior speaks loudly for nationalism, for unity, and for hope.
In exile, as under enemy occupation, another silence confronts the foreigners with whom the Algerians must live: curiosity and a cultural barrier protect and maintain apart those who are Algerian, "our own," "les notres." In another scene, veiled women outside, silent spectators who watch public celebrations of the Europeans, affirm the sacred and intimate quality of celebrations and holidays "at home."(16) Do the readers of the novel also identify, to a certain extent, with these silent observers and/or with the Europeans in this binary world of mutual strangers set up by the author, yet utterly historical, as her documentary film La zerda et les chants de l'oubli testifies? If so, are these readers as perplexed as the author by the fact that they are reading this silent resistance in the language of the oppressor? The paradox cries out at this point in the chronology of the works of Djebar.
What is glimpsed as the silence of solidarity in Les alouettes naives becomes more explicit and one part of a double, liberating voice shared equally by women and men in the play Rouge l'aube (1969). In this lyrico-dramatic version of the maquisard struggle, silence is first of all characterized by listening: the stranger listens cautiously when he returns to his village; and his sister, still at home, listens to the activity outside, the cries, and dreams of liberty in the image of women walking without a veil. The first act ends with silence overriding discourse: a silent home accentuates the activity outside it. In that home the unexpressed agreement (the sister will not leave for the time being with her maquisard brother) underlines a subtext of anxiety (the mother) and of stubborn rebellion (the sister). At different moments the mother's complex silence expresses all her feelings of joy, hope, modesty, discretion, concern, and despair: "the mother mad with silent joy" (25); "she remains standing, near him [her son]" (27); "the mother takes a few steps, looks at her two children powerlessly" (30); "his mother begins to cry" (33); "[the father] looks at the two women [mother and daughter], who stand as if fixed" (34). The scene is like a slow-motion film evolving into a (silent) photograph.
Moving away from the ambiguity of family home, the silence of the revolutionaries in the second act is always complex but becomes increasingly rhythmic and harmonious. The blind poet who befriended the stranger "undoubtedly ponders his memories" (37); the water carriers, their backs bent from the weight, refuse to denounce the stranger. His sister, who has become a maquisarde, cries silently before her dying fiance, and a young resistance commander intuitively understands of the larger sense of the term silence: "What a silence, what a strange silence, that which always concludes every one of our battles . . . while the earth slowly drinks the blood shed there . . . and death packs its bags. . . . What a silence!" (56).
The silences of act 3 are heroic: the silence of the last poet led off by the soldiers, the silence of a man condemned to death who refuses to beg for pardon and of his wife who will not save his life in opposition to his wishes, because, as she says, people are beginning to see the dawn - "red is the dawn" - of liberty: "It was not his life that mattered to him. . . . He was looking for a key outside himself . . . or perhaps within. He has found it now. . . . He is no longer my husband (a silence). From now on he is my master!" (82-83).
In the prison of the last act, silence is the wait for death, the men preparing to die, the women crying for them before they begin a song in solidarity in the early hours of the morning. At the approach of the definitive silence, the imprisoned stranger - "the guide" - recalls that which his friend the poet who sacrificed his life for him used to say: "We are like the fetus in his mother's womb" (95). He related this first silence of nourishment to that of the solidarity of a people: "The womb is the people who accept you, who help you too. They welcome you, feed you, hide you, they offer you all their sons" (95). The silence of before and after life teaches women and men united by the same desire for liberty resistance, patience, the force to fight and live a fragile fraternity. In the dramatic denouement, harmony becomes song, then deep silence before the shadow of a man who has been guillotined, left anonymous in the play to represent the faith and commitment of all those taking part in the struggle.
The literary silence of the author herself during the decade of the 1970s marks a fruitful transition from writing to cinema as well as to a more mature vision, anchored in the sociohistorical contexts of her country. She accentuates breaking historiographic silence with respect to the oral traditions and daily life of working women and housewives, the silence of kisses, quiet gatherings, painful memories of the war of independence. Having also felt a certain resistance to the silence of writing, as well as to the French language,(17) in 1975 Djebar begins to tape the voices of Arabic-speaking witnesses of the Algerian War in order to juxtapose with the images the sound, the timbre, of the Arabic with oral translations and/or subtitles in French. These feminine eyewitness reports are the basis for her feature-length prizewinning(18) film La nouba des femmes du Mont Chenoua (1978),(19) whose lens gaze communicates in silence what writing tends to problematize. Now this gaze, which is often silent, at times accompanied by a murmur or music, shifts from the countryside to a woman at home and recuperates a profound song strangled in the past by historical silence.(20) Djebar's film keeps women's speech and oral history(21) safe from the danger of extinction, from the danger of a definitive cultural silence.
A second successful experiment with cinematographic technique appears in 1982's La zerda et les chants de l'oubli,(22) a black-and-white film(23) standing in resistance to all authority and oppression. Composed of bits of footage recorded from 1911 to 1942 for official newsreels and previously judged to be of no historical value or viewer interest, the film underscores what Djebar deems the silences of official History. The once-rejected scenes thus speak historical truth of supreme interest. Djebar emphasizes this by juxtaposing scenes to create irony "without comment." In one instance she contrasts the scene of military mobilization of Arab men with another of a live bull being dragged by the horns onto a freighter. In other instances the filmmaker inserts a certain photo of veiled women-objects that are transformed into subjects by the fact of their repeated appearances. As such they sit as silent judges of the foreigners' gaze.(24) The Djebarian film shows its capacity to express the cry of silence, either a cry against the oppressor who considers and treats the colonized people as animals, or a cry against the insolent look of the colonizer who looks at others but never sees himself or herself for what (s)he really is.
Between the creation of the two films, Djebar publishes her only collection of short stories, Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement (1980), translated later into English as Women of Algiers in Their Apartment (1992). Silence plays a central role in these stories, as well as in the postface, "Regard interdit, son coupe" (Eng. "Forbidden Gaze, Severed Sound"), which refers to the restoration of taboos, feminine silence, and invisibility at the dawn of independence. The past's traditions, a gentle way of life, and feminine sorority shared by many generations of women confront the exigencies of the war and a concomitant liberalization, for the women in the stories speak precisely of silence and analyze their former invisibility. In "There Is No Exile" a young woman reflects, "Perhaps when life changes, everything should change with it, absolutely everything."(25) Nadjia, whom we have already met in Les alouettes naives as a resistance fighter and tortured prisoner, reappears in "Day of Ramadan" after independence. She says sadly, "No, I won't have it . . . I . . . - and her voice was filled with tears - I thought, you see, that all this would change, that something else would happen, that . . . - Nadjia burst out crying, pushed her face into her pillow, on the same bed she'd slept in as a child" (122).
In the short stories written between 1958 and 1978, women's past conflicts with the changing present and young women leaving behind their life as warriors seek both a public commitment and the traditions and comfort of their ancestors. Silence functions like a structural subject of reflection, listening, regrets, and hope for the women. As object of their discussion, silence is richly varied: the concept of interiorized veils women wear, the possibility of doing research and pursuing formal studies, the fact of being excluded because of gender, and the differences between their mothers' silences and their own. Sarah, in the story "Women of Algiers in Their Apartment," like the author herself, studies, listens to women's traditional songs,(26) the haoufis of Tlemcen, that embody "a world of tenderness . . . coming to the surface again, like a water lily of oblivion."(27) At home and missing her runaway son, Sarah reflects upon the situation silently, as is her way. During the war, Sarah was called the silent one, according to Leila, because as a prisoner she refused to speak. "A little like certain women of Algiers today," responds Sarah. "You see them going around outside without the ancestral veil, and yet, out of fear of the new and unexpected situations, they become entangled in other veils, invisible but very noticeable ones" (47-48).
Sarah can compare herself to her mother, who was silent in a different way. She had worked all day every day, according to Sarah, "she who'd never declared her fears out loud, or her joys, who'd never even moaned like so many other women I know, who'd never cursed anyone, nor noisily choked down any sounds, my mother. . . . That's how my mother died: silently" (49). Hadja, water carrier and masseuse in the baths, dreams in the pain of her own silence of excluded woman: "From the depths, a geology of wasted words, fetus-words, swallowed up forever" (38). Her dream accelerates, and she dreams (in italics), "It is me they have excluded, me whom they have barred . . . me inside the rocks of silence of the white veil" (39). She is the water carrier to whom they call without wanting an answer, "Carrier, I want water . . . boiling water!" (41), without knowing that she suffers and lives in silence. Silence is the sad history of Arab women, whose only means of un-blocking everything, according to Sarah, is to "talk, talk without stopping, about yesterday and today, talk among ourselves, in all the women's quarters, the traditional ones as well as those in the housing projects. Talk among ourselves and look. . . . The Woman as look and the Woman as voice" (50). Break the silence, put it in its place in the past in favor of a speaking, seeing future, open onto a sunny threshold, in sharp contrast with those who in another century inhabited a penumbra of closed and immobile luxury.
The title of the collection, Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, refers to a series of two paintings by Delacroix of the same name, painted in 1834 and 1849, and another series by Picasso discussed in Djebar's closing essay, which explicitly critiques the silence of the first Delacroix canvas in particular: "two women surprised in their conversation, but their silence has not stopped reaching us" (145); "that vegetal autonomy of the Algerian women in the painting";(28) and the truth of the silence experienced by the women Delacroix has painted. Djebar compares these paintings with Picasso's interpretation of Women of Algiers in fifteen lithographs executed from 1954 to 1955. In Picasso, the lady whom one recognizes from Delacroix, "fixed before in her mournful sorrow, is from now on immobile, but like a rock of interior force" (187) in an open space, the door wide open, the figures naked and dancing. Picasso maintains the silence, but adds music, movement, openness. The title story of Djebar's collection, in turn, realizes what Picasso proposes in his painting; the story's conclusion makes an oblique reference to it: "Not to go away, no, to gaze at the city when all the doors are opening. . . . What a picture! It will make even the light tremble!" (52).
While listening to and watching the relatives and well-wishers, Aicha, the narrator of the story "The Dead Speak," sees other "mute visions" (77), those of the past, of her grandmother who has just passed away. Yemma Hadda lived five years of silence waiting for her grandson Hassan to return from the war before dying upon his return. She was silent during her life, and now, deceased, she is doubly silent: "Hadda, now silent, speak to us!" (86). Her grandmother silently suffered the absence of this grandson, after having lost her own son, slaughtered with three comrades in a demonstration on 8 May 1945. Aicha and her grandmother's closest friend Said mourn her silently. It is a past of Algeria's and the family's lost history, because she represents "the authentic past of the city" (109). Perhaps this history can be reconstituted, her voice sought out, her life reinvented?(29) Aicha seeks her voice by imagining what her life was like. At the end of the short story, a voice speaks, in fact, but it is another "I," an attendant of the dead, which "brings the rustling of memories to a heart in turmoil, memories, old whisperings, music" (116), a voice that is intuited by Aicha and Said but that remains unheard by Hassan, who does not know how to listen to it.(30)
L'amour, la fantasia (1985), the fifth novel by Djebar, is written with an ear to the cries behind the silence of the history of the French occupation beginning in 1830. There were no historical accounts by any women, only a small percentage of chronicles by those besieged, little mention of women, and that anecdotal at best. Silence was the act of bravery of the women who chose to remain in a cave at Oued Riah in solidarity with the men of their tribe. Refusing to beg for mercy, they were asphyxiated in silence along with their husbands, their children, and their flocks on 20 June 1845 by the French army, under the command of Marshall Bugeaud, who, having noted the movement of air in the cave, burned the entire village. According to a historical witness included in the novel, Staff Colonel Pelissier, all were there; the women had not abandoned their men when the huge fires were lit. The tribe remained unconquered forever. By their choice of silent commitment, says Djebar, "The women . . . reveal their aspiration to be the sister-wives of their husbands who do not surrender."(31) Historical truth and structural element of fiction, these suffocated heroines personify their historical silence crying out against the torture of the invaders and, at the same time, against the rejection of their story by historical annals.
Stillness prevails before the outbreak of battle at dawn, 13 June 1830: "The silence of that sovereign morning precedes the procession of cries and murders, which will fill the decades to come" (17). At the end of the battle, the Turks, the Moors, the Kabyles, the Bedouins, men, women, and children lie in silence in the fields, then sketched in paintings and in reports of the event. If the silence of historiography was a failed effort at recuperation, the silence of the nonwritten version is a nearly absolute loss, since according to the novel only three of thirty-seven of the written accounts are written by those beseiged (55). On 22 October 1840 silence promises an imminent and archetypal disaster: some women whose warring protectors had left the night before are sleeping in their tents when the French army, under the leadership of Captains Bosquet and Montagnac and reinforced by Douairs and Spahis, arrives and massacres those who face them with insults and takes as prisoners those who wait calmly and silently, their faces covered with mud to block out the Christian gaze. Their eyes refuse to recognize the conqueror, and their lips are unwilling to form his name. Calm and silent as well are the twentieth-century Algerian heroines, either anonymous or well known, such as Cherifa and Lla Zohra. Their warrior's silence takes up the political theme originating in Les enfants du nouveau monde.
Alternating with the thread of Franco-Algerian history from the perspective of Algerian women, Djebar weaves her "autobiographical" story,(32) which begins with the tender silence of a young girl going to school for the first time, her hand in her father's hand: watching, watched in silence. The silences are of a girl who plays on the swing, spies on the village women, learns to milk the goats, flees from the silent women bowed in prayer, prefers to open the off-limits library, read novels, and look at the "erotic postcards of the Ouled-Nails laden with jewels, their breasts naked" (20). The marveled silence in which the young girl lives is unique in the works of Djebar: that good fortune of going to the French school, outside, hand in hand with her father, the promise of a future free of the veil, a library at her disposition. However, the girl quickly learns the weight of the written word: first the scandalous postcard her father sent to her mother, since he indicated her by name as the addressee; then a first missive from a boy ripped to pieces by the father. Apprentice of her girlfriends in the art of romantic letters exchanged secretly with strangers, she becomes accustomed to the "giddiness of words written in secret" (22). She reads, and she writes: "To write, is it not to 'tell myself'?" (72). She also learns her power as reader when she transforms the passionate letter of a boyfriend into a talisman, which has lost its meaning, which has become "the relic of a lost belief" (74), the word erased by the reader who sticks the letter in her billfold and forgets it.
Voice, on the other hand, is often suppressed around this child-become-modern-woman, in the silence of what is not said, "le silence du non-dit"; for example, the verbal detour to avoid pronouncing the first name of a husband, or the notion of the love to be experienced in discreet silence, since the girl concludes that love should not create a spectacle or cause jealousy in those who do not experience it. Deeper silences are created by the clash of two languages and two cultures for this woman, who as an adolescent has had every opportunity for the freedoms of movement and speech. She knows she can never speak, thus can never really experience, love in French, since for an Arab woman the European man, "foreigner with his free women" (35), is with respect to love both blind and invisible to her, cannot move her emotionally, since he is beyond the cultural veil, "au-dela de l'interdit" (143). He cannot exist; therefore he is a nonperson with whom intimate language is as impossible as it is unthinkable: "The French language could offer me limitless treasures, but not one, not the least of its words of love would be reserved for me" (38). She recognizes the destructive potential of her silence and the need for speech: "One day or another, since that autistic state would cover all my elans de femme, a sudden explosion would surely come" (38). The woman reflects back on her initiation to the French language and writing: although she tries to define her own youthful silence through her writing (75), the very act of writing in French serves as self-censorship not only of the spoken word but also of the written word which translates it.
The effect of the fictional weaving together in L'amour, la fantasia of such threads as the silences experienced in history, the absence of accounts of women's history in History, and the silence of the written word, which one can offer when one cannot speak, is one of a different and thoughtful historiography written into a fictional text. The fictionalized history incorporates all its sources, including the (fictionalized) heritage and the personal milieu which have influenced and formed the historian-novelist Djebar, coloring her judgment and her writing about historical characters and events.
The fraternity of Rouge l'aube becomes sorority in Ombre sultane (1987). Hajila is the silent young "shadow-sister"(33) created by Isma for her own liberation from the bruised state of mind of the married woman - derra in Arabic, whose literal meaning is "wound." This term refers both to the one who causes and to the one who suffers pain: "It's the same thing!" she says (100). In order to be freed from her husband, she actually selects a new mother for her children, knowing that if she leaves the marriage, she loses them. If she causes pain because she suffers from it, Isma begins her narration, "the tale of the sultana of the dawns" (112), in order to save the woman she has led to the position from which she herself managed to escape. A modern Scheherazade, Isma also assumes the role of the sister Dinarzade, for she is attempting to awaken Hajila from her innocent state of victim; the idea of death is repeated, according to Isma, each dawn in a woman's life "because her sister did not watch over her, in her shadow, in her voice, in her night" (153). Isma has come out into the light of a noncloistered Arab woman, beyond the control of the male members of her family, whereas Hajila, the new mistress, a woman from the country, is still in the shadow of traditional silence, subject to the abuse of the man who keeps her in his home. Light and speech are juxtaposed with shadow, obscurity, and silence.
Silence can be sweet in the worst of circumstances - in a difficult marriage when "he" goes out, for instance. During a short respite, Hajila goes into the tiniest room of the apartment: "Women seated. Still life."(34) "The full glass of silence drips away" (17). But the silence of the apartment in the absence of the man is false comfort, since the glass is emptying and the return of male aggression is imminent. The new apartment on the seventh floor symbolizes the silence of Hajila's isolation, cut off from all community, from all human warmth, enclosed behind newly whitewashed walls. The apartment is her cage, much as a box would be for a little quail (the meaning of her name; 16). But the bird has wings and can fly away . . . . Isma has, literally, "the key," the key to the apartment she left behind, and the key to speech, which saves, thanks to the solidarity of sisters. "The sultana of the dawns" becomes the two women in one, and "liberty begins, or, more exactly, it is ready to begin" (171), because the price of Hajila's painful rebellion is to cause her child to abort by throwing herself in front of a passing automobile. But this beginning is also tentative for another reason, says Isma: "My sister, I am afraid, I who thought I awakened you at dawn, dusk is already enveloping us" (192), and with it, silence menaces to stifle voice once again.
That feminine voice, as well as all presence of women, was carefully hidden in historical accounts of the early centuries of Islam. In Loin de Medine: Filles d'Ismael (1991)(35) Djebar recuperates the voices of the daughters of Ismael, and of Hagar, his mother, both Muslim and non-Muslim, voices that reveal the gaps left by the texts of chroniclers who wrote 150, 200 years after the events they portray. Now, collective memory is the foundation of Islam, the memories of the rawiyates(36) who lived with Mohammed when he died and who were then expelled "far from Medina," far from the seats of worldly power, by those who strayed irreversibly from the original light of the faith. For Djebar, the distance of the female storytellers is as symbolic as it is physical. The storytellers represent all Arab women in movement outside the seats of power and who offer their voices as did Hagar (or Isma) so that Ismael (Hajila) might not die of thirst. When Hagar dances, prays, raves, suffocates in "tiny choking noises, incoherent murmurs, a raucous gurgling chanted for hours" (303), water bubbles forth from the earth. The Djebarian thirst for a free feminine voice is satisfied.
Feminine silence has disappeared in this seventh novel, where narrator and historical characters, in the name of Itjihad,(37) begin to speak. What might be considered the silence of the erasure of the feminine by Muslim historians, "naturally led, by habit already, to hide all feminine presence" (5), becomes reappropriated feminine speech and action in Loin de Medine as it was in L'amour, la fantasia. Voice suppressed by the written records of men is reestablished by feminine writing, which takes the form of a recording of oral anecdotes and personalized collective memory - that is, the writing of orality comparable to the fruitful voice of Hagar. The palimpsest, the written trace of speech murmuring, crying out, dancing despite all aggression against it, erases the silence imposed far too long by male imperialism.
However, in Vaste est la prison (1995) silence cries out in an intimate style recalling the personal and "autobiographical"(38) narrative thread in L'amour, la fantasia. After the verses of a Berber song, "Vast is the prison which crushes me, / From where will you come to me, deliverance?"(39) the novel opens with a first chapter titled "The Silence of Writing" (11). This silence is first of all the (silent) act of forming words on the blank page. But just as it is already written in Femmes d'Alger, Ombre sultane, and Loin de Medine, this silence comes from orality itself. In Vaste est la prison it comes specifically from the message of the women of the mother-in-law's city, a message proffered in the baths, where a woman refers to her husband as l'e'dou, "the enemy" (15). The narrator-writer in this preliminary chapter, she who "speaks" in the French text but who grew up surrounded by Arabic speech, finds the source of her French (writing) in this Arabic word (oral); for the girl who hears it, it erases, like an "arrow of silence" (15), all hope she had of finding paternal/masculine love, leaving her orphaned of the Arabic language, silent in "the night of the lost tongue" (15). Identifying more and more closely with the author of the novel, she then chooses the French language to express her thoughts; but what she expresses is, at the same time, according to the narrator, despair, a slow death, running or flowing away, erasure, the silence of what this word has erased in her spirit as well as in her speech. In this work the novelistic accent on an exterior or masculine historical enemy is interiorized; the silence is a new center combining the lost object and the means found to express it. It seems that the pain felt by the author for the present circumstances in her own country recalls the history of the word l'e'dou that she experienced (in fact or in her imagination) and leads her once again to replace an Arab/Arabic silence with written French whose quest is to write that silence. This chapter on the silence of writing marks an important evolution in the works of Djebar, the renewal of an explicit choice of the French language, the problematic of current events erasing that of the language in which one writes.
If the prison and the suffering are both intimate and vast, the silence which always accompanies them resounds in multiple and passionate strains, again in different binary opposites: a full and an empty silence, or the silence of writing and that of the nonwritten. The silence of writing is as full as an awakening after a nap (24), as the act of listening that encourages the one who speaks (40), as the wholeness of a dance brought to mind: "Ten years later, I still dance in my head, inside my body, when I sleep, as I work, and always when I am alone" (61). A secret is a full silence, as is a desire, or the realization of a dangerous project such as going to visit a son in a French prison during the war. On the other hand, silence can be empty, in the cowardice of someone's back turned toward you, the silence of the reproving gaze of others, the emptiness of absence, the need to speak, the erasure of writing on a stone, a brother in a prison far away, the murderous effects of napalm, or an uncle who has disappeared.
The silence of the many dear ones who have disappeared since 1956 is what Djebar is striving to overcome in her 1996 work, Le blanc de l'Algerie, bringing into her "novel" two friends killed in Algeria in June of 1993 and another, her brother-in-law, shot in March of 1994 in Paris: "I ask for nothing: only that they haunt us still, that they live in us. But in what language?" (60). In the written text they return as ghosts to converse with the narrator-author during a trip in the American Far West.(40) In the predawn silence she seeks the "fragrant sweetness"(41) of their voices, of their murmurs of the past: "I will voyage to the ends of the earth just to carry you with me and to hear you thus, before the approach of each dawn!" (61). The three murderous days of 1993 and 1994 when her friends lost their lives, those "three Algerian days, white with dust" (59), she writes, are not made of the whiteness of forgetfulness which cauterizes (59), not of the white of the shroud either, "nor the dust, nor the fog of ever-expanding distance, in slow motion, which never ceases, which slips by, tireless" (61), but rather "the unchangeable whiteness of your presence" (61). Of the sound and image of her friends cut off by murder, she has only memory, the will to keep those who have disappeared present, speaking, despite the silence of their death. They in particular have lived the same refusal of silence: the ardor of Mahfoud against "obscurantism" (80), for example, or Kader speaking to children with cancer (91), or yet again the statistical and sociological work of M'hamed titled "Algeria in the Year 2000," the report he was to present the morning he was tortured and killed (71). The author takes up the standard of rejected silence, refusing to let their silence become permanent. The color white, which could be the absence and the silence of death, becomes their opposite, presence and the courage to search out and to maintain current the truth of "three deaths, of three hundred, or three thousand."(42)
What Assia Djebar has recuperated from history, from feminine memory, from writing, from the "silence of the nonwritten,"(43) that which has been left overshadowed, "the true dramas, the stumbling, the fall of a woman,"(44) she brings alive again in her writing, in her films. To daily silences as forces of affirmation and negation, refuge and oppression in her first novels, she adds the silence which informs a war, particularly that of suffering and of heroic solidarity. The historical and historiographic silences of the beginning of Islam, of the French occupation of Algeria for over a century, and of the Algerian war of independence take their place alongside the different silences of the lives of anonymous women who live less and less covered by white veils and more and more by the interior veils of self-censorship, but who seek more openly their authentic voice beyond silence, which in Djebar's seventh novel, Loin de Medine, in 1991, has all but disappeared. But silence returns twice in modern Algeria, first at the dawn of independence, and then at the moment of the publication of Loin de Medine, with and after the return toward Islamic fundamentalism beginning in 1990, leading to the assassination of the reform-minded President Mohammed Boudiaf in June of 1992.(45) The works of Djebar always run parallel and to some degree in opposition to the history of her country, whose silence must be opposed, according to Djebar, by affirming from now on without apology the use of the French language, while still keeping alive the Arabic and the Berber languages and influences which have informed the traditions she tells and brings alive in the present. Oral transmission has preserved history to a certain point; writing carries further its promise to make the individual and collective voices of the past speak, even though they may have been silent in the past as well, even though writing too has its silence, as theme, as palimpsest, as structure, and as pictorial and cinematographic leitmotiv and art. The films of Djebar, finally, exploit silence and image together as contextualization of the daily life of the women of the region of Mont Chenoua and as critique of twentieth-century colonialism, by means of techniques of language, photography, and montage new to world cinema.
Humboldt State University
1 Assia Djebar, "Forbidden Gaze, Severed Sound," the postface to her Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, tr. Marjolijn de Jager, Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 1992, p. 151 (abbreviated as WA where needed). Originally published as Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement, Paris, Des Femmes, 1980 (abbreviated FA). Except as noted, English quotes from this novel are taken from the de Jager translation.
2 My own translation of "sexes electrocutes" (FA, 188).
3 In the apartment pictured by the two paintings of Delacroix (1834 and 1849), it is a synthesis of all these qualities at once.
4 In linguistics, the speech act is a linguistic expression which accomplishes that which it expresses ("I promise," for instance). Expressing silence actually contradicts and thus annihilates the concept. Speech-act theory is described in John Searle, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language, Cambridge University Press, 1969.
5 Jacqueline Michel, Une mise en recit du silence: Le Clezio, Bosco, Gracq, Paris, Jose Corti, 1986, p. 1.
6 See Leona Toker, Eloquent Reticence: Withholding Information in Fictional Narrative, Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 1993, especially chapter 2, pp. 19-41.
7 Assia Djebar, La soif, Paris, Julliard, 1957, p. 11. All quotes in English are my own; page references are from the French. A published translation by Frances Frenaye was titled The Mischief (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1958); the literal translation of la soif is "thirst."
8 Nadia seems to play rather naively the role of an existentialist, in the sense that Simone de Beauvoir describes existentialism in The Second Sex (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1953), the translation of Le deuxieme sexe, 2 vols., Paris, Gallimard, 1949.
9 "Sur la pointe de ses pieds, silencieuse" (39).
10 "Temoin hors du temps" (50).
11 "Clouees dans leur ennui" (179).
12 Djebar, WA, p. 146.
13 "Le jour ou le cristal de l'ame se fele, puis ruisselle dans les debris des sanglots, du silence" (78).
14 Djebar, WA, pp. 75-117.
15 The conflicting principles of the "child-as-chain" and the "child-as-promise" are concepts from Joelle Vitiello, correspondence with Valerie Budig-Markin, 15 June 1996.
16 These women prefigure those of the film La zerda et les chants de l'oubli (1982), where women filmed and photographed observe as much as they are observed by the colonizers. In the feature-length film La nouba des femmes du Mont Chenoua (1978), men and women together watch the Europeans ballroom dance in the square from behind the bars of an iron fence.
17 Assia Djebar, interview with Valerie Budig-Markin, 22 February 1995.
18 The film was awarded the Prix de la Critique Internationale at the Venice Biennale in 1979.
19 "La nouba des femmes du Mont Chenoua" refers to the classical arabo-andalusian symphony dating originally from the ninth-century Spanish court of Caliph Abdoulrahman ibn Elhakam (822-852) and developed by the musician Ziriab. Djebar refers both to the musical form and poetry of the nouba, which her mother wrote down in Arabic in a notebook as an adolescent, and to the process of making the film in her 1995 novel Vaste est la prison, chapters titled "Femme arable I" (173-75), "Femme arable II" (198-202), "Femme arable III" (219-24), "Femme arable IV" (247-52), "Femme arable V" (272-76), "Femme arable VI" (295-302), and "Femme arable VII" (321-23).
20 In Vaste est la prison Djebar's description is the following: "Moi, femme arabe, ecrivant mal l'arabe classique, aimant et souffrant dans le dialecte de ma mere, sachant qu'il me faut retrouver le chant profond, etrangle dans la gorge des miens, le retrouver par l'image, par le murmure sous l'image" (201).
21 "Arab Women as Historians" was the title of the lecture Djebar gave to Humboldt State University students and faculty in February 1995.
22 "La zerda et les chants de l'oubli" makes an allusion to the zerda, a popular dance in southern Algeria, a name which authorities considered too risque for a state-sponsored film.
23 Martha Manier notes the parallel between black-and-white film and the words on a printed page. Conversation with Valerie Budig-Markin, 3 August 1996.
24 It is the photo of a group of veiled women which has the effect of transforming those observed into those who observe, who turn the gaze back upon the spectators, judging them in silence. The American author bell hooks presents her theory on the woman-as-object becoming subject in Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, Boston, South End, 1989, pp. 29, 43.
25 Djebar, WA, p. 72.
26 Djebar, interview with Valerie Budig-Markin, 15 October 1994, in Victoria (B.C.), Canada.
27 Djebar, WA, p. 18. In French the phrase is "toute une tendresse remontant en nenuphar de l'oubli" (28). It would be interesting to make a comparison between the recovery of time past, the processes of memory and forgetting in the works of Djebar and Proust, beginning with this quotation.
28 My own translation; p. 185 in the French original.
29 This is an early conception of what Djebar is doing in so many of her later works, especially her most recent book, Le blanc de l'Algerie (1996). It could also be defined as her method as a historian of oral tradition.
30 All these images of the prohibited gaze, sounds heard or blocked out, recall the medium of painting but also and especially Djebar's involvement in cinema during this period.
31 Assia Djebar, L'amour, la fantasia, Paris, Lattes, 1985, p. 93. All quotes in English are my own; page references are from the French. The French edition has been reprinted by Editions EDDIF in Casablanca. The novel has been translated into English by Dorothy S. Blair as Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade, London, Quartet, 1988.
32 In her excellent paper "Voicing Silences and Writing Absences in Assia Djebar's L'amour, la fantasia," Milena Santoro unveils or unmasks what seems to be autobiographical in this novel, given the fiction of an autobiography woven "in the adverse language" (Djebar, 243). Paper presented at the conference "Script/Screen in Francophone Africa," University of Victoria (B.C.), Canada, in October 1994.
33 Assia Djebar, Ombre sultane, Paris, Lattes, 1987, p. 91. All quotes in English are my own; page references are from the French. Translated by Dorothy S. Blair as A Sister to Scheherazade, London, Quartet, 1988.
34 The French is stronger: nature morte (17) for the painting term "still life."
35 Assia Djebar, Loin de Medine: Filles d'Ismael, Paris, Albin Michel, 1991. All quotes in English are my own translations; page references are from the French. This popular novel is also in a Livre de Poche edition in French and has been translated into English.
36 Transmitter of the story of the life of the Prophet and that of his Companions, feminine of rawi.
37 The intellectual search for the truth, from djihad, "inner struggle," recommended for every believer. Djebar, Loin de Medine, p. 6.
38 See note 32 above.
39 "Vaste est la prison qui m'ecrase, / D'ou me viendras-tu, delivrance?" (9).
40 In fact, Djebar did make a lecture tour in February 1995 to northern California: to Humboldt State University, where she spoke on the topic "Arab Women as Historians"; and to Berkeley, where, among other themes, she analyzed the unfinished novel by Camus, Le premier homme, with respect to the last fifteen days of Camus's life. She then continued her tour in the South and East of the United States.
41 In a striking passage, the narrator/porte-parole of the author speaks of Dante's vision of the language of cherished absent ones, which he compares to the roar of the panther, "the other animals following her wherever she goes, attracted by so much fragrant sweetness" (61).
42 This quote continues her argument on p. 61. In her own life, Djebar is also a charter member of the International Parliament of Writers, which published a call to consciousness on 31 July 1993, proposing the constitution of a "lieu de parole," a space for discussion to confront the present silence in Algeria and elsewhere in the world where the murderous persecution of writers and intellectuals strangles speech. Assia Djebar, "Le blanc de l'Algerie," Carrefour des litteratures / Le cri du monde, 4-8 November 1993, Strasbourg, France.
43 Djebar, Vaste est la prison, p. 212.
45 In June 1990 the victory of the FIS in municipal and departmental elections marked a return toward fundamentalism; 1991 brought the reaction of arrests of the party leaders Abbassi Madani, Ali Benhadj, Mohamed Said, and Abdelkader Hachani. Though freed, Madani and Benhadj were condemned once again to twelve years of reclusion 15 July 1992. In December of 1991 the FIS was winning when the legislative elections were canceled, people in power supported by a certain international community claiming that the FIS had been winning fraudulently, according to the Express of 10 July 1992 (p. 11), and succeeded in bringing about a military coup which had the stated goal of protecting the democratic, moral, and economic reform of the state. The High State Committee, which then directed the government between 1992 and 1994, saw many signs of conflict and tragic events take place in their country: a demonstration of 300,000 people took place in Algiers, supported by the Front des Forces Socialistes (FFS), for the "safeguard of democracy" (Le Monde hebdomadaire, 1 July 1992, p. 3); violent conflicts between the army and Islamists; the declaration of a state of emergency on 9 February; the dissolution of the FIS party by the court of Algiers and then by the Supreme Court; the arrest and release of Islamists; accusations and nonaccusations of governmental and military corruption; an official attempt to eliminate trabendisme or black-market exploitation (p. 3); many bomb blasts in different cities. The man at the center of the storm since January 1992 was the president and former leader of the war of liberation, Mohammed Boudiaf. Having promised and then initiated unexpected radical reforms, the president was assassinated on 29 June 1992.
VALERIE BUDIG-MARKIN chairs the Women's Studies Program and teaches modern languages at Humboldt State University in northern California. Her publications include a francophone short-story anthology and a French textbook (with James Gaasch) titled Diversite (1995) and articles on women's literature from francophone Africa, France, Canada, the Caribbean, and Latin America. "Writing and Filming the Cries of Silence" is an English version of a chapter from a manuscript in preparation on voice in the works of Assia Djebar, written in collaboration with Joelle Vitiello, to be titled Crier, chanter, ecrire.