Conquest's spectacle: Djebar's L'amour, la fantasia and Lacoue-Labarthe's Musica Ficta.
--Assia Djebar (1985c, 67)
It might seem paradoxical to suggest a reading of music and voice as a critique of certain postcolonial discussions of the representation of Algeria in colonial discourse. But voice, according to Assia Djebar, is written as song, and articulation of it displaces the desire for a photographic image. (1) In her texts, writing voice as song in a musical context is a recurrent trope. Further, Djebar is interested in musical formulations, and this interest displays itself in the musical references utilized in her texts. For example, she titles entire sections of her novels following musical scores. To be sure, many sections of Djebar's L'amour, la fantasia are devoted to the writing of voice, which splits itself to encompass murmurs, whispers, soliloquies, clamors, tzarl-rit, and cries. I will argue that the description of the capture of Algeria in L'amour, la fantasia (2) is imagined and illustrated in the writings of the French artists and colonial officers as a theatrical and musical event. According to the French chroniclers, what took place in June 1830 in Algeria, it appears, was not only a colonizing event but also a victorious landing similar to an operatic overture; interestingly enough, their written sketches invite us to observe a vivid yet complicated collapse of the distinction between conquest and aesthetics. In turn, Djebar reads these accounts rhetorically, pointing out their aporetic position and displacement. She exposes the foundation of the colonial discourse by uncovering its attachment to Western aesthetic values, frequently referenced in the written accounts that she cites in her novel. I will also show that for Djebar, ecriture involves many acts: it is a simultaneous listening to, reading, and rewriting of what had been inscribed in the colonial archive. Indeed, the theatricality of the battle scenes is mimetically revisited in her reading of the French archive while she deappropriates the musical, inscribing Algerian women's stories in an attempt to retrieve forgotten scenes of the history of Algeria. To be sure, the musical cannot be analyzed without a perpetual reflection on its occurrence in the scene of writing since the musical has been already produced and imagined in the French chronicles, which conflate the colonial encounter with highly aestheticized accounts that compare the scenes of war and conflict with ballet, opera, music, poetry, and painting, among many artistic images. In the novel, Djebar's deappropriation of these inscriptions becomes a reemergence of the musical, which is not an identical process but rather a differentiation since she traces, exposes, reenacts, and evokes the violence of war in painstaking descriptions. Her reading of these phantasmic depictions and her text's elaboration on the musical can be addressed according to Lacoue-Labarthe's analysis of music in Musica Ficta. He demonstrates that music has been suppressed in the history of philosophy, relating it to something else, more precisely to a theatrical principle. Explicitly and paradoxically, the notion of something else is staged in the aestheticized French descriptions, and Lacoue-Labarthe's theoretical exploration of the political with respect to the philosophical and literary perception of music will explicate and elucidate Djebar's deappropriation of music. The circularity of her novelistic approach is not only a subversive gesture but is significant because it produces other musical figures that interrogate the French accounts of the colonial warfare; her gesture ironically illustrates the regressive approach to representing Algeria as part of Western aesthetics. In this sense, Djebar's novel does not limit itself to associating music with the perplexing colonial descriptions of the conquest; on the contrary, it opens up Western aesthetics to other Eastern musical traditions, chants, oral rhythms, instruments, and epigraphs. (3) It is also worth noting that her deappropriation of the French archive's metaphors, topoi, and paradoxical statements--while she reads and continually questions the colonial representation--creates an irreducible textual trajectory, opening the novel and writing to music. Further, I will explore how Djebar's deployment of fantasia as a central, ironic trope prefigures the confines of the colonial appropriation.
Most discussions of Djebar's texts tend to suppress her assimilation of music until recently; this suppression, I will emphasize, perpetuates the discarding of questions of reading and writing that are continually affirmed in Fantasia. (4) Disregarding the musical in her writing reflects the dominant preoccupation within certain postcolonial studies and their critique of Francophone literature. This essay hopes to mark what evades certain discussions in postcolonial studies, which conceptually tend to homogenize people's suffrage, generating an approach of determinism with respect to nationalism and politics and excluding the difference and singularity of each experience. More precisely, there is a tendency to read Francophone texts as representative of nationalism, pragmatic politics, and religious modality and to limit the discussion to confrontation with the enemy's language, reducing the literary to empirical realities. (5) Granted, this conflict with the enemy's language--which I will refer to as ambivalence--is articulated by Francophone authors as well as by their opposing critics who write in the mother tongue. Nevertheless, their texts address far more complicated issues of writing and language. (6) I will argue that Assia Djebar's Fantasia can be read as a response to and a problematization of postcolonial studies and the "empirical hold" or the "empirical treatment" of the political, which I would like to underscore in order to differentiate the notion of the political and theoria from politics and praxis (Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy 1997, 126). (7) In fact, in Retreat of the Political, Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy point toward a reciprocal rapport between the political and the philosophical; the political is not exterior to or outside the limits of the philosophical, and they tend to overlap in discussion. "What remains to be thought by us, in other words, is not a new institution (or instruction) of politics by thought, but the political institution of so-called Western thought" (123). I would like to keep this articulation in mind when I refer to the political.
In order to examine the tropes of music, it is necessary to reflect on the beginning of Fantasia and its theorization of writing, which eventually drifts toward music. In effect, Djebar's thesis is summarized in the following passage:
Le mot est torche; le brandir devant le mur de la separation ou du retrait.... Decrire le visage de l'autre, pour maintenir son image; persister a croire en sa presence, en son miracle. Refuser la photographie, ou toute autre trace visuelle. Le mot seul, une fois ecrit, nous arme d'une attention grave. (1985c, 75)
In this passage, there is no desire to display a photographic image of the face of the other, and yet the rejection of such display is fragmented in the syntax of the passage. Clearly, the word appears as the only device to describe the other. "Le mot est torche"; it brings light and love when one tries to describe the face of the other. The passage does not suggest that one can encounter the other and grasp the image of the other but rather that only the word is what remains. The word can maintain a mark of the other who is separated from the one. There is a sense of vigilance and attention expressed in relation to the possibility of describing the other. The passage neither affirms nor denies such a possibility, allowing the process of writing to replace any fixed desire to produce a photographic image or "autre trace visuelle." (8) Djebar clarifies this point, declaring: "car l'autre, quel autre, quel visage recommence de l'hesitation ou de la demande, recevra ce mor de l'amour inentame?" (95). In a set of questioning statements, the writer inquires about the ability to utter the word because of hesitation or a demand from the other, the face that will receive this unspoken word of love. The other who preoccupies her and keeps her wondering does not evoke an urge to be represented in an image; on the contrary, the word positioned as a possibility cannot escape an unwavering meditation on its adequacy to represent. Like Derrida, however, in this instance, she sees the delay within the word that floats or "drowns" before reaching its destination: "Verbe englouti, avant toute destination" (143). (9)
What is at stake, then, is a preoccupation with writing that will take us to the early part of the novel. It is a scene of learning the alphabet and writing a letter. In this moment, an unnamed narrator, the little girl, encounters the institution of writing after her father confiscates a love letter that was sent by her French schoolmate. The young girl, instead of reading the love letter and arriving at its meaning in the French site, is separated from it by the law of the father. Her memory recalls this first scene of writing as one near the territories of love, prohibition, and another language. The institution of writing, therefore, is marked by violence, as the young girl witnesses her father tearing the love letter. From this moment on, the novel can no longer continue the narration without interruptions, incisions, and delays. The scene of writing will perpetually tear itself as it moves from fictional to historical, from private to public, and from the musical to the literary, destabilizing any binary opposition between these pairs. Furthermore, in an effort to read, the little girl assembles the pieces of the letter tom by her father. In so doing, she not only initiates a conflictual relationship with the paternal figure, but also begins to expose a difficult, disrupted process of reading. This reading process mirrors the novel itself, which is assembled from the French writing about the colonial war along with fragmented bits and pieces of Algerian history from a number of oral and written sources. However, the novel shows us that if the first letter was torn, other love letters are eventually recomposed since the text produces many parallels between the act of writing and the notion of love, as stated in that first opening scene: "Toute vierge savante saura ecrire, ecrira a coup sur << la >> lettre. Viendra l'heure pour elle ou l'amour qui s'ecrit est plus dangereux que l'amour sequestre" (11). The text defines its position as residing metaphorically between the dangers of love and writing. But in thus initiating this tension in the act of writing, the text presents another consideration of its own process. In the scene cited above, there is more danger in the love that is written, referring to other threats entailed in the act of writing. The text offers what could be its own initial figuration in a self-reflexive turn. Consequently, the text is never outside the pressure it generates, undertaking to undo and subvert a variety of perspectives and other fragmented texts, and in the process offering a striking historiographic reading of the French colonial writing.
After this introductory section, the text is "different from itself" because it negotiates a space for itself while interpreting and rewriting the colonial accounts of the capture of Algiers. In its effort to translate and interrogate the fragments of the history of Algeria under the colonial power, a history that has been seized by the French chroniclers, the text originates itself in different discourses. (10) This context, the French archive that the text attempts to locate for itself, produces divergent readings, incorporated into the text as part of its reflective mode. With an ironic tone, the writer destabilizes the notion of accuracy of the archive: "comme si << archives >> signifiait empreinte de la realite!" (201). At the same time, however, the text raises anguished questions about what happened during the first month of the colonization of Algiers, confronting the fictional aspect of that historical event and attempting to reconstruct what is missing. A story of the beginning of the French colonization makes the question of a "beginning" derivative of the text's attempts to record its own primary scene as an autobiographical account. Rather than treating the pervasive disjunction between her story and the history of Algeria as equivocai, Djebar approaches the two trajectories in ways that establish their inseparability. By identifying her autobiography with the history of Algeria, Djebar underlines a real dilemma. In her condition, her autobiography cannot be written without the flow and interruptions that result from the collective history. Within this formulation, her experiment of fragmenting the linear narrative corresponds to the split between her histoire and Algerian history, noting that "ma fiction est cette autobiographie qui s'esquisse" (244). Thus, her novel becomes a meditation on fiction and history and their differences. The disruption of the symmetrical characteristics in respect to history or, for that matter, the novel remains in play throughout the text, inaugurating pervasive and striking modes of narration. For the most part, Fantasia consists of unmediated movements that evoke a rewriting of the French-Algerian war; each section contrasts with what precedes without developing a unity. That is to say, the more the text fragments itself, the more it differentiates its disintegrated sections through a process of contrast, reflection, and recapitulation of what it has already narrated.
Writing, Music, and the Political
The historian Alistair Horne reveals that the beginning of the French conquest was, in fact, thought of as a "fete," a celebratory spectacle organized by the French colonial forces. He writes, "Marching to plans based on a Napoleonic project, the French expeditionary force landed at Sidi-Ferruch, a sheltered beach some twenty miles west of Algiers. The enterprise was accompanied by a touch of the fete galante, with elegant ladies booking accommodation aboard pleasure boats to observe the naval bombardment of Algiers" (1977, 29). Djebar's Fantasia, in exemplary moments, displays how the French landing in Algiers on 13 June 1830 has been perceived as a musical gala, repeatedly detached from what it is. Through attentive reading of the metaphoricity of language, she demonstrates that her exhaustive novelistic attempt to reconstruct and reassemble the colonial landing from the fragmented history will always render itself as a text.
In the dimness of the early hours of dawn, a theatrical staging is imagined and depicted. The quiet city of Algiers, which "surgit dans un role d'Orientale immobilisee en son mystere," is awakened by an unusual noise, according to the description of Amable Matterer, the first officer of the Ville de Marseille (Djebar 1985c, 14). (11) Matterer gazes carefully at the city from the deck of his vessel. We detect an intriguing staging of that first French landing in Algiers:
L'Armada francaise va lentement glisser devant elle en un ballet fastueux, de la premiere heure de l'aurore aux alentours d'un midi eclabousse. Silence de l'affrontement, instant solennel, suspendu en une apnee d'attente, comine avant une ouverture d'opera. Qui des lors constitue le spectacle, de quel cote se trouve vraiment le public? (14)
Here, the French Armada approaches the city resembling "un ballet fastueux," surrounded by silence. What took place in June 1830, it appears, was not a colonizing event but rather a triumphant landing similar to an operatic performance, "une ouverture d'opera." According to this troubled rendering, the French landing resembles an opera staging a scene of war. But acknowledgment of this sort assumes the colonial event is a fictional and artistic one that conjures, enchants, and yet forgets. Likewise, to name this scene as an operatic performance is to confuse it with something other than itself, namely, a musical event that is both spectacular and suspenseful, thereby creating a scene detached from its violent and tragic reality. Of course, the narrator does not allow us to immediately discern if this theatrical sketch was produced by Matterer or her; Djebar blurs the lines, interrogating the colonial phantasm and generating other cross-identifications between the colonizer and the foreign colonized. (12) Yet the narrator elucidates that she writes in his language: "A mon tour, j'ecris dans sa langue" (16). Later on, we will see how the war appears as an opera: sounds generate sounds, collapsing the colonial event into the musical in the French chronicles. Djebar's questions become these: Who are the figures of the mysterious ballet? Who are the unidentified opera performers, and who and where are the audience? These questions not only reflect on the role of the Algerians, who become the silent spectators or absent figures in a musical production, but address the association of music with war, that is to say, the political moment. Throughout these musical and operatic dramatizations, Algerians are not represented, staged, or accounted for in the French chroniclers' imaginative depictions.
After constructing this scene, Djebar speculates, "Qui le dira, qui l'ecrira?" (15). While Fantasia in many instances attempts to reconstruct the events of Algeria's colonization, Djebar is aware of her task as a writer, and as we will see, her responsibility is declared over and over in the text through sudden insertions of the subjective "I" that demonstrates continual reconsiderations about writing. Likewise, many passages in the text correlate the shifts in the narrative with a ceaseless speculation on writing. These passages reiterate what has been said while simultaneously staging a process of reading. In this way, Fantasia eventually establishes its version of the musical not as an alternative process, nor as a complementary one, but as a process of reading. In fact, musical signifiers, which are closely intertwined with the narrative, offer a reading of the text. Similarly, if music can be shown here to embody a mise en abyme that is nevertheless related ultimately to a theatrical structure, then a similar point can be made for the process of reading.
The intricacy of rewriting the first event of Algeria's colonization, as far as it relates to the boundaries between Djebar's description and the colonial chronicles, is often associated with music. Both depictions rest on figures of music. Following the tempo of the text, we can read another explicit reference to music:
Les guerriers s'observent de loin, se servent mutuellement d'appeau, tentent de synchroniser leur rythme meurtrier. L'instant d'apres, luttant au corps a corps, ils se retrouvent, apres une palpitation soudaine, cadavres sans tete, quelquefois mutiles. Premier baiser de la mort dans ces camps antagonistes: une rupture de tons se manifeste des l'ouverture. Chaque victoire de l'envahisseur imprime sur chaque victime atteinte son style de farce discordante; le clan qui affronte l'invasion prefere, lui, marquer le trepas qu'il impose du sceau d'un silence dechire. La carabine claque de loin; peu apres, la lame proche d'un couteau rapide tranche l'artere jugulaire. Turcs rutilants et Bedouin enveloppes de blanc parent le corps a corps de la joute d'une ostentation de ferocite; l'allegresse du defi s'y mele, puis culmine dans une crete de cris suraigus. (25; my emphasis)
Here, without elaborating on the musical, the text displays the first confrontation between the Algerians and the French in terms of a theatrical production. This landing, however, is figured as the opening of a festive performance, the preparatory moment before a musical overture. (13) Still, as the terms synchroniser, ouverture, and discordante suggest, the musical moment alludes to something other than itself, pointing toward war. In addition, the construction of synchroniser involves a coincidence between the pictorial aspect and sound as they converge at the same moment in mirroring effects. Music, in this passage, turns out to be the language of a theatrical scene in which French soldiers confront Algerians in battle. Djebar further employs musical registers by showing that classical music is part of the battle scene, drawing explicit comparisons between opera, ballet, and the combatants.
In her effort to trace the originary moment of colonization, Djebar faces the mediated aspect of language, with bits and pieces of other narratives that in turn comment on the irretrievable origin. (14) Her questions focus explicitly on language and its ability to signify. Likewise, the narrator acquires through language the ability to extend her inquisition so she can grasp the originary moment of the fall of Algiers; but in a sense, language makes that desire unattainable. The originary moment is always a fragmentary description, and we realize that what language alludes to as reality is the first thing that suggests its fictionality. In other words, in attempting to narrate that beginning, the text cannot surmount its fictionality, and it can never assume or retrieve a coherent account of those early events.
At this juncture, I argue that Fantasia's critical approach to writing, whether the narrator's or the colonial accounts, recasts its own conceptualization of the musical. To propose that music insinuates a distinction and yet a correlation between the scene of the capture of Algiers and the fantasies retained in variant textual examples is to suggest that music continually alludes to the fantastic element inscribed in its proximity. Yet, it is the fictitious element that Lacoue-Labarthe asserts in respect to defining music as musica ficta. Also, when Djebar posits classical music as a fantastic description of what has been written about the fall of Algiers, she notably not only juxtaposes the novel with music but exposes the limits of the colonial discourse. In the novel, one can follow how the operatic and balletic descriptions that accompany the first scenes almost always stage the musical with the political events, and thus any interpretation that "music is only about music," as suggested by Edward Said, misses this significant and evocative conversion. (15) The text's reinscription of the musical within the political is a radical critique of the phantasm within the colonial discourse and cannot be reduced to an inconsequential emblematic feature. According to Lacoue-Labarthe, music has been bound to something else since ancient Greece and, I might add, continues to do so in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French colonial discourse.
To approach what Djebar's novel stages in relation to the musical and the political registers, I turn to Lacoue-Labarthe's Musica Ficta. His thesis, in fact, proposes that music has never been about music. To the contrary, and in opposition to Said, he contends that music is always about something else. In the preface to Musica Ficta, he asserts that the question of music "is never a question of music" (xvi). His reflection is informed by Mallarme, who evokes this intricate juxtaposition, which, in turn, made Mallarme suspicious. In effect, Lacoue-Labarthe observes that what worried Mallarme is actually the underlying theatrical trace in music. Lacoue-Labarthe states,
this is what worries Mallarme and raises in him a suspicion: such that music in fact only has this incomparable power-this "magic"--inasmuch as it is linked to some theater, that it does not act alone. It is not music alone--even less music "itself"--that is involved. It is music inasmuch as it comes to underscore theatrical practice and assure, from right there, what the theater has always announced as its end: participation or communion. (63)
Indeed, the interplay between music and something else opens the plausibility that music cannot be read as a sheer entity in and of itself but rather always embodies a traceable other, which in this instance is theater. Viewed in these terms, music's attachment to something other than itself points to its power. For philosophy, music resides in a suspicious proximity with an imitative exigency. According to Lacoue-Labarthe, music denotes a theatrical performance; this does not posit that music cannot act alone because it lends itself to theater but rather that music is always already theatrical, displaying a fictive aspect (63). How does this conversion of music and theater take place? Lacoue-Labarthe has shown that music has been defined as musica ficta, which affirms its fictive aspect, inaugurating a process of mimesis. He demonstrates the fictional aspect related to music in the development of mise en abyme. He traces this link in the very formation of the term:
The Latin fingere, to which musica ficta refers, is the equivalent of the Greek plassein/plattein: to fashion, to model, to sculpt--thus, to figure. But a nuance also already exists in Greek: to fake and simulate, or to forge by imitation. Here we have a key word in the lexicon of mimetology--fiction, figure, and so forth. (xvii)
Lacoue-Labarthe illustrates how Western metaphysics has established this link between music and imitation, maintaining a superiority of the word since, in the Greek doctrine, song imitates the poem. The musical principle ends up as an imitation, far from truth, residing in the proximity of poetry and resembling its configuration (xvii). According to this explication, music is, then, marked by a mimetic movement upon which the very resemblance between theater and itself is operated, and as a result music must not be perceived as reflecting on itself alone. In other words, the explicit formulation of the theatrical constituent in music reopens the very scene in which it is excluded and from which it has been constantly dismissed because it posits this mimetic desire.
Fantasia mimetically stages the musical as something else and continues to emphasize a process of cultural imperialism, to borrow Said's title. The account of the fall of Algiers by the manager of Theatre Porte-Saint-Martin in Paris, J. T. Merle, is theatrical, capturing it as "ce cirque immense, peuple a milliers de spectateurs" (Djebar 1985c, 42) and thus rendering it in familiar and recognizable terms. Merle associates the French invasion with a dramatic production, effacing the distinction between Paris and Algiers and integrating reality with fiction. For Merle, the war produces a phantasmic scene in which he can continue his theatrical aspiration. Again, the colonial perspective maintains the battle in an imaginary theatrical construct, disengaging it and removing it from the violence of what happened. Djebar writes,
Pourtant ce publiciste--de nos jours, on le dirait << grand reporter >>--ne s'attache qu'a decrire son role derisoire. Il est sans cesse a la traine du combat decisif; il n'est jamais temoin de l'evenement. (45)
The text, once more, confirms that this great war reporter is confined in his fantasies, detached from the actual scene of the battle. The landing in Algeria, according to the chronicles, continues to be a phantasmic spectacle that conjures up and invokes both familiar and distant landscapes. Interestingly, Djebar refers to this identificatory relationship and the Western aspiration to revive its cultural history in another instance. She notes,
Car cette conquete ne se vit plus decouverte de l'autre, meme pas nouvelle croisade d'un Occident qui aspirerait a revivre son histoire comme un opera. L'invasion est devenue une entreprise de rapine. (56)
And yet, this very juxtaposition between the hostility of the past and opera indicates that the process of recognition and identification results in conflating France with Algeria and the same with the other. Opera, as a metaphor for what took place in the first decade of colonization, attests that French officials insist on portraying war as such, extending it to embody other effigies associated with the artistic and imaginary realms. In addition, the configuration of opera reminds us of how opera is always made of conjoined scenes of seduction and tragic death. Ten years later, in 1840, letters and epistles written by Field-Marshal Bosquet and Montagnac continue to relate war and conflict to musical and artistic formulas. Djebar recalls their writings: "La publication posthume de ces ecrits entretient le prestige de ces auteurs, alors qu'ils decrivent le ballet de la conquete sur notre territoire" (63). Whose opera is being staged? Why do the French chronicles persist in conflating a colonial war with an artistic event? To recognize and assimilate this violent moment as an opera brings us to what Samuel Weber suggests in his reading of identification as it manifests itself in the operatic structure. He remarks that
The opera lover is moved by a desire for recognition, which is inevitably also one for self-recognition. This self, however, is an intrinsically contradictory instance: familiar, and yet distant, exotic, idealized. It is the product of a process of identification, in which the alterity of the object as well as the extraterritoriality of the site in which such identification takes place are simultaneously affirmed and denied: affirmed, in order to permit the all-too-familiar to be idealized, and denied in order that the ideal remains accessible to the self. (1993, 112)
Even though Weber is discussing the relation between the opera lover and opera as it manifests itself in the occurrence of identification with and self-recognition in what the opera spectator sees, his observation is still applicable to the operatic figuration of the French-Algerian confrontation. Weber's reading helps to examine the process of assigning opera to the war scene in the writing of the French colonialists. As discussed earlier, the war zone resembles an opera in which the French as viewers identify with Algeria as a familiar yet unknown place, attaching it to and detaching it from the self at the same time. If the self identifies with what is being staged, it also loses itself in the unfamiliarity and foreignness of the scene since this self-recognition links to the territories of estrangement. In this process, we have assimilation, recognition, and identification as described by Weber. However, there is alienation and self-distancing as the self retreats momentarily from what it sees. Thus, opera does not produce a mirror image of the self; instead, it reactivates a locus of the other who enchants and captivates.
The artistic flow continues in the French accounts. Djebar elucidates,
Le decor ainsi deploye accentue la surprise et l'effarement des victimes. Paysages que l'on traverse durant des heures, que le recit ensuite immobilise et les hommes caracolent en pleine charge de l'aube. Symphonie exacerbee de l'attaque; pietinement par lancees furieuses, touffes de rales emmeles jusqu'au pied des cavales. Tandis que le sang, par giclees, eclabousse les tentes renversees, Bosquet s'attarde sur la violence des couleurs. L'elan des retombees le fascine, mais l'ivresse d'une guerre ainsi reculee tourne a vide. (67-68) (16)
The battlefield thus is an enchanting landscape of colors that intoxicates Bosquet. This theatrical display grounded in the colonial enterprise is related to discursive self-portrait rhetoric. According to this logic, to conquer is, therefore, to celebrate the beauty of the accomplished enterprise. As we have seen, the French officers portray the scene of the battle as an artistic moment, internalizing it as something familiar, attractive, and highly poetic. In another example, Barchou, an assistant to the general Berthezene, sketches a poetic description of a skirmish: "Barchou la rapporte d'un ton glace, mais son regard, qui semble se concentrer sur la poesie terrible ainsi devoilee, se revulse d'horreur: deux femmes algeriennes sont entrevues au detour d'une melee" (28; my emphasis). In this moment, the seer perceives the tragic and horrific event as a manifestation of an aesthetic; he is captivated by "la poesie terrible" of the violent scene. Being enchanted by the war scene is not just a declaration of fascination and amusement, as Djebar shows. It also underpins how the tragic event is related to an aesthetic, as I have suggested. The seer once more assimilates what he attempts to witness with an artistic performance because he cannot see terror beyond what he already knows. In other words, he cannot conceive of terror outside of the aesthetic principle. In recognizing the event as an artistic performance, the French officials deny its alterity and are constantly appropriating it to the same. In certain instances, what has been represented in the French imperialist discourse is similar to the French psychoanalyst Laplanche's formulation "I create the alien in order to recognize myself--in order eventually to reappropriate him for myself" (1999, 173).
As we carefully follow the text, the recurrence of music, however, can be viewed as a textual characteristic, one that Djebar calls attention to when she situates it within the representation of the political event. But if music can be shown to exhibit a political component, then the question of the political is indispensable to any reading of music, as emphasized by Lacoue-Labarthe. He retraces the political in relation to music's mimetic power, which Djebar is attuned to in her amplification of the musical.
If music is thought of in terms of mimetology, then it is cast as acting out something other than itself, and its mimetic gesture provokes a suspension of thinking that annoys philosophy. Music, thus, has been accused of not allowing thinking to proceed. Following the articulation of Lacoue-Labarthe, we will see how philosophy thus stammers when it comes to discussing music, "without knowing too well what to say or what to do with music, or where exactly to situate it" (1994, 86). Of course, one can read this stammering in the philosophical discourse on music as its inability to articulate what music is, excluding it from entering the speculative space. However, this stammering in regard to music is eventually responsible for further "menace." If philosophy cannot formulate a coherent understanding of music, continuing to push it to the margins of the spectrum, then that explains how music would always be testing the limits of philosophy. In Musica Ficta, Lacoue-Labarthe underscores,
The philosophers who have spoken of music are rare (compared to the volume of discourse dedicated to the so-called "plastic" arts, and, above all, to literature), and when they have agreed to speak of it, as was necessary in the age of philosophy where the ideal of the System required an aesthetic that was itself systematic, they have often done so in an obscure or borrowed manner, without knowing too well what to say or what to do with music, or where exactly to situate it (Kant illustrates this difficulty as well); or rather, inversely, but this is only the reverse, in an exalted manner.... So that, as irritating annoyance or pathos, music has barely had any luck with philosophy, and one could easily suspect, especially today, that it is a question of the rebel par excellence, rebelling against philosophy's takeover and perhaps, for this reason, continuously and silently indicating a limit to philosophy, a secret obstacle to its full deployment (to reasoning), even, possibly, a menace. Yet in this story so lacking in highlights there are two events, one at the beginning and one (nearly) at the end of what today we can determine to be something like a properly so-called history of philosophy, both of which are violent events--brutal movements of rejection. With the inauguration of the ontologico-political project of philosophy, and simultaneous with the expulsion or exclusion from the City of the tragic poet-actor and the "myth-makers," came the expulsion of the quasi-totality of music (only military music was rigorously spared). And at the other end, and overdetermined by the no less ontologico-political project of a "reversal of Platonism," comes the rupture of Nietzsche with Wagner. (85-86)
In this passage, Lacoue-Labarthe follows the suppression of music in the philosophical project, pointing to two crucial moments of rejection and exclusion. The first event, of course, is Plato's rejection of music, which is based on its ability to imitate; it is a rejection of the artistic aspect that constitutes its distance from truth. As I have explained above, the implication of mimesis in music irritates the philosophical framework since it does not allow the thinking of truth to proceed. Here philosophy casts its ambivalence toward music as something removed from its ontologico-political realm. As Lacoue-Labarthe demonstrates, philosophy has not rejected all kinds of music since Plato spared military music that promotes war and other national manifestations. (17) The second event, which is marked by rebellion, starts with Nietzsche and Wagner and their breakup. Hence, the principle of the political informs this scene of rejection and hostility, as Lacoue-Labarthe asserts. According to the same logic, the political does not emanate from the modern period, that is to say Nietzschean philosophy, but rather it emerges since that first Platonic gesture of expulsion. These two scenes of rejection offer a moment in which a thinking of the political is possible. Lacoue-Labarthe's critique of philosophical discourse maintains that music has been pushed aside, viewing it as a suspension of thinking. Reading Lacoue-Labarthe, we realize that music does not suspend thinking at all; rather, it tests the latter's limits. Indeed, music is the very condition by which philosophy continues to test its limits. Whether one recognizes this possibility as political or not is beside the point. Following Lacoue-Labarthe, I will highlight that any thinking of music as that which has been excluded has resisted this discussion of the political. Lacoue-Labarthe's explication is important to maintain while reading Fantasia since the novel stages the musical vis-a-vis the political. This staging is not a coincidence that one can easily disregard.
Clearly, the novel--conditioned by language--cannot free itself from what it aspires to criticize, manifesting a repetitive mode that reproduces varied theatrical and musical settings. This repetition, conversely, subverts the written fantasies of the French officials without constructing a set of symmetrical comparisons. Djebar's mimetic strategy, however, seeks to respond to this flow of poetic and artistic descriptions of the violent confrontation. This cultural-aesthetic projection marks the French imperialist discourse. In the colonial encounter, the French officers and writers whom the text interrogates are engendered by nineteenth-century European phantasms, imputing artistic and poetic principles to the colonial enterprise. (18) In a similar sense, Djebar shows how a flood of images of Algerian society has been constructed during the twentieth century as well. She writes,
De 1900 a 1954, en Algerie, fermeture donc d'une societe indigene plus en plus depossedee, dans son espace vital et jusque dans ses structures tribales. Le regard orientalisant--avec ses interpretes militaires d'abord et ses photographes et cineastes ensuite--tourne autour de cette societe fermee, en soulignant davantage encore son <<mystere feminin>>, pour occulter ainsi l'hostilite de toute une communaute algeienne en danger. (2002, 255-56)
In the opening of Fantasia, Djebar illustrates that aboard the first French fleet was enough artistic crew to ensure a pictorial illustration of that imaginative landing: "quatre peintres, cinq dessinateurs et une dizaine de graveurs" (1985c, 16). In an ironic tone, she wonders whether these craftsmen were attending a festive event and not war: "Comme si la guerre qui s'annonce aspirait a la fete" (1985a, 16). Elsewhere, she refers to throngs of witnesses who tried to document the capture of Algiers. (19) "Des cohorts d'interpretes, geographes, ethnographes, linguistes, botanistes, docteurs divers et ecrivains de profession s'abattront sur la nouvelle proie. Toute une pyramide d'ecrits ... occultera la violence initiale" (56). This massive textual "pyramide" not only obstructs the portrayal of violence but also restrains her text from capturing it. Djebar's subversive mimicry offers a theoretical critique of how the French chroniclers perceive the scene of conflict and destruction as highly artistic, failing to render the violence and cruelty of "their" war. But unlike these phantasmic accounts, Djebar climbs over the pyramid of their words in order to recover and relate the horrific and the grotesque. For instance, she draws a compelling picture with striking details of "une scene de cannibales" (84) in Al-kantara when Colonel Pelissier obeyed Bougeaud, who wrote ordering him: " Enfumez-les tous comme des renards!" (83); he smoked out more than one thousand and insisted on counting the corpses. She writes, "La memoire exhumee de ce double ossuaire m'habite et m'anime, meme s'il me semble ouvrir, pour des aveugles, un registre obituaire, aux alentours de ces cavernes oubliees" (92).
Consequently, this shift from the autobiographical account to the French chronicles indicates that the text cannot escape what has been recorded by the French artists, interpreters, and officers. Not only does history resemble a fictional narrative, but one may also consider the overlapping between the rewriting of the Algerian history and the theatrical musical production. Saying this, however, allows us to see another dimension, in which all aspects of history and fiction produce theatrical reflections weaved into the text. In interweaving these generic configurations, the text relocates itself between these thresholds. The novel then resists its generic name; it does not assume a marked territory, for it assembles itself around endless discourses: epistles, postcards, journals, archival exposes, and epigraphs. In fact, the novel searches more than "trente-deux ecrits, en langue francaise, de ce premier acte de l'occupation" (55). Precisely at this juncture, we see how the text cannot locate itself outside what it reads. In short, these scenes of reading and rereading operate as a deconstruction of the novel. Djebar's demand to reread the chronicles is also a demand of the novel itself to be read and reread. She develops a narrative strategy, offering a constant questioning of both acts, reading and writing. As I mentioned earlier, there are numerous places in which we read striking insertions of the subjective "I" narrating a process of reading, reaffirming an autobiographical tone. (20) She meditates, "Je relis la relation de ces premiers engagements et je retiens une opposition de styles" (25).
Fantasia and Conflict
Fantasia does not limit itself to following the theatrical drama and the operatic inscriptions provided by the chroniclers; rather it stages other scenes in which opera, fantasia, ballet, musical instruments, and women's dirges extend to the limits of the political and amplify the historical and cultural context. The discursive approach to music develops while the musical register increasingly shifts and expands to encompass other types of music, opening a space in which Western and Eastern music intersect with one another. These musical references, then, may not appear to be harmoniously and jointly orchestrated, as they include a variety of instruments and musical traditions. A close reading of fantasia as a central, ironic trope will demonstrate the process by which it can be prefigured as an interlacing of classical music in Europe with the artistic production on its peripheries; it is the other that the aestheticized French colonial accounts often ignore or reduce to a regressive tribal and cultural practice devoice of any political force. Moreover, given the allusive nature of fantasia, Djebar's deployment of it moves interchangeably in the text from the Algerian setting to the French one, emphasizing its accumulative force as a signifier. Evocatively, she titles part 2 of her novel "The Cries of the Fantasia."
Let us consider a significant juxtaposition between the musical prelude and fantasia that is staged in Djebar's novel:
Premier baiser de la mort dans ces camps antagonistes: une rupture de tons se manifeste des l'ouverture. Chaque victoire de l'envahisseur imprime sur chaque victime atteinte son style de farce discordante. (25) Comme si, en verite, des le premier affrontement de cette guerre qui va s'etirer, l'Arabe, sur son cheval court et nerveux, recherchait l'embrassement: la mort, donnee ou recue mais toujours au galop de la course, semble se sublimer en etreinte figee. (25)
Without naming fantasia, the second passage stages it, foreshadowing what will become one of the most lyrically and politically haunting episodes in the novel. To employ the language of the text, the second passage is strikingly "discordant," aligning the Algerian fantasia with that of classical music, which is alluded to in the first passage. This musical rupture between the earlier description of the battle and this one appears throughout the novel, advancing another political and cultural reading of the musical register. This figure, fantasia, does not construct a dichotomy between Western and non-Western music but rather interrogates the colonial appropriation of fantasia and expands on the musical in a process of translation. In other words, the text transmits and transfers fantasia in the classical sense, while exposing it to a process of translation from French to the Algerian Arabic dialect and vice versa. The text's rewriting of fantasia as a classical musical trope thus redefines it, displacing it to another site. Even the musical images of ballet and opera are transferred, so to speak, to compose and rearrange the novelistic depictions of the Algerian armed conflict. (21)
To be sure, fantasia as a Maghrebian performance has fascinated artists and travelers alike. (22) Even though it is inscribed in Djebar's novel as a ritual act in which the neighing of horses, the shots of rifles, and the cries of women converge to exhibit the cavalry and bravery of the Algerian people, fantasia has crossed the Arabic Algerian dialect to the French language to signal something else. In this process of translation, so to speak, this competition of horseback-riding skills among different North African tribes does not appear as the only meaning because Djebar's text displays different occasions of fantasia in addition to the sonorous performance. She is aware, as well, of the illusion and appropriation that engenders certain references to it, and her text cites the following example from a letter written by Montagnac, a French colonial officer, to his uncle. In this letter, which I cited as an epigraph to this essay, fantasia is misrepresented and distanced from its cultural milieu. Montagnac attempts to sketch this episode:
Ce petit combat offrait un coup d'oeil charmant. Ces nuees de cavaliers legers comme des oiseaux, se croisent, voltigent sur tous les points, ces hourras, ces coups de fusil domines, de temps a autre, par la voix majestueuse du canon, tout cela presentait un panorama delicieux et une scene enivrante. (67)
The letter presents a poetic description of the war, assimilating it with something that resembles fantasia but without referring to it by name. Here again, it should be pointed out, the scene of the battle appears to be "a charming spectacle" that incites the imagination. The statement "Ces nuees de cavaliers legers comine des oiseaux, se croisent, voltigent sur tous les points, ces hourras" depicts a painting, quite the opposite of a battle scene. Capturing the sound of shelling or "la voix majestueuse du canon" enhances the viewer's experience of sublimity. In many ways, this uncapturable and presupposed fantasia reminds us of what Albert Memmi argues in relation to the colonizer's freedom to have arsenals, punishing the colonized for showing any signs of having arms or military skills and minimizing the political capabilities of the colonized. He writes,
The Arab fantasia has become nothing more than the act of a trained animal which is asked to roar, as he used to, to frighten the guests. But the animal roars extremely well; and nostalgia for arms is always present, and is part of all ceremonies in Africa, from north to south. (1967, 93-94)
This quotation illustrates the Algerian performance, situating it where the colonizer suppresses the colonized's ability to resist to the extent that the stratagem of fantasia, the only method of resistance left, is reduced to an acoustic ceremony. Fantasia loses its power and meaning as a fighting technique, and at this moment of appropriation, it resembles the tableau-like description provided by Montagnac. Thus, in Djebar's text, fantasia becomes a trope that gathers reading and misreading, and its disseminated configuration stages its irreducible effects. And yet, since it exhibits multiple meanings, it exceeds the cultural inscriptions in both the West and its peripheries, and for that matter, it is by no means limited to a reductive political praxis in the novel. Moreover, the words corresponding to Western music are displayed throughout the narrative without conflictual divisibility between different musical traditions, as we shall see.
An epigraph heading the third part of the novel also relates the word "fantasia" to the musical; a musical term explicitly lends itself to Beethoven (23):
"Quasi una fantasia ..." Ludwig van Beethoven opus 27 sonates 1 et 2. (127)
From the Beethoven epigraph until the end of the novel, music is incontestably incorporated as not only classical but also North African and Eastern, that is, the other excluded music in the Western discourse along with the French colonial archive. (24) However, this epigraph reveals the text's relationship to another musical genre, the sonata; this is the only reference to Beethoven's sonata in the entire narrative. In fact, the text introduces a compelling analogy between its divisions and the structure of "quasi una fantasia." As we know, Beethoven's first sonata is divided into four movements, whereas the second has three movements. In a similarly asymmetrical way, the novel's third part consists of five movements and a finale. And yet, each movement is broken off to include other parts; another transgressive gesture is taken here by the novelist. In this context, Adorno explains that there are two fundamental points pertaining to Beethoven's fantasia. He maintains,
Firstly, a form is essentially inherent in the fantasia as a rejection of continuous development in principle; it is the same form that is found in Mozart, a composition made up of sections which are internally unified but merely juxtaposed, arbitrarily successive. Secondly, this fantasia form is essentially static. Just because of the endless succession of the new, no progress is made. There is no identical core to be developed. (1998, 68)
Adorno's remark may shed light on this inquiry if we assume that the epigraph is a reflection on Beethoven's composition since the text does not offer any illuminations. Clearly, the epigraph becomes difficult to read, as the text resists its interpretation; it is precisely here that our reading measures the text's musicality. Does the novel posit a resistance to its own convergence with the musical? Is this epigraph manifesting itself as music that reads the text? This signature, Beethoven, appears as a delayed yet undeviating embodiment of the inscribed correlation between the novel's title and the incorporated something else, the Algerian fantasia thereby advancing a political critique of colonialism.
Indeed, the text assembles the names of those who refer to and portray the Algerian fantasia, from Delacroix's painting to Fromentin's reference to it in his travel narratives, Chronique de l'Absent and Un ete au Sahara, then returns to the musical. Indeed, this mise en abyme is important with respect to the theatrical trace attached to scenes of both war and music, highlighting a significant moment wherein the text rests largely on its correlation to this epigraph. Therefore, in a metanarrative, the writer retells an episode from Fromentin's Un ete au Sahara, translating it into Algerian Arabic for an old woman. In this metanarration, the writer rereads Fromentin's story, unraveling and restructuring the untold details about the two dancers/prostitutes, the naylettes, and their violent death. Further, Djebar expands her reflection to address another occurrence in Chronique de l'absent in her finale, titled "Fantasia." In this part, she recaptures a sketch of fantasia by Fromentin disassociated from the violent act that caused the death of a Moorish woman. (25) Djebar expands on how Haoua, as Fromentin portrays her, is kicked to death: "Elle recoit a la face un coup mortel du sabot de la monture et, tandis que le cavalier meurtrier disparait a l'horizon, au-dela des montagnes de la Mouzaia, elle agonise toute la soiree. Fromentin se fait narrateur de cette fete funebre" (1985c, 253). By rewriting this scene, Djebar restores it and brings to light what has been suppressed in the French writing. More significantly, Djebar concludes her novel with a musical solitary performance titled "Air on a Nay," a self-reflexive scene that recapitulates the tragic death of Haoua, who died without being mourned in Fromentin's account. Rather than recounting an autobiographical episode, Djebar resurrects the cries of Haoua, whom she describes as the only Algerian woman represented in French letters. She recalls and parodies Fromentin's succinct "insertion" of Haoua, whose tragic death under the hooves of the running horses was barely noticed. In Djebar's text, Haoua's unheard cries become the final forgotten voice, specifically its elegiac tone.
Thus, this last and ethical account of fantasia returns to the Algerian site, juxtaposing it with cries of love and death, which appear under a musical heading, "air on a nay," that is, a performance of Arabic flute. Moreover, the text ends with the sounds of a solo nay, accompanying the hand that writes an elegy. Even though the possibility of reading the text resides in retracing the movement of its title, it is only in combining different significations of the word fantasia that the text exemplifies its musical referentiality in a graspable way. What the text produces is an essential play on the referent, for it is the postponement of the referent that we see explicitly performed in the novel. As I have suggested, the Beethoven epigraph recalls other references to the word fantasia: from the Algerian fantasia, to Delacroix, Fromentin, and finally Beethoven. Four references branch off--indeed in an important juncture insofar as the text displaces its title--but they also address the difficult composition that the novel tries to reassemble. This is the text inducement. It is not coincidental, given these explicit musical references, that the text tests its own limits by creating this musical destination.
What we notice in the novel, thus far, is an unavoidable postponement of arriving at fantasia in both the Algerian context and the European one; that is, the musical generates a distance between the two meanings. In this respect, this delay can be associated with the process of translation as reading. The text calls attention to a fundamental difference in fantasia that embodies temporal and spatial variations evident in the very act of translation. Precisely by focusing on the elusiveness of this word, the process of reading is caught in the irreducible interplay between music and the novel.
In many respects, music casts a different insinuation of its theatricality that is essential to staging the previous events in the novel. In fact, one only needs to trace Djebar's juxtaposition of Western classical music with old Egyptian musical rites. Before the Beethoven epigraph, she inscribes on a previous page a reference to an old musical instrument used in ancient Egypt, providing a differential exchange in which images of sounds, echoes, and musical instruments accompany other characteristics of voice. In this ironic moment, the translated text cites the Oxford English Dictionary to explain that sistrum refers to a "jingling instrument or rattle used by ancient Egyptians esp. in rites of Isis" (Djebar 1985a, 109). The sistrum, precisely, comes as an attempt to integrate the instrumental with voice. The writer, furthermore, refers to voice and comments on whose voice is being heard and ultimately written. And it is necessary to read sistrum with the discussion of the Beethoven reference above in order to see that the text embodies intricate allusions to Western and Eastern music without producing a dichotomy. These leitmotifs are not inconsequential since they not only generate an interpretation of the title that correlates itself to a musical configuration, as we have seen, but they elaborate on the musical in relation to voice. The writer addresses these correlations as follows:
De nouveau rales, escaliers d'eau jusqu'au larynx, eclaboussures, aspersion lustrale, sourd la plainte puis le chant long, le chant lent de la voix femelle luxuriante enveloppe l'accouplement, en suit le rythme et les figures, s'exhale en oxygene, dans la chambre et le noir, torsade tumescente de forte restes suspendus. Soufflerie souffreteuse ou solennelle du temps d'amour, soufriere de quelle attente, fievre des staccato. (1985c, 125; my emphasis)
This passage presents Djebar's extended meditation on music and voice. What is most suggestive in this passage, however, is that the female voice in copulation is equated with a prolonged song, weaving it through a musical association. This song--like voice--culminates through another musical utilization of forte and staccato notes. This poetic description posits a correlation with the Egyptian goddess of fertility and the sounds of the sistrum.
Djebar retraces the voices and cries of women in the foreground of fantasia, grasping these dispersed feminine cries and emphasizing how they are positioned in an inconsequential place in all the previous representations of fantasia.
Dans les caleches, les femmes s'agitaient, voyeuses invisibles. Puisqu'on parlait de fantasia imminente, elles firent entendre un long premier cri collectif, you-you multiplie comme un prologue de la fete. (105)
These fragments of cries are often disregarded or unheard during the performance of fantasia. Through the process of listening to women's ululations--which become a collective cry--and bringing them to the written page, the text inaugurates a correlation between what has not been heard before in fantasia and other women's histoires suppressed in the Algerian historical discourse. The characteristically colonial accounts in the previous parts of the text are subverted by contrasting them to women's testimonial narratives and more importantly to the development of the musical and dramatic aspects. By incorporating the vocal and the musical, the text elaborates on what is not related in the French chronicles, thereby distinguishing itself from the colonial and national discourses as it dedicates its last part to women's testimonies. Thus, the third section of the text gathers and listens to other voices of women whose role was eclipsed in Algerian history. By structuring the text in this way, the writer disseminates any centrality of the previous musical models as she includes other performances of the musical within an assemblage of voices in the third part of the novel. But in spite of the text's varied thematic interests, as I suggested earlier, it is ultimately destined to music while writing voice as song.
Before commenting further on voice, I should note that the writer elaborates on other scenes in which voice and music are intertwined. In this context, the musical invocation is associated with women's places. First, the writer recalls an Andalusian orchestra, presenting other allusions of voice. (26) Second, "The Trance" evokes another familiar musical scene in which dance accompanies listening to the well-known Algerian lady-musicians, chikhats. More specifically, in an autobiographical moment, the writer recalls how her grandmother summons these musicians, staging a communal gathering where women spontaneously dance to popular Algerian music and transcend social constraints. Invoking the trance creates a contrast with the operatic performance in the beginning of the text. However, in order to characterize women's musical traditions, Djebar systematically focuses on deploying these figurations in her texts. In her postscript to Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement, she asserts that
A trace of this chorus can be faintly heard today, the remains of a culture of women who are slowly smothering themselves: the songs of young girls on terraces, the love quatrains of the women of Tlemcen, the magnificent funeral lamentations of the women of Laghouat--an entire literature that is becoming more and more rare, soon to resemble these rivers without mouths that disappear into the sands. (1985b, 347-48)
To Djebar, all that has been lost through the history of Algeria applies to relocating voice. As far as voice, the text develops unexpected rhythm in relation to scenes of death and mourning and inserts a variety of chants and songs--both of which amount to an intricate reading of voice--creating a dispersed scene of musical expressions. All this emerges within irreducible textual shifts between her autobiographical account and other histoires of Algerian women. In reading voice, the text assembles voices that culminate in the third part, pushing its narration toward the musical and producing a link between the autobiographical and the musical. Lacoue-Labarthe suggests that "music, then, primes; it sets off the autobiographical gesture. Which is to say, as well, the theoretical gesture." (27) In fact, singing is repeatedly presented in different moments in the novel, referring to the act of writing as a "chant solitaire" (1985a, 243). (28) The affinities between the vocal and the musical are underscored while gesturing to the autobiographical narrative in a reflective mode, especially when the text simultaneously records the Algerian women's tellable histories. Simultaneously, we can read the divergence between the sections on voice and the lyrical episodes as a reflection on what has been narrated by each woman and as an elegy for the dead. And this poetic characteristic, to some extent, is reinforced by the accelerated melodic description of voice. Hence, "Clamour" becomes a lamento in which the writer reiterates what she narrated in the earlier section titled "Voice." Djebar writes,
Elle a entonne un long premier cri, la fillette. Son corps se releve, tache plus claire dans la clarte aveugle; la voix jaillit, hesitante aux premieres notes, une voile a peine depliee qui fremirait, au bas d'un mat de misaine. Puis le vol demarre precautionneusement, la voix prend du corps dans l'espace, quelle voix? Celle de la mere que les soldats ont torturee sans qu'elle gemisse, des soeurs trop jeunes, parquees mais porteuses de l'angoisse aux yeux fous, la voix des vieilles du douar qui, bouches beantes, mains decharnees, paumes en avant, font face a l'horreur du glas qui approche? Quel murmure inextinguible, quelle clameur ample, grenelee de stridence? ... Est-ce la voix de la fillette aux doigts rougis de henne et de sang fraternel? Le sang qui fuse a fait reculer, d'un meme pas, les maquisards derriere. Ils savent quoi accompagner desormais: le hululement rythme des morts non ensevelis qui reviennent, l'appel des lionnes disparues, que nul chasseur n'a atteintes .... Le threne de l'informe revolte dessine son arabesque dans l'azur. (1985c, 140; my emphasis)
This passage opens with a prolonged cry of the thirteen-year-old shepherd girl--her story is narrated in the earlier section--who spends the night hiding from the enemy on top of an oak tree while holding onto a branch (137). The story of Cherifa induces this lamenting tone especially after Djebar learns that she dragged her brother's body to the stream in order to wash him, preparing him for burial. According to Djebar, Cherifa, who mourns her brother, resembles Antigone, who was distressingly torn between the law and her sense of duty toward the burial of her brother, Polyneices. The text casts the implication in terms of presenting Cherifa's bewilderment before the unburied adolescent; her act is already implicated in defiance, echoing what Judith Butler explains in Antigone's Claim: "In defying the state, she repeats as well the defiant act of her brother, thus offering a repetition of defiance that, in affirming her loyalty to her brother, situates herself as the one who may substitute for him and, hence, replaces and territorializes him" (2000, 11). Djebar shifts to meditate on Cherifa's voice as the cry of a child, a cry stumbling over "the first notes." Here, Djebar composes a lyrical lament, homage to this voice that she situates in the proximity of shrills, screams, and music. It is an abandoned, transient, yet melancholic voice of a young girl whose fingers are colored by blood and henna. "Est-ce la voix de la fillette aux doigts rougis de henne et de sang fraternel?" (1985c, 140). This voice impels the writer to wonder: "What voice?" Is it a maternal or a feminine murmur floating through the douar? In the previous passage, voice does not designate an intersubjective relation but rather becomes a figure of this "discordant dirge." Djebar wonders, again, about her task as a writer who delves into what she has listened to and inscribed, raising questions about translating women's stories from the Algerian Arabic dialect into French. Can she transfer them from the oral discursive field to the written page? Likewise, these textual gestures include a reflection on the scene of writing at the opening of the novel as a moment related to mourning and loss. In this self-reflexive mode, the writer, in fact, negates her role as both the scribe and the narrator of these oral stories, wishing that she could sing: "Je ne m'avance ni en diseuse, ni en scripteuse. Sur l'aire de la depossession, je voudrais pouvoir chanter" (161; my emphasis).
Fantasia advances toward the musical and returns to the novelistic landscape, moving back and forth in an attempt to posit crucial questions about the novelistic tradition. But does Djebar's text succeed in aligning itself with the musical after all? Evidently, the text imitates the musical and relates its development and music, but maintains a distinction between the two. It not only stages the operatic and other musical registers in order to initiate an encounter between the literary and the musical, but also unfolds itself as an experimental narrative in which this encounter mediates between reading and writing. The recurring negotiation between music and writing enacts a displacement in which they imitate one another, opening up a possible and irreducible position, neither in one nor in the other. As the text evokes all other generic forms, music, history, and fiction, it effaces the divisions between these genres, reinstating the musical that is both exterior to the political event and interior to it. Thus, Fantasia restages the musical as a fictive moment that lends itself to a further process of narration embedded in an ethical and philosophical inquiry.
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON
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--. Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement. Paris: Albin Michel, 2002.
--. "A Forbidden Glimpse, a Broken Sound." Trans. J. M. McDougal. Women and Family in the Middle East. Ed. Elizabeth Warnock Fernea. Austin: U of Texas P, 1985b. 340-43
--. L'amour, la fantasia. Paris: Editions Jean-Claude Lattes, 1985c.
--. "The White of Algeria." Trans. Andrew Benson. Yale French Studies 87 (1995): 144.
--. Women of Algiers in Their Apartment. Trans. Marjolijn de Jager. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1992.
Donadey, Anne. "Assia Djebar's Poetics of Subversion." L'Esprit Createur 33.2 (1993): 108-17.
Ericson, John. Islam and the Postcolonial Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.
Fanon, Frantz. "Algeria Unveiled." A Dying Colonialism. Trans. Haakon Chevalier. New York: Grove P, 1967. 35-67.
Horne, Alistair. A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962. New York: New York Review of Books, 1977.
Institut du Monde Arabe. "Le voyage au Maroc, La caravane orientale, Regards croises, Occident-Orient." Telerama hors-serie (September 1994).
Kaye, Jacqueline, and Abdelhamid Zoubir. The Ambiguous Compromise: Language,
Literature and National Identity in Algeria and Morocco. London: Routledge, 1990. Kristeva, Julia. Nations Without Nationalism. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia UP, 1993.
Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe. Musica Ficta. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1994.
and Jean-Luc Nancy. Retreat of the Political. Ed. Simon Sparks. London: Routledge, 1997.
--. Typography/Mimesis, Philosophy, Politics. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989. Laplanche, Jean. Essays on Otherness. London: Routledge, 1999.
and J.-B. Pontalis. The Language of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: Norton, 1973.
Locke, Ralph P. "Constructing the Oriental 'Other': Saint-Saens's Samson et Dalila." The Work of Opera. Ed. Richard Dellamora and Daniel Fischlin. New York: Columbia UP, 1997. 161-84.
McDougall, James. History and the Culture of Nationalism in Algeria. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006.
Memmi, Albert. The Colonizer and the Colonized. Trans. Howard Greenfeld Boston: Beacon P, 1967.
Miller, Christopher L. Nationalists and Nomads: Essays on Francophone African Literature and Culture. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1998.
Niranjana, Tejaswini. Siting Translation. Berkeley: U of California P, 1992. Omri, Mohamed-Salah. Nationalism, Islam and World Literature: Sites of Confluence in the Writings of Mahmud Al-Mas'adi. London: Routledge, 2006.
Rice, Alison. Time Signatures: Contextualizing Contemporary Francophone Auto biographical Writing from the Maghreb. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006. Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialista. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.
--. Musical Elaborations. New York: Columbia UP, 1981.
--. "Wagner: Parsifal?" Nation 255.13 (26 October 1992): 481-84.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. "Acting Bits/Identity Talk." Critical Inquiry 18.2 (1992): 770-95.
Suleri, Sara. The Rhetoric of English India. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992.
Weber, Samuel. "Taking Place." Opera Through Other Eyes. Ed. David Levin. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1993. 107-46.
Zimra, Clarisse. "Disorienting the Subject in Djebar's L'amour, la fantasia." Yale French Studies 87 (1995): 149-70.
(1) Djebar does not inscribe a desire to capture a visual image, and the fact that she puts emphasis on the word differentiates her project indefinitely from postcolonial authors. More specifically, her novel can be juxtaposed with Malek Alloula's and Frantz Fanon's arguments about the representation of Algerian women. There is a tendency to feminize Algeria in Alloula's and Fanon's discussions. See Alloula (1986) and Fanon (1967).
(2) Djebar's L'amour, la fantasia is hereafter cited as Fantasia.
(3) I presented an earlier version of this essay at the International Colloquium on XXth Century Literature in French, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, March 25-27, 1999. At the time, I was one of the early readers to examine the musical in Djebar's writing. Also, I analyze the musical tropes in two chapters of my dissertation, reading Toni Morrison's Jazz and Assia Djebar's L'amour, la fantasia along with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Edward Said. Granted, a number of valuable studies exploring music in Djebar's novels and films have been published since then. Consider Alison Rice (2006). Reda Bensmaia offers an insightful theoretical analysis of music in Djebar's film La nouba des femmes du Mont Chenoua (2003). Also, see Bensmaia (1996).
(4) See note 2. Also, in this essay, I use the italicized Fantasia with the uppercase F to refer to the novel and the non-italicized, lowercase term to refer to the concept and the practice.
(5) Nationalism has become a trademark phrase especially in exploring non-Western literature, as if the nation and political pragmatism have become the only concern of non-Western novelists. With the rise of cultural studies and the branching of postcolonial inquires in the 1990s, fertile spaces were created for thinking of North African literature in terms of an ideological predicament. Christopher L. Miller best summarizes this interpretive tendency in his chapter titled "Nationalism as Resistance and Resistance to Nationalism": "Publications by social scientists, philosophers, and historians such as Hobsbawm, Ernest Gellner, and Benedict Anderson have influenced new work among interdisciplinary theorists such as Homi Bhabha, Edward Said, and Fredric Jameson. Nationalism emerges as the interdisciplinary topic par excellence" (1998, 119). I will add that Julia Kristeva has contributed to the discussion of this topic. See Kristeva (1993). However, why does the nation or nationalism become the indispensable concern of the East? Why are philosophical and theoretical approaches to Near Eastern literary texts frowned upon or considered suspect since their theorems belong to the West and therefore are foreign to what has been marked as "indigenous" or "authentic" cultures? In an attempt to show how North African writers are burdened by this tendency of imposing nationalism and national identity into their writing, Jacqueline Kaye and Abdelhamid Zoubir fall short since they assert another prevalent cliche about North African literature by classifying it as primordially oral and unsophisticated. They endorse this unrelenting presupposition without offering another model of inquiry: "The peculiarity of this phenomenon resides in the fact that prior to colonialism many, or even most, of these countries had no literatures at all. That is, they had no printed books composed of sequential narrative prose or discrete individual poetic utterances, although their cultures may have been rich in oral compositions of great beauty and diversity" (1990, 1-2). John Ericson's study (1999) of the so-called Third World literary texts, such as the works of Djebar, Khatibi, Tahar ben Jelloun, and Salman Rushdie, offers a cultural analysis of Islam and the West, forcing these texts to mirror this dichotomy. Moreover, the preoccupation with the nation continues to haunt recent literary studies. For example, see Mohamed-Salah Omri (2006), and consider James McDougall (2006).
(6) North African writers who write in French are severely criticized by their counterparts who write in Arabic. The debate imposes questions of authenticity, loyalty, and the national responsibility of the writer toward his or her mother tongue. For instance, Djebar admits a love relation with Arabic, saying "je parle de l'ecriture arabe dont je m'absente, comine d'un grand amour" (1985c, 204), whereas in Le blanc de l'Algerie, Djebar inscribes an ambivalent moment in relation to Arabic. She strongly opposes the imposition of Arabic as an official language in Algeria after independence. I will cite the translation of an excerpt of her novel that appeared under the same title. She writes: "as for the 'war between languages' ... I came to experience it personally only gradually at the university. At first, I underestimated its quasi-neurotic symptoms: that certain academics, spouting a grotesquely pompous jargon of scholastic Arabic, devoid of any real thought, as soothing and meaningless as Church Latin, should suddenly decide, long after the war of independence, to become born-again aggressive nationalists, waging war against the French language, and, if need be, against the 'West'; there was a comedy of human stupidity, which sooner or later, it seemed to me, would inspire an Algerian Flaubert or Gogol" (1995, 144). For further elaboration on her views on Arabic, see Djebar (1995). Clearly, Djebar embodies the current debate addressing the possibility of a multilinguistic structure in Algeria. There are many writers expressing different views on this subject.
(7) In addition to Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy's speculative discussion of the political, we see a profound interest in exploring this notion within the context of contemporary literary theory and French philosophy. For an example, see the thoughtful examination in Deardsworth (1996).
(8) It is important in this context to juxtapose Djebar's reading of Delacroix's painting Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement to what she discusses here in relation to the position of the word. In reappropriating the name of Delacroix's painting to become a title for her short stories, she mimics and questions his depiction of the Algerian women. However, by evoking the bath scene, that is, a space that would have never received the French painter as a spectator, she addresses the limits of his painting as she exposes other tropological manifestations in relation to femininity, nudity, and a singing voice. Hence, by shifting her role in the "Postface" from writer of the short story "Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement" to the reader analyzing both her story and the painting, she institutes intricate gestures in terms of writing, reading, and painting. In so doing, Djebar explains how this painting is embedded in a superficial Orientalist perception of Algerian women. She states that "Delacroix's painting can be seen as an approach to the feminine Orient--undoubtedly the earliest in European painting, which is so accustomed to treating the odalisque theme or to depicting only the cruelty and nudity of the seragli" (Djebar 1985b, 340-43; translation slightly modified). Also, see the entire text of Djebar's Women of Algiers in Their Apartment.
(9) I am thinking of Derrida's reading of the postcard and destination. See Derrida (1987, 35).
(10) I use "the French chroniclers" or "the French officials/officers" interchangeably to refer to the writers of the different scenes of French colonization of Algeria cited by Djebar in Fantasia.
(11) Djebar highlights the feminization of the city of Algiers in many places. She ironically plays on the sexual images in these letters in a fragmentary phrasing: "Y penetrent comme en une defloration" (1985c, 70). And we see that "dans le fond, d'une Algerie-femme impossible a apprivoiser" (69). However, Ralph P. Locke addresses the image of the Oriental woman in opera. He remarks, "These images of women embody what has been called the central topos oblige of the Western fantasy of the Orient: the female figures are portrayed as objects of desire-primarily as odalisques (concubines) who are voluptuous, vulnerable, indolent, and sexually available to a present or implied Oriental male" (1997, 168).
(12) There is a tendency to overlap the irreducible distinctions between the notion of the exotic and the thinking of the other. Sara Suleri argues for an alarming similarity in the deployment of these pairs in the colonial and Orientalist discursive projects. She points out that "while alteritism begins as a critical and theoretical revision of a Eurocentric or Orientalist study of the literatures of colonialism, its indiscriminate reliance on the centrality of otherness tends to replicate what in the context of imperialist discourse was the familiar category of the exotic" (1992, 12). I will add that Djebar is attentive to the repetition and her text presents a double critique of the Orientalist discourse and postcolonial studies.
(13) Without presenting a critique of the English translation of Fantasia, I will limit myself to transgressive moments in the translation in which additional musical terms are installed in the English translation. Consider this example in which the translation ascribes an extra musical register to the text. It appears in the theatrical staging of the conquest, when the cries "culminate in a crescendo of blood curdling," which replaces the French "puis culmine dans une crete de cris suraigus" (Djebar 1985a, 15).
(14) I have in mind the Derridean notion of origin, which Niranjana underscores in relation to postcoloniality. She writes, "The most profound insight Derrida's work has afforded to post-colonials is the notion that origin is always already heterogeneous, that it is not some pure, unified source of meaning or history" (1992, 39). I would add that we could relate this observation to oral studies.
(15) Edward Said repeatedly views music as being about itself, drawing a comparison between music and Orpheus; that is to say, he emphasizes its lost object. He suggests, "In a sense, therefore, all music is only about music, and this is the inherent tragedy of musical eloquence; no wonder that when we think of Orpheus, the mythical embodiment of music, we see him mourning the death of Eurydice, which he causes by looking back at her. The sadder the music, then, the closer it comes to metamusic, music confined to itself, meditating on itself, mourning the loss of its object" (1992, 481). Interestingly enough, in his Musical Elaborations, Said presents a different discussion with respect to the Western discourse on music and not music per se. Said argues that the Western discourse on music cannot be read separately from the primacy of the West, which is occasioned by colonization and cultural power. For Said, this hegemony signals the premise of imperial strategies within the Western intellectual project of music.
(16) Consider the translation of this passage and the musical excess assigned to Djebar's reading of the writing of Bosquet as presented in this statement: "The orchestrated attack gaining momentum: animando, accelerando; spurring on the stampeding horses; trampling the dying under their hooves; overturned tents bespattered with blood" (1985a, 55).
(17) Lacoue-Labarthe explains that "Plato does not condemn all music, any more than he condemns all poetry, but that as a pure and simple consequence of the discrimination exercised apropos of muthopoiesis, under the double face of logos and lexis, of enunciations and the mode of enunciation (in the City, only poets telling the truth about the divine, and in a simple mode, will be tolerated ...)." He accepts in music only that which encourages virile and warlike behaviors (let us not forget that it is a question of the education of the "guardians" here). Lacoue-Labarthe points out that the only articulation about music appears in the Republic: "rhythm and harmony are particularly suited to penetrate into the soul and to touch it forcefully" (1994, 111).
(18) In her insightful analysis of Flaubert's and Chateaubriand's captivation with Carthage, Jenine Abboushi Dallal demonstrates how the French imperialista engendered an Orient that is a site "of cultural aesthetics. She discusses the "relationship between the aesthetics of extinction and French imperial ideology," following "the writings of Chateaubriand and Flaubert's Salammbo within the context of French colonial North Africa and link[ing] their concepts of the aesthetic to the meanings of Carthage" (2000, 265).
(19) Said emphasizes the role of those who accompanied the colonial expedition, in his case, the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon in 1798. Said records that "The French expedition was accompanied by a whole team of scientists whose job it was to survey Egypt as it had never been surveyed before," resulting in the massive, twenty-four-volume Description de l'Egypt (1994, 34).
(20) Convinced that her autobiography is ultimately connected to exploring the history of Algeria, she has embarked upon revealing and weaving bits and pieces of both histories in her text. However, the insertion of the "I" suggests a reading of the real and the fictive elements in an autobiographical account. As Paul de Man has shown, the division derives, in part, from the nature of the reference and how it relates to this type of writing. He asks, "but are we so certain that autobiography depends on reference, as a photograph depends on its subjects or a (realistic) picture on its model? We assume that life produces the autobiography as an act produces its consequences, but can we not suggest, with equal justice, that the autobiographical project may itself produce and determine the life and that whatever the writer does is in fact governed by the technical demands of self-portraiture and thus determined, in all its aspects, by the resources of his medium? And since the mimesis here assumed to be operative is one mode of figuration among others, does the referent determine the figure, or is it the other way around: is the illusion of reference not a correlation of the structure of the figure, that is to say no longer clearly and simply a referent at all but something more akin to a fiction which then, however, in its own turn, acquires a degree of referential productivity?" (1984, 69).
(21) The convergence of ballet and opera with the Arab cavalry reinforces a transgressive process in which the text attempts to move from French to Arabic, from narration to music, and from history to fiction. To quote just one example: "Le 18 juin I'agha Ibrahim inspecte le terrain: rochers, barrieres de lentisque et de broussailles, collines epineuses ou sableuses, un decor ou la cavalerie arabe dessinera sans difjiculte son ballet habituei et les fantassins sauront se plaquer, reptiles au sol, invisibles" (Djebar 1985c, 27; my emphasis).
(22) Among the artists who were enchanted by fantasia is Delacroix, who drew scenes in which he attempted to capture the movements of its cavaliers. Also, he named two of his paintings Fantasia devant la porte d'entree de Mequenenez and Fantasia arabe. In contrast to Djebar, only the movements of horses and their riders with erect rifles are depicted in his painting. See a special issue on Delacroix published by Institut du Monde Arabe, "Le voyage au Maroc, La caravane orientale, Regards croises, Occident-Orient," Telerama horsserie (September 1994), 74. Also, fantasia is characterized as a "vision, wild visionary fancy (or fiction); it is also the title of a Delacroix painting where the eye is captivated by a highly colorful equestrian celebration, a display of virility where for the participant love dares death" (Abdel-Jaouad 1987-88, 27). It is worth noting the psychoanalytical dimension of fantasia. Laplanche and Pontalis illustrate the different modes of fantasy. More specifically, they refer to Freud's definition of it, which relates "phantasien" to "daydreams, scenes, episodes, romances or fictions which the subject creates and recounts to himself in the waking state." Also, fantasy resides in an imaginary space detached from reality. They explain that "the use of the term 'phantasy' cannot fail to evoke the distinction between imagination and reality (perception). If this distinction is made into a major psycho-analytic axis of reference, we are brought to define phantasy as a purely illusory production which cannot be sustained when it is confronted with a correct apprehension of reality. It is true, what is more, that certain of Freud's writings seem to back up this type of approach" (1973, 315-16).
(23) It is relevant to recall the notion of becoming-music in Deleuze and Guattari's reflection. They suggest that the becoming-animal, the becoming-horse is pertinent to the music of Mozart, for example, and they assert that this becoming is indissociable from the content of music (1987, 304).
(24) On the other hand, Said's approach in his exploration of music fails to discuss non-Western musical traditions. See Said (1981).
(25) Clarisse Zimra illustrates how Eugene Fromentin collapses Algeria with ancient Greece in his sketch of fantasia. I cite Zimra, who cites Fromentin's Une annee dans le Sahel: "Reduced to its simplest elements, watching in this super-abundant staging only one group, and in this group only one rider, the fantasia--in other words, the gallop of a well-mounted horse--is still a unique spectacle.... In all its arts, Greece could not imagine anything more natural or more grand ... [from] this well-proportioned monster, which is but an audaciously represented alliance of a robust horse and a handsome man, Greece formed the teacher of her heroes, the inventor of her sciences, the preceptor of the most agile, bravest, and handsomest of men" (1995, 158). Clearly, as he watches fantasia, Fromentin does not differentiate between Greece and Algeria. Algeria, according to his articulation, is the sublime, and it surpasses everything produced by Greek arts. Zimra examines the presentation of this spectacle in relation to Djebar's texts. Djebar's evocation of Fromentin is addressed by Spivak as well, suggesting that the autobiographical moment is caught in "spectacular arabesques." She reads the process of translating the story of the two prostitutes to old Zohra in relation to autobiography. She says, "here autobiography is the possibility of writing or giving writing to the other, identifiable only as a mutilated metonym of violence, as part-object. The source is, once again, Eugene Fromentin" (Spivak 1992, 772). Also, consider another commentary on the portrait of Haoua in Fromentin's text by Anne Donadey, who indicates that both Djebar and the French painter attempt to describe the death of Haoua, who "befriended the painter and his companion" and "is purposely trampled to death by one of horseriders of the fantasia, a man she had left earlier" (Donadey 1993, 113).
(26) Djebar describes this scene: "Fetes nocturnes sur les terrasses d'ou, parquees en peuple d'invisible, nous regardions l'orchestre andalou avec son tenor venerable.... Ce cri ancestral de dechirement--que la glotte fait vibrer de spasmes allegres--ne sortait du fond de ma gorge que peu harmonieusement. Au lieu de fuser hors de moi, il me dechirait. Je preferais ecouter la longue vociferation de ma mere, mi-roucoulement, mi-hululement qui se fondait d'abord dans le choeur profus, puis le terminait en une vocalise triomphale, en long solo de soprano" (1985c, 144).
(27) Lacoue-Labarthe explores an affinity between autobiography and music. He writes, "The association derives simply from the fact that the autobiographical (or auto-analytic) project takes its departure from a psychopathological accident (in the sense of the 'psychopathology of everyday life') that is of a musical order, or implies music. It is not exactly an auditory hallucination (Reik may hear the voice--that is, listens to it--but he is not hearing 'voices'); rather, it is a reminiscence, the return, in very precise circumstances, of melodic fragment" (1989, 150-51).
(28) In a marvelous moment in the English translation of the text, the translator misread the passage cited above and the Algerian fantasia becomes an overture that accompanies a tragedy, offering an explicit musical element to this popular performance: "The Arab of El-Kaim's goum--who three days before had performed an incongruous fantasia, all unaware of the tragedy to which it will be an overture-- ..." (Djebar 1985a, 74).
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|Author:||Ghadeer, Moneera Al-|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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