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Tropiques Nostalgiques

Fatal Homesickness in French Algeria

Thomas Dodman

People once died of nostalgia. This article traces the remarkable trajectory of “la nostalgie africaine” from its original understanding as a clinical form of homesickness to the wistful, but wholly benign, feeling we are familiar with today. It does so by looking at French attempts at colonizing Algeria in the nineteenth century against the backdrop of changing medico-scientific theories of human acclimatization to warm climates. I argue that the latter provoked a positive reevaluation of homesickness and led to the development of a “nostalgic simulacra”: a replica French environment capable of sustaining the sepia-tainted illusion of an “Algérie française.”

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“Our Actions Never Cease to Haunt Us”

Frantz Fanon, Jean-Paul Sartre, and the Violence of the Algerian War

Emma Kuby

This article considers two famous works published in France during the Algerian War and forever after interpretively linked: Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth and Jean-Paul Sartre's Preface to Fanon's book. It argues that yoking together the two texts has distorted key features of each, in particular as they relate to the multiform problem of violence. To overcome a misreading of Fanon's position by Sartre, the analysis presented here uses the under-examined clinical case studies in the final chapter of Wretched to emphasize Fanon's acknowledgment of violence as a source of trauma, not only a means by which trauma is transcended. It then attempts to explain Sartre's reinterpretation of Fanon's message in light of ongoing postwar debates within the French intellectual Left about the revolutionary potential of violence in metropolitan France.

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David Drake

When considering Sartre’s and Camus’ positions on the Algerian War of Independence, it is useful to begin by briefly locating both men in relation to colonialism in general and Algeria in particular. The first point, an obvious one, but one which needs to be made, is that while Camus, the child of Belcourt, had first-hand knowledge of life in working-class Algiers, and as a journalist of the misery of Kabylia in the late 1930s, Sartre, the Parisian intellectual par excellence, had almost no direct knowledge of the country. I say almost no direct knowledge because he and de Beauvoir did pass through southern Algeria en route to French West Africa in 1950 but apparently paid scant attention to the political situation in that country.

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Robert Zaretsky

Algeria is never far from the center of Albert Camus's life and work—no further, in effect, than Ithaka is from the center of Odysseus's thoughts. In fact, Camus tended to see his native country through his readings of ancient Greek myth and tragedy. This article traces the ways in which Camus, with materials provided by ancient Greece, not only represented his native land, but also elaborated a “Mediterranean” school of thought—la pensée du Midi—that emphasizes the role of moderation or “measure.” There is an undeniable aspect of nostalgia to Camus's rendering of his country and its past, but this does not undermine its validity. By making use of Svetlana Boym's fruitful distinction between reflective and restorative forms of nostalgia, I suggest that the combination of the two categories lies at the heart of Camus's “philosophy of limits.”

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Parasites from all Civilizations

The Croix de Feu/Parti Social Français Confronts French Jewry, 1931-1939

Samuel Kalman

Refuting claims made by several historians that the Croix de Feu/Parti social français were non-exclusionary, this article demonstrates the prevalence of anti-Semitism and xenophobia throughout the league's metropolitan and Algerian sections. CDF/PSF leadership and rank-and-file alike prioritized the notion of the enemy, and their plans for les exclus augured similar developments under the Vichy regime. Although less rabidly xenophobic than his colleagues, whose opinions variously promoted denaturalization and outright elimination, group leader Colonel Françaois de la Rocque was nonetheless prone to racist and exclusionary doctrine, arguing that foreign Jews and immigrants were the enemies of la patrie, and should necessarily be expunged from the new nation. The article describes the wide range of xenophobia present in group actions and discourse, while positioning the CDF/PSF within the broader context of French and Algerian society.

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Bruce Baugh

Let me start with an apparent aside. In the midst of his dialectical demolition of Foucault’s Histoire de la folie, in “Cogito et histoire de la folie,” Derrida argues that although Foucault wants to do an archeology of madness’s silence, an archeo-logy is a logically ordered work (465), and that even though Foucault wants to protest against reason’s sequestration of madness, “reason in the classical age” can only be brought before the tribunal of Reason in general (466), which could then rule on the unreasonableness of classical reason.

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Martin Thomas

Focusing on the gendarmerie forces of the three French Maghreb territories, this article explores the relationships between paramilitary policing, the collection of political intelligence, and the form and scale of collective violence in the French Empire between the wars, and considers what, if anything, was specifically colonial about these phenomena. I also assess the changing priorities in political policing as France's North African territories became more unstable and violent during the Depression. The gendarmeries were overstretched, under-resourced, and poorly integrated into the societies they monitored. With the creation of dedicated riot control units, intelligenceled political policing of rural communities and the agricultural economy fell away. By 1939 the North African gendarmeries knew more about organized trade unions, political parties, and other oppositional groups in the Maghreb's major towns, but they knew far less about what really drove mass protest and political violence: access to food, economic prosperity, rural markets, and labor conditions.

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Katherine Hennessey and Margaret Litvin

around once more, recent struggles in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen (and their repercussions in Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria) have presented dramatic instances of eloquence, pathos, heroism and carnage. Syria’s civil war

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Basil Kingstone

For over fifty years Francis Jeanson has been one of the world’s exemplary radical thinkers and actors. We Sartreans know him as the author of one of the earliest, and still most insightful, books on Sartre’s philosophy, Le Problème moral et la philosophie de Jean-Paul Sartre [Available in translation. See Sartre and the Problem of Morality, Bloomington, 1980], Sartre par lui-même, and Sartre dans sa vie, as well as of the review of Camus’ L’Homme révolté [The Rebel, New York, 1954] which instigated the Sartre/Camus break. Then came Algeria. As his biographer writes, “His intervention against the Algerian War shapes our collective destiny. Without Francis Jeanson, the resistance of French intellectuals to this colonial war would have been different” (Marie-Pierre Ulluoa, Francis Jeanson: un intellectuel en dissidence [Paris: Berg International, 2001], 244). At the beginning of the insurrection he and his first wife wrote a book about French colonialism and its effects on Algeria. He then organized the Jeanson network, the “porteurs des valises” who hid Algerian activists and deserters from the French army, and raised money for the FLN. In this role he lived underground for several years and was tried and sentenced in absentia to 10 years prison, a sentence which was only commuted at the end of the war. Jeanson was invited to Chalon-sur-Saône to direct its House of Culture and then worked as a philosopher participating in a continuing education program for psychiatrists in a mental hospital. He then returned to a small family house in Claouey, on the Bassin d’Arcachon, where he has continued to write and involve himself in such activities as the France-Sarajevo Association, which has encouraged a multi-ethnic Bosnia.

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Jane Hiddleston

Sartre's writing on colonialism and anti-colonial critique is diverse, protean and frequently self-contradictory, and for this reason has generated a good deal of controversy. His celebrated and notorious 'Orphée noir', written as the preface to Senghor's Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française, has been read as both veneration and critique of the negritude movement, and he has been named both spokesman and traitor of anti-colonial resistance in Africa. Explicating the dynamics of an assertion of black identity in contradistinction to colonial influence, Sartre introduced revolutionary black poetry to the European audience it was directed against, only to be condemned by some of the other negritude thinkers, such as Alioune Diop, as eurocentric and blinded by his own position as a metropolitan, and therefore colonial, intellectual. The version of negritude promoted in 'Orphée noir' was criticised by such thinkers for being too rigid and essentialist, yet conversely, Fanon objected that Sartre's stress on the movement as transitory and provisional meant that was insufficiently immersed in 'authentic black experience'. In addition, Sartre's more journalistic writing, which called for the withdrawal of the French presence in Algeria during the war of independence, aptly served to draw attention to dissension about the Algerian question within French society, but, as Robert Young points out, the Marxist approach underpinning many of these pieces has also been seen as universalising.