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Flo Martin (Coucher College)
History “re-lit”: the poetics of memory in Assia Djebar’s “La femme sans sépulture”

In her latest novel, Assia Djebar adopts several narrative strategies in order to tell the story of Zoulikha, an Algerian freedom fighter, whose body disappeared in 1958. At first, an oral historian, she interviews women witnesses, Then, as an archeologist of knowledge (in the Foucauldian sense), she digs through several layers of memory : the memory of Zoulikha’s daughters, neighbors, friends ; her own memory of her omission (she «forgot » years ago, to tell Zoulikha’s tale while filming the history of women in the town) ; and then the fascinating traces of memory inscribed in the ancient mosaics of Césarée (Zoulikha’s town) in the form of faded or half-erases women’s portraits. As author, she builds her own narrative of Zoulikha’s life a polyphonic (various women’s voices are heard including Zoulikha’s imagined one), non-linear (via the use of flash-backs to various points in time and space), and as a piece of fictionalized history in which Zoulikha’s haunting voice can now resonate. It is this intriguing intersection of history and fiction that I wish to explore. In this novel, history seems to be « re-lit », i.e. enlightened by the literary images and fluidity of fiction, and re-merging as new lit(erature). Both fused approaches to writing a story define a new poetics of memory, against the grain of official memorial monuments, and clearly distinct from the tradition of eulogies, historical novels, and the epic tales of a single hero.

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