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Michael O'Riley (The Colorado College)
Remembering France’s Colonial Other in Myth and Counter-Myth of World War II
Henry Rousso’s seminal work Le Syndrome de Vichy traces the role of the haunting memories of the Occupation and the guerre franco-française in France’s recent cultural history. Although Rousso undertakes a thorough inventory of the ambivalent attitudes France holds towards its own World War II history, he does not indulge the complex role the memory of France’s colonial Other plays in the Vichy syndrome. This paper examines the different ways the colonial Other functions as a site or realm of memory in relation to France’s haunting memories of the Occupation.
The paper begins with a consideration of how a fascinating comic book entitled La Bête est morte!, published in Paris at the time of the Liberation (and subsequently reissued by Gallimard as recently as 1997), represents and incorporates the colonial Other within its creation of the myth of Resistance. This section of the paper places particular emphasis on the way the colonial Other is figured ambivalently--at once a collaborative ally of the French Resistance and a fierce Orientalized power that exceeds the idea of Frenchness. The second part of this work examines how Louis Malle’s cinematic portrayal of Collaboration remembers the Other on screen as a Collaborator. Like La Bête est morte!, Lacombe
Lucien also plays on an ambivalent representation of the Other, but it does so through a destruction of the Guallist myth of Resistance. Although these two texts participate in the cultural memory of World War II from different perspectives, both inscribe the colonial Other as a site of ambivalent yet persistent memory.
The final section of this paper examines Assia Djebar’s return to the site of World War II Strasbourg in her novel Les Nuits de Strasbourg. By way of conclusion this section examines how Djebar combines memories of World War II with memories of the colonial Other to critique the grip of memory that World War II and its ambivalent representation of the Other holds upon contemporary France. How does Djebar’s exploration of World War II release the Other from entrapment in the "myth/counter-myth" that memory's appropriation frequently fashions?
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