A comment appeared in my queue this morning from one Nouri, The Moor Next Door, an Algerian blogger living in the US. Nouri was commenting on my cryptically-titled 3108, an entry here on locating blog-world resources which included a longish stab at outlining some points of interest concerning my relationship with the country of Algeria.
(The title is a puzzlin’ reference to attempting cross-linguistic blogtrawling; 3 = B, 1 = l, 0=O, 8=g.)
Nouri’s blog is a current-events and commentary blog about Algeria, something I’ve longed for. Understanding and keeping track of events and politics in Algeria via the usual suspects in the US media is quite challenging, partly a result of the terrible civil war fought there in the early nineties.
I suppose American readers will in generally have been most exposed to Algeria via the works of the French author Albert Camus, who was born in Algeria and who set both of his best known works in the Algieria of the late colonial era. Camus also wrote short stories set in French North Africa, some of which when I last checked had never been translated into English. This seems to me an oversight.
As I read Camus, although the works are generalized to reflect the writer’s contemporary intellectual milieu of existentialist thought, the impetus behind the work appears to be colonial relations itself. The Guest, linked above, for example, turns on an interaction between a schoolteacher and an Arab who has been dropped off by a cop at a frontier school, instructing the teacher to take the Arab to a prison.
The story is recognizably a Western, and is easily imagined as a John Ford movie – John Wayne making a brief appearance
at the school to drop Jay Silverheels off into the custody of Jimmy Stewart. Throughout the story, Camus presents the encounter of the icons of civilization with the vastness of the landscape and the precolonial inhabitants as inherently absurd and without positive outcome.
This theme – the unexpected consequences of the encounter between Europe’s colonizing cultures, the precolonial people, and the resulting hybrid culture that emerged in the wake of the end of the colonial era – remains, unsurprisingly, a major area of personal and political investigation for those countries affected by it, as Nouri’s long post, On Historical Maturity, illustrates.
A few entries prior, there’s longish critical attack on Robert Fisk which examines uses, mis-uses, and perceptions of postcolonial theory, winkingly and appropriately entitled L’etranger, a direct reference to Camus. In this entry, Nouri makes an offhand reference to Frantz Fanon, a French Martiniquean who worked as a psychiatrist during the Algerian war of independence and published a seminal anticolonial work, The Wretched of the Earth, which was highly influential throughout the sixties in many countries dealing with the struggle to define a postcolonial future. The work may also have influenced the speeches and thought of Malcolm X, who near the end of his life began using the language of anti-colonial analysis to describe conditions he saw in the United States.