Corbin Treacy has just presented a paper entitled “Aesthetics and Politics in Contemporary Algeria: Kamel Daoud and the New Engagement” in Cork. He tells us about the conference in his first post for Textures of Time.
Studying Algerian literature in the United States can sometimes make for lonely work. When I present at conferences, I am often seated on a panel with fellow “Francophonists,” which means I might have a colleague on my left presenting on the Québécois pastoral novel and, on my right, a scholar of the Senegalese oral tradition. Fascinating though the potential connections between and among our respective projects may be, this system of classification (France over here, the rest over there) rarely leaves me feeling any closer to my chosen objects of study and more often than not, has me wondering if it was worth the trip.
Such was not the case at a conference I recently attended at University College Cork (Ireland), “Imagining Contemporary Algerias: Communities, Nation-State, the Maghreb and the Mediterranean.” Organized by Patrick Crowley (IRCHSS Government of Ireland Senior Research Fellow) and Megan MacDonald (IRCHSS Government of Ireland Post-Doctoral Fellow), the conference brought together seventeen scholars from across Europe, Algeria, and the US. Conferences dedicated to the study of the Algerian cultural imaginary don’t happen very often, and it was refreshing to have beside me colleagues grappling with similar questions, however varied our approach and method.
Patrick and Megan framed the stakes of the workshop in their opening remarks, pointing to the potential ways that art might unsettle various received Algerias (the Statist version; the exported media version) to illuminate landscapes beyond those so frequently constructed through the binary terms that ideological and nationalist discursive regimes tend to cast. Over the course of the two-day workshop, certain threads emerged: the persistence of the language question, the contested utility of the nation-state as a way of thinking Algeria, the role of allegory, the power and limits of art to unsettle, and the ethics of representation. These tropes are by no means unique to the field of Algerian cultural studies, but discussing them within the specificity of that context made for yeasty discussions and productively restrained the constellation of historical, political, and artistic references.
Keynote speaker Jane Hiddleston (Exeter College, Oxford University) applied pressure to theories of reading and literature in the theoretical work of Derek Attridge and Jacques Rancière to rethink the political stakes of literature and the limitations of reading as an act of engagement in her talk, “Algerian Literary Encounters: Reading and Writing in Two Novels by Tahar Djaout.” Salim Bachi, the second keynote speaker, revisited his novels (particulary Le Chien d’Ulysse) to argue that authorship is above all an act of creating and proposing alternative worlds, a cartography of the unknown. Both presentations spawned thoughtful discussions that continued well beyond the walls of our conference room. The papers presented by my fellow panelists were provocative, rigorous, and highly original. I left with a long list of books to read (the novels of Ahlam Mosteghanemi, Malika Mokkedem’s N’Zid, Habib Tangour’s poetry), films to see (most importantly those of Tariq Teguia) and new friends with whom to keep in touch.
I was privileged to have presented with:
- Lila Adrar (Laboratoire ICAR, CNRS, Université de Lyon 2): Entre Paris et Constantine : la reconstruction d’une mémoire dans l’oeuvre « Mémoires de la Chair » d’Ahlam Mosteghanemi
- Walid Benkhaled (School of Creative Arts, Film, and Media, University of Portsmouth): ‘Algerian’ Cinema Between Commercial and Political Pressures: The Double Distortion
- Elisabetta Bevilacqua (Scienze del Linguaggio e Letterature Straniere Comparate, Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy): Pieds noirs et Juifs d’Algérie: écritures nostalgiques de l’exil
- Anna Cavness (Department of French, Soka University of America): The Raft of Memory: Habib Tengour’s Poetics of Al Djazair
- Aoife Connolly (IRCHSS Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholar, Department of French, National University of Ireland, Galway): Reimagining Colonial Algeria: Madness, Nostalgia and Homesickness Through the Eyes of Young Pied-Noir Narrators
- Britta Elena Hecking (Institute for Oriental Studies, University of Leipzig): Youth in Algiers – on the move in the city of (im)possibilities
- Hadrian Laroche (Writer, France): Derrida. De la décision
- Florence Lhote (Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres, Université Libre de Bruxelles): La Notion de « distance » dans la représentation fictionnelle algérienne contemporaine
- Joseph McGonagle (School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, University of Manchester): On the road in contemporary Algeria in Tariq Teguia’s Rome rather than you (2006) and Inland (2008)
- Chantal Michel (Faculté des Langues, Université de Lyon 2): Identité et fiction dans l’oeuvre de Zahia Rahmani
- Sura Qadiri (Newnham College, Cambridge University): Restructuring Algerian Political Identity in Boualem Sansal’s Le Village de l’Allemand
- Edwige Talamlet Talbayev (Department of French, Yale University): Journeys of the Self and Others: Allegorical Undoings in Malika Mokeddem’s N’zid
This conference was part of an ongoing IRCHSS (Irish research council) funded project on recent literary and cinematic representations of the Algerian nation and transnationalism, Algeria: Nation and Transnationalism 1988-2010. For more information, visit: https://www.facebook.com/pcrowleyAlgerianAllegories