Reconstructive performances of memory and trauma in life writing by daughters of Harkis
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This study presents a close reading and comparative analysis of a corpus of texts by daughters of harkis – Algerian men who served as auxiliary soldiers in the French army during the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962) – written between the years 1993 and 2013. While these works range from texts published through traditional channels to those which were self-published, all transcend traditional, individualistic models of testimony and life writing to challenge the boundaries between individual and collective, self and other, past and present, and reality and the imagination, creating unprecedented dialogues across and between subjectivities, memories and temporalities. This project thus engages with concepts drawn from postcolonial studies, memory studies, trauma theory and philosophical and sociological theories of gender to posit that these texts constitute examples of a burgeoning sub-genre characteristic of members of what Marianne Hirsch has termed the ‘postgeneration’: that of ‘reconstructive memory work’. It is argued that psychoanalytic concepts such as ‘acting out’ and ‘working through’ should not be considered in the context of memory work to be binaristic notions, but are rather interwoven in these creative, performative, and ultimately dialogic reconstructions. As such, a strategy for reading such works in their specific generational, gendered and postcolonial contexts is advocated, calling into question trauma studies’ universalising tendency to impose traditionally Western, individualist concepts of painful affect and potential strategies for recovery. These daughters of harkis are thus shown to engage in writing not only to obtain knowledge of, and ultimately integrate, their parents’ painful pasts, but also to bring transgenerational silences, wounds and lacunae into the open as a means of instigating a dialogue with the reader, who follows the authors and narrators in the arduous process of testifying to complex layers of traumatic affect, and is thus interpellated as a witness to their reconstructive memory work.