My response to the Nation article.
Alice Kaplan’s “Algeria’s new imprint” article published in the Nation, and sadly celebrated and shared by the Francophile Algerians, exemplify the old colonial tale which value the subalterns’ ideas only when they fit the so called universal western norms of thoughts.
A. Kaplan, professor of french at the university of Yale, is the daughter of a Jewish lawyer who prosecuted Nazi war criminals at Nuremburg. Her love for French language and literature, she specialized in, didn’t prevent her from being critical towards some French writers’ vis-à-vis their political stance with the Nazi regime. She dedicated her dissertation to denounce French fascist intellectuals and to “prosecute” them…intellectually. It seems that, for Alice Kaplan, french pro-Nazi writers must be condemned as Nazi war crimes must not be forgiven…
However, in her last visit to Algeria, Kaplan was not looking for Post-colonial Algerian intellectuals who believe that French colonial crimes cannot be forgiven and who, through their writings, departed from colonized literature to promote the decolonization of knowledge and culture of Algeria. No. Kaplan was looking for Algerian intellectuals who like her, were secular francophone and love french language and culture , but who, unlike her -regarding French fascist intellectuals and Nazi war crimes- have forgiven and forgotten french war crimes. Those Algerian intellectuals who show defiance only towards the values of their own traditional society : language, religion, customs and memory. And these colonized Algerian authors, Kaplan found them in Barzakh publishing house.
To introduce Barzakh, Kaplan chooses Toumi’s novel “L’effacement” which illustrates the critical view of those intellectuals towards the “overused” national narrative of the liberation war. She explains how liberated from the “Moudjahideen” and their narrative, the young generation would have “to invent a future of the country without them”. Surprisingly, according to Kaplan, the future of Algeria to be invented is not a postcolonial future freed from French cultural colonization and coloniality. It is rather freed from… national liberation glory. And as it might be expected, the new future of Algeria (new imprint) would be written by Barzakh and its herd of new francophone intellectuals.
Barzakh, the idea was presented by Kaplan as inspired by its owners’ stay in France where they found peace and culture away from Algeria and the so called “islamist” terrorism of the 1990s. Back to Algeria, Barzakh, the project, is nurtured and supported by the printing house Imprimerie Mauguin which happens to be owned by a French citizen, Chantal Lefèvre who is the daughter of a pied-noir hardliner militant of “Algérie française”… And of course people of Barzakh are no longer ashamed to claim their love for French language. After all Algerians have no language of their own …and the “creole” they speak “needs to be written”… All those clichés, not to say propaganda conveyed by French colonization, were recycled in this article.
But the most disturbing part of the article is when Kaplan subtly admits that Algerian literature is seen as a colonized one by postcolonial critics :
“Whereas postcolonial critics in American universities read Algerian literature for politics and for position, for a desire to see literature finally “decolonized”, Barzakh’s ambitions are different.”
And through this article, Kaplan proved that Barzakh ambitions are not to decolonize Algerian culture and knowledge from French coloniality. Barzakh’s amibitons are, actually, to liberate Algeria from the old narrative of the glorious war of liberation from France, and normalize the subjugation of Algerian culture and literature to France for another generation of writers.
No need to say that Kaplan’s vision of Algeria is reductive. It dwells only on the views of the Francophile intellectuals microcosm who, by no means, represent all Algerian intellectuals, especially the decolonized and Arab speaking ones who were missing in this article.
To say the least, Algeria’s new imprint is a biased colonial vision of Algeria. And coming from a Jewish American intellectual who denounced French fascist intellectuals in her writings, this article is utterly disappointing.