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Translating the Postcolonial in Multilingual Contexts

 | 
Judith Misrahi-Barak
, 
Srilata Ravi

The Mediterranean as/in Translation

N’Zid? Zid!: Mediterranean Archives and Postcolonial Translation in the Time of Amnesia

Megan C. Macdonald

Résumé

My contribution to this volume interrogates the time and space of postcolonial translation through two items, read through the lens of a Mediterranean archive. The first is Algerian novelist Malika Mokeddem’s 2001 novel N’Zid. The second object is Frantz Fanon’s multilingual passport, located at the Institut mémoires de l’édition contemporaine (IMEC) archive in Normandy. Published in French and not formally translated, N’Zid is a novel requiring translation— between desert and sea, North and South Mediterraneans, Arabic and French, the decolonial and postcolonial, the space of the archive, and memory and forgetting, in what I am calling the time of amnesia. Memory and forgetting are times of translation for both objects, one floating in Mediterranean space, the other buried in a French archive. The archive necessitates translation, perhaps a very specific kind of translation. Fanon himself becomes translated and strangely silenced in the archive, located at the polar opposite coordinates of his political life—Algeria translated back into Normandy/metropolitan France. A curious burial. Fanon and his passport, as well as N’Zid are chronotopes in the Bakhtinian sense. Bakhtin calls a chronotope ‘the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature’ (84). Both objects will be mapped out, recovered naufrages in a space-time specific to the Mediterranean pasts and postcolonial afterlives.

Texte intégral

Je suis l’ambassadeur du temps et de l’espace
Mon pays c’est un peu toute la galaxie
Je ne suis pas d’ailleurs je ne suis pas d’ici
Je suis contemporain de chaque instant qui passe
Je viens de l’infini et de l’intemporel
Je hante les bas-fonds et fréquente les cours
Mes lettres de créance sont des mots d’amour
Dans toutes les langues de la Tour de Babel
J’ai les clefs du futur et de la nostalgie
Ma carte de visite est une mappemonde
Exilé de partout mes chemins vagabondent
À travers tous les signes de l’astrologie.
Georges Moustaki, L’ambassadeur

Présenter la Méditerranée telle que je la conçois: un lieu
de mouvements autour d’une grande surface bleue. Je
n’ai pas dessiné les frontiers qui nous divisent, mais les
milliers de routes qui nous relient.
Sabine Réthoré, cartographer, Marseille

1My contribution to this volume interrogates the time and space of postcolonial translation through two items, read through the lens of a Mediterranean archive. The first is Algerian novelist Malika Mokeddem’s 2001 novel N’Zid. Mokeddem grew up in an Algerian desert town, and now lives in Montpellier on the Mediterranean, where:

La mer est devenue mon autre desert; un désert assouvi, celui-là, à l’inverse des immensités de mon enfance et de mon adolescence qui ne reflétaient jamais que l’enfermement et la privation. (Onelas)

  • 1 Historian Todd Shepard writes of ‘le contentieux’ or ‘Dispute’ (869) between France and Algeria ove (...)

2Her novels have been translated into Spanish, Italian, Arabic, German and English. Though N’Zid has not been formally translated, I argue that it is a novel requiring translation—between desert and sea, North and South Mediterraneans, Arabic and French, the decolonial and postcolonial, the space of the archive, and memory and forgetting, in what I am calling the time of amnesia.1

3The second object is Frantz Fanon’s multilingual passport, located at the Institut mémoires de l’édition contemporaine (IMEC) archive in Normandy. The archive necessitates translation, perhaps a very specific kind of translation. Fanon himself becomes translated and strangely silenced in the archive, located at the polar opposite coordinates of his political life—Algeria translated back into Normandy/metropolitan France. A curious burial. In his biography of Fanon, the late David Macey narrates how after Fanon’s death, his body was first transferred from Washington D.C. to Tunis, and buried 600 metres inside Algeria, while the Algerian war for Independence was still raging. After independence, ‘his remains were exhumed and reinterred in the martyrs’ cemetery in the hamlet of Ain Kerma, where a tombstone was at last erected’ (Macey 6). His family wanted him buried in Martinique, but were refused by the Algerian government (Macey 6). There is a memorial to Fanon in his family plot in the cemetery in Fort de France, Martinique. In Normandy, one finds Fanon’s passport buried in the archive, a different kind of entombment. Macey is not the only chronicler concerned with Fanon’s burial. Fanon’s work and legacy are translated through burial/resurgency metaphors. As Grant Farred has it in his introduction to ‘Fanon: Imperative of the Now’: ‘Such has been the impact of Fanon’s work that his political and philosophical (they are not always interchangeable) good has not been, as is appropriate, interred with his revolutionary bones’ (2013: 1). Farred’s ‘intention’ is ‘not to make Fanon “come back” to us, but to imagine (...) how his work (...) has borne itself, has carried itself to us, over half a century’ (2; my emphasis). The use of ‘borne’ and ‘carried’ signal the definition of metaphor—to bear or carry across—a translation in motion across space and time. Fanon and his passport, as well as N’Zid are chronotopes in the Bakhtinian sense, which I will explore further on. Briefly, in ‘Notes toward a Historical Poetics’, M.M. Bakhtin calls a chronotope ‘the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature’ (84).

4Before addressing N’Zid and Fanon’s passport, both of which could be read as Mediterranean maps, it is crucial to speak of the Mediterranean, this famously multiple space, one that hovers constantly between translation and untranslatability, borders and nation-states, liquid and solid. And since maps are archives and objects of knowledge, it is important to see how the Mediterranean is illustrated and put forth, displayed and controlled through graphic representations. In ‘Two Seas’, a recent talk he gave in Malta, Abdulrazak Gurnah spoke of the fifteenth century mappa mundi created by the Venetian cartographer and monk Fra Mauro. In this map, the south is at the top, following Arab cartography practices at the time, and breaking with European traditions. The depiction of the Mediterranean is highly accurate, and Gurnah is interested in how the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean are linked on this map. He considers this map as an encyclopedia, one including ‘knowledge (...) familiar to the Mediterranean Muslim world’, a map that contains a ‘massive amount of writing’ (Gurnah). There are things stuck to it, a kind of medieval hyptertext that performs the truth of map as palimpsest. As he noted, there are ‘narratives that connect these two seas—and there are narratives which distrust connections’.

5Another map with quite a bit of writing is Sabine Réthoré’s 2011 ‘Méditerranée Sans Frontières’. Réthoré is a cartographer living in Marseille, creating alternative Mediterranean maps. ‘Méditerranée Sans Frontières’ is a Mediterranean map turned on its side, so that Syria, Egypt, and the Black Sea appear on the bottom, and Spain and Morocco appear on the top. Sicily and Italy are in the middle. There are no national borders on the map, instead, Réthoré includes roads and highways—seeking connecting routes, rather than exclusionary ones. Each city name on the map is rendered in that country’s national language (so borders are not entirely elided) in Latin script. Algeria is Al Jaza’ir, Rome is Roma, Athens is Athina, and Alexandria is Al-Iskandriya. These maps upending North and South destabilize facile readings of the Mediterranean across five centuries. The postcolonial Mediterranean is a traveling project, in translation. Insofar as N’Zid is published in France, written by an Algerian writer living in France and writing in French, it is a novel that travels or has been travelled. Both the passport and the novel are subject to desert and liquid subjectivities: they flag deterritorialization (s) within or next to maps. N’Zid takes place in the middle of the sea, where the Mediterranean is a character, and a boat is a palimpsest, one of those innumerable small ships on a contemporary mappa mundi writ small.

  • 2 ‘Poète—tu n’écris ni le monde ni le moi / tu écris l’isthme / entre les deux’. Adonis, Pour saluer (...)

6Three quotes will serve to frame the novel. Mokeddem prefaces N’Zid with a quote from the Syrian poet Adonis (born in 1931 and who left Syria for Beirut before settling in Paris): ‘Poet—you write neither the world nor the my-self / you write the isthmus between the two’.2 This epigraph stages ‘betweenness’ before her text begins, geographically prior and apart. It also includes the inverse of the Mediterranean, since an isthmus is a narrow strip of land connecting two larger seas. In anatomy it is a narrow organ, passage, or piece of tissue connecting two other parts (Oxford). Adonis’ words are not only an epigraph, but also a kind of epitaph—perhaps for Mediterranean thinking or hopes, perhaps not, as the novel will reveal.

7The second quote is from South African novelist J.M. Coetzee’s 2003 Nobel Prize lecture which he gives in character, that is, as a retired Robinson Crusoe, mouldering away in England: ‘All of this—the wave of water, the ruin, the flight, the pennilessness, the tatters, the solitude— let all of this be a figure of the shipwreck and the island where he, poor Robin, was secluded from the world for twenty-six years, till he almost went mad (and indeed, who is to say he did not, in some measure?)’. The figure of the shipwreck and the island are important here, for Coetzee, and Robinson, and for N’Zid. The ‘naufrage’ or shipwreck is the what and the why of Mokeddem’s novel. But it is a shipwreck rendered otherwise. (At one point the main character—adrift at sea— refers to ‘the shipwreck of her memory’ (28)). N’Zid’s anonymous main character is a kind of female castaway, characterized by water and flight, and in the end, perhaps, madness. Coetzee’s gesture of taking on Robinson Crusoe harkens back to his 1986 novel Foe, itself a slight (in size but not in content) postcolonial rendering of Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe, whose full title is worth noting: The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Marine: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With an Account how he was at last strangely deliver’d by Pyrates. The title page of Robinson Crusoe may seem strange to contemporary readers—it tells the whole story in this small frame, in a sentence, and then wants us readers to read what follows. The sense of a spoiler alert here does not compute—the spoiler is the carrot for the dish to come. Mokeddem’s title, N’Zid is rendered in Algerian Arabic (known as darija/darja/derja) meaning both ‘I continue or I go on’ and ‘I am born, or I am being born’ (Mokeddem explains this in the novel). Using the verb ‘to be born’ in the first person is odd, and here the title has a whiff of Samuel Beckett’s ‘I can’t go on... I’ll go on’. Mokeddem’s romanized Arabic title for a francophone (or is it French?) novel already points to questions of audience, willful opacity, multiplicity, and not telling the francophone reader who does not know darija what the text is about. This, too, will connect to Fanon later on, a non-Arabic speaker in revolutionary Algeria.

  • 3 Spivak: ‘Foe is more about spacing and displacement than about the timing of history and labor’ (7)

8The third—and final—quote is from Gayatri Spivak’s treatment of Coetzee’s novel in her 1990 article ‘Theory in the Margin: Coetzee’s Foe Reading Defoe’s “Crusoe/Roxana”’.3 Here Spivak reads center/margins discourses and cautions against an overprivileging of the margin, making space for ‘autocritique’ (2). She notes the emergence (or consolidation perhaps is a better word) of ‘something called “Third World Literature”’ (2) located in what she later calls ‘the double-bind of Eurocentric arrogance or unexamined nativism’ (3). Coetzee’s Foe is Robinson Crusoe at an angle, with the insertion of a woman character called Susan Barton who tells the story of Robinson and Friday (in this version Robinson is not narrating since he dies on the way back from the island to England). Defoe himself is part of the tale, the stenographer for Susan’s female castaway narrative, along with Friday—who in Coetzee’s text is without a tongue, and, thus, according to some characters, without language. Towards the end of the novel, the Foe character asks Susan why she hasn’t tried to teach Friday how to write, since surely he can learn writing if he cannot produce speech. Here is Spivak’s take on this scene of multiple (non) writing:

One of the words Barton tries to teach Friday is Africa. This effort is rich in meaning and its limits. The metropolitan anti-imperialist cannot teach the native the proper name of his nation or continent. Africa, a Roman name for what the Greeks called ‘Libya, ’ itself perhaps a Latinization of the name of the Berber tribe Aourigha (perhaps pronounced ‘Afarika’), is a metonym that points to a greater indeterminancy: the mysteriousness of the space upon which we are born. Africa is only a time-bound naming; like all proper names it is a mark with an arbitrary connection to its referent, a catechresis. The earth as temporary dwelling has no foundational name. Nationalism can only ever be a crucial political agenda against oppression. All longings to the contrary, it cannot provide the absolute guarantee of identity. (14)

9Spivak gets at the artificial nature of languaging the chronotope. Friday is portrayed as refusing to learn, or unable to learn—he draws shapes and then erases them without performing a showing of the slate scratchings to Foe. What he writes/draws is overdetermined (though there isn’t time for a full discussion here)—eyeballs on feet—a sort of hieroglyph that recalls Christopher Columbus’s diary and other narratives of ‘exploration’ in the so-called Age of Discovery. Spivak writes: ‘Yet it is Friday rather than Susan who is the unemphatic agent of withholding in the text. For every territorial space that is value-coded by colonialism and every command of metropolitan anticolonialism for the native to yield his “voice,” there is a space of withholding, marked by a secret that may not be a secret but cannot be unlocked. “The native,” whatever that might mean, is not only a victim, he or she is also an agent. He or she is the curious guardian at the margin’ (16; emphasis original). Curious guardian, undecidability, margins, authenticity, transit, shipwrecks, the isthmus in between. I’m turning to Spivak via Coetzee via Defoe to think both about Mokkedem’s title and her treatment of the margins, where, in a center/margin discourse, the Mediterranean not only covers all of the space but is also always already center and margin at any given moment. Adonis’ isthmus is flesh and land, a timekeeper, echoing one definition of Bakhtin’s chronotope: ‘spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one carefully thought-out, concrete whole. Time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history. This intersection of axes and fusion of indicators characterizes the artistic chronotope’ (Bakhtin: 84). In N’Zid, flesh (the main character) searches for time (memory).

10N’Zid is an obstinate dialectic (is it failure or resisting failure?) of non-arrival in Mediterranean literatures. Mokeddem brings together the figures of border crossings, the sea as permanent impermeable, and transnational hauntings. I would like to reconsider N’Zid as a fetish that floats, that is, a book that becomes a raft between (not only) North African and French shores (but also the wider Mediterranean). Both the narrative arc and the physical book are splinters that refuse to sink. This is both in the form of its characters and the physical presence of the book, not unlike a small raft, as well as certain Mediterranean postcolonial histories which seem to end up on, in, or about Algeria, between memory and forgetting: ‘The sea occupies space and time, merges them into the same stunning light’ (N’Zid 24) and on sea wrecks: ‘The sea carries them without asking anything in return (...) No more past. No territory. Not even their nostalgia. Washed [up] bones or driftwood. Like an indefinable distress or drift, abandoned. Before the flood of forgetting’ (22).

  • 4 I am using the term ‘navette’ as both referring to transport over water, as well as a weaving metap (...)

11N’Zid opens with a woman waking up on a boat in the middle of the Mediterranean, with no memory of past or present. She finds a letter telling her that a certain ‘J’ had to leave, and that there are provisions for her stashed away in certain parts of the boat (false papers, money, and new letters to change the boat’s name—so the boat literally becomes a palimpsest). She doesn’t know who J is, and surmises: ‘J. J. J.? Jamil? Jean? Joan? Joachim?’ (17), a Mediterranean multilingual register. She has a head wound that covers half of her face like a persistent octopus. She doesn’t know her name, what languages she speaks, or her nationality. But she seems to know her way around a boat. A forced reconstruction of a seemingly violent past leads the woman to many Mediterranean threads. These weavings—a textual and transport navette—cannot quite reach either shore.4 N’zid offers lieux de mémoire otherwise—characters and books at sea, the rhetoric of failure refigured through amnesia: trous de mémoire ((w) holes of memory) which figure the Mediterranean sea as a possibility for forgetting between two shores with interconnected histories of violence. Can placing Mokeddem’s work in a specifically Mediterranean frame highlight the fractures (and necessary postcolonial translations) between publishing politics and bodies in transit between North Africa (and beyond) and Europe? This is also a question about disciplinary frames: what kind of work can Mediterranean literatures do in a postcolonial frame? And how do they do them? And in which languages? This is especially crucial with so-called minority literatures, and novels without a large reading public. The character awakening in the middle of the Mediterranean without language or memory is the postcolonial, and translation politics, writ large.

12After waking and reading the note (she does have at least one language), she sees that there are indeed identity papers (which she is told in the note are false), and then chooses identities to try on. And they are very Mediterranean. Her identity begins to depend on what we might call regimes of knowledge. Jesper Gulddal calls this attention to documents and nationality in literature a ‘chronotope of movement control’ (Gulddal 294). He notes: ‘following a period of more than half a century in which domestic and international travel had been almost completely free, the outbreak of the First World War triggered a wholesale reintroduction of passport requirements as a means of protecting the integrity of national borders. These efforts to control mobility were originally touted as temporary measures to remain in place only for the duration of the war. In reality, movement control had come to stay’ (296). He argues that German interwar fiction, then, ‘turns the contemporary topicality of movement control into a major literary strategy’ (298). This happens in a couple of ways, the most important of which is the way passport control and identity documents are ‘predominantly involved in the articulation of the novel’s fictional space. The passport motif highlights the fact that the scene of the action is a geographical universe compartmentalized into national enclosures. Moreover, it sets up a fundamental rule governing agency within this universe, namely the requirement that cross-border mobility should be contingent on the possession of a valid passport serving as proof of personal and national identity’ (Gulddal 298). Mokeddem both follows and refuses this logic. At sea, international waters are somewhat distinguishable through cartography, but otherwise, nationality is a floating signifier. N’Zid, then, is a very specific chronotope: a time of amnesia. The main character is being tracked by unknown assailants, armed with a map, and the knowledge of false papers.

13In addition to false papers, she also has the ship’s log. She thinks that maybe if she finds out where she’s been, that might tell her who she is—though there’s no guarantee that the ship’s travels included her. Four days earlier the boat left Athens for the Ionian islands— Corfu, Ithaca, Céphalonie. Then towards Tunisia: ‘She continued to flip through the pages of the book on board, and learned that with a few exceptions—dangerous places or those less amenable to sailing—that the Mediterranean wasn’t a secret for this boat. For her either’ (21). Then: ‘Exasperated, she drops the log, and goes toward the global map of the Mediterranean, scrutinizing the country names. Some of them were more dear that others, but she did not know why’ (22). Following this affectual thought:

If she must, she could give herself a country, but which would she choose? A little circle, in pencil, on the Algerian coast attracted her attention. Algeria? Egypt? Israel?... Why does this question undo her? Because, a priori she might not like the choice? She thinks of the ambiguity with which all those who carry several torn lands manage it. All of those who live between claims and ruptures. (22)

14The narration is in the third person, but she also speaks to herself in the third person. She gives up on trying to figure out which country ‘belongs’ to her, and becomes the sea. The trope or the frame of the ‘lost at sea with amnesia’ novel allows Mokeddem to meditate on both the coasts and their interiors. And this, considered alongside its postcolonial status and curious relationship with translation, is the most interesting thing about the novel (in addition to its abrupt ending). That is, it’s not necessarily beautifully written. It drags in many places. But it does the work of translating time and space, a Mediterranean translation in multiple registers.

15The fake papers tell her that her name is Myriam Dors. She looks into the mirror and says:

— Myriam. Myriam. Myriam... Just to hear it, to relearn the sound of her voice. Because the first name doesn’t tell her anything. It is like a password, it could open whichever identity of both sides [of the Mediterranean]. It could belong to so many countries that it borders on negation [or no name]. One language remains—that of the letter, the false papers, the navigation charts, the library books—does she speak others? By what link does she have this one? Blood? War? Dissidence? From the ‘métissage’ of an exile? Whatever one it is, the mother tongue is not necessarily that of the mother. That, she could not forget. (16)

16As the mother tongue is foreshadowed, she makes it to port, and meets a French man called Loïc. She tells him she’s Lebanese, French-speaking, and finds herself putting on a passable Lebanese accent, calling herself ‘Ghoula’—ogresse in Arabic, a language other than French she seems to know (49). Later on she goes to the doctor to get her head wound checked out, and tells the doctor her name is Eva Poulos: ‘My parents were Greek... Were? Coptic father, Jewish mother. I was born in Paris. A pure Franco-Greek-Judeo-Christian-Arabo-Atheist. Eva Poulos’ (64). Near the end of the text she actually considers becoming Myriam Dors—as the fake papers are described as ‘more real than the real ones’. Myriam Dors would allow her to be re-born (I’m born, I continue) and really forget or leave behind, the other identities. And Dors in French sounds both like ‘Myriam is sleeping’ (the time of amnesia) as well as ‘golden Myriam’.

17The mystery continues, with different ports of call. The Mediterranean in the time of amnesia is a curious chronotope in the Bakhtinian sense—space/time without anchorage. The time of amnesia is an untethered (or unmoored—both in the sense of mooring, and moor, mauresque) present that moves backward in order to move forward (the doctor tells her that, little by little, with this kind of head injury, the memory comes back—over weeks and months, little by little). This amnesia-time allows for ghosts, geographies, and microclimates. The present, then, is always a new presentism of the sea. In the frame of amnesia, it has no reference (and here this speaks a bit to Spivak’s use of catechresis, earlier—a metaphor without a referent). N’Zid corresponds most closely to Bakhtin’s chronotope of ‘adventure-time’ (Bakhtin 88) in the ‘Greek Romance’, though at an angle. In contains multiple countries; ‘a certain encyclopedia quality’ (Bakhtin 88) (which is also part of the Mediterranean mapping); ‘an extratemporal hiatus between two moments of biographical time’ (Bakhtin 90) (which I am calling amnesia time, with reference to N’Zid, specifically); men turning up ‘by chance’ (Bakhtin 105); the shipwreck (here of the mind, and a wreck at sea), the ‘motif of meeting’ (Bakhtin 98) (rendered strange in amnesia time). It also corresponds to the space of Bakhtin’s adventure-time chronotope: ‘an abstract expanse of space’ (Bakhtin 100) (a Mediterranean without borders or referents—for Bakhtin, the specific body of water is not important, but for Mokeddem’s text, it is crucial: the Mediterranean insists upon itself); an ‘alien world’—‘indefinite, unkown, foreign’ (Bakhtin 101) (due to amnesia all is indefinite and unknown); a hero and heroine with different homelands; ‘no scale for measuring these items and events, no clear background of the usual, of one’s own world’ (Bakhtin 101). The main character moves constantly across/around the sea. Bakhtin’s ‘open road’ here is a closed sea. But these are movements without traces, following Bakhtin’s notion of adventure-time. The only trace is the boat’s wake/sillage, GPS traces, and scraps of memory. Amnesia time read through adventure-time’s chronotope moves in two directions: as her memory is slowly recovered, time moves backwards and forwards, advancing a mysterious romance plot. Foresight requires a hindsight gesture (memory). Meeting another can only be strange in the time of amnesia.

18The time of amnesia also destabilizes center/margin discourses— in the middle of the Mediterranean, no site is more privileged for her than any other—she doesn’t know which side she belongs to, if any. Mediterranean place names are constantly invoked, a kind of inventory of Mediterraneness, but not connected to anything— memory? Belonging? Pure [sic] geography? Some of the places mentioned or visited include: Le Creous (with a Catalan pronunciation); Sète, Syracuse, Beirut, Tunis, Reggio de Calabre, Messina, (and this is interesting because she cannot name herself, she can only rename) the Straight of Gibraltar, Montpellier, North Sardinia, Olbia, Tetouan, Algiers, the Azores, Canary Islands, Paris, Ireland, Cadaques, Palermo, Corsica, Bonifacio, Exile, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, ‘the other side’, Oran, Syracuse, Galway, Spain, Andalousia, the Algerian desert, Barcelona.

  • 5 There are other references in the text to Nora as a female Ulysses—one on the blurb on the back of (...)

19She finds an address book on the boat (Bakhtin’s fortune-teller in ‘adventure-time’, though a mysterious talisman in the time of amnesia) with Mediterranean inscriptions: names, addresses and telephone numbers. Here maps, accents, radio voices, names, languages, food and ingredients, certain kinds of light, create a certain Mediterranean for her. What does listing all of these Mediterranean locations do? All of Mokeddem’s characters are Mediterranean misfits, and there are some that cannot be named. Eventually, her memory comes back, with the help of drawing (the character finds herself drawing faces through muscle memory, along with méduses/jellyfish) and Zana (listed in the address book), the main character’s Algerian neighbor, nanny, and replacement mother. Amnesia dissipates, and finally our character is called Nora Carson, a woman who grew up in France with an Irish father and Algerian mother. The name Nora is explained to Loïc (himself a foil for remembered fragments) as a bi-cultural compromise between two parents. An Irish father flagging the name of James Joyce’s wife—there’s a bit of Ulysses going on here, and the Algerian mother choosing the Arabic for light—her parents could agree on Nora, then, as a name that works both in Arabic and English.5 Nora realizes that she was on the boat with a certain Jean Rolland, French wheeler and dealer of Algerian art and other things. He’s obsessed with Algeria and, according to the newspapers and the boat’s radio, has gone missing. There is another J: Jamil, world famous lute player, and Nora’s transnational lover (transnational in the sense that they meet all over the world). He’s from the Algerian desert. Nomadic people. He can only write his music at sea. Nora considers Jamil to have a home, or a place where he comes from, and describes her own belonging as a nowhere ‘tripod’—Algeria, Ireland, France. No one place, or no-where is stable for her in and of itself—the nature of the tripod needs the three legs.

  • 6 We get an idea of what Fanon may have thought about post-revolutionary Algeria via his wife Josie F (...)

20So, to weave our way to a conclusion. Nora finds herself, or a version of it. This book was published in 2001, and takes place a bit before that. Nora finds out about her history from her Algerian mother figure/nanny Zana. She re-learns (remembers) that her mother was Algerian, wanted to fight for Algerian Independence, witnessed the events of October 1961 in Paris, where Algerians peacefully demonstrating against racist curfews were massacred by French police and drowned in the Seine, and takes off for Algeria, leaving her young daughter and Irish husband behind in Paris. Aïcha, her mother’s name, fights for Independence, but, as we have read elsewhere, the post-revolutionary moment is not usually as liberating for women as the revolutionary one (though we do not read this in Frantz Fanon’s work, as he did not live to see Algerian Independence).6 Aïcha’s family doesn’t recognize her marriage to the foreigner, marries her off to an Algerian man, she goes crazy, and stays mute, locked away in her parents house for 35 years. Coetzee’s Friday with no tongue, or the marginal discourse meets the madwoman in the attic.

21In the face of all this naming and re-covery (and here fracture is interesting, because amnesia is almost an interruption), there are things that are recovered (her mother’s history, one’s own name, place, belonging) and those that are not. She arrives in Spain, where she remembers that she has a rented house, and decides to wait for Jamil (they had planned to meet before the amnesia set in). A letter awaits her at the house. Jean Rolland the slippery French man who went missing has gotten in touch, and we learn that he’s been making deals with the Islamists in Algeria. Jamil cannot perform his music in Algeria because this is the 1990s, during the Civil War period known as “the dirty war” and “décennie noire”, which followed the cancelled 1991 elections where the Islamist party, Front islamique du Salut (FIS) were shown to have defeated the ruling FLN party in national parliamentary elections. The Islamist party was then banned, thousands of members were arrested, and guerrilla groups emerged and fought against the government. The total number of dead is estimated to be between 44,000 and 200,000 (a huge gap speaking to non-memory). Islamists targeted journalists, intellectuals, artists, foreigners. It is also thought that the government and the military were also doing a lot of the killing, and had infiltrated the insurgents—and the who is who became blurred. Amnesia in this context is also crucial, following the amnesty that the Algerian government put into place after the war ended, an amnesty in the form of radical forgetting that depended (and still depends) on amnesia.

22The time of amnesia in N’Zid runs parallel and opposite to a romantic narrative—that is, as Nora gains more memory, it seems like she’ll be reunited with her lover (the title N’Zid comes from Jamil’s music—he plays his lute for her and says, ‘N’zid?’/‘Should I continue?’, to which she replies Zid—Continue, go on). Just as the reader expects a tidy — dare I say—happy, ending, Mokeddem refuses it (a Greek Romance chronotope en panne). The text has been both leading up to and unravelling towards a different conclusion: there’s no romance to be had during the dirty war. Music and art don’t triumph. Deals and dialogue are not possible. She and her friend Loïc are in the house in Spain, awaiting Jamil’s arrival. They go into town like they have done already in so many Mediterranean ports (historical time intervenes in a non-Bakhtinian fashion) to get the French newspapers where they read that Jean Rolland (missing for a week) has been found dead with Jamil. Jamil was targeted after his rare concert appearance in Algeria, organized by Jean. Nora lives, her tripod between Ireland, Algeria and France still intact—but the people in those places (her father, her mother, her lover, her benefactor) are almost all dead. Her final pre-amnesia memory comes back to her with the news of these two deaths: she remembers that men came aboard the boat she and Jean were on, looking for Jamil. She is hit in the head. That moment, the memory, and the present events are described with the following sentence: ‘Algeria explodes in her skull’ (213). What now? She’ll put out Jamil’s unreleased music, calling the album ‘N’zid’ (she gives birth to it, it continues). Because, as she says, ‘the tombs in Algeria can wait’ (213).

23Nora is disembodied by what is called Algeria in the text, separating her memory from her body, her loved ones from the world of the living. It’s a re-turn to amnesia, one which she had described, talking to herself, as:

Un flou dans le cortex. Drôle de mot, cortex. Corps-texte, c’est ça. Ton corps a le texte flou... Il a brouillé les menaces de l’identité, des amours et des abandons. Fracture du crâne et des drames. Bon programme, les détails de l’amnésie. Sur mesure pour toi. (61)

24If amnesia was one kind of mind/body split, the violence of being smashed in the head on the boat becomes Algeria exploding—both personally for her, and in terms of the civil war. But this event doesn’t arrive until the end of amnesia. The end of amnesia time is Algeria time. Amnesty time has not yet arrived in the novel, since when Mokeddem publishes it, the war is still going on. Algeria time frames the whole novel, but only in hindsight. N’Zid is an object that circulates in the time of war.

Archival post-script: Fanon’s body and the archive

Translating a dead man means stepping very warily through a minefield littered with the debris of another time and another translation. (...) In Fanon’s case, translating the dead was a case of translating life itself. I felt I had to bring a dead translation back to life.
Richard Philcox ‘On retranslating Fanon, Retrieving a Lost Voice’ (251) I tore up and ate my own passport in an airport hotel. I’m bloated with language I can’t afford to forget.
Warsan Shire, ‘Conversations about Home (at a deportation center)’ There were other Frantz Fanons.
David Macey, Frantz Fanon: A Biography (2)

25For Mokeddem’s main character Nora, the tombs in Algeria can wait. Fanon’s body is located in Algeria near the Tunisian border, but his passport sleeps in a different tomb. What is at stake in Frantz Fanon’s archive being located in France? What kind of translations (plural) are necessary in order to ‘access’ (or even assess) this archive? This is a way of thinking about Fanon’s passport in the archive, where his name is listed as Omar Ibrahim Fanon, rather than Frantz Fanon. Where he is no longer a psychiatrist working in the interests of the French state, but one actively working against the colonial project. He changes clothes, names, jobs, sides. A Nora/Myriam/Eva in mufti. This is also a passport written in two languages, and since these are English and Arabic, it is a passport that must be read from two sides, in two different directions—boustrophedon in the archive. The languages of the archive, its silences, and historical vectors must also be translated. Fanon’s passport at IMEC is an object that requires translation from all directions.

26One can enter the IMEC archives with a defined research project, a scheduled appointment, permission, and a digital key. One of the strangest questions of the archive is ‘Why do you need to see this?’ to which the researcher might reply: ‘I need to see it before I know why I need to see it’. Both the archive and Fanon’s passports are chronotopes. Insofar as Fanon’s passport is multilingual, it is both always already translated as well as opaque, depending on the looker. I retrieved the passport from the desk at the end of a long hallway, a library and archive that has been housed in a former chapel, in the walls of a monastery not far from the English Channel—a body of water that connects to larger bodies of water. The archive is located in French secular time, where in the name of patrimoine and preservation, religious buildings are turned into coffers and coffins for national objects. What is Fanon’s nationality? Mediterranean translated from/through colonial Caribbean histories. Two seas.

27The archivist asks:

Do you know Jean Khalfa? He is a specialist of Fanon, and was here last week, finishing up the final touches on his text on all of Fanon’s work, which comes out in September. You can meet him if you see him. Here is the passport—see if it interests you. I will give you another folder, as I don’t imagine this will interest you for more than two seconds. [weighs the envelope]—Alors, the passport of Fanon weighs 88.88 grams, c’est formidable pour Fanon.

  • 7 Mardorossian is particularly concerned with the way Fanon’s work is ‘obscured by anglophone critici (...)

28Frantz Fanon (the work, the man) has always been about translation. Whether these translations are literal (see the re-translations into English of Black Skin White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth) or figurative: how to read Fanon (Wallerstein); ‘re-reading Fanon’ (Alessandrini); assessing and taking the temperature of his ‘relevance’ at any given time (Gibson, Philcox); as well as locating him and his work geographically or inside/outside disciplines (Macey, Lazarus, Mardorossian7, Seyki-Otu); or making him legible in countless hommages. In this sense, Fanon requires translation through space and time, another chronotope. More specifically, what kind of chronotope is Fanon in the archive, and how can this chronotope be translated? Translating the where and when of Fanon is, at once, a story of yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows.

29Writing from Algiers in 2004, Chaulet Achour brings together the relevance gesture as well as marking transnational hommages in her Avant Propos to Frantz Fanon l’importun:

Après une assez longue période d’oubli ou de mise à l’écart, Frantz Fanon et son œuvre refont surface. Des colloques ‘périphériques’—par rapport aux ‘centres consacrés’ de la culture et de la pensée. (15)

30In terms of hommages, Achour points to the more recent 2004 Salon international du livre in Algiers and its ‘hommage à Fanon’ (17), as well as to events during the 1980s such as Memorials in Fort-de-France in 1982, Brazzaville en 1984, and Algiers once again in 1987 (15). In addition, more permanent examples of ‘signes de retour vers cet intellectuel’ (17) include the creation of ‘Cercles’ in Fort-de-France and Paris: ‘Ces espaces ont contribué et contribuent encore à la transmission de son action et de ses écrits’ (15). She reads this reanimation in terms of coming out of ‘ce purgatoire’ (15). It is important that she moves between what she rightfully calls center and periphery, in terms of geographic location. It is this tension between Paris and elsewhere that characterizes not only Fanon’s reception between and across countries, disciplines, and languages, but also Mediterranean literatures published in France. Most importantly for my argument, it locates his passport and archive in an off-center periphery, that of the IMEC archives located in Normandy, France.

31Richard Philcox (husband and translator of Maryse Condé) retranslated two of Fanon’s texts into English. In his afterword to The Wretched of the Earth titled ‘On Retranslating Fanon, Retrieving a Lost Voice’, Philcox speaks of Fanon’s ‘lucidity’: ‘Perhaps this is one of the reasons why he is studied more in the universities of the English-speaking world than in France and the French Caribbean where the skeletons of the Algerian war and the color hierarchy, respectively, are too close for comfort’ (Philcox 2004: 244). As for postcolonial Fanon, Philcox laments that Fanon is ‘pulled in all directions by postcolonial scholars, made to fit their ideas and interpretations’ (Philcox 2004: 244). Philcox recalls going to a FNAC bookstore in Paris in search of Fanon’s Les Damnés de la Terre. The woman assisting him asked him how to spell Fanon: ‘Fanon obviously hasn’t left his mark here, I thought, and moved on’ (249).

  • 8 A collection of these unpublished works edited by Jean Khalfa and Robert Young Écrits sur l’aliénat (...)

32Not all of Fanon’s IMEC collection can be accessed. Some documents (such as his marriage certificate, his death certificate, and his unpublished plays) require permission from living family members.8 Frantz Fanon’s passport issued by the United Kingdom of Libya is made of embossed black leather and opens from left to right. The Kingdom of Libya came into being in 1951, and its official languages were Arabic, Berber, and Italian. Fanon’s passport is in Arabic and English, issued in Tunis 19 September, 1958. Omar Ibrahim Fanon is a doctor by profession, and marked born in Tunis in 1925. His eyes and hair are marked as black. He is 165cm tall. Under ‘special peculiarities’ we read another kind of hieroglyphics—a series of quotation marks, scratchings, hash marks. Scoring. Under ‘CHILDREN’ Olivier is listed in English and Arabic (اﻮﻠﯿﻔﯾر).

33In Fanon’s photo from the Guyse lab, his head is tilted to the left, and he does not look at the camera. There is always a version of Fanon’s face on offer in any given photograph, a tilt. Libya in Arabic is embossed across his chest, jacket, and tie, scraping the bottom of his chin. The passport is marked valid for ‘ALL COUNTRIES’. It expires in 1963, after Fanon’s death, and after Algerian liberation, which Fanon did not live to see. Under ‘OBSERVATIONS’ there is a photo of his young son. There is a blank space where ‘PHOTOGRAPH OF WIFE’ is indicated, next to his photo on page 4. His wife’s photo is not included, perhaps for reasons of security. (His wife Josie Fanon took her own life in Algeria in 1988, a postcolonial suicide eloquently lamented by Assia Djebar in Le Blanc de l’Algérie.)

34The encyclopedia of locations in Fanon’s passport is a map that differs slightly from Mokeddem’s character’s wanderings in N’Zid. Fanon’s transit is political and pan-African: Consulate general of Tunis in Rome, Tourism visa, 1958; Visa for Ghana, 1958; Nigeria in direct transit to Ghana, 1958; Visa for Morocco from Tunis, 1959 (the Moroccan visa is in French, Spanish, and Arabic); Cairo, 1960; Embassy of Ghana, Cairo; Ambassade de Guinée au Ghana, Conférence Afro-Asiatique, 9 avril, 1960; Liberian Embassy, Accra, Ghana, West Africa; Imperial Ethiopian Embassy, Accra, 1960. There are eight listed passport regulations. Number 7 reads: ‘A passport including particulars of the holder’s wife is not available for wife’s use when travelling alone’. Finally, after 46 pages we read: ‘This passport is a valuable document and should not be allowed to pass into the possession of any unauthorized person; it should not be sent abroad by post’. Gulddal’s ‘chronotope of movement control’ re-emerges here, but in the time of the passport, and its afterlife in the French archives: ‘As a technology of power, the passport system fulfills the purpose of extending state power at the level of the individual; it renders individual citizens “available for governance”’ (Gulddal 304). Fanon in the archive is available for governance by a combination of kinship and the logic of the archive.

  • 9 The ‘producteur’ of the fonds at IMEC are listed on their website as follows: Mireille Mendès-Franc (...)

35But this archive is also a gift to France from Fanon’s family and interlocutors.9 As Jacques Derrida reflects (in another register) upon another Mediterranean writer in the form of Hélène Cixous and the donation of her papers to the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) and the nature of the archive: ‘one might dream of a geogenealogy or geotropism, and speak of a comprehensive geography of her work; her genius is, because of its many languages rolled into one, and Algeria into France, in algériance, geographical’ (77). Both Fanon and N’Zid could be folded into the reflection: multiple languages and geographies, ‘Algeria into France’. But there is also France (back) into Algeria. As Nigel Gibson reports in his ‘Unpacking Fanon’s books and putting them back again...’, Fanon’s son Olivier donated his parents books to the Centre National de Recherche Préhistorique Anthropologiques et Historique (CNRPAH) in Algeria. Gibson and Matthieu Renault visited the collection of books before it is unpacked and processed by the library. The collection is incomplete and difficult to assess in terms of chronology: ‘Apparently, these were the books that his father had left when he left the country in December 1956 and, as far as I understand, Josie had boxed them up and taken them to Lyon. We can only assume that they developed a new library in Tunis’ (Gibson). He and Renault go through the 1400 books looking for evidence of Fanon’s hand in the margins. Fanon’s books are traveled back into Algeria via the son. Gibson’s title recalls both Walter Benjamin and Homi Bhabha’s reflections on unpacking books (Bhabha’s inspired by Benjamin). But where Bhabha and Benjamin offer first person accounts of their own personal book collections, Gibson and his companion are faced with uncertainty. The book collection is a living chronotope, what Bhabha calls, citing Benjamin ‘ “the renewal of life” through relocation, dislocation, and re-situation’ (Bhabha 6). Further on Bhabha extends this reflection on his book collection and its cosmopolitan traces, landing on national anxieties:

If it has been suggested, in different ways by Anderson, Gellner, Nairn, and Todorov, that nationness is the Janus-faced strait gate of modernity and all who enter shall look backwards—in what we may now call an anxiety of the antecedent—then Samuel Weber has also pointed out that the psychic experience of anxiety is like being “caught in the space between two frames: a doubled frame, or one that is split” (167). What enters this double frame of the nation’s anxiety is not the naturalized, harmonized unchosen of the amor patriae—which is also the love of the nation-people—but its double: those who are the “unchosen,” the marginalized or peripheralized non-people of the nation’s democracy.
(Bhabha 12)

36Fanon’s passport in the archive speaks to both the chosen and unchosen. Janus-faced, it interrogates multiple nations in hindsight, head tilted toward the future. Gibson and Renault’s anxious indexing in the face of opacity recalls another (colonial) library, that of the double-fictional character Mustafa Sa’eed in Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North. Ato Quayson, Debjani Ganguly, and Neil ten Kortenaar inaugurate the Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry with this very (fictional) library, turning to the moment when Salih’s narrator enters Mustafa Sa’eed’s displaced and misplaced (refound?) library:

The library becomes a chronotope of a discursive encounter that makes visible the epistemic ravages of colonialism. It sutures several dimensions of colonial space-time and stages the myriad dynamics of encounter inhering them. The narrator’s report on the library also marks a deeply ambivalent relationship to the colonial archive. He appears to want to disavow the assumed incorporation of his nemesis into the archive, yet is propelled by the force of his curiosity to browse the library before setting it on fire. That he ends up not burning it down is a sign of his own ambivalence. Even as he disavows it, he is no less interpellated by the colonial episteme. (4)

37Mustafa Sa’eed’s library, translation, transportation, the postcolonial and multiplied identities; Fanon leaves his face in France and his books in Algeria. As Benjamin cautions: ‘You have all heard of people whom the loss of their books has turned into invalids, or of those who in order to acquire them became criminals. These are the very areas in which any order is a balancing act of extreme precariousness’ (60). Both language and location require postcolonial translations.

38The novel and the passport are both ways of translating Algeria, to follow Brian T. Edwards’s claims about Fanon’s use of language (where Fanon himself becomes the translator) in ‘Fanon’s al-Jaza’ir, or Algeria Translated’. Edwards argues that Fanon’s French writing was inflected with Arabic in two ways: Fanon used Arabic words and often did not translate them (and Edwards notes that this strategy loses its potency in English translation, as definitions for Arabic words are often provided) as well as uses French words that have Arabic etymologies (which also loses its significance in translation). Edwards writes: ‘The double movement of Fanon’s Arabized French—destabilizing French with Arabic, staging the disappearance of Arabic—can be seen to invoke a troubling ambivalence that will be resolved violently and tragically in postcolonial Algerian history’ (104). This strategy is a political one through language, as: ‘ [h] is movement between Arabic and French—his inhabiting of the space in-between a firm sense of where one language begins and the other ends—produces an Arabized French that effectively repositions French colonizers in an alien language territory, committing “barbarous” acts’ (Edwards 101). Writing in 2002, Edwards’ discussion of French-inflected Arabic and Arabization policies in the 1970s in Algeria is staged through the then-recent Berber Cultural Movement (MCB) protests in Algeria, where activists made claims for the inclusion of Berber languages in Algeria’s national fabric. The national and the local come up against one another: ‘questions of national language and its antipodes—local dialect on the one hand and the spectre of a global language on the other—are rich and knotted, especially so since they are formulated and survive (in Derrida’s sense of living-on) within the context of a translation of a local (i. e. national) struggle for a larger (pan-African; global) conversation’ (Edwards 100).

39Reading Fanon’s use of Arabic-inflected French, and Arabic words in his French through Derrida’s Le monolinguisme de l’autre: ou la prosthèse d’origine, Edwards argues that Fanon ‘plays the in-between role of “translator” (or intermediary in the sense of his word “truchement”) even though Fanon does not speak Arabic. Fanon the monolingual is deprived of the source language, of all language, and thrown into absolute translation’ (105). Fanon’s passport, too, is thrown into ‘absolute translation’—through time and space, nationalized after death in a country not found in his passport. Mokeddem’s N’Zid forces multilingualism into postcolonial France. Her main character is the product of third spaces, destabilizing French through her multilingual register, a continuation of Fanon’s ‘deterritorialization of French, the creation of a minor French’ (Edwards 106) one that here is not to destabilize French in the colonies, but to insist upon multiplicity everywhere else. Fanon’s passport in the archive burns bright, working towards an amnesia time that ineluctably and continuously reveals the past in the present.

Bibliographie

Works Cited

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Bhabha, Homi. ‘Unpacking My Library Again’. The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 28: 1 (Spring 1995): 5–18.

Chaulet Achour, Christiane. Frantz Fanon l’importun. Montpellier: Chèvre-feuille étoilée, 2004.

Coetzee, J.M. He and His Man. Nobel Prize Lecture, 2003. www.nobelprize.org/nobel/_prizes/literature/laureates/2003/coetzee-lecturee.html.

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Djebar, Assia. Algerian White. 1995. Trans. David Kelley. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.

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Notes

1 Historian Todd Shepard writes of ‘le contentieux’ or ‘Dispute’ (869) between France and Algeria over the ‘French-ruled Algeria (1830-1962)’ archives, which ‘is usually narrated in terms of (...) archives drowned, burned, thrown away, and stolen’, what we might call a shipwreck of archival possibilities (869).

2 ‘Poète—tu n’écris ni le monde ni le moi / tu écris l’isthme / entre les deux’. Adonis, Pour saluer Georges Schéhandé (N’Zid). All translations from Mokeddem’s text are my own.

3 Spivak: ‘Foe is more about spacing and displacement than about the timing of history and labor’ (7).

4 I am using the term ‘navette’ as both referring to transport over water, as well as a weaving metaphor (the navette being a part of the loom moving threads across, and resembling a small boat). It’s both a weaving/transit metaphor, and a way of reading. For a more detailed treatment, see: Macdonald, ‘The trans-Mediterranean navette: Assia Djebar and the Dictionnaire des mots français d’origine arabe’ in Contemporary French and Francophone Studies, 2013.

5 There are other references in the text to Nora as a female Ulysses—one on the blurb on the back of the book, and another suggested by Loïc in a macho way, which Nora finds insulting (77). If anything, and keeping in tandem (at an angle) with Bakhtin’s Greek romance space/time, Nora is a combination of Medusa, Penelope, and Antigone: she is unweaving a text of memory which, paradoxically, reveals itself as it shrinks; she unburies the dead rather than burying her family, and she captivates men with her own disembodied head (she has ‘lost her head’ over a man and now is headless [134]).

6 We get an idea of what Fanon may have thought about post-revolutionary Algeria via his wife Josie Fanon, as transmitted by Assia Djebar in Le Blanc de l’Algérie/Algerian White.

7 Mardorossian is particularly concerned with the way Fanon’s work is ‘obscured by anglophone criticism’ (2009: 12). This is a problem of translation, which she extends to Édouard Glissant’s work as well: the fact that the unabridged version of Glissant’s Le discours antillais has not been translated into English means that anglophone critics who cannot read French miss both Fanon’s ‘grounding in a specifically francophone Caribbean setting and culture’ (12) as well as possible links to the full scope of Glissant’s transnational work. Indeed, the inherent dynamism of Glissant’s ‘creolized aesthetic’ (Mardorossian 2009: 23) could be read as a continual performance of translation.

8 A collection of these unpublished works edited by Jean Khalfa and Robert Young Écrits sur l’aliénation et la liberté appeared in 2015.

9 The ‘producteur’ of the fonds at IMEC are listed on their website as follows: Mireille Mendès-France, Olivier Fanon, Jean Khalfa, David Macey, Marie-Jeanne Manuellan. www.imec-archives.com/fonds/fanon-frantz/.

Auteur

Koç University, Istanbul
Is Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Koç University in Istanbul. Her current research interests include francophone Mediterranean literatures, feminist theory and representation, and Anglophone literatures from South Asia. She is co-editor of the special issue of Contemporary French and Francophone Studies ‘Le Roman Maghrébin’, published in January 2016. She has published articles in journals such as the International Journal of Francophone Studies, Contemporary French and Francophone Studies, and Francospheres. Her forthcoming monograph is titled Cannibal, Harraga, Musselman: Literary Precarity and the Mediterranean Turn.

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