Journal of Romance Studies

The mother as other: intimacy and separation in the maternal memories of Assia Djebar’s Nulle part dans la maison de mon père

Journal of Romance Studies (2011), 11, (2), 21–33.

Abstract

The figure of the mother is a prominent one in francophone Maghrebian literature, and, through the association with the motherland and the mother tongue, is often presented as a source of anxiety in this context. This article focuses on Assia Djebar’s Nulle part dans la maison de mon père (2007) [Nowhere in My Father’s House] and demonstrates the potential complexity of the mother–daughter relationship and the inadequacy of existing models of motherhood. A number of North African male writers have tended to fetishize the role of the mother, for better or for worse, as the bearer of tradition, and feminists such as Luce Irigaray and Marianne Hirsch have argued that the Oedipus myth provides a highly limiting account of motherhood. Djebar’s depiction of her narrator’s mother in Nulle part dans la maison de mon père conversely at once captures the intimacy of the mother–daughter relationship and preserves a respectful distance. This simultaneous communality and separation can be conceived using Jean-Luc Nancy’s model of touch as a form of contact without contact, and is portrayed in Djebar’s novel through her various evocations of her mother’s veiled silhouette, as well as through their at times interrupted dialogue. Djebar’s maternal evocation announces an elusive communality, a model of interaction based neither on Oedipal progression nor on a reduction of the maternal role to a statement of anti-colonialism and tradition. Nulle part dans la maison de mon père evokes this singular interaction while maintaining an awareness of the mother as other.

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Djebar, Assia (1997) Oran, langue morte (Paris: Actes Sud). Oran, langue morte Google Scholar

Djebar, Assia (1999) Ces voix qui m’assiègent (Paris: Albin Michel). Ces voix qui m’assiègent Google Scholar

Djebar, Assia (2002) La Femme sans sépulture (Paris: Albin Michel). La Femme sans sépulture Google Scholar

Djebar, Assia (2006) Ombre sultane (Paris: Albin Michel). Ombre sultane Google Scholar

Djebar, Assia (2007) Nulle part dans la maison de mon père (Paris: Fayard). Nulle part dans la maison de mon père Google Scholar

Fanon, Frantz (1995) [1952] Peau noire, masques blancs (Paris: Seuil). Peau noire, masques blancs Google Scholar

Hirsch, Marianne (1989) The Mother-Daughter Plot: Narrative, Psychoanalysis, Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). The Mother-Daughter Plot: Narrative, Psychoanalysis, Feminism Google Scholar

Irigaray, Luce (1981) Le Corps-à-corps avec la mère (Montreal: Les Éditions de la pleine lune). Le Corps-à-corps avec la mère Google Scholar

Khatibi, Abdelkébir (1985) ‘Incipits’, in Du bilinguisme, ed. Jalil Bennani et al. (Paris: Denoël), 171–95. Incipits Du bilinguisme 171 95 Google Scholar

Malot, Hector (2000) Sans famille (Paris: Librairie Générale Française). Sans famille Google Scholar

Nancy, Jean-Luc (1986) La Communauté désœuvrée (Paris: Christian Bourgois). La Communauté désœuvrée Google Scholar

Nancy, Jean-Luc (1991) The Inoperative Community, trans. Peter Connor, Lisa Garbus, Michael Holland, and Simona Sawhney (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press). The Inoperative Community Google Scholar

Nancy, Jean-Luc (2000) Corpus (Paris: Editionsié). Corpus Google Scholar

Nasta, Susheila (1991) ‘Introduction’, in Motherlands: Black Women’s Writing from Africa, The Caribbean, and South Asia, ed. Susheila Nasta (London: Women’s Press). Introduction’ Motherlands: Black Women’s Writing from Africa, The Caribbean, and South Asia Google Scholar

Rich, Adrienne (1977) Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (London: Virago). Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution Google Scholar

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravory (1996) ‘Echo’, in Donna Landry and Gerald Maclean (eds), The Spivak Reader (London: Routledge). Echo The Spivak Reader Google Scholar

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Hiddleston, Jane