Contemporary French Civilization

Discomforting bodies: French survivor testimony from the Algerian War

Contemporary French Civilization (2020), 45, (3-4), 351–363.

Abstract

From 2012 to 2016, three French women published autobiographies about surviving bombings as children during the Algerian War (1954-1962). Danielle Michel-Chich who survived the Milk Bar bombing in Algiers in 1956 published an open letter to Zohra Drif, the woman who placed the bomb in the restaurant (Lettre à Zohra D., 2012), and Pied-Noir artist Nicole Guiraud who survived the same event published her diary Algérie 1962: Journal de l’Apocalypse in 2013. Nicole Simon who survived a bombing at a concert in Mostaganem, Algeria published her autobiography, La Bombe: Mostaganem, j’avais quinze ans, in 2016. In these works, the women relate in different ways how they negotiated their injured bodies at home in Algeria as well as in a tense political climate in France during and after the war. In this article I analyze survivor autobiographies to elucidate how transformed bodies impact the individual who survived the trauma but also how and why these women alternately hide their wounds to accommodate the people around them or accept and respond to the stares upon their bodies. By engaging with disability studies, I examine how the discomfort of the transformed body, for both the victims and the people who see them, exemplifies the much larger tensions surrounding the painful memory of the Algerian War.

Entre 2012 et 2016, trois femmes françaises ont publié des livres autobiographiques qui racontent leurs expériences lors des attentats à la bombe quand elles étaient enfants en Algérie pendant la guerre d’indépendance (1954-1962). Danielle Michel-Chich a survécu l’attentat au Milk Bar à Alger en 1956. En 2012, elle a publié Lettre à Zohra D., une lettre ouverte destinée à Zohra Drif qui a posé la bombe. Nicole Guiraud a survécu le même évènement et a publié son journal intime Algérie 1962: Journal de l’Apocalypse en 2013. Nicole Simon a survécu un attentat à la bombe lors d’un concert à Mostaganem, Algérie et elle a publié son autobiographie La Bombe: Mostaganem, j’avais quinze ans en 2016. Dans ces œuvres, les femmes racontent dans des manières diverses une difficulté commune: comment se frayer un chemin chez elles en Algérie et en public en France, avec un corps visiblement blessé après la guerre. Dans cet article, j’analyse les autobiographies des survivants pour montrer comment le corps transformé change l’individu qui a survécu le traumatisme à travers le choix de cacher la blessure pour rassurer ceux qui les entourent ou d’accepter et de répondre aux regards persistants sur leurs corps. En m’appuyant sur les études du handicap, j’examine comment l’inconfort du corps transformé exemplifie les tensions plus larges imposées par la mémoire de la guerre d’Algérie, pour la victime aussi bien que pour la personne qui la regarde.

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Works cited

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Butler, Judith. Giving an Account of Oneself. Fordham UP, 2005. Google Scholar

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Staring: How We Look. Oxford UP, 2009. Google Scholar

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “The Story of My Work: How I Became Disabled.” DSQ: Disability Studies Quarterly, vol. 34, 2014. Web. Google Scholar

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “Ways of Staring.” Journal of Visual Culture, vol. 5, no. 2, 2006, pp. 173-192. Google Scholar

Guiraud, Nicole. Algérie 1962: Journal de l’apocalypse. Editions Atlantis, 2013. Google Scholar

Guiraud, Nicole. “Personal Interview.” Interview by Amy L. Hubbell, 29 Jun.-2 Jul. 2012, France. Google Scholar

Guiraud, Nicole. Survivre. Collecció Font Nova, 2012. Google Scholar

Hollender, Jean-Pierre. Plaidoyer pour un peuple innocent. Mémoire de Notre Temps, 1997. Google Scholar

Hubbell, Amy L. Remembering French Algeria: Pieds-Noirs, Identity and Exile. U of Nebraska P, 2015. Google Scholar

Hubbell, Amy L. “Scandalous Memory: Terrorism Testimonial from the Algerian War.” Contemporary French and Francophone Studies, vol. 22, no. 1, 2018, pp. 49-57. Google Scholar

Hubbell, Amy L. “Shifting Positions: Amputation, Prosthesis and the Embodied Memory of Algeria.” a/b: Autobiography Studies, vol. 34, no. 2, 2019, pp. 211-230. Google Scholar

Michel-Chich, Danielle. Lettre À Zohra D. Flammarion, 2012. Google Scholar

Prochaska, David. “History as Literature, Literature as History: Cagayous of Algiers.” The American Historical Review, vol. 101, no. 3, 1996, pp. 671-711. Google Scholar

Shepard, Todd. “Pieds-Noirs, Bêtes-Noires: Anti-‘European of Algeria’ Racism and the Close of the French Empire.” Algeria 1800-2000: Identity, Memory, Nostalgia, edited by Patricia M. E. Lorcin, Syracuse UP, 2006, pp. 150-163. Google Scholar

Simon, Nicole. La Bombe: Mostaganem, j’avais quinze ans. Editions de l’Onde, 2016. Google Scholar

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Details

Author details

Hubbell, Amy L.