Events in Modern Languages & Cultures
French Research Seminar Series: Translingualism and Histories of Violence in Francophone Algerian Writing
In a recent contribution to a Special Issue of the Journal of World Literature devoted to Literary Translingualism,Stefan Helgesson and Christina Kullberg use the term ‘translingualism’ to explore the simultaneous persistence of linguistic boundaries at the same time as the various and complex forms of their transgression. Helgesson and Kullberg also conceptualise ‘translingualism’ not so much as a sign of linguistic mastery, as has been the case in some earlier studies, but as a series of ‘events’, where encounters between languages either blur or foreground boundaries, in various and nuanced ways at particular moments in texts where the history of Western imperialism and postcolonialism also play a role. This paper takes Helgesson’s and Kullberg’s approach as a starting point for an analysis of translingualism in francophone Algerian writing attentive to its subtle and complex manifestations at particular moments or events. While translingual writing in this context is at times conceived as mode of resistance to the highly divisive language politics of colonial and postcolonial Algeria, it is not unequivocally associated with activism and liberation but dramatises a range of different and often ambivalent forms of linguistic encounter. The paper builds on Assia Djebar’s own reflections on her translingualism in Ces voix qui m’assiègent as well as on critics’ attention to the linguistic complexity of her best known work L’Amour, la fantasia. It then offers a reading of a series of scenes in the later novel Vaste est la prison where languages meet, blur, complement one another and conflict. Vaste est la prison is read as a sequence of vignettes staging translingual events which together portray the complex and variable affective charge associated with linguistic encounters in particular among Algerian women.