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Thread: Assia Djebar: Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade

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    Algeria Assia Djebar: Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade

    After being secretly proud of myself for keeping my readerly expectations (aka excess baggage) to a minimum when I reviewed the last two much hyped novelists back to back. I had no such prejudice subconscious or otherwise in starting Algerian novelist Assia Djebar?s 1985 novel,Fantasia, An Algerian Cavalcade. In fact, I had never heard of her, and this book only made my review desk based on authors lists that have been floating around listing possible Nobel prize contenders (now, be honest, most of you have not heard of half these writers either?)

    My brow (low as is it) raised when I read that Assia Djebar is the owner of some serious literary credentials: 1996 Neustad Prize winner, and the Yourcenar prize the following year. She became a member of the prestigious Acad?mie fran?aise in 2005 and she is currently professor of Francophone Literature at New York University.
    I will admit now up front, that seeing the name ?Assia?, and ?Algeria? and the title ?Fantasia?, and 226 pages short, I had almost visualized notions of a ?lighter? read. I was surprised when I thumbed the first few pages to see a Glossary (of Berber-Arabic), a Chronology (Algerian History) and the contents listing the three titled parts to the narrative, with the last one broken into five ?movements?. Notice was duly taken, I settled into the book. When the desert dust and last shrill clamor faded, I found myself inexplicably on the other side of a Fantasia, and Assia Djebar?s third novel?
    Fantasia (cultural definition): An equestrian event, a traditional closing of a Berber wedding celebration, it is a martial performance, and also is referred to as the ?Game of Gunpowder? it symbolizes a strong attachment to tradition. Fantasia (musical definition): a musical composition featuring free improvisation by the composer.
    Cavalcade: A procession or parade, that focuses on a re-enactment of important historical events. It is a participation event, as opposed to a spectacle.

    Here's the full review.

    An excellent, exotic and refreshing voice. (Without any fore-thought or planning on my part, my review ended up with 1001 words (how weird is that)



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    Default Re: Assia Djebar: Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade

    Interesting, never heard of her.
    Betwin Yasmina Khadra and Boulem Sansal ,i must say that i have be impressed by the quality of Algerian writing.
    On the other hand we have those Fantasia in Morocco and like belly dancing they usualy send you runing in the opposite direction.
    But this is just a local apriori to be overcome by the enthousiame of your review.


    Last thing,i'd say Assia would feel more at home in Africa than in Asia Oceania.
    I blame it on hard drink on friday night Promtbr.

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    Default Re: Assia Djebar: Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade

    Quote Originally Posted by saliotthomas View Post
    Interesting, never heard of her.
    Betwin Yasmina Khadra and Boulem Sansal ,i must say that i have be impressed by the quality of Algerian writing.
    On the other hand we have those Fantasia in Morocco and like belly dancing they usualy send you runing in the opposite direction.
    But this is just a local apriori to be overcome by the enthousiame of your review.
    Wiki does attribute the origins of Fantasia to Morocco, tho differentiates the Maghreb version as more closely associated with Berber wedding celebrations

    Quote Originally Posted by saliotthomas View Post
    Last thing,i'd say Assia would feel more at home in Africa than in Asia Oceania.
    I blame it on hard drink on friday night Promtbr.
    No, I don't drink. So I can't use that excuse...I even will confess that to make matters worse, I should know better. I was born in Morocco


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    Default Re: Assia Djebar: Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade

    Well Promtbr, these are the kind of books that I hate to read the reviews but love to read. Don't get me wrong, the review is very good, but those books with that kind of complex structure you have to start reading them to comprehend a little bit, because it's hard to tell how good they are with just a few words. It happened to me with Perec's Life:A User's Manual, maybe the best book I've read this year; too hard to write a review on it.
    Unfortunately it didn't happen with Aira's Ghosts, which they also said it had a complex structure . I just read another Aira book, and still not convinced Promtbr, sorry

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    Default Re: Assia Djebar: Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade

    Quote Originally Posted by Daniel del Real View Post
    Well Promtbr, these are the kind of books that I hate to read the reviews but love to read. Don't get me wrong, the review is very good, but those books with that kind of complex structure you have to start reading them to comprehend a little bit, because it's hard to tell how good they are with just a few words. It happened to me with Perec's Life:A User's Manual, maybe the best book I've read this year; too hard to write a review on it.
    Unfortunately it didn't happen with Aira's Ghosts, which they also said it had a complex structure . I just read another Aira book, and still not convinced Promtbr, sorry
    Hey where ya been?

    I needed to break down the structure of this 'cause there is not a traditional plot line (which I HATE to summarize as I'm horrible at it).

    It is simpler than I made it sound. I actually think it would have been a somewhat boring recount of two histories if she did not come up with such a structure..

    Daniel, it IS a rewarding read. It is NOT a complicated or hard to read book at all. A Heart So White would be harder to read than this, and I know you liked that one. It's stucture is innovative, but unlike Aira, her story telling powers are focused and the sections flow normally. Really really amazing prose stylist. It sings at times its so musical (as I think was her intent. This is a "safer bet" that you would enjoy it than Aira.

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    Last edited by promtbr; 28-Jul-2009 at 18:32.

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    Default Re: Assia Djebar: Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade

    Excelent my friend, I really have to get this book. I've heard a lot about Djebar in the last few years and the fact that I love the so wrong called "peripheral literature" is a great plus to it.
    Now we have to check how hard is it going to be to get it.
    About a Heart So White, I read another Marias novel, his first, and it was amazing. I guess we need to keep on going reading this guy; and why not, maybe more Aira too, little by litte he is getting better

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    Default Re: Assia Djebar: Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade

    Hi,
    Nice review. I studied this book at uni and can safely say Assia Djebar's lyrical text is addictive. I honestly believe she is a future Nobel prize winner. This book is actually the first of a quartet with Sister to Scheherazade and Vast is the Prison, the fourth as yet unavailable at least in English. Fantasia is my favourite however I also recommend the collection of short stories Women of Algiers in their Apartments and Algerian White (which I'm reading now). I find the depth of her text incredible, there are so many layers of meaning to just focus on one results in you missing so many others. I think of fantasia like a beautiful tapestry even the structure can be interpreted in different ways.
    I am interested in what you thought of sister to Scheherazade?

    yours,
    anoush
    Last edited by anoush; 31-Aug-2009 at 20:47. Reason: spelling

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    Default Re: Assia Djebar: Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade

    Promptbr: I thought it was interesting that you had this pre-conception. Can I ask why? I think perhaps it is a mark of pervasive Western prejudice that authors such as Djebar are consistently overlooked. I was astonished at the richness and complexity of the novel; (I think) not simply because she is “Algerian” (although perhaps this is not what you intended to say either?), but because it exudes a proclivity for the poetic, and offers a brilliant, expansive portrayal of the Algerian wars for independence, as well as the cloistered domestic scenes of women oppressed by Algerian patriarch. I read your review though, and liked it. I have been writing on the novel recently, and thought I’d share some of it here as well ……

    In terms of Fantasia as performance, I think many useful points can be made regarding its construction (or deconstruction?) of the (French?Algerian?Female?) identity of the protagonist/&author. In the novel can be seen precisely (what I call) the effectivity of a (self-conscious) dialectic-as-linguistic-frame. The novel’s title itself insinuates what Dorothy Blair (in her introduction to the book) calls an ‘historical pageant’, the necessarily ‘contrapuntal’ relation between ‘the written (French) and the Oral (Arabic)’, made up of ‘personal accounts, [&] an inquiry into the nature of the Algerian Identity’. At first glance, the etymology of the title (at once a North African tradition; ‘a set of virtuoso movements on horseback executed at a gallop’, as well as then ‘a musical composition in which [...] “form is of secondary importance [...] usually contrapuntal’) seems to synthesize the African/European dichotomy of tradition (at “first glance” then, a process not unlike the Hegelian/Marxian ideal of the dialectic as a mode of constructive reason). However, a focus on the etymology of the term, as well as its foregrounding as the texts title, necessarily reveals its constituent elements to be heterogeneous, showing that it belongs to both and neither community (community here the linguistically endowed community of essential Europe and essential Africa – the mistaken communities predicated on the assumption that a language is a ‘nation’s pedigree’). Thus, the title itself forbids a strictly Marxian reading, and moreover reveals the falsity of the structural assumptions imposed by way of merely regarding the stability of linguistic systems, as if they are historically containable, the unit of a word itself the homogenous telos (or “absolute expression”). In short, I would say, if both the Arabic and the French/European were synchronously total, a merging of the two would indeed imply an ideal synthesis (the French-Algerian). The (Derridean) deferral of meaning however prohibits the initial homogeneity of the thesis, and thus scuppers a total identity.

    This is an important point to be made when attempting to understand the book generally, for (I believe) it is precisely the textual nature of Djebarian hybridity (and specifically within Fantasia) that gives rise to a type of postmodern (or “postcolonial”) subjectivity. A focus on intertextuality (the author’s appropriation of the colonial reportage of the Spaniard writing for the Heraldo, for example), as well as the motif of the palimpsest (notably engaged with Pellissier, the French general, who ‘respects the law of silence’), necessarily foregrounds the author’s sensitivity to cultural “events”, her self-reflexivity; an agency continually engaged in historical dialogue with Colonial bias in the form of the accounts by officials in the oppressor’s military. In the very compilation of this account, inscribed, as it were, (in part) over Pellissier’s silence, intertextually bound with the half-utilized report of the Spanish officer, Djebar’s narrator indeed positions herself impossibly between the reader and the colonist, each of whose subjectivities implicitly become self-reflexive by way of insinuating a reliance upon the Other’s account, as well as the relentless foregrounding of the narrativization of historical events. In this manner the “Spaniard” is re-inscribed, the “Algerian” corpse re-imagined, the “French” language (in which Djebar, an “Algerian” has chosen to write) palimpsestically inaugural, the implicit manoeuvre of which teases the semantic fluidity of selfhood, foregrounds the transient, and prohibits a definite structure to identity. To claim, as Blair gingerly does, that Djebar “Colonizes the colonizer’s language” is certainly crudely put, and yet there is a serious point to be made regarding the French language’s use, (again) in terms of the author’s “hybridity”. Such a use primarily asserts Djebar’s willingness to engage the Other, her keenness to be read more widely, and perhaps more importantly a demystification of language as something essential; inextricably bound to “race” or “nation”.

    It is interesting, I think, because it is precisely Djebar’s agony at having to utilize the French language as a mode of expression (agony because she is “Algerian” and colonized by the “French”), that essentially gives rise to a paradoxically rich poetics of the performance.

    To consider, briefly, a criticism of Gayatri Spivak’s, in which she notes the author’s ‘Staging’ of ‘herself as an Algerian Muslim woman’, we see precisely this resilience to use of the “French” language as it is rhetorically inscribed in Djebar’s metaphor of ‘Identity as wound’:

    ‘The overlay of oral culture wearing dangerously thin... writing of the most anodyne of my childhood memories leads back to a body bereft of voice. To attempt an autobiography in French words alone is to show more than its skin under the slow scalpel of a live autopsy. Its flesh peels off and with it, seemingly, the speaking of childhood which can no longer be written is torn to shreds. Wounds are reopened, veins weep, the blood of the self flows and that of others, a blood which has never dried’.

    The narrator’s so-called “wound” is thus ‘exposed by the historically hegemonic languages’, for one colonized and utilizing such a language is said by Spivak to enter into a ‘double-binding’ practice of “their” writing’. Spivak argues that, as ‘the sign of a(n) (l)earned perspective, not autobiographical identity’, the narrator positions herself rather in a ‘divided field of identity’, that a ‘feminist-in-decolonization [...] can uncover ‘Khaldun’s sudden ... yearning to turn back on himself ... [to] become the subject and object of a dispassionate autopsy’. It is important to note, first and foremost, Spivak’s use of the term “staging”, for it is precisely to the figurative, and to the semantic “field” (to différance and the Derridean), that she directs our attention. Herein, says Spivak, the notion of the “Algerian”, the “Muslim”, indeed also the “woman”, of the narrator, may necessarily be viewed as “staged”; contingent on the unnatural polarities rife in Orientalist discourse, not actually present, but always, as it were, to-come. Such categories, the nominal call-to-arms for communal assembly by way of expanding (yet divisive) paradigms, arguably limit our comprehension of identity, generally. And yet, in the Derridean/Spivakian conception, a “real” identity does not exist at all, is not possible, is paradoxically both abandoned in epistemological apathy as well as rigorously sought in the “staging” of a French-Algeria.

    Arguably what the novel points towards is the fact that there is always already no such thing as an Algerian or a Muslim (indeed also a French person, or a woman/man); Djebar’s “staging” (as opposed to naturalizing) is (I believe) an integral manoeuvre in the self-conscious process of de-imperialization. Rather, it is ‘the relationship between the texts of the conqueror and the autobiographer’ as ‘part of the spectactular “arabesques” of Fantasia’, as well as Djebar’s taking-up of the “French”, her cultural and linguistic hybridity, that circumvents the legitimating tendencies of ideological rhetoric, prohibits precisely a stringent definition of either “French” or “Algerian”, “woman” or “man”. Her “staging” of the French, as well as her palimpsestic re-inscription of the Spaniard and various Colonial generals, are each also performative of this function.

    I thought this might be interesting to consider when reading the novel as (I believe) Djebar is rigorously concerned with the dangers of identity (generally); what I think I already called the “collective call-to-arms”, for it is precisely the stringent definitions of identity inscribed (for example, in Colonial discourse) that give rise to the possibility of political separation and the metaphysical endowment of privilege to certain “races” in nationalism…



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