Debate concerning field formation and demise is often accompanied by language of birth, newness, and radical hopefulness in the first instance, and melancholia, disappointment, and outdatedness in the second. Some fields that have announced their "newness" with the prefix "post": postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, for example, have often suggested a critical engagement with and surpassing of that which has preceded the former in political and/or disciplinary terms. Others, like postfeminism, have simply announced the demise and lack of importance of the field, and the death-notice is often accompanied by a sense of despair on the part of those who conceptualize a continued need for the field and the politics associated with it, seeing its hasty burial as testimony to the necessity of its revitalization.
Critics of modernism and its immediate aftermath have noted the manner in which newness was announced in modernist texts, and also with terms such as the “new man” in decolonization movements and metropolitan post-war discourse. Kristin Ross, for example, has commented extensively on the different ways in which newness enters the world of the French language through metropolitan and anti-colonial discourse in the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, with the technologization of the jeune cadre in France, and the simultaneous cautious hopefulness of Fanon's desire for the "new man" that emerged in Wretched of the Earth (Ross 157-196). It is exactly this form of highly-cautious optimism, and an acute critical agency that accompanied it, which I will explore here by focusing on the term and affect "melancholia," and the way in which it permeates postcolonial studies in its political and disciplinary field formation. As an area of study — whether in literary, geographical, architectural, or spatial terms concerned with borders and other postcolonial problems — the cautious critical optimism, accompanied by its epiphenomenal counterpart in poststructuralism, is testimony to the impossibility of a declaration of newness in the world. Melancholia as symptom and reading practice does, however, offer a way of gauging how critical agency functions constantly to undo injustices performed in the name of justice and novelty. The impossibility of completed digestion of the past, and its calm production of novelty, manifests itself in constant critique.
A recent anthology of essays on postcolonialism begins with an observation concerning the melancholic condition of the field that serves as an interesting observation on the disciplinary limits, political constraints, and self-conscious distaste for identity politics:
(T)he field of postcolonial studies is at present beset by a melancholia induced paradoxically by its new found authority and incorporation into institutions of higher learning....(T)his melancholic condition derives not only from postcolonial scholars' apprehension that institutionalizing the critique of imperialism may render it conciliatory, but from other significant factors such as their own (First World) place of speaking (which implicates them in the problematic of neocolonialism), their criteria for political self-legitimation (i.e., the impossibility of representing the Third World as an anti-imperialist constituency, especially in the face of the retreat of socialism), and their peculiar immobility as an effective oppositional force for curricular change with the (American and British) academies. It is especially in the last sense that postcolonial studies differs from ethnic studies; for instance, unlike African or Asian-American Studies, it cannot commit itself to canon revision, which is essentially a minoritarian project. (Sheshadri-Crooks 3-4)
When Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks describes the field in these terms, she uses the term melancholia quite loosely, referring to the conscious internal critique, and affectation, that hangs over a field of study that now has its own MLA designation and has had impact on several humanities and social-science fields. According to Seshadri-Crooks, it is the apparent "success" of the field that has induced this melancholia, and it is accompanied by ineffective immobility when it comes to curricular change, guilt concerning one's own privileged status as an academic located in the first world, and a crisis of representational politics. I would claim, however, that this affectation of melancholia has little to do with these three predicaments, which have consistently been topics of theorization within postcolonial studies. The field has always engaged with the complicity between colonialism and canon formation in a manner that would prevent a simple rejection of the existing canon and institutionalization of another. It has always been conscious of the role of the intellectual in postcolonial life, the liminal and contaminated points of representation, political or otherwise, and it has always proceeded with a mandate to "know thyself." 
My concern with "melancholia" is similarly about field formation, but it is about the affect of melancholia rather than about an affectation. It concerns an affect that permeates all parts of the field and political arena of postcolonialism and the persistence of colonialism within its political formation. This melancholia initiates and in fact finds its symptoms within a constant vigilance concerning palliatives, alibis, and easy complicit and compromised gestures of sanctimonious novelty or liberalism.
While melancholia is more often than not considered to be a disabling affect — Freud, for example, discusses the impoverishment of the ego in melancholia — it implicitly provides, I propose, an ethico-political gesture toward the future. And this temporal shift is particularly evident in studies of colonial and postcolonial subjectivities in relation to spatiality. It is therefore all the more important to argue against the sharp division between the realms of the ethical and the political, between aesthetics and politics, and between melancholia and utopia in the theoretical humanities. Melancholia is endemic to the field of postcolonial studies, and has always been the driving force behind it, because it is not only recently that lament, the elegiac, and the melancholic response have been constitutive of the field. In fact, one is hard-pressed to find anyone who endorses the term postcolonial, or who has not been critical of some manifestations of the field, or cautious of the apparent newness it seems to herald. The rejection of postcolonial theory seems to be prevalent, and is evident among those who are often considered to be the field's most prominent theorists. But more than rejection, which I understand as part of a self-critical affectation, there has also been an affect of melancholia in play that involves a relationship to loss and death of something somewhat difficult to locate, resulting in a critical agency distinct from overt self-critical rejection.
Melancholia, however, is not simply a crippling attachment to a past that acts like a drain of energy on the present, even though it is indeed an impoverishment of ego. Rather, the melancholic's critical agency, and the peculiar temporality that drags it back and forth at the same time, acts toward the future. Freud could not resolve his notion of melancholia entirely during his career. After elaborating the term in relation to mourning in 1917, in which the critical agency associated with melancholia is understood in terms of a "diseased conscience" ("Mourning" 247), he discussed it once more in relation to the forming of group identity and group leaders in 1921. In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, he proposed that the individual's relation to the leader emerges from the splitting of the ego that he had described as being present in the melancholic: the ego splits between that which criticizes, and that which is criticized in relation to a disappointed ideal ("Group" 67-145). Melancholia's conceptual transformation within the terms of the individual's relation to the collective makes it particularly useful for understanding how affect emerges in groups. In Group, Freud sees the emergent leader as formed by the collection of individuals as part of the ego-ideal, split off from oneself once again, and projected onto another. Critical agency has a third incarnation in 1923 in The Ego and the Id when Freud theorized the superego for the first time, describing it as a conscience, this time not diseased or tainted by melancholia, but enforcing a normative and normalizing restraint on the ego and its behaviour ("Ego and Id" 12-66). In my analysis, which draws from Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, as well as from Jacques Derrida's Freudian notion of "the work of mourning," critical agency emerges because a remainder always exists that cannot be assimilated into the normalizing constraints of the superego on the ego (Abraham and Torok 125-138). The undoing of ego places the self in a different economy of subject constitution, in which normative gestures, palliatives, and alibis will always need to be critiqued. It is therefore future-oriented as much as attached to a past that cannot be forgotten or recognized within the logic of knowable memory.
I have argued in Dark Continents: Psychoanalysis and Colonialism that melancholia emerges from colonialism in a manner that allows for critique. Indeed the critical agency proposed by Freud as endemic to melancholia provides an interesting counter to the hegemonic super-ego in which critical agency is assimilated into social mechanisms of control. Unlike arguments concerning melancholic affectation, described in Wolf Lepenies, Walter Benjamin, and Wendy Brown as disabling in terms of imagining a politically different future, the affect of melancholia — as theorized by Freud, and by Abraham and Torok — points the way toward a political future free of the failures of postcolonial states and misguided biopolitics.
Melancholia as affect enters the discussion of the ethico-political largely in terms of the remainder that insists on its own covert symptomatic presence. Melancholia, as theorized by Freud, is first understood in relation to mourning, and it is closely related to its form and symptoms. Unlike mourning, however, it cannot be overcome, and that which is lost remains unknown. As I have explained extensively, Freud employs the language of ingestion to describe the divergence between the two affects. In mourning, that which is lost is digested in a slow process in which one comes to terms with that loss. In time, the lost object is assimilated into the ego, expanding and nourishing it. In melancholia, the lost object remains elusive. Unable to recognize what it is, the ego swallows it whole, and begins to split in relation to it. Critical agency develops as the subject starts criticizing the swallowed object, and this symptom appears as self-critique. Melancholia manifests itself as an impoverishment of the ego, because the melancholic has entered a different psychic economy than the subject who is able to mourn, and who can therefore achieve a level of normativity (retrenchment or novelty) in everyday existence. Let me clarify: there can be no imperative to melancholia as opposed to mourning, because all that could follow from this is an affectation of melancholia. One cannot simply choose the affect of melancholia over that of mourning, and of course, the ability to mourn, if it were possible, would always be welcome. Derrida — through a reading of Abraham and Torok's work on mourning and melancholia and their digestive counterparts of introjection and incorporation — suggests that mourning can rarely be complete. What I have called "the work of melancholia" involves an undoing of any ego that could present affectations, novelty (in a colonial progressive discourse), or retrenchment to the world. The emergence of melancholia in style, form, constant critique, and dissonance has been noted by Abraham and Torok in terms of such symptoms as "demetaphorization," or the taking literally of something that only makes sense figuratively.
I would propose that such manifestations in language, thematization, and critique have characterized the focus of postcolonial studies since its inception. If its demise has been announced because of the failure of so many postcolonial states to bring justice to their peoples, or because of the neocolonialism that pervades current globalization and Empire, such factors apparently announcing the death of the field have actually been sources of engagement with the impossibility of postcolonial studies from its start as a melancholic discipline. While hope has been in play for a better future outside the conditions of colonialism, the pervasiveness of colonialism in almost every sphere of modern life — whether as remainder from earlier eras of Ottoman, Habsburg, or French, British, Belgian, Italian or German colonialism, or newer forms of neocolonial rule — has always been engaged.
In this article, I will discuss various moments, sites, and manifestations of melancholia in the field's critical engagements to note how alibi, palliative, and mourning have always been impossible and avoided. These moments exemplify a focus on dissonance, contradiction, antinomy, and other manifestations of critical agency as they play out in temporal and spatial terms. The main site will be colonial and postcolonial Algeria, with its peculiar exemplarity that allows comparison with later colonies — for example, the contemporary neo-colonial occupations in Israel/Palestine and Iraq. I will approach the issue of exemplarity and melancholia through a consideration of Edward Said's work on late style, Pontecorvo's film The Battle of Algiers, the Makam al Shahid monument in Algiers and modernist understanding of space in that city, and the notion of sovereignty as discussed by Achille Mbembe and Jacques Derrida.
Said and Late Style
Edward Said delivered his 1995 Tanner lectures on the subject of the "Lost Cause." Increasingly interested in political and literary loss in the years since he was diagnosed with leukemia, and in what Adorno, writing of Beethoven, would refer to as the late style, Said provided a way of thinking about hope and its relation to the future in the face of loss. It is an essay that profoundly brings together melancholia in a number of different ways, through personal affect, political disappointment, cultural analysis, and the study of literary and musical genre and form. Perhaps it is important also to remind us that Said was often (wrongly, I think) credited with beginning the field of postcolonial studies and — as its "father," as it were — rejected that role, and to some extent the field itself, from the beginning.
The lecture, published now as "On Lost Causes" in Reflections on Exile, is one of the few texts in which he tried to tackle the question of his political activism, his literary analysis, autobiography, and his great interest in music, linking them, in one essay, through a consideration of temporality. It is one of the few places too where he attempted to resolve some of the questions and contradictions in his own life, including his attitude toward the human, the extraordinary endorsement of a Eurocentric, masculinist, and rather outmoded liberal humanism, and his elegiac but resolute relation to the Palestinian cause. He highlights the "irreconcilable" and "antinomian" conflict both embodied in the land, but also in the late style of many writers with whom he found himself engaged. What he refers to as the aesthetics of exile — "skeptical and always on guard" (xxxiii) but not necessarily unhappy — comes together with the problem of hopelessness and antinomy so typical, he suggested, of late style:
A lost cause is associated in the mind and in practice with a hopeless cause: that is, something you support or believe in that can no longer be believed in except as something without hope of achievement. (527)Two factors determine the conclusion that a cause has been lost. The first is the time of making a judgment:
the predicament is more commonly encountered in the life of an individual as he or she nears the end of life...when we ask ourselves the question can I go on or is it hopeless, hence only despair is the answer. In these instances a cause is not momentous and public like the survival of a nation or the struggle for national independence, but the sense of urgency may be greater. (529)
The second analytical category to be considered in the notion of a lost cause is who makes the judgment that a cause is lost — is it the believer in the cause or the critic of it? According to Said, in the political realm the opponent will undermine the cause, naming it lost, usually at the beginning and middle of the attempt to advance it, in the hope of discouraging the people on the other side. In such instances, Said asks us to recall Gramsci's phrase, itself quoted from Romain Rolland, that we should have "pessimism of the intelligence, and optimism of the will" (529). Judgment too has a curious temporality. It is pessimistic concerning the present's pressure on the future. But the hope for a better future persists, suggesting, I would add, the deep-seated affect of melancholia in its production of utopia. Drawing on his own childhood, as if to delineate for his audience the manner in which colonial affect manifests itself on the modern political stage, he describes his life in two British colonies, and all the peculiarities of British colonial education's contradictions for even those colonized figures like himself from the most privileged backgrounds: "I was not being educated in Arab but in British or European culture, the better to advance the cause of that alien yet more advanced and modern culture, to become intellectually more attached to it than to my own" (530).
But it is this attachment to that culture that will cause Said to make an unlikely link — that "the passage from inculcated enthusiasm for higher causes in the young to the disillusionment of age" finds its equivalent in the aesthetic form of the great realistic novel. Drawing on Lukacs' bold early work, The Theory of the Novel, Said demonstrates through a reading of Flaubert's Sentimental Education that the novel presents the romanticism of disillusion. The novel "expresses the predicament of a world abandoned by God" and is thus a departure from epic. The final example of abstract idealism would be Cervantes' Don Quixote, in which Quixote "can remain unblemished in the purity of his intent" (533). Not only in the later form of the epic, i.e., the novel, but also in the late style of various writers, do we see a withdrawal of palliatives, or the gradual demise of Saint Jude, patron saint of Lost Causes, in the modern context. Hagiography becomes impossible in the modern context; given that Said was disparaging of hagiography, we could say that Said did not take feminism seriously, and trying to convince him of its importance was something of a lost cause. Thomas Hardy's supremely depressing Jude the Obscure was, for Said, exactly a demonstration of how Saint Jude has no value whatsoever to Hardy's Jude Fawley, "his modern namesake" (537). All these late works by Flaubert, Cervantes, and Hardy demonstrate the double-bind in which they find themselves. At the end of their lives they attempt to summarize and make judgments, yet they do so in the form of the novel, itself full of "underlying ironies and depressing exigencies" (537) "conditioned...to be a narrative in which time ironically exposes the disparity between reality and higher purpose" (538). The novel, for Said, is the form constitutively opposed to idealism, containing as it does the "ruins of lost causes and defeated ambition" (538).
For political lost causes, there was for Said no ritual or form such as the novel. He writes about the political cause to which he had devoted his life: the pursuit of Palestinian sovereignty, which looked to him then to be at its bleakest — and of course, as we know, it only got worse after that. In a description of the horrors done to the Palestinian people, and also in the corruption of many of those in the PLO with whom he had at one time joined, it is difficult to see how Said could regain any kind of idealism in the face of defeat. As if trying to live out the contradictions of the late style in the novel form, Said unravels the inevitably thwarted hope — the only hope available in modernity — which keeps one from what Benjamin would call "left melancholy" and what Said would refer to as "joining in the chorus of defeated activists" (553). Drawing once again from Adorno, he implores us to "reject the foolish wisdom of resignation" (527). He affirms "the individual intellectual vocation, which is neither disabled by a paralyzed sense of political defeat nor impelled by groundless optimism and illusory hope" (553).
For many, Orientalism, in its 25-year edition at the time of Said's death, remains a crucial text in thinking the relation of the literary and the political, and how the modern West is constituted through colonialism and therefore paradoxically constructed on the destruction of hope. Said tuned in to the paradoxes of his life and his career and presented a way to revise the role of the intellectual in modern life. It is with a tone of despair that he wrote in the new introduction to the 25-year edition of Orientalism that the argument of that text was even more relevant today. New forms of Empire still include complicit intellectuals (like Bernard Lewis), and the appropriation of others' voices of dissent.
Said's final work published in his lifetime — it seems that his book on late style will be published posthumously — Freud and the Non-European, analyzes Freud's late style, referring to his last major work, Moses and Monotheism. Analyzing the antinomies of Freud's relationship to Judaism, and his rather Christianized version of Moses who in turn appears as an Egyptian in Freud's text, Said discusses the importance of responsible archaeological knowing that resists a nationalist agenda and the false sustaining of an identity not based on a flaw. Archaeology of the nationalist variety gives a wrong-minded palliative that can never attend to flaws, losses, or complexities. For Said, the late style of Freud, archaeologist of the unconscious, rather like that of Fanon, will never dispense such palliatives. Said's analysis of Freud's late style and its relation to an archaeological constitution of the self leads to something Freud could never have predicted: a Palestinian reading that would have to criticize the Israeli nationalist discourse of a right to the land. Commenting on Freud and "his most disputatious heir" (Freud 18) Fanon, Said asserts, "Certainly Freud had no thought of Europe as the malevolent colonizing power described a few decades later by Fanon" (Freud 50-51). And Fanon himself would demonstrate all the horrifying complexities of any possible future in sovereignty, even as he fought for it. Said's own endorsement of humanism makes him quite different from Fanon, but he nonetheless marked the complex style of the posthumously-published Wretched of the Earth. Moses and Monotheism became an example of the late style's demand for complexity and a loss of the hagiographic ability and slavish loyalty to the palliatives of identity politics. It demonstrated for Said a form of flaw and splitting in the figure of Moses, which produced in Freud a form of secular thought that can be employed to analyze other besieged identities. Freud, Fanon, and Said himself become spokespersons for the besieged, who will die before any of their causes could be won. Freud, in a sense, becomes a Palestinian in the way that Fanon effectively became an Algerian: in hopeful but profound melancholy. Stylistic affective expression gives form posthumously, for Said, to solidarity and the demand for justice beyond identity.
Said was ultimately not a psychoanalytic critic. His intellectual investments lay in humanist cosmopolitanism. I would propose that the form of melancholia theorized by Freud and to some extent Fanon allows for a reading of Said involving critical disidentification with space even as it calls for justice in the affective attachment to it. Feelings of disappointment are mixed with barely audible hope for what seems like an inevitably failed ideal of sovereignty, to which the novel is testimony. The lost cause emerges in textuality rather than thematization, and in affect emerging in language rather than directed articulation. Expanding on the notion of late style in another article, and focusing on Adorno's writing on Beethoven from which the term late style emerges, he discusses the dissonance, incompletion, jettisoned harmony, and untimeliness of the style. Of Ibsen, he notes, "a sort of deliberately unproductive productiveness, a going against" ("Thoughts" 3). This "going against" that emerges in textuality seems like an undoing, a loss of palliative, easy solution, or knowledge of a complete world view to be presented. In political terms, such loss of ideal constitutes the emergence of dissonance in the face of compromise. It points toward another future in which attention to formal and stylistic aspects in the language of coloniality and its peculiar post-, demands an attention to the relation between the aesthetic, the formal, and the political however contradictory these may at times seem. Said, in Freud and the Non-European, places himself in a line of Freud and Fanon who, in their late styles, expressed a kind of despair that nonetheless allowed them to present hope for a better future out of a tarnished present with its murderous trajectory.
I have suggested that melancholia's temporality is dragged backwards and forwards in ways that force an understanding of the weight of the loss of ideal. Affect weighs against the palliative of newness, which is often alibi for conducting politics in a compromised vein. An incipient future oriented hope manifests itself textually in remainders, in dissonance, and in untimeliness. By drawing on Said's notion of late style as an example of postcolonialism's textuality, I am not only suggesting that Said, the postcolonial cosmopolitan, produces a melancholic style. His Adornonian theory of late style is an interesting descriptor of postcolonialism's melancholic belated sovereignty.
Algiers and its Exemplarity
Edward Said considered the Battle of Algiers to be the greatest political film ever made (Exile 282-293). Recently this film has been screened at the Pentagon for rather dubious political ends. While Said sought to find analogy between the Algerian and Palestinian situation, the Pentagon found connections between the USA's current role in Iraq, and that of the French in Algeria. Such comparison of sites and political situations poses difficult questions concerning the possibility of coalition, internationalism, or solidarity, because each comparison raises questions of temporality concerning how repetition, teleology, analogy, contingency, influence, and mutual constitution function. The analogy between the current war in Iraq and the Algerian war of independence, and also the analogy between the Algerian struggle and that of Palestinians, attests not only to the power of Pontecorvo's film but also to the relation of death to sovereignty revealed in stark fashion in Algeria (Mbembe 12). Said was profoundly disappointed when Pontecorvo said that he could not make a film about the Palestinian cause because for him the situation was far more complicated than that between the Algerian and the French. Pontecorvo's decision had as much to do with a political response to the Israeli/Palestinian situation as with his inability to make a film demonstrating that complexity and the difficulty of hopeful palliatives in the face of compromised alibis. Said's own late style affirms speaking out for those who suffered more than him with the implicit acknowledgment of the impossibilities, paradoxes, and antinomies of postcolonial intellectual and political life, and its despairing affirmation of hope for the future. It is perhaps in this that his disappointment in Pontecorvo lay.
The apparent exemplarity of the film and, I will suggest, the case of Algeria in the understanding of postcolonialism, necessitates a drawing out of many different aspects of the "return" of this film in belated fashion. What returns in the film is an excess of historical teleology that could not find rest in the political trajectory suggested in neo-realist style, or confused comparison. The analogy drawn among Algeria, Iraq, and Palestine in considerations of the film — and perhaps, more generally, the site Algiers, with its legendary theorist of decolonization, Frantz Fanon — does not simply suggest a historical continuity among the forms of colonial or neocolonial rule. Rather, I would propose, the case of Algeria, and more specifically Algiers, becomes exemplary because a certain form of sovereignty was played out which systematically engendered a melancholic remainder. It is within the affect initiated by this remainder that one could, perhaps, find a specter calling for justice. These melancholic specters, available to us only by listening to the often unspoken demands of a text, point the way toward a different future, and are profoundly material.
When The Battle of Algiers was screened at the Pentagon, many journalists commented on how the film had been required viewing for those on the left in the late 1960s. This was especially true for those interested in the mechanisms of what Sartre, using Maoist terminology in the Russell War Tribunals on the war in Vietnam, called "a people's war": a war fought on the ground by those faced with the possibility of total annihilation. According to Sartre, in the face of a much greater military force the people inevitably resort to a new form of war, usually including "terrorism" and "torture" (El-Kaim Sartre and Sartre 65). The forty or so Pentagon officers and civilian experts were invited, on the flier advertising the screening, to consider "how to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of the film" (Kaufman 3). Organized by a civilian-led group, the message suggested that while it may be tempting to use similar tactics in Iraq today as used by the French forty-five years earlier, there are positives and negatives to be discerned. In the 1957 battle depicted by Pontecorvo, of course, Algerians were fighting for independence and sovereignty in the face of a France reluctant — despite the length and bloodiness of the war, and the loss of around 100,000 French lives — to let go. And the war front — unlike in Iraq today where military camps define the front, those who fight are considered "radical insurgents" rather than combatants, and fighting beyond this front is perceived as terrorism — was particularly intimate, fought in the city of Algiers as a battle between the old Arab casbah and the modern French city.
I have written elsewhere on the scene in which women prepare themselves to plant bombs in the modern part of Algiers ("Third to Fourth" 13-32), and the way in which women in the film seem to demand a different kind of politics than that understood within the dominant mode of neo-realist representation. The grainy film used is different from the majority of the film, the sound is all percussion with no speech, the light is far brighter than at any other moment in the film, and the whole structure of representation is confused through an enclosed space of mirrors. Even as the trajectory and will of the film is toward independence and sovereignty, the scene with the women seems to gesture toward a form of politics outside a system of representation and sovereignty. Women rarely speak in this film; the most significant sound that emerges from them is the ululation, at once a sound of mourning and of celebration.
The question of voice in relation to Algerian women is a consistent source of engagement for film makers in the region. Merzak Allouache, for example, in his earliest comedy, Omar Gatlato (1977), structured his film around the question of woman's voice and the politics of representation. Omar, an anti-fraud bureaucrat, loves music, and particularly songs from Hindi films. He takes his tape recorder to the cinema with him, and tapes songs illegally, and listens to them constantly. One day, he inevitably has his tape machine stolen, and when, after great difficulty, he gets another one through semi-legal means, he turns it on to find the voice of a woman speaking on the cassette; this discovery raises questions regarding justice in the face of the legal corruption in which he is, in spite of his kindness, nonetheless complicit. The speech is not directly addressed to him, but he will become caught up in the demands of a particularly feminine form of justice this voice makes. The form of justice will only exist as a demand in the face of a legality that has no room for the remaindering of woman that takes place in the Algiers of the moment. Assia Djebar's film, La Nouba des femmes de Mont Chenoua (1976) — or by Djebar and Malek Alloula, La Zerda et les chants de L'Oubli (1980) — similarly plays with this question of voice and the possibility of a politics outside the realm of liberal representation and its evident corruption. But films such as these, which seem to take on the political reality — in varied styles of comedy and mock documentary rather than neo-realism with its play with temporal and historical exactitude — are rarely found to exemplify in the manner of The Battle of Algiers. In Pontecorvo's masterpiece, the complexity of political alibi or a palliative that justifies corruption and violence appears in the scenes with women and with an explicit stylistic shift out of neo-realism and its teleological temporality. The later demise of women's rights in 1980s Algeria is suggestive indeed of the failure of representative politics, which seems to be promised by the film's dominant stylistic trajectory.
While most of the events in the film are enclosed within the temporality of a flashback — a failed battle on the part of the Algerians and a dismal story of violence and death being wrought against all but most significantly Algerians — the final scene depicts an ululation and a woman skipping forward with an Algerian flag out of a barely visible crowd. The words are not hers, but report that in 1962 the "Algerian nation was born." The story of birth is posited in the future, but also in the reportage of the past, as if to remind us of the confused temporality of postcolonial nationhood, and the melancholic labor to which it attests. Birth and death come together in a temporality that at once proposes women's reproductive labor (literally pregnancy) as hope, and the extraordinary supplement of death attested to in national sovereignty struggles and in postcolonial states (Khanna 13-32).
Most of the film, however, depicts a people brilliantly and clandestinely organized, whose guerilla strategies are as unmappable as the casbah into which they disappear. The casbah, in true modernist binary opposition, is shown to function as an organ, in contrast to the modern French city. When parts of it are destroyed with French explosives, the whole complex network appears to weep, and paradoxically is strengthened in its pursuit of sovereignty. This sense of organic cohesion is particularly striking in the film once the narrative has moved past the FLN's troubling "clean-up" of the casbah. In a moment which can be read retrospectively as cautionary, we see the FLN's intolerance of difference and disregard for human life as its excess is rendered disposable. Children are taught to persecute drunks, and prostitutes and others deemed low-life by the FLN are cleaned off the streets, as if echoing the exclusionary practices of the settler town.
The modern part of the city is never depicted as an organic whole, and never appears to be of the people (the settlers) who live there. Shots of the modern sections of the city are much narrower, and there is never any suggestion of its griminess. Most shots of the new town are of interiors in which pleasure — food, drink, dance, travel and access to public space — are foregrounded.
It is well-known that Pontecorvo was a reader of Fanon, and based much of his understanding of the women of Algiers on Fanon's famous essay, "Algeria Unveiled" (35-67). The film also depicts a stark contrast between the settler, or European section of the city, and the casbah as described in the posthumous Wretched of the Earth. Fanon almost certainly had Algiers in mind when he wrote the following concerning colonial spatiality:
The settlers' town is a strongly built town, all made of stone and steel. It is a brightly lit town; the streets are paved with asphalt, and the garbage cans swallow all the leavings, unseen, unknown, and hardly thought about. The settler's feet are never visible, except perhaps in the sea, but there you're never close enough to see them. His feet are protected by strong shoes although the streets of his town are clean and even, with no holes or stones. The settler's town is a well-fed town, an easygoing town, its belly is always full of good things. The settler's town is a town of white people, of foreigners.
The town belonging to the colonized people, or at least the native town, the Negro village, the medina, the reservation, is a place of ill fame, peopled by men of evil repute. They are born there, it matters little where or how; they die there, it matters not where or how. It is a world without spaciousness, men live there on top of each other. The native town is a hungry town, starved of bread, of meat, of shoes, of coal, of light. The native town is a crouching village, a town on its knees, a town wallowing in the mire. It is a town of niggers and dirty Arabs. (Wretched 38-39)
Not having a clear architectural plan for the city or for the future, Fanon famously would already bemoan the almost inevitable failure of national culture in newly-independent nation-states. Even within the context of the hopeful international communism evident in the title of his book — the title The Wretched of the Earth comes from "L'Internationale," the song of the first and second communist internationals — Fanon found it difficult to imagine how a postcolonial national bourgeoisie, with its history of hunger and bad digestion, would be able to create a national culture. In spite of this hopeful investment in communist internationalism, he would of course have to acknowledge that the PCF, even as it had been critical of the French army's tactics in Algeria and had supported strikes resisting participation in the army, was ultimately against Algerian decolonization.
Generalizing from what he had observed in his years in Algeria, he wrote that middle class background in poverty, hunger, the very stuff of indigestible ideological assimilation, and the squalor of years under colonial sovereignty, created a situation in which it hardly mattered, and would hardly matter, where, how, and whether the colonized lived or died. The colonized people, in Fanon's reading, are utterly disposable for the settlers and the French. He saw them as crouching and wallowing in mire, ready, like all leavings of colonialism, to be swallowed up by the garbage cans of empire. The very structure of the divisive colonial city for Fanon shapes the temporality of colonial and postcolonial life. It is difficult for him to find any prospect of hope, and this is precisely why this late style manifesto of decolonization is full of remainders that beg the question of how a future could be imagined out of the degradation of contemporary colonial existence. It is most often the explicit Marxist, sometimes Sartrian, dialectical vein that is drawn out of Fanon's text, and yet there is a dissonance on every level of the prose that is suggestive of the ways in which remainders will insist upon the future, and will call any already-theorized form of politics into question if justice cannot be fulfilled.
The contrast between Fanon's late 50s/early 60s vision on the one hand, and that of the classic modernist architect, Le Corbusier on the other has rightly been remarked upon by Zeynep Celik. Le Corbusier had extraordinary and numerous never realized plans for Algiers. In writings spanning the years from 1930 to 1950, he depicts the city as part of a radiant block for "our machine-age civilization," in which Paris, Barcelona, Rome and Algiers would constitute a "unit extending north to south along a meridian" in which Algiers (though presumably still under French rule) would "cease to be a colonial city," becoming instead "the head of the African continent, a capital city" (The Radiant City 228). Addressing the mayor as he proposed plans for the city, he imagines "Witnesses," writing "The barbarians' speak." He described the beauty and poetry of the "barbarian" Arab areas of the city and of the hospitality of the domestic architecture in contrast to what he saw as the pitiable shoddiness of the modern city where Europeans live like rats in holes (The Radiant City 230-232):
Seen from the sea, European Algiers is nothing but crumbling walls and devastated nature, the whole is a sullied block...Europeans did not exploit the fortune offered to them.
The casbah of Algiers made the site: it gave the name of White Algiers to this glittering entity, that welcomes, at dawn, the boats that arrive at the harbor. Inscribed in the site, it is irrefutable. It is in consonance with nature, because from every house, from the terrace-and these terraces add on to each other like a magic and gigantic staircase descending to the sea-one sees the space, the sea. (Le Folklore 31)
Bodies that seem disposable and ready to be swallowed up by the French to Fanon, who sees them in the streets and in the hospital, are to Le Corbusier, seeing them from the sea, resident barbarians, deeply connected to nature, able to command the space of the city as well as the Mediterranean, and willing hospitably, to draw guests within. Far from disposable, the architecture of the city suggests they too are irrefutable, even if they cannot be mapped.
It has been famously asserted by Benedict Anderson that the print culture of such things as novels, newspapers, censuses, and maps, and institutions like museums, go into the formation of the modern nation-state. Each of these institutions shapes people's notion of temporality, and therefore, according to Anderson, their idea of an "imagined community" (Anderson). Anderson draws on Walter Benjamin's notion of "homogeneous, empty time" which is structured by the existence of the calendar and clock, and which prevents us from experiencing a messianic sense of absolute simultaneity between past, present, and future events. Anderson suggests that the products of print capitalism allow for a synchronic relation among people existing and feeling commonality with other anonymous readers. Drawing on Ernest Renan's notion that a nation state exists as a function of will, Anderson notes that these institutions constitute the parameters through which the "daily plebiscite" is performed. For Anderson, they create a notion of imagined community that allows one to forget the impossibility of commonality among sometimes sworn enemies. Buried in the past, they can be commemorated as something remembered as forgotten, and mourned, swallowed as it were into the garbage bin of national history in favor of the new relations coming into existence. And the citizen comes into being and into human subjectivity as the author of his belonging, confident in the idea that the sovereignty of the state honors his existence. Nowhere is this more vividly felt, according to Anderson, than at memorials, or monuments to the dead and the ceremonies that surround them. The monument performs the work of mourning, and hence the assimilation of the dead object into the national body, swallowed as if in a garbage can. It also celebrates a cause, demonstrating the power of the sovereign nation-state to honor its martyrs, and thereby validating the cause for which they died. While Fanon proposes that the settler colony creates divisions that will potentially be perpetuated into the future, and that cannot be forgotten but will always insist themselves as the remainder demanding justice, Anderson asks us to focus on how the monument becomes a single location through which to channel a process of mourning, loss, and victory. The injustices strewn throughout the city's architecture become occluded in the new focus on the palliative of the monument.
In 1982 — in the period of Chadli Benjedid's unpopular presidency when the economy of Algeria was beginning to shift from its socialist model, when concessions were given to Islamists on such important subjects as women's rights for private and public sovereignty, when corruption in the ruling party, the National Liberation Front, was at its height, and when Berber demands were greatly suppressed — Makam el Shahid, or the Martyr's Monument, was constructed in Algiers to celebrate, and also to commemorate, twenty years of Algerian independence (Fig 1). The monument dominates the landscape of Algiers, with its three flame-like sides, each protected, in federalist style, by a massive statue of three different faces and soldier's attires of the revolution. It is visible from all quarters of the city, and is popularly and disparagingly known as "the banana," to which it bears a vague resemblance. In the basement of the monument is a museum of Algeria's war of independence. There is tension between celebration and commemoration evident in this monument, and the way in which the sovereign nation-state came to elide the difference between those two functions and effectively rendered those 800,000 to 1.5 million lives disposable.
In 1982, many of the more progressive forms of politics theorized during and in the aftermath of the struggle for independence were being erased from collective memory, and the monument serves as if to commemorate independence as much as the dead soldiers. The work of mourning materialized in the monument forms a simulation of the past in the service of political myths serving the state. However, the boundaries of the work, I would suggest, are irrefutably unstable. Assia Djebar's book, Algerian White, mourns individuals, and yet shows the generalized architecture of Algeria (invoked in the title) set to the work of mourning and death. Mourning is therefore not located in one structure and confined to one identifiable and delimited historical event, as in Makam al-Shahid. There is a melancholic and excess of monumentalism, the leavings, the uncounted, the utterly disposable, as the affective expression of disidentification and critical politics in late sovereignty. Once again, the case of Algeria seems to ask why modern nation states in general, and other emerging late sovereignties, celebrate their treatment of disposable bodies, while occluding their more generalized existence within state sovereignty. Modernity's injunction to mourn is exemplified in the monument, as if to construct a palliative in which disposability can be located once and for all, and buried. A melancholic reading affectively resists this injunction. It exposes how disposability is generalized to the whole populace in late sovereignty. It is located not only in Makam al-Shahid, but throughout sovereign Algerian White. Modern divisions, whether by Fanon or Le Corbusier become, in postcolonial Algeria, divisions among the sovereigns and the disposable rendered in a constant state of war.
Sovereignty's Late Style
In a recent essay, Achille Mbembe has formulated a concept of "necropolitics," which underscores the profoundly cynical nature of the form of politics enunciated in disposability. Sovereignty, generally understood according to Mbembe, rather romantically, as the subject as "master and the controlling author of his or her own meaning" (12) in his rendering is always associated with Hobbes' distinction between life and death and the sovereign's power to decide on either for his population. Mbembe insists that though we may think of sovereignty as drawing on Greek notions of the demos (the people or commons), in fact it has many varied and particularly modern roots. Drawing on Agamben, and registering his departure from Foucault, Mbembe asks us to think of politics as a form of war, rather than as biopower. Michel Foucault, at the end of the History of Sexuality, described the turning of politics into biopolitics: the moment in which life, or natural life, becomes the terrain upon which the state's power is played out. Foucault writes: "For millennia, man remained what he was for Aristotle: a living animal with the additional capacity for human existence; modern man," he adds, "is an animal whose politics calls his existence as a living thing into question" (143). Considering the disciplinary control of what have become, through state enforcement, docile bodies to be manipulated, Foucault implores us to understand the genealogy of the mechanisms of biopower. In Society Must Be Defended, he stresses that modern state racism is an instantiation of other earlier racisms and their relation to sovereignty. For Foucault, we must understand that all of us are threatened by the system of biopower, not only those who are singled out. Contrary to Hobbes, who thought that the state of nature was one of war that would be overcome by the state of culture, Foucault proposes this narrative is a palliative. It forces an ahistorical understanding of sovereign power that stops us from seeing the forms of violence directed toward all of us. It causes us to counter biopower with biopolitical critique, itself symptomatic of sovereign power. For Foucault, the state of modern culture in which we find ourselves is a state of permanent war, and politics has to be put in the service of defending society against the forces of modern sovereignty (Foucault, Society Must be Defended).
Taking this a step further, Agamben considers this notion in relation to sovereignty and the state of exception, formulating a notion of bare life he sees as coming into existence in the Nazi camps: "the place in which the most absolute conditio inhumana ever to appear on earth was realized" (50-51). Whereas the state of exception is abstractly understood as a temporal aberration, in the camps it acquired a permanent spatial organization, and established itself within this area as the norm — that is, as the primary mode in which sovereignty operated. Sovereignty thus becomes associated with the sovereign's absolute right to kill or keep alive for no other representative purpose than to demonstrate and enforce power. Sovereignty in both Agamben and Mbembe becomes a discourse of death.
Mbembe, without disputing the particularity and the horror of the camp, departs from Agamben's Eurocentric focus on the Holocaust. Agamben is unable to acknowledge the importance of the category of slavery despite the fact that the historical genealogy he traces is from Roman law. It appears, in fact, that Agamben can make his totalizing distinction between bios and zoe precisely because he does not account for slavery or colonialism (Agamben, Homo Sacer). Mbembe not only cites various historians who contend that slavery and some colonialisms would have to be understood as similarly forming a systematization through which biopolitics becomes irrelevant because all bodies are deemed disposable. Through this contention, he also persuades us that the state of exception is not a spatial category at all. Rather, he says, rejecting the adequacy of Foucault's biopolitical argument, "to exercise sovereignty is to exercise control over mortality and to define life as the deployment and manifestation of power" ("Necropolitics" 12). In this sense, politics is no longer "the exercise of reason in the public sphere" (12), but rather a form of war. Politics, argues Mbembe through Bataille, is not a dialectical movement toward a Hegelian becoming human, but rather the movement of beings that pushes the limit of life, death, and all forms of taboo. Mbembe asks, "What place is given to life, death, and the human body (in particular the wounded or slain body)? How are they inscribed in the order of power?" (12). It is the decision to let die, rather than the Schmittian/Derridean formulation of the sovereign's power to decide when to decide, and when to suspend the rule of law in the state of exception.
As Derrida formulates his notions of sovereignty, he writes in the context of the suspension of elections in Algeria 1992, supposedly in the name of democracy. The power to decide on when to grant an exception (Schmitt's state of exception) in the name of democracy is also the moment, he writes, when the demos becomes secondary to the kratos (-cracy), that is, the taking of power, rule, and authority in the moment of demonstrating the might of the sovereign (Voyous 57). This shift of emphasis to the moment of decision, rather than the particulars of whether the sovereign decides to make live or let die, changes the relation to death somewhat, and makes its choice an entirely arbitrary demonstration of power that can always be instrumentalized in so-called democratic states, or ones being "brought into" the state of democratic sovereignty. This demonstration of power appears cynically in the apparent violent imposition of democracy through an alien occupying force in Iraq and in the increasingly dismal struggle of a frequently thwarted people in Palestine. And it is not only coincidence that at this moment The Battle of Algiers made a comeback, and indeed that analogies with Algeria seem to be common at this time.
Although I would not underestimate the importance of Derrida's Algerian background, or the knowledge of illness that may lead to our understanding this text as a late work, it is not merely biographical reasons that lead Derrida to turn to the example of Algeria in his discussion of sovereignty today. Algeria seems like a test case for him, full of all the contradictions of a form of democracy that will cancel elections in its name. For him, the cancellation of elections in 1991/1992 — a strategy used by the FLN and backed by the French to stop the Islamic Salvation Front's coming to power — exemplifies how the state of exception becomes normalized within the system of late sovereignty (see also Rachid Boujedra). On the one hand, the state of exception appears to have been isolated to a particular moment of Algerian politics: the opening up of elections to a full multi-party system in 1988 and the removal of socialism from the constitution. While some would argue that this led to the subsequent success of the FIS in provincial elections in 1990, we could propose that understood as melancholia it was perhaps merely an extension of the general state of Algerian politics which came to a head thirty years after independence in 1962.
The story of sovereignty and citizenship experienced a shift during the Algerian war of independence that exposed the systematic disposability of bodies in struggles for sovereignty. Restoring any kind of voice attempting to apologize, reinstate order, rectify, or trace a story of violence as an exception is an alibi when circumstances show that it had become the norm. And if the revolutionary desire for national sovereignty ends with exceptional violence as the norm, how is it possible to think of the postcolonial project as anything other than a lost cause in which a military backed state of exception can be declared at any time and without much any need for rationalization? How is it possible to conceive of hope when those categories of democracy and sovereignty that have become, in enlightenment thought, the framework within which justice has been conceived seem adulterated at their foundation? How does one maintain hope when state politics seems to have been reduced to war, with the nuclear power of total war threatening absolute annihilation, and strong economy as the rationale for a form of constant war through which states can maintain their imperial power? How also does one maintain hope when, as Mbembe would put it, the attempt for sovereignty in, for example the Palestinian situation, has been reduced to an overt mechanism of death in the figure of the suicide bomber?
Algeria's erection of the huge memorial that dominates the melancholic landscape is in a sense also the burial of the idea of sovereignty as self-determination of the people. In its place, and in this combination of commemoration and celebration, it is the very disposability of bodies that is celebrated. The extraordinarily diverse accounts of how many died — between 800,000 to 1.5 million — registers indeed that bodies do not count: they are born and die with no census to mark the nationalist agenda. The structure, more than a massive flame held in respect to the unknown soldier, resembles a chimney in which they burn. The dominance of the structure over the city, in which it becomes a landmark now combining the separate parts of the once divided city, is its navigation point in this city without maps. The museum to the martyrs in the cavernous basement, attempting to bury the dead, also attempts to bury the cause of sovereignty as self-determination. The organizing principle of the new nation state by the time of the erection of the monument, was all that Fanon feared for the postcolony. But while the monument tells a tale of necropolitics, a critical melancholia remains, in which the remnants of an ideal leave an irrefutable mark. No map, census, print, or museum can be entirely successful at presenting the nation seamlessly. While the work of mourning may relegate swallowed disposable bodies to the garbage can of modern nationalism, the work of melancholia, critically attesting to the fact of the lie intrinsic to modern notions of sovereignty, is the only hope for the future. To sustain a people existing in the sovereign state of necropolitics and lost causes, critical melancholia, formulated through the ghosts with ideals, is the only way for democracy to come. While not all in the field of postcolonial studies will conceive of melancholia in the Freudian and Derridean terms I have employed, my reading nonetheless demonstrates how and why the field of postcolonial studies has always been melancholic, and has always expressed through this melancholia its profound belatedness and complicated antinomies. It is indeed usually at fault when it offers palliatives, announces success, or thinks that justice has been fulfilled. Sovereignty's late style has, in postcolonial theory, found its critics who mine the antinomies of postcolonial life to find demands for justice, and therefore hope for the future.
The special issue of Angelaki 6.1 (2001) is devoted to the question of "Subalternity and Affect" and is helpful in thinking through this question of non-hegemonic manifestation of protest, and non-representative forms of politics. See especially the special issue editors introduction, Jon Beasley-Murray and Alberto Moreiras, "Subalternity and Affect."
See for example, Edward Said's invocation of Gramsci, invoking the classics in turn, at the beginning of Orientalism (25).
See Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, especially "Mourning and Melancholia" in Vol. XIV (237-60).
The most obvious and most extensive example of this is Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's Critique of Postcolonial Reason.
The enormous body of recent work on melancholia derives from an interest in psychoanalysis on the one hand, and Benjaminian theories on the other. See for example Jacques Derrida, Spectres of Marx; Gillian Rose, Mourning Becomes the Law; Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power; Jos Esteban Muoz, Disidentifications; Wendy Brown, "Resisting Left Melancholy"; Anne Cheng, The Melancholy of Race; David Eng, Racial Castration; Douglas Crimp, Melancholia and Moralism; David Eng and David Kazanjian eds., Loss: The Politics of Mourning; Ranjana Khanna, Dark Continents. The relevant sources for much of this scholarship include Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama and "Left-wing Melancholy"; Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, The Shell and the Kernel. My book (cited above) discusses melancholia at great length, and my article, "Signatures of the Impossible" in Duke Journal of Gender, Law and Policy also explicitly addresses a slight departure from Judith Butler's work on the subject in Psychic. Butler's model of melancholia is derived at least partly from Melanie Klein's notion of the coming into sexuality as a process of loss of objects. It seems to me that this loss is often recognizable as such in sexual terms. My own emphasis is on the trace and remainder that cannot be identified, although I appreciate very much the interventions of the Kleinian framework from Butler, as well as from Esther Sanchez-Pardo in her monumental study of Klein and sexual difference entitled Cultures of the Death Drive.
Said is by no means the only one to turn to Freud's "Moses and Monotheism" of late. Works related to my consideration here include Cathy Caruth, "Unclaimed Experience"; Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Freud's Moses; Jacques Derrida, "Archive Fever" and "Psychoanalysis Searches the State of its Soul."
Having declared the casbah an international heritage site, UNESCO has now mapped this site in Algiers.
Antoine Prost, writing for Pierre Nora's new national history of France, based on realms or sites of memory, considers the monuments to the dead and ceremonies associated with them, particularly that of the monuments for WWI which can be found in every French town.
For an extensive discussion of disposable people, see Bertrand Ogilvie,
“Violence et représentation”.
There are many examples of this line of thinking. See, for example, Andrew J. Bacevich oped from April 13, 2004 in the SouthBend Tribune.
It seems important to note, of course, that it is not only the Palestinian cause, or indeed Muslim politics that has generated forms of attempted sovereignty through the rearing of life for death in this way. India and Sri Lanka have seen many of these, and in those contexts, unlike in those concerning Palestinians, the popular imagery has (with historical validity) focused on women as disposable, in other words, the female suicide bomber. This is not the place to analyze further the rather wonderful film titled The Terrorist. But what is fascinating about that film is the manner in which life (reproduction) and death (suicide bombing) are played against each other, as if this were really a clear political choice, with the utopian ideal articulated through pregnancy. A contrasting film, like Mani Ratnam's Dil Se, explores the ethical impossibility of the political choices in play in some ways (paradoxically given its more popular form) in a more sophisticated fashion.
Interestingly, it is the external forces that have mapped Algiers-the British during WW2; the French as documented in their recent exhibition, "Alger: paysage urbain et architectures" in which very few images of buildings were in evidence; and now UNESCO, effectively finally winning the argument to create the museumification of the casbah, begins to map the city. As a tourist going to Algiers, it is almost impossible to find a map, and when once does, it has the modernist beauty and abstraction of a Le Corbusier sketch.
I have discussed this further in Dark Continents. Derrida discusses "democracy to come" in much of his work in the last fourteen years. See his "Force of Law: The Mystical Foundation of the Law."
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