Rupture, Repression, Repetition?

The Algerian War of Independence in the Present

University of Leeds

September 7-8, 2017

2017 marks the 55th anniversary of Algerian independence. It also marks almost two decades since the turn-of-the-century “memory boom” in France which saw the publication of various memorial and confessional documents written by participants on both sides of the Algerian War of Independence (e.g., Louisette Ighilahriz’s Algérienne (2001) and Général Paul Aussaresses’ Services spéciaux: Algérie 1955-1957 (2001)). Also known as ‘la guerre des mémoires,’ the contesting perspectives on the Algerian War of Independence destabilised the notion of mnemonic consensus, “calling into question national identity and even challenging the hallowed Republican model” (Claire Eldridge). What, then, is the legacy of the Algerian War of Independence in the present? More specifically, how do the Algerian War of Independence and its subsequent memorialisations force us to reconceptualise historical temporality itself (of which the “legacy” is but one variation)? Which figures of relation between past and present are appropriate: rupture, repression, repetition?

We take as our starting point two observations – one philosophical, one historical. Firstly, in his 2001-2004 seminar Images du temps présent, which was contemporaneous with the “memory boom,” the philosopher Alain Badiou attempts to think the metaphysical structure of the historical present. Yet in attempting to articulate what is unique to the subjective dispositions of the present, he draws at great length on (direct and indirect) literary registrations of the Algerian War of Independence (e.g., Jean Genet’s Le balcon (1956) and Pierre Guyotat’s Tombeau pour cinq cent mille soldats (1967)). What, then, is the philosophical status of the Algerian War within Badiou’s thought and that of contemporary French thought more generally? What does its anachronistic appearance suggest about the complex logic of historical temporality?

Secondly, on 13th November 2015, following a series of terrorist attacks in Paris, the executive branch of the French republic declared a state of emergency. The law on which this declaration is based dates back to the Algerian War of Independence. Commentators have increasingly turned to the legacies of colonial and post-colonial violence in order (purportedly) to explain current violence and social anxiety in France and elsewhere.  What is the precise relation between France’s colonial past and its approach to terrorism in the present? How does present-day Algeria understand the relation between its own experiences of the “décennie noire” and the War of Independence? In what ways does the legacy of the Algerian war continue to inform contemporary events, such as the French presidential elections? To what extent does it obscure our understanding of present geopolitical crises?

The conference will include, but is not limited to, the following topics:

  • Historical perspectives on the Algerian War of Independence
  • Transnational political solidarity
  • Maghrebi and Francophone Memory Studies
  • Contemporary literary representations of the Algerian War of Independence
  • Postcolonialism and ‘terrorism’
  • Cultural and technological responses to mass violence
  • State, government and crisis
  • Figuring the historical present
  • Gender and sexuality in ‘the age of terror’
  • Philosophy and anti-colonialism
  • Islamophobia
  • Decolonial movements


Professor Jane Hiddleston (University of Oxford)

Dr Natalya Vince (University of Portsmouth)

Special Issue

Selected contributions from the conference will be published in a special issue of the International Journal of Francophone Studies (2018) – more information here.