Cory Browning on Restaging Terror in the Algerian War

Venue: Pigott Hall, Room 216, Stanford main campus.

Host: French Culture Workshop of the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages.

Speaker: Cory Browning is Assistant Professor of French at the University of Oregon. He completed his dissertation at Cornell University in 2015 and is currently preparing a manuscript entitled, Terror the Order of the Day: The French Revolutionary Terror and its Restagings. It examines the relationship between terror and democracy during the Reign of Terror and four moments when the Terror resurfaces with explosive force: Victor Hugo’s “93 littéraire,” Mallarmé’s relation to anarcho-terrorism in the 1890s, debates around Jean Paulhan’s Terreur dans les lettres, and terrorism during the Algerian War. Recasting Marx’s observation that we make our own history but under conditions handed down from the past, the book analyzes how the French Revolutionary Terror has given rise to divergent ways of thinking about terror and terrorism throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Description: Restaging Terror in the Algerian War: Zohra Drif, Malraux, Camus and Fanon. At a crucial turning point in the Algerian War, Zohra Drif, a young Algerian activist and law school student, placed a bomb in the Milk Bar in the European section of Algiers. She and two other poseuses de bombes thereby initiated the strategy of indiscriminate violence against civilians led by the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN). The history of these “events” is perhaps the most well known of the Algerian Revolution, famously reenacted in Gillo Pontecorvo’s La Bataille d’Alger (1966). Much less known however are the literary debates they sparked and the role that literature can play in shaping how we understand terror and terrorism, particularly in the Algerian colonial context.Captured and imprisoned, Drif penned a short apology for terrorism, La mort de mes frères (1960), a unique text in which a self-identified terrorist (who went on to an illustrious political career) engages directly in literary exegesis in order to defend terrorism. Turning to André Malraux’s La condition humaine (1933) and Albert Camus’s Les justes (1949), she contests a certain representation of the terrorist. In this work in progress, Cory Browning traces these intertextual references in order to address two questions: what ultimately is Drif challenging? Second, what alternative, if any, does she offer? In response, Browning argues that what is at stake is the legacy of the French Revolutionary Terror and the persistent Hegelian reading of it. This then puts Drif’s text into indirect dialogue with Frantz Fanon’s critique of Hegel. Finally, Browning puts forth the idea of restaging as an alternative understanding of terror and terrorism, one that might open up to less physically violent modes of subversion.