Edwige Talbayev on Mediterranean and Making of Algerian Literature

Venue: Encina Hall West, Room 219, 417 Galvez Mall, Stanford main campus.

Host: Mediterranean Studies Forum, France-Stanford Center, and the Center for African Studies.

Speaker: Edwige Tamalet Talbayev, Assistant Professor at Tulane University. Talbayev's work focuses on the intersection of modernity, postcoloniality, and transnationalism in the Maghreb and the Mediterranean contact zone. Her first book, The Transcontinental Maghreb: Francophone Literature across the Mediterranean, will be published by Fordham University Press in spring 2017. Talbayev is Editor of the international peer-reviewed journal Expressions maghrébines. She also serves on the editorial boards of several other journals, including Yale French Studies (2009-2013), Culture and Dialogue, and American Journal of Mediterranean Studies.

This lecture proposes to recalibrate critical readings of Maghrebi literature in light of a Mediterranean “transcontinental” heuristic model—a framework resting on the transmaritime deployment of the Maghreb within its millennia-old relation to various sites across the Mediterranean “liquid continent” (Gabriel Audisio). To that end, my argument recasts Kateb Yacine’s 1956 novel Nedjma, the foundational text of Algerian literature, in light of the plurilingual, multiconfessional Mediterranean space of Djerba.  Reading little studied ancillary texts from the “Nedjma cycle” set on the island, I tease out the ways Nedjma resists the cohesive power of the Algerian myth of origins elaborated ahead of independence to reveal an investment in Mediterranean transnationalism. I demonstrate how Djerba supplies a model of felicitous mixing between strata of Mediterranean migrations, providing late colonial Algeria with a mythical space where to hone the workings of its nation-building aspirations in a plural context evocative of Algeria’s own diversity. I show how this transnational reframing brings Kateb’s search for Algerian identity to fruition, revealing a Mediterranean ethos at the core of Algeria’s founding narrative. By so doing, I delineate an alternative Mediterranean genealogy for Maghrebi literature displacing the primacy of Albert Camus’s utopian colonialist vision of a Mediterranean “humanism of the sun.” This adjusted lineage reveals the intersection of literary Mediterranean imaginaries with Maghrebi claims to an inclusive, democratic national ideal. It also unsettles the usual dichotomy between the postcolonial nation and the deterritorialized space of the sea, showcasing the deep imbrication of the two.