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Malek Alloula  [ Algeria ]

Biography

Guest of the ilb 2009.

Malek Alloula was born in Oran in 1937. He is a graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure and studied literature in Algiers and at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he wrote a doctoral thesis on Diderot and the eighteenth century. Today he directs the foundation in honour of his brother, Abdelkader Alloula, one of the leading intellectuals of his country, who was killed by Islamists in 1994. Alloula has been a publisher’s editor in Paris since 1967. Malek Alloula writes poetry and prose as well as essays on poetics and philosophy in French. His early poetry collections contain dense, epiphany-like miniatures, which were concerned with existential themes from the outset. In 1966  in»Souffles«,  the journal dedicated to cultural criticism,  Malek Alloula spoke out against the appropriation of poetry in the service of the Algerian Revolution following the liberation from France in 1962.

Alloula is also poetic in his prose works –  which is  clear in »Les Festins de l’Exil«: here, in Parisian exile,  the taste of familiar food recalls memories of childhood, family, and good friends in Algeria. The author here introduces us to an important aspect of Algerian-Berber culture: festive hospitality. In philosophical and autobiographical essays he answers thirty-three questions about an act that unites us all: eating. He also inquires, in his most recent collection of autobiographical short stories, »Le Cri de Tarzan. La nuit, dans un village Oranais« (tr: Tarzan’s Cry. Night in an Oranian village), into how the past can be communicated  – and he does so through language rich in masterfully loving irony without any melancholy or nostalgia. He collects significant episodes from his childhood, remembering his father, his teachers, and his friends – the witnesses of his youthful, Trickster-style escapades.

Alloula’s most well-received book is, without a doubt, »Le Harem Colonial. Images d’un sous-erotisme« (Paris: Slatkine 1980; reissued Paris: Séguier 2004), which has also been translated into English (1986, The Colonial Harem). In this essay which expresses a cultural critique, Alloula goes beyond the abstractions of cultural studies and, in his peculiarly associative, poetic language, analyses postcards from the colonial photography studios in Algeria in the 1920s. These postcards – often sent as greetings from French soldiers – depicted half-naked women in stereotypical harem poses. »The Colonial Harem« is to this day a classic essay in the critical tradition of orientalism in the school of  Edward Said, in which  Alloula interprets the colonial phographic gesture in the light of Roland Barthes’ theories on photography with reference to the psychoanalytical category of ›Fantasmas‹ which – like the harem itself – at once attracts and repels the European observer.

The author lives in Paris.

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