Presentation Title

**Meursault's Unpunished Crime: Algerian Literature and the Specter of Orientalism** Exemplary Presentation

Faculty Mentor

David Kelman

Start Date

18-11-2017 3:50 PM

End Date

18-11-2017 4:00 PM

Location

BSC Ursa Major

Session

Exemplary

Type of Presentation

Oral Talk

Subject Area

humanities_letters

Abstract

As a retelling of Albert Camus’ 1942 novel The Stranger, Kamel Daoud’s 2013 novel The Meursault Investigation depicts a glaring dilemma that its predecessor overlooks: the harmful effects of French colonialism in Algeria. Daoud reimagines Camus’ novel as “The Other,” which is no longer a fictional account, but a nonfictional autobiography written by Meursault himself. Taken in tandem, Camus and Daoud’s novels form a single cohesive narrative that catalyzes a foreboding post-colonial reading of Meursault’s story and its ramifications. The contributions of literary theorist Edward Said can animate such a reading, for in his 1978 treatise Orientalism, Said critiques Western tradition’s reductive discourse on Eastern peoples and cultures. Meursault’s failure to refer to “The Arab” by name may initially seem like a negligible narratorial gesture, but in light of Said’s writings, it proves to be a gesture of erasure. Meursault can afford to disregard the identity of “The Arab” without much consideration, whereas Harun, protagonist of Daoud’s novel and alleged brother of “The Arab,” is condemned to the task of preserving his brother’s name. This disparity in privilege from which Meursault benefits and Harun suffers is emblematic of what Said considers the insidious underpinnings of a Western, “Orientalist” framework. Recognizing said disparity can lead not only to a critical view of Orientalism and its oppressive nature, but more particularly of the realities of French-Algerian colonialism as focalized through these novels.

Summary of research results to be presented

Framing the narratives of The Stranger and The Meursault Investigation through Said’s Orientalism vividly articulates the long-standing ills of French-Algerian colonization. From what is both said and unsaid in each novel, Said’s treatise unearths disparities of privilege between Meursault, a French-Algerian, and Harun, an Arab. Like an archetypal “Oriental,” Harun can only tell his story while sitting with strangers in a bar. Like a quintessential “Orientalist,” Meursault disseminates literature that eventually dictates what constitutes an “Arab.” The Western Orientalist doctrines embedded in the French-Algerian cultural subconscious also absolve Meursault of accountability for the Arab’s death. Harun, on the other hand, is as much a victim of those doctrines as the Arab. In fact, Harun’s duty to uphold his brother’s memory inevitably constitutes and consumes his own personal identity. Unfairly, then, the world of Daoud’s novel has forgotten the Arab yet remembered Meursault, even despite Meursault’s negligence to give the Arab a voice. Therefore, it is precisely Meursault’s capacity to give the Arab a voice, even though he does not, that makes him a participant in Orientalism. Beyond functioning as a mouthpiece for Camus’ absurdist philosophy, Meursault survives in Daoud’s writings as an insidious symbol of French-Algerian colonialism. Meursault, after all, has committed a greater crime than his indifference to his mother’s death—a crime, for that matter, that he and his fellow French-Algerians are complicit in: the indifference of the privileged towards the plight of the oppressed.

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Nov 18th, 3:50 PM Nov 18th, 4:00 PM

**Meursault's Unpunished Crime: Algerian Literature and the Specter of Orientalism** Exemplary Presentation

BSC Ursa Major

As a retelling of Albert Camus’ 1942 novel The Stranger, Kamel Daoud’s 2013 novel The Meursault Investigation depicts a glaring dilemma that its predecessor overlooks: the harmful effects of French colonialism in Algeria. Daoud reimagines Camus’ novel as “The Other,” which is no longer a fictional account, but a nonfictional autobiography written by Meursault himself. Taken in tandem, Camus and Daoud’s novels form a single cohesive narrative that catalyzes a foreboding post-colonial reading of Meursault’s story and its ramifications. The contributions of literary theorist Edward Said can animate such a reading, for in his 1978 treatise Orientalism, Said critiques Western tradition’s reductive discourse on Eastern peoples and cultures. Meursault’s failure to refer to “The Arab” by name may initially seem like a negligible narratorial gesture, but in light of Said’s writings, it proves to be a gesture of erasure. Meursault can afford to disregard the identity of “The Arab” without much consideration, whereas Harun, protagonist of Daoud’s novel and alleged brother of “The Arab,” is condemned to the task of preserving his brother’s name. This disparity in privilege from which Meursault benefits and Harun suffers is emblematic of what Said considers the insidious underpinnings of a Western, “Orientalist” framework. Recognizing said disparity can lead not only to a critical view of Orientalism and its oppressive nature, but more particularly of the realities of French-Algerian colonialism as focalized through these novels.