Remembering Algeria: melancholy, depression and the colonizing of the pied-noirs



Barclay F (2018) Remembering Algeria: melancholy, depression and the colonizing of the pied-noirs. Settler Colonial Studies, 8 (2), pp. 244-261.

This article looks at the end of colonial Algeria and the subsequent repatriation of the settler population as it was experienced and remembered by the settler (or pied-noir) repatriates in the aftermath of the Algerian war. It argues that the reception which awaited repatriates arriving in mainland France played a fundamental role in the nascent pied-noir community’s reimagining of its identity. While perceptions of the pieds-noirs are dominated by tropes of nostalgia and return, there are also many literary instances, less widely commented, of grief, depression and melancholia amongst those who were exiled in 1962. Drawing on the work of Ann Cvetkovitch and Kelly Oliver, this article examines the figure of the melancholic as a sufferer not of a pathological malady, but as the object of socially constituted oppression. Using the work of Fanon, it makes the provocative argument that, although the pieds-noirs were themselves widely received as colonizers by the metropolitan population, they were subject to a form of discrimination which re-created within the Hexagon the conditions of colonial oppression through the colonization of psychic space. With reference to literary works by pieds-noirs, supported by psychological studies, the article draws out the conditions which contributed to depression and melancholia amongst the rapatriés. It aims to conceptualise the pieds-noirs, not as either guilty colonisers, or injured victims, but as individuals in a site of postcolonial conflict in which the discursive categories of colonizer and colonized are renegotiated. Given that the end of the Algerian war and the exodus of 1962 continue to function as a founding event for the pied-noir community, an examination of the consequences and afterlives of these events adds to research around loss and melancholia, and contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of a postcolonial minority which continues to influence contemporary society in the present day.

pieds-noirs; decolonization; melancholia; depression; literature

Settler Colonial Studies: Volume 8, Issue 2

Publication date31/12/2018
Publication date online16/01/2017
Date accepted by journal15/12/2016
PublisherTaylor and Francis

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Dr Fiona Barclay

Dr Fiona Barclay

Senior Lecturer, French