Subjects of History: Identity and Memory in the First Person Narratives of Patrick Modiano, Assia Djebar, and Hervé Guibert
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In the wake of a twentieth century marked by the Occupation, the Algerian War, the AIDS crisis, and the aftermath of these events, the debates surrounding French identity have acquired particular urgency. French novelists, meanwhile, have increasingly turned to first person narratives; autobiographies and especially autofictions continue to dominate current publication lists. Equally concerned with identity questions, these same texts have often been accused of solipsism, and their authors described as narcissists of little talent. In this dissertation, I argue that the debates surrounding national identity and the problematic construction of a written personal identity are, in fact, intimately related. I analyze a variety of first person narrative works by three major contemporary authors (Patrick Modiano, Assia Djebar, and Hervé Guibert) in order to resituate these purportedly personal critiques of "Frenchness" within an evolving historical and historiographical trajectory that informs national, community, and personal identity. In so doing, I suggest the ways in which both subjects and identities are constructed (and critiqued) textually with respect to a history of traumatic events, as well as the collective memories that those events inspire. I argue that Modiano's contemporary evocations of Occupation-era France, Djebar's complex and shifting assessment of the Algerian War and the legacies of French colonization in Algeria, and the dominant position occupied by Hervé Guibert's AIDS writings in relationship to the rest of his prolific production all merit reexamination. I therefore seek to analyze the fraught construction of identity in a French society marked by its shifting relationship to history as memorialization, while complicating the generalizations that often result from identity-based scholarship. The novel juxtaposition of Modiano, Djebar, and Guibert within the dissertation enacts my desire to challenge the limits posed by reading authors solely in the light of narrowly-defined identity politics.
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