Journal of Romance Studies

Multidirectional memory and exile in Jacques Hassoun’s polyphonic novel Alexandries

Journal of Romance Studies (2013), 13, (2), 94–115.

Abstract

Jacques Hassoun was born in Alexandria in 1936 into an Arabic and French-speaking Jewish family. In 1954 he went into exile in France where he settled until his death in 1999. Best remembered today as an influential Lacanian psychoanalyst, he was also the author of many books, articles and essays on his native Alexandria, Jewish history, Diaspora, exile and trauma, as well as the interaction between language, memory and identity. A major concern for Hassoun was transgenerational transmission, with a special emphasis on the need for the descendants of exiles to learn about their history and culture of origin. In his only novel, Alexandries (1985), Hassoun grapples in autofictional, polyphonic form with these major themes. Rather than the work of a nostalgic exile as other critics have suggested, this articles argues that Alexandries is a complex example of memory work which not only brings the specificity of Jewish Egyptian exiles to the fore but also rejects the common assumption that, to quote Michael Rothberg (2009: 4–5), there is a straight line running ‘from memory to identity and that the only kinds of memories and identities that are therefore possible are ones that exclude elements of alterity and forms of commonality with others’. Such a comparative, ‘multidirectional’ approach to memory works well in relation to the form, structure and content of Alexandries, a text born out of Hassoun’s own multicultural identity, his Trotskyist internationalist socialist politics and his theories of repetition compulsion as applied to society.

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Wilson, Colette