Assia Djebar at the Académie

This past Thursday the “illustrious” French institution known as the Académie Française elected a new member: the Algerian writer and film maker Assia Djebar. The Académie Française is a rather stuffy old institution founded in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu and ever since charged with the defense of the French language — a job which has led to some hilarious set pieces, such as the attempted excommunication of all anglo-derived words such as “le weekend,” in an absurd/sinister sort of linguistic ethnic cleansing — and the editing of the “official” dictionary of the French language. Djebar is the first Maghrebian, though not the first woman (that was Marguerite Yourcenar in 1980, if memory serves)to be elected. Assia Djebar is an excellent writer — novels & memoirs — and sometimes film maker. A decent short bio in English can be found here. Here is just one quote from that site:

“Just so I could have worries that never change whether it’s peace or wartime, so I could wake up in the middle of the night and question myself on what it is that sleeps in the depths of the heart of the man sharing my bed… Just so I could give birth and weep, for life never comes unaccompanied to a woman, death is always right behind, furtive, quick, and smiling at the mothers…” (from ‘There Is No Exile’ in Women in Their Apartments, 1980)

Academicians have emblems, the épée (sword) essential among them. I do wonder what kind of sword she will choose for her installation ceremony at the Académie, the old straight crusader-christian one generally used by Academicians with minor personal design variations (Jean Cocteau, for example, had a marvellous, jewel-incrusted weapon of his own design), or the Arab curved sword? Djebar is of Berber origin, & maybe, just maybe, she will refute both those warring imperialist tribes that have colonized the Berbers for many centuries now, and decide that swords of whatever description are no longer valid symbols — especially not for the higher ranks of the workers of the symbolic order.

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