Memory as Performance: Fatima Gallaire's Rimm la gazelle and Molly des Sables
Fatima Gallaire’s plays from the 1990s belong to the category of testimonial literature: her female protagonists reveal aspects of Algerian women’s restricted lives under shari’a and the negotiations made in the interests of self-autonomy and increased agency. For example, in Princesses, the main character returns to her Algerian homeland after living for an extended period in France. The play describes her seemingly peaceful reception by the townspeople, who later become violent because Princesse has not observed Muslim values in her life abroad. Les Co-épouses illustrates the practice of polygamy and the interactions between a man’s co-wives for mutual protection. As in Princesses, the female characters rely on one another for emotional and even material support as they divulge the difficulties of their daily lives. Besides her plays containing multiple female characters, Fatima Gallaire has written one-act plays in which a single woman performs all the roles: in Rimm la Gazelle, an Algerian-born French woman reminisces as she tells her mother why she will be returning to her birthplace; in Molly des Sables, an Algerian Jewish woman plays 14 different roles as she reveals her psychological maladjustment to her marriage and new country. Relying on Lacan’s concepts of le corps morcelé, I will analyze the performance element as a means of revealing trauma and acquiring greater mental health. Cathy Caruth’s work on trauma will also be invaluable to my study, as will information on drama therapy. The latter has been shown to be an effective means of beginning the recovery process from catastrophic events: by en-enacting scenes from one’s past, one is able to move the instances “recorded” in the brain from iconic to semantic memory, thereby adding to one’s life story. It is this very process that is healing for the actor in question.