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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Partial vision : remediations of the Algerian veil in film and scholarship after Fanon Ullrich, Madeline


This thesis takes up the Algerian haik (veil), and more specifically how the process of veiling and unveiling first described by the Martinican-born psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, have been depicted in film. Scholars repeatedly associate Fanon’s famous essay “Algeria Unveiled” (1959)—which considers the role of the veiled Algerian woman in the revolutionary struggle—to Gillo Pontecorvo’s equally prominent neo-realist film The Battle of Algiers (1966), where the veil plays a prominent role in allowing the Algerian woman to carry bombs undetected. Similarly, an allusion to the Algerian woman and the veil appears in the documentary Images of the World and the Inscription of War (1989), directed by avant-garde filmmaker Harun Farocki, where the director shows photographs of women unveiled during the war by French soldiers. Previous scholars have compared the women in this film to those in The Battle of Algiers, and by extension, those described by Fanon in his essay. Rather than reading the veil through lenses of “the gaze” or Orientalism, the two dominant discourses applied to these films, the interpretation I provide synthesizes two concepts from media theory, specifically theories of cultural techniques and remediation. I argue that the dynamic operation of veiling and unveiling, a cultural technique that produces gendered and colonial difference, is what lends the veil to remediation, as Fanon’s argument and the process of veiling and unveiling are visualized in cinema. Viewing these films as examples of the veil through layers of remediation—from Fanon’s critical essay to Pontecorvo’s dramatic film to photographs to Farocki’s experimental documentary—the cultural technique of veiling disrupts the binaries—such as gender—it seems to impose. The very process of veiling and unveiling itself complicates a stable reading of both the veil and the Algerian woman.

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