Questioning the Nation: Ambivalent Narratives in Le Retour au désert by Bernard-Marie Koltès

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Working Papers in Romance Languages
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Kleppinger, Kathryn

Bernard-Marie Koltès has remained nearly as enigmatic almost 20 years after his death as in the early 1980s, when his plays routinely challenged and confused contemporary audiences and critics. Koltès' writing, which combines lyric elegance with biting social commentary, has gained in popularity over the past two decades, but analysis of his work has concentrated primarily on his critique of the French bourgeois lifestyle. [1] Recent studies, however, have made significant gains in our understanding of postcolonial minority identities and questions regarding national belonging in the Koltesian theatrical project. Donia Mounsef, in her analysis of Koltès' last play, Le Retour au désert, analyzed the role of the body as a site of mediation for concerns about the interplay between France and Algeria. Catherine Brun, also studying Le Retour au désert, has developed the link between the Algerian War and the break down of a provincial bourgeois family. Building on these ground breaking observations, I wish to take the question of postcoloniality in Koltès' work one step further by exploring the ways in which his characters interact with the concept of the nation. Beyond simply challenging racial and social constructions, I argue, Koltès reveals a fundamental ambivalence regarding the value of nationality as a tool for identification. As we will see, he breaks down traditional understandings of French national identity by questioning its foundational philosophies yet also calls for a new, reinvigorated solidarity through interracial mixing and dialogue.

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Fall 2007
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