The archive is both an object and a practice where history and memory converge. Yet this French site of memory is also defined by what it leaves out, i.e. the colonial past. This article examines two sites – that is, two forms and practices of document conservation and management along with their public and didactic uses – that define the postcolonial context in France. The first is represented by former colonial archives (Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration; Archives nationales d’outre-mer) whose relocation and renaming reflects public attitudes and state policies of obfuscation rather than disclosure of the colonial past. The second site is literature (novels by Condé, Monénembo, Chamoiseau and Sebbar), which operates as an intermediate space between memory and history and a realm of living memory that assumes the responsibility of remembering by fulfilling the three tasks incumbent upon the archival institution: managing public recollections, salvaging private memories, as well as conserving, selecting, organizing, and transmitting unrecorded or unacknowledged phenomena and events for social, political, and cultural purposes. The article also considers the lacunae in metropolitan literary history that constitutes, in the post-Lansonian French culture, a nation-building archival genre.
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