We Want to Be Great Like Our Crime
The Criminal Ego and the Struggle in Society
On Isabelle Eberhardt’s “Criminal” and Renzo Novatore’s “Toward the Creative Nothing”
Quotes refer to the Eberhardt Press edition and the Venomous Butterfly Publications edition, respectively.
In “Criminal,” Isabelle Eberhardt’s memoir of land colonization in Algeria written around the turn of the last century, the farmer Mohammed Achouri cuts an interesting figure. A “tall thin old man with the face of an ascetic, his hard features set in an expression of constant preoccupation”, a quiet character who stands “a bit apart from the others”, he is not a likely hero. Though he stands out, and in fact his inability to fit in singles him out for downfall, his unheroic resistance fits well within the unheroic reality of the story; the French have colonized Algeria, and they force the people of Bou Achour to give their prime land to colonists, a double theft because the collective society of that region had never even had to buy and sell land among themselves or “resort to the system of inheritance.” They get mere pennies for their land, their complaints are rebuffed, and they have no choice but to work under the new landlords. At harvest time they watch the riches of their toil and their earth taken from them, but that night, the new barn burns down, and the harvest with it. Nonetheless, a suspect is arrested, nothing changes, and the power of colonialism continues its cruel exercises, unfazed.