This essay addresses the question of how colonial histories might be “written back” into genealogies of exception. Its central premise is that exception insinuates itself into and finally supplants the norm from margins (symbolic, racial, and cartographic) to centers, and so this path and its archival traces must be charted in this direction. In the first half of this essay, this question is directed through discussion of Giorgio Agamben's work on exception. The second half proposes colonial legal history, and more specifically the French-colonial period in Algeria, as terrain in which these questions could be fruitfully pursued. This discussion is primarily based on the example of the so-called Native Repressive Tribunals (1902–31), institutions of exception designed specifically for the swift trial and easy detention of Algerian Muslims. I argue that the creation of the TRIs is particularly emblematic of the racial logics through which exception is normalized and its lifespan extended in perpetuity.

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