Marguerite Duras and Assia Djebar are taken here as two examples of twentieth-century women intellectuals and writers whose lives and work are marked by the history of France and that of its colonies, and by that century's conflicts. They represent different generations and different personal and political positions with regard to the countries of their birth and to France. Their work nonetheless manifests striking similarities as the two women bear witness both to their own personal histories and experiences and to their respective collective experiences that encompass family, community and nation. Aspects of their work are therefore re-evaluated within the notion of the 'witness and the text' with a focus on the ambiguities both of personal and collective memory, and of their writing strategies. In their appeal to memory (in the name of diverse and often anonymous victims of oppression and violence), these writers work with anxious (and sometimes unreliable) narrators in the urgency of the moment to produce work that eventually transcends uncertainty and anxiety to attain what is termed here a 'monumental' status. A reading of the 'monumental' in textual form is therefore suggested that differs from the critique of the capacity of the monument to bear witness (or fail to bear witness) by displacing the need to remember.