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Nomadism and Transcultural Writing in the Works of Abdelwahab Meddeb Ronnie Scharfman Multitude, solitude: termes égaux et convertibles pour le poète actif et fécond. Ce que les hommes nomment amour est bien petit, bien restreint et bien faible, comparé à cette ineffable orgie, à cette sainte prostitution de l'âme qui se donne tout entière, poésie et charité, à l'imprévu qui se montre, à l'inconnu qui passe. Charles Baudelaire, "Les Foules" Où que j'aille, cette ville me hante. Abdelwahab Meddeb, Miroirs de Tunis FROM PETRA TO PARIS, from Marseilles to Mecca, from Cairo to Carthage, from Malta to Moulay Idriss, with frequent halts in the Tunis of his childhood and the Fez of his predilection, the narrator of Abdelwahab Meddeb's texts is a "walker in the city." In his autobiographical novels and essays, poems and polemics, screenplays and translations, we recognize a coherent literary project whose protagonist is a poet without borders, be they temporal, geographical, cultural or political. For the urban nomad of Meddeb's writing, the body walking through the city, moving through subjective and historical time and space and registering sensations, is the point of departure for meditations on the multiplicity of personal and cultural memories . To walk is to heighten the effects of synesthesia, associations rhetorically figured through the poetic metaphor. "Je marchais dans le dédale du matin" the poet says in the cycle of prose poems entitled Tombeau d'Ibn Arabi.1 For those familiar with Meddeb's first book, the 1979 novel Talismane, the opening line, with its jarring syntax and the identity it establishes between self and city, is unforgettable: "Me voici de retour exprimé ville à dédale."2 Similarly, several pages later, the reader discovers this wonderful neologism, "je me retrouve de plain-pied médinant" (Talismano 24). The coined verb "médiner" signifies more than just walking through the "médina," the traditional , labyrinthine section of Maghrebian cities. For Meddeb, it is a dual activity, both physical and mental, a form of meditation which is constitutive of his very writing. Like Baudelaire's "flâneur," Meddeb's wandering through the city's maze of signs is textualized as the kaleidoscope of a consciousness. To play on Meddeb's coinage, then, this essay will explore the idea of "medination," that form of contemplative wandering through cities that is generative of texts.3 My corpus of investigation will be limited, mainly, to more Vol. XLI, No. 3 105 L'Esprit Créateur recent works: the 1995 Tombeau d'Ibn Arabi; the 1999 collection of poetic travel "medinations," Aya dans les villes, which we might situate, generically, under a rubric Meddeb designates elsewhere as "entre fiction et reportage"; and, beginning in 1995, the on-going editorial project of the journal, Dédale. Throughout Meddeb's œuvre there are cities of many different types, both real and imagined, although these distinctions are, of course, porous, as the poet's consciousness and imagination know no frontiers. There are, first of all, memory cities. These include cities visited and remembered, lingered in or lived in, cities that are sites of memory, always multiple in Meddeb's reflections , and cities that stimulate memory. There are cities whose cultural layers, once discovered, once uncovered, deploy memory. Then there are cities of the literary imagination, invented sometimes, invisible, superimposed, reconstructed , dreamt, hallucinated. The overlap usually occurs in the form of a decor for a poetic vision, a synesthetic experience prompting associative "medinations " on the relationships among civilizations, from the archaic to the contemporary . And the privileged locus for these musings is the city as maze. Significantly, France, that is, the "Frenchness" of Paris, of Marseilles, even the cities of the Maghreb in their French colonial incarnations, is relegated to the background in these texts. When Paris and Marseilles are evoked in Aya dans les villes, in "Métropole bis" and "Un tombeau pour l'exil," respectively, it is to foreground them as sites of heterogeneous populations juxtaposed with each other in their multiple traditions, languages, physiognomies . But the chthonic elements of Paris in the text entitled "Métropole bis" are invisibile, as the melancholy Sufi "flâneur," lonely and disoriented, lured by the absent...


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